Thanks Dad

My dad’s message about purchasing a copy of VERVE STONES for his library at the middle school he works at brought a smile to my face.

“Look, your book now sits on our library shelf for students to read.”

Thank you for your love, generosity, and support, Dad!

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Superhero Stories in Disguise

VS Wallpaper NO TEXTI believe many popular shows, movies, and books are superpower stories in disguise.

I LOVE superpowers! I grew up watching Spiderman, Batman, and the X-men cartoons just to name a few (otherwise the list would be too long). I wait eagerly for Superhero movies to be released and try to watch them in theaters as soon as they come out. I have always enjoyed learning how each hero got their powers. I am captivated by the evolution of the characters, watching them fail, train, and then grow into the heroes they needed to be to save the day. I love superheroes so much that my wife helped me decorate my classroom with a superhero theme. (She has tried to decorate it in all sorts of things before, but cutesy doesn’t work for me. This is much more my style! Thanks, Wifey!)

Every super hero has an origin story depicting how they obtained superpowers. Spiderman received his powers from a radioactive spider. Wonder Woman discovers she’s a demigod. Tony Stark keeps shrapnel out of his heart by building an arc-reactor that he later uses to power a suit of armor. Captain America receives super soldier serum. Batman trains his mind and body in order to gain superhero abilities. You get the idea.

I see other popular shows, movies, and books in the same light. In Harry Potter, characters use wands to produce superpowers. The Lord of the Rings, the rings of power give their wearers superpowers. The Stormlight Chronicles have superpowers in the form of shardblade or bonding with a spren. Mistbornhas superpowers from burning metals in their bodies. Naruto uses chakra. Gummy Bears use gummy bear juice. Ninja Turtles use ooze. Dragon Ball Z uses ki. I could go on and on. I have a feeling I could find superpowers even in some of those cheesy Hallmark movies my wife watches.

My love of superpowers means that I can’t help but have them in my stories, too. When I go to write a story, they are usually the first thing I research. I create worlds and storylines with superpowers in mind. In VERVE STONES, rare characters can access verve stones which give a variety of superpower abilities. In NINTH NIGHT, I included the mystery of a mythological creature so there is at least a possibility of a superpower. In UNDER, Boyd uses a superpower from the Glide-Suits. In a story in production, superpowers are passed down from descendants. For example, King Midas passes on his golden touch.

I nerd out about superheroes. What is your thing? What could you talk for hours on end about?

 

Actual Ending

So excited BACK OF BEYOND has an actual real life ending! No jarring cliffhanger without a resolution for a rookie writer like in VERVE STONES. A climax that provides resolution to Spoon’s dilemma, wraps most plot points, and gently lays the groundwork for THE LEGEND OF SPOON #3. Now to send it to Robin Puelma for revisions and editing to see if she agrees.

Self-Publishing is NOT for the Faint of Heart

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Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. I struggle with distractions, finding time to write, finishing drafts, and writer’s block. Not to mention, the need to be a teacher, dad, husband, and follower of Christ. When I decided to self-publish I really had no idea what I was getting into. It is a lot harder than I ever imagined (and I knew it would be hard). There are a few things I really dislike about it, but there is one part that I truly hate.

Accepting negative feedback from my editor friends (even when it’s essential) is high on my list. To help make this step easier on my heart, I’ve developed a system. First, I read through the entire edited manuscript and correct the easiest corrections like spelling and grammatical errors. Next, I read over the plot and character comments because they usually require only minor changes to the story. Finally, I address the meaty-feedback that calls for me to add or delete a scene, make major character adjustments, or rework my plotline.

Receiving negative reviews on Goodreads or Amazon is also high on my dislike list. Getting ratings and reviews is paramount to having any success as an author. For VERVE STONES, it was mostly my friends and family memberswhoreviewedthe book. These reviews convinced other readers on Goodreads and Amazon to purchase the eBook or paperback, or read the book on Amazon Unlimited. Negative rating and reviews are a painful part of putting my creation out for the world to judge. But I also believe that they demonstrate the authenticity of a book’s reviews. (After all, not everyone is going to like any given book. I mean, every book from the Harry Potter series had some one-star reviews so I’m certainly not alone.) That said, when you get a whopper like this review, it takes a few days to calm down and try to laugh it off.

Formatting. Formatting is the bane of my existence! (Spoiler alert: there is one thing I hate even more, but boy is this a close second.) I often joke that formatting is a curse word in my house. As a self-published writer, I am in charge of getting all the formatting just right. I must select fonts, sizes, and spacing. I add chapter titles and headers. I insert maps. I add gutters for the binding. I make sure everything you see (or don’t see) on the page looks as perfect as possible. When I first started, I naively thought this step would be easy. I mean I wrote a whole book. Surely, I can just upload it and it will look great. Nope. I spent over a week uploading a manuscript (over and over and over again) to CreateSpace Digital Proofer, which allows me to view my fully-formatted book in an online virtual environment. It must detect no errorsin the document. After pulling out what I little hair I have, I finally begged my technologically-gifted-wife for help. She discovered that I made a small error that was messing everything up. GRRR! As frustrating as formatting is, I still don’t consider it to be the worst part of being a self-published author.

My number one, worst, most difficult part of being a self-published author is—SELF-PROMOTION! Ew. I despise asking anyone for help. Especially my friends and family. I also loathe bragging about myself. (Those compliments you read on my blog are usually written by my wife. She reminds me to be proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’d rather crawl under a rock, but I try.) The number of books for sale on Amazon is overwhelming. With so much competition, I struggle to find ways to promote my stories. Giveaways on Amazon work a smidge. Giveaways on Goodreads are expensive. Advertisements cost more money than I wish to spend on a hobby. I want to get my book into the hands of not just friends and family members, but strangers. I want my books to excite people to read and it brings me great joy when I hear they do.

I dream of a day where a team can do all these things for me, but for now, I continue to be grateful for a way to get my words out of my journals and into a book.

Any other self-publishers out there? What was the most frustrating part for you? Feel free to explain in the comments below.

First Rejection Letter

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Over my past twelve years of writing as a hobby, I’ve received over 100 rejection letters or emails. I wrote or emailed publishers my picture books and novels. None of them are as memorable as my first rejection. In 2008, I sent my first version of VERVE STONES to several publishing houses.

To prepare, I bought a book at Barnes and Noble about how to submit a children’s book. I researched synopses, cover letters, and query letters. All these were new terms for me. Each one took me a month to write.

Every publisher requires something different for a submission. One might want a query letter and the first three chapters of a manuscript. Another needs a synopsis and cover letter. The next will read a query and the first ten pages. You get the idea. Most only read them if sent by mail. A few via email.

Sometimes the publishing houses will mail rejection letters in self-addressed stamped envelope prepared by the submitter. Usually in three to six months. Less use emails. Some inform submitting authors that their answer is no if three months pass. Many publishers only review submissions from agents, which is a whole nother beast.

When I finally dropped off an armful of letters and envelopes at the post office, I wanted to throw a party. From that moment on, I checked the mail every day. Twice on Saturday. I refreshed my email page every hour. No joke. I filled my free time daydreaming about a publisher calling me to offer me a hundred times the normal $5,000 authors received when they signed a new contract.

Around that time the final HARRY POTTER book released. I read an article wondering where the next HARRY POTTER book would come from. I vowed it would be VERVE STONES. I still feel that way.

Finally, I received my first rejection in the mail! To this day it is my only personalized letter. A nameless employee at Houghton Mifflin wrote out, Dear Mr. Aries, double underlined, thank you, sorry, and every success. My favorite part of the postcard-sized rejection is a handwritten message in the bottom corner that says, “Great writing & pace. Best of luck with Spoon!”

I’m still waiting to get my stories published with a publishing house. I’ve moved on to self-publishing, which has its pros and cons. But whenever I’m feeling like a crummy writer who will never become a full-time author, I repeat, “Great writing & pace. Best of luck with Spoon!” as a mantra to keep myself motivated.

Do you have your own rejection story? What keeps you going when you feel discouraged?

Top 5 Hooks

Way back in 2008, my friend Megan agreed to read through an early version of VERVE STONES. Her being an avid reader, and an English language arts teacher, made her a perfect first editor. She singlehandedly helped me slog through my rookie writing woes. Her feedback aided my skills in character development, flashbacks, and my all-time nemesis the comma. Her comments allowed me to create a much improved story.

Megan’s revision I struggled with most of all needing a hook. A narrative hook is the opening of a story that “hooks” or grabs the reader’s attention so that he or she will keep reading. (Sorry, can’t hold back my teacher mode.) I remember reading the first page in every book I ever read on Amazon.com. Or wanted to read. My research eventually led me to create, “The man had no face,” as my first line in VERVE STONES.

These are my top five favorite hooks I discovered. Today, I use four of these as examples when I teach narrative writing to my third grade class. May these hooks encourage your own writing as much as they did mine!

Savvy by Ingrid Law

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The fact that I needed to reread the first sentence to fully grasp why her family needed to move inland makes this an unforgettable hook.

 

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events) by Lemony Snicket

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This is an outstanding hook because of its use of reverse psychology.

 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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This fearful hook is intensified with an ominous picture.

 

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

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After reading the first two pages, I was so hooked I immediately bought a copy of this book.

 

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

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Stating the simple fact of going to the grocery store and with the, “Wait, what?” moment makes this hook perfect.

 

Anyone Else Feel This Way?

No matter how many times I send them to Dustin, Dawn, Taylor, or Robin. No matter if it’s a first or final draft. I always think my latest draft is perfect. This draft is a best seller. I justify my overactive pride with the fact I’ve been writing for a hobby since 2006. My skills have improved immensely. I’ve finally figured out this writing thing. Then a friend returns the draft with more red text than black.

I crash back to earth a few days later. I read their comments first. Try to take in everything without getting upset. Some feedback is in areas I knew needed to be fixed. Most are changes I never noticed. Ones that totally enhance the story. Or edits which keep me from writing like one of my third graders.

What I’m trying to say is thank you to my friends who edit my drafts. Without you, VERVE STONES, NINTH NIGHT, UNDER, and BACK OF BEYOND would never exist!