Idyll Chatter: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

I want to apologize in advance for letting my blogular presence slide over the last few months. I’ve been really buckling down and focusing on finishing the last revisions of IDYLL, Book 3. I thought I was doing really well, finishing the first draft in mid-December. But for some reason these last few rounds took a really long time.

I’m thinking about redesigning the covers for all of the Idyll trilogy. What do you think of this new logo style?

Probably the biggest factor was work, which has been crazily busy over the last few months. I’m working after-hours more than ever, and that’s certainly been cutting into writing time. But I have to admit there was a period there where I got complacent (about 75% into my final set of rewrites), and I slowed my pace. Also, I’ve been thinking more and more the next series I want to write, and there’s been a few hours of writing time that I’ve devoted to outlining and world-building on that series.

After two years of straight writing on THE WILDS and EXILE, I needed a little break from the planet of Idyll, and I think those little bits of break have helped me re-approach the IDYLL finale and re-excite myself about the whole series. I’m really pumped about the way the Idyll trilogy ends, I can’t think of any other heroes who have had their story end in quite this way!

How will Samuel, Walt, Miriam, and Virginia ride off into the sunset? Will ALL of them make it to that last ride? I’m proud to announce that readers won’t have to wait long to find out. The manuscript is now finished, and EXILE should be released by May 16!

Also, I’m planning to release the entire series to Kindle Unlimited, so if you’re a KU subscriber, you’ll be able to check out the entire series for free. Stay tuned for more news.

And thanks so much for visiting and reading!

My book is published! Now the hard work begins.

Line of DescentMy novel, LINE OF DESCENT, finally went live last week on Friday 13th. Woo-hoo! Honestly, after three days of toiling over the enigmatic (and wonky) art of ebook formatting, I was just relieved to be done with it for a while. Maybe after I publish my second book, I’ll write a post on formatting through Word and Calibre because I haven’t found a concise guide on the topic—and because I’m pretty sure Calibre’s user manual was written by Franz Kafka.

Wait, did I say I was done with the book? Put that thing down, flip it, and reverse it! I’m nowhere near done:

I have to plan my Kindle Store strategies regarding pricing, product description, and keywords. Apparently Kindle Spy and Kindle Samurai are good resources for finding effective keywords, which help readers find your book when you stuff the keywords into your book’s meta-data, description, title, and tagline. According to some opinions, I should probably change the name of my book to ‘A NEW BARGAIN LINE OF PARANORMAL HORROR DESCENT THRILLING NEW ADULT PSYCHIC VISIONS STEPHEN KING.’

I have to recreate header graphics for my Facebook and Twitter pages. I have to start USING my Facebook and Twitter pages. I have to create a Goodreads Author Page. I have to create an Amazon Author Page. That means taking another crack at the dreaded author bio…and an author portrait. Argh!

I have to investigate promotional and reviewer sites like NetGalley, Story Cartel, BK Nights, KND, and Pixel of Ink.

I have to weigh the pros and cons of signing with KDP Select. I have to figure out what the heck is a ‘Kindle Countdown Deal.’ has been a tremendous help for getting up to speed in the indie-publishing world, but it can also be a huge (and intimidating) time-suck.

All of this, and I have to keep writing. I’d love to have my next book out by mid- to late-spring.

It’s a lot to take in. And a lot of complicated and non-creative work to get done. And I’m really excited to trudge through it!

Here’s a few links to LINE OF DESCENT. For a limited time I’m selling at a 99¢ promotional price!

Amazon U.S.
Amazon U.K.
Amazon Australia
Amazon Germany


The writing tip that ruined me: Just use ‘said’

he said she saidOnce more into the breach! Let’s face our snootiest fault-finders! Let’s brave their cutting remarks, their prickly barbs, their scorching criticisms! Ouch! Gird your literary loins!

They warn, “An unreasonable aversion to the word ‘said’ is a sure sign of an amateur.”
“Fancy synonyms just distract from your dialog,” they declare.
“The word ‘said’ is so inconspicuous, it’s like a punctuation mark,” they opine. “You cannot overuse it.”
“And using an adverb to enhance your dialog is an unforgivable sin,” they snidely decree.
“You can’t ‘chuckle’ out a phrase,” they guffaw.

OK, I get it. Expert advice says that writers should just use the word ‘said,’ or use nothing at all. Here. And here. And in many ways it’s liberating to have permission to overuse a word that is so easy to overuse. But I think that a more moderate approach is needed. In my opinion, there are many alternatives to ‘said,’ that, if used correctly, help add some color and specificity to a passage. And they’re also unobtrusive enough that most readers won’t consciously notice them. Words like state, demand, bark, warn, and scoff all have their place (usually in close proximity to a quotation mark).

I get the fact that a line like: ‘“Get on the floor,” he demanded’ is a bit redundant. I understand the idea that if your dialog properly pops off the page, then it doesn’t need to be cluttered with extra attributions or descriptions. But I’m not Cormac McCarthy. I think I’ll choose to shoot for some middle ground, if leaning a bit toward the ‘less is more’ line of thought.

And as I’ve thought about it, I agree with the critics who say that substituting ‘said’ with a action verb can get a bit awkward, and sometimes physically impossible. Sentences like:
“They’re coming,” he grimaced.
“You can’t wear white after Labor Day,” she laughed.
“I’ll be right there,” he grunted.

It’s hard to grimace, laugh, or grunt while talking. These lines probably work better reordered:
He grimaced. “They’re coming.”
She laughed. “You can’t wear white after Labor Day.”
He grunted. “I’ll be right there.”

The State of My Writing: Editable

sled_231740350Editing, editing, editing. You might not be able to glean this fact from my blog posts, but man I love editing! For me, the last round of editing is like a downhill sled-ride—whereas a novel’s first draft is a Sisyphean trudge—the hauling of an unwieldy and volatile load across a snowy blank screen.

With editing, the hard part is done. (Damn you, creativity!) Now it’s time to pare down words, to search out and eradicate redundancies and extraneous phrases—to burnish each chapter into a lustrous, aerodynamic shape. That’s what I’ve been doing this month with LINE OF DESCENT.

And during this process, I’ve stumbled upon a good trick that’s been helping me immensely. I emailed a Word Doc of my book to my Kindle Fire using the subject line “convert” and listened to it through the Fire’s Text-to-Speech feature. I’ve heard that your eye can’t be trusted to find typos in your own work. I’ve seen this (or not seen it) to be true. But your ear is a lot harder to fool. Lately I’ve been plugging my earbuds into my Kindle Fire and listening for mistakes while doing chores. So how’s that for finding extra time to work on my book? Of course, this trick won’t help you much with punctuation issues, but it will surely help you double-check for tinny or repetitive prose. And if your book sounds good while being read by the Kindle’s robot narrator (and divorced from your own inner voice) then there’s a good chance it will engage and attract readers.

Now a couple more beta-reader and editing comments to gather, and it will be time to get this show on the road. I know the initial launch on Amazon is likely to be underwhelming (possibly downright depressing), but so far I’m really enjoying the ride!

Descending Soon!

Line of DescentVoila! Finally ready to reveal the nearly-final cover design for LINE OF DESCENT, along with a blurb. Woo-hoo! If anyone’s interested in a free advance copy of the book in exchange for your honest feedback on the book, let me know. I’m giving away a limited number of free ebooks, once they’re ready! (Hopefully by February 1st.)  Here’s the blurb:

“Some women dread the idea of turning into their mothers. For heiress Elise Gardener, that dread has become all too real.

Elise has always been the spooky misfit of her wealthy family—and a disappointment to her overbearing mother. Elise’s problem is that she’s supernaturally sensitive. She’s an empath who can’t help seeing and feeling the intimate emotions—sometimes painful and shameful—of every person she meets. While her cousins are starting glamorous and lucrative careers, Elise is happy working as an unseen housekeeper at a camp for underprivileged children. But Elise’s cloistered life is shattered when her mother seemingly drowns herself.

Elise invites her tenuous best friend—Mallory, a girl she’s only known for two months—to the memorial at the Gardeners’ private isle on the Georgia coast. Together, they discover that Elise’s family have a sinister secret that they’ve been keeping for generations.

They are in the thrall of a dark spirit—a powerful, primordial ancestor who lives eternally by possessing the bodies of its descendants. Elise’s own mother was its last host…and the Gardeners’ inner circle have been raising Elise to be next.

As the entity invades her mind, Elise is haunted by the memories of its past victims (including a Khmer princess and a mesmerist in pre-Revolution Paris). Through these visions she may find salvation, but her chances are slim. In 8,000 years no heir has ever broken free of the Gardener’s Line of Descent.”


If you’re interested in one of a limited number of free copies, please contact me at jderrywriter at


Should I Change the Name of my Book?

rose_name_62540860One of the major caveats that critics level against self-publishing is that without the weight of a big publisher behind you, your book is likely to get lost among the hundreds of other indie ebooks that come out each week. Now, I agree that getting noticed in the clutter is a major concern, but the advocates of traditional publishing seem to be stuck on this old-school idea that Amazon is a gigantic warehouse storing billions of books—or the online equivalent of a hoarder’s bonus room. There’s a better way for authors to view Amazon. Not as a warehouse—or even as a bookstore—but as a search engine. Think about how a consumer shops on Amazon, versus browsing at a Barnes & Noble outlet. What’s the first thing a consumer does when she goes to She clicks on that search bar and starts typing.

There’s plenty of great articles that discuss how to ’Search Engine Optimize’ your book to be more discoverable on Amazon. Here. And here. And here. Through proper selection of keywords and categories, you can draw in potential readers who are actively seeking your type of book. And isn’t that more effective than placing your book in a bookstore, where 90% of the customers are just there to browse or drink coffee?

This search engine democratization is another way that Amazon is leveling the playing field between indie and traditional publishers. In fact, you could say that a indie author has an advantage when it comes to Amazon search results…as long as the indie can present their book with a cover and blurb that is engaging and professional. Consider this: a consumer searches for a very specific type of sub-genre (historical fiction supernatural beach-read featuring leprechauns), and she finds two ebooks that strike her fancy, is she more likely to buy the traditionally published ebook at $10.99 or the indie ebook at $2.99?

With all this said, I recently took a good hard look at the title of one of my books, Turning, and started a self-debate about the ‘discoverability’ of that title. When I searched ‘Kindle ebooks’ for ’Turning,’ Amazon spat out 1,934 results. At least twenty of those ebooks were called ‘Turning,’ or some variation of the name that was very, very similar. I had to ask myself the question: If a potential fan found out about my book (through my blog, through Twitter, or some other way) and searched for its exact title on the Kindle store, what would they do if they couldn’t find my book on the first page of search results? Granted, I’m not sure how often this scenario is likely to come up. Hopefully most readers would find out about Turning through a source that would provide a direct link to the book on Amazon. But it’s a big enough issue to consider seriously.

So I started to think of names that would be more unique and more engaging on the Kindle store. It was tough, because I really liked the title ‘Turning.’ My wife did too. It’s simple, it’s short, it would stand out well on a cover. I especially liked the way that the word has a double meaning that obviously implies a transformation (it’s a story about a spirit who reincarnates itself inside bodies of its own descendants) and more subtly implies a theme of cycles and the passage of time. I played with that second meaning a lot throughout the book, with imagery of circles, cycles of the sun and moon, the tides, the idea of reincarnation and Samsara, repeating patterns from one generation to the next, on and on.

First I brainstormed new words that were more specific to the story. I liked words like possession, scion, inheritance, legacy, lineage, vessel, and perennial. I really liked the word ‘succession’ because it has a royal connotation (the evil spirit in the story is named Regina—as in Queen), and it has a ‘hostile takeover’ sort of feel to it. Line of Succession. Yeah, I thought that sounded pretty good. But then, ‘Succession’ is kind of a hard word to say. And also, there were several suspense/thrillers with the same title. In the same vein of royal lineage, I liked The Living End. A historical phrase that sounds like a creepy oxymoron. But apparently there’s a popular band with the same name, which would cause a major issue with Google results, and also at least one other interesting ebook with the same name. I’ve always liked the phrase Vicious Circle, but it was also fairly popular. And I was afraid it sounded too… vicious. I liked the name Law of Possession, which I pulled from the old adage ‘Possession is nine-tenths of the law.’’ But my wife really hated that one.

So what next? My wife suggested the word ‘descent,’ which also has a nice double meaning. But there were a lot of media products with that one-word title, including a horror movie called The Descent. (The first half of that film, which shows spelunkers squeezing through tiny gaps between giant boulders, was way more anxiety-inducing than the half with the cannibalistic subterranean humanoids.) What about Line of Descent? I liked the idea of a inexorable, unceasing line that’s always moving forward (or maybe downward in this case) because I think that’s a good way to describe the reincarnating villain. Although it’s a definite departure from the cycle/circle theme… Anyway, the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I think it’s more descriptive, more meaty—and less likely to be confused for a vampire or werewolf story. Line of Descent! Yeah! Cue the latter-era Trent Reznor music!

And I’m mega-excited about getting the book out there to be discovered! I expect that I’ll soon change the ‘Turning’ tab and the blurb-page on this blog. And keep an eye out for a Line of Descent promo image that I hope to use as my blog header. Here’s hoping that Line of Descent will be available for purchase by February!

The State of My Writing: Slowly, Slowly

In May I wrote my first ‘State of My Writing’ post, which is really a sort of check-in with myself on how I’m doing with my work-in-progress. Since then—by my rough count—I’ve banged out about 53,000 words in my newest WIP, which means I’ve fit one NaNaWriMo into five months.

In some ways, 50K words is awesome—no matter what. Writing a book is an incredible feat of discipline and determination for anyone who has a full-time job. If you’re a moonlighting novelist, give yourself a pat on the back. Really whack that shoulder blade…leave a mark! For the last few months, I’ve sacrificed whole chunks of my life to writing. I’ve fallen off the face of Facebook, and vanished from the Twitterverse. I’ve spent months’ worth of lunch hours typing with my laptop pressed awkwardly to my steering wheel. (I hate writing in a parked car. Not an environment that’s conducive to creativity.) My Netflix queue is overflowing. I’ve been playing Bioshock Infinite for five months. At this rate, Booker DeWitt is never getting his ass off that floating city!

Which brings me to the depressing part of all that toil: I’m not really that close to being done! My hope was that by December, I could have a rough draft of this Idyll sequel nailed down, an estimated total of 80K words. Then I’d dive back into my first Idyll book and edit it with some new insights into where the characters end up in book 2. I’d release Idyll and Turning (my other novel), and already be percolating on a second draft to my sequel.

I’m really excited at the idea of going from a unpublished nobody to a nobody with three novels on my Amazon Author Page. And I’m excited at the idea of releasing those books in fairly close succession, so that the excitement (hopefully) of one book can build off the excitement (fingers crossed!) of the others. Ah, the freedom of being a independent author, of choosing the shape of your own obscurity.

In addition to writing, I’ve been swamping my head with self-publishing advice. I read ‘Write, Publish, Repeat,’ which has some great advice in it, but is also a little insane (these guys write like a dozen books a year, and they recommend you try to match them). I’ve also been listening to the ‘Write, Publish, Repeat’ authors’ podcast, and the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast, which I’ve really enjoyed. I’m letting this swamp of advice soak in (see the way I brought back that earlier metaphor?), absorbing these insights like a sponge (OK, I’ll drop it now), and I think I’ll write another post on where I net out on all of it.

My biggest bit of wisdom, right now? As a fiction author, your primary marketing pieces are your book. Edit them, get a great cover, and make them available to readers as soon as possible. Because books are like a Twitter account or a blog site…it takes them a while to find an audience. And you can’t find an audience at all until you’ve put something out there.This is kind of a direct contradiction of my ‘hoard three books and release them in close succession’ strategy. But I think it makes sense. And I’ve heard the advice ‘publish your first book as soon as it’s ready’ from multiple sources. I shouldn’t expect an immediate splash of accolades and sales from my first launch as an author. Even if the launch involves two or three books. It’s not going to happen.

So does it make sense for me to stop writing on this sequel and focus on my other books that are closer to being ready? I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea to stop mid-stride on a book if you have momentum going. Hmmm, I’ll have to think on this…

State of My Writing, Spring 2014

It’s time to dust off the portable hard drives and those nearly useless 16MB memory cards. Time to  email attachments to myself. Time to start stashing files in the cloud. It’s back-up time!

As of right now, I’ve finished the 4th (and hopefully final) major redux of TURNING and the 7th (and hopefully final) redux of IDYLL. Whew, what a relief! I started the first version of Idyll in February of 2006! The four main characters and the setting have remained mostly unchanged in eight years. Everything else has changed drastically and often. Right now I want to sit on both stories to plan a potential roll-out in late 2014, early 2015. This is because:

1) I’m skeered.
2) Both books are being reviewed by Beta-Readers
3) I want to absorb as much as I can on the subjects of publishing e-books, marketing e-books, building my platform, etc.
4) It’s a very busy time with my job and attempting to sell our house
5) I’m beta-reading my wife’s new WIP
6) I’m skeered.

And there’s another exciting reason! Only exciting to me probably! I’ve begun humping away on a sequel to Idyll! Three weeks ago, I was one paragraph away from finishing a final revision on a cool short story, when the urge to start on the sequel overtook me. For a long time, I’ve had a rough idea of where I wanted to take the characters in Idyll—their course for a second and third book. But in early May I began to really think about what would happen in Book 3 of the series. I think I came up with a great story—I can see the characters evolving to these great places, and now I can’t wait to write them.

Hopefully Idyll’s first sequel won’t take another eight years to complete. I think I can realistically shoot for eight months. Part of my plan of attack is a tactic I’m calling “gap writing.” I’ve heard in the past that as some writers go through their first draft, they’ll write as fluidly as they can, and leave blanks if they can’t come up with the perfect adjective, or if they don’t want to stop to look up a particular fact. I’m taking that rapid-burst technique a step further: sometimes I won’t even bother to write down proper names. I’m skipping straight to the verbs and their objects. We’ll see, as tactics go, if this is more of a Pickett’s Charge. So far, when I’m on a roll and really enjoying myself, the full sentences seem to flow unbidden from my keyboard. In fact after one particularly fleshed-out, detailed paragraph, I had to stop and remind myself that this is just a first draft, and everything I write could change, so I don’t want to spend too much time on it now. The goal is to end up with a intensely descriptive outline that lays out each chapter, clause-by-clause. Description…Action…Reaction…Description…Metaphor…Dialog…Action… All muscle and bone, but no sinew.

My hope is that I can have Book 2 finished so that it could drop 2-3 months after Idyll is released. That means I could have three novels and one short story on the market by March or April of next year! Of all the self-publishing advice I’ve read, the tip that makes the most sense to me is “Write, write, and write some more. Don’t stop with one book.” The most successful authors have multiple items on their Amazon author pages, so that they can leverage the success of one book to help boost the others.