Guest Post by Author Stephen Leather

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HOW MANY WORDS ARE ENOUGH?

Over the last few years my productivity has increased several fold. Ten years ago I published one book a year – usually about 120,000 words.

These days, in the wake of the eBook boom, I publish at least  three, sometimes four each year, plus several short stories. My published output is closer to 400,000 words. Before eBooks and self-publishing came along, publishers generally wanted one book a year. When it came out in hardback the book from the previous year would be reissued as a paperback. Most writers earned their living from one book year. And that’s how traditional publishing worked – they simply didn’t want more than one book a year.

EBooks changed all that, of course. Some of the most successful self-publishers now produce a new book every couple of months, and make a lot of money doing it. With eBooks there are no supermarkets to negotiate with, no bookshop shelf space to be bargained for. You just upload your book and it’s available for sale. The more books you write, the more you sell. In theory, at least!

The most published novelist in history – Agatha Christie – is estimated to have sold more than four billion books to date. But as productive as she was, she wrote fewer then 70 novels in her lifetime. And taken over the period of her writing career she averaged about a book and a half each year. Probably not more than 120,000 words, because her books don’t tend to be long reads. Barbara Cartland spent 80 years writing and produced 722 books, releasing one every 40 days, pretty much, though her books tended to be on the short side.

So how many words a day should a writer be aiming at? Horror writer Stephen King hits 2,000 words a day. Hemingway used to write fewer than a thousand. Right up there at the top is probably Belgian novelist Georges Simenon who published almost 500 novels and many short stories during his lifetime. He is credited with writing between 60 to 80 pages a day, sometimes more than 20,000 words.

Wow. That takes my breath away.

My most recently-published book is New York Night, the seventh in the Jack Nightingale supernatural detective series. It’s just over 73,000 words – which is quite short for a thriller – but it only took two months to write. I’m midway through my 13th Spider Shepherd novel –  Black Ops. At the moment I’m writing about 2,000 words a day, on average. With my deadline some forty days away, that’s a comfortable rate to finish on time.

My most prolific period was a few years ago when I travelled from Malaysia to the UK on a cargo ship, It meant being at sea for 16 days with no phone and no internet access. Each day was pretty much the same, because when you’re at sea there isn’t much to see, except sea. So I’d get up and have breakfast with the crew, then write, then lunch, then write, then dinner, a game of table tennis with the first officer, then more writing.  Even with a schedule like that I rarely managed more than three thousand words a day. That seems to be my maximum.

Mind you, three thousand words a day is pretty good going. Even with weekends off, that’s close to three quarters of a million words a year – eight or nine novels. But I seriously doubt that I could write nine novels a year – not good ones, anyway.

The thing is, at the end of the day it’s quality that matters, not quantity. There’s no point in bashing out 10,000 words if most of them are no good. All that matters is how many of those words feel right, which is why chasing a word count can sometimes be counter-productive.

But I can give you one writing tip that should help increase your word count, and keep the quality up.

When you are writing, and you’re getting close to finishing for the day, try not to finish on a scene. Leave It unfinished. Definitely don’t end at a chapter, and ideally stop writing mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence.

That way when you go to sleep, your subconscious will be working out what it has to do next. When you wake up, because you stopped mid-flow, you’ll find that when you sit down next day, you’ll be all fired up to start writing! It’s the best way of doing away with writer’s block that I know!

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Book Review: Contamination (Feast of Weeds #2) by Jamie Thornton

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Sequels can be hit or miss, however Jamie Thornton nailed it with her second book in the Feast of Weeds series, Contamination.

Although the story picks up roughly where the first left off when it comes to timeline, Contamination follows a brand new set of characters in their journey to survive the outbreak that is quickly turning the population into rabid zombie-like beings.

I really enjoy how Thornton ties in the past characters to the new ones, and I appreciate that the author gives some explanations as to how the virus began and the scope of the spread.

Another aspect of the novel that I like is Corinna’s backstory. The glimpses into her past make it easier to understand her decision making throughout her stuggles. As for Dylan and her “friend” Jane, well… I didn’t like them much however I don’t suspect that the reader is supposed to.

Honestly, I preferred Contamination over the first book of the series. It’s just as action packed as Germination however since Contamination is a full-length novel instead of a novella, I feel that Thornton was able to offer so much more to her readers.

All in all, Contamination is a can’t-put-down zombie thriller that will have you reading into the wee hours of the night.

NOTE: I received a free copy from the author in exchange with an honest review.

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Author Interview With Jamie Thornton

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Jamie Thornton, author of the Feast of Weeds series, joins us to discuss her experiences in writing, publishing as well as her upcoming projects.

Q. What was the first book you released? Tell us about some of the challenges you faced in regards to publishing.

A. My first published novel is Rhinoceros Summer. It’s a coming-of-age dark adventure from the point of view of a 17-year-old girl whose greatest ambition is to travel the world to take amazing pictures…but that ambition ends up getting her in a lot of trouble.

It wasn’t the first novel I ever wrote (that one is under the bed and shall never see the light of day!). I took about 3 years to write the book and during that time did a ton of research. I love, love, love research. I was also still learning how to write a good story, so that book also got a lot of revisions. Even after I finished writing the book, the challenge to get it published was still to come! That took another three years.

Q. How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

A. I love books! Ebooks! Print books!

You’ll never catch me reading a really good non-fiction ebook. I mark up my non-fiction a ton. It’s sort of like having a conversation with the author while I’m learning something new.

I’ve almost completely switched to ebooks for fiction reading. I was one of those people who packed a second suitcase for my books – just in case, for emergencies, you know. Now with my Kindle, traveling is so much easier. Plus, I’m a total sucker for how easy my Kindle makes it to get the next book in the series. Don’t need to leave my couch? Sign me up!

I think the last few years in publishing have been really great for both writers and readers. Conventional publishing puts out great, award-winning books that I love, but they’ve also passed over books that I never would have found without alternative publishing. WOOL by Hugh Howey, for example. I can’t imagine a world where I never got to read his stories. Alternative publishing made that possible.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A. Keep writing, but don’t keep revising. Don’t get me wrong – I go through several drafts for each of my books, so don’t skip revising either! But sometimes I see aspiring writers who have been working on the same story for ten years, endlessly revising. At a certain point, you’ve got to move onto something else that can teach you something new about craft, plot, character, story.

I’m also a big researcher and outliner. I absolutely hate the saying that a lot of writers hear to just “write about what you know.” What a terrible way to approach art.

 Instead, I approach it more like “write about what you want to know.” That could mean trying to write a series for the first time (FEAST OF WEEDS), or writing about the underground world of showdown hunting (RHINOCEROS SUMMER). Learn everything you can about what you want to write to make the story feel authentic, but don’t limit yourself!

Q. Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?  What impact have they had on your writing?

A. I devoured the Anne of Green Gables series and I read White Fang a million times. When I was growing up I loved to read books about a girl surviving on her own in spite of incredible danger and hardship. I was like, “Wow, girls in books can do that?” Any one who’s read my books can tell I have a thing for throwing my main heroine into tons of danger and adventure.

Lately I’m in love with science fiction authors like Patricia Briggs, C.J. Cherryh, Kate Elliott, Octavia Butler and Hugh Howey. I want to read anything with awesome world-building, characters, plot, and social conflict. I’ve learned so much from reading their books about how to write more powerful stories that will keep a reader up all night turning those pages. I literally will diagram out chapters sometimes to analyze how a writer made me forget about everything except their story. Throw in the end of the world? Sign me up!

Q. Where did the idea behind Feast of Weeds come from?

A. I’ve always loved apocalypse fiction– seeing what a person, a whole society, will do when the world falls apart. To me, great apocalypse fiction usually has elements of a dystopian too. A lot of great apocalypse fiction was (and still is) zombie apocalypse stuff, but one of the things that kept bothering me was this sort of blasé approach to mass murder—they’re zombies so of course it’s okay to kill them all. The good guys were good and the bad guys were bad and that was it. Sort of the book version of splatter films—gore for no particular reason. Don’t get me wrong, it can be done well. I love The Walking Dead and all of its gore, though it also spends a lot of time on character and that’s what really makes the show for me. 

I wanted to read something different, but I wasn’t finding it, so I thought, okay I’ll write it. I was doing a lot of non-fiction reading on memory and pandemics like the Black Plague and Ebola because that’s the kind of reading I do for fun. I picked up something random on PTSD, read a news article about a runaway, picked up a couple of books on runaways, and it all came together to form Feast of Weeds.

Q. How did you come up with the title of the series?

A. My very first glimmer of an idea for Feast of Weeds was actually as a romance. I even called it My Zombie Romance. But when I started writing it, hardly any romance came out! The idea became much bigger and darker over time so that title didn’t work anymore.

As the story morphed I also brainstormed new names. I finally settled on Feast of Weeds because I knew I wanted to create a cast of characters that would all be throwaways in some form or another – teenagers that family or society didn’t want. I thought Feast of Weeds evoked that sense of scope and darkness.

The runaways are those weeds that survive ANYWAY, whether you think they should or not.

Q. What was the hardest part about writing the Feast of Weeds series?

A. It kept getting bigger on me! I first imagined it as a stand alone novel, then two books. Now we’re at four books. The series is done at four, but there are a lot of side stories within the world that I might decide to write down the road.

Q. On your webpage, you describe you stories as dark adventures. What draws you to the young adult/fantasy genre?

A. I read to escape the real world and I want to write stories that I would love to read, so I think that’s a big part of it. There is so much going on in Young Adult these days and there’s so much crossover to older readers. Even though my books are categorized as Young Adult, I get a ton of emails from readers in their 30’s, 40’s, and beyond, who tell me about how they stayed up all night reading and can’t wait for the next release. I LOVE those emails. I love that I get to deliver that kind of experience to other people. It feels like I’m giving back because I’ve been thankful so many times for the awesome stories that made my life just a little (sometimes a lot) better.

Q. When can we expect the next book, Eradication to be released?

A. Friday January 22nd 2016!

Q. Do you have any other books you’re working on? What can we look forward to in the future from you as an author?

A. There’s this Young Adult fantasy series I’m probably going to work on next. It’s called Doormaker and it’s about this 13-year-old girl who is part of a family with a very special disability. Every time they open a door—cupboard, drawer, front door—something really terrible happens and it opens up a portal to somewhere else. She’s been trained her whole life to never, ever open a door. But then one day, her and her best friend are in a bad situation and she MUST open a door…and that’s chapter 1.

For more about Jamie, visit her website. Also, she is also giving away free copies of the first two installments of the Feast of Weeds series of her page, so don’t miss out!

 

Author Interview with Nicholas Conley

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New Hampshire author Nicholas Conley joins us today to discuss what inspired his novel Pale Highway.

 Q. What was your biggest source of inspiration while writing Pale Highway?

A. The setting of Pale Highway emerged from my real life experience working with Alzheimer’s patients in a nursing home setting. As I wrote about on Alzheimer’s.net, this gave me a strong desire to speak out about my experience, to do what I could to raise awareness about the disease, and the lives of those who live with it.

Q. The story centers mostly on Gabriel, a brilliant man who is now living with Alzheimer’s disease. Why did you feel it was important to shed light this affliction?

A. Once I knew that I was going to be writing about Alzheimer’s disease, I knew that I wanted to write a protagonist with Alzheimer’s. People with Alzheimer’s are so often forgotten, and by casting an Alzheimer’s patient as the hero of my story, I hope to demonstrate that people with this terrible cognitive disease are still people, first and foremost, and thus deserve equal respect and love.

Q. I loved that, although deeply affected by the disease, Gabriel is given purpose in the novel – he is more than simply a diagnosis. Was this deliberate on your part?

A. You said it perfectly – he is more than a diagnosis. That’s exactly what I wanted to get at here, by showing Gabriel as a real human being; flawed but brilliant, stubborn and strongminded, but also sometimes short sighted.

Q. Aside from Alzheimer’s, the novel had a lot of scientific and medical information especially when it came to Gabriel’s theories on the immune system. Did this require a lot of research?

A. The research that went into writing this book took a long time, but was worth every hour. In order to write about Gabriel I had to first understand how such a person thinks, and this meant understanding his scientific passion.

Q. How did you come up with the title Pale Highway?

A. As you know from reading it, the title is pretty tightly connected to the central themes of the book. I struggled with finding a title for a long time before starting to write the book, but then one night it came to me in a lightning bolt, and it was right then—through finding that title—when Pale Highway was really born.

Q. As a writer, do you tend to plan each chapter ahead of time or do you just “let it happen” so to speak?

A. I’m a meticulous outliner, and I work pretty hard to deliver payoffs for all of my buildups. That said, the process is organic rather than forced, so there are times during the writing process where characters go off, make decisions and redirect the storyline.

Q. I found it interesting that, while the present was seen through Grabriel’s eyes, the past flashbacks were shown from other people’s point of view. What was the reason behind this?

A. In order to get a fully rounded view of who Gabriel is as a person, I felt it was important to show him from other people’s points of view. Gabriel is a highly introverted individual, and in his younger years is shown to be socially awkward and tense, so by writing the flashbacks through the POV of others—while simultaneously reading the future scenes through the eyes of an older Gabriel, who has already learned a lot of the harsh lessons that his younger self has yet to experience—it allowed the full spectrum of the character to become fully fleshed out.

Q. What did you find most challenging about writing Pale Highway?

A. When one writes about a character long enough, that character can start to feel like a friend. And Gabriel goes through many painful, humiliating moments in this book, so going through those moments with him felt like being pushed through a meat grinder.

Q. What process did you go through to get your book published?

A. I submitted the novel to Red Adept Publishing. When the acceptance call came in, I can’t even describe the sense of elation I experienced; after all those years of working on this project, dreaming about it, imagining it happening…the reality of the publication contract was a senses-shattering experience.

Q. Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?

A. Definitely a combination. I’d say the initial brainstorming process is mostly all intuition, and then logic comes in as a guiding force that takes in all of the disparate ideas, visualizations and character concepts, then ties them together into a cohesive whole.

Q. What are your future writing plans? Can your readers look forward to more books?

A. My creative mind feels like a train station, where there are hundreds of trains, and each individual train is going somewhere amazing. The only shame is that I have to pick and choose one at a time!

Q. What advice would you give a new author?

A. Never give up, and never lose sight of the passion that compelled you in the first place.

Q. Where can readers find your work?

A. At www.NicholasConley.com, of course! Readers can also follow me on my blog, where I regularly post about books, media, traveling, and coffee.

 

Book Review: A Dog and His Boy by T.F. Pruden

 

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Set in northwest Canada during the nineteen seventies, A Dog and His Boy by first time author T.F. Pruden follows one unconventional family and their lives in an isolated ranch as they learn to survive lost childhoods and broken homes.

Let me start by stating that A Dog and His Boy was a decent novel. While exploring themes of isolation, loss and family relationships, Pruden does a good job at giving the readers a sense of what life in northern Manitoba must have been like. I especially liked the strained dynamic between Tommy and his father and imagining how desolate it must be being a child growing up the way they did.

This being said, I found the novel to be very slow paced and I have to admit that I struggled to complete it. This could be blamed simply on personal taste; these types of novels/movies rarely appeal to me. Still, it didn’t keep me as engaged as I had hoped.

NOTE: This novel was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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