Well, the day is finally here. JET – Escape, is live.
In this, the final book of the JET series (unless I come up with another bright idea), the excrement hits the whirling blades as never before. We’re talking gale force action, betrayals, reversals, and general mayhem. And yes – escapes, hence the title.
NEWS: This is a good podcast interview with Hank Garner on my philosophy and approach to writing, including an in-detail description of my approach to outlining and structuring story.
Pre-order sales have been impressive, so it appears as though a lot of folks want to know what happens to Jet and company, especially after their close call in Colombia.
In related news, the new JET Kindle Worlds is progressing apace and is slated to go live on July 28th. I’ll be bringing you regular features on participating launch authors all through July, and I’m super excited at the roster of talented folks who have signed on to write in the world.
But for now, you can buy JET – Escape wherever fine ebooks are sold. Hint, hint.
Not much preamble is required to appreciate this list, especially given the official narrative about Russia having imperialist expansion plans that are only now unfolding in the Ukraine. 99% of all Americans that read this list will shrug, even though there are only 220 countries in the world – 55 of them which have been either overthrown by the U.S., or that the U.S. has attempted to overthrow, since WW2.
I’d suggest that anyone who thinks that the Ukraine is all about Russia trying to crush the free will of the people think long and hard about the excuses the U.S. has used to topple democratically elected governments all around the world, to install brutal dictatorships in many cases, or to leave in absolute misery and unending chaos.
And here’s a clip of the Undersecretary of State speaking on a cell phone with the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine, conspiring to overthrow the democratically elected government of the Ukraine, which then happened. Also self-explanatory.
This is simple. Your government, and your media, are lying through their teeth to you, trying to restart the Cold War – a time during which I grew up, when everyone on the planet lived in constant fear of nuclear annihilation. This is not good. And it’s not right. It takes your active participation to continue. If everyone simply trumpeted these true facts/links via their blogs and emails, the public might wake up. Alternatively, you can do nothing, and your children can live in a world where nuclear annihilation is again a constant threat, and a rogue U.S. government abuses the people of the planet while assuring everyone it’s the good guys. I totally get that it’s way simpler to do nothing, or hope others do it for you. That’s by design – you’ve been inculcated with the belief that apathy is the only or the most intelligent response – because resistance is futile. Just as many in totalitarian regimes allowed their governments to perform atrocities in their name, figuring there was no point in resisting. Which isn’t true. Black people would still be riding on the back of the bus and women wouldn’t be voting if that were true. It’s another lie.
If you participate in that lie knowing these things about the Ukraine and unbridled imperialism, you’re complicit in your government’s actions.
It’s not a partisan issue. It’s not the democrats or the republicans. Read the list, and consider that all of this happened regardless of which party was in office.
I’m now stepping off the soapbox. Your call what you do about it from here. I don’t live there, but I do live on Earth, and a return to the Cold War brought about by the U.S. deliberately trying to cause conflict on Russia’s border can’t be misconstrued.
For those who wonder why, there are several reasons. First, the military/security complex that sucks a trillion or so a year from the taxpayer, wants it, because only if there’s constant fear will you continue paying it whatever it likes. Second, Russia and China and twenty-something other countries have formed something called the BRICS nations, which don’t use the dollar to settle trades. That endangers the U.S.’ stranglehold on the global economy, which directly benefits a handful of elite bankers and corporations at the direct expense of everyone else, including you. So Russia must be dragged into financial ruin if U.S. corporate and banking interests are to continue making more money for doing nothing but manipulating the world. Third, Russia blocked the U.S. from overthrowing Syria predicated on the falsehood that its government was using Sarin gas on its civilians. When that was exposed as a lie (remember the WMDs in Iraq? These people aren’t particularly inventive and stick with the tried and true), the U.S. got pissy, and decided to overthrow the democratically elected government of the Ukraine and start a civil war on Russia’s border.
Don’t believe me? The cell call above is the ranking U.S. officials in charge of the region discussing exactly how they’re going to do it.
Figure it out, and stop tolerating being lied to as though it was okay and reasonable. It’s not okay. You need to understand things if you’re going to live useful, enlightened lives.
This, and the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, are two of the most important issues of our time. For why the TPP, which comes up for fast track vote again tomorrow after having been defeated a week or so ago, and is danger of passing this time, listen to this short interview with one of the most senior members of Congress. Anyone who thinks this isn’t criminally bad didn’t listen to it. Again, you won’t hear much about it, also by design.
I know these posts are unpopular because they’re incorrectly viewed as political (they’re actually apolitical, as I pointed out above in my observation that it didn’t matter who ran the country – the strategy remained the same), because most don’t want to hear about what’s actually happening, preferring their view of the world to the truth. But please, step out of that mind frame for just a few minutes, and consider what’s happening on your watch.
Sorry to be a big buzz kill.
Now back to writing diverting fictional accounts for my dinner.
A white man, really barely more than a youth, walked into a prayer meeting in Charleston on June 17th and killed 9 innocent people: African-Americans whose sin was to gather to worship, but were perceived as a threat – an enemy to be eradicated – by a mentally unbalanced zealot.
It’s easy to condemn psycopaths. Easy to see the pointlessness in their reprehensible actions. Simple to demonize that which is plainly evil on its face.
What’s not so easy is to look inward.
In a society that increasingly strives for conformity of opinion, that celebrates superficial diversity but prizes unblinking consensus on the big issues, that preaches tolerance and yet is provably intolerant in myriad ways; in a society that is divisive – be it based on race, religion, sex, sexual preference, political party or leanings, financial strata; in a society whose narrative is increasingly us vs. them, whose answer to complex, nuanced questions is to bomb ’em into the stone-age, that turns movies that glorify killing and violence into box office hits; in a pressure cooker society where the divide between the haves and the have-nots has never been greater, there are some things one can predict: that, if the answer to the fear-based society’s external problems is to attack any real or imaginary threat, then that attitude will eventually turn inward.
In a world divided into friends and enemies, where fear is adequate justification for use of unconscionable force, fear will always find plenty of enemies to be afraid of.
Fear is a strange thing. It distorts, just as does hate, just as does rage. It polarizes, creates brinkmanship, makes the only solutions seem to be drastic, because it’s either us, or them.
In a society where the media harps on our differences, both as countrymen, as well as our differences with other civilizations, it seems sensible, at least to some faction, to use whatever means are necessary to defend oneself from “the threat.” Every generation needs to address this – recall McCarthyism, where “the threat” was “them” – the communists. Peoples’ lives were ruined out of a fear-based response to that perceived threat, and individual freedoms were cast aside in favor of mob rule based on fear/aggression. Fortunately, that didn’t last long. But for too many, it was long enough.
The U.S. is in crisis. There’s a crisis of leadership, there’s a crisis of vision, there’s a crisis of justice, of opportunity, of trust and trustworthiness. But perhaps most damaging is that there’s a crisis based on a philosophy of exclusion, and the lack of a culture that celebrates our differences as human beings as one of our greatest strengths, rather than as a source of fear and hatred. That crisis can be seen in the militarization of the police (and the resultant us vs. them attitude), in the way the media colors any controversy (there’s the official stance, and there’s “them” – the fringe nuts who don’t buy it), the way it pits culture against culture and paints any real or perceived enemies as sub-human or savage, again, because of race, religion, politics, whatever.
Growing up, I was taught that the U.S. was different than most other countries because it was considered a melting pot. That’s the official narrative, anyway. As with a mutt dog, which will invariably have a stronger immune system than a purebred, our strength was assimilation and the protection, the valuing, of different opinions. But was that ever really true? It’s not that long ago that those of African descent couldn’t drink at the same water fountain or use the same bathroom or sit in the front of the bus. It wasn’t that long ago that Japanese Americans who were born in the United States were imprisoned in camps because of their race. It wasn’t that long ago that women weren’t allowed to vote. It wasn’t that long ago that being gay was defined as a mental illness, or that our government used the police as a mechanism to support the wealthy in their quest to squelch rebellion in the work place.
Change came about because we, as a society, refused to tolerate inequity any longer.
Lest we forget, the oldest and most powerful technique of the Roman Empire when it subjugated a new land was “divide and conquer.” To keep the population squabbling among themselves rather than recognizing that their master was a tyrant and a despot. It worked then, and it works now.
As long as the U.S. is a nation that pays lip service to diversity rather than putting its heart and soul into battling inequity, it is on a disastrous course. A divided population is an easily manipulated one.
And one that, for some, fosters the perspective that it’s either us, or them. That in order to defend from “the threat,” drastic action must be taken.
Empathy with those whose differences are objectionable to us is all too rare. Fear-aggression, where one lashes out violently out of fear, all too common. If a society fosters fear, it will wind up with fear-aggression, which is extremely dangerous to anyone within reach.
It’s easy to condemn psycopaths and atrocities.
It’s far harder to condemn ourselves.
And harder still, to change.
I did an interview today with Hank Garner that will air in a few weeks, and one of the things we discussed was my approach to outlining. I’ve mentioned it before as part of other blogs, but I thought I might as well formalize the entire shooting match in one place.
Outlining. Is it necessary? Depends on the writer and the genre. As an example, it’s hard to write a whodunnit if you don’t know whodunnit, so for a genre like that it’s probably essential. I certainly favor it in action/adventure, thrillers, and mystery, however I didn’t do it at all when I wrote my NA tomes under the R.E. Blake moniker. I believe genres like romance or literary fiction, where it might be more about characters and interactions than plot, it’s not required.
That said, I’ve learned the hard way that while it’s not required in action thrillers, either, it certainly speeds the writing process along by orders of magnitude and offers better control over pacing and plot.
So how do I outline?
I tend to favor single sentence summaries of each chapter. Meaning, what happens/what the chapter’s about. In the summary, I will typically capture the whys of the chapter, meaning the motivation for writing it. To make it into my final outline, it will need to either reveal something about the characters or the plot, or move the story forward. If I can’t articulate to myself the purpose of the chapter in that manner, I cut it. I try to avoid chapters that should really be paragraphs in the story. If it doesn’t resonate and stand up to that test, buh bye.
My chapters tend to run 1500 to 2000 words. So I can tell I don’t have sufficient plot if I only have 30 chapters of outline by the time I’m done. Pretty straightforward. That number of words is purely arbitrary, and differs from chapter to chapter, but it’s a good rule of thumb for my work.
I create a spreadsheet with chapter numbers down the left side, and character names across the top. On the right I create a vertical timeline. This avoids me creating chapters that are impossible given the timeline allowed, and prevents me from writing myself into a corner. I put an X in each cell when a character appears in a chapter – that way I don’t lose track of a character or have him/her appear too infrequently.
In the cell (B) next to the chapter number (A), I put the single sentence description. I then color code it red if there’s an action beat, or green if it’s a reversal/surprise that isn’t action. That enables me at a glance to look at the finished outline and ensure I have sufficient numbers of all the above to meet my minimum for a novel. If I don’t see a whole lot of red and green by the time I’m done, I don’t have sufficient story, or I have chapters that are basically bloat, and I’ll cut the dead spots and contrive more story, or introduce a secondary/tertiary/fourth plot to break things up.
As a final element, I’ll color code the actual chapter number three or four other colors to tell me which of the three or four plots I typically have the chapter addresses. That ensures I don’t start a plot element, and then forget about it, or mention it so little that the reader forgets or loses interest in it.
That’s the whole shooting match. I wish someone had told me this four years ago. I still have the sequel to Fatal Exchange on my desk, on two pieces of paper, hand drawn, with boxes beneath four separate intertwining plots, each box containing the next development in that plot sequence. That was as cumbersome as putting post-it notes on a board, or writing a narrative outline that goes on for pages and pages. Those can work too, only not as well, I find.
This isn’t the only way to do it. But it works for me. Next novel, you might want to try it. Definitely changes the way you look at story and flow.
In the meantime, if you want to see the result of my approach, go pick up Ramsey’s Gold, my latest novel, which is 106K words of non-stop adventure and guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.
June 11, 2011. A day that shall go down in literary infamy. On that day, I pressed publish on my first novel, a little ditty titled Fatal Exchange. Little did I know it would change my life.
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Having just typed “the end” on Emerald Buddha, the sequel to Ramsey’s Gold, it’s fitting to me that tome’s my 40th book. Counting my blog, I’ve easily clocked 5 million words over that four years, and probably closer to 6 million if I throw in all my message board posts.
So what’s changed during that time?
Everything. I’m about 25 pounds lighter, thanks to my treadmill desk. I’ve gone through five keyboards (the lettering worn off the keys). I’ve broken my third and fourth metacarpals and written half of Ops Files one-handed. I’ve been featured in notable publications like The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Chicago Tribune, and Forbes, and my work’s been translated into four languages, with more to come. I’ve sold a shit ton of books, and some seem to like ’em enough to come back for more.
The business has changed, in that when I started, self-publishing was generally considered what you did if you weren’t good enough to make it as a traditionally published author. I’d like to think that after a couple of co-authored novels with the legendary Clive Cussler, I’ve done at least my small part in helping dispel that myth. Certainly, I’ve surpassed any reasonable goals I had for income from the book business, and I’m delighted to report that I haven’t tired of making shit up, so we can expect more from where that came from.
Perhaps my greatest satisfaction, though, comes when I get periodic emails from other authors, who report that my blog posts and views have helped them become bestselling authors, or achieve financial freedom, or both. That my approach has helped my peers is humbling, and that it’s replicable with some predictability is validation of a kind I’d never hoped for. All along, I’ve posted what I wished someone had told me when I was starting out, and it’s reassuring that I’ve spared many worthy talents some of the bumps in the road.
So what’s next? Well, I have JET going live as a Kindle World with Amazon at the end of July. I’ve just finished up a treatment for a dystopian trilogy titled Water I plan to shop, and if nobody gets it, I’ll write it anyway because it’s a wonderful saga I’d be proud to have bear my name. I’m plotting the next BLACK, and have a pretty good idea how I’m going to end the Assassin series in the final installment. And of course, I have the ninth volume in the JET series hitting at the end of this month.
During four years, I’ve become friends with a host of notable, and some disreputable, folks, none of whom seem to have the good sense to avoid me. I’m happy with how I spend my days, I look forward to tomorrow, and I wouldn’t be doing anything else with my time but this.
Not sure what more one can expect out of life. I’ve been blessed, which I remind myself of every day when I sit down to hammer out prose.
So raise your glasses high and join me in a toast. Four years gone by like nothing.
Ain’t it funny how the time flies…
I had a long discussion with an author the other day about her slumping mood due to having received a spate of one star reviews on her latest book, which caused her to question the direction her writing had taken, whether she was really cut out to be an author, etc.
Here’s my view on negative criticism:
Everyone’s got an opinion. You can’t make everyone happy. You aren’t trying to please the entire world, just those you target with your work. And sometimes, even those folks are going to hate something you write, for a host of reasons, many of which may not have anything to do with the words on the page.
Let’s assume your book’s well edited and written. You’ll still eventually get negative reviews. It goes with getting any reviews at all. I tend to watch the ratio, not the individual reviews, because I’m looking for trends, not one person’s mood any particular day.
If you peruse the bestsellers lists, you’ll quickly find that virtually every book that shifts some quantity gets a lot of negative reviews right along with the positive. Generally speaking, 15% or so one and two star reviews. Some, like the massive sellers (yes, 50 Shades, I’m looking at you), will average considerably higher negative feedback. Does this mean those books are deficient? Sure. To those who thought they were. To everyone else, they were awesome.
Here are some possible reasons for negative reviews: The reader is having a bad day, or read your book in a bad mood, or had expectations that you failed to meet – expectations that might not have been realistic, or that your book was never intended to meet. Or the reviewer simply didn’t like your story, or the way you told it, or the speed with which it was told. They might have felt it was overly wordy, or too sparse, that the vocabulary was sophomoric, or alternatively, that they felt like they needed a thesaurus to get through it. They might have wished for a different ending, or for the characters to behave differently, or any of a thousand preferences that are distinctive to their worldview.
I’ve seen, on the same book, a review condemning a title for its gratuitous profanity, and then the next review condemning it because the characters didn’t speak in gritty or profane enough fashion to be realistic. I’ve seen reviews that declare a book the best thing ever written, followed by one that says it’s the worst book in existence.
People are strange that way.
As an author, you need to look past it. If there’s valid criticism, use it to improve. If someone simply didn’t like the story or the pacing or the characters…or…or…well, maybe the book’s just not for them.
And finally, there are just folks who enjoy tearing down the work of others, whether it’s good or not. I’ve seen plenty of reviews on incredibly well-written, gripping novels, that amount to, “ew, I mean, hero gets into trouble, hero faces hurdles, hero wins, gets girl – give me a break.”
Some people leave reviews to make a point, or to have a forum in which to spout off or spray venom, or to attack other authors behind a veil of anonymity (you can usually spot these easily – they tend to be more verbose, because the writer is writing partially to show how smart they are and how dumb you are). You can usually quickly spot those, and should ignore them – there will always be those who suck. You can’t make it your life’s mission to stop people from sucking. Most will be able to look past those types of reviews and see that the review says far more about the reviewer than the book.
In summary, reviewers are rather like everyone else, in the sense that everyone’s got an opinion they think is incredibly valid, and they’re entitled voice it. Just as all authors now have the ability to put their work into the world because they think they’ve got a compelling book on their hands. You’re not going to agree with every review you get, just as every reader’s not going to love your work.
That’s life. Move on.
And of course, buy my crap!
On July 28th, a Kindle World, in partnership with Amazon, will go live, featuring the world of JET.
Interested authors can write whatever they like in the world, provided it’s not porn and they don’t kill any of my characters off – and get to keep whatever characters they create, so if they have a hit, they can run with it, no strings attached.
What does that mean and why would any authors care? Two big reasons: A readership of hundreds of thousands for the JET series, and a royalty split.
This means that you have a ready-made audience of action thriller aficionados who enjoy the character and the theme, and you’ll get paid more than a trad pub would give you for penning a measly 25K words. 35%, to be exact, which might not buy you a new car, but could certainly buy several rounds of drinks, a few nice dinners, and sundry bad habits of your choosing, provided they don’t involve planes, boats, ponies, or women of questionable virtue. Which rules out most of mine, but let’s not go there.
That gives you eight weeks to write in the world. Contact me if you want to be a launch author. It’s a hell of a way to get exposure to a big crowd. For further details, go to the Kindle Worlds section.
Any questions that aren’t addressed in the KW section, shoot me an email at books@Russellblake.com and I’ll do my best to answer. Good luck, and thanks for playing!
Well, the first three days of the big launch were eye-opening, with thousands of copies of Ramsey’s moved across all platforms, and thus far, delighted reviews, including one by Lawrence Block, which made my Saturday pretty damned special (as far as I remember – Saturday nights are usually a bit foggy).
I’m putting the finishing touches on the Ramsey’s sequel, Emerald Buddha, and like Ramsey’s, it too will finish out at over 100K words, although after editing, one never knows. For my money, it’s as good or better than Ramsey’s, so I’m excited. Which is a good way to be when you finish writing a book – too often I approach second draft with the dread of a condemned man on his way to the gallows.
I’m also hard at work outlining BLACK 5, and think it’ll be a fun romp. Only one way to find out, and that’s to write it, I suppose. Working title is either Black and Blue, or Black and Tan. I know. Not particularly groundbreaking, but 50 Shades of Black seems a bit derivative – not that it’s ever stopped me before.
For my author friends, I believe this launch was considerably more successful due to employing the techniques of a buddy of mine, Nick Stephenson, whose course proved invaluable in growing my mailing list by a factor of three in sixty days, as well as promotional ideas that worked miracles. More on his course can be found at http://www.
To all who got Ramsey’s, I appreciate the support and hope you enjoy it. Kindly leave reviews, as they all matter. And tell a friend or two. That’s how this business works – one person tells another. I know when I find a book or author I like, I tell everyone I know, but maybe I’m just odd that way. Wouldn’t be the only thing that’s odd about me…