Friday, November 7, 2014

Fall News

Hello Readers!
   I just wanted to write a quick bit of news. I am indeed still alive. However, things in the writing field have slowed down in the last couple months. I'm still in law school, and I'm also dealing with other medical issues in my family. So, writing has taken the backseat this fall.

   But, I did manage to finish a second draft of The Gods' Punishment. Clocking in at 149,000 words/570 MS Word pages, it's a doozy. It'll need a lot of editing before I have a final, readable draft ready. I've put the manuscript to rest for a while and will likely get back to it this spring. I'm debating whether or not to attempt traditional publication for this one. As everyone knows, that's always a long-shot, and it also takes a long time. But, if you're really excited about reading it, go ahead and send me an email (, and you could be a Beta reader!

   In the meantime, I did get a 10,000 word novella done for a Law and Literature class. The Grey Shore of Conscience is a story about a British naval captain in 1794 who faces a moral dilemma while judging in a court-martial for a midshipman who randomly stabs his captain. I'm holding off from publishing at the moment, but again, send me an email if you'd like to read it.

   Finally, my most pressing writing project is The Uprising, the conclusion to the Uprising Trilogy. I started the trilogy several years ago, and the first two books are published. Because of that, I feel guilty about leaving readers waiting for the final book. Like I said, finding time to write has proven difficult with everything happening this fall. Even so, I'm tentatively hoping to start this book in the next month. Even if I crawl along at a fraction of my normal speed, there will be words getting onto the page. And that's progress. If you're one of the readers waiting, I apologize.

Fall is plunging on, and I'll try to keep working.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The P***S Mightier than the Sword, or How to Approach Sex in Your Writing

It’s no surprise to say that sex sells, in movies, in media, and in books. Despite all the author/publisher rights’ debates recently, Harlequin Romances are still selling; people want to read about others having sex.

Erotica, by definition, excites, plain and simple.

But how do you handle it in your books? It’s all well and good to want to tantalize your readers or explore a more racy side to your writing, but what about when your friends, and God-forbid, parents and children read the sex scenes in your book? Should you edit them out based on that personal audience, or should those bodices keep ripping? (Excuse me while I choke on my coffee)

As an author, you have several options:
          1.      Use a Pseudonym
          2.      Be Discreet
          3.      Refuse to Care


J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, the Bronte Sisters, Michael Seeley. All of these authors have used pseudonyms. Some noms de plume have become far more famous than their owner’s true identity (Mark Twain as an obvious example). The reasons for using them are varied, but one major option to consider is that whatever you write won’t be tied to your true identity, which makes this option very attractive if you’d like to experiment. 

I’ve written (and published) erotica under a pen name. I don’t feel I betrayed my craft, and I’m not embarrassed admitting it. However, this other writer’s work isn’t Michael Seeley’s. It’s separated, and likely, very few will ever know the truth about it. I wanted to work on writing love-making scenes, and this seemed an easy way to get feedback without the risk of pigeon-holing my writing into a category. 

As a pseudonym, you have absolute freedom to explore new sides to your writing and develop characters you wouldn’t normally write about. As a pseudonym, you’re allowed to play freely with your words. No one will be able to judge you, because you’re shielded. 

On the other hand, you (the real you) won’t get the credit for your writing. Unless your pen-name leaks, no one will ever give you public affirmation for the hard work of your writing, and this applies for all pseudonyms, not just those constructed to write sex scenes. It’s a tradeoff, and you have to decide if it’s worth it.

Be Discreet

In discussing sex scenes with another writer, he gave me his perspective. “It’s like that scene in Gone with the Wind. Scarlet gets carried to the bedroom, the door closes, and the scene fades. Everyone knows what’s going to happen. We don’t need to see it to imagine it.” 

He’s right. Your readers are intelligent. If you give them enough, they’ll fill in the gaps. Sometimes there’s no need to be explicit, only suggestive. If you’re embarrassed about writing about sex, you can skirt about that and still give your audience the warm feeling to mull over. 

I too have tried this method. My Uprising Trilogy has marriage and the obvious festivities which follow. I led the characters into the bedroom, allowed the reader to see them fumbling with cravats and petticoats, and then cut the scene. People knew what was happening; there was excitement. But I used nothing explicit, and the scene would fit well in any PG-13 movie.

Sometimes the middle road is just what’s needed.

Refuse to Care
And sometimes it’s not. 

I read an article where a romance author expressed her own nervousness over sex scenes. She thought of her grandmother walking in and reading over her shoulder, arching an eyebrow. It was debilitating. Then, she imagined changing the scenes for her grandma, and suddenly, the characters were flat. By imposing outside morals, by changing how the characters interacted and operated in their independent world, this author had destroyed the integrity of those creations. She realized that to do so would be disingenuous, and she owed more to the countless hours of her own work than to another’s moral scheme. 

Don’t get me wrong; there’s certainly a place for morals, for judgment of characters, and for removing offensive content (glorifying rape, exploitation, and child pornography, etc). How could there not be? But authenticity is different, especially when dealing with competent, consenting adults.
In The Gods’ Punishment, my novel about Alcibiades and the tumultuous Peloponnesian War he kindled, I faced a similar problem. Alcibiades was driven by sex, by his passions. He was known as a prodigious lover. Athens was filled with his current- and ex-lovers. He even sired a bastard with the Spartan queen. To censure the writing and remove sex, to choose to be discreet, would have been disingenuous. Alcibiades, known throughout history as a playboy, would sound false if the scene faded before its inevitable climax.  

That left one other option: refuse to care.
I refused to care about raised eyebrows. My novel contains multiple, explicit sex scenes. And it does so, because avoiding them would be wrong. 

As a writer, you have to evaluate what the sex scene does for your novel and how explicit to make it based on your goals. If it serves a purpose — be it to tantalize your audience or develop characters — then there is indeed a valid argument for keeping it. Now, you simply have to weigh whether or not pursuing those goals is worth offending parts of your audience. 

Be true to your writing and your characters; the rest will fall in line.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Flash Fiction for Shark Week: "A Nickel's Chance."


A Nickel's Chance

It was about the time my calf cramped the first time that I decided to kill Jimmy King to stay afloat.
After she had slammed into the rock and split her bow, we had grabbed what we could before jumping from our little sloop, the Wooden Nickel, into the Pacific. I had snagged a canteen of water and the outdated life-vest which could barely float itself. Jimmy, always lucky, had clapped his hands on a spar, never letting go. Now, he draped his body across it, as if sunbathing like those tourists we often saw in Chile. He grabbed a spar, and because he was well-liked among the crew, and because he was puny — like a wilted cat-tail — and because he had two twin daughters who could melt your heart — because of all that, no one fought him for his beam. Everyone else just bobbed along and scowled with envy.
That had been this morning, before the carpenter went mad and drank seawater and before Morrison stopped kicking and drowned. After seven hours treading water, with the sun setting, it was pretty easy to forget lucky Jimmy’s twin daughters.
One good hit on the skull and he’d go under.
When my leg stopped its spam, I floated over. “Jimmy,” I said, my salted throat cracking at the word.
He just lifted his head in acknowledgement, like a dog. No one else was watching.
“Jim, could I take a turn?” I croaked. If he would share, I’d let him live.
He shook his head. “Fairs fair, Paul. You could have gotten it.”
“Move,” I said.
“Shove off,” he growled.
My brow furrowed. He’d had his chance. As I got a good grip on the canteen-club in my fist, I apologized to his twin daughters.
Then the fin bumped me from below.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I'm Back!

Dear Friends,
   First, I really need to apologize. I've been neglecting the business end of the writing for months, and my website has been an under-construction disaster since September. For that, I'm sorry. I divide my working time between writing and law school, and I'm afraid the studies got the better of me.

   But I'm back! Now that school is done for the summer, I've had a few days to tackle all those overdue projects. In particular, updating the website was a priority. I've reloaded everything, cleaned away excess old news, and remodeled. Go ahead and check out my Books, Works in Progress, and Author pages!

   As for what's going on for the moment, I'll be living in Oak Harbor, WA for the summer to intern with the US Navy's JAG Corps. In my free time, I hope to finish writing The Gods' Punishment and get started on The Uprising, the explosive conclusion to The Uprising Trilogy. In the meantime, paperback versions of The Faith should be available from Amazon in the next few weeks. I'll post once they're up, so check back for more news!

   As always, please contact me if you have any questions. I'll keep writing!


Beating the Thriller

We all know that thrillers and modern romances are the biggest sellers. They dominate the markets, and it seems to be what all our friends are reading. But what if you're not into the newest spy-chase novel and the modern romance isn't your thing? For me, the draw of historical fiction has always been stronger than the idea of writing-for-profit in a genre that will probably sell better. But, that leaves historical fiction writers at a disadvantage.
Or does it? What can we as authors of historical fiction do to balance the market for us?

Write for the Public
First off, you must try to use what's currently popular. What do you see in movies/other popular books/popular culture? For me, a military historian, a prime example of this is works on Rome and ancient Greece. The ancient world is hot right now. It's sexy. Films like Gladiator, 300, Alexander, Centurion, The Eagle, and many more capitalize on that. They may not be exactly factual (but neither, strictly speaking, is historical fiction), but they do increase the public's care and concern for history. For me, that means that works on Rome and ancient Greece will sell better. In fact, I'm in the process of planning a novel set in that age.
This works for other subgenres, like historical romance as well. Look at Downturn Abbey and the like. Romance itself is timeless; make money from that. If you see that the Middle Ages is catching the public's eye, use that to your advantage. Right now, Victorianism is ripe for writing. With Steampunk (a fantastic genre that is easily mixed with historical fiction), Sherlock Holmes, and others making a dent in pop culture, take advantage of it. Tailor your work for the public.

Use Historical Fiction to Change Your World
Although the money is fun, all authors also long to be remembered in their works. They want to have a lasting impact on their world. Don't you? I'm just finishing Mary Renault's masterpiece, The Last of theWine. It's set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War and follows a young soldier and student of Socrates. The protagonist, Alexias, falls in love with an older student and another philosopher, Lysis. The book tells the story of these men's love, their lives, and the tragedy that is war. But what's more is that it was written in the 1950s. At that time, being a homosexual was not only unpopular, it could be ruinous to one's career, to one's very life. Renault wrote the work in part to paint a larger picture of the issue.
She wrote the book because, as a homosexual, she was tired of the backlash. She wanted to show that, throughout time, homosexuals were just as capable of doing great deeds, of being human. Her works all touch on this and other social issues.
So can yours.
Do you care about the environment? Look at Victorian England and the damages just beginning by the Industrial Movement. How about immigration — do you find immigration policy today unfair? Look at Ellis Island. Use your genre to shed new light on an issue you're passionate about. The beautiful thing about the past — the thing which let Renault get away with such commentary in an age of repression — is that everything is in a different context. In the age of kings and revolutions, actions are different than today. Looking into the past gives us the freedom to be critical, to be un-shaking in our critique or our praise for what once was and is now lost. Your readers will make the connection. Your book can truly change your world.

Tell a New Story
How often have you read a story that sounds just like all the others? I can't tell you the number of times. It seems like people are becoming more and more unoriginal. But you, as an author of historical fiction, have access to thousands of years and millions of stories waiting to be told. As authors in this genre, we have the license to find the gems in the past that get lost.
Recently, I was researching a famous general from the Napoleonic Age, but he almost never made it to manhood; as a child, he almost suffocated to death by pretending to be a dog. He got stuck in his family's doggy-door, and because he was pretending, he refused to use his voice. All he did was bark. And his parents laughed at their funny son. Until he passed out. And turned blue. Obviously, he lived, but anecdotes like this are beautiful. You simply can't make some of these things up!
Now, I'm not telling you to steal your stories. But, unlike those spy thrillers that sound the same, we have millions of people's tales waiting to be redone. Research. Add your own voice. Change things. But draw from that amazing well that history gives us. You can then write a new story that will capture and inspire.
So, if you're sick of people complaining of the power popular genres have, use your tools. Write to fit what's popular, use your historical lens to change the world, and bring amazing stories from the past to life.
Then see those run-of-the-mill thrillers compete.