Monday, September 17, 2012

Read "In Stasis" for FREE!

Several days ago I finished my revisions on “In Stasis”, my first (and probably best) Will Vullerman short story. For all purposes, the story is ready for publication. While I have yet to format it for Kindle, and the cover art is still in concept form, the story itself is polished and ready for readers.

And, as I promised, you guys get to read it...for free!

Here are the instructions:

First, you must be a follower or “chronic reader” of this blog at the time of this post to be eligible for a free copy of “In Stasis”. That just means that you have to be one of the 129 current Google followers of this blog, or that you're someone who has been reading this blog for a while.

Second, I need to receive an email from you in order for you to get your free copy. Send me an email at jtbdude [at] gmail [dot] com requesting a copy of the story, letting me know for verification purposes that you're a follower or a reader of this blog.

Lastly, make sure and tell me the format in which you'd like to read the story. I can supply three versions: .odt, PDF, and .doc. Since I haven't formatted the story for Kindle, I won't be able to give out .prc files.

Once I get an email from you, please be patient. It may take up to a week or longer for me to reply with the story attached. African internet is less than stellar when it comes to uploads.

There are no strings attached. While I'd value your opinions and critiques, they are not required for you to receive the story.  If you wish to send me your thoughts on the story, however, I'd love to hear from you.

Please be aware that this offer is not indefinite. (Wow, I sound like a salesman...) This is only available to blog followers from now up until the time the story is published.  After the story is published, this post is no longer valid. So make sure and hurry if you want to read the story!

I hope you enjoy it! :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Music and Writing

Music is something that has always fascinated the human race. Countries and peoples all across the globe have their own way of creating music, whether it be the “modern” sound of American pop, the animal-skin drum of Africa, or the dirge-like Islamic prayers of the Middle-East; it is unlikely, if not impossible, that there is a culture in this world that has no form of music.

Music, in a way, affects what we do, and writing is no exception. Many writers, especially the ones I know, use music as a method to increase creativity and renew their energy. Soundtrack is one very common genre. For much of my writing career, I've used soundtracks from epic films such as The Lord of the Rings to fuel my writing.

Since moving to Africa, however, my tastes have changed in some ways. When I was a little kid, I stuck my fingers in my ears whenever Dad (a former headbanger) played rock music in the car. I practically swore off rock forever when he listened to P.O.D. in my tween years. I've since renounced that informal vow and taken up rock again. (As an after-effect of that period, however, I still don't like P.O.D.)

Originally, music with lyrics bothered me while I was writing; after all, I was writing down words, and music with words interfered with my flow of thought. Gradually, however, I became accustomed to listening to the music rather than the lyrics. As a result of my renewed interest in rock, my standard writing playlist has eighty Christian rock songs on it, from bands such as Thousand Foot Krutch, 12 Stones, Skillet, and a scattering of songs from Pillar, Echoes The Fall, and Manafest.

In the last couple of months, however, I discovered that the lyrics themselves can actually help me write. My youngest sister, who recently finished her first novel at 50,000+ words and years of hard work, loves making theme songs for her characters and novels. I've never cared for the idea, but today I came to the conclusion that Tornado C has a theme song.

The theme song is by 12 Stones, off their newest album, Beneath the Scars. (It's an excellent album, by the way, if you love Christian rock. A friend gave it to me while I was in the States. The first song on the disc, “Infected”, has been holding my #1 favorite spot for about three weeks now.)

The song is called “Worlds Collide” and accurately describes much of the character conflict and plot in my novel. I was listening to it today and found it rather eerie how closely the lyrics resembled some of the themes in my novel. Here's a couple snippets from it:

“I never meant to be your favorite enemy
I didn't want it this way
Face-to-face we'll finally find a remedy
As our worlds collide tonight

You'll never take the heart that beats inside of me
You don't have what it takes
It's safe to say there's gonna be a price to pay
When our worlds collide

The disguise you hide behind
Won't save you now

So let's fuel the fire
And burn it to the ground
As our worlds collide

Trip the wire
The sky comes crashing down
When our worlds collide.”

One of the main conflicts of my novel is between my main character and his companion, who are from two different worlds (figuratively speaking) and are pretty much at each others' throats. This song, then, is quite relevant.

Oh, and in a non-spoilerific way, the novel also has something to do with other lyrics in the song, such as fire, a powerful remedy, “you don't have what it takes”, and other little things that tie it in with my novel. Interesting, isn't it?

What about you? Have you ever found a song that seems to be made for your novel? What sort of music (if any) do you listen to while writing?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Larger Than Life: Fantasy, And The Thing We All Want

What is the use of fiction?

I've asked myself that question before.  And there are two answers, really.  There is useless fiction and there is useful fiction.

I've always been of the opinion that useless fiction is something that has no value in your life; a story that has no theme, and cares little about developing character, two things that are closely related.

Now, there's a thing called useful fiction, and it generally falls into two areas.  First, informational fiction is the kind that you have to read for school.  I dislike it when a person thinks they can write a book in order to show a historical context in a way that, they assume, will attract people.  I've read far too many of these books, which are characterized by bad writing and a carelessness with the story.  (Some authors, however, do manage to pull this off, such as Paul Maier, who wrote an excellent book I recently read for school, Pontius Pilate.)

The second category of fiction is edifying fiction; that is, fiction that teaches us about something non-informational.  This is the kind of fiction that has a theme and a meaning behind the story, a meaning that reaches in to everyday life.  Truly good informational fiction is actually edifying fiction in disguise; it is only by becoming edifying fiction that it becomes interesting at all.

In edifying fiction, there are many, many genres.  Two of the main genres, the main branches of speculative fiction, are science-fiction and fantasy.  While science-fiction is an excellent genre, and one I enjoy writing, I'll leave it for another day.  Today's topic will be fantasy.

Fantasy has a peculiar and unique draw, especially in today's world.  But what is it that draws us about another world?

It is my opinion that fantasy draws us for the same reason we are drawn to religion.  There is one thing we all want, and it's something we can't get from this world.  Most of the world doesn't even know what they want, but they know they want it.  And so they go from philosophy to philosophy, pleasure to pleasure, religion to religion, searching for the one thing we all want.

Fantasy offers us a vision of a different universe, one in which we can experience something we could never find in our world.

In C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, four children discover another world, and meet a wondrous lion known as Aslan.  At one point in the series, however, Aslan says to them that they must discover him in their own world, under another name.

This is the perfect example of what I'm talking about: fantasy is a story that invites us to another world, only to reveal that we can find that world in our own.

In Tornado C, I'm striving to make this ideal a reality.  But how do we do it?  That's the question I've had to ask myself.  I've discovered that there is something we can do to make the translation process go easier.

Make your world larger than life.

In reviewing J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, Time said, "Majestic! ...The Silmarillion [has] fierce fairy tales, and fiercer wars that ring with heraldic fury."

I'm pretty sure anyone you ask will say that Tolkien's great epics feel larger than life.  He created a different world; but that world was hauntingly similar to our own.  It was a world in which there was depravity, and there was righteousness.  His characters showed courage, honor, and in the center of The Lord of the Rings was an unlikely, humble character whose only claim was that of virtue and goodness.  And that was what enabled him to achieve what no one else could.

In making our worlds larger than life, we amplify everything else.  Darkness is shown darker than we've ever seen it; light is shown brighter than we could have seen it without the lens of fiction.

Maybe that's why fantasy is so powerful.  It amplifies the thing we all want by making it larger than it could be in our own world.  Maybe that can set seekers on a journey to find that one thing.

Maybe it'll help them find it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Quick Post - Free Books - Amazon - Huzzah!

Just wanted to write up a note letting you guys know of an opportunity for FREE BOOKS.

Yes.  Read that again:


Fantastic, right?  $300 in an Amazon gift certificate.  All the necessary information can be found here:

Best of luck to you all!  (Of course, I'm desperately hoping I win.  $300 in Kindle books would be...incredible. XD)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Revision Isn't Just For Novels's for plans, too.

So my late but great summer writing plan didn't exactly go as planned, so I've revised my goals to adjust to the onset of school.

First things first: Tornado C. Since I'm doing it with One Year Adventure Novel (albeit with a few adjustments), my mom and I are counting it as part of my language arts. Thus, I have a daily assignment – to write in Tornado C.

Since we were gone most of August, this week was my first week of the official school year. To balance out my pre-calc (insert shudder here) I've been working on Tornado C. I've hit 18,000 words just today and I hope to write more tonight.

And yes, my brevity is still feeling under the weather. I'm probably two thirds or three fifths of the way through chapter five (out of twenty-five outlined chapters). Chapter six is shaping up to be long, since it's the one-fourth milestone and contains a crucial turning point. The farther I get into the book, the longer it seems to get. It may even get as long as 100,000 words – by far the most massive thing I'll have ever written.

After school I'll have some spare time. I typically finish my homework somewhere between two and four in the afternoon, depending on how long I snoozed my alarm in the morning. The rainy season is still in full force here, so I'm spending a lot of my time indoors. That means I have plenty of times for writing; in the coming month, I'm hoping to work a lot on Tornado C and other projects.

However, there's two big problems here. First, since we do a lot of schoolwork on the computers, their batteries are usually dead by mid-afternoon. Why not recharge? Well, we don't turn on our generator until seven o'clock PM on most days, which means that we have no electricity during the day.

The second problem is that I arrived back from America to discover that my computer is pretty much fried. The keys don't work properly, probably because of the constant rain and humidity provided by the rainy season. Thus, that computer is as good as scrap now. (The day we left for America, however, I backed everything important up on an external hard drive, so I've lost nothing but some random pictures.)

These two elements are a big handicap to my writing, but I've been utilizing my mom's computer for the time being, and the arrangement is working well.

Further plans? Right now, I'm beginning to turn my attention to my Will Vullerman stories again. I hope that, after some rigorous rewriting and revision, I'll have those published as ebooks sometime in the next two months. (At LEAST before 2013. I hope. But sometimes these things take longer than you want them to.)

Before I publish them, however, I plan on offering these stories for free to all of my blog followers. I don't really like milking my blog followers for money, honestly. I'm aiming these stories more at the average Joe who happens to scroll by it while browsing Amazon, rather than making money off of family and friends.

When I publish my Will Vullerman stories, I'm planning on utilizing KDP Select. It's an Amazon program that lets my stories be available to borrow in the Kindle Lending Library, and also allows me to put my stories up for free for up to five days a month. Sounds good, right? It's free, but it does require one thing: exclusivity. That means these stories won't be available for Nook, iBooks, etc. (This means that I won't be able to give the file to anyone, since that would violate the KDP Select agreement. That's why I'll be offering my stories to you guys BEFORE I publish them.)

I didn't use the KDP Select route for The War Horn, though. Why do it now?

Well, honestly, my TWH sales through Smashwords (which distributes to Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and others) have been next to nothing. Trading those meager sales for the opportunity to advertise my stories for free seems to be a good trade – for now. It's an experiment. If I do well with Will Vullerman, I may pull it off KDP Select and load it to Smashwords.

Depending on when I get my WV stories published, I've got more Will Vullerman stories brewing in my head that I want to write. One in particular has caught my attention: the tentative title is “Zero”. I'm having trouble keeping my self-control, though. I'm trying really hard not to write them before I get the others published. ;)

Oh, and by the way, I finally figured out, totally on accident, why I nicknamed my novel Tornado C. Today, I wrote this sentence: “A titanic beam of fire, wider than a man, hurtled down from the sky like a cyclone, and struck the ground with a thunderous crackle-BOOM.”

Trick word in that sentence is “cyclone”, or tornado. ;)

(And yes, that sentence needs lots of polishing, but you get my point.)

So what about you? How's school coming along? Have you written anything of note? Read anything good? Let me know. I always read your comments, even if I don't reply.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I Know You're Gold: 2012 Trip to America

"...write it all and don't forget
You gotta tell us your story

Shout out to the friends back home
Shout out to the hearts you've known
You gave them nothing but the best
Yeah, and you can tell them your story

You'll never be far
I'm keeping you near
Inside of my heart
You're here

It's gotta be time
You're starting to shine
'Cause what you've got is

Gold - I know, you're gold...

I don't need the stars in the night
I've found my treasure
All I need is you by my side
So shine forever."
— "Gold" by Owl City

On August 6th, I and the rest of my family arrived in Wichita, Kansas, after just under nine months of living in Liberia, West Africa. 

As I write this, it's a few minutes before suppertime on the 27th, just under three weeks since I've arrived in America.  We leave the day after tomorrow.

Naturally, there's a little (okay, a lot) of bittersweet memories going on right now.  We've visited friends and family all over the Midwest - from Kansas (of course) to Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa, and more.  And all in three weeks.  It's been insanely packed and busy, and I've had a lot of long car drives.  But it's been worth it.  We've gone to family reunions, old churches, presented slideshows about our work in Liberia, and so much more.  I've stayed up past three AM on more than one occasion, "danced" to Owl City, laughed long into the night with friends while having a pink paper target taped to my head...yes, it's been worth it.

Like living in Liberia, our trip has been so chock full of stuff that it would take thousands upon thousands of words to even summarize it.  But I'll sure try.

I think one of the most important and encouraging things is the amount of people we've seen and talked with.  In every single city we've gone to, we've heard many of the same phrases.  "We've been reading your newsletters" - "we love you guys" - "it's so great to see you again" - "you're doing such a great work in Liberia".  And honestly, encouragement is one of the best things about being in America again.  Living in another culture tends to slowly tax your nerves, and coming back to America has been fantastic for us - at least mentally.  (Physically, we've had way too many late nights!)

Up until this past week, I've felt surprisingly good about heading back to Africa.  While it's great seeing friends and family again, I was looking forward to being back, especially after visiting some Liberian friends in Colorado and eating rice again.  (You don't know what you have until it's gone; I really miss rice!)

Then, last Wednesday, we drove into Olathe sometime past nine PM.  For those of you who don't know, Olathe, Kansas, is where (before going to Liberia) I lived for three years.  The whole family has a lot of close friends there.

While driving to Olathe and watching the bright lights of Kansas City whoosh by, I heard Owl City's "Gold" over the radio for the first time.  I didn't know it at the time, but that song would be something of a theme song for our Olathe visit.  While we were staying there, I heard it over and over. (One of my friends is an avid Owl City fan and loves that song.  We even sang our own version of it.)  Eventually, I downloaded it to my Kindle and listened to it even more.  (Here's the song.)

In the Olathe area, we saw even more people - almost as many as we had seen in the past two weeks put together.  I didn't go to bed earlier than midnight all week long.  I even got to see Mr. and Mrs. S (or, for you non-OYANers, the Schwabauers) and a fellow writer.

The last day we were there (on a Sunday) was so good and so bittersweet at the same time.  We were literally hopping all around town saying our last goodbyes until after ten at night.

It was hard.

Really hard.

And yet, I still don't wish that we were moving back to America.  We're on a hard track; but we're on track all right.  It was hard saying goodbye, but I never felt like I wanted to stay. Yes, I wish our trip was longer (there's a reason most missionaries take really long furloughs) but I knew that I needed - I wanted - to go back to Liberia.  Because that's where we're meant to be.

And I'm so grateful that we have such good friends.  So, so grateful.

We got on the highway around eleven at night.  And on that drive, I listened to "Gold" again.  It reminds me of my friends.  Except, this time, I really listened to the lyrics.  I loved the tune; but now I love the song.

You'll never be far
I'm keeping you near
Inside of my heart
You're here.

...I know, you're gold.

We have so many people that love us, support us, pray for us.  People that stick to us through the thick and thin, laugh at our really bad puns, and stay up with us past midnight.  We have a lot of wonderful friends. 

And they're gold.