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Monthly Archives: March 2015

“Extraordinary” is the new short story from author K. M. Herkes about Valerie Wade, a single mom that learns she may be a “poz,” a superhuman with abilities beyond what most people are capable of doing. It’s set in the world of Rough Passages, Herkes’ series about a civilization that’s trying to find ways to deal with the new reality they’re faced with as humans begin to develop amazing abilities. What sets this apart from other series about super-powered people is that most people don’t develop their abilities until they hit middle-age.

The story follows Valerie during one of the most difficult times in her life, as she’s struggling to raise her two kids with only the help of her elderly mother and still dealing with her split from her abusive ex-husband. Her mother is openly hostile toward people identified as positives, and Valerie fears what she might say if her daughter was identified as one. She fears for the future of her children. Some people that develop these extraordinary abilities become too powerful too fast, and Valerie is terrified that she could be one of these burnouts.

This story hooked me in early, and I enjoyed every word of it. There’s a lot to like about it, but the best part was the characters, particularly Valerie herself. She’s a strong person. She’s dealt with a lot in her life and she keeps pushing forward. As readers, we get to know her through her narration and we learn about her fears, worries, and her internal battles. I wanted good things for this character, because after only a few pages of the story I felt sure that she was someone that deserved better than life had given her. Her emotions were expertly woven into this story, and I could hear her voice in my head as I was reading along.

I think it’s important for me to note something here, too. I’m not opposed to “unlikeable” or non-traditional protagonists, and the reason I liked reading about Valerie Wade wasn’t just because she’s portrayed as a good person–it’s because she’s a well-written, layered character. That’s the backbone of good fiction, and it’s a part of what made “Extraordinary” so much fun to read.

The other part I liked was the world that Herkes has created for Rough Passages. All throughout “Extraordinary” there are little bits of the story that reveal more of the world, and it’s a fantastic setting for this new series. There’s a lot of subtle worldbuilding here, and most of it is seamless. There’s a lot to see if you read closely, but (even better) you don’t need to read through bulky chunks of text that slow the story down. I don’t want to tell you too much about it here, because the story does a perfect job of easing the reader into it and painting a good picture of what life is like in Valerie’s world. There are so many awesome things happening in the periphery of this story, little details that made me want to know more. It’s clear that Herkes has put in a good amount of time thinking about how to present this to the reader. I’m excited to see what’s ahead for this series. Even though this story is listed as the first volume of Rough Passages, I know that Herkes has previously published other stories set in this world. Those other stories are on my list now, and I’ll be on the lookout for future installments.

I really liked reading about an average person trying to cope with these huge life events, especially in a case like this where it differs from so many other stories like it. People in the Rough Passages world are basically turning into superheroes, but this tale wasn’t action-packed and it didn’t focus on a character’s coming-of-age. This is a story about an adult, with an already crazy life, trying to cope with problems that are completely beyond her control. It’s a very human story, if you know what I mean. I think there’s something here for everyone, even people that might not normally read fantasy and science fiction.

I read this story in less than an hour, all in one sitting, but it had a big impact upon me. If you like short stories and you’re partial to great characters (who isn’t?), then I highly recommend “Extraordinary.”

You can get “Extraordinary” on Amazon for only 99 cents.

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I learned a ton from writing, revising, and getting ready to publish my new short story “Catch and Release”. I figured it would help me, and maybe others, if I took time to record some of these experiences. I want to start with raw data that I found by using the features that Microsoft Word has to track documents.

Note that when I say x-amount of hours spent writing and revising, I’m talking about the total amount of time, not consecutive. Here’s an overview of the time spent writing and word counts:

I started writing this story on 6/28/14. The completed first draft took me approximately 19 hours to write (18 hours and 44 minutes according to Word). Strangely enough, it took me about 19 days to write the draft. The word count for this initial draft was 5,036.

My revised first draft was the result of about 90 more hours spent writing and revising. The word count increased slightly, to 5,212.

The second draft came after another nine hours of writing and revising. This was when the word count really started to go up–here it was 8,143 words.

Once I had this second draft, I sent it to Angela for editing. Based on her comments and suggestions, I expanded the story even further: I put in another 54 hours of writing and revising, and the word count jumped again to land at 10,608 words.

One more round of editing later, I had the final version of the story done on 3/13/15. The word count went down, but only by 100 words or so.

OK, so, why am I telling you all of this? What’s my point?

Normally, I come up with an idea for a story and find that, as time goes on, the idea grows far beyond its original scope. It’s something that I’ve tried to become more aware of lately, since I recognize the danger of letting every little story balloon into a big project. When I started writing “Catch and Release” I wanted it to be roughly the same length as my first published story, somewhere around 5,000 words. Looking back now, I’m not entirely sure why I was so set on that. My original estimate was wrong, by a good amount.

I tried to do something that I normally wouldn’t, writing a story with a very specific number of words as the target–and it didn’t work for me. The story is twice as long as I imagined it would be, but it took me a while to figure that out. This reinforced my long-held belief that, when it comes to fiction, word counts are really nothing to worry about until the story is already written. Setting goals is fine, but (at least for me) they should not be the only thing to guide the way.

The reason “Catch and Release” ended up twice its original length had nothing to do with my tendency to go overboard. This time, the story demanded it. My early drafts simply didn’t tell enough of the story. Too much vague dialogue, too many unanswered questions, and (most alarmingly) not enough character development. Characters are the essence of my stories, and so I could not leave this story the way it was, knowing that the characters I’d created were not alive within the text. A large chunk of those words that I added were written into the story as a way to put more of the characters on the pages. By taking the time needed to develop the characters more, I learned what this story was–as opposed to what I thought it was going to be–and ultimately that made for a better story.

I’ll be posting more on this topic soon, so check back here for more on the process behind writing “Catch and Release” and more info as we get closer to publication.

The first and most important aspect of self-publishing is this: when you make the decision to self-publish, however you do it, you’re taking on 100% of the responsibility. This sounds like an obvious statement, but I really think it’s impossible to overstate the necessity for careful consideration of the fact. When you self-publish, you own it. Some authors know what this means, and they act like it, while others seem to want all the perks of ownership without acknowledging the responsibilities.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make all the decisions. Self-publishing allows authors the freedom to work within their own parameters and on their own terms. The challenge that every self-published author faces is to maintain a certain level of quality. Why is this challenging? Because with self-publishing, no one has the right to tell the author what to do–the author must learn to distinguish between what they can do and what they should do.

When you get right down to it, there are hardly any solid rules for self-publishing that are enforced by the industry.  I’m not talking about size requirements for cover images or particular file formats that are accepted. Authors are free to write what they please (as it should be), but they’re also free to publish their work with little or no editorial input from an outside source. If you’ve read a number of self-published titles, then you know why this is a problem. For every independent author whose books are well-polished and show a commitment to quality, there are at least two others that are filled with typos and show a lack of effort on the part of the author.

I would argue that self-published authors need to enforce some rules upon themselves, if they’re serious about producing high-quality work. Since the writing is ultimately what matters, this starts with editing. I believe all self-published authors should have their work edited by someone else. I do think there are problems with the traditional model of publishing, but the practice of editing is not one of them. There’s a reason publishers dedicate time and resources to editing the products that they release: they’re conscious of their audience. (Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of traditionally published books I’ve read that were marred by errors. But that’s a different blog post…)

Self-published authors should be conscious of their audience, too. Again, it seems like such a basic idea, but the implications are huge. If an author thinks their story is good enough to be published without any revisions, then that’s technically an option. Good authors should be honest enough to know that it’s a poor option, because it says one very important thing about the author–they don’t care about their readers enough to present them with the best product that they can.

Self-published authors need to own their work, and admit that not every part of the process is something that should be done solo. The difference between an author that owns her work and one that doesn’t is obvious to any discerning reader.

For me it’s a simple choice. I see the value of editing. I want my readers to respect the work I publish, even if they don’t like the stories I tell. And that starts with me showing respect for them.

I’ve been working on creating a world map of Aldirnföld, the home of the Barin-Bál. This is the most important location in my series, The Aldirnföld Cycle, so it was important for me to make an image of the place. For this first map, I didn’t try to do too much: I wanted to give a broad view of the world; to show the general layout of the continents and islands; and also to have a base map that I could use like a template. Another thing to keep in mind is that this map was not drawn to scale.

Here’s how I made the map…

First, I started with a plain white 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper. I sketched out the rough shapes of continents in pencil. I wasn’t concerned with where the continents would be on the final map or which way they’d be oriented.

aldirnfold_map_sketch

Once I had that, I scanned it. I used GIMP, which is an amazing piece of free software, to take that rough sketch and turn it into a map. For free software, it’s got a ton of features, most of which I still don’t know how to use. Using GIMP, I was able to clean up the edges of my sketch and make sure I had the continents in the shapes I wanted. It looked like this…

aldirnfold_continents_outlines

As you can see, I started to move the continents around a little and get some idea of where they’d be sitting. I added color to distinguish between land and water, and I also ended up switching some more things around. The last pieces I added were the ice at the top of the map and a few extra islands scattered around. So…

aldirnfold_world_map_1

I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. This was my first time making one with software, and I think it serves its purpose. Eventually, I plan on making some other maps of the world, to show geological features, population distribution, weather patterns, etc.

What do you think? I’d like to hear your thoughts on it, so please comment! I want to know what jumps out at you, what you like/don’t like, or anything else that comes to mind. My goal is to keep making maps like this, and your feedback will go a long way toward helping me learn what I need to improve.

More stuff on the way…

 

…Oh, and if you missed my last post, you should definitely check that out. I wrote about my new story that’s coming out soon, and gave a little introduction to The Aldirnföld Cycle.

 

When I published “Specimen 25” last year, I had some ideas for what I wanted to do next. Now, I’m going to tell you a little about what I’ve been working on and what to expect in the future.

The Aldirnföld Cycle is a series of linked narratives, or a story cycle if you prefer, that tells the story of a world in conflict with itself, its peoples, and its future. It’s a science-fiction/fantasy series featuring a wide cast of characters whose lives become entangled across time, space, and worlds. Each individual story is a small part of the project, building toward the full picture.

“Specimen 25” is what I consider ‘Book 0’ of The Aldirnföld Cycle. Since I didn’t have a good idea of what came next when I started writing, it’s not as deliberate as what’s to come. I wrote that story for fun, before I had any notion of it becoming part of a series. I think it’s an interesting way to introduce people to the series, since it focuses on the experience of a character who plays a (seemingly) minor role in the larger tale. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I’ll be running another promotion on the Kindle store soon for everyone to download it for free–so keep an eye out, I’ll make an announcement about that soon.

Coming Soon: Catch and Release
The next story is titled “Catch and Release”, and it takes place just after the events of “Specimen 25”. The protagonist is Jackson Carter, a detective for the VPD who finds himself at a crossroads when he encounters a stranger from another world. In the span of an afternoon, his view of the universe changes forever and he’s forced to make a difficult decision. Who can he trust? What are the limits of his duty? His choices will alter the course of his destiny and echo on a cosmic scale.

I’ll be posting on here more over the next few weeks, as we get closer to the publication of “Catch and Release”. Some of the things I want to talk about: the process of writing the story and getting it ready, which taught me a few important lessons; its place in the larger structure of The Aldirnföld Cycle; the conflicts that drive the story; and a few other bits that I’m working on. I still haven’t set a release date for the story yet, but I will be coming here first to let everyone know when I do.

Also, I’ll be having an online release party for the story on Facebook, and I’ll post all the details about that here once I have it figured out. There’s going to be discussions, some giveaways, and I’m looking to get some other authors to join in. If anyone has suggestions or ideas for that, I’m listening. I expect it will be fun to do, but probably a little bumpy since I’ve never done anything like it.

Thanks for reading. Keep an eye on this site, I am going to be rearranging some pieces of my little digital corner here. I’ll have more details soon…