I just wrapped up my chat with John Anealio and Patrick Hester from Function Nerds. You can check them out at www.functionalnerds.com. Thanks guys. It was great fun. My chat should be up December 30th so please look for it.
John, Patrick and I spent a bit of time talking music. John's a musician and music teacher. From the sounds of it Patrick just loves to sing; I'm pretty sure I heard southern soul in there. And it sounded good. Me, I'm a vocal misfit turned book sales rep. and science fiction writer; in college I wanted to sing opera but I didn't have the bombastic pipes to make a go of it. Maybe we should put a band together for one of next years' cons. Names anyone?
Three years ago, my brother-in-law (the finest pastry chef in the Centennial State) challenged me to write every day for an entire month. He was going to do it and I’d been making noises about a storyline that wouldn’t go away. So, we signed up for a once-a-month writing challenge called NaNoWriMo and off we went. Thirty days later, after many late nights at Panera and Starbucks and my kitchen table, I had 50,000 words staring back at me, a can-do space Marine named Promise, and the bones of a military space opera.
Then I did what most would-be writers do. I filed it away in a graveyard of best intentions and ill-conceived plans. December came and went. Snow accumulated in the Rockies. Late at night - before bed, when my boys were sleeping and I had that rare moment of solace - I thought of Promise and her exploits.
She kept calling my name. “William, I’m not done yet. Finish my story.”
I kept answering her with the same excuses. “Seriously, do you know how much work that entails? I have a day job, which requires me to travel…weeks out of the year. I have a wife and three boys. Ink Master, Cinemark, and Once Upon a Time will miss me. But, Promise wouldn’t shut up. So, back to the kitchen table I went.
When I passed 100,000 words I knew I was in this for good. I was hooked. I wanted Promise out there, storming the shelves of booksellers everywhere in her powered mechboots. When it got personal I made a list of next steps.
1. Rewrite and focus upon quality verses quantity
2. Gather early readers and knowledge experts to vet my work
3. Research my knowledge gaps
4. Find a killer agent
5. Sell the book
The rewrite was an invaluable learning process. I threw whole sections out. Entire characters died on the cutting room floor. Frankly, offing them was a lot of fun. Promise changed her last name. Close family read early drafts. Their candor hurt at times but thickened my shell. And, I discovered as much about what not to do as I did about what works on the page. Promise and her Marines came to life.
Developing a focus group was no small task; actually, it’s still a work in progress and I suspect it always will be. Many well-meaning people said yes, I’ll read it, and then never did. A few people actually read it but had little to say beyond the self-imposed, obligatory “I really liked it.” I needed more than that.
Then Mark Gabriel stepped into the gap. He’s a retired Navy commander turned teacher-of-troubled-teens and part-time gunsmith. Mark became my no-holds-barred beta reader. At one point, I crashed a shuttle with a platoon of Marines aboard. There was just one glaring problem with that scene, and Mark spotted is immediately. “What? No ejection seats?”
My mother, Doctor Deborah Bauers, became my in-house editor. I’m a crappy speller and grammar is no friend of mine. Just ask my mom. In case I haven’t told her lately, thanks Mom, you’re aces.
Quality readers are like rare earth ore. There’s not enough to go around. Find one and you’ve discovered Lucky Charm’s cauldron of gold. I had to seek them out. Living in a military town certainly helped. Soon, I had a corps of retired Sailors and Marines given me feedback. Coming from a military family filled in some of the gaps in my knowledge but by no means all of them. I followed Stephen King’s advice in On Writing: write until you run into something you don’t know and then go find out about it, and then write some more. I read and interviewed and listened and asked questions. The veil fell away. I started talking in military acronyms. Stuff became “gear.” The wife became my “alpha unit.” When I left the house I ordered my boys to “look lively” and “stay on me.”
Finding an agent required a solid year of patience and stick-to-itiveness. A. Solid. Year. I queried over thirty agents and researched many more that were not good fits. Cherry Weiner was near the top of my list and the first to respond to my query. She told me to come back in six months if I still didn’t have an agent. As the months rolled by so did the rejection letters. Several agents responded with encouragements and “keep goings” but ultimately chose not to take me on, and the reasons were strikingly similar: I didn’t feel as strongly about the writing as I hoped; there were moments, William, but not enough for me to want to take this further. Stuff like that. One of the top SF agents in the country flat out told me my book wasn’t marketable. Six months later, I went back to Cherry. She read the book and asked me to revise a small list of items. This was her test and thank God I passed it. Less than two weeks after she signed me I had a book deal with Tor/Forge.
Cherry Weiner is worth her weight in gold-plated contracts.
My debut SF, Unbreakable, the first in the Chronicles of Promise Paen, is out in less than three months. January 13th, 2015 is P-day (publishing day). The sequel is scheduled for a year later. Unbreakable is releasing in hardcover, e-book, digital audio, and at least one publisher has inquired about foreign language rights. Unzerbrechlich? Maybe. Two years ago I had a manuscript and a dream. Now, I’m walking in high cotton: great agent; great editor; great publisher; and a very small but growing list of converts/fans. I even have an evangelist or two.
I owe a lot of thank-yous to a lot of people. This list is by no means exhaustive:
To Jeremy, my brother-in-law, for encouraging me to try.
To NaNoWriMo, for some much-needed structure and encouraging dailies.
To Lauren Kaplan and Ronie Kendig for their early reads and encouragement.
To Bryan DeBates at the Space Foundation Discovery Center.
To Lt. Col. Gary Foster, USAF (ret.); Col. Tim Hill, USMC (ret.); and Maj. Mike Heath, USMC (ret.).
Special thanks to Cmdr. Mark Gabriel, USN (ret.), for advice and technical assistance.
To Mom, for tolerating less-than-stellar writing and line edits.
To Cherry Weiner, for seeing something there.
To Marco Palmieri and Tor, for giving a fledging writer a shot.
To the author of life. You wrote a crazy story and I can’t wait to get to the end.
Galleys just hit my door. Whoot! I'm giving away a signed copy. To enter simply leave a comment below by 9/2/2014.
Help me get the word out about UNBREAKABLE and Promise Paen.
Preorder a copy of UNBREAKABLE. E or P (that's electronic or physical - I support both), and please support your local indie store. BUY HERE.
Give a copy away.
Get Caught reading UNBREAKABLE. Send the pic and your handle to email@example.com. I'll give you a shout-out in return.
Like my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter.
Invite 10 friends to do the same.
Pin UNBREAKABLE and share on your social sites (hold your cursor over the image and click "Pin It").
Copy and Share these suggestions or create your own:
#Unbreakable by @wcbauers is a fantantastic debut SF, part #StarshipTroopers, part #Firefly, you had me at Firefly! http://www.wcbauers.com/books.html
@daytonward @davidweber1 @dkollin recommend #Unbreakable by @wcbauers, "mil spec'd" SF you can't put
@daytonward says #Unbreakable is a bit #StarshipTroopers, a bit #EsmaySuiza,
& a bit #Firefly for flavor http://www.wcbauers.com/books.html
I can't thank you enough!
I try to swim above politics, and not get too bogged down by what this politician said or that politician did. Life is too precious to obsess about political chicanery. I have little faith in my own party...or the fringe movements…mostly, they aren’t worthy of my time. But, the recent comments by Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden about their wealth (or lack thereof) have got me hot like a tarred arrow set on fire. If you haven't followed the news in the last week, both presumptive candidates for the Democrat Party nomination for POTUS are trying to downplay their personal wealth in a bizarre attempt to do only God knows what…appeal to Main Street maybe? Or the little guy? Or make me feel sorry for their vaulted status? Joe, you may not own stock or a savings account but your wife does and she’s loaded, buddy. Speaking as one of those little guys on Main Street, I find their comments loathsome, disgusting, disingenuous, and impoverished. Comments worthy of a political straw man but not of a leader.
I’ve never been poor. But my parents went through hard times when I was a child. I remember the day mom and dad came home from work and told me they’d lost their jobs…on the same day! We lost our home a few months later. You know what, they picked themselves up and we recovered and I am better for it. Enough said.
Let's be honest, please? If you enter political office at a high enough level, your future is set for life. For your lifetime. (Hugh Hewitt made exactly this point yesterday on his radio show) You're going to have a nice lecture circuit when you leave office, and very likely a book deal, and you'll be asked to sit on boards and consult and you'll be compensated well for your efforts. And why shouldn't you be. I’m a capitalist and money is not the root of all evil. To act otherwise is just insane. Like Jon Stewart said, "Why do these two seem to think we need a hobo for president? Own what you have, it's fine."
Jon, I couldn’t agree more. Who’s the bigger hobo? I’ll let you decide.
But, I have a suggestion to help you make up your mind. I've become a recent fan of Dr. Ben Carson. (maybe
not for president, but I’d take him as SECHHS any day) How about a Carson/Clinton/Biden "Poor Off." Carson owns what he has and he owns his meager, dirt-poor beginnings too. He’s made a life for himself and his family
by NOT making excuses for his disadvantages or playing the sympathy card for his successes.
Poverty is nothing to be ashamed of. Wealth is a blessing, not something you hide under a bush. (There are at least three of them in politics so take your pick) Biden and Clinton expected their woe-is-me talking points to score political points with the little guys, and it’s backfiring on them. Clinton, please turn around in your limo seat and take a good look out of the back window. See the cloud of smoke pouring out of the tailpipe? Stop growing your carbon footprint by spewing fiction. What you’ve proved, beyond all doubt, it you are too poor to lead.
The finalists for the 2014 Hugo Awards and for the 1939 Retrospective Hugo Awards have been selected. Winners will be announced during Loncon3 in London, which takes place August 14-18.
Check out my interview with one of the finalists, Anne Leckie. My money is on her.
There's much talk about who's on the list, who isn't, who should have been and who should definitely NOT be. For what it's worth, I believe it should be about the work, not the politics of the author. The SF community is incredibly diverse: left and right, near and far (remember Grover?), humans and droids, SF and sci-fi (you should hear the rants), blah blah blah. Make it about the work. If you liked the book and deem it worthy, vote for it. If not, don't. If you can't vote, buy a membership so you can. At the very least, go buy a book (physical or digital - I support both).
Happy post-Easter whether your an "egg" or a "cross" (or both).
My Boys: “We’re bored.”
Me: “Good, go deal with it.”
Heard this lately? I have…a lot. My three guys are typical for three, six, and nearly eight. Rough and tumble, curious, easily distracted, and wont to bounce off the furniture. But, press power and the laughter and giggles
and sib-bickering and tears stop. The house falls quiet. Thank God, I think because I can actually hear my own thoughts. The “Power” button changes everything and my three image-bearing hellions morph into laser-focused, butt-still, pacified kids. God knows I need the still. I crave the quiet. On occasion, pressing power to get it is okay. Really, it is. I even join my guys on occasion and zone with them, and then we talk about what we just watched. Those are some of the best conversations. But do you know what? “Tech time” is one of the worst things I can do for them on a regular basis. Notice that I said regular basis. I borrowed the term from my mother, the Great and Powerful Ree. Ree doesn’t do grandma. She does Ree and Ree is worthy of the underline. Ree has gotten to the core of this blog post. Media and tech are different. We consume one through or with the other. But, for the sake of brevity – you do get my point – Tech Time works nicely.
For the record, I am not opposed to TV or video games or media in general. I grew up with the first two in carefully metered doses. Ree knew what she was doing. Carefully metered for a reason. My parents just knew that reading a book was a better use of my time. They didn’t need a PSA or government study to tell them that. I know far more now about how the brain works than my parents did then. The science of neuroplasticity has taught me about how the brain changes. It adapts. It can learn and evolve. But it can also atrophy if not properly cared for and Tech Time is one of the worst offenders. Tech, when used inappropriately or overused in place of human interaction, sabotages the mind, and too much Tech Time comes with a price.
Media has changed a lot. More violence, more language, more mature themes. All. The. Time. Even little girls are sexed-up and our young women are taking it all off. Nothing is sacred anymore. If you just pictured a wrecking ball and Ms. Cyrus swinging across the screen, buck-naked with her tongue hanging out, then you know exactly what I mean.
More, more, and more of everything, literally at the push of a navigational button. Before we got wired, before the smartphone or iPad, before some of us had brick phones, the best-selling book Amusing Ourselves to Death made the case that cheap, on-demand, all-pervasive entertainment was killing us. Our journalism, our education, our on and off time is beholden to electronic media, round-the-watch. And the price is our ability to imagine, to play creatively, and to turn a pile of blocks into a maximum security fortress that G. I. Joe can’t break into, except Joe always finds a way. And you know what, when I shut of the tech my boys do too. Reluctantly, at first. But they manage to stumble and trip into Wonka’s World of Imagination.
This afternoon, I listened to my two oldest gripe about no TV or gaming on Sundays, for thirty minutes. None, at all. It’s one of our rules. We just check out on God’s day. If I don’t teach them to make Sunday a day of rest
– including taking a break from tech – they will never know what it means to unplug. But that’s Sunday. What about the rest of the week?
Rather than let this post devolve into a list of dos and don’ts or a pile of guilt – neither is my intention – here’s a list of suggestions that we’ve found helpful in managing Tech Time in our home:
1. Homework, reading, mealtimes, a goodaudio book, playing outside, and face-to-face communication
come first. Always. Tech Time is a treat, not a staple of our diets.
2. We consumer entertainment with our kids and then talk about it afterward. Turning Tech Time
into teachable moments gives us the chance to instill character and values and discernment into our children. And we stay educated on pop culture too.
3. If the show, toon, app or game mouths off, we shut it off. Clear enough. There are a half million words
in the English language. Colorful metaphors have a place, once in a while...when the boys are older. Like forty. But, for now…and most of the time, regardless of age, there is a more excellent way.
4. Toons or CGIs or human actors need to act in an age-appropriate way or they will not be allowed in our
home. Morals count, even onscreen. We all have a learning curve, even toons. There's grace for that. But if they aren't learning to make good choices then my guys can't learn from them - bye, bye, bye. If their morals don't sync with ours, hasta la vista. Decide what this means for your family and draw the line in the sand. Sponge Bob is outside the circle of trust because the sponge takes off his pants and trounces around in his underwear with his underwater friends. Call me toonaphobic, but little boys (and girls) need to understand that doing likewise is not okay. Ever. Bye, bye, bye Mr. No-pants.
5. When we’re in public, our ears are open, not shrouded with headphones or buds. First, we need to be aware of our surroundings. Cars, crying kids, a cry for help, or the footfalls behind us that shouldn’t be. Situational awareness is critical to our personal safety. We cannot afford to NOT hear what's happening around us. Secondly, zoning out in public is just plain rude. How can we teach our children to be empathetic and attentive and aware of the needs of others if we let them retreat into a hyper-narcissistic world of entertainment-on-demand?
6. It’s better to be bored than entertained. This goes for restaurants and public events too. Whenever I
see a family sitting down to share a meal, without tech, my heart warms. But I’m seeing more and more families in restaurants with their phones out and their eyes glazed over, kids zoning with tech while the parents talk...or don't talk as is often the case. Makes me so sad. Now don’t get me wrong. There are times…and believe me I’ve been there...when I just need some peace and quiet and I will do most anything to buy it. I am not a perfect parent, not by a kilometer. Tech time in a restaurant is fine…as long as it’s not regularly on the menu. Conversation should be the appetizer, not pacifying entertainment. If I let my sons habitually zone with media in restaurants just so I can have peace, I’m teaching them to zone others out too. Maybe even zone out me. To disengage from being human. I’m creating little narcissists. Better to deal with the chaos now instead of emotionally disabled kids later. We will all be the better for it.
This list is by no means exhaustive. it's not perfect either. But it’s a start. I’m a big believer in doing something verses nothing. Even a small measure of intention can pay huge dividends. No one is perfect. No. Not. One. I don’t hold myself to that standard and I’ll never apply it to you. But, I believe we all need to give this matter serious thought, if not for ourselves then for our kids, and for their futures. Think it over. Press power-off a little more. Make one change in the way your family consumes Tech Time and let me know how it goes.
I write military sf and read and watch a lot of the same. Blood, guts, and swearing abound. If you want good reads try John Scalzi and W.E.B. Griffin (pronounced "Web" Griffin), David Weber (the "Great One" in my opinion - this has nothing to do with his stature by the way), and Orson Scott Card. Card's Ender's Game is required reading, at least it should be. Frank Herbert is a must too. Dune made me fall for sf all over again.
Language is a regular trope in military sf. Think Gunny Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. Or the DI in Scalzi's Old Man's War. By the way, Scalzi can string colorful metaphors like a poet - I've never laughed or blushed so hard as I did in the first half of OMW.
If I tell you a character "swears like a sailor" I bet you know exactly what I mean. Thank Hollywood and reams of pulp for that. And ex-military like my late grandfather, God rest his soul. Chief Petty Officer Bill Coates was a sinner in his early years, and an unvarnished saint in midlife and retirement after a "come to Jesus meeting." Jesus came in, kicked the hell out of him, and never did leave. But grandpa kept some of his rough edges. I remember sitting with him in his den, and something on the news would spark one of his songs like "No More Navy, Gee Mom I Wanna Go Home" - which was actually pretty tame now that I think about it - and my mother would clear her throat as he reached the salty part in the song. "Ah, mom, come on." Grandpa always did an about-face in front of her, charged head on when it was just the two of us. Those were the days. Sure which he and his songs were still with us too.
As a writer, I'm mindful of characters and caricatures like Gunny Hartman. He's one type of soldier but he isn't every soldier or even every gunny. And I question how realistic his character is. I should state here that I've never served so I have to go on what I read about and hear and see, including my interviews with women and men in uniform. Are there counterparts to the foul-mouthed Gunny Hartmans of the world? You know, the ones who aren't. Foul-mouthed. Really? Well, yeah, I know some, and maybe they are more common than we realize. Maybe more so than a lot of us realize. My parents lived by a retired Marine Corps gunny for years. To paraphrase a conversation they relayed to me, the gunny said he took pleasure, and sometimes displeasure, in dressing down a lot of privates in his career. But he was always mindful about how he did it, and if he had to use a four-letter word to get his point across then he wasn't very good at his job. Really? If he had to swear he wasn't very good at his job? That's interesting...and it contradicts about every stereotype of a gunnery sergeant I can think of, right? Maybe, but maybe not. I know another retired Marine Corps gunny who isn't exactly straight-laced, but his mouth isn't an off-color fusillade either. He doesn't say a lot but what he says is weighty...and people listen...and he has an excellent command of the English language. I know a retired Army "Light" Colonel the size of a tank who is careful with his words and his life. He's an imposing man and only a fool would cross him. But he made a conscious decision years ago to watch his language. There's a retired Navy commander and a retired Air Force "Light" Colonel who made similar decisions during their careers too.
Living in a military town you meet a lot of military guys and gals. I've had the chance to get to know some better than others, and I've learned that some swear and some try not to, others just don't. Period. They will all tell you that stress and swearing tend to go hand-in-hand. Combat stress unleashes the tongue. It's just human nature. Go smash your thumb with a hammer and you'll get a small taste of what I mean. But, day-to-day, a lot of sailors and airmen and soldiers and Marines are as straight-laced as a boot.
Which brings me to my point. Hollywood doesn't always get it right. Authors don't always get it right. "Civvies" like me don't always get it right either. The military isn't a homogenous group of foul-mouthed war-fighters. The truth is a lot of us aren't in the military and don't know someone who is all that well. We are informed by the opinion of others, and those opinions are only types and shadows of a larger truth. Don't get me wrong. I don't doubt there are foul-mouthed sailors and Marines who are foul-mouthed all the time, and gunny's that can drop the f-bomb one hundred ways. And I'm sure their are many shades of grey. Soldiers who swear a bit, some a bit more, and some a lot but never around their mothers. But there's also a cadre of women and men who are as careful with their words as they are with the people under their command. And as a writer I feel a great burden to remember and respect and represent them in my stories too.
I just wrapped up the edits to UNBREAKABLE, book one in The Chronicles of Promise Paen, and Tor accepted it for publication. Thank you God!
Sometime during the Winter of 2015. Date to come. And I learned a few things along the way.
Track changes in MS Word is powerful and it will save you hours. After your first good draft is on-screen (defined as quality writing that still needs work), instead of making changes right away - particularly large changes like swapping chapters and rewriting key elements of the plot - set the manuscript aside for a few weeks. Let it, and your mind, rest. Then go back for another read. Make notes as you "read through" the entire manuscript because you're probably looking at a substantial amount of re-working. And your initial thoughts may not be your final thoughts. Expect them not to be. Make notes as you go, read through to "the end" (but please don't be so obvious), then go back and reread your notes. Revise them first, then your book. You may decide to nix certain ideas, replace them with others. Doing this will save you even more hours.
Create a "Cast of characters." Record every habit, eye color, saying, and factoid about each of your characters. Major, even minor. That way, you don't turn your leading blond into a brunette, or discover she grew a pair and became a he. Yup, happened. And note when you "off" someone. Just saying.
As you world-build, draft a legend or key. If men's hair is fashionably long, note that. If you're writing Mil SF like I am, details about uniforms and weapons matter and culture can make or break your book, particularly if you're inconsistent. In Promise's world, the "Lusies" say "All Hands To Action Stations." But not the "Publicans." It's "All Hands to Battle Stations" for them. The difference matters.
Watch your date stamps too. Lay them out chronologically so you don't jump days unnecessarily or hop back in time. I created a one-to-three-sentence synopsis of each chapter, in order, which was invaluable. For instance, wounds take time to heal, some more than others. You have to allow for that in your writing. Unless there's "quickheal." Then it doesn't matter, but that's an altogether different matter.
Bottom line...If the detail is important, write...it...down, because writing fiction is hard and you can't possible keep all the details in your head. That's a sure recipe for #authorfail. At least I can't. Wasn't born with that gift and you probably weren't either.