Kick off the New Year with a new short story by yours truly!

Cover of "Not Malicious. Just Unlucky"

Not Malicious. Just Unlucky

A fantasy short story

That’s right. I have FINALLY succeeded in indie publishing all four of the short stories originally published in Fantastic Depths. You can now find all four of them on ebook retailers everywhere.

Here’s the sales blurb for Not Malicious. Just Unlucky for those who don’t know what it’s about:

“For four years, Alica Onok has been trying to get rid of a mysterious enchanted staff that has caused her nothing but trouble since her grandmother gave it to her on her twentieth birthday. Yet it seems like no matter what Alica does, the staff always returns to her, whole and in one piece, as if it had never left her side at all.

Then Alica finds out that an unlucky spirit lives within the staff, a spirit who has been bounded to the staff for years and wants his freedom now. Without knowing any magic herself, however, Alica is powerless to free the spirit, forcing her to come up with an alternative means of doing so. Because if she fails, she will remain cursed with unluckiness forever.

Also contains an excerpt from Timothy L. Cerepaka’s next novel, “The Last Legend: Glitch Apocalypse,” set for release in January 2015 from Annulus Publishing.”

Buy Not Malicious. Just Unlucky from:

Amazon I Barnes & Noble I Kobo I Smashwords I Google Play I DriveThruFiction I Libiro I XinXii I Omnilit

In my opinion, the biggest selling point is that it has an excerpt from my upcoming science-fantasy novel, The Last Legend: Glitch Apocalypse, which is set for release later this month. So if you want to get a sneak peek of my next novel, I suggest downloading Not Malicious. Just Unlucky from your favorite ebook retailer and reading it right away.

Regarding my new website: It’s still not ready to go live. However, I think it will be ready to go live after January 5th, which is three days away. I will post more about my new website once I have a firm launch date in mind.

Looking Forward: 2015

As I said in the previous post, today I will be writing about my plans and goals for 2015. This is a post I’ve been looking forward to write since the beginning of this month, as I have some really cool things planned and I just want to share them with everyone who reads this blog.

So here are my plans for next year:

#1: Write (and submit to traditional markets) one short story a week every week

That’s right. I am going to do what hundreds of other writers have done before me and take up the “one short story a week” challenge.

I have a few reasons for doing this: First, it will make me a little bit of extra cash, cash that could help fund my indie publishing efforts; second, it will act as advertising for my indie books; and third, it will give me more practice writing short fiction, which I feel is an area I am weak in.

I will still be indie publishing my novels, don’t worry, but my short fiction will likely not see an indie release immediately. I will only publish my short fiction if I fail to sell it or once the rights revert back to me from the market I sell it to.

I think this challenge will be GREAT fun. I will probably rack up an impressive list of rejections, just like most writers, but if I can sell even one short story, it will all be worth it.

#2: Create a new website

I’ve had this WordPress.com website for a year and a half now, I believe, but now I think it is time I moved onto a self-hosted WordPress.org website.

Don’t get me wrong. I like WordPress.com a lot, but it doesn’t offer as many options as a self-hosted WordPress site does. I feel limited in my choices and options here (for example, I can’t include a sign-up form on any of my pages for my newsletter, which is a BIG problem, in my opinion).

This new website will probably launch in January. I am still in the process of designing it and learning about everything I can do with it, but I am hoping to have it online by January 1st. I am also going to make sure that I move all of my followers on this blog to the new one.

Whenever I manage to get it up, I will be sure to post about it here. For now, here’s a link to the “Coming soon” page: http://www.timothylcerepaka.com/

#3: Books, books, BOOKS!!!

With a smooth workflow set up, I think 2015 will be the Year of Tons of Books for me. I have several series planned, not counting the 52 short stories I will be writing as part of the “one short story a week” challenge I will be undertaking.

Here’s a glimpse of what I have planned for next year:

-The Prince Malock World Omnibus
-My 2014 NaNoWrimo novel, The Last Legend: Glitch Apocalypse, plus the four short stories I wrote to go along with it, will be published in ebook and trade paperback in January
-A sequel series to the Prince Malock World, currently titled Mages of Martir, with the first book slated for release in early 2015
-A series of humorous science-fiction short stories
-A science-fiction trilogy
-A science-fantasy series
-A mystery novel about an ex-superhero detective

As you can no doubt tell, I have A LOT of product to start writing next year. Whether I will actually finish it all and get it published in 2015, I don’t know, but I will certainly try my best.

Also, the Prince Malock World novella series is canceled for now. I wrote a couple of them, but they didn’t feel right to me, so for now I am putting this subseries on the backburner. It will instead be replaced by the Mages of Martir series I mentioned above, which will be a series of four (possibly five) novels taking place thirty years after the end of the last Prince Malock book. Stay tuned for that.

I will be talking more about these books and other projects as the year progresses.

#4: Promotion

Promotion is a difficult topic among indie writers. Some will create huge elaborate social media campaigns for their book, while others will rely solely on word of mouth to get the sales going. There’s a lot of disagreement about how much promotion a writer should do, although no one disputes that you have to do some promotion in order to bring your books to the attention of potential readers.

Myself, I have not been doing much promotion (outside of this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and the newsletter) because I have been researching all of the various kinds of promotional techniques other indies use to bump up their sales numbers. I want to make sure I pick the right promotional techniques that give me the best return on investment without wasting precious time that could be better spent writing the next novel.

Next year, I will be doing more promotion than I did this year. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I have a few promotional ideas I’d like to try out next year, which I hope will work really well. Only time will tell, I suppose.

#5: Audiobooks

With the rapid growth in the audiobook market over the last few years, I’d be a fool to ignore this source of possible revenue.

Therefore, next year I will work on getting the Prince Malock novels into audio, followed by the rest of my novels shortly thereafter. I will probably use Audible to do it.

Besides, I already have electronic and paper covered. Audio is the next frontier for my indie publishing adventure, one I will conquer just as I have conquered the others.

So those are my plans for next year. I suppose you could think of them as New Year’s Resolutions, but honestly I don’t really like that term because a New Year’s Resolution, to me, is something you swear you will do in December of the last year and then forget about it by January of the next year. All of these will be ongoing challenges that I won’t be able to complete in a week or a month. I guess you could still call them Resolutions if you want, but I won’t, so there 😛 .

And I am very, very much excited for all of them. I think 2015 will be a great year if I achieve even half of what I hope to accomplish.

What are your plans for the New Year?

Worldbuilding and short stories

Short stories generally do not require as much worldbuilding as novels.

That may seem an obvious thing to say, but it’s something I sometimes struggle with when I’m writing fantasy or science-fiction short stories. Unless I set a short story in a universe I have written in before, it means coming up with a new world to write in. I try not to do a whole lot. Whereas with a novel I might map out the history of the world (to varying depths depending on the needs of the story, of course), with a short story I will stick strictly to what I need and never make notes on it, again unless it happens to be set in a world I’ve already written in before.

Still, despite that, writing short stories can be difficult for me because I run into a couple of temptations.

The first is to expand the short story into a full-length novel. This isn’t an entirely bad thing to happen, mind you, but I don’t always want to write a novel because I’m not always interested in fleshing out a world or universe in immense detail. Sometimes I just want to explore a simple idea, without having to commit to the length of time a novel usually requires.

The other temptation is to not use any of my good ideas. This thought stems from my fear that I might “waste” a really good idea that I could use for a novel later on, but it’s a really silly fear when you think about it. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “wasted” idea. After all, there’s nothing stopping me from taking that same idea later on and expanding upon it in greater detail in a novel.

Nonetheless, every time I sit down to write a speculative fiction short story set in a universe I’ve never written before, I feel like I have to do the same amount of worldbuilding I would do for a novel. This is where I am thankful for the Ambage, my writers’ group. For both of the anthologies that I’ve contributed to so far — Constellations and Fantastic Depths — I’ve forced myself just to write my stories and do only as much worldbuilding as each story requires, no more, no less.

Once I get past this irrational desire to worldbuild in excess, however, short stories are usually great fun for me to write. Not quite as fun as novels, true, but they are still fun, as writing should be.

-Tim

More thoughts on worldbuilding

In an earlier post of mine, I wrote about the importance of keeping worldbuilding in perspective for speculative fiction writers. I wrote it because too often, I see speculative fiction writers (fantasy writers in particular) worrying far too often about some obscure detail about their world that may or may not be important to the story and not enough about the story itself. I was hoping to reach out to other speculative writers with similar opinions or at least let other people know what I thought.

One thing I forgot to talk about, however, is how you should worldbuild. Personally, I am against the idea of sitting down and planning out the entire world before you write the first word of the actual story. I find that method is a good way to kill your love for the story, mostly because it uses up all the creative energy that should have gone to the story itself.

Instead, I advocate worldbuilding through writing. That is, coming up with details about your fictional world or universe as they are needed in the story itself.

That’s how I’ve been approaching my upcoming novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. I started out with only the barest knowledge of the world I was writing in, enough to get the story going but not enough to crush my imagination and creativity. Beyond those few basic details, the rest of the setting was a complete mystery to me.

And boy, was writing the first and second drafts fun. Both drafts came spilling out of my fingers like the ocean tide. New worldbuilding ideas constantly came to me, both while I was writing the drafts and while I was doing other things unrelated to the novel. In fact, I’ve come up with so many ideas that I doubt I’ll be able to showcase all of them in the novel itself (which is good, actually, because not all of the ideas are important to the story and not all ideas are equally interesting). I imagine that I’ll get even more ideas when I start work on the third draft later.

Now I didn’t worldbuild entirely through writing, mind you. I took some time out of my day to do a little bit of worldbuilding outside of my writing time, but even then, I was working mostly from what I’d already written in the story itself. Also, I didn’t let these details bind me down. If I came up with a better idea while writing the story that contradicted something I wrote in my worldbuilding notes, then the idea in the story became canon and the one in my notes was deleted.

Another important point I’d like to emphasize when using this method is taking notes. You will undoubtedly come up with a lot of worldbuilding ideas when writing, some major, some minor. To keep your ideas straight, I suggest writing down these little details in your worldbuilding notes, either during or after your writing time, and referring back to them when necessary. It will cut down on revision later and make you world seem far more consistent.

If you remember to do that, you might have a lot of fun using this method. So far, it’s been a lot of fun for me, much more fun than sitting down and figuring out every last detail before I write the actual story.

As usual, I must add that this method probably doesn’t work for everyone and that if you’ve already tried it and found you don’t enjoy it that you shouldn’t do it. There are no right or wrong ways of writing a story. Only what works for you.

Nonetheless, I suggest trying it out at least once. You might just enjoy it.

How do you worldbuild? Post your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

“It’s always about the story”

I was rereading Stephen King’s On Writing recently (great book, by the way) and came across this quote from the “On Writing” section, Chapter 6, page 176 of the 10th anniversary edition:

It’s also important to remember it’s not about the setting, anyway—it’s about the story, and it’s always about the story. (emphasis in the original)

In context, King was talking about describing setting, but I think it is a useful reminder for we worldbuilding speculative fiction writers, who can sometimes get so caught up in creating our fictional worlds that we never get around to writing the story that inspired the world.

In particular, the last line — “It’s always about the story” — reflects one of my own deep beliefs about writing, which is that the writer should always focus on what will help the story first and foremost and worry about anything else second.

-Tim

Why endings are important

I am currently in the process of revising my short stories for the new Ambage anthology that is set to come out later this month. In particular, I’ve been revising the ending of one of my stories because I realized (thanks to some criticism I received from a fellow Ambager) that the original ending was predictable, flat, and unsatisfying. Not bad. Just . . . well, nothing worth writing home about, really.

As I revise the ending, this process has made me realize just how important endings are to stories in general. I mean, I’ve always understood that endings are important, that you want to end on a note that (at the very least) is the logical result of the previous events in the story, but it never occurred to me how endings define stories far more than beginnings or middles do. Changing the ending of a story often changes what the story itself is about.

Take, for example, a story about a boy and girl who fall in love. Depending on how it ends, the story could be a tale about how true love always wins in the end (boy and girl get married and live happily ever after) or it could be a tragedy in which true love rarely, if ever, wins (boy and girl get married, realized they don’t love each other after all, and then get a messy, bitter divorce). Of course, that is oversimplifying things quite a bit (there are more directions you could take the whole “boy meets girl” plot than the two I listed here), but I think the point still stands that we often don’t really know what a story is about until its over.

Maybe that’s why we sometimes get upset at endings to the stories we read, especially longer ones. Throughout the story, we built up this idea about what the story was about, one maybe we’re especially fond of and could defend in a debate if we had to, so when we finally get to the ending, we are shocked to find out that our theories about the story are wrong or at least not entirely accurate.

Of course, sometimes we dislike endings because they make no sense based on what the author had already written. For example, I didn’t really like the ending of Michael R. Hicks’s In Her Name: Empire. It simply made no sense to me. It felt like Hicks had already decided the ending, darn it, and he was going to use that ending even if the story would have been better with a different one.

To me, that’s one of the perils of outlining*. You might become so fixated on your planned ending that you are afraid to change it even if the story is drastically different from the outline you originally wrote. We organic writers can get overly attached to our ideas, too, but I think we’re generally better than outliners at tossing out our preconceived notions if they no longer work with the story.

And of course, we can’t forget the tried-but-failed Deus ex Machina, the god from the machine. More than one otherwise good story has been smote by this illogical deity over the years, especially stories by beginner writers. The Deus ex Machina can take on many guises, such as a character (whether new or old) coming out of nowhere to save the day or a character suddenly using a new power or ability with no build-up whatsoever to defeat the big bad. It’s probably the worst way to end any story, worse even than the whole “It was all only a dream” ending.

I intend to keep all of this in mind while I revise the ending of that short story. This new ending will be a lot less predictable than the original, yet will hopefully make sense within the context of the story and leave readers with something to mull over, too. The only way to know for sure, of course, is to let other people read it and see what they think.

What makes a good ending to you? What makes a bad ending? Are there any stories you can use as examples of these good (or bad) endings? Share your thoughts in the comments!

*I have no idea if Michael R. Hicks is an outliner or not. The story felt like it had been outlined, but he could just as easily be a lousy organic writer. Either way, forced endings are still a problem outliners have to deal with more often than organic writers, I think.

-Tim

Top Five Most Popular Posts on this Blog

I can hardly believe that 2013 is almost over. It feels like it was yesterday when I was wondering what 2013 was going to bring. Now I am looking forward to 2014, which I have a really good feeling about for some reason.

Of course, I am also thinking about all the things that happened this year. This is a good opportunity for me to list the top five most popular posts on this blog, based on page views.

Now let’s get started:

1# Are you writing a story or building a world?

#2 New Year’s Resolutions

#3 National Day on Writing

#4 My UPS Job Misadventure

#5 Limyaael’s Rants and I Love Used Books (tie for fifth)

Because this is the last time I’ll be online for the year, I’d like to wish all of my blog readers a Happy New Year, good luck in whatever resolutions y’all are making, and thank y’all for reading this blog. I hope this blog will get even more popular as the New Year rolls in.

-Tim

The Mysterious, the Fantastic, and the Impossible

The current tagline for this blog is “Journey into the mysterious, the fantastic, and the impossible.”

Sounds awfully fancy and intriguing, don’t it? I think it does, which is partly why I chose it. If I found a blog with a tagline like that, I’d certainly be interested in reading it. It also reminds me of old school comics, such as Journey into Mystery, which is the comic series in which Thor made his first appearance, so that’s kind of cool even though I don’t really talk about comics on this blog.

But primarily, it refers to my favorite parts about speculative fiction in general: Mysterious, fantastic, and impossible things. Creatures that exist purely in the realm of the mind, worlds that couldn’t exist in real life, and objects whose full histories may never be known.

To be clear, I am not hating on non-speculative fiction here. A good story is a good story, whether it is set in a created world or set in the real world or some mixture of the two. Genre does not affect a story’s quality. I’ve enjoyed many stories set in the real world, just as I’ve enjoyed many stories set in fictional worlds.

But it was speculative fiction stories that first got me into reading and they were the ones that first got me into writing. Although I may have been a bit harsh on worldbuilding back in October, I do love learning about imaginary worlds and strange new cultures and species that aren’t quite human. I also love it when authors leave certain parts a mystery. It tells me there is more to the world than what the author has shown, even if the author is not quite sure what the answer to that mystery is. It makes the world more believable, as there are many unexplained things in real life.

I try to have some of that in my own stories. My novels (none of which are published yet) always include a major mystery that is slowly revealed over the course of the story. I like to include things that are awe-inspiring, things that evoke powerful emotions in my readers despite their impossibility.

For example, in the short story Reunion (which you can read in the science-fiction anthology Constellations), I set the story on a giant ring-shaped starship called the Annulus that floats around an Earth-sized planet. I doubt something like that is even possible in real life (though with the way technology is advancing, who knows?); nonetheless, the idea of a ring-shaped starship big enough to wrap around an entire planet struck me in a way few ideas do and so I had to add it in, even though it does not affect the story too much.

Keep in mind it is possible to go overboard with the mysterious, the fantastic, and the impossible. Writers can use them as a crutch to avoid explaining anything or to distract readers from awful writing. Sometimes, things can get too impossible or mysterious or fantastic, at which point no one believes what you have written and the story fails. Of course, each reader has different things they are willing to suspend their disbelief for and it is impossible to know for sure what readers will or won’t believe, so don’t lose any sleep if one reader tells you that your idea is unbelievable or stupid.

The mysterious, the fantastic, and the impossible must be combined with good story. They are not an excuse to be lazy. In fact, I’d argue that a writer must work extra hard when writing about mysterious, fantastic, and impossible in order to avoid shallowness and frivolity. There’s little else that is more disappointing than a mystery that doesn’t make any sense or is gratuitous to the story.

-Tim

Are you writing a story or building a world?

Several years back, I tried my hand at writing what I planned to be a five book epic science-fantasy series (that I might still write some day, so I won’t share too many details here to avoid spoilers).

Because this was my first serious attempt at writing an original story (up until then I had written mostly fanfiction), I was determined not to go in blind. So I took a long time to worldbuild, crafting world after world, character after character, culture after culture, all with the intent of making the best imaginary universe I could for my series. It would be even better than the Star Wars universe or the Star Trek universe or any of the other countless detailed fictional universes out there. Okay, maybe not better than any of those, but it would certainly be great.

When I decided I had done enough worldbuilding, I sat down to write the first book in the series. And I did; I wrote a few drafts, changing details that didn’t make sense to me, doing what any writer does when working on a novel, the usual stuff, you know.

And then, after the third or fourth draft, I just lost interest in the series.

I still have the drafts, still have all the worldbuilding notes. I haven’t tossed any of it away and frankly I don’t want to because I might still return to it someday.

I just don’t want to write it. Even though I couldn’t wait to write it before, it has been years since I last wrote about any of the characters or worlds I made (although I have borrowed a few ideas and names because I liked them a lot). Why did this happen?

I believe this happened because I lost sight of the series’ heart. I got so caught up in worldbuilding that I forgot this very essential, basic fact: That I was writing a story, not building a world.

To be sure, worldbuilding is highly important in speculative fiction. I don’t disagree with that. It’s just that I forgot that I was creating a world for the story, not the world for its own sake. As fun as worldbuilding is, to the speculative fiction writer, one must always ask the question, “Does this help the story?”

Some people worldbuild for the sake of worldbuilding. And if that helps, sure, go ahead. Have fun. I have a lot of fun doing it, too, at least when I’m on a roll.

But not all of us find worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding so wonderful. Remember what we’re doing here; we’re writing speculative fiction. Not world guides. Not gaming manuals. Not Wikis. Not histories. Fiction. Stories. Adventures. Art. Life, even, if you want to go that far.

Worldbuilding is a tool and should be treated as such. In my inexperience, I lost sight of the story for the sake of making more and more detailed worldbuilding notes on subjects that weren’t even important to my story. I unconsciously treated worldbuilding as an end in itself. And it killed my series as a result. Or at least put it into a coma that it has yet to awaken from.

My advice to all speculative fiction writers out there, to beginners and veterans alike, is this: When you find yourself getting lost in worldbuilding, ask yourself, “Am I writing a story or building a world for its own sake?”

The answer will determine what you should do next.

What about you, my readers? What have your experiences been with worldbuilding? Do you like worldbuilding? How much worldbuilding is enough and how much is too little? Post your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

Speculative fiction must be different, yet relatable

One of my favorite aspects of speculative fiction is how creative you can be with it. You can write about dragons, city-size starships, mages that shoot lightning bolts, societies where humans and elves live side-by-side, what the afterlife is like, and all sorts of other things you could never get away with in normal fiction. It’s probably the main reason I write fantasy and sci-fi.

Among speculative fiction fans is the idea that the worlds we create must always be different from what we experience here on Earth. This is doubly so if you are writing about a non-human society, which can get you burned pretty badly in some circles if you make them too human-like.

I agree that originality and creativity are very important aspects of speculative fiction. I also agree that when authors write about a non-human society, they should be careful to make it different from human society (a society of cat-people would probably structure itself differently from most human societies, although there may be some similarities).

Yet I think the desire for the alien and the different can blind us to the simple fact that all speculative fiction is written by humans. That means that anything we write reflects us, our beliefs, and our culture to some extent, even if we try to make it as alien as possible. In other words, it is impossible for us to come up with something that is totally alien.

In fact, I’d argue that making our works more alien can actually do more harm than good. In order for fiction — any fiction, regardless of genre — to work, it has to engage the reader emotionally. And in order to engage the reader emotionally, the story has to relate to the reader in some way. A story set in a world the reader cannot relate to at all will simply fail, no matter how much world-building you put into it.

I believe the reason some speculative fiction fails is because the authors made it too alien. It is difficult, if not impossible, for most people to identify with or understand something that is too different from them. While there’s nothing wrong with challenging readers’ expectations, it will not work if the reader cannot be emotionally engaged by it.

Some of the most popular speculative fiction out there — Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings — is popular in part because it is relevant to our lives. Amidst the wizards, starships, and epic battles between good and evil, we see ideas and issues that we struggle with, both individually and collectively, which endears these works to us. We understand some of what the characters experience in those stories, even if they often go through fantastic adventures.

As speculative fiction writers, we should always make our worlds different from what our readers are used to. That’s partly what our readers expect, after all, and is part of the fun of the genre.

But we must also make them relatable in some way. If our readers cannot relate to our works even in small ways, then they will not want to read our stories. And if they don’t want to read our stories, then we have failed as writers and need to go back to the writing desk.

-Tim