Sunday, June 2, 2013

Publishing Contract

It seems so counterintuitive that I should have taken time off from this blog, especially with all the good news I had to share.  However, the good news - strangely - is what is consuming most of my time.

A few months ago, I was sent information on a Young Adult writing competition hosted by Clean Teen Publishing.  If you've read any of my work before, you know I'm traditionally a violent military science fiction author.  What the hell do I know about the YA genre?

One thing I've come to realize, however, is that these writing competitions force me to flex my author muscles.  I'm forced to write genres and book lengths (yes, it's hard to write a short story when you normally plot out 450-page novels) that are outside my comfort zone.  And, to date, that's really paid off.

So I entered a novella (about 150 pages) into the competition and I won!  Believe me, I was stunned.  Not because I didn't think the story was good, I really did think it was.  I was surprised because I wrote the 150 pages in 5 days!  I didn't find out about the competition until the week before my submission was due and had to scramble to enter.  Common sense would have said that I just waited and submitted later, but for some reason I was dead set on competing.

Not only did my novella WIND WARRIOR win the competition, but I was then asked by Clean Teen Publishing to expand the novella to a full-length novel.  I expanded it to nearly 250 pages (still short of my norm) and then was offered a publishing contract through CTP!

I've never been saddened by my choice to be an independent, self-published author.  Despite the huge amount of new books being published through Amazon and B&N these days, I'm incredibly proud of the work I've done on my previous novels and the sales have never been terrible.  People still buy my books every day and I have some legitimately wonderful fans.

But to say that I haven't wanted a publishing contract - that I've been completely content being self-published - would be lying to you.  It's not the contract itself, it's the fact that I have a team that's committed to making my work successful.  There's an incredible cover artist who is doing remarkable work not just for the first book, but for the entire trilogy (it WILL be a trilogy, by the way).  I have a pair of ladies who are working on the marketing plan.  I have someone to format the book for publication (something I absolutely HATE doing myself).  It feels incredible to know that there are professionals dedicated to helping my book hit the streets!

I was perfectly content being an self-published author and after this trilogy if I have to go back to that, I'm still fine with it.  I started writing because I love telling stories and sharing them with others.  But so long as I can ride this high, believe me, I will!

Check out the incredible team at Clean Teen Publishing!  And be ready for WIND WARRIOR's release on 14 June 2013!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Evil of Bob Ross and the Ice Cream Truck

I don’t hate a lot of people.  A Soldier that worked for me once said it best: “I’ve disliked a lot of people, but never enough to kill them.  Some are close, but not quite.  But someday I’m going to meet the one person that I will kill.  At that point, I’m going to pull out my list because if I’m going to jail for murder, I might as well go away for mass murder.”

However, I do have a pair of nemesises… nemesi… nemesisees? 

Bob Ross and the Ice Cream Truck.  I hate them both.  Legitimately hate them.

The Ice Cream Truck story is fairly straightforward.  They play only one song, which they play at decibels roughly equivalent to the take off of a jet engine.  Over and over and over and over.  That same damn carnival clown song over and over.  When we lived in Tennessee, our neighborhood had seven roads that all ran parallel to one another.  In the summer when people kept their windows open – and, ironically, when people wanted ice cream – the truck would drive up and down the streets blaring its song for hours on end.  I was actually forbidden from running outside and setting in on fire.

Bob Ross.  There’s not much to tell about that puffy-haired bastard.  You can’t paint a mountain and “happy” river with only using a 3-inch brush and two different shades of black!  You cocky son of a bitch!  He makes it look so damn easy!  And.  It’s.  Not!  I made the mistake of picking up one of his painting instruction books at Hobby Lobby one day.  Each painting was a two-page spread.  The left side was a photo of his painting with his fucking happy trees and river.  The right side was squares of instruction.  The instructions were: “Then take your brush and paint a mountain”.  Just like that?  Pick up my brush and magically create a freaking mountain?  It wasn’t a painting instruction guide.  It was a suicide aid for those who weren’t sure if life was worth living.  Because after reading his “instruction guide”, I wanted to slit my own wrists!

I still haven’t found that person I’m willing to kill, but if I do watch your back Bob Ross and the Ice Cream man!

EDITOR’S NOTE: I realize Bob Ross is dead.  I’m sure he’s painting happy trees in hell right now.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Just Being Batman

When I was 19 years old, I was in a terrible car wreck.  Not terrible in the sense that I was injured.  In fact, I walked away with only a dislocated thumb and a small cut above my left eye.  The accident was terrible because the car was destroyed.  I struck a total of seven trees and a concrete drainage ditch before the car came to rest.  Everyone was amazed that I walked away at all, much less with so few injuries.  It was at that moment that I realized a truth that shaped my foreseeable future:

I’m immortal.

Okay, maybe not immortal.  Just invincible.  I’m talking Bruce Willis Invincible.

I guess everyone thinks that when they’re young.  It’s only in the past few years that I’ve started to realize that maybe (and, realize I mean only JUST maybe) I may not actually be immortal.  I now approach the fun activities of my youth – bungee jumping and whitewater rafting – with the realization that I have grown surprisingly fond of my limbs and I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to part with them.

This mortal sensibility recently crept into my writing.  I wrote “Card Tricks” about a superhero that truly wasn’t; a man who didn’t want the powers he had, nor were they the powers he would have chosen if given a choice.

Everyone thinks about getting superpowers when they’re young.  Everyone wants to be Batman (minus the murdered parents) or Superman (minus the dead parents) or Spiderman (minus the dead parents and murdered uncle).  When confronted with the question of what power they’d have if given the choice, they say “I want to fly” or “I want to be invincible” or “I’m Batman”.

The mortal sensibility in me, however, starts evaluating how truly effective those powers would really be.  It would be great to fly faster than the speed of sound, but unless your power also gave you skin that can handle the wind sheer, you’d wind up as little more than a red mist the second your broke the sound barrier.  Don’t even get me started on how hard it would breathe when wind is driving into your face at 800 miles per hour.

These crazy thoughts are actually driving a future novel of mine, which will examine just how much life sucks when you become a superhero.  If you want to see where it all starts, go read “Card Tricks”.

Until then, I think people should analyze more closely their superpower wishes.  When asked what superpowers you want, be sensible.  Just stick with being Batman.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Jon Messenger, Delivery Boy

This post has nothing to do with writing.  No, really.  I'm not kidding.  I know I'm a writer and this is a writer's blog, but I just don't have anything interesting book-related to say.  No, this blog post is about the endless possibilities of job opportunities that were afforded to a much younger Jon Messenger, and how they never came to fruition (or did they???).

A few months ago, I started a new job in Washington, D.C.  As part of my job, I read and watch the news daily, to see if I can understand the correlation between world events and the impact they might have on the Army Medical Department.

Trust me, it sounds FAR more exciting than it really is.

During one of my union work breaks in front of the television, I watched a news story about Fiona Apple being arrested on the Texas/Mexico border, for possession of marijuana.  At first, I, like many of you, couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Fiona Apple, who once innocently sang about sexually molesting a vulnerable man, also does drugs?  What has the world come to?

It wasn't the story that really interested me, or the subsequent insults thrown back and forth between the Apple camp and the local Sheriff (though I appreciated the Sheriff's reply of, "shut up and sing").  No, what interested me was the title of the story:

"Fiona Apple, singer, arrested for drug possession."

Many of you re-read that sentence a few times, just to see the secret message hidden within.  Let me help you:

"Blah Blah, singer, blah blah blah blah."

When I first saw this story and then, later, read this story online, they repeatedly commented on Fiona Apple, the singer.  Apparently, since she put out "Criminal" in 1997, she's been touring (I have to assume singing only her one song over and over during a 90-minute concert).  She's even, apparently, putting out a new album, which could only be titled after using every letter in the alphabet at least twice.  No joke, here's the title of her new album:

"The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do"

But her only hit and worthwhile album was put out in 1997.  That was 15 years ago!  For the past 15 years, she's done nothing else really worthwhile, but she's been living off the title of "singer", despite not really doing much singing.

15 years ago, I was a dead sexy college freshman hanging out on the beaches of Los Angeles.  When I wasn't in college, I was a delivery boy.  I wasn't exactly proud of being a delivery boy, but I was damn good at it.

Now, I know what you're thinking: she's techinically still singing, so she gets to keep the title of Fiona Apple, singer.  Well, technically I still pick up food for the family on the way home from work.  Therefore, I get to keep my title:

Jon Messenger, Delivery Boy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Evolution of Man

About three months ago, I took all my notes for my most recent science fiction book, RAGE, and started turning it into a true novel.  At that time, names like Jonas Vega, Eli MacKenzie, and Victoria Donovan were just names.  They were the ones that survived the culling, when I trashed all the rest of the possible names that, to me, sounded like absolute rubbish.

Despite spending quite a bit of time on outlines and character development before working on the novel, the characters were nothing more than names on a list.  There was a picture of their faces in my mind, but they had yet to speak their first word on the page.

Then I started writing.

How is it that characters that had never lived until a few months ago suddenly have their own voices?  How is it that characters that were just names on a list three months ago are suddenly telling me how to write their next dialogue?

I recently finished RAGE and finally did a review of the book, cover to cover.  I was amazed how many times I stopped reading, furrowed my brow, rubbed my chin with concern, and said to myself, “He’d never say that!”

I firmly believe that books evolve, rather than “get written” or “are created”.  I do an outline for every book I write, but so rarely do they take the same path as I intend.  It’s not because I’m fickle (though I am), it’s because the characters take me places I would never have guessed even months before.  As they evolved in the story, they told me what should come next.  I had to cast aside my preconceived notions about the characters and listen to what they had to say. 

It’s amazing how much insight they had into themselves!

I’m very glad that RAGE is done and I hope my beta reader and editor appreciate the work.  I’m also glad I managed to shut up and listen to my characters.  I often think they’re way smarter than I am.

And yes, I managed to turn this blog about writing a book into an argument about “evolution” vs. “creationism”.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Working an Atrophied Muscle

I recently read that writing is a muscle like any other.  You have to exercise it like any other.

Two months ago, I might have looked at that person like they were crazy.  Writing is a skill that you develop over time.  If you've followed any of my blog so far, you know that my skill set has improved drastically from college until now.  It's not a muscle that atrophies if unused.  It's a skill like riding a bike.  You never forget how to ride a bike.

Have you ever tried riding a bike after not doing so for a few years?

Go buy yourself a helmet, you're going to need it.

I wrote the Brink of Distinction series during a deployment from 2007 - 2009.  Since then, I've worked on a lot of outlines and developed story ideas, but haven't written more than a few paragraphs for any actual novel in the past three years.  I had tons of great story ideas, but that was a large part of the problem.  Every time I thought it was time to start a book, I couldn't focus on JUST ONE IDEA!  My flights of fancy meant that I was thinking about Fantasy while writing Science Fiction.  It just didn't flow.

That all changed early this year, when I finally settled on a single book idea.  Having seen a large upturn of cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Soldiers who had redeployed from either Iraq or Afghanistan, I realized that the story "Rage" needed to be told.  Despite the futuristic turns, the issues are very realistic.  Anyone who's ever worked with a charity realizes that any publicity is good publicity, even when it comes in the form of futuristic PTSD.

When I started writing, I realized that writing, to my dismay, really was a muscle.  I'm not a brain surgeon (if I was, I sure as hell wouldn't be worried about sales on my latest novel), but there is certainly a part of the brain associated with writing ability.  And my poor part of the brain had shrunk.  The good ideas still existed, but the writing felt awkward and heavy.  Well, heavy handed... it's supposed to be a 1960's slang "heavy" topic.

Forcing myself to write the chapters, however, quickly also made me realize that like any muscle in the body, you have muscle memory.  If I don't run for a few months, running sucks.  But do it a few times, and your body starts to remember the motions on how it's supposed to go.  Writing was the same way.  Write for a couple weeks, and suddenly my mind remembered how to build sentence structure and formulate dialogue.

Now, I am proud to announce that "Rage" is only 12 chapters away from being completed.  That may seem like a lot, especially in a 49-chapter book, but considering I'm writing two chapters a day, it means I'll be done by next weekend.  Then the book goes to the editor and I can breathe a sigh of relief.

I hope you all take the time to read "Rage" when it officially comes out.  There's a lot of heart and soul in the book.  The whole novel can best be summed up by the story's tagline: "It's hard to civilization when you're no longer civilized."

Look for "Rage" to be released either late October or early November 2012.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cracks in the Mirror

                Everything I’d ever read emphasized that you should write about what you know.  I write military science fiction because a) I love science fiction and b) I’ve been serving in the US Army for 10 years.  I write it, because it’s what I know.
                Now, what I’m starting to worry about, is when you write about what you know it can be incredibly taxing.  Take, for example, my newest novel “Rage”.  “Rage” follows a young conscripted Sergeant who is exposed to a virus that makes him lose control of his anger.  Whenever angry, he becomes a monster with no recollection of his actions.  It’s a modern day take on a Jekyll and Hyde.  The crux of the story, however, is the second half of the book, which follows his return from the war and how he gets reintegrated into society.  He quickly realizes that it’s hard to become a part of civilized society when you’re no longer civilized.
                The story is a futuristic take on a real issue affecting our military: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Our Soldiers have been deploying time and again over the past 11 years.  They’ve experienced gunshots, explosions, ambushes, and death on a scale that the modern civilized society just can’t fathom.  When you consider that only 1% of the US population has ever served in the military, it’s easy to see why an issue like PTSD is not fully understood by the general populace.
                One of the quotes from the book explains many Soldiers’ perceptions of how they’re treated following redeployment:
"Everyone loves a story about a war hero, but no one wants to talk about what happens after they come home from war. We fought, and we died. And those of us that came home were cheered like the conquering heroes we were. They smiled. They threw us parades. They took our picture. They tossed confetti into the streets. But the truth was, we were the confetti all along.  We were a good idea at the time and we took a good picture, but when all was said and done, they left us in the streets like trash.  They left us to clean up our lives and walked away to go live their own.  And you, doc?  You’re their janitor.  Your job is to sweep us under the rug so we don’t bother the nice folks.  Your job is to make sure we’re always remembered as confetti, and no one is reminded that they treat us like garbage.”
Despite having the science fiction flair, the stress factors and his reactions to stressful situations that lead up to his Rage Virus outbursts are realistic.  They’re reactions that I’ve not only seen in others, but recognized in myself.
That’s the painful thing about writing about what you know.  The novel becomes a mirror, exposing your own flaws and making you confront the issues that you knew existed, but chose to ignore.  It becomes an exhausting experience, to write each chapter from the heart, knowing that everyone who reads the book will be reading your faults, your flaws, and your shortcomings.  For once, you notice the cracks in your mirror.  It’s a horrible experience.
The moral of the story?  I’m tired, but proud of the work being done on “Rage”.  I hope you all enjoy the book as well, once it’s finally published.