Tag Archives: sci-fi

Some bad news about my brand

What is the digital equivalent of schizophrenia?

Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.

On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.

Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.

The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.

Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.

Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.

I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.

Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.

The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.

If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”

OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)

Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?

No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.

Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.

Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.

I won’t.

Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.

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Some never escape magic’s grasp

How do I celebrate my blog’s fifth anniversary? I write a guest post for someone else’s! Here’s the intro. Click on the link at the end to read the article in its entirety at PrincessMyParty.com.

What do princesses, superheroes, and space explorers have in common?

In a word: magic.

Perhaps that fact is most obvious with the princesses. After, the fairytales that inspired Disney’s roster of young royals are rooted in magic. Where would Beauty be without her Beast—not to mention his castle full of not-so-inanimate objects?

When princesses aren’t succumbing to sleeping spells, they’re conjuring up blizzards or breaking the Guinness Book of World Record for most impressive ponytail. Magic is in their blood.

Is it in yours? Read more at PrincessMyParty.com.

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A glimpse into the (possible) future of augmented reality

Pokémon GO is only the beginning, people.

While Google Glass never really caught on, cell phones are finally poised to bring augmented reality (AR) into the mainstream thanks to a certain catch-’em-all mobile game. By leveraging GPS and overlaying computer-generated images on a real-world environment, Pokémon GO has taken a big, bold step forward in a technology that, prior to now, had taken a backseat to other advancements like 3D and virtual reality.

By Gieson Cacho [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Gieson Cacho (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Even as I write this, developers, executives, and marketers are seeking out new ways to exploit AR.

Perhaps ironically, a game populated with brightly colored and sometimes cute creatures has already raised serious concerns—from at least one automobile fatality to insensitive Pokémon destinations.  Then there are instances of trespassing, distracted pedestrians, and lures that attract human victims in addition to the in-game prey.

It’s not all doom and Gloom (Pokémon pun intended), but as with any new technology, the good will inevitably be accompanied by the sinister…and the silly.

While pondering the Pokémon GO phenomenon—and admittedly participating in it—I was reminded of a short story I wrote a while back about a future where AR has penetrated every facet of society, including entertainment, commerce, and even face-to-face communication.

For all of our sakes, I hope “Ghost Mode” turns out to be an inaccurate prediction of what is to come.  It could be a cautionary tale.  Or maybe it’s just the musings of a closet technophobe.  In any event, I hope you enjoy this story of a near-future star whose search for excitement goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Your password: celebulicious

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A different class of writing

Spending time with young people can make you feel old, but it can also make you feel young, too.

I had the pleasure of talking with students at Waupun High School yesterday. My mission: to share my educational background, professional writing experiences, writing advice, and tips for getting published with the fledgling writers—in 45 minutes or less.

waupun-warriors

Despite my best efforts, I might have uttered “when I was your age” at least once.

In all seriousness, it was a very casual environment, and even though I did most of the talking, I couldn’t help but be a little inspired as we went around the circle, and the students told of their current projects and future ambitions.

Because I’ve been up to my (pointed) ears in editing a certain fantasy trilogy, I hope you’ll forgive me for taking a shortcut here by repurposing my notes from yesterday’s spiel—quasi-transcripts, if you will.

Hopefully, you’ll find a nugget or two of wisdom regardless of where you are on the path to authorhood.

My story

I started writing in earnest in high school. My fantasy tales bore a resemblance to the books I was reading at the time: DragonLance, Forgotten Realms…you know, books with dragons on the covers. Mostly, I engaged in world-building exercises and episodic storylines, though there was at least one false start to a novel

By senior year, I knew I wanted to be a novelist. At UW-Fond du Lac, I signed up for an independent study writing course. It turned out to be a one-on-one with a professor, where I delivered a chapter for her to critique each week. This was one of the most valuable college courses I ever took, and I learned an awful lot about the basics of storytelling, the importance of word choice—and how to meet deadlines.

In those two years, I wrote two-thirds of what would come to be Volume 1 of The Renegade Chronicles. When I transferred to UW-Milwaukee, I completed the first draft and then rewrote the entire manuscript from scratch senior year since my writing style—not to mention skill level—had dramatically changed since freshman year.

I submitted chapters of my book for various writing workshops, and peer review also proved incredibly valuable. (Though in one class, I had to convince the professor that genre fiction had merit before we were allowed to present fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc.)

Meanwhile, I took as many literature and linguistics classes as I could. Beyond English courses, I signed up for philosophy, psychology and a ton of history courses. An all-too-common adage dictates one should write what one knows. Ergo, the more you know, the more you can write about.

I somewhat regret I didn’t take any journalism, marketing, or radio/TV/film classes. At the time, I wanted only to write fiction, so none of those related disciplines appealed to me. Then again, I picked up many of those skills later in life.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, I taught for a year in China, where I had my favorite job title to date: foreign expert. While overseas, I wrote a sequel. I also tried to publish a short story I had written in college (to no avail) and researched agents to represent my fantasy novels.

When I returned to the U.S., I got cracking on Volume 3—while racking up rejections for Volumes 1 and 2.

I was fortunate to find an entry-level position at a newspaper. As a news clerk, I mostly was responsible for formatting lists, such as marriage licenses and school lunch menus. (Have you ever questioned the proper spelling of “tri-tater”?) I typed up letters to the editor, too.

But I also got to do some proofreading and wrote an article here and there. In less than I year, I was promoted to entertainment writer and editor. I picked up a slew of skills in the newsroom—writing and proofing using AP style, headline writing, lead writing, pagination/layout, the basics of photo editing.

Most importantly, I learned the virtues of brevity.

After a few years, I went to the “dark side”—public relations and marketing. At UW-Oshkosh, I wrote press releases, coordinated interviews with faculty and staff, wrote articles for the online news publication and the alumni magazine, became a wiz at Word Press and other content management systems, taught myself project management, and supervised student interns.

I learned even more when I became an account executive at BrownBoots Interactive, including more website skills, search engine optimization (which injects a lot of science into the art of writing), writing for TV and radio commercials, managing multi-channel marketing campaigns, estimating on projects, blogging, and much more.

That’s right, the guy who couldn’t care less about journalism, public relations, and marketing in college grew to appreciate them and, if I do say so myself, excel at them.

But my dream has always been to be a novelist…

About 10 years ago, I joined Allied Authors of Wisconsin. Because I couldn’t get an agent to bite on The Renegade Chronicles, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and wrote a sci-fi novel that got very good feedback from my beta readers. An agent, who is also a member of AAW, elected to represent If Souls Can Sleep.

And because I didn’t learn my lessons with The Renegade Chronicles, I wrote a sequel before selling the first one.

My wife and I wrote a children’s chapter book to test the waters with self-publishing. (More on that here and here.) But between a full-time career and family obligations, I always felt as though my fiction got short shrift.

Earlier this year, I decided I to take a chance and put my fiction on the front burner. I transitioned to a new role at the agency to allow for larger pockets of time for writing and editing fiction. I created a business plan and am committed self-publishing The Renegade Chronicles in 2016.

My long-term goal—my dream—hasn’t changed remains the same: I want to make a living writing fiction.

Writing advice

There’s no shortage of writing advice out there (and sometimes tips contradict). But here is some advice my mentors gave me “back in the day”:

  • Margaret Weis: “Treat your writing like a job. Write on a schedule.”
  • R.A. Salvatore: “If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t, you’re a writer.”

I’ll add a few of my own observations to the mix:

  • Embrace a variety of life experiences—everything is fodder for your writing.
  • Learn as much as you can about the industry and gain related skills. Even traditionally published authors have to be business-minded marketing experts.
  • Write as many different kind of things as you can because you might be surprised at what you’re good at…and what you might enjoy.
  • Don’t turn your nose up at any writing gig—even if it’s the company newsletter—because everyone has to start somewhere.
  • Get feedback from others (e.g., writers groups, online forums) but realize that not all critiques are created equal. Not everyone is your target audience, and ultimately, it’s your story.
  • Always write what you love and do whatever you can to hold onto that passion.
  • Most importantly, don’t give up.

Tips for getting published

A lot has changed since I was in high school. Back then, you were supposed to write and publish short stories (which I sucked at), and you couldn’t hope to publish a novel without an agent. Also, self-publishing was for losers, and vanity presses that preyed on amateur writers made it expensive, too.

Today, self-publishing is both respectable and profitable. Print-on-demand means publishing a book is relatively inexpensive, though there are outside costs like proofreading and cover design. The biggest challenge is getting noticed above the noise.

As someone who is still on the path to publication, I don’t have any surefire secrets for becoming a bestseller. I do, however, have a couple of tips:

1. Don’t publish before you’re ready. After more than a decade between drafts, I’m now hacking apart The Renegade Chronicles, and they’ll be much better for it. And do your homework to avoid wasting your time…or getting sued.

2. Don’t be afraid to take chances. By the time you’re ready to publish a novel or a comic book or your memoirs, a lot is going to have changed. It’s never been a better time to be a writer, but it’s also the Wild West of publishing right now. If you want to get noticed, you have to experiment.

If you follow the crowd, you’ll always be behind.

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Anyone can write a short story (except me)

It’s a piece of advice I’ve heard on many occasions:  At writing workshops in college.  In an enrichment session with book editors at Gen Con.  During conversations with accomplished authors.  While perusing countless website articles on the ever-popular topic of how to get published:

Short stories first, then novels.

There’s an undeniable logic to this “start small” progression.  Agents and book publishers are bound to take a writer more seriously after he or she has writing credits from journals and magazines under his or her belt.  Anyway, perfecting a story of a few thousand words must be easier than whipping a full-fledged novel into shape…right?

Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been much of a short story guy, not as a reader or a writer.  In both instances, I prefer the extended opportunity to get invested in a group of characters (make that “people”) and to become infatuated with a wide-scale world, as opposed to sampling a bit-sized plot.

Call me ambitious—or maybe naïve—because I decided early on that I was going to skip the short story phase of my fiction-writing enterprise and jump right into a novel.  No, make that a trilogy.  Better yet, an epic series that could spawn ten or more volumes!

When Book 1 didn’t get picked up, however, that brought me back to the drawing board.

But did it stop me from pursuing book-length fiction?  Nope.  Even as the first installment of a new series was (and still is) being considered by a major publisher of science fiction and fantasy fiction, I began work on the sequel.  Meanwhile, I created a website (even though I hated blogs), started following other writers’ blogs, and made  Facebook and Twitter accounts for David Michael Williams, the author.  In short, I did everything I could think of to give myself a leg up in my quest to become a published writer of fiction.

Everything except for writing short stories.

To be honest, a lack of interest in short fiction is only half of the reason why I seldom dabble in the medium.  The fact is I’m not very good at it—in part because of a lack of practice and in part because it’s difficult for me to think small.  My stories are seldom self-contained.  The conflict is consistently complicated; the stakes, always higher.  Somewhere along the line, I convinced myself I couldn’t write a good short story because of my penchant for complexity.

However, at a serendipitous meeting with the very editor who has expressed interest in my novel If Souls Can Sleep, I heard the familiar refrain: If you want to break into the business, try to get some short fiction published.  And this time, for whatever reason, it struck a chord.

Instead of continuing to try to be the exception to the so-called rule, it was time for me to do as I’d been told time and time again…

Last week, I made my final edits to a sci-fi short story I had written just for fun a while back, a tale I’ve found myself tinkereing with and updating every year or so.  “Going Viral” is the best of my handful of attempts to write a simple, straightforward story.  Therefore, it was the prime candidate to accomplish my ongoing mission of getting something—anything—published in the fiction arena.

In up to eight weeks, I’ll know whether the good folks at Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine will be the ones to give me my first break.  If not, it’s on to the next publication.

Ironically, even as I’ve been researching possible publications to submit my short story to, I’ve come to enjoy reading short fiction more than ever before.  Maybe it’s because my leisure reading time is sporadic at best, and indulging in a handful of pages in a single sitting is more satisfying than letting days pass in between chapters.  Or maybe I’ve come to appreciate the unique and creative challenge these writers face when stripping a story down to its essential parts.

And just maybe I’ll find the inspiration to further hone my skills at writing short fiction.

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Want to write? Get a life

Close your eyes and imagine a writer.

What do you see?  A free-spirited young woman writing in a leather-bound journal beneath a tree?  A middle-aged man with a cup of joe in hand, hunkered over an antique typewriter?  Maybe a tortured soul pouring over his or her laptop well into the wee hours of the night?

No matter the person and setting you envisioned, one fact remains consistent: that quintessential writer was working alone.

Even if you pictured a hip twenty-something tapping away on a tablet in some coffee shop, the rest of the patrons surely faded into the background.  That’s because writing happens in an impenetrable bubble on an island of solitude in a galaxy far, far away.

It’s a lonely job, but someone’s gotta do it.

The worst-kept secret about writers is this: We’re all control freaks to varying degrees.  When writing fiction, an author pretty much gets to play god.  We mold the world, birth a cast of characters (oops, I mean people), and direct the action from the safety of our own mind.  What we say goes, and even if we, every now and then, have to consider the proverbial reader who will one day adore our published work, at the end of the day, we pen the tale we want to tell.

As previously confessed, I’m addicted to planning.  I love to get lost in my own little worlds, considering plot problems from every angle and examining the protagonist’s motivation from prologue to epilogue.  I use an outline for novels, construct a timeline to ensure consistency, draft character profiles, and narrate my brainstorming in Microsoft Word—the whole nine yards.

Worldcon/Chicon logoChronic planning is a part of my personality even beyond the craft of writing.  So when I had to make a decision about whether or not to drop everything attend Worldcon in Chicago last weekend, my first instinct was to forget the whole thing.  You see, if I don’t have time to plan, I tend to navigate down the path of least resistance.  Maybe it’s because fictional messes are fun to invent and clean up, while real-world complications cause stress.

But here’s the thing: A writer doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  There isn’t some literary fairy who swoops down to scoop up a finished manuscript, waves a magic wand, and disseminates the supposed masterpiece to the masses.  We writers need people (whether we want to admit it or not), and that’s why I took an impromptu personal day at work, recruited my sister to accompany me on the three-hour drive down to Chicago, and dropped the 70 bucks for one-day admission to Worldcon (hosted by Chicon this year) in the hopes that I would run into a certain editor who has expressed interest in my novel, If Soul Can Sleep.

For someone unaccustomed to—and certainly uncomfortable with—taking risks, the trip was a considerable gamble.  After all, the editor in question was scheduled for only one small-scale event that day, and the kaffeeklatsch required on-site registration, which opened the day before.  I arrived an hour before the intimate Q&A was scheduled to begin and signed up as a third alternate.

Miraculously, the stars aligned, and there was just enough room for me.

Defined as “the premier gathering of authors, artists, fans, dealers, and more in the world science fiction community,” Worldcon covers the many aspects of speculative fiction, including fantasy and sci-fi, the two genres my novel straddles.  Of course, peppering this editor of a major publisher was a highlight of the day—not to mention being able to introduce myself afterwards.  (No “yea” or “nay” yet, but hopefully soon!)

But surrounding myself with thousands of fans and aficionados of science fiction—and books in particular—served as a stark reminder that few, if any, successful artistic endeavors center on a single individual.  For novels in particular, agents, editors, artists, and many others play a role in getting the writer’s work to the widest possible audience.  Considering how much time I spend typing the hours away, alone, in my home office, it was a blast to spend some time as part of a community.

In addition to the kaffeeklatsch, I attended a panel comprised of new writers.  One of the best question posed to the group had nothing to do with tips for getting published.  When asked, “What do you do when you’re not writing?” I was floored by the wide array of answers that came up when these fine folks talked about their “day jobs,” hobbies, and past careers:

  • A former hard rocker who became a database builder
  • A professional storyteller at Renaissance fairs who also blogs for Reading Rainbow
  • A manufacturing professional who wrote his last book on a smart phone while soaking in the tub after long shifts on the floor
  • A stay-at-home mother who’s planning to go back to school for a doctorate so that she can build robotic legs for paralyzed children
  • An administrative assistant who is going back to school for become a special education teacher

While listening to their anecdotes, I amassed a plethora of proof that real writers don’t live in seclusion; in fact, they grab life by the jugular, have fascinating experiences, and take risks. After all, how can you write what you know if all you know is a glowing computer screen and a bottomless mug of coffee?

Being a writer is only as lonely as you let it be.  And if you want to write about exciting, adventurous characters, you have to take a page out of their book.

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Why sci-fi and fantasy?

Map of All Things Fantasy

There are no shortage of alien worlds to explore…or create.

In hindsight, I was a fan of fantasy from almost the beginning.

While I didn’t become addicted to books with dragons on the cover until freshman year of high school, I had more than a few flirtations with the genre as a child.   Consider the following brushes with science fiction and fantasy:

  • Medieval cartoons like Gummy Bears and Smurfs introduced me to the idea of magical spells and mythical creatures.  Meanwhile, Transformers and G.I. Joe wove sci-fi into their action-packed storylines.
  • In my earliest days as a LEGO builder, I gravitated toward the Space and Castle sets over the run-of-the-mill Town sets.
  • I devoured Fantastic Four, Iron Man and plenty of other Marvel titles as a teenager.  These serials explored otherwise ordinary folks imbued with super powers and the extra-terrestrials that made occasional layovers on planet Earth.
  • Although I never got into Dungeons & Dragons, I got hooked on the original Final Fantasy video game in sixth grade.  That 8-bit role playing game borrowed a lot of conventions from its paper-and-dice counterpart, including white, red, and black magic; healing potions; enchanted weaponry; and an epic quest that crossed a vast world and millennia.

Before I began building the world that would become the setting for The Renegade Chronicles, I dabbled with different ideas—scenarios that, while not sword-and-sorcery fantasy, fall into the umbrella category of speculative fiction.  It started with  a failed novel about an alien with an unpronounceable name who owned a robot and cruised the galaxy in a space ship.  In junior high, I created a G.I. Joe- and comic book-inspired reality in which a top-secret government-funded agency routinely saved the world from terrorists.

Although the DragonLance saga held up a big billboard sign for me, I was already well on my way down the road to becoming a sci-fi and fantasy author.  Books with dragons on the cover didn’t convert me into a fan of the strange and supernatural; they simply gave me a reliable source of that which I craved and paved an entry path to drafting fiction rife with wizards, warriors, and (yes) dragons.

The lure of the unusual—that’s what gets me to pick up a book, turn on the TV, or start a video game.  And never has there been a better time to be a connoisseur of speculative fiction, whatever the medium.  In fact, one could argue that we’re in the midst of an oversaturation of fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and multitude of subgenres therein.

Too much of a good thing (even when it’s mixed with plenty of subpar samples) is a problem I can deal with.  Straightforward sword-and-sorcery has lost some of its allure over the years.  And straight-from-the-mold space opera fails to get my pulse pounding.  It takes an innovative twist to hook me these days.

Looking ahead, I see many more years of enjoying the innumerable realms of “what if?”  When strange, new worlds become predictable and clichéd, the fantasy addict seeks out stranger, more unique fare.  Or makes his own.

Either way, it’s a worthy quest in my estimation.

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