Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Backstory Icebergs

Backstories, for those unfamiliar with the term, are the histories of individual characters - the life stories that made them who they are "today," but aren't necessarily included in the finished novel. A number of the supporting characters in my Alexander books have fairly dark backstories.

Backstories exist so that the writer can  understand and develop believable character motivation. Hemingway called it the Iceberg Theory: The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. If the writer does his job well enough, he said, the reader will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. 

Even though my books are humorous in nature, the stories behind certain characters are serious.

I've hinted at some: Colin, introduced in Own the Scrawny, is a new student at Alexander's school; though we never quite learn the details, we know that bullying at his old school created the troubled boy Alexander meets in the school library, and in fact drove him to switch schools. We (and Alexander) learn a bit more of his past in My Epic Life, but only enough to gain a hint of the gravity of the situation, and motivate important action in the novel.

Alexander's good friend, Darrell, is in a wheelchair. The reader learns only the most general outline of the accident that put him there: Darrell was struck by a drunk driver. Of all the backstories, his is probably one of the most developed. I know, fairly extensively, how the accident happened, what became of the driver, and Darrell's struggle to survive in the months after. I'm also familiar with his lingering anger about the accident.

In the novels, Darrell is Alexander's voice of reason. While Alexander's other friends tolerate his eccentricities, Darrell confronts him. He's a loyal friend, but he directly challenges Alexander when his behavior seems immature. Darrell's more adult view of the world isn't surprising, given the trauma he's experienced.

If all of this seems pretty heavy for these books, remember that there's a close relationship between comedy and tragedy. Tending to that relationship, and thinking of characters as real people with histories, is the difference between a story that just makes people laugh, and one that also makes them care.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fear Can Make You Smile

Every book festival I've attended is a learning experience. This year, with a trilogy of "Alexander" books in the offing, I've made a point of attending as many public events as I can. With the exception of a few very local events, it's not something I've done before, so I'm still learning the ropes: I'm looking for the right physical and verbal presentation.

Last weekend, at the Palmdale Book Festival, I tried a new pitch: I asked visitors to recall their anxiety at starting a new school, joining a new group or, really stepping into unknown territory for the very first time. Usually, that initial anxiety disappears as the unknown becomes the familiar. 

In My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain Alexander holds on to that initial fear. Even though he has friends, and his world around him seems generally non-threatening, he still believes that the Unknown is still out there, right around the next corner, and he'd better live his life accordingly.

Whether I was describing the story to a teenager or adult, the idea of Alexander's unfounded fears produced the same reaction: a broad smile of recognition. 

We've all been there. At one time or another, we've all spent precious energy dreading and fearing what lies just ahead, only to discover that it wasn't so bad after all. 

I think that's part of the reason Alexander's fun to root for - the reader can see what Alexander can't: everything's going to be okay.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Fear, Bullying and My Books

Local radio here in the Santa Clarita Valley has proved to be a nice jumping-off point as I launch the third of my "Alexander Adventure" books. Coach Ron Tunick has had me on twice on his Business of Life program. On the first program, we discussed my book series, but on the second, we talked about bullying, one of the critical themes across all three books.

For the most part, Alexander isn't a bullied kid; but he is a kid who lives his life in constant fear that he'll be humiliated, pranked or otherwise assaulted by his classmates. His fears control his life, providing the basis for a great deal of the humor in his story, but also underlining the reality that fear alone can control your life. In My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain, Alexander discovers–almost too late–that in his suspicion and mistrust of his classmates, he's become a bully.

Coach Tunick and I discussed my thoughts on bullying and the idea that Alexander's skewed perception of the world around him is his greatest challenge.  I hope these three books show how Alexander meets that challenge and becomes a better person for it.  At the beginning of the first book,  Alexander is a scared, self-centered little boy. By the end of the third book, he's more confident and compassionate. I've tried to craft a relatable story about growing up.

Using Alexander's story as a platform to talk about bullying issues has been one of my objectives for quite a long time. My special thanks to Coach Ron Tunick for helping me launch this effort. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

"My Epic Life" Launches; Anxiety Follows

As of today, My Epic Life is available to the public (just paperback, initially). I'm offering it for purchase on Amazon sites around the world. For the first time, I'm also offering it for sale on Etsy.com, a site which will allow me to offer signed copies, the purchase of the three books as a set and, soon, other special packages.

So, everything is in place.

I have now completed what I've recently taken to calling the Alexander Adventures Trilogy. The overall concept, that of a boy's journey from fearful kid to being a self-assured teen, seems to have appeal.

I've also achieved my objective of writing a professional, well-edited work that touches readers emotionally. The books have received positive reviews - for which I'm happy and grateful.

Now I'm facing the next challenge: more effectively bringing Alexander to his intended audience. Putting aside advertising for the moment, I'm hoping to distinguish this marketing effort from those of my previous books by focusing on several areas. These are the ones on my mind right now:

  • Coverage across social media platforms, including YouTube, blogs, and podcasts. I had some success in this area with my first book, but not so much with my second. I'm hoping to increase my online presence this time around. I'll also be returning to more frequent blog updates. 
  • I need to encourage more reviews than those I have currently. As a relatively unknown indie author, reviews are a great tool, both in number and my ability to quote readers in my marketing efforts.
  • Personal appearances at book fairs, events and other venues. These appearances offer two opportunities: I can bring my books directly to potential audiences, and I can share these efforts with my social media followers, which in turn helps further develop further awareness of the trilogy.
This is a period of great excitement mixed with great anxiety—in many ways, this is an important chapter in a process I began with the publication of My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain in 2013.

I like to think of my book-related efforts as akin to kicking off a tech start-up. Right now, I need to capture the imagination of my potential readers. 

I welcome your suggestions and feedback!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

COVER REVEAL: "My Epic Life"

Here it is! The cover of the third book in my Alexander series, about one boy's bumpy transition from kid to teenager.

I wanted to reveal the cover for "My Epic Life" side by side with my first two books - I LOVE how they tell Alexander's story. In "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," Alexander was scared of the world around him. In "Own the Scrawny," he was searching for an identity. In "My Epic Life," our quirky hero discovers that his greatest strength is in being himself.

"My Epic Life" is the first story in the series told in Alexander's own words—because only he can tell this story. His entire world is shifting.  Suddenly, friendships old and new have become complicated, something very puzzling is going on in his relationship with Ellen, and he's forced to accept that his clothes aren't randomly shrinking—he's the one that's changing...

...and if you've read the first two books, you know one thing: Alexander doesn't deal well with change!

I'll be announcing the early 2016 release date soon. Like the first two books, it will be available in ebook and paperback - and later as an audiobook.

Special thanks to cover designer Steven Novak, photographer FUR and Alexander himself, Drew Dudetv .

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Virtual Reality Jump

I recently had the opportunity to attend VRLA, a conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center focusing on virtual reality technology. I had attended a much smaller demo event created by the Producer's Guild of America last November, but this was the first full-scale industry conference.

VRLA focused primarily on accessible technology - viewers and experiences that can be accessed by the general public at minimal investment. Samsung GEAR VR, a product that works with the Galaxy Note smartphone, was available to demo - I swam with sharks - but more common across the floor was Google cardboard - a simple no-to-low cost VR viewer that works with a number of difference smartphones including iPhone and Android products. Google was giving away these viewers free, and variations were available at a number of other booths. By downloading free or low cost apps from Apple's App Store, or the equivalent, it's now easy for anyone to experience immersive VR, and likely build interest for the higher-resolution, dedicated (and much higher cost) hardware just over the horizon.

Most VR software is in its infancy - more short demos than fully implemented programs. Once you've experienced this world, however, you will be stunned by the potential. I've shared my experience with dozens of people over the last week, from eleven years old to seventy-two. No one came away unimpressed. Apps vary in resolution and interactivity, but this is clearly only the beginning.

Here are just a few of the apps that have most impressed me as I've explored the VR landscape over the past week. Most experiences won't last longer than a few minutes. Make sure to put on your headphones!

DinoTrek VR
Always my first choice when introducing VR, this program offers a journey through a landscape of fully animated dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes - flying, fighting and caring for their young. Make sure to look over your shoulder - a T-Rex might be right behind you. More scenes will be added later.

InMind VR
You'll shrink down and journey through the human brain to conquer depression by destroying red neurons. How do you fire your weapon? Just stare! A great example of the potential educational games in the VR arena.

The beginnings of a VR ghost story. You're sitting on a sofa in a creepy old parlor. A doll lies on a shelf behind you. The television shows static. Things start happening.  Though just one scene so far, this is a great indication of just how scary VR horror will be...

Expanse VR
In this promo for an upcoming series on the SyFy channel, you're floating in space by a gigantic ship as it rockets past Saturn. Inspiring!

An App offering numerous downloadable VR experiences. Make sure to try Walking New York, a VR documentary about the making of a recent cover of the New York Times Magazine. Another must-look is Evolution of Verse, a CGI work of art that also manages to be emotionally immersive.

I'll explore more titles in the future - but these definitely include the "wow" factor! Let me know what you find!

Search "Google Cardboard" on Amazon to purchase a low-cost (starting at $10) viewer and learn about which phones are compatible.

It's worth your time - go for it!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

First Words of Popular Books: Science Fiction

This week, I continue my exploration of first words in fiction with a look at popular science fiction. 

Compared to last week's look at current Young Adult bestsellers, I found this selection much more intriguing and/or thought provoking. What do you think?

Here they are, in no particular order:

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury):
“It was a pleasure to Burn”

Foundation (Isaac Asimov): 
“Hari Seldon - ...born in the 11,988th year of the Galactic Era; died 12,069.”

Dune (Frank Herbert): 
“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card): 
“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.”

The Stars My Destination (Alfred Bester):  
“This was a Golden Age, a time of  high adventure, rich living, and hard dying...but nobody thought so.”

2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke): 
“The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended.”

1984 (George Orwell):
 “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams): 
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

Snow Crash  (Neal Stephenson): 
“The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed subcategory.”

Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein):  
“I always get the shakes before I drop.”

Next week, I'll take a look at the first words of some classic novels.