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Amy J. Murphy

Author of the Allies and Enemies series.

Category: reviews

In the news


Recently, I was contacted by Ken Picard of Seven Days VT who asked my insights into the seedy underbelly of indie publishing. (Ok, there’s really nothing seedy or underbelly-ish about my gig. Unless you take into consideration the dust bunnies under the desk in my office.) Check out the article here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What do you think of the article? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Murderbots and Other Stuff You Should Read

Hey! This one goes out to indie authors. You’ve heard that advice to read a lot if you’re looking to up your game as an author. It’s a great way to learn your craft as you entertain your brain. (Not to mention support your brethren.) And, I don’t know about you, but I gain inspiration when I enjoy a well-written story. It’s some great advice. I read about 2-3 books a week. Not all of them are fiction. There’s some non-fiction writing craft stuff in there too.

Here’s a shout out to some books that I’ve recently “discovered” and don’t have enough good things to say about.

  • All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells – Refreshing POV narrator. Good world-building.
  • Disappearance At Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay – Fantastic style. Same author of A Head Full of Ghosts.
  • The Frozen Sky (the Europa Series Book 1) by Jeff Carlson – If Alien and The Expanse had a baby…
  • Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 1) by K.M. Weiland – This writer’s energy and dedication to detail make we want to go take a nap.
  • How To Write A Novel The Easy Way Using The Pulp Fiction Method To Write Better Novels: Writing Skills by Jim Driver – Some good advice here.

Not all of them are science fiction. Reading outside of your customary genre is a great palate cleanser for the imagination. I hope you pick them up and enjoy them as much as I did.

And, just another mention in case you’ve not noticed or seen my earlier posts: Allies and Enemies is now available as a box set. This one includes exclusive content too!

Short Stories: Chihuahuas vs. Dire Wolves

Here’s a theory—Chihuahuas have the souls of larger dogs (most likely dire wolves) wedged into those tiny little bodies. It would explain why these tiny pups think they’re big enough to take on a cat twice their size or why they always seem to shake. (The shaking is actually their molecules vibrating with the effort to keep all that “big dog soul” energy contained in such a small package.) Like I said, a theory.

Consider short stories. You’re trying to package an entire universe, complete with exposition and world-building into this teeny weeny manuscript that shouldn’t be more than 30,000 words. Forget dire wolves, you need to build a Chihuahua with the soul of a great white shark. For someone that writes 90,000-word novels, keeping it under 30,000 is asking a lot. (Weird, right?)

If you follow me on Twitter (@selatyron), you might have seen my occasional tirade, joke or weakly veiled cry for help as I blunder through this process.

So, why am I trying to torture myself this way? I’ve been tapped to contribute for a sci-fi anthology coming out this summer. Cool, right? (I’d mention its name here, but I’m not sure if that’s ok or not. Suffice it to say, it’s got some really awesome authors in this group. I was very flattered when I was invited to join in.)

I had an idea already kicking around—a backstory of a minor character in the Allies and Enemies series. It’s not as dark as some of the military sci-fi I’ve put out. And, if a newcomer likes the story, they might want to further explore the series. Win-win.

And then I realized I had to actually write a short story, something I’d never really done before outside of the occasional middle school essay (and come to think of it, those were hella-long too).

My inner George McFly started to panic, so I sat down and researched how to write short stories. (Believe me, I realize how strange that sentence sounds.)

So, here are my top four takeaways from this surprisingly daunting process:

  1. Short stories don’t necessarily have to have a beginning, middle, and end. They can be the turning point or “moment of truth” for a character that’s part of a larger world. It’s this moment that is the meat of the story and not necessarily the rest of it.
  2. This is a chance to take risks. Change verb tenses. Write it from the antagonist’s perspective. Try a genre you wouldn’t normally consider. It’s a short story, so even if it flops, you haven’t actually lost too much of a time investment.
  3. This forced me to try to write in a less sprawling style. I learned to try to be succinct with my word choice.
  4. Telling is “ok” in a short story. (I know. I know. You’re supposed to “show not tell.”) But in this condensed universe, it saves time, words and page space. Just avoid too many info dumps because that can be confusing to readers.

To prep for this, I started listening to fiction podcasts that showcase authors who have mastered the art of the short story. (My fave is the one offered by Lightspeed Magazine on iTunes.) Listening as opposed to reading, helped me to develop an ear for pacing and tone. Not all the author’s voices are the same when you compare their styles and genres, but if you listen to them back to back, patterns start to emerge. It was a huge help in constructing my story’s road map.

[And you’ll be pleased to know that the ‘comments’ field has been re-activated. Take that, spam bots!]

Spin City, Baby

I don’t remember doing this. (That’s one of the charming side effects of life with ADD.) But I guess I submitted a copy of  Allies and Enemies: Fallen to the Midwest Book Review.

How do I know this? Yesterday, I got an email from their editor telling me my book is included in their February issue of MBR Bookwatch.

Yay! Right? Err…. maybe?

While I am grateful for the coverage (MBR has a pretty solid reputation), it’s not the most glowing missive. It does produce some pretty nice “sound bites”. In our present world of spin doctoring and fake news, it’s a boon of sorts. However, I do have to recognize that it’s the opinion of one person. Like a Jackson Pollock or one of those weird 3D prints from the 90s, not everyone is going to see the same thing. Consider

Consider The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book is beautifully written and seamless. This is my favorite book. I look to it for inspiration in writing style. But the subject matter is easy to consider depressing. I mean, it is the story of an oppressed woman, Ofglen. A lot of terrible things have happened to her and continue to happen to her. That’s the 20,000-foot view. Look lower, under that cloud layer, and you see the so much more than that. You see a spirit that refuses to be shaped by her new reality, a warning, a cautionary tale, a disconnected love story. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not comparing myself to Atwood. She’s got the 120 pack of crayons with the built-in sharpener on the box. I have the cheapo pack of 3 that they give you with the kid’s menu at Denny’s. My point is everyone has different viewpoints.

“…a solid SF tale. It has a nice layered storyline with a relatively fast paced plot… Fallen has everything you would want in a SF suspense space opera.” [Midwest Review]

So do I imagine hearing the above “sound bite” in some gritty movie trailer voice? You bet. 🙂 Will I take the full review’s comments to heart? Not sure. But it did give me pause to reflect on the nature of professional reviews and the roles they play in the world of self-publishing. They’re meant to help potential readers make a decision about what book they want to read next.

In the same vein, does the phrase “New York Times Bestseller” compel someone on Amazon to pick that book over another? Or does it simply place that book in a higher spot of prominence so that the consumer is less likely to dig deeper beyond the first few results? Personally, before I got wrapped up in this indy publishing journey, I never really noticed the “NY Times” bannered books. But then… that’s just me.

 

Plotting like a “Real” Writer: The Grand Experiment

I have a confession to make. I, Amy J. Murphy, was born a pantser. You know… an author that writes from the “seat of their pants.”

It goes a long way in explaining why it took me about 10 years to finish my first book, what ended up (after much hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth) to become Allies and Enemies: Fallen.

Basically, I’d read what I wrote previously, tweak it, re-read it, tweak it some more and then set off on some tangent that made very little sense in the scheme of an overall story. If you plotted my course, it’d probably look more like one of those Family Circus maps with the dashed lines. In my defense, I got there in the end. A great deal of it had to do with career changes and the challenge of living with ADD. Ultimately, it did require intervention by a professional editor to produce an actual book. There was a lot of “killing of darlings” involved.

I realized that in order to derive the full benefit of having an actual editor’s time and attention, I should probably try to shuffle my loose collection of ideas into a structure that made sense and did important things for the story and for the reader. It began with baby steps. I created an outline. Nothing fancy, mind you. Just a list of bullet points that said what was going to happen next in a more or less logical progression. I treated it the same way anyone would approach a “to do” list: easy stuff first. That left big chunks of stuff that wouldn’t be so easy to write for the end. By the time I got to those “big ticket items” I was so tired of the story, that I nearly came to resent it. So, that didn’t work so well.

Maybe I was cursed to go back to pantsing my way through another ten-year novel. By this point, I had the first book completed and to my astonishment readers actually wanted to another book in the series. They wanted to know more about Ty and Jon. I had an obligation to those folks. I am nothing if not duty-bound. Even as I was writing Fallen, I knew that there was probably a “right way” to create a novel. That approached just seemed so boring.

There were terms like “pinch points” and “inciting events”. To me it felt ersatz, manufactured. It lingered dangerously close to the disciplines of self-publishing wherein authors were simply writing to market. There’s nothing wrong with making money on your hard work. But writing a book according to a formula to fulfill sales feels phony and soulless to me. (Fun Fact: This is EXACTLY how big 5 publishing works.) Any reader worth their salt will see that from a mile away. Science fiction fans are smart folks with discerning tastes. They deserve better than that.

There had to be a way to write the story I wanted without feeling as if I was using some sort of machine to make it. And here is where I start my grand experiment. I’ve got another trilogy in the works. The tentative title: Dark Spaces. And, yes, as you can guess from the title, it’s more horror/sci-fi than space opera. So not everyone that’s stuck through Allies and Enemies will dig it.

(I’m going to get Dark Spaces out of my system before I return to space opera. Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan for that one which is more like a Tattoo/Expanse mashup.)

Anyway, from this point forward I’m going to use a system and restrain myself from straying back into the way of the punster. The plan is to try out a new system (or at least it’s new to me) using Rayne Hall’s book, Writing Vivid Plots. I’m a huge fan of her Writer’s Craft series and so this shouldn’t be a surprise.

So wish me luck. And perhaps we’ll meet on the other side of this, dear reader.

Self-Editing or How to Keep Your Brain From Eating Itself

brain_hug

I got my edits back from my very patient and all too kind editor. And now is when the blood-letting starts. For me receiving my edits is a lot like report cards week at school—exciting and full of dread. You know you did your best, but you worry about any nasty surprises that may be in there. (Fun Fact: I got a D in typing my Freshman year. TYPING!!!! Can you believe it?!)

As writers, we are our own worst critics. We like to imagine the worst and allow that to feast on our brains. Any “nasty surprises” I dread would be things like finding out my astute editor has located a universe-ending plot hole that I never realize existed or that I change my main character’s name mid-story and didn’t realize it. But, hey, it happens. The question is how to tackle it in an efficient, brain-cell saving manner.

Here are some ideas on how to do your edits and avoid a brain meltdown: (*Note – I’m assuming that you’re using Word or a word-processing system that has a means to track changes here. And you’ve just got your edits back from your editor.)

s_c_b“Remember, short controlled bursts.” Define a beginning and an ending for each session of editing and stick to it. If you keep plugging along you’ll start to lose focus and get sloppy. Mistakes will slip through the cracks. Best to come back to it and view it with fresh eyes rather than muscle through.
average-joesAim low. Focus on the easy fixes: grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. That will clean up your screen and make it feel as if you’ve made some progress.

 

Broad strokes. If you come across any changes that affect the whole story, this is where the “Find and Replace” feature is your best friend. For instance, at the start of your story, you spelled your character’s name one way and then mid story got creative with the spelling. You can use Word’s Find and Replace (control + F) to hunt down all the misspelled instances and then replace them with the proper spelling.

rabbitholeAvoid the rabbit holes. When you work section by section with your edits, resist the urge to “jump around” to double check things. If you’re like me, you end up disappearing down another rabbit hole and losing the original thread of your revisions. If you do feel such an urge, scribble yourself a note on an index card or notebook as a reminder for later and then proceed with the edits to the section at hand.

Many editors and beta readers like to use “Comments” to communicate their edits. It’s a great way to keep all the thoughts and ideas together in one spot.

One of my favorite tools for editing and one that’s helped strengthen my writing skills is the Word Loss Diet by Rayne Hall. I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s part of her Writer’s Craft series, which is also a wealth of information. You can find Word Loss Diet for the ebook and at a great price too.

I hope these tips serve you well. How do you like to approach editing? Be sure to leave a comment below or share this post with others.

Seeing stars: Amazon Reviews

I admit it. I was the kid in class that reminded teacher that he or she had forgotten we were supposed to have a quiz that day. This made me wildly unpopular. It was just part of who I was/am.

Besides, my main motivation was to get those wonderful little “A”s sketched across the top of my page of loose leaf. If I were to look at them now, I’d recognize them as the scrawl of an exhausted teacher and ultimately useless. But at the time, those precious “A”s looked like tiny Rembrandts, my personal masterpiece and evidence that someone approved of something I had done.
So I find myself reminded of those times when it comes to the reviews of my book on Amazon. There are even stars, just like 4thgrade. A means of arbitrary categorization. It’s very cool to get 5 stars, mind you. It means someone had a great time reading your story. A very flattering experience. For a while, I was getting a mess of those.
Then it happened, as it was bound to, a two star rating with a review that was a little on the vicious side. Contextually, I saw this two star review just as I was still internally snoopy-dancing about the fact that Allies and Enemies: Fallen had received the top 50 for military scifi onAmazon. (Totally cool seeing my book cover on the same screen as some of the “rock gods” of the same genre.) So, to see this was a bit of a let down.

My gut tells me this one bad review is exactly what it was: my book just wasn’t their cup of tea. It’s going to happen. Even Stephen King gets bad reviews and I have been his “number one fan” forever.

But it begs the question: Do I address it? Ignore it? How do other authors deal with negative reviews? I’ve become a big fan of Lindsay Buroker, having encountered her steampunk books. She’s got some nice advice about dealing with this:
Ultimately, I choose to have faith in the readers out there browsing for a new adventure. They’re intelligent folks that can make their own decisions, weighing the good against the bad. I accept the fact I can’t change everyone’s mind and it reminds me that with each word or agonized-over passage I grow as a writer.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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