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Amy J. Murphy

Author of the Allies and Enemies series.

Tag: #SFWAPro

Recap: DragonCon 2019

My “mid-list author” cosplay

Dragon Con 2019 has come and gone. This is the third year I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited as an “Attending Professional” to this intimate little gathering of over 80K humans. It’s likely the largest fandom gathering I’ll ever participate in. (I’ve been to a few world cons– but I can’t be sure what the average attendance is at one of those shindigs.)

This year, I was on four panels and a guest on the podcast, Technorama, Comedy4cast & Friends – LIVE!

Panels can be intimidating things, especially if you know the crowds is very likely there to see everyone else on the panel but you. (Especially, if one of your co-panelists is a big name when it comes to military sci-fi.) This was the case for me on the first “official” day of DragonCon for the “Media Military Sci-Fi Panel”. I did my best and hopefully added the valuable insights of an author that’s done not too shabbily in the genre regardless of my lack of actual military experience. No one threw things, at least. 🙂

The remaining panels went by in a blur. We talked about “Handwavium” and its impact on the story, saluted the recent 20th anniversary of Farscape and reflected on the Dragon Awards. The awards are a different creature than in the first 2 years that I was a finalist. For instance, there’s now a reception for the finalists and winners. (I’m bummed that I missed out on this. In 2016 and 2017, when I was a finalist, there was no reception. Or, at least, not one I was invited to.) The competition is steeper and now a larger proportion of my indie cohorts seem to know about it.

Where I once attended DragonCon as a “private citizen”, a large portion of my time was dedicated to hitting panels in the “Writing” track in an effort to absorb helpful insights from industry pros. Every chance encounter with another writer may be an important connection. You never know what may come from it. Plus, I just enjoy helping out other writers and hearing about their journey.

I’m definitely looking forward to DragonCon 2020.

Cover reveal: Allies and Enemies: Empire

Allies and Enemies: Empire (Book 5) is due out soon. Thanks to some diligent beta-readers, it looks like I’ll be able to publish well ahead of my original target deadline. Look for pre-order info by the end of this week (June 28th). I hate to leave things on a “cliff hanger” but book 5 should be well worth the wait.

In the meanwhile, I’m very pleased to share the beautiful cover art created by Laercio Messias. [Check out his other work here.]

Allies and Enemies: Empire (Book 5) – On pre order soon!

Allies and Enemies: Legacy (Book 4) Available Now!

Allies and Enemies: Legacy (Book 4)

The long-awaited fourth book to the series is now available from your favorite online bookseller. Download it today and join the action! [Amazon, Apple, GooglePlay, B&N, Kobo and Smashwords]

Six years have passed since the war between the three Guilds left its mark on the Reaches. Sela Tyron and partner, Jon Veradin, have forged new lives on a revitalized Hadelia, a planet once enslaved by the cybernetics-obsessed Poisoncry Guild. Haunted by her experience as a Poisoncry prisoner, Sela crusades to erase the dangerous legacy left behind by Poisoncry. When a deadly conspiracy reveals a heart-wrenching betrayal, the Fates offer Sela the revenge she craves. But there’s a cost…

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Released from her forced service as Defensor to the Ironvale Guild, Erelah Veradin Corsair only wants to raise her daughter on Narasmina in peace and safety. Too bad, the rest of the universe didn’t seem to get her memo. When an alien force threatens her world, Erelah must team up with a barely tolerated figure from her past to defend her family.

Pre Order Allies and Enemies: Legacy, Book 4 today from Amazon.

Recap: DragonCon 2018

DragonCon 2018 – Military SF

DragonCon is over. We must return to our normal lives. For some of us that means re-joining the muggle world and putting aside our alter-egos. I count myself among that number. (Though if the Fates are kind, it might not always be the way for me.)

I was fortunate to be tapped for four panels this year. The last of which I was honored/challenged with being in the only female in a group of military sci-fi luminaries (Jack Campbell, Marc Alan Edelheit, Doug Dandridge, John D. Ringo, David Weber — moderated by Baen’s David Afsharirad). (See photographic evidence above.) Intimidating wouldn’t even begin to cover it. I did my best. 

Additionally, I managed to make some great new friends that I hope will lead to mutually enriching experiences going forward. I’m still new to this whole “writer thing” and I get the sense that I’ll always feel that way. But it’s good to know that there are others out there willing to share their insights and advice. My hope is to someday be the same helping hand to other writers. 

Until then, it’s back to the “real life” stuff that pays the bills. 

#DragonCon2018, #SFWA

Don’t Blow Your Blurb

blurbYou’ve done all the heavy lifting (as in writing an 80,000 word novel). You’ve polished the prose, checked all your commas, formatted the ebook and even your roommate’s cat loves the cover art. For all intents and purposes, your ebook is ready to go.

But wait! You’ve got to write your book’s description for the Amazon listing. For some hellish reason, you’re expected to summarize your blood, sweat and tears into a concise, compelling paragraph that will convince would-be readers to buy your book. It’s your sales pitch. It’s all come down to this. This is the reader’s introduction to your work of art and it’s all up to this tiny little paragraph (or two). It’s probably the most important thing you’re going to write when it comes to your book. It hardly seems fair, does it?

How do you squeeze your book into a synopsis that sings? (Bear in mind, I’m speaking with writing book blurbs or short synopsis for fiction books.)

Here’s a handy formula to help make that blurb:

  1. Start with the situation. Describe it simply.
  2. Throw in a “but” (or a “however” or an “until”) Basically anything that implies that things are going along swimmingly until something throws a wrench into the works. This something creates a crisis or a crunch point.
  3. Introduce a means that offers hope to overcome the crisis. This should be an enticement to the reader.
  4. Consider the tone of the story. Is it meant to be humor? Horror? Dark dystopia? This is your chance to that flavor.

Here’s an example of a very familiar story:

The tyrannical Galactic Empire, under the command of the bloodthirsty Darth Vader, captures the beautiful and brave Princess Leia, leader of the Rebel Alliance. Thrust into the path of destiny, wide-eyed farm boy, Luke Skywalker joins forces with an enigmatic Jedi Knight to rescue the princess with the help of Han Solo, a dashing starship captain. Can the unlikely trio save the princess, rebellion and the galaxy from the Empire?

The irrepressible and talented Rachel Aaron (Bach) wrote the following post about constructing a worthwhile blurb. You should check it out here. (http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com/search?q=blurbs)

So, fellow indie authors, how do you tackle this daunting task? Do you have a method to this?

Readers, how does the book description affect your decision to buy an ebook? I’d love to hear from you.

#SFWAPro

When should you be aggressive about passive voice?

dontdeadLike any other writer that has the grammar and punctuation tools active while using Word, I’m sure you’ve seen the annoying blue squiggly line with the warning “passive voice, consider revising” message pop up in your editing. Most of the time (for me at least) I did not elect to phrase things that way; it just sort of happened. I don’t consciously think of verb tense when I write. It’s like driving into your day job; you go on auto-pilot. In retrospect, you may not even recall stopping for any traffic lights along the way (which is a bit frightening).

Recently, I was helping beta read a work in progress for a friend. The subject of passive voice came up. I admit I’m hard pressed to understand why it’s considered a no-no. Like “-ly” adverbs, it also seems to get a bad rap. Where’d this animosity to the tense come from?

From what I can tell, this seems to be symptomatic of native English speakers. In the US, native English speakers learn from an early age that sentence structure has a 1) subject, 2) verb and, sometimes, 3) an object. Something does something to something else.

Consider this example:

The zombie ate Negan’s face.

Subject:               The zombie

Verb:                     ate

Object:                 Negan’s face

Aside from being hopefully prophetic, it’s pretty straightforward in terms of tone and it moves things along in the action category without a lot of pondering. It’s easy to read. This format is also common to see in non-fiction and in other areas where concise communication is imperative.

Consider the same thing shown in passive tense:

Negan’s face was eaten by the zombie.

Aside from sounding a little bit like Yoda, you can see what’s going on. Negan still got what was coming to him, but the action gets dragged down a bit. The emphasis is changed. It causes questions to bubble up for the reader. Depending on your goal as a fiction writer, this may not be what you want. Automatically, as a reader, my brain starts generating questions: what’s the important thing here? The zombie? Negan’s ruined face? What kind of zombie? (I think you get the picture.)

Need a way to test if you’re using passive voice? Try this: (I’ve seen this floating around on Pinterest a lot.)

Try to add the phrase “by zombies” after the verb in your sentence. If it makes sense, then your sentence is in the passive voice.

Here’s an example.

Original:

 The Republican National Convention was overrun.

Now add “by zombies”.

 The Republican National Convention was overrun by zombies.

Yep! You’ve got passive voice. From there, you can rearrange the structure to the active tense to sharpen things up.

Here’s a WikiHow article on how to fix passive voice: (I like it because it’s pretty short and straight forward.)

http://www.wikihow.com/Fix-Passive-Voice

Used the right way, passive voice can be very useful to change the focus of your subject. Maybe you don’t know who or what completed the action, and you want the reader to feel that sense of mystery too. So, it does have a place. Doled out in particular areas, it can be useful.

But if you want your prose to zing along without bogging down the works with lots of questions, try to avoid it.

Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique

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Writing with ADD: the Pomodoro Technique

Like many folks, it wasn’t until adulthood that I was diagnosed as an adult with ADD. With this discovery, a great many mysteries about my childhood (especially high school) were suddenly resolved. It explained my ability to “hyperfocus” on certain projects, becoming completely absorbed to the point of obsession while my attention would drift about erratically when it came to day-to-day events.

To this end, I believe it’s why it took me nearly 10 years to finish my first book. It’s why I can recall verbatim all the dialogue from movies or TV shows (that I like) after one viewing, or recite an article I read while in sixth grade about a tribe on Borneo. (They eat a soup made from soaking bird’s nests.) Those things landed in my “hyperfocus” window. (Not always exceptionally useful information, I admit.)

By the time I’d learned about my ADD, I’d already had a lot of “work arounds” for life in general. I used lists and “rituals” for daily living to make constant distraction easier to combat.

This past month while recovering from a workplace-related injury, I had a lot of time on my hands to write. However, I wasn’t getting it done. I’d write a few paragraphs and then disappear down some rabbit hole, only to re-emerge hours later wondering where the day went.

I discovered a method to help me train my focus on writing called the Pomodoro Technique. I first saw it referenced in one of the many, many ebooks I’ve purchased about increasing writing speed. I can write quickly—that’s not the problem. My problem was actual “butt in the chair” time. It’s SO easy for me to leave my desk to get a coffee only to end up wandering around my home as I ping from distraction to distraction.

Honestly, I was not avoiding the act of writing. I’d was dying to sit down and tell a story, but my brain (or rather my attention span) had a vastly different agenda.

The Pomodoro Technique is pretty easy. The name just sounds fancy (and possibly expensive). As it turns out—it’s Italian for “tomato”. This is because the person that thought it up had a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato and was Italian. Go figure.

It works like this: (*disclaimer: this is my version of how it works)

  1. Set your timer for 20 minutes (For me, it’s 23 minutes. That’s about as far as I can park my attention.)
  2. For those 20(ish) minutes, you sit in your chair and write.
  3. The timer goes off and you get a 5 to 7-minute That’s when you go grab a coffee, do sit ups or chase the dogs around the kitchen table.
  4. When the break is up, you do another 20-minute interval of writing.
  5. Rinse. Repeat.
  6. At the end of four of these 20-minute sessions, you can schedule a larger break (like 10 to 20 minutes).

The goal of this method is to train yourself to be productive in a shorter span of time and is meant to promote “mental agility” through frequent breaks.

How did it work for me? Pretty well, for the most part. I had some two and three thousand word days there. The result was the final draft in the third book in my Allies and Enemies series. I felt that I had better focus because I could tell myself that whatever distracting thought that bubbled up in the middle of my writing stent (How many seasons of Supernatural have there been anyway? Is house paint flammable? Did I order more contact lenses?) could wait until break time. It was exhausting because I did it for four days straight, which I might not repeat unless I’m under a tight deadline.

Even if you don’t have an actual diagnosis of ADD, the technique might be helpful if you’re trying to make the most of the writing time that you have. I used a customizable app called “30/30” that I found in the Apple store [here]. It’s pretty nifty. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the Pomodoro Technique [here].

(And, in case you’re wondering, I used the technique to finish this blog entry.)

#SFWAPro

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