Thursday, December 9, 2010

Zombies on the Ice

Actually, I have not seen any zombies yet -- but I am in Antarctica and you know how things just sort of 'happen' when I am around.  Check out my Antarctic Adventures:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Zombie Tactics -- Flanking

The greatest tactical advantage humans have over zombies is the concept of flanking. Simply defined, flanking is attacking from the side rather than straight on.
This level of planning and abstraction is simply not part of the zombie mind--just one more reason why we will always win.
Zombies will ALWAYS attack head one. When they detect you, they will come at you in a straight line, regardless of terrain, tactical situation, or other considerations. Use this to your advantage.
Simple uses of flanking:
  • Goad the zombies into charging one person, have another person attack them from the side.
  • Hide behind something they cannot get through. Now pick them off one by one while sipping a mai-tai.
  • Maneuver so something deadly is between you and the zombies (such as a hole, or a river). Let them attack--they will kill themselves while you smugly look on.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Colorado Gold Writer's Conference

This weekend I attended the Colorado Gold writer’s conference put on by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Yes, practicing what I preach. Here are my thoughts on conferences:
  • Attend at least one professional conference each year. The experience and contacts are well worth the time and expense. (check)
  • Attend at least one fan convention each year--learn what your market is reading, talking about, tired of. (planned for October)
Colorado Gold was a great experience. Met a ton of interesting people, recharged the writing batteries, learned new tricks, picked up new books, added several new authors to the ‘must read’ list, and had the opportunity to pitch Zombie Proof Fence face-to-face.

The pitching fascinated me. There was both a formal pitch appointment, and informal pitching. In the appointment, I had ten minutes to catch the interest of an agent. There were editors on hand as well, but each attendee was permitted only one appointment and I chose an agent. The pitch went fine, far more low-key and conversational than I expected, and the agent asked to see more (wahoo).

The informal pitching involved talking to other attendees about the book. This gave me a rare opportunity to talk about the book, the characters, the world, why I chose the subject, and how I tackled the project. In my day-to-day life this almost never happens. This part surprised me because so many people were not only interested, but positively bubbling with enthusiasm.

My biggest surprise of the conference came when people I had not talked to started to approach me, asking about the book by name. A stranger knows the name of my book? And cares? Wow. The first time, I thought it was a fluke. But it happened again, and again. Buzz? Whoa. I hope (fingers crossed) that the buzz reached some of the industry people who were there.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

September Status

Some interesting twists are in work.
First, submissions are out. There are currently 5 agents who have requested full or partial manuscripts. Tthis is REALLY good, so good I have put new queries on hold. So exciting--I feel action is imminent in the agent department. Once the agent-side moves to the next level, I will have a better feel for how things will move forward on phase two: selling the bloody thing.
But the agent search has been the plan all along, and it is a good book--so progress here is no surprise.
What is surprising is that I can’t get the story out of my head--a state that is causing some interesting side effects:
1) Thinking about zombies more than usual. Jotting some of it down -- a few blog posts, two dozen more in various stages of completion.
2) I’ve taken to drawing zombies and dogs. Started with a few gag-stick figures for illustration, but it could evolve into a regular thing (especially if I get positive feedback from readers).
3) ZPF spin-off short stories are popping out of my head like brass from a Glock on Saturday night. One, looking at the soma trade and the drug problem in the camp, is nearly done (done done--as in ready to sell), while several others are in the outline / brainstorming phase.
4) Darby Drew -- I have found myself back at the story, and the dog, that spawned all of this. Without meaning to, I am spending a lot of time revisiting this story, expanding it, and updating it to fit what happened in Zombie Proof Fence.
This last one is taking me to some interesting places, which were not in the plan for this year:
  • I have outlined the first act of the second book (focusing on the girls and the dog).
  • I am playing around with a graphic novel script, telling the story of the Rising from the dog’s point of view. A script for 22 pages (standard comic episode) will go to Writer’s Block for feedback. This project may go farther -- not sure yet.
  • Fiddling with a screenplay version (outline / notional), also from the dogs point of view.
  • Updating the short story.
These open up many interesting possibilities. However, they also distract me from the current project (revision of a YA steampunk novel).
We’ll see where this goes. Should be an interesting ride.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What the f*** is a zombie anyway?

Which of the following are zombies:
(answers at the end)
The term ‘zombie’ refers to bit of voodoo mythology in which a normal person is brought back to life by a bokor. This is very different from the contagious reanimation so popular in our culture, which is interpreted in so many different ways that a singular definition seems nearly impossible.
However, I have narrowed it down to a simple definition:
A zombie is a human corpse that has reanimated, AND seeks to kill living humans.
This is synonymous with the living dead, the dead [in zombie fiction], mush-brain, mush-head, shamble, lurker and dozens of other terms.
So using this simple definition, which of our subjects are zombies?

  • Poorly drawn serial killer.
  • Trying to kill you, but very much alive.
  • Not a zombie.

  • Romero type-2 shamblers.
  • Dead. Trying to kill you.
  • Definitely zombies.
  • 28 days later rage-zombies
  • Dead. Trying to kill you.
  • Definitely zombies.
  • Neighbor lady inviting you to a ‘jewelry party’
  • Dead. Trying to hook you in pyramid sales scheme--which may destroy your soul, but does not technically ‘kill’ you.
  • Not a zombie*.
*Warning: resist urge to put this horrible creature out of its misery, such an action will result criminal charges.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Zombies Can’t Climb re-duex

Four people huddle on the roof of a garage, a zombie filled alley on one side, a zombie filled backyard on the other.
   “Don’t worry, Katie, they can’t climb.” 
   “Mon Dieu! C’est un grimpeur de montagne!”
   “What is it Sebastian?”
   “Zat one, he is wearing the climbing harness and has chalk on his fingers.”
   “So what?”
   “Zee is a climber! Zee has the muscle memory!”
   Katie looked at them, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
   “I left the shovel in the truck.”
   Sadly, none of them thought to bring a shovel up onto the roof, so our climber-zombie kills them all.
Could this happen?
Do the dead have muscle memory? Can they climb ladders? What about stairs? Steep hills?
I concede, I have not run this test using the animated corpse of an experienced climber, but here are the lab results using a typical set of Hollywood zombies plus a [dead] Czechoslovakian pole-vaulter we were lucky enough to receive on Saturday.
Flat, open ground
  • Average Joe: 2 mph
  • Big Guy: 1 mph, falls often
  • Czech Pole-vaulter: subject escaped [later recaptured]
Steep hill
  • Average Joe: 0.5 mph
  • Big Guy: falls often, did not complete course
  • Czech Pole-vaulter: subject escaped, subject escaped, bit two guards [later recaptured]
Stair Test
  •  Average Joe: stumbles often, completes 71% of the time
  • Big Guy: falls often, completes 19% of the time
  • Czech Pole-vaulter: subject escaped, killed research assistant [later recaptured]
Ladder Test
  • Average Joe: Fail
  • Big Guy: fail
  • Czech Pole-vaulter: subject escaped [subject terminated to protect lead researcher]
Both stairs and steep slopes are navigable by the undead. For your protection, the RMA recommends at least a 10 foot-high vertical barrier with removable access (pull up the ladder dumb-ass). These precautions are not sufficient if you are pursued by dead climbers or Czechoslovakian pole-vaulters.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

My apocalypse of choice: The Living Dead

Oh no, The Living Dead!
You may question the wisdom of this, but please, allow me to explain:

First thing to know about the living dead is that they are dumb. Fast or slow; viral, alien, or demonic, the dead are dumb. ALL dead are dumb. This is why we will always beat them, despite the gross myths perpetuated by our popular media.

Consider the mob. That is what zombies are, a mindless mob of arbitrary size. Have you ever seen a mob, or been in one? You ever watch a mob? They are delightfully easy to predict, easy to manipulate, easy to control. As are zombies.

The living dead are also easy to contain. Ever see a mob break through a concrete barricade? And you never will. Why? They can't. It is not physically possible. Concrete beats human flesh and bone every time, as surely as rock beats scissors.

Dumb, easy to predict, easy to control and easy to contain. Compare this with SARS, nukes, or the Rapture. Can you contain the Rapture? Nope.


If the world is going to end, I hope it is by zombies, because you can fight zombies, and you will most likely win.

Give me zombies, a shovel, and a couple dogs. Me, my family, and my neighbors will do just fine (if we can learn to live without the Internet).

Don't worry, Fido, we're perfectly safe!

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Querying, and not the nice 'here's a note with a drop of perfume and a single rose petal' kind of querying, but more the rabid bull dog, foaming at the mouth, gonna sniff you out no matter where you try to hide kind of querying.

If you represent YA fiction, like zombies, and have not heard from me yet...drop me an email ASAP!

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Done with the 4th draft of ZPF. Trimmed it down to 90K and worked out the plot glitches pointed out by my beta readers. Now it moves into more intensive marketing.

Finished two weeks earlier than projected, so I have a little breathing room. Not sure what to focus on next. Could move right into cleanup of the steampunk book, could revise and submit some short stories, or I could try to bust out a draft of a middle-grade novel I outlined back in December.

Leaning toward the short stories as I haven’t had a new one come out in several months, but don’t have to decide this instant. I’ll think it over and see where I end up.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What I have been up to

Not blogging...

Went on social media hiatus, not blogging, twittering, or face booking. Nothing deliberate about it, just fell into an intensive writing period and did not make the time.

So here is what I have been working on:

Forbidden, a YA Steampunk novel set in Victorian London: Completed world building and wrote the rough draft. Draft came out to 106,000 words, with 102,000 in support files (outline, brainstorming, world building).

The draft came together nicely, but it will need substantial rework -- at the mid-point it shifted from an ‘academy for gifted boys’ setting, to a Dickensian workhouse setting, and the tone became darker and far more dystopian. With this rework, I expect to have a clean draft by the end of the year (ready for first readers, and possibly submissions).

Also writing a new draft of Zombie Proof Fence, a YA novel set 3 years after a zombie apocalypse. This draft is based on feedback from several very kind first readers, and is mostly fine-tuning and trimming.

Sadly between the novels and other commitments, I have not found time to work on short stories or to blog. However, I am through the intense drafting on Forbidden and into editing mode so you may be seeing more on the blog.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Guest Post: Cereal Morality

Today we have a guest post by Dan Morehead, who takes a moment to ponder the relative morality of breakfast cereals:

The cereal Trix is of uniform sweetness, every piece is a party. The advertisements for Trix teaches children that you should withhold sharing with those who look different "Trix are for kids." In truth rabbits are omnivorous and Trix would be a nutritionally appropriate foodstuff for them.

Lucky charms features lucky marshmallow bits which are a reward for eating all the more nutritious brown bits. The advertisement encourages kids to embark with adventuresome spirit to boldly find where 'Lucky' has hidden his breakfast. Once found Lucky shares his bounty without any grudge. The cereal, like the marshmallows, is a reward for discipline and initiative.

Lucky Charms is therefore a far more moral cereal.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Writing 101: Meticulous Attention to Detail

I keep metrics. Lots of them. It sucks up a few minutes every single day, but it helps my writing, my motivation, and my sense of progress.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, here is the definition from Wikipedia: “A measure for something; a means of deriving a quantitative measurement or approximation for otherwise qualitative phenomena.”

In short, metrics collection = measurement.

Most writers use the metric of wordcount, looking at how many words they have typed on a given day (I am at 267 words today, including these).

I suggest you begin collecting metrics. The two most important are: 1) how many words you write each day, and 2) how much time you spend writing those words. Begin recording this in a spreadsheet. Watch those numbers over the next month or two and I bet you will see them go up (this is the motivation factor).

Some other fun things your can do with them:
  • Determine which schedule works best for you--are you more productive writing in the evening, or morning?
  • Determine which environment words best--did you write more at the library, or the coffee shop?
  • Determine how long it takes you to complete a project--if you have never measured this before it will be illuminating.
  • I do not suggest you calculate your net hourly income from your writing as for most writers this will be depressing. Still, it can be calculated if you keep good metrics.

Here are two snapshots of my own metrics, and if there is interest I can post more advanced metrics advice (maybe even spreadsheet design tips...):

My daily wordcount spreadsheet (notice how it is broken up by project. I wrote 5.75 hours and produced 4.3K words. It was a good day for me):

And the summary graph for my current work in progress. This summarizes a few sheets of data, but note how it shows how I am performing vs. my goal, and how my productivity fluctuates week-to-week. If you are a clever monkey, you will also notice that the blue line the ‘real’ progress on the manuscript, and it is lagging about 2 weeks behind where it should be:


Monday, February 15, 2010

Support Files

I recently received a question about support files. In my status reports, I will sometimes refer to support files, which seem to take on a life of their own and are not part of the final manuscript. So here are some that I use for novels (which may provide some insight into my process). These are from my current work in progress:

00_Forbidden_Work Plan.xlsx
A spreadsheet with charts, timelines, chapter list, metrics from last book (for reference) and other data specific to this book.

27,554 words
Open ended brainstorming. Much of what goes in here is never used, but over time a usable dictionary, character encyclopedia, world encyclopedia and other reference material I use in the writing process.

The outline usually starts in here. When it gets unwieldy, I move it to its own file.

12,294 words
This starts as a template with a pre-determined series of exercises based on Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method -- a quick, fun way of focusing and developing the initial concept and characters using the concept of fractals -- simple, repeating patterns that form a complex structure. Check it out at: The Snowflake Method.

I don’t usually complete every section, and my outline tends to be more detailed that what the Snowflake produces, but many of these steps provide a crosscheck--if I can fill them it succinctly, it means that area is mature, if the I go on too long it means an area needs further brainstorming.

The end result of this process is a query-ready synopsis, good for marketing, good for proposals.

15,638 words
The outline is just what it sounds like. I have a template for each section, and each level (I outline by section, chapter, scene), as well as an area for tracking subplots, and another for tracking mysteries.

I write detailed outlines, often with blow-by blow scenes and snippets of dialogue, and for each scene I list 5-7 Key Points that need to be worked in--this helps keep the writing on track when I actually write the scene.

4,186 words
This bubbles out of the snowflake file, then gets polished and chopped into different lengths -- the full synopsis (~15 pages), a 10 pager, a 5 pager and the dreaded one pager. Right now, all I have is the full synopsis (which is out for the critique group to review).

0 words (so far)

Being paranoid, and wanting to measure how much rework I have on each project, I save all the big items I cut. Not words, sentences, lines of dialogue, but scenes and chapters when they go away or are totally replaced. This gives me a graveyard from which I can resurrect anything I change my mind on, and a file where I can see just how much I have tossed.

On my previous book (Zombie Proof Fence), my cut file ended up with 65,825 words -- yes, I threw out an entire book worth of material. The worst offender: the basement scene which went through 6 very different iterations before I settled on one I was happy with.

So there you have it, more information than you ever really wanted.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Status February 7th, 2010

Things are moving on the new book. Primarily working backstory, world building, character development and outline (45K in supporting files), with ~7K of scenes drafted.

Here's a taste -- some events leading up to the story:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Writing 101: Finding Time to Write

Welcome to Writing 101.

Many people aspire to writing, getting published, finishing a book, and so forth. But for most of those I have spoken with and observed (blogs, twitter, etc.), the single greatest obstacle to realizing their writing dream is finding time to write--not talent, not imagination, not desire, but time. Think about that. Are you in this category?

At this point in my writing life, finding time seems simple--but I remember years ago when it was real struggle. In the early years, weeks, sometimes months would pass with little forward progress and it took years to develop good habits. If you are having this problem, here are some tips for finding, or rather making time to write.

Your mileage will vary, but I am confident ANYONE can make 5 hours a week to write. That adds up to 250+ hours per year. MOST PEOPLE can make 10+ hours each week (520 hours/year) and a MOTIVATED PERSON with a professional attitude toward writing can make 15+ hours per week.

But how?

Here are the top two. These are changes you can make, probably without impacting anyone else in your life. I have another list that starts to affect other people, but that will be another post. Hope you find this useful:

#1 -- TURN OFF THE TV -- do I have to explain this one? Most people watch 2+ hours of TV every day. This is not quality time. This is wasted time. Even the news, even educational programs--all television viewing is waste. On your deathbed, you will not look back and think, “Wow, I wish I had spent more time in front of the flat screen.”

For a typical 2-hour per day viewer,14 hours per week have been freed up for writing. That’s 728 hours per year. For an average writer, this is a book. For a fast writer, it’s two or three. You might want to use about 4 of those hours to exercise, do some cardio, maybe get in shape (another dream many people have, but don’t think they have time for).

#2 -- TURN OFF THOSE VIDEO GAMES. Sure, not everyone does this, but those who do know what a time-suck this can be. Hardcore gamers spend 20-40 hours per week playing video games. Casual gamers play 5-10 hours per week. And yes kids, this is an utter waste of time.

I’m a gamer. Used to be a hardcore gamer. Here is what I do now that I am a writer: I don’t game when working on a book. However, I do take time between books to play through 1 or 2 best-of-the year kind of games. It scratches the itch, and frees up a ton of time for writing.

For me, this was the hardest habit to change. Took over 5 years to decide the writing was more important and to unplug the console. What I am writing these days is far more interesting than even the best games, so nowadays put them aside without really thinking about it.

So there you go: 14-20 hours per week are now available for you to start that writing project. What are you waiting for? A swift kick in the ass?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Status -- January 16, 2010

Exciting news: Sold “The Identifier” to Psudopod -- the #1 horror podcast going right now. This short story is a personal favorite and I can’t wait to see what they do with it.

No major news on ZPF. I have gotten excellent feedback from beta readers, giving me several ideas to improve the book. No news from agents or editors, but that is a slow process. For now, ZPF is on the backburner (unless I get a call) and I am working a new project.

The new project has gone in an interesting direction. Around Christmas, I had thought I would the start the year writing a novel-length expansion of Doofus -- Young Billy solving the mystery of M.L.B. and finding his shoes. This would be a middle grade story (for 3rd-5th graders) running about 40K words. Then, as happened with ZPF, a completely random idea bloomed into an interesting idea that exploded into a mind-shattering, keep-me-awake-at-night brainstorm--the Cat 5 hurricane kind of brainstorm.

As a result, I have shelved Doofus, shelved another runner-up (about a gang of thieves posing as homeowners in suburbia), and gone to a steampunk story set in Victorian London.

Try this out:

FORBIDDEN: After investing a toy with the forbidden gift of life, Malthus, a tinker’s son, is drawn into a treacherous and secret world of machines, magic and spies in Victorian London.

This alternate past has a 3rd tier of society, the Enlightened Society, made of individuals gifted with Craft and/or Ken.

Craft is witchcraft/sorcery and is primarily found in women. Ken is an intuitive, seemingly mystical, understanding of machines which is primarily found in men. Craft is highly suspect (work of the devil and all) and in parts of the world it is forbidden. Ken is more accepted socially and is the engine driving a fast-forward leap in industry and steam/clockwork technology.

In the last couple weeks I have gone through character and world-building exercises, developed an outline, and researched the period and other steampunk works. The plan is to start the first draft on January 17th and see how far I can get by April (I expect to finish a rough draft). After that, I will shift back to ZPF and edit based on feedback received from Beta readers--though a phone call on ZPF could radically alter my priorities.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Fine Art of Not Overreaching

Writing is hard enough without setting yourself up for failure. One of the smartest things a writer can do is to pick goals and projects that are achievable. One the dumbest things a writer can do is to overreach.

This is a huge problem for me.

When I start brainstorming, it is typically a big storm. One idea leads to another, to another, to another and so on. Then, just when things are saturated, a new idea emerges that is completely unrelated to the rest. I want to write all of these things. Sadly, this is not a realistic goal.

In the past I have tried to work too many projects at once--and failed. I have tried to work projects of epic and grandiose scale--and failed.

Thus from this cornucopia of concepts, I may only choose one. At least I am to be successful. This results in dropping 90% of my brainstorming, and taking 10%, developing it and making it shine. This strategy works well for me, I complete most of what I start. Many other authors have reported similar results. So let me offer you this advice:

Do not overreach.

Be realistic about your productivity, how long a project will take, other things going on in your life, and what you are truly passionate about. With these things in mind, take all those great ideas and whittle them down to one idea, an idea you can bring to life in a reasonable amount of time (1 month for a short story, 1 year for a book).

If you do that, you will finish the project, achieve your goal and go on to a life of bliss, happiness and achievement.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 Accomplishments

Here is a look back at 2009. It was a good year for writing.

2009 Accomplishments:
- Finished a novel: Zombie Proof Fence
- Sent out first round of queries.
- Received requests for fulls.
- Waiting to hear back.
- Finished 9 short stories
- Sold 4 short stories
- Saw 2 short stories published (other 2 pending)
- Maintained a blog (over 20K words)
- Captured over 50 story ideas for future use (over 22K in undeveloped notes).

The Numbers:
- 956 hours writing
- 447,828 words written
- Monthly average = 37.3K words, 80 hours.
- Beat goal of 57 hours/month

So there you have it. How was your 2009?

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Goals Part 2

Here are my writing goals for next year, the “what I can do” sections have ideas that other writers may find useful. Achievability is crucial, so I have a plan to meet each goal. I have also looked at contingencies and challenge goals (because I am an overachiever).

Write another book, maybe 2

My goal as a part-time novelist is to write a book each year. The story at the forefront of my mind is a Middle Grade book, which will be very short (1/4 - 1/2 an adult book). Depending on what happens with ZOMBIE PROOF FENCE, I may have ~6 months available after writing the MG book. My challenge goal will therefore be to write a second book. Here is what I can do:
  • Write every day. This is the most important step. At 500 words per day, a first draft emerges fairly quickly. At this rate, it will take 240 days to write first drafts of both books. This leaves some wiggle room for life, revisions, short stories and the like.
  • Plan. Develop characters, story arc, know the ending, explore enough to KNOW the story closes in a satisfying way--all before starting the draft. This insures success.
  • Measure progress. This helps keep me focused, and also shows me when I’m getting off track.
  • Write first drafts. With so many things going on, expecting polished drafts is too much. If time permits, I will revise the new book(s), but realistically that may fall into 2011 as ZPF is the #1 priority this year.
  • Share. Sharing outlines and early chapters with my local writers group does two things. First, it provides external deadlines. Second, it helps expose weaknesses in characters, world-building and voice. This feedback allows me to make course corrections early on, and results in a far more mature first draft.
  • Re-evaluate after key life events. If ZPF sells, I will have a deadline for revision and need to focus on marketing. After the first book is done, my goals may shift. The unexpected could happen with family or work. After major life events, I will reevaluate to keep my goals achievable, yet challenging.
Write 6 New Short Stories

Short stories are fast--fast to write, to revise, and to sell. They improve writing skills quickly, they build self-confidence, they allow experimentation, and they help build an audience. I plan to keep this part of my writing going in 2010. Here’s how:
  • Write every day. Déjà-vu because I wrote yesterday too.
  • Capture ideas. You never know where a story will come from, so write down ideas, character sketches, dialogue, whatever--and keep those notes organized and indexed.
  • Pace = 1 story per 2 months.
  • Plan = 1 month to draft, 1 month to revise.
  • Share. Shorts are good for writers group. Once polished, submit. The more work in the mail, the greater the odds of getting work published.
  • Enjoy. A quick or experimental short story is a lot of fun and less stressful than the novel work. Short stories are good for taking a break, a change of pace, or a stress reliever.
Blog Weekly

Started blogging last year, but it was intermittent. Plan for this year is to blog at least once per week. The challenge goal is to blog twice per week. Here is what I can do:
  • Write every day. Hmm. I’m seeing a trend.
  • Post every Sunday. This is the most reliable day for getting things done (given my schedule).
  • Write book reviews. Interesting content for readers, and good ‘fill’ for lean weeks.
  • Write serial articles on writing. I know a lot about writing. Yay. Some of my trick and tips can help other writers so why not share? A structured series will be interesting to read on the blog, and I can write sections or themes more efficiently than random posts which improved the on-time delivery of content.
So there you have it. What are your goals, and what is your plan to achieve them?