Will Swardstrom – It’s a Swardstrom thing

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Another member of LOOW (the League of Original Woolwrights): Will Swardstrom, who’s the author of SF thriller Dead Sleep and a number of short stories, including Ant Apocalypse and Contact Window.  It’s becoming a rule in his family: if you’re a Swardstrom, you write!

46d767c7f20f0a823908a6_L__V340853896_SX200_A casual look through the books and stories I’ve written shows a clear involvement of my family in my writing. I can’t help it. I think it’s the middle child thing.

Lemme back up. My name is Will Swardstrom and I’ve been doing this Indie Author deal for about a year and a half. As I kept writing and publishing, my siblings took notice. My sister Betsy decided to try her hand at writing fiction and my brother Paul picked up a pen for the first time in a long time. Collectively we published a set of short stories we called “Baking With Swords.” (Cuz my last name is Sward-strom and my sister’s married name is Baker…) It was definitely a labor of love. I really wanted 51zPFpWq5GL__AA160_to give my brother and sister a small taste of the publishing business and the fun I’ve had with it, but coordinating three distinctive personalities who each don’t want to hurt the others’ feelings can be difficult. (That’s the middle kid personality – soothing over arguments and hurt feelings.)

My brother continued to write a little and came up with a story he was stumped on. “Come on in. Play in my toy box,” he said. I played and tinkered. It was a lot of fun, being able to stomp around in someone else’s story and see the passion they had for it. In the end, we put both our names on the short story “Hotbox Runner,” and published it this summer.

51QeAV4EUAL__AA160_What’s happened since then? Well my retired dad has taken to writing as well. From what he’s said (I haven’t read any of it yet), it sounds like a massive space epic and I would love to see it come together. My younger brother also now works in publishing (albeit working in a book publisher’s warehouse, but still…).

Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t have even gotten to where I am without the love of reading and education from both of my parents. The bookshelves were never “full” at my house. There was always room for more and that’s what really drew me into reading as a kid. I knew there would never be an end to the adventures I could have in the pages of a book.

Wes Davies: It’s about the people

e49071a846ce0a82390b76_L__V326996900_SX200_51NE3vdhTpL__AA160_Continuing the introductions to the members of LOOW (the League of Original Woolwrights) — meet WJ Davies, the author of Silo Submerged (one of the most popular Wool-related books), as well as the SF saga Binary Cycle.  Wes is currently in screenwriting school, learning the ins and outs of the world of movies and TV, and I’m looking forward to seeing his name on the silver screen someday!

519Uka1stVL__AA160_No matter how grand your high concept story may be, at the end of the day, the book isn’t about the spaceship, or alien virus, or time travel device. It’s about the people those things happen to.

At the core of every good story are relationships between people, and there are no stronger relationships than those between family members. Some of the most compelling tales are told of families struggling to survive against all odds, of families reuniting after a long absence. The concept of family is primal, and is something that can connect the reader and writer on a profound level because we can all relate to these kinds of struggles, in one way or another.

Logan Thomas Snyder: Three Memories

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I might not have entered indy publishing at all if it weren’t for the members of LOOW — the League of Original Woolwrights, a group of writers who came together through their love of Hugh Howey’s WOOL series.  We’re each other’s sounding board these days, a great group of very creative folks, and I thought you’d like to meet them.  I chatted with Dave Adams, Fredric Shernoff and Will Swardstrom when I started this blog; now it’s Logan Thomas Snyder’s turn!  Along with his Wool-inspired novel The Disappeared, Logan is the author of the SF epic The Lazarus Particle and the short story Becoming Violet, which he’s turning into a series.

60481049e8c30a9004842c_L__V348212331_SX200_When Carol asked me to write about how my family has influenced my writing, three distinct memories from childhood came to mind…

The first is my parents reading to me. I remember them reading to me constantly while I was growing up, and not just kids’ books, either; I have vivid memories of them reading me Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and Stephen R. Donaldson’s “Thomas Covenant” series when I was 9 or 10 years old.

517TioDVzbL__AA160_The second is a birthday gift my Aunt Judy gave me not long afterward. It was a dictionary. Most preteens probably would have chucked it without a second thought, but I loved it. A book of words! The very best words in the English language, no less! For years, that dictionary was like my bible. What made it even more special was the inscription: “Logan, This family needs an author. I hope this helps you on your journey. Love, Aunt Judy.” (Sadly, Aunt Judy passed last year, but she did live long enough to see me self-publish Part I of The Disappeared, and for that I’m so grateful. Part II is dedicated to her, and remains the only time I’ve dedicated one of my books to a single person.)

41prZAZaSbL__AA160_The third memory is watching my older brother write a story when he was 16. I was 8, and I asked him what he was doing. He explained to me that he was writing a story. At that point in my life, it had never really occurred to me that stories don’t just spring into existence. They’re born from the blood, sweat, and tears of authors, of creators… and my brother was one of them. Long before I discovered my favorite authors or the novels that would change my life forever, my number one influence was my brother the writer.

So, that’s it! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to grab a tissue and thank my family for raising me the way they did.

You can find Logan’s author page at Amazon here.

Never say “never”…

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pic 9When I started e-publishing a little more than a year ago, I thought, “Nah, not gonna do romance.  That’s not my thing.”  I’d been writing supernatural angsty drama for 7 years, and got into e-pubbing with SF (in the Silo Saga, spun off from Hugh Howey’s WOOL books).  I couldn’t see myself writing love stories.  Then, at Christmas time, my cousin made an offhand comment… and I started thinking, “Well, maybe.”

A few months later I published Something Simple.  Lots of fun to write – and it’s interesting to stretch your wings a bit.  But I thought it was a one-shot.  I was willing to let it go at that.  But folks started telling me, “You should write another one!”

SC final smallOkay.  Have another one.  :)

It’s going to be a trilogy – I’ll have Book 3 done in time for Christmas, if my muse cooperates.  I’ve also got another couple of romances in the pipeline!  So I’ve stopped saying, “Never.”  The most I’ll commit to at this point is, “Well… I don’t know.  Maybe later?”

If you’re interested in checking out my romantic babies, just click the cover images.  And if you’d like to help spread the word?  That would be AWESOME.

Look at that! I’m going to zero in.

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The common wisdom in the indy publishing biz is that you have to pick ONE THING — one arena — one subject.  You have to essentially become a one-trick pony, and do that trick over and over and over again, and pimp it relentlessly.

But anyone who knows me (or most of the members of my family) knows that the quickest way to get me to balk is to tell me, “You HAVE TO [fill in the blank].”  As a young friend once said, “That no work for me.”  So nope… I’m not going to write only sweet romance.  Or sci-fi.  Or supernatural mystery.  Or women’s fiction.  I’m not going to set up one series and write 500 chapters.  Because Oh Dear God.  That would be the fastest route to complete insanity for me.  It would suck all the fun out of telling stories.

What I *am* going to do is pick a theme — one that’s appeared over and over again in all the stories I’ve written over the years.  One that’s dear to my heart, because examining it helps me understand the people I love, and understand myself.

FAMILY.

The one we’re born with.  The ones we build through marriage, through friendship, through shared experience.  Our larger family as members of the human race.  As has been true in the stories I’ve written in the past, the backdrops will be different.  I may write about places you recognize, or worlds that exist only in my imagination, but I hope my characters will be people who seem familiar — people you’ll like, that you’ll cheer for or cry with.  With luck, they’ll help you understand yourself and the people you love just a bit better.

Here at the blog, I’ll be talking with some terrific creative folks about the examination of family in their own works.  Now and then, we’ll be holding some giveaways, and we’ll point you toward some great new books.  We’ll ask questions, and answer them.  As our family of readers, I hope you’ll enjoy the journey!

Look for a couple of posts a week.  And if you’d like to do a guest post, by all means drop me a line!

Five Tips for the Newbs…

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I’m no expert on the subject of writing.  If I were, I’d be selling a lot more books.  But I’ve been at this a long time, my stories have always been reasonably popular, and I suppose that makes me a reasonably reliable source.  So here goes: 5 small pieces of advice for the newbie writers out there — the folks who are wondering how to whip their story into decent shape before they plunge their toes into the ice-cold water of indy publishing.

1)  Write what you know.  You may be dying to write about the life of a New York City detective, or an ER nurse, or a lumberjack, but if you’ve got no clue about the ins and outs of those professions, and you aren’t willing to thoroughly research them… don’t go there.  Readers who are more savvy than you are will object.  A lot.  If you’re a student, write about student life, or small-town life, or young love, something you understand right down to your gut.  If you’ve got a mundane job, write about that, or family relationships.  Don’t just “make shit up.”  Unless, of course, you’re writing Sci Fi.  Then, by all means, make shit up.

2)  Listen to people when they talk.  Everywhere.  At work, on the street, at the mall, on TV and radio.  Pay careful attention to what they say and how they say it.  Does your wife (or your mom) actually say to you, “I would like you to stop at the store and pick up several items”?  Don’t be afraid of contractions.  Develop a sweet love affair with contractions, and figures of speech.  If you’re unsure whether your dialogue sounds genuine or fake, read it out loud.  Seriously: READ IT OUT LOUD, at a pretty fast clip.  Then ask yourself: do people talk this way?

3)  “Just because” is not a good reason for something to happen.  Your characters are human beings.  Don’t force them to do things no normal person would do, just because it sounds good, or it fast-forwards the plot.  Yes, in the BBW/Paranormal Romance genre, perfectly sensible women walk away from their lives, their jobs, their friends and family to live in the woods with a pack of werewolves, but if you’re writing non-PR fiction, your readers will be a lot happier if your characters display some common sense.

4)  Don’t get fancy; just tell the story.  You may adore The Road with every fiber of your being… but you’re a newbie, not Cormac McCarthy.  Elaborate styles and fifty-cent words don’t make your story better, all on their own — unless you’re skilled at handling them, they’ll actually bury your story.  Remember the acronym KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid?  That’s your best bet.  Don’t hit “publish” on something that’s going to prompt readers to ask… WTF?

5)  If you can’t spell and punctuate properly, find help.  I’ve read a number of times recently, “If the story is good enough, I’ll force myself to overlook the mistakes.”  But why put a reader in that position?  Particularly if you’re asking him or her to part with some hard-earned cash in order to read your story.  Take pride in your work!  Make it as perfect as you possibly can.  You might not be the best writer in the world — but you can make sure that your housekeeping is done.  Publishing a story that hasn’t been cleaned up says very clearly to the reader, “I didn’t care enough to make this look its best.”  If you can’t afford an editor, offer to swap skills with somebody.  Offer to beta-read their story.  Offer to mow their lawn, or paint their front steps.  Do whatever it takes to present the best possible product to your potential customers.

A final bonus tip:

DON’T GIVE UP.  Don’t let anyone tell you, “You’re not a writer.”  If you’ve got a story to tell, tell it.  Then tell another one.  And one more.  As one of my writing mentors instructed me years ago: WRITE YOUR FACE OFF.  With practice, you’ll get better.

I promise.  :)

One thing leads to another…

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A page from the script that got me the job at ST:TNG

We’ve all heard the saying “The longest journey begins with a single step.”  True enough… but what’s interesting to me this morning, as I sit in my quiet living room, listening to the birds chirping and enjoying a cool morning breeze, is that most of the time, we have no idea where that journey will take us.

From the time I started to put “me” and “writer” and “television” together, my dream was to work in Hollywood, helping to put together one of the TV shows I loved.  I worked doggedly at achieving that dream — at least, as much as a small-town girl with limited funds and a nervous nature could do.  I wrote letters.  I churned out scripts by the boxload.  I asked favors of a number of kind, generous people (who granted most of them).  But years went by, and I was still sitting in my tiny home town, watching TV and dreaming.

Then I read about a one-of-a-kind opportunity being offered by the producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  At a time when every TV show on the air was refusing to look at unsolicited material, ST:TNG had opened the gates.  Fill out a simple release form, they said, and we’ll read your script.

So I sent them one.  And they offered me a job.

A dream job.  The one I’d fantasized about for half my life.  I was working in Hollywood, surrounded by actors and writers and crew members and fancy sets and a million different flights of fancy.  But I discovered as my internship unfolded that this wasn’t a good fit for me.  Writing on demand, long hours, having your work completely rewritten by someone else…  Yes, the money was good, if you could manage to land a full-time gig, but you’d run the risk of your show being canceled after a few episodes.  Add to that the fact that I was terrified of nearly everyone (I have issues with authority, whether it’s real or perceived), and I couldn’t imagine myself ever succeeding as a Big Time TV Writer.

Still, I decided to stay in California, and went back to writing fanzines.  Which led to meeting the editor of the Quantum Leap tie-in novels, which led to publishing two of the tie-ins and becoming a “real author.”  It also led to my being exposed to a lot of people I would never have encountered back in my little home town: people from countries around the world.  It led to my being at the fringes of the riots that happened after the infamous Rodney King verdict.  It led to my apartment being trashed by the Northridge earthquake and its many thousands of aftershocks.  It led to new friendships and new challenges (among them, working for a spoiled-rotten Beverly Hills divorcee) and five years at an art museum.  It led to a richness of experience I wouldn’t have had if I had said “no” to that job at ST:TNG.

The whole business of writing revolves around answering the question “What if…?”  But LIFE revolves around that very same question.  Some thirty years ago, I considered buying a small house a few blocks from my parents, a cute blue bungalow surrounded by trees that my dad would have helped me purchase.  If I had said, “I want to do this,” it would have been a done deal.  Instead, I took a different path, and spent more than a decade soaking up experiences that weren’t available here at home.  I’ve chatted about this before, and I probably will again, because it’s something I ponder a lot.  “What if…?”  Where would I be now, if I had bought that house?  What would I have accomplished?  What would I have seen, and who would I have met?

Would I be here now, writing an author’s blog?

What if…?

20 Years Ago This Morning…

… I was enjoying a quiet night’s sleep.  It being a Sunday night/Monday morning, I imagine I went to bed pretty early, so I’d be refreshed for work the following day.  I’m sure I was asleep at 12:15 a.m.

Just eight blocks away from my apartment, a couple of people out walking their dog discovered a bloody, nearly decapitated body lying on the sideway in front of a quiet condominium.  When the police arrived, they discovered another mutilated body.

Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Like nearly everyone else in the country, I followed the events of the following year minute by minute.  As the cousin of someone who was shot to death by her enraged spouse, I understood the pain the Brown and Goldman families were going through, and I was astonished and not a little furious when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty, something that endures to this day.  A few months after the end of the trial, on Thanksgiving Day, a friend and I went to Westwood to take in a movie — and to our amazement, O.J., his children and his entourage were standing in the theater lobby.  “Do you want to get his autograph?” my friend asked.

No, I most certainly did not.

20 years have gone by.  To my relief, O.J. Simpson doesn’t look smug any more.  He’s sitting in prison, exactly where he should be — because I’ve never doubted for one minute that he was the one who, in a fit of blinding rage, slaughtered the mother of his children and a young man who was there only to return a pair of glasses.  The one who murdered, and ran, and took careful steps to cover up his guilt.  And looked smug the whole time, because he was the world’s golden boy, and I think he was pretty sure that, as Nicole had predicted, he’d get away with it.

data=VLHX1wd2Cgu8wR6jwyh-km8JBWAkEzU4,qJKn0Cdr_ICcIx5j8QKXI__DOiqpFZgC7YJZbqawtbKPlflI8iCa-_sM9-fwY2i0ruCfrPoBMNdz16ntakzjtGarPEFxcKBY3G77j2hGu4YBmBlK8w

If you look at this little map — my apartment was located where the green arrow is.  If you trace slightly to the north, you’ll see the word “Ralph’s” (a supermarket).  The white line that the word “Ralph’s” straddles is Bundy Drive.  Easy walking distance from my place, a walk I often took on weekends and nice afternoons after work.  It was a quiet neighborhood before June 12-13, 1994, and I imagine it’s gone back to being so.

That night, I was sleeping quietly eight blocks away.  That I was oblivious to what was happening made me very sad back then, and it still does.

RIP, Nicole and Ron.  You are not forgotten.

You have to start somewhere…

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First storyYears ago, my mother told me, “Don’t ever throw out anything you wrote.”  You have to like that kind of optimism — apparently, she thought my situation was something like Stephen King’s, and I’d be able to resurrect something that would become The Next Big Thing.

Maybe she was figuring they’d want to include it all amongst my papers in the library at Harvard.

Her advice aside, I haven’t saved everything.  I pitched a bunch of my Starsky & Hutch scripts, there being absolutely no market for those.  And those old drafts of things?  Out they went.  I have a tiny house with limited storage, and clutter makes my nervous system… nervous.

I did keep one particular jewel, though: the very first story I wrote, back at the tender age of 11.  A huge fan of the Batman TV show, I decided I could write some adventures for my favorite hero.  That being… no, not Batman.  ROBIN.  My little 11-year-old heart went pitty-pat every week for the Boy Wonder, and when I sat down to put together the episode I’d like to see, it of course included a love interest.  (Cue a few choruses of “Hello, Mary Sue”…)

I’m thinking my mother might have read it.  I don’t think anyone else has, up till now.

I had nice handwriting, right?  As for the quality of the writing — as the title of this post says, we all have to start somewhere.  I was tickled pink with my little endeavor.  And the rest…  Well, yeah.  It’s history.

The Long Reach of Kindness

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When I was putting together the previous post, and looking back at my six weeks as an intern at Star Trek: The Next Generation, I was reminded of something I’d forgotten: that during my first meeting with him, TNG‘s executive producer Michael Piller told me I was to consider the writers’ offices a safe environment, a place where I could freely express thoughts, ideas, and opinions without fear of their being rejected out of hand.

I should not, he said, fear to speak up.

Easier said than done, particularly if most of your previous experience has taught you to keep your mouth shut, for fear of offending someone, annoying someone, or (worst of all, perhaps) making a fool of yourself — because of all the kinds of pain there are in this world, few of them are worse than humiliation.  Most of the time, it’s easier to keep quiet.  It’s safer to keep quiet, even if that silence means you’ll never learn anything, that you’re denying yourself the chance to grow.

Michael Piller

Michael Piller

Lately, I’ve seen some comments on the message boards to the effect of, “Freaking NEWBS.  Why do they keep asking the same questions?  Don’t they know there’s a whole thread for that?  Why do they keep bothering us?”

Because, I think, it’s not information they’re looking for.

It’s kindness.

Venturing into a new place of any kind is a terrifying prospect, unless you’re completely foolhardy, or stupid, or a nice black-and-white-cookie blend of the two.  There be dragons in new places, you know?  You don’t know the rules.  You don’t know where the trap doors are.

And you’re afraid of making a fool of yourself.

Okay, people have walked that particular path before.  They’ve asked questions and have secured answers.  But they’re not you.  Those people aren’t sitting inside your skin, wondering if you have the talent or the nerve or the luck to win at this particular new thing.  They aren’t listening to the little voice in your head that won’t stop saying, “Maybe it would be better if you didn’t try.”

Each of us was a newbie once, at every single thing we’ve tried.

And I’m willing to bet, on each of those occasions, it wasn’t information we wanted so much as we wanted a helping hand.  A moment of individual attention.  An acknowledgment that says “I see you, and I get that you’re scared.”  A big brother, of sorts: someone who’s climbed a few steps higher on the hill, reaches back a hand and says, “Come on.  I’ve got you.”

Michael Piller extended that hand over and over again.  It was at his insistence that Star Trek, alone among network TV shows, accepted, read, and considered scripts from anyone willing to fill out a simple two-page release form.  People argued; he held fast.  He’d been a young writer once — a newbie — and he remembered what that was like.  Rather than leave others to fend for themselves, he offered help.  A way in.  And once you were in, he listened.

He knew, I think, that kindness endures.

Being an ardent Trekker, I took advantage of my situation a bit too often, and crept onto the TNG set during my lunch hour.  I tried my best to stay unnoticed, but I caught the impatient eye of the wrong person.  Later on, Michael quietly stopped me in the hallway and murmured that I really shouldn’t be going over there quite so often.  It was gentle guidance — not a rebuke, not a criticism.  Just a soft, Yeah, not the best thing to do.  Okay?

779ec55cceccdcbdc7b2bff54f793d94He could have gotten the same result by dressing me down (I never ventured over to the set again), but he chose not to do that.  He chose to be kind.  He chose to address things with a smile and a quiet tone of voice.

And I remember.

So I give you this as food for thought, as well as reminding myself of what it felt like to be treated kindly, by someone who extended a helping hand.  We were all newbies once, and each time we blaze a new path for ourselves, we become newbies again.  Not looking for information so much as a big brother (or sister).  Someone a couple steps further along the path who’s willing to reach back a hand and say, “I’ve got you.”

Let’s make the world a safe environment for the newbs.  And in doing so, for ourselves.

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