The Long & the Short of It

I’m sitting here this morning, a week and a half from the debut of The Curse Merchant, overwhelmed with equal parts anticipation and anxiety. I’ve had some of my Facebook author’s page followers take me up on my offer for a free digital ARC, and thus far the feedback has been very positive!

I have several special blog events planned for the first weeks of the book release, one of which is a free bonus short story set prior to the events of The Curse Merchant. It’s a bite-sized narrative in the same universe, offering all of my potential readers a chance to sample something more than just a portion of the novel.

Returning to short format fiction has been something of a homecoming for me. When I first dabbled in writing, everything was a short story. It took years before I attempted my first novel length work… uncharted territory for sure! It wasn’t long until all of my projects began to expand into novels. Every idea compounded into something wider and more sweeping, requiring a more thorough narrative structure. I was creating worlds, not just stories.

Writing a short story is different experience than writing a novel. Fundamentally, storytelling is storytelling. A short story should have the same recognizable rise and fall as a novel. There should be a protagonist, an antagonist, a recognizable conflict, and a resolution. The point of view should be limited at some level so that the reader feels immersed. There should be a point to the story… some single take-away that justifies the story’s existence.

So, what’s different?

Whereas novels and short stories outline a rising and falling of action, a short story does this in one single motion. A novel can chart its plot arc in several individual narrative “peaks.” A short story is a single movement of a symphony, standing alone, interesting in its own right. A novel is the whole symphony, often composed of individual movements, each one a conflict and resolution in its own right, the sum of which creating a grand crescendo to the climax.

A short story has to be concise. A novel has the luxury of taking its time with character development, introducing more aspects of the greater supersetting, perhaps even lacing in elements of future novels. A short story has to get right to the point. It’s vital to choose when to start the short story. One must strive to begin the story as close to the climax as possible. The throw from opening to climax needs to be brief. Granted, one can’t simply begin with “Arturo pulled his gun exclaiming ‘That’s right! I did it! I killed the nuns!'”

I take it back. That would be a great way to open a short story.

The point is that there is precious little room for exposition in a short story. It must be all story, all the time. The short story must be a single-sitting experience. It’s an individually wrapped slice of narrative cheese, meant to be consumed in one literary lunch break.

Another difference between a short story and a novel is that, while a novel has the option of multiple points of view, a short story must have exactly one protagonist. There is simply no room for POV play in a short story. I state this dogmatically, and it’ll fall apart the second someone points out a brilliant piece of experimental fiction. It’s a rule that may be (rarely) broken, but a good rule nonetheless.

What is most eye-opening about this experience is how very damned difficult it is to write a short story when I’ve grown accustomed to long format fiction. My mind wanders down the history of each character. I feel compelled to paint a more detailed setting. The implications of the plot call to me, and I want to explore how this affects the novel itself.

But I can’t.

It’s a story. One story. And it must stand on its own legs.

This isn’t easy. It takes a razor-sharp editing sensibility, and a tight focus on the tale that I’m telling. And a tale is all about conflict. One central discrete conflict. As Blaise Pascal once wrote, “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter.” Good point there. Writing a novel is like pouring out the entire bucket of paint, then mopping up everything you don’t need on the canvas. Writing a short story is an exercise in short, intentional, calculated strokes.

That said, be sure to watch this blog in the month of November, when I give details on the release of the short story “Good Fences.” It’s a prequel to The Curse Merchant, and a fine introduction to the mind of Dorian Lake.

Voracious Readers – Inquire Within

As a regular Fistful of Fiction reader, you already know that my latest novel, The Curse Merchant, will be available for sale on October 31 of this year. That’s only 27 days away! That’s three to the third… hmm, numerologically auspicious!

If you enjoy dark fiction, character-centered storytelling, and/or a noir flavor to your urban fantasy, you’re going to love Curse Merchant. I’ll just go ahead and say it. Love it. And as if you weren’t already giddy enough with anticipation, I’m extending a special offer to my early followers.

Between now and the release date, I am offering free digital advance reader copies of The Curse Merchant to my blog readers and Facebook Author Page followers!

This book is TOTALLY worth skipping yoga for!

Yep… it’s your chance to read my book completely free, no strings attached.

So, why in God’s Green Hell would I just give away my book ahead of the release date? Good question, and there are two good answers:

1. It’s my way of thanking and recognizing my very first fans. You’re awesome. Stop it, you are!

2. If you enjoy the book, then it’s my sincerest hope that you would feel compelled to spread the word. There are all kinds of ways to do this, from word-of-mouth to text-of-mouth to email-of-mouth… and of course when the release date comes rolling around, if I did my job as an author, you would want to write a review on Amazon and other online retailers.

Of course, there are no requirements or expectations. I just want to prime the pump and start generating buzz. This offer expires October 30th, so if you’re a blog reader, or if you follow my Facebook page, then leave a comment in either place before then, and I’ll get a digital copy of The Curse Merchant into your hot little hands. (PDF, MOBI, or ePub file formats)

And thanks again for following!

Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos

Cover Reveal – The Curse Merchant

This journey began in May of 2011, shortly after I completed the first draft of Omnipotence. I got the idea for a story that blended a Jim Butcher style of urban fantasy with a more grounded, gritty realism bearing noir themes. I went through five different plot ideas before I landed on the skeleton of what would become The Curse Merchant.

It would be my sixth completed novel, but as I wrapped up drafting, I realized it was the first book I had written that had real commercial potential. I got excited. I took a course on editing, ran it past several beta readers, made painful deep revisions, and put as fine a polish on it as I could muster.

This novel spent six months on an agent query safari, and received lots of interest. Then I made my decision last month to self-publish. A chain of events cascaded, building its own momentum, leading up to this point. I hired a professional editor and an artist to create the cover art.

And now I’m thrilled to announce that The Curse Merchant will be available for purchase as an ebook on October 31st, 2012. So grab a big red sharpie and jot down “Buy J.P. Sloan’s Debut Novel” in big fat red letters on your calendars, just before trick-or-treating.

I chose Halloween for my release date partly because I’m unspeakably pretentious, but also because Curse Merchant carries deep themes of dark mystery, of sinister forces that lie just outside our notice. I think that really sums up the purpose of Halloween. It’s a time for suspending our disbelief, for questioning whether there’s a reason we’re afraid of the dark.

And this is just the beginning! I have the sequel already outlined, and have begun mapping out single-paragraph synopses of subsequent books. The Dark Choir series begins here…

And now, because I know you’re all eager to see it, here’s the cover for The Curse Merchant:

I’d like to thank Travis at ProBookCovers for his patience. Turns out I’m kind of particular when it comes to cover art, but he stayed with it until I had something I was excited about… and I am!

So there you go… October 31st.

Halloween Day.

The Dark Choir awakens!

Curse Merchant Announcement Coming on Monday

Hello, my friends… I wanted to give all of my blog readers a heads-up.

There will be news on Monday, Oct 1. Right here, on this blog, I will be revealing the cover for The Curse Merchant.

But wait, there’s more! I will also be announcing CM‘s release date.

In other news, I’ve decided it’s time to update my photos on my social media. Believe it or not, I’m no longer rocking a goatee. So this evening I’ll be taking up bar stool space at a lovely colonial era tavern for new headshots and promotional photos. With any luck at all, I won’t break the camera.

So, be sure to tune into the blog on Monday and check out the cover art, and find out when you’ll get a chance to purchase The Curse Merchant online. Maybe bring a friend or two…

Caught in the Gravity Well of a Book Release

Last week I announced my decision to self-publish The Curse Merchant, and immediately began the planning process. What I didn’t realize, as this is my first time at all of this, was how fast everything would happen when it started happening.

And sweet Jesus, things are happening!

Thus far I have secured the services of three separate professionals: an editor, an artist, and a publicist. Remarkably, I haven’t driven any of them to drink yet (that I know of). As of this morning, I have in my possession:

  • professional cover art
  • the final edit notes for the manuscript
  • a preliminary schedule for the book release

Why do I mention all of this? Mostly to excite you and generally whet your appetite. (Please note, one does not “wet” one’s appetite… one may wet one’s whistle while whetting one’s appetite, but only if one is trapped in an alternate universe dominated by Suess parlance.) But also, I find it remarkable how quickly things fall into place.

If one has a plan, that is. And medication.

That’s enough Zoloft for this edit, I think. And a few Levitra, because you never know…

It seems my notorious propensity for left-brained pre-writing extends to marketing. I have spreadsheets, lists, and lots and lots of folders. I will not comment on the existence of voodoo dolls or tiny darts with the Amazon logo on their flights.

I’ll be making a formal release announcement soon, and I’ve got some fun stuff planned in conjunction… so stay tuned. I’m on the search for advance reviewers. If you’re a book blogger/reviewer with an interest in urban fantasy and paranormal thrillers, I’d like to put a copy of Curse Merchant in your hands! Just rattle my chain…

In other news, Top Secret Manuscript ™ just broke 25K words, and it’s really starting to reach that point where the action is sucking me in. Seems I’m trapped between two gravity wells of creative projects these days.

In other other news, another one of my beers (the Munich Dunkel, for those of you playing along at home) took first place in a local competition, so it’s been quite a flush week!

Image credit: Maggie Smith

Announcement Time

Last week I hinted at an announcement to be forthcoming. Well, said announcement has come forth.

After considering all options for Curse Merchant, I’ve decided to self-publish. I’m looking at a release date sometime this fall, all depending on how much I get done between here and there.

Naturally this has loaded my plate with lots of high fiber action items, including:

  • having a professional buff the manuscript to a high polish
  • securing professionally rendered cover art
  • educate myself on book promotion and marketing
  • whipping up a website 
  • updating my promotional photos

I’m happy to say that as of this morning, those first three bullet points are in-process. This means that it won’t be long before I’ll be able to sound the clarions on the blog for a cover reveal. But for now, my focus is on building up this blog into something more like a central hub for my online presence.

You might have noticed the new color scheme. Also, I’m now rocking my own domain… so spread the word for with your friends! Hopefully the new theme better represents the tone and timbre of my writing.

In the meantime, I still have lots of work to do, and all of it is pretty exciting stuff! I’ll keep you posted…


Current Project: The Curse Merchant

I thought I would take a moment to describe my current project.

The working title is The Curse Merchant. It will be my sixth novel-length project. I would classify it as a paranormal thriller, though it has strong mystery elements with a slight noir tone. Here’s the pitch:

“Dorian Lake, a facetious hex peddler in Baltimore, finds his feelings for his ex-girlfriend are rekindled when she asks for his help in buying back her soul from Osterhaus, an unscrupulous soul monger. As Dorian navigates the dangerous underworld of Netherworkers, he finds he may have become a pawn in a greater struggle between forces older than Mankind itself… and his own soul may soon be in jeopardy.”

The story is told from Dorian’s point of view, my second attempt at First Person narrative. Thus far, I have found it a challenge to maintain a clean flow while filtering it through the mouth of my protagonist. The good news is that I find him to be an utterly likable character, which makes it easier to write… and hopefully to read!

Thus far, the story is fully outlined, and I have completed the first chapter. I’ll post excerpts as the project progresses.

On Pre-writing

I view the act of crafting a novel as progressing through four major phases prior to publication: pre-writing, writing, revising, and submitting. Each phase is its own peculiar journey, filled with joy, frustration, and not a small amount of head-to-desk percussion.

My latest project has just transitioned from pre-writing to writing. That is to say, the amount of planning, charting and development has concluded (for the largest part), and I have begun to put words down to screen. I feel that the moment of typing the first sentence can feel as momentous as typing the last; the threshold from pre-writing is no less exhilarating than finishing a first draft.

My pre-writing method is in continual evolution, as I learn more tricks and tips from professionals and fellow writers. However, I would like to share the steps I went through to prepare for my latest project, the working title of which is The Curse Merchant.

1. I began by creating a simple sentence, “This story is about…”  It’s just a single sentence that sums up the goal, the motivation, and the conflict. That sentence usually follows the following scheme:

Hero wants to (goal) because (motivation), however (obstacle).

Without the goal, motivation, and conflict/obstacle, there is no story. This is true for both short stories and long format fiction.

2. I have a plot outline worksheet that walks me through your basic 3-Act plot structure, from establishing the Status Quo in Act 1 leading into the inciting event, to the Trials of Act 2 and the complications that arise leading to the Dark Moment, and ultimately the Climax and Resolution of Act 3. I just fill in the blanks, and once that is done I know exactly what will happen in the story, and most importantly, how it ends.

3. I then make a list of individual scenes (which typically become individual chapters) according to this outline, wherein I fill in slightly more detail, add in character names, and become more specific with subplots, etc. This step doubles the information in my outline, gives me a skeleton for my story, and allows me to gauge whether my Acts 1, 2, & 3 are spacing out appropriately.

4. From the scene descriptions, I begin the nuts-and-bolts work of filling in my scene worksheets, spreadsheets in Excel which outline the concrete details of each scene. They include the time and weather, the miniature conflict within each scene (every scene should have its own mini-plot arc), and how the scene serves the character and the story as a whole. This is a particularly grueling process!

5. Once I have all of my scenes dissected and arrayed, I work on characters. I have another Excel spreadsheet that I use for a character template, allowing me to detail the particulars of voicing, personal history, wardrobe, appearance, and most importantly the psychology and journey of the character. I create a worksheet for every major character. I might include minor characters if I feel it’s important, or if that character may become important in a later book.

6. An additional step which I may add in the future is to create setting worksheets, including photographs of real-world inspirations for actual scene locations. I benefit from this, as I have set The Curse Merchant in Baltimore, where I work. I intend to make a field trip day to site-locate various settings within the actual story, towards providing realistic and concrete details for my chapters.

And that’s basically it. From this point, I have to cram this information into my noggin, and allow it to reduce to a thick sauce before I begin to spoon it over the page.

Not every writer goes through such an analytical planning process; many writers prefer a more organic approach wherein they begin to type and see where the words lead them. I have no problem with that, as long as it produces results. Not every writer is wired the same, and thus their pre-writing process (or lack thereof) must be equally organic.