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PSA October 19, 2018

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Look at all these fantastic books!

I don’t tend to bring it up much here, but I am the owner of and, essentially, one-woman show behind Brain Lag, publisher of science fiction and fantasy novels. I don’t tend to mention it because that means technically, my own novels are self-published, though aside from the fact that that has no correlation to quality, six other authors have liked my work enough to entrust me with theirs.

I love to do this. It took me almost thirty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’ve seen two fellow publishers hang up their towels in the last couple years because it wasn’t right for them or it wasn’t viable, and I get it. My sales aren’t nearly what I would like them to be, and I’ve had to take on freelancing work to help support the primary function of Brain Lag.

But I believe in my business. I love taking the amazing manuscripts my authors send me and turning them into beautiful, professional books. I love seeing my shelf of books I’ve published expand and to introduce as many people as I can to these great stories.

So please, help spread the word a little. Tell your friends, mention it on social media, buy a book, request a copy at the library, leave a review. It would mean so much to me to help get my authors the recognition they deserve.

Thank you.

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The Gen Con 2018 haul August 7, 2018

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20180806_122042I shared a photo of our Gen Con haul this year in my previous post, but I wanted to go into a little more detail than that, since we picked up so much stuff that the photo is a little busy. So, here’s the breakdown:

Books

Games

Artwork

Miscellaneous gaming merchandise

  • Seven X-Wing Miniatures promo cards
  • One pack version 2.0 T-65 X-Wing damage deck for Star Wars: X-Wing
  • Four packs version 1.0 damage deck promo cards for Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures
  • Four packs card protectors
  • Assorted dice

It was definitely a larger haul than usual, and certainly my own largest yet. Thanks again to Gen Con for providing a space and for all of the producers/creators for creating work I enjoyed so much.

Ad Astra schedule April 27, 2016

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I’ll be at Ad Astra this weekend, Toronto’s original scifi/fantasy/horror literary convention. I’ll be spending most of my time at the Brain Lag table in the dealers room, and I’ll also be involved with the following events:

Saturday

11:00
Creating Art on Commission
So someone has asked you to create a piece of art for them. And they’ve even said they’ll pay. How much do you charge them? How do you sell yourself as a commission artist, and what are the pros and cons of offering to create work on commission?
Thornhill room

1:00
Selling Your Art at Conventions and Festivals
So you’ve finally finished a beautiful set of paintings. Or maybe you’ve been selling your fan art on commission and want to think bigger with prints. Maybe you want to do commissions for money, or you fancraft and have an Etsy store and want to sell in person. You’ve got wares, and you’re ready to sell them and think that a convention or festival is your best bet. How do you do this? What’s the etiquette? How do you market yourself? Should you participate in an art show or just book a table? And is what you’re selling even allowed? In this panel, learn the dos and don’ts of being an artist on the convention or festival circuit.
Thornhill room

5:00
Tabletop Games You May Never Have Heard Of
Are you bored of playing Monopoly and Risk over and over? A fan of RPGs but unsure what the best party games are? Curious about which games are best for specific numbers or types of people? This panel is a great opportunity to learn about and share recommendations for tabletop games from those in the know!
Oakridge room

6:00
Brain Lag launch party
Brain Lag invites all Ad Astra attendees to join us at our spring book launch party celebrating the release of Why I Hunt Flying Saucers And Other Fantasticals by Hugh A. D. Spencer and Tinker’s Plague by Stephen B. Pearl! The authors will be on hand to give readings and sign autographs, there will be free snacks and drinks, and we’ll be featuring an exclusive sneak peek at the cover art for the upcoming sequel to Tinker’s Plague, Tinker’s Sea!
Room 1080 (penthouse suite)

Sunday

12:00
Setting Up Shop as an Indie Publisher
So you want to be an indie publisher. How do you bring other authors on board? How do you build your reputation within the literary community? In this panel, learn from those who have done it how to be a publishing entrepreneur, and get tips on start-up costs, marketing, and what it takes to get started.
Newmarket room

3:00
Sunday Afternoon Fantasy Reading
Join authors Catherine Fitzsimmons, Rob Howell, Cameron Currie and Brandon Draga as they read a fantastical selection from their work.
Oakridge room

I hope to see you there!

A new beginning, a few weeks late February 19, 2016

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I’ve just made a small change to the design of this blog that may mean bigger things for it: the tagline, which now mentions my art, writing, and interests.

I started this blog with the intention of focusing only or at least primarily on the things I produce. But, inspired a bit by a number of book review blogs I checked out recently, I’ve decided that I will start talking here about the things I enjoy, even if they aren’t directly related to my art. Maybe nobody will care about it, but trying to write posts just for other people has resulted in skeletal updates here for the past… years.

Besides, if you’re here visiting my personal blog, you must be looking for more information about me, right?

In the spirit of book blogs, I’m going to start by sharing my reading progress so far this year. I kind of devoured books in January, surprising even myself with how many I finished – I read more published books in the first six weeks of this year than in all of 2014.

I’ve also started reviewing books again. When I started this blog, I posted reviews of the books I’d read, though when I discovered Goodreads, I moved all my reviews there. In the past couple years, my reviews were feeling too formalized and time-consuming and I pretty much stopped making written reviews and simply left star ratings. But even if just for my own reference, it’s nice to go into greater detail about what I liked and what I didn’t, and I’m taking the reviews a little less seriously this time.

So, here is my reading progress in 2016, with links to my reviews of each: (more…)

On my journey to the Dark Side* January 13, 2016

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* Or the Light Side. They’re both fine choices.

I often find that when someone is a fan of scifi/fantasy books, there was someone in their life who led them to it. Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, or a friend. Someone wanted to share the stories that they loved and opened up a new world to a budding fan.

I didn’t have anyone like that. No one in my family was really into speculative literature, my friends didn’t quite hold my same interests in fiction, and I was far too shy to attempt speaking to a school librarian about it.

I wanted to read fantasy books. But back in the days (you kids get off my lawn) before Goodreads, book blogs, or even social media, and in a genre rife with huge, epic stories that are often poorly marked as such, I had no idea where to start. My nearest library was a half-hour hike over lots of steep hills, and the small fantasy selection just didn’t seem to have any titles that caught my eye.

I read a lot of original stories posted online by authors back in those days, but when it came to actual published books, my list was quite short. I did read some great books back then, like one by an author recommended by a friend I chatted with over IM (Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint), a random purchase from a bookstore with a cover and premise that intrigued me (Thief of Lives by Barb and J. C. Hendee), and a gift from my future husband the first time we met (Green Rider by Kristen Britain).

I credit a lot of my truly discovering fantasy books with a mailing list I joined nine years ago that provided me with free e-copies of selections from many currently popular authors. I still feel like I’m not necessarily well-read, but I have certainly read enough that I could introduce someone else to the genre.

That seems to be how I have come into a number of my interests – by discovering it for myself, and even resisting when trying to be shown it (maybe that’s why I had troubles in school). I had friends who listened to Jpop but it wasn’t until I heard Japanese arrangements of a soundtrack I loved that I began to accept listening to music in foreign languages (which I have loved for many years now). I had friends who read a lot of comic books, but I never even really read any until last year, when I subscribed to Marvel Unlimited and discovered favourite series on my own – and now we have a pull list at our local comic store.

And now, it’s happened with Star Wars.

I’m not the Star Wars fan in my family. Let me rephrase – I’m not the Star Wars fan in the family. I enjoyed the movies, of course – well, the original trilogy – but I’m not the one with giant tubs full of Star Wars novels, action figures, and art prints. I tried to read a particularly well-loved Star Wars novel once years ago, but I couldn’t get into it. (I couldn’t get into tie-in fiction for a long time, whether fanfiction or officially licensed novels.)

Last year, however, fostered a decidedly increased interest in the Star Wars universe. It started with X-Wing Miniatures – because hey, I’m always up for a good table top game. Then, I started watching Star Wars Rebels, because it’s now canon (whereas those tubs of novels in the basement no longer are).

It escalated from there. Curiosity drew me to Kanan: The Last Padawan, a comic book series about one of the characters from Rebels, which I immediately loved. I saw the trailers for The Force Awakens and grew truly excited about it.

And when it released… well, it wouldn’t have become the top-grossing film of all time if it had been another Phantom Menace.

This week, I have taken the step I never could before – the novels. And not only have I read two Star Wars novels this week, but I didn’t even like one of them very much (but I still got through it).

Now, I’m hooked. I want to read different eras, different characters, I want to know more of the lore and the history and politics that don’t get revealed in the movies, and I’m fascinated by the rich tapestry of comics, shows, movies, and books that are making up the new Expanded Universe. And it’s even kindling a new interest in Star Wars Legends, the old canon.

Maybe I resisted for a surprisingly long time, but now, I have truly discovered the Expanded Universe. It’s always fun discovering new things.

Bibliophiles and other locutions August 13, 2015

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As a book seller, I have spoken with many people who have told me about the sizes of their book collections. Little surprises me now, and personally, I can easily understand how books can take over a closet, a room, a basement, or even a storage locker. Books are delightful and memorable and avid readers can amass them quickly, particularly those who have been collecting a lot longer than I have.

Of course, I am partial to collections. There’s something immensely satisfying about the sight of perfectly even row of books arranged on a bookshelf. Or a cabinet of DVDs and Blu-Rays. Or a shadow box of figurines. Or–I am probably dating myself here–a rack of CDs. (Although admittedly, ours is in the basement and I almost never take any out, having ripped them all years ago.)

Shortly after moving in to our current home, I took an afternoon and went through our books. I arranged the books on our two kinds of bookshelves by format, genre, and then author, got rid of all the books I no longer wanted, and managed to fit what remained almost perfectly on our bookshelves. I really only keep them all strictly for love of the collection itself; much as I might have adored the books on those shelves, I simply don’t have the time to go back and reread them all, and most have only been read once. I just like having all those books I enjoyed lined up there, and even if I wanted to get rid of more, I would never be able to decide upon which ones to part with. And perhaps there is some paranoia that maybe someday I will want to read a particular one again and will be disappointed that it’s no longer there. These are the same reasons that I don’t like to re-sell the video games I have played and enjoyed, and probably will never play again. But I digress.

For a while after rearranging the shelves, I didn’t really buy any new books. I never have bought many books, as the cost and the sheer number of books that potentially interested me, never mind not knowing where to start with many epic fantasy/scifi series, made it too difficult to decide. I have also read enough mediocre or downright bad books that I have become very selective about my books, and usually want to read at least some of a book or at least an author’s work before investing in something. I also went through a period of reading mainly free ebooks I received through promotions or utilized what turned out to be a pretty impressive library within walking distance of home. On top of all this, at the time that I re-sorted my book collection, I simply didn’t have much time or energy to read, being busy with an infant.

Eventually, I began buying books again. Very slowly, as I am still quite selective about my books, and most of the books I have bought have still not been read yet. I still frequent my library and download a lot of ebooks, and between the two, I have little need to buy books. I still generally shy away from list price, unless it is the latest instalment in a series I am actively following. Generally, those books I have bought are clearance rack finds at my local chain bookstore or books from author friends that have particularly piqued my interest. Even the number of books I have bought over the past few years has gone up and down, as I pass along books I have read and am no longer interested in keeping.

But gradually, my collection has increased. And now, after picking up a couple new books at Gen Con, I am finding myself facing the problem that so many book lovers deal with at one point or another: not enough shelf space.

Ad Astra 2013 wrap-up April 9, 2013

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I have been to numerous conventions now. I don’t just mean multiple visits to the same convention in different years, but I have been to at least half a dozen different conventions. The focus and topics of these conventions vary; some are geared toward comics, some toward anime, some toward science fiction. (All, of course, are based in some area of geekdom; I don’t try to pretend that’s not where my interest lies.)

Panels and workshops are a large part of these conventions, as anyone who has attended one will know. To tell the truth, however, largely I am not very interested in attending panels. I’m not overly interested in discussing or hearing discussions on pop culture or media, nor am I interested enough in things like sketch-offs or trivia games or other such events to want to spend time with them, and largely any panels that relate to writing or other interests of mine are either on very basic aspects of it that I don’t feel I need to spend an hour covering or otherwise just don’t quite match what I’m looking for. Part of it I think is the intimate nature of panels and workshops, being with a smaller group and therefore closer to and more directly involved with the people there, rather than the refreshing anonymity of the crowd of general attendees milling about. And, of course, these days I don’t simply attend conventions anymore; I’m there to sell, and even if I have assistance with doing so, I still usually don’t want to leave my table for a panel.

Ad Astra last year, however, was an entirely different matter. The sheer number of panels held at the convention that I would have loved to listen in on blew my mind, and I feel like I could have spent almost the entire convention going from one panel to another. It is, of course, a matter of focus. Ad Astra is a scifi/fantasy literary convention, so the entire event is largely centered around what interests me most. As a result, the panels went into more detail on aspects of writing than all other conventions I’ve attended, and offered a slew of very interesting topics. Alas, I was stuck behind my table with no one else to watch it for me for the weekend and didn’t have the opportunity to attend any of them.

This year, however, I had a second person manning my table and was talked into not just attending panels, but sitting on them. Having rarely even attended panels before, as well as for various personal reasons, I was quite nervous about the idea leading up to them. After having done it, however, I can say that it was a very positive experience. The panels were very thought-provoking and informative and it was an excellent opportunity to meet some very interesting people, both other panelists and attendees of the panel. I think they all went quite well and it seems that everyone there learned something new or got a new outlook on the topics covered.

I Love to Hate You: This was the first panel I sat on. This panel looked at villains and discussed both good and bad villains, as well as the difference between villains – the characters who command the basic conflict of the story – and antagonists – those characters who aren’t necessarily involved with the central conflict but still serve to get in the protagonists’ way. Examples of good villains included, of course, Darth Vader from Star Wars – though mention was made of diminishing his impact through overuse of the Force strangling technique in The Empire Strikes Back – as well as classic literature like Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello and Grendel from Beowulf. The idea of blurring the line between traditional notions of “good” and “evil” as well as not compartmentalizing characters and conflicts into such simplistic definitions was discussed, although some readers do prefer to have a clear idea of who the ‘good guy’ and the ‘bad guy’ are in fiction.

What to take away: Villains are an integral part to fantasy and scifi literature and they must be given as much care as the protagonists. An author must know everything about their villains, even if the details of their motives and history are never revealed in the text, and in fact that can be used to great effect when hints of the existence of those things are sprinkled throughout. When one does get into the reason why a villain is doing such evil deeds, however, one must be careful to avoid their actions becoming petty or obsessive as their backstory is revealed. Also, unscrupulous or villainous characters can be used as protagonists and keep readers from completely despising them as long as there is some nugget for them to like, even if it is something as simple as the character is nice to their pet cat.

Is the Stand Alone Novel an Endangered Format?: This panel addressed the place of standalone or one-shot novels in a genre dominated by trilogies and series. From an author’s standpoint, there is a clear advantage to writing or at least pitching series, both because readers want more of what they already know and like and because the sales teams for publishers are likely to sell far more books of an installment in a series to bookstores than a standalone novel, for the same reason. Publishers also put pressure on authors who write a successful standalone novel to extend it into a series, again to draw in those same readers who have already been sold with the first book. That said, authors should not feel obligated to extend a standalone book into a series for the sole reason of selling more books, and even discerning readers can be very satisfied with a really good standalone novel. Also, there was frustration on both sides of the table for the way publishers tend to handle series, in particular with how unclear it often is where a certain book takes place in a series.

What to take away: It is a tricky market to enter for authors with standalone novels, and ultimately publishers do not put out nearly as much effort to push standalone novels as series. But, there is still a place for standalone novels and one shouldn’t force a series. When writing a series, particularly a longer series, using the same words and terms to describe characters, while repetitive, can help keep consistency throughout the different books and allows new readers to understand the characters just as well as those who have been following the series from the beginning. Having a central outline for each character that one refers back to for each installment is also recommended, for while characters evolve throughout a series, one should not forget the basic roots of the character. Also, Robert J. Sawyer and Julie Czerneda have wonderful senses of humor.

Writing High Fantasy: This was such a fantastic panel that covered so many different areas of writing high fantasy that I’m not certain I can effectively sum it up. It began with a discussion of the definition of high fantasy and the various ways one can delineate high fantasy from other sub-genres. The “high” in high fantasy can refer to the stakes, which are often world-changing even if the events themselves are fairly small or the decisions made very personal; it can refer to the level of the fantastic in the story, e.g. the difference between a story like Lord of the Rings, rife with magic and dragons and other races and such, and a story like George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, which does have very fantastic elements but focuses far more on the politics of the world in a way that is much more like our own world; or it can even be a reference to the class of the main characters, as in “high” fantasy referring to high-born characters and the story concerning itself with kings and queens and nobility as opposed to the main characters being more common people.

The panelists were also asked to identify what one aspect of fantasy defines the genre to them, with answers ranging from the sense of wonder, otherness, and unknown that we all once held as children, to the world itself, a completely different place from Earth and distinguishes high fantasy from something like historical fantasy. Much discussion ensued on female characters and the often stereotypical way they are presented in fantasy literature, tough female characters either pretty much presented like a man with breasts or having very female-oriented motivations, i.e. rape or pregnancy/childbirth. There was also discussion on the diversity of setting and characters in fantasy – or, often, the lack thereof – along with some examples of recent titles that have explored different types of worlds or races of people, and by that I’m not referring to elves and dwarves. The panel concluded with some pet peeves in the fantasy genre by the panelists and a brief discussion on how a fantasy work originates.

What to take away: Fantasy is an immense canvas with which to explore the unknown but also to address the same issues that we ourselves face in our own world. As such, one should look to our own world to reflect the same level of diversity in an invented world and not be afraid to write stories based in other cultures aside from the much-used medieval Europe. However, when trying to create something new and fresh, one should not just flip an established trope on its head. A mirror image of a cliche is still a reflection of the cliche itself. Female characters should be given all the complex motivations that male characters, and actual human females, have. Ultimately, fantasy worlds, conflicts, and characters should all display the same level of complexity as our world does, and doing so makes one’s fantasy much more rich and believable. Also, when introducing a fundamentally different aspect of life into a fantasy world, careful thought must be given to the impact of that thing on the world in terms of technology and society.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the launch party for Brain Lag, my publishing company, and I want to thank everyone who came out to celebrate its opening. Overall, I had a really wonderful time at Ad Astra and I am certainly looking forward to returning next year.

Also, if anyone who attended these panels has anything to add that I forgot, please feel free to comment and add your input!

Daring to Speak Out June 6, 2011

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I didn’t used to read a lot.  Far from it to say I didn’t enjoy reading or was interested in it, it’s just that scifi and fantasy are chock full of huge, epic series, often not well marked, and knowing where to start can be a daunting task for someone just trying to get into those genres.  Add in a decidedly limited budget, few friends who shared such interest who could offer suggestions, and libraries with very poor selections of fantasy/scifi, and it took a long time for me to delve into mainstream genre novels.  For a while, I mostly read amateur fiction online, some of which I still count as some of the best works I’ve ever read, or classic literature that one can download for free.

Finally, due in large part to a promotion by fantasy/scifi publisher Tor which allowed me to download many free ebooks, I began to get into the genre.  I still wouldn’t consider myself well-read – I’ve read an average of about 21 books per year since I first got into said promotion – but now I recognize many or most of the names on bookstore shelves, and I feel like my reading experience is more or less representative of the genre, rather than a few random selections encountered by chance.

After reading this many books, I have become a somewhat more discerning reader.  I still struggle with abandoning a book which I have already invested time in, but I will give up on a book I am thoroughly not enjoying.  I have read enough very good fantasy/scifi that I am a little pickier about things I didn’t enjoy in a book than I used to be.

I first started posting reviews of books I read online just to share and spread the word about books I enjoyed, though I continued with my reviews because it seemed a convenient way to keep track of what books I’d read for my own benefit.  This has resulted, of course, in some less than favourable reviews.  I don’t really like to post unkind reviews, and I try not to fault the author and be specific about what it was I didn’t like – as, being an author myself, I know how an unsavoury review can hurt – but I am simply being honest in what I thought about the book.

This is an even more bitter pill to swallow with independent authors.  I am honest to a fault; I cannot say I enjoyed something if I didn’t.  And I don’t want to skip reviewing a book just because I don’t want to give it a bad review.  Yet, because I support independent authors – and, again, am one myself – a part of me feels uncomfortable with publicly posting an unfavourable review for an independent novel.

Another dilemma comes from the fact that my tastes seem to differ from many others.  I’ve looked up a number of books I’ve read on Amazon.com to find nothing but glowing reviews when I personally didn’t enjoy the book very much. (This isn’t exclusive to books, and it’s not a recent phenomenon; I’ve had to develop a thicker skin for the things I enjoy, and don’t, or otherwise not mention it at all.)

Part of me thinks that if I’m going to post these reviews publicly to my journal, that I should share them elsewhere, such as on Amazon.com.  Perhaps other people feel the same way that I do, different from the norm, and the added exposure might help garner more interest in my own works.  And besides, I never claimed to be an expert.  I have always stated that this is just my opinion of the books I read, and I fully allow others to disagree with me.

Another part of me, however, is worried about what negative comments might come of me posting, honestly, a number of unfavourable reviews, even to books that have received nothing but five-star ratings otherwise.  Will I come off as mean, elitist, or know-it-all?  Or, worse, will this open me up to harsh reviews of my own work, those reading my honest reviews feeling that I can withstand or even deserve such critical words on my writing?  I want honest opinions of my own work, true, but I have in the past received some nasty retribution for leaving critical comments on others’ work, even though I always try to put a positive spin on it, knowing what I appreciate in critique.

I hesitated to post my latest book review publicly on my personal journal, simply because it was less favourable, and particularly to an independent author.  Is this just the price of making my opinions known and must I accept possible repercussions or hurt feelings as a result of sharing them?  Or should I just quietly keep my thoughts to myself and only publicly laud those books I thoroughly enjoyed?

I am not an outgoing person, I don’t like to make people uncomfortable, and I really don’t have a thick skin.  Sharing unfavourable reviews may involve a bit of a personality shift.

It’s not an easy decision to make.

Why an author’s schedule is not his own January 31, 2011

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, writing.
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I seem to have committed myself to a lot more writing than I had initially planned.

I have been working on rewriting Ghost’s Reflection, now one of my oldest fantasy novels and my project for last NaNoWriMo.  Most of what I wrote last November has been scrapped, as further development in December and later has resulted in fairly significant changes to the story.

I have always known that this story spans more than one novel, as a portion of the conflict is left unresolved at the end.  Up until now, I’ve simply left that as is, as something to deal with later.  I was content with writing this story and looking forward to moving on to a different project afterward.

However, due to further discussion with my collaborator this weekend, that open ending has been sketched out into a full trilogy.  Not that I’m disappointed about that; what struck me about this development was that if I plan to publish this first book anytime in the near future, I’m going to have to continue writing the second and third books right afterward.  Otherwise, readers will lose interest with the series or believe that it will never be finished.

The idea of writing for others is one I’m still getting used to.  I first felt the pressure of a published author when I realized some months ago that if I was to sell at the 2011 Gen Con’s Author’s Avenue, I would need a new book to offer patrons.  Fortunately, that pressure has been lifted due to the fact that I should have a different book available for sale by that point, and that I won’t be going to Gen Con this year.

The pressure remains, though.  If one plans to write and release more than one book, and continue selling books, one must continue putting out new books at a regular pace.  There is an awful lot of competition for fantasy/science fiction novels out there and a reader’s interest must be maintained.

Of course, if my goal is to be a professional author, and publisher, then I need to learn how to write new books and find those by others to release consistently.  It’s part of the job and a part I must embrace if I am truly serious about pursuing my passion.

Finding that my writing schedule is no longer my own is a concept I’ll have to get used to, though.

In Other Novels… November 24, 2010

Posted by thejinx in writing.
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I have known for a while that the novels section here is incomplete.  I have other novels in the works aside from those listed there.  I didn’t add those other novels largely because they don’t even have working titles with which to refer to them, and some of them were also far too undeveloped to include the same information that is present on the other stories already there – namely, characters aren’t wholly defined in some of them.

However, since my own notes on my works in progress are rather scattered and I like to use that section to keep track of my projects on the go, I decided to add a section to the bottom of the novels page for one-line synopses of those other novels.  Hopefully, I can add further information on those stories in the future.

This effectively doubles the number of novels I have in various stages of progress.  I think I need to do a lot of writing.