I’m temporarily pausing this blog, and won’t be doing regular updates for a bit.
The Writing Slices blog will continue monthly updates, so if you’re looking for book reviews, you can still find them there.
Thank you for everyone who has read along with me these last few years.
This is the end.
My co-author and I spent most of last year trying—and failing—to write a fifth Detroit Next book. No matter what we did, we couldn’t make it work. We were either rewriting a plot we’d already done, or going in a direction we didn’t like. After months of little-to-no progress, we knew it was time to stop. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one.
When we started writing and publishing the Detroit Next series, the world was a very different place. This was before datapads and Google Glass and self-driving cars, before the revitalization of Detroit, before CRISPR took gene-altering out of the imagination and into every university lab, and before hacking had gone from stealing the design of a car company’s fender to something that could change the outcome of an election.
One thing we’ve always liked about reading and writing cyberpunk is the glimpse five minutes into the future. But it’s hard to write near-future stories when the world keeps catching up. We’re constantly trying to walk that line between a plausible future and a fantastical one. How do you do that while the line itself is moving so quickly?
By ending things now, we’re satisfied that we’ve left our characters in a good place, each with their own happy ever after. And as for Detroit itself? The Detroit of the future is probably going to be a whole lot like the Detroit of today—a city that’s struggling with a difficult past and looking for a brighter future. It will have some rich parts, some poor parts, and every citizen will love the city as it is, while wanting it to do better
We’re grateful that we got to spent time with those characters in that imaginary place. And we’re grateful that you spent that time with us. It’s been a good ride. Thanks for coming along.
And we’re not giving up writing—or even our collaboration. Harry and I still meet for breakfast every Sunday morning, where we share chapters of our (solo) works-in-progress. Harry is writing hard SF, while I have switched gears completely into a new genre with a new pen name. We will always be each other’s first readers, so even if you see a novel with only one of our names on the cover, you can be sure the other had a hand in it.
We wouldn’t want it any other way.
Even professional writers can do NaNoWriMo.
I’m doing it. I’m going to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. I’ve signed up on the website and I’ve got my project outlined and ready to go.
I also feel a little bit silly. I’m a professional writer, author of four published books and numerous short stories. I teach a class for beginning writers, encouraging new authors to write more, and I practice what I preach. As a full-time writer, I typically write more than 1667 words a day and will have no trouble finishing 50k words in a month. I’ve written fast before, and sustained it long-term, so I know the pace is reasonable.
And yet, I still want to try NaNoWriMo.
National Novel Writing Month has gone on every November since 1999. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in a single month. There are no prizes other than bragging rights, but NaNoWriMo is extremely popular, attracting hundreds of thousands of participants. Some people take it on as a fun lark, just to see if they can do it. Others see it as a viable way to write a first draft quickly. Most of the participants are beginners or early in their careers. Professional writers are usually on the other side of the fence, cheering the participants on.
But today, I’m a beginning writer too. I’ve started writing in a new genre, which means basically starting over. As I’m learning the tropes and conventions of romance novels, I’m freaking myself out a little bit. I’m keenly aware of how much I don’t know, and it leads to second-guessing myself at the keyboard.
Writing with one finger on the delete key is no way to finish a book. If I’m ever going to get out of my own way, I’ve got to keep moving forward, filling page after page until I reach the end. NaNoWriMo seems to be the perfect opportunity at the perfect time. I’ll have an online community of writers, accountability, and no fear of bad results. In NaNoWriMo land, there is no such thing as awkward sentences, nonsensical plots, or putrid prose. Those are problems for later, during the revision stage.
In November, the only thing that matters is word count. You either have words on your page or you don’t. By the end of the month, I will have 50,000 of them.
I have a new book out! My co-author and I have re-issued Viker, book three in the “Detroit Next” series.
Morris Payne is a viker, an elite hacker famous throughout the virtual world. But now, someone has connected his virtual life to his real one, and Morris is on the run. Armed only with a virtual pirate ship loaded with the latest defensive hardware, Morris is up against a dangerous enemy—an artificial intelligence who isn’t supposed to exist.
Although it says “book three” on the cover, this book can stand alone. We re-introduce the characters and the world, so it’s okay to jump in midway. (Although starting with book one is awesome too.)
The same cover artist is designing the whole series, and we love how this one looks. To us, it says “cyberpunk” without being too in-your-face about it.
Morris Payne would approve.
Viker is available on Amazon and other book retailers worldwide.
I have a new book out! My co-author and I have released Zoners, book two in the “Detroit Next” series.
Zoners continues the adventures of PI Aidra Scott. On a stake-out late one night, she sees her teenage son’s best friend jump a fence and head into the Zone–the ring of abandoned neighborhoods surrounding the now-thriving Detroit.
Officially, no one is supposed to live in the Zone. In reality, it’s the home of the hiding, the forgotten, and the criminal. Aidra avoids the area when she can. Tonight, she can’t.
Cut off from her high-tech assistant and all the resources of modern life, Aidra has to rely on her own wits to navigate the Zone. She finds unexpected allies in a larger-than-life reporter after the story of his career, an ambitious cop looking to prove himself, and a clever street rat just trying to survive. All Aidra wants is to find the kid she’s looking for and get out.
But it won’t be easy, especially after she makes an enemy of the local warlord who’s using the Zone to hide a dangerous piece of rogue technology.
Aidra is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Looks like her simple search-and-rescue won’t be so simple after all.
This book stands alone. Although it’s book two in the series, you don’t have to read book one first or have any familiarity with our world or characters. Does it help? Sure. Is it more fun? Absolutely. But trust me, you can jump in anywhere.
We were lucky enough to get the same cover artist as our last novel and we love how it turned out. The cover isn’t as “glowy” as the cover of Twisted, but we like the subtle 3-D effect.
The relaunch of the Detroit Next series.
I have a “new” book out! It’s a re-issue of a book my co-author and I wrote a few years ago called The Caline Conspiracy. Now it’s called Twisted, which is a way better title. It’s also got a better cover and we’re both listed as the author instead of relying on a shared pen name.
Twisted introduces PI Aidra Scott, who is investigating whether a genetically engineered dog killed its owner. The widow of the victim doesn’t think her pet is a killer and hires Aidra to clear her name. Aidra doesn’t want anything to do with dogs, genetically engineered or not. But the more she investigates, the more she’s convinced an innocent animal is being framed. And murder is just the beginning of the conspiracy.
About that cover… If the book is about a genetically engineered dog, why isn’t there a dog on the cover?
Because when readers are shopping for fiction, genre is their first consideration. It’s more important than plot and it’s way more important than the byline, unless the author is well known. This is an uncomfortable truth that was hard to accept. Most authors want some sort of illustration on the cover, a scene from the book. But that’s not what will catch a reader’s eye. Readers know what they’re looking for, and first and foremost, they’re looking for their genre.
Harry and I write cyberpunk. You can call our books near-future thrillers if you’re feeling fancy. We abide by the tropes of our genre, giving readers exactly what they want. The new cover tells readers that yes, this is the kind of book they are looking for. It’s up to the blurb and the first few pages to ultimately sell the book, but if our novel’s cover doesn’t scream “cyberpunk!” then the reader won’t even get that far.
Plus, the new cover just looks really, really cool. That glowy effect? It’s not just in the backlit ebook. The paperback has it too. See?
Goodbye pen name, hello real names.
I used to share a pen name with my co-author, Harry Campion. We released four novels in the Detroit Next series under the name MH Mead. However, it’s not working for us anymore. In fact, we’re not sure it ever did. Starting this fall, we’re killing the pen name and re-issuing the novels under our real names.
A shared pen name seemed to make sense at the time. Back in 2010 when we were starting our collaboration, indie publishing hadn’t taken off yet, and traditional publishing was still an author’s best choice. But when we approached editors and agents, they said, “Readers don’t like co-authored books.” A trip to any bookstore would show how false that was, but we were still told that over and over.
When we started submitting our co-authored novel under a single pseudonym, we quickly got several offers of representation from agents. So we started to think that maybe there was something to this idea of a single pen name. Our agent was cool with a co-authored novel, but he still thought it was better to submit it under a single name.
Within a year, we’d fired our agent and turned our back on traditional publishing, but some of the bad advice we’d been given along the way stuck with us, including the idea of a shared pen name.
Four novels later, we’ve come to see that a shared author name comes with numerous downsides and few—if any—upsides.
A shared name makes it harder to promote the books, since any blog posts or social media we engage in has to make it clear who the author is. Guest blogs and interviews always start with a long paragraph of explanation about our co-authorship. Readers had to figure out who we were before they could hear what we had to say. The short stories we’ve written by ourselves aren’t linked to the novels in Amazon’s system, so no cross selling is possible. Even hand-selling books to people we know has a barrier, since readers can’t readily identify with an author who doesn’t actually exist. We also lost street cred with our students. Teaching is a huge part of our identities, and having books with our names on them helps our credibility.
I’m not exactly sorry that we tried this experiment. Now that we know what doesn’t work, we can try rebranding the books with our own names in hopes that it works better. The timing is good, too. Harry and I have a new novel ready to go, and we’ll be able to reissue the older books quickly. We hope to get some momentum for the series by publishing the novels every few months.
We’ll be updating the covers as well. The first one is ready to go and we’re excited to share. Look for a new novel in the Detroit Next series by Alex Kourvo and Harry R. Campion coming to (virtual) bookshelves this fall.
Please play along as I give my quarterly update.
Back in January, I made an ambitious goal. I would write 2017 pages this year. At 250 words per page, that’s 504,250 words in one calendar year.
This isn’t a big deal to anyone but me. A writer’s secret scribbling doesn’t matter much. Only output matters. At the end of a year, how many books are in reader’s hands? That’s what counts. My brother has been an awesome accountability buddy, but talking about my goals in public helps me a lot, so please play along and ask me all the hard questions about what I’ve been up to the last three months. Thanks.
You: 500k words a year equals only 1400 words a day. Isn’t that low for a professional?
Me: A professional writer would scoff at this, thinking it was way too easy, but I’m not doing this full time. I’m still squeezing writing time around my part time jobs and volunteer work. To make things worse, I’m trying out a new genre, which means I’m a beginner all over again.
You: Okay, so you should be at 126,063 words by March 31. Did you hit your first quarter goal or what?
Me: Yes, I did.
I wrote 126,749 words, which puts me over my goal by nearly 700 words. I had a few days in January where I didn’t write at all, but I put my fingers to the keyboard every single day in February and March.
You: What did you write?
Me: I wrote 107,778 words of fiction plus 18,971 words of nonfiction. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the final numbers, because I was afraid I was spending too much time on nonfiction, but it came out to 15%, which seems just right.
You: Nonfiction? That counts?
Me: That totally counts. I bring a ton of creativity to my nonfiction. Blog posts, book reviews, and class materials for my writing workshops all count toward my goal. So do editing letters. (Those are the three or four page letters I write for my editing clients, telling them what’s working in their books and what isn’t.)
Some nonfiction doesn’t count, though. I don’t count social media updates or emails. But that other stuff? I bring my A game to things like book reviews and editing letters, using every bit of my creativity, so I add them to my daily total.
You: But editing your own books doesn’t count as new words, right?
Me: Right. I’m only tracking raw output, which is why on some days, I can work for hours and hours and have only a few hundred words to show for it. Editing is time-consuming, but it’s not something that I can skip in favor of new words. That’s not how books happen.
You: But I haven’t seen any of these things. Are you sure you’re not just a poser?
Me: Some of the nonfiction went on this blog and my book review blog. The materials for my writing workshops went to the attendees. The editing letters went directly to my editing clients. Writing doesn’t have to be published to be considered worthy.
You: But what of all this fiction you supposedly wrote? 100k words is more fiction than many writers write in a whole year. Where did it all go? Why isn’t anyone reading it?
Me: People are reading it. They just don’t know I wrote it.
Some of those 107,778 words are still work-in-progress, which will be published later. Some was just for practice, and I won’t be publishing it at all.
But most of it was published. So far this year, I’ve published eleven short stories (about 9k each) under a super secret pen name. The stories were experimental, trying out a new genre, and I’m not comfortable revealing this pen name. So you might have read some of my short stories without knowing it.
I loved writing them. Those stories mean a lot to me and I’m happy that I brought them into the world, even if I can’t claim them.
And by the way? This blog post has 706 words in it. I’m adding those my total for next quarter.
About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She likes sticking to her goals.
Just because you’ve got nothing to hide doesn’t mean you’ve got nothing to fear.
You’ve got spies in your house.
You let them in.
The day you bought a smart phone, an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or a smart remote for your TV, you placed an always on, always listening device in your home. Even Siri is always listening for her name, meaning she’s always listening, period.
You don’t care. You think “I’m not that interesting” or “I’ve got nothing to hide.” But there are three problems with that.
First, if you think that surveillance programs are only there to catch bad guys, think again. Second, the “nothing to hide” argument puts the burden on you to prove your innocence. Constantly. “Why are you so worried about privacy?” law enforcement will ask. “are you doing something you’re not supposed to?” Third, you’ve given up the choice of what you share and when. Are you okay with the government reading your email? Out loud? In public? How about searching your house and car and body any time they want? Why not publish your bank balance and parade around naked while you’re at it? After all, you have nothing to hide.
Everyone is probably breaking some law at some time. I speed. I also routinely run the bullshit stop sign at my corner unless there’s a car coming from the other side. Chances are 100% that you, too, break the law in ways big and small.
And we all have tracking devices in our pockets, meaning government officers know, or can easily find out, what we did. Since they can’t arrest everyone, laws are selectively enforced. Marginalized groups such as young people, minorities, immigrants, and the poor are the ones who get arrested for stuff we all do.
Your friends, your colleagues, your children, your children’s friends. I guarantee at least one of them has something to hide from the government. Not because they are doing something illegal or wrong (technically, we all are), but because of selective enforcement.
We can’t do anything about selective enforcement. And in most cases, we can’t live without the spies in our pockets. But at least we can minimize the harm they do.
One easy step you can take is to encrypt your text messages. Instead of sending plain texts, that are easily read by anyone with a search warrant (or in many cases, without one), you can easily encrypt your messages, so that no one but you and the recipient can read them.
Think of it as herd immunity. Journalists and human rights activists around the world encrypt their texts, for good reason. But the problem is, simply encrypting texts by itself can throw suspicion on someone. However, if we all encrypt our texts, it becomes the new normal. Nothing to see here, journalists and humans rights activists and young people and minorities are simply doing what everyone else does.
It’s free and seamlessly replaces your usual texting app. You need zero tech know-how to use it. You send texts just like you always do. If you’re messaging someone who also uses Signal, it encrypts the message. If you’re texting someone who’s not using Signal, then a regular message goes out as normal.
Signal uses strong, tested end-to-end encryption tools, which means that even if a court order demanded it, the developers of Signal would be unable to deliver your messages to the government. It’s not that they’d refuse to do it. They simply couldn’t.
You can’t afford to be passive about this issue. Not now. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the most vulnerable among us. And with free, simple, and seamless apps that will help, there is no excuse not to.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She sends as few texts as possible, and encrypts every one.
Writing 2017 new pages this year? Why not?
A few weeks ago, my brother asked me what my 2017 goals were. When I said I didn’t have any, he asked me, “Could you do two thousand seventeen of something?” The question intrigued me. It seems like such a huge number. But spread through an entire year, it comes to just over five and a half per day. But five and a half of what?
My sister joked that she wanted to nag her children 2017 times, but was afraid she’d go through her allotment in a single month. A friend I spoke to later said he wanted to pet 2017 dogs.
They didn’t take this challenge seriously, but my brother did. He’s committed to running 2017 kilometers this year. As for me, I immediately saw how it could be applied to writing, and right there, on the spot, I committed to writing 2017 pages this year.
Then I did the math. Let’s assume 250 words per page. In order to write 2017 pages, I’d have to write 504,250 words. Okay, huge number.
But is it so huge? Really? 40,020 words a month. About 1400 words a day.
And you know what else is huge? My ambition. Lately, I have been coming up with idea after idea, with no clue how I’m going to write everything. I don’t just have three novels I want to write, I have three series in my head. They’re all pulling at me saying “write me now, now, now.” I’m also working on a set of linked short stories and I want to try my hand at a new genre and suddenly, writing half a million words this year doesn’t sound like a challenge so much as what I simply must do.
Of course, that’s half a million words of rough draft. Those words will have to be edited, and if I want to publish them, I’ll have to either send them out to publishers or format them for indie pub, which is time-consuming either way. I’ve taken on two part-time jobs, and I volunteer at my kid’s school. I’m also going to be involved in some political campaigns, since Michigan desperately needs a new governor. Fitting all this writing into a busy life? That’s the true challenge.
Does anyone want to join me? Not just writer friends! Anyone can do this. If you’re trying to eat healthier, how about 2017 servings of vegetables and fruits? Or 2017 glasses of water? If you’re trying to be more positive, how about giving 2017 compliments? Could a seamstress sew 2017 seams? Could a photographer take 2017 pictures?
What I love about this is that it focuses on the positive. It’s not about giving up a bad habit or trying to lose weight or save money. It’s about doing.
Let’s do this.
About the author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and is working on a science fiction series. She’s glad she’s not running 2017 kilometers this year.
[Photo: Ilya Lobanov | Dreamstime Stock Photos]