June 2017 Updates, Goals

It’s been over 3 years since I left the rat-race behind and became a full-time writer! The time keeps flying past. I’m a much happier person overall, and I’ve never once entertained the idea of going back to the grind.

Income breakdown (just for fun, $$$ is never the goal):
– I’m still making about $300-$400/month writing and editing at The Daily WTF. (Feedspot recently ranked us #29 of their top 100 humor blogs, which is pretty neat!)
– My royalty income has been a bit higher with 2 books out. Books in a series help sell each other. Still, we’re talking maybe a few hundred a year across all venues, with the vast majority of that coming from Amazon. When I’m done with Book 3, I intend to get more aggressive about selling and promotion (although I think Sword and Starship has at least 4 books in it).

Updates:
– Still outlining Book 3, also getting into some high-level drafting of how I want scenes to play out. What has been abstract up to this point is getting a bit more concrete.
– The Sword and Starship books are now available through Playster! Here’s Blood’s Force, there’s Harbingers. It seems like an interesting platform, so check it out when you have a chance.
– Construction continues along my street. So far it’s taken double as long as we were told it would take. LOL So it goes! I’ve mostly gotten used to the noise since there’s been construction in my vicinity for years now. My next-door neighbor has a toddler who has grown up with this as his normal. She tells us that one of his first words was “dirt.”

Current Goals:
– Keeping up with these monthly blog updates, and maybe some advising/ranting if the mood strikes.
– Possibly updating the look of ellismorning.com and this blog, if I conclude it’s worth the trouble. Now that I have some exposure to Bootstrap, I’m tempted to go that route.
– Learning how to roll Rs. With a month of daily practice, I’m closer than I ever have been, but inconsistent. I have an easier time with Rs in the middle of a word (ex. cigarro) than at the front (ex. rápido). Another month of filling my house with annoying noises can only help!
– Learning Latin. I’ve kinda surprised myself with how motivated I am to do this. Unlike drawing, I don’t have to schedule a time and then force myself to actually abide by that commitment. I was expecting to work on Latin once a week, and it became a daily thing all by itself. There’s something to be said for pursuing what you really want, eh? My brain wants this, and it’s actually a lot of fun to translate dirty poems and old graffiti from Pompeii and realize that humanity has not changed for thousands of years.

Later Goals:
– Learn Italian (at least enough to get around town with)
– Plan/schedule trip to Rome in 2018
– Ramp up selling/promotion

Hope to check back in with you again next month! :)

Introducing swordandstarship.com

New month, new website! :D

I’ve spent the past few weeks learning and tinkering with Bootstrap in order to bring swordandstarship.com online. It’s dedicated exclusively to the Sword and Starship series. I plan to eventually include “fun stuff” there (like artwork and device backgrounds), and possibly a store where people can order bundles and/or signed copies of books.

If you have any ideas of what you’d like to see there, leave a comment or send me an email!

In the relatively near future, I hope to update the look of ellismorning.com as well as this blog. Keep your eyes peeled!

Book 3 Update + Other News

Say hello to Book 3 so far! :)

I’m experimenting with storyboarding for the first time. It’s a little tough because my computer notes change a lot faster than I can keep up with on paper, but I like this exercise because it helps me realize when my ideas don’t have enough “oomph”—too little emotional content, too little conflict. I’ve saved myself several rewrites already. (As a general note, folks: the more you kick your characters in their metaphorical nuts, the better the story will be!)

I’m not sure how much longer outlining will take. I have 5 “sequences” I want to include in Book 3 (only 3 of which are in storyboard form; the rest are in Scrivener for now). Some are no more detailed than “They go to X and do Y.” Those have to get fleshed out in more detail before I proceed with drafting. I also want to develop at least some idea of what Book 4 will contain, so if there’s any groundwork or foreshadowing that must be set up in Book 3, I can do that.

My concentration has not been what it could be of late, because of this going on right outside my front door …

They’re digging up our street to lay new sewer lines for the town homes that will eventually be built next door. This has been going on for about 1.5 months now. The excavators are doing everything they can to minimize the inconvenience to us—we were even given a parking pass for a private lot close to our house—but still, I’ll be glad when they finish and the City repaves the street!

Otherwise, on the personal front, I might have gone just a tad insane: deciding I want to learn classical Latin, then maybe take a trip to Rome next year—which means learning some Italian, too! Guess what both of these languages have? Trilled Rs. And guess who can’t trill Rs with her tongue? Yup. It’s plagued me ever since introductory Spanish in middle school. I can trill Rs in my throat, but that’s not the proper sound needed here. Instead of trying to rely on Youtube how-to videos (normally so useful, but completely maddening and misleading when it comes to trilling Rs), I’ve purchased a video course prepared by a Russian speech pathologist. Tongue exercises are now part of my daily routine. I hope to conquer this stumbling block once and for all!

Harbingers Blog Tour – May 1-12

Starting today, Harbingers is touring the blogosphere!

The tour will run from May 1 through 12, weekends excluded. Each day’s post(s) will contain a guest blog I’ve written or an interview with yours truly. I discuss influences, characters, stuff about me and Sword and Starship, you name it. I’ve worked hard to ensure that each post contains at least some unique information, so it’s not the same exact thing every day. (Which is tough, since there are some questions that tend to get asked a lot!)

While the tour is active, you’ll also have the chance to win a $20 USD gift card to either Amazon or Barnes and Noble (your choice)! Each post will contain a Rafflecopter widget that you can use to enter the drawing. The more times you enter, the more chances you have to win! The prize will be awarded at the end of the tour.

Below is the full tour. As it progresses, I’ll updating this post with direct links to each stop. I’ll also be visiting each blog to field comments and questions. Feel free to drop by and say hello! :)


May 1 – Interview at T’s Stuff

May 2Interview at Rogue’s Angels

May 2Interview at The Kronicles of Korthlundia

May 3Interview at Sharing Links and Wisdom

May 4Guest post at Long And Short Reviews

May 5Guest post at Mixed Book Bag

May 8Guest post at Book Lover Promo

May 8Interview at Lampshade Reader

May 9Guest post at It’s Raining Books

May 9Interview at Books, Dreams, Life

May 10Interview at The Avid Reader

May 11Interview at This and That Book Blog

May 12Interview at BooksChatter

May 12Interview at EskieMama and Dragon Lady Reads

I’ve Finished 2 Novels. Here’s What I’ve Learned.

With the release of Harbingers, the story I began working on in 2009 with the hazy goal of finishing a single novel has now materialized into 2 published books. Hooray!

But something looks a little off there. 8 years to finish 2 books? Lots of authors publish novels on a yearly basis.

I’ll tell you right now: I’m not “lots of authors.” I haven’t distilled novel-writing down to a crank-’em-out science. But, I also don’t think it’ll take 4 years to outline, draft, and finish Sword and Starship Book 3. Here are some factors that should aid my turnaround time.

1. I’m more disciplined about writing now. This is the big one. From 2009 to 2014, I was only writing once a week or less, flying by the seat of my pants with no outline. Quitting my day-job allowed me to make writing my full-time focus. Once I got connected with an editor who could guide me in the ways of book-planning, things really started falling into place.

All planning and good intentions aside, the book only gets written if I sit down to write it. I’m blessed to be able to do that every single day. (Though I do take breaks on weekends. Breaks are necessary.)

2. I’m more informed about the novel-writing process. Novels are a LOT more complicated than short stories, which I was more accustomed to prior to starting this project. My first draft of Blood’s Force (which was later expanded into Blood’s Force and Harbingers) was only about 80K words, and performed a breakneck speed-run through the plot without pausing to build up suspense, relationships, or other really important stuff.

A ton of prep work has to happen before any writing starts: figuring out character goals, constructing an outline, mapping character arcs and relationships. They won’t be set in stone—while drafting, surprises always happen that force you to change course—but working in the mid-draft revelation is much better than petering out after 80 pages because you have no idea what happens next.

3. I know to finish the first draft before doing any editing. Long before a first draft of Blood’s Force was done, I was taking chapters to critique groups, obsessing over word choices, etc. This is a HUGE waste of time. Surprises happen constantly while you’re drafting. You don’t want to know how many really polished scenes I ended up cutting as my outline changed, and how much I was tempted not to cut only because I’d spent so much time on it. This time around, I know not to start rewriting or soliciting critique in earnest until I have a complete story done.

4. I’m letting myself be OK with imperfection. This is hard, because it goes against the grain of my upbringing. “Make all As!” “Always give 110%!” The demands of perfectionism are like a harsh spotlight blaring over everything I do. When writing, I pause constantly in search of the right word or turn of phrase. A voice in my skull tells me I need to be funnier, more clever, more profound. Get it right, or else!

Then a whole morning passes, and I only have three sentences written.

It helps to remember that the writing process isn’t a one-time orchestral performance in front of a huge audience. It’s more like sculpting alone in a studio. I can start rough where no one will see, then chisel out something more beautiful while editing.

Eventually, though, I have to stop chiseling and release my work into the world as-is. There are always parts I think are still unacceptably weak, but they’re probably not as bad as I fear.

5. I’ve learned to prize clarity and simplicity. As a younger writer, I wanted my prose to be profound and complex and thought-provoking. Now, I just want to communicate clearly, which should make drafting easier. I don’t need the fancy $10 thesaurus word when the first word off the top of my head will do—especially in a first-person narrative where the main character is talking informally to her audience.

6. I know how to leverage the strengths of my reviewers. I’ve learned my husband is great for taking a pitch and improving it. “Why don’t you do X instead?” where X is something so much cooler than what I thought of. What he’s not so good at is at challenging me on the weak points in my writing—pointing out awkward phrases, noting where I could include more emotion and reflection, etc. My editor is much better at this. So I’ll keep these things in mind when seeking critique.

All that said, I’m now outlining what I’d like to have happen in future Sword and Starship books! Wish me luck! :)

Don’t Know Any Iranian-Americans? You Do Now!

Handshake Iran US

Salaam (Hi)! I was born and raised in the United States. My mom was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. After earning her Ph.D., she came to the US for post-doctorate work. This is where she met my (American) dad. It’s also where she happened to be when the Islamic Revolution broke out in Iran, so she decided to stay.

Mom converted to Christianity, and I was raised Lutheran; I’m now an atheist. As a family, we celebrate Nowruz, the secular Iranian New Year. I only know a little Farsi, but the sound of it is very soothing to me. Sometimes I just like to listen to random conversation. Like any good Iranian woman, I know how to dance beautifully. If you haven’t been to an Iranian party full of amazing food, music, laughter, and dancing into the wee hours, you haven’t lived.

I’ve never visited Iran. I’ve never met large swaths of my family. It can be rough sometimes, having large parts of your own heritage closed off to you because of political games played by distant, callous people. Plus, people get Iran and Iraq confused all the time. Falling back on Middle Eastern stereotypes, they think Iranians are Arabs (they’re not) who live in tents amid a desert wasteland (they don’t) and hate America (wrong again!).

Shahyad
Pictured: Azadi Square in Tehran

Many Iranians are atheists, like me, in spite of their government. They understand the difference between American people and American politics, and are welcoming and intensely curious of visiting Americans in their midst.

While America is and always will be my homeland, Iran is in my blood. However, I don’t look very Iranian. I’m ashamed to say that, for the time being, this is to my advantage. But in light of recent events, I still feel compelled to “come out” in hopes of striking a note of empathy with someone, anyone, who might not have any idea what the people of Iran are like.

Mostly? They’re sweet, friendly, and want the same opportunities for peace and success that everyone else does.

Harbingers Ebook Now Available!

Harbingers, the highly anticipated sequel to Blood’s Force, is now available in ebook format! :D

You can find it at:

I’m still working on the paperback. It takes a lot longer to get the layout and cover just right, order and approve proofs, and so on. I’ll let you know when it’s available.

Also, FWIW, I’ve been trying for over a year to get into Google Play, but they’re still not accepting new signups. I’ll keep checking back!

Book Club Visit + Harbingers Update

BookClub1

What a great group! I’m second from the right, desperately skimming my manuscript for an answer to someone’s question.

Taking a brief break from Harbingers edits (I’m still working on it, promise!), I headed south to Washington, PA to meet up with a book club who chose to read Blood’s Force for the month of October.

My very first book-related event! How exciting—but you bet I was nervous! Fortunately, this was a great group of ladies to cut my teeth on, so to speak. They were very sweet and asked wonderful questions, especially about science fiction and my research process (which I’ve written about here). I enjoyed sharing my rationale for different things, as well as hearing their feedback. (Like, “I’m glad you gave Ingvar to Jess! She deserved it.” LOL)

I also signed some books while I was at it!

BookClub2

And now back to Harbingers editing and rewrites! :) I have all my notes back from my editor, and am 2/3 done with my current pass. After this, I anticipate one more pass over everything to make sure it gels, which should go quick. I’m not sure whether I’ll finish this year, or if it’ll bleed into 2017. Rest assured, I’m doing my best to get it right and get it out the door in a timely manner! :)

Sword and Starship’s Having A Good Month

EllisMorning_Harbingers_cover

A small update on Harbingers: I have the first 1/3 of feedback notes from my editor, so my last editing pass has begun in earnest! There are 30-ish chapters to review, some of which need more work than others. Sometimes it’s just a matter of fixing a comma or plugging in a better word. Other times, I gotta tear down what’s there and start over from scratch. If you’re curious about the details of my last-pass editing process, I’ve written more about it here and here.

I still hope to publish Harbingers by the end of 2016, but if the book needs more time to be amazing, then so be it.

EllisMorningSwordAndStarshipBloodsForce

In other news, Blood’s Force was selected as Her Story Arc’s Book of the Month this August! How cool is that? :D Here’s a quote from the review:

“I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys sci-fi/fantasy genre blending. I absolutely loved the interplay between ‘magic’ and misunderstood science. The way Jess manipulates ignorance in others to accomplish logical goals was engaging to read. I am definitely reading book two when it is finished!”

You can read the full review here.

Harbingers Cover Reveal And Progress Report

EllisMorning_Harbingers_cover

You guys! Sword and Starship Book 2: Harbingers is making progress toward being a thing you can read! :D

This beautiful cover, just like the last one, was done for me by Chris Howard. Here’s the full-wrap version that will be used to make the paperback cover:

EllisMorning_Harbingers_fullwrap

And here’s the current draft of the back cover blurb, something I’ll  continue to chisel at right up until publication:

The Quest Continues To Stop A Killer “Curse!”

Dame Jessamine is a woman of science in a galaxy rife with superstition. The knight errant with a spaceship for a steed continues her mission for truth within the barony of Nidaros!

A mysterious crop-withering blight spreads through the barony’s soil. The court magicians have blamed two siblings of spawning the crisis through witchcraft. Convinced of their innocence, Jessamine has rescued and now secretly harbors Verahl Naustvik aboard her spaceship. Meanwhile, his sister Thordia flees to the Harbinger, a crashed space station from the distant and more enlightened past.

Approaching the Harbinger is an act punishable by death, but Jessamine won’t let that stand in the way of a second rescue. Thordia, and the Harbinger’s surviving technological secrets, may be Nidaros’ only hope against the blight. Jessamine prepares to embark—only to be betrayed and set upon by vengeful court magicians.

Now, one wrong word or gesture will lead to deadly charges of witchcraft. Jessamine must protect the Naustviks and brave the Harbinger, all while striking a balance between ritual and reason. If she can’t maintain the peace long enough to discover a cure for the blight, the entire barony will starve—unless its far-off masters decide to “restore order” with military action first!

The book is still a draft right now, but it’s a complete draft of about 136K words, which is 50% longer than the final draft of Blood’s Force. Yeah, a lot happens in this one!

As of this week, I’ve submitted the draft to my editor. In the next few weeks and months, she’ll do her final read-through and provide comments for improvement. I’ll then need a couple of months to make one or two more editing passes on my own, both for incorporating her comments and applying some spit-polish. Once that’s done, I’ll be ready to publish! My goal is to finish before the end of 2016, but that’s not a hard deadline. If it takes a little longer to put forth the best version of the book possible, then so be it.

I’ll continue to keep you posted as things happen! Trust me, I’m as excited for this release as you are! :)