Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Book on Story Outlining for Authors Who Hate Outlining

Authors along one axis vary from those who outline their stories before they write them to "discovery" writers (also called "pantsers"), who find their story by writing it. My first novel, Fisher King: Percival's Descent, was mostly an act of discovery.

I wanted to up my storytelling game for the sequel, Fisher King: Dancing Lance, and I've found myself floundering trying to write the eighth chapter because I'm not sure where the story goes in the near term.

That's why I read Million Dollar Outlines by New York Times bestselling author David Farland. I'm going to make a counterintuitive claim: authors who hate outlining should read this book anyway. Why? The book is 95% about storytelling and only 5% about the process of outlining.

For example, Farland spends much of a chapter on exploring the question of "Why do people like to read stories (or in the cases of movies and TV, watch them).?" One common claim is that people read to relax, which is counterintuitive because good stories are emotionally stimulating. The relaxation, it turns out, comes after the climax, where the stimulation (again, in satisfying story) has peaked and fallen off.

I think a discovery writer can take the numerous elements of storytelling Farland discusses and simply add them to their collection of storytelling tools.

Whether you outline or not, I think reading this book will deepen and broaden your understanding of storytelling, so I recommend it as a good read.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: The Non-Designers Design Book

I do just about everything but the accounting here at Thursday Night Press, and that includes book cover design, web design and ad design. I thought I did an okay job at those things, but I knew I could do better. My work lacked a certain "professional" look I couldn't describe.

So I was curious when Amazon recommended to me The Non-Designer's Design Book, Fourth Edition by Robin Williams (ISBN 978-0-13-396615-2).

My opinion of the book is succinct: If you have to do graphic design, and are not professionally trained, buy this book and read it.

Williams opens the book by describing four main design principles:
  • contrast
  • repetition
  • alignment and
  • proximity
(Yes, they form a memorable acronym that Williams alludes to but never comes out and names. Neither will I.)

Well, I applied those principles to a web project I was working on—a Facebook catalog of TNP books—and the result was much better-looking than before, more interesting. And the most important thing was that I understood how and why the result was better.

Williams covers the four principles above, as well as color and typography. While she says she only barely touches on color theory and typography, I understand good color-scheme options better, and I can better pick typefaces that do and don't go together well. (I already knew all the typesetting rules she gave.)

This is not a thick book. And instead of lots of words, there are lots of pictures, so you can see what she means when she describes a concept and how to apply it. I understand she has another book out that goes deeper into typography; I intend to find it and read it, too.

I'll give this book 5 of 5 stars.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Arthurian Themes in the Distant Future

SR-72 closely resembles spaceplane Percival in the novel
When I first sat down to write Fisher King: Percival's Descent, I didn't intend for it to have Arthurian (as in King Arthur) themes.

My inspiration at the start was filker Leslie Fish's song "Ballad of Transport 57" (actually, I don't remember the number). This song is about a cargo ship in space attacked by pirates. The space navy chases away the pirates, but the transport has to limp to a starbase using its cargo--beer--as propellant.

I started Percival's Descent with a pirate attack underway. (I always find it easier to write openings by bombing into action underway.) In a nod to Leslie Fish, I decided to call the my cargo ship the Fisher King.

Immediately after picking the name, I knew I was onto something, because it made the name of the protagonist obvious to me: Percival, the fool and would-be knight of the Holy Grail legends. I decided to call him Percy, instead of Percival (although he prefers Perce), and have him, like both Percival and Perseus, raised by his mother in a community of women, away from the ways of men, until just before the age of eleven.

Also, the mythology made clear to me certain things that had to be true of the Fisher King. It is a wounded ship that has seen better days. It is also a barren ship, crewed entirely by men. The myths gave me the overall plot of the entire Fisher King series: Can Perce heal the Fisher King?

The Fisher King carries spaceplanes used to shuttle cargo between the freighter and planetary surfaces. By manufactured coincidence, one of these spaceplanes that figure prominently in the story is named Percival. That decision inspired the other part of the title: Percival's Descent.

From the time that Perce boards the Fisher King, he begins to have strange dreams that often involve a lance and a cup. That is, he begins to have a vision quest for The Grail.

I'm saving more mythology for the second novel, tentatively called Fisher King: Dancing Lance, where we will learn that Perce, again like both Percival and Perseus, is (figuratively) the son of a king.

You can read more about the book at

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Novel in Search of a Title

I'm getting ready to publish a suspense thriller that has a working title that's already in use by another novel. So, I'm looking for an alternative title, and I'll listen to all comers. I offer the following early draft of a synopsis, plus the fact that a Tiffany lamp figures into the story and will almost certainly appear on the cover:

Amy Dresden is tall, fit and blonde; she's used to men hitting on her and used to letting them down tactfully. So when an Armani-wearing, Jaguar-driving winemaker won't take no for an answer after he asks her to dinner, she gives in reluctantly. She is stunned when he proposes to her on their first (and she intended only) date. Her worries grow when numerous deliveries of flowers and stuffed animals begin to arrive along with a barrage of unnerving phone messages, and she turns to the owner of the gun shop next door for self-protection advice.

Pearce Martini always gets what he wants. Always. He thinks it fun playing peekaboo with the gorgeous, innocent, blonde angel he meets at an estate sale, who is playing an adorably chaste game of hard-to-get. But he saw in her eyes that she was just as instantly infatuated with him as he was with her. He knows that, unlike the other tramps that had fooled him before--and paid for it--she is pure and will be devoted to him.

Helen Wu's nickname when she was a cop: Dead Eye. The last thing she expected was for the antique dealer next door to come to her. Tall and blonde was just her type, but she can't flirt with someone who comes to her for help, can she? But she can hope, and yearn, as she helps protect her neighbor from the worst possible weirdo: a rich one.

They call odd people who are wealthy, "eccentric." But creepy people who are rich? They call them "F***ing creepy!"

If someone proposes a title, and the author and I decide to go with it, I can promise the namer a personalized copy of the novel when it comes out. I'm pretty sure I can even get the author to include personal thanks for coming up with such a brilliant name.

I probably need to add as rules or disclaimer to cover my butt that the winning title, if any, will be selected by me and the author at our sole discretion, and no one who submits a title is entitled to anything more than a chance to get an inscribed book for free and by submitting a title, you give up any claims to it.

Put your entry in a comment below.

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's a Weird, Weird Canyon

Weird Canyon by A.M. Jordan has a fire-breathing dragon that burns down a mountain town, but the book is not sword & sorcery fantasy.

Instead, Weird Canyon is a fun contemporary fantasy and coming-of-age tale that starts out with two, high school senior, best buddies devastating their Colorado mountain hometown with a science club parade float gone awry. The float has a huge dragon--a fire-breathing dragon powered by a Viet Nam-era military surplus flamethrower that the manufacturer had bought back and refitted as a commercial weed sprayer, only to be refitted back into a flamethrower by one Sieg Shultz, against the advice of his best friend and frequent partner in mischief, Danny Jael.

In the aftermath of the Great Mohawk Fire, the two friends need jobs to stay out in the world on probation, rather than filling cells in prison for arson. Big Ed Jael, Danny's uncle, gets sympathetic and hires them as housemen to work on renovating the run-down Lake Weir Resort that Big Ed has recently acquired.

The boys try to do a good job. Along the way, they find the complications of romance; perform weird science experiments; and discover ghosts, a fake medium, and a shady developer who has other plans for the resort. But most importantly, they meet Howard, an Oxford-educated Sasquatch they struggle to hide from visiting tabloid reporters. [Note: The deciding factor in my decision to publish this book was that the effort to hide Howard culminates in a chase that would make for the best Scooby Do episode ever.]

I think this book demonstrates that Jordan has both the comic sensibility and storytelling skill to take the absurd and make it believable.

There is one scene that might make some parents uncomfortable, where Sieg unleashes a pheromone experiment that leads to a hotel lobby filled with people caught up in varying degrees of passion and undress. Although one character calls the situation an "orgy," the scene is tastefully written and not at all explicit.

In summary, Weird Canyon is a funny, coming of age tale, with memorable characters and imaginative situations.

If you'd like chances to win a free copy of Weird Canyon, go to our Facebook page at and join our email list. Every quarter, we will randomly pick email list members who will receive free copies of the Thursday Night Press book of their choice. While you're there, like us.

[Since the original posting, newsletter signup has been added to the blog.]