There is a lot of panic out there, and you’ve probably heard from just about everyone about how they are responding to COVID 19. So I won’t repeat all of their advice:
Wash your hands
If you’re sick, stay home
Use common sense and keep living, with reasonable precautions if you are immunocompromised.
Oops. I did share some of that advice. Sorry. Force of habit by now.
First, all in-person events that are scheduled are still happening, but audiences may be limited, and that may change at any time. Stay tuned to this page or follow me on social media to keep posted.
Here is what I will say. Probably the most devastating effects of this situation will be to small businesses in your area who don’t operate with the margins that big stores and companies do. This probably includes your local writer friends, who often work other day jobs for a living so they can continue to create and your local independent bookstore.
If you love those businesses, here is some advice for you to help them if you can.
Buy gift cards now that you or others can use later.
Order through Grub Hub for other services from your favorite local restaurants. May have waived commission fees, so even if you can’t get out, you can support them.
Order physical books from your local, independent bookstore. Ours is Rediscovered Books, and you can visit their website and order our books there. Amazon will weather this outbreak just fine. Your local bookstore might not without your support.
Buy books or art from your local authors or artists. This is how they survive, and normal events they depend on for their living are being canceled or postponed right and left. Whether you buy their books in digital or physical format, they’ll benefit.
If they offer any ordering options online, use them. Small businesses need your revenue now if you can afford it.
That being said, I know better than most what it is like to be broke, and unable to afford basic needs let alone books and entertainment or supporting local businesses. Maybe you own one of those businesses or you are a creator who works a day job and struggles to make ends meet.
I’ve been there. I still am from time to time. So I have something for you.
In support of anyone who is suffering either financially, physically, or both from COVID 19, click on one of the links below to get any of the books listed there for FREE in digital format. I only ask one thing in return: that you subscribe to my newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any time, even right away.
But as I do all the time, but especially over the next month, I will be sharing about free or sale priced eBooks to help you fill your time without breaking the bank.
I always appreciate book reviews too, so if you read my work and enjoy it, feel free to leave a review or even email me with what you think.
Of course, I also have one FREE story a week, every week, on my blog for the next year. Check out the Solitaire Series, and keep up without spending a dime.
If you are one of those who are doing just fine through this crisis, please purchase books from the author of your choice.
Remember, we’re all in this together, and we don’t want the crisis to pass only to find it swallowed some of our favorite businesses and people in the meantime. Stay safe, care for yourself, and care for others whenever you get a chance.
There are several aspects to launching something like the Solitaire Series, even since it is just a series of short stories for my blog that will later translate to being available on Amazon. One of them is that even if you are just posting short stories on Amazon, you need to have covers, keywords, and other items in place.
And I had a brilliant idea: I would use playing cards for each cover since that is where the name of each story comes from, but instead of just using regular playing cards, I would use special ones.
Copyrighted Images and Book Covers
What a simple concept. You buy a deck of cards you like. My wife has a wonderful camera, so taking hi-res photos was no problem at all. We’d just get a piece of black felt or even construction paper, take the photos, and send them to my cover designer. Simple, right?
However, just because you own a deck of cards does not mean you own the copyright to the images on them. So I ordered a few decks of cards that I really liked and contacted Bicycle Card Company.
The thing is, they actually have a portal for this kind of thing. If you want to use images of their cards in various creative endeavors, you can, as long as you get permission. You have to pick a specific product to query about, so I did that, following all of their instructions.
And I was encouraged. I got an email back asking me for details about the project, which I promptly provided. And then…
Nothing. I waited, and waited, and waited.
I sent a follow-up email.
And waited. And waited some more.
Regardless, you can’t violate copyrights, not with a book cover, and not with anything really. And as a creator, I’m actually happy about that. I want photographers to get paid for their images, musicians to get paid for their music, writers to get paid for their writing, and even playing card designers to get paid for their designs.
Except I’m not a designer, and frankly my time is better spent writing. So on to the next step.
I began a search for royalty-free card images, preferably vector images that could be resized without losing any resolution. I tapped my cover designer, Elle Rossi of Evernight Designs, once I found one, she bought the rights to the “deck” and we were off.
The covers are amazing, of course. She always does a great job. Would I have liked to have some cool Bicycle card designs on the cover? Sure. But timing is everything, and theirs was nothing but bad. If they get back to me later, would I consider making changes? Maybe. But it might not be cost-effective then.
A Reminder of How the Solitaire Series Works
I wrote a blog post about this series in an article explaining the Solitaire series, but here’s a reminder about the deal with this series, although you can read details about the Solitaire code and the organization portrayed in the books in the original post.
Essentially, I am doing a short story challenge this year, writing a story a week.
Each one will be based on a playing card, drawn from a shuffled deck.
The only thing I have rigged is the final card, the Ace of Spades. Until them, whatever card I draw that week is what I must title my story and therefore include as a primary element of it.
All the stories take place in the same world, and there are recurring characters and themes.
Every week, a new story will appear on my blog here. It will stay there for only one week. Immediately after that, it will appear on Amazon (and later other places) for sale, and a new story will take its place.
There will be links to where you can purchase the stories, and throughout the next year, there will be eBook collections of each and even a couple of print editions of those collections.
There will be audiobooks of the series, coming soon after the print series.
We’ll have some podcasts from time to time with guests, interviews with readers, and other great stuff.
There may even be contests, prizes, and merchandise to go with it all.
Remember, if you keep up with this blog, you can always read stories for free. If you love them or want to take your time reading them later, you can do that too, and they will always be cheap. For the first 90 days, they will be available in Kindle Unlimited, so if you have that service, you can still read them for free until they expand to broader distribution.
If you’re not a Kindle user, you can always email me, and I’ll get you a link to the stories in another format.
The easiest way to keep up is to subscribe to this blog and to subscribe to my newsletter (see the form below). There will be once a month updates and all kinds of other information about various projects throughout the month.
Let’s have some fun! Who’s ready for the first Solitaire story, “Six of Diamonds”? Raise your hands! Share your photo of you raising your hand with me on social media with the hashtag #SolitaireSeries, and you could win a great prize!
“The short story challenge, “I heard from somewhere beside me. Two fellow writers were talking.
“Short story challenge?” I said. I’m always up for a challenge, and this sounded new, different.
“Yeah. You write a short story, at least two thousand words long, every week, for an entire year.”
The wheels in my head started to turn.
“You can totally do it. You write really fast,” one friend said (If you are reading this, you know who you are).
“I could,” I said. I drew that last word out like I was hesitating, but I really wasn’t. I was thinking about how I could do it, what set of prompts I would use that would last an entire year, and just as important to me, how I would share it with my readers.
That’s how the idea was born. Here are some more facts about the stories, and how you’ll be able to read them soon.
Fifty-two weeks. That made me think of a deck of cards. I followed the idea further. Each card could be its own prompt. I could shuffle them—no, I could plan ahead maybe. No scratch that. Shuffle. That makes it more of a challenge, right?
Because I don’t know which card is coming next week. So I started to research things like bridge, pinochle, poker, and even go fish. What game would I use? I was going to write fifty-two short stories in a row, all the same universe, the same genre.
Then I would bundle them as I went along, into novella sized things, then a giant book at the end of the year. This fits in well with my Million Word Challenge that I’m undertaking this year. The first idea was to write fifty-two locked room type mysteries, similar to a game we played as kids. Then I read an article while doing research for something else (you never know where your next idea will come from) and I came across this:
The Solitaire Cipher
Spies use codes all the time, but there is one that is nearly unbreakable. It’s called the solitaire cipher, and you can read about it in detail here, and even create your own code if you want to. It’s a complex, six-deck shuffle algorithm that isn’t dependent on a computer or another device, just a deck of cards. Once you have gone through the complex code setting process, you take another deck of cards, manually arrange them just like the first deck, and hand it to the person you’re going to send the message to.
You never use the same shuffle to send two messages, so the code changes constantly. There are millions of possible code combinations, and although a complex computer program can break the code if you use it twice, the simple use of cards, done properly, will defeat NSA level decryption efforts.
So now if you and your friends really want to pass uncrackable notes in class, you have the tools to do so that even your smartest teacher can’t crack, unless they know the code and get their hands on one of your decks of cards. Of course, to decode it, they will need a couple of hours.
The Solitaire Organization
Take it one step further and imagine if you will (said in Rod Sterling’s voice) that there is a secret organization of some sort. Say that has to do with gambling. This organization uses the Solitaire code to communicate, but they also use playing cards as a part of their identity.
If you mess up as perhaps a customer of one of their establishments or as a member of the organization, another member of the organization might come to chat with you, collect the money you may owe, or administer some kind of sinister punishment.
That’s exactly the premise of this series of short stories. They have been fun to create so far, and I hope they’ll be fun for you to read. Here’s how it’s going to work.
You Can Read Each Short Story for Free (For a Limited Time)
Starting in February, stories will be posted on my blog here once a week and will stay there for a week. After that?
Well, after that they’ll be available for sale on Amazon and other eBook retailers. That’s just in case reading them once was not enough, or if you just want your own copy to read anytime you want. They’ll be .99 each.
Bundles and More Fun Stuff
Every once in awhile, I’ll be bundling stories in a novella format. When I have a few of those, probably around June, I’ll release them in print. There will be unique ways to win those print editions or to purchase them.
And the end of the year, there will be a HUGE print edition including all of the stories, including the exciting conclusion story, the one that ties all the other short stories together.
Once a month, I’ll send out a newsletter recapping all the different books from that month. Want to review them as they are published? You can get them for FREE in your chosen format by joining our review team, which gives you access to free copies of my backlist to review, along with things like the Capital City Murders series and more. All we ask is that if you get free books, you leave reviews whenever and wherever possible. While we can’t make you do that, we do appreciate everything you do to support authors.
Cutting the Deck and Picking a Card
Every now and then I will have a contest where the winner gets to tell me to “cut the deck” or shuffle what cards I have left. Or I will let the lucky reader pick a card from the hand I have in front of me at the moment.
The one who wins that chance will also win a cool prize, to be determined at that time. Are you ready to read and play along? Want to engage in a short story challenge of your own? Let me know by shooting me an email info [at] unboundnorthwest.com.
I look forward to what this year of stories will bring.
So, if you are reading this, you probably have or are considering joining the million-word challenge this year. That’s fantastic. You have only a few days to get ready. So what steps should you be taking now? Here are some simple tips and tricks.
Set Your Other Writing Goals Accordingly
So if your goal is to write a million words this year, and you break it down into daily chunks of 2,800 words or 4-5K per day with weekends off, you need to have some idea of what you will be writing every single day. In other words, you can’t really start your day without a plan for that many words.
You could do that if you’re going to write a page a day, but this challenge is much harder. You’ll have to plan what you will write and when. You’ll probably need to plan more than one project a day unless you are really dedicated to only one, and super disciplined. Your mind will need variety, and that can only come through planning.
The problem becomes that if you don’t have enough writing planned for the day, you will run out of words long before you reach your word count. Then you’ll be struggling to come up with what to write next. That will produce immediate issues, and it will only take a few days of low output to discourage you.
This means you need to plan to do more writing than you might have originally thought you would do this year, but even each day, week, and month. Remember, eating the elephant is one bite at a time, and you need to plan those bites out daily.
Test Your Process
No, technically you can’t count any words you write before the first of January, but you can use the last couple days of the year to test your process. Is the time and place you have selected to write going to work for you? How much can you actually write in an hour sprint? Two hours? Split sessions? What works for you?
The more you know about your process and how things work for you, the less likely it will be that you will get behind at the beginning of the challenge trying to figure those things out.
On the other hand, hopefully, you know yourself well enough by this point that you know how and where you work best, and your prime writing time each day. If at all possible, set aside that time for your writing and stick with it.
See how your family will react to your new process and potentially your clients as well if you have freelance work to do. If you still work a day job, be sure your writing schedule works around that schedule as well. You may need to write at lunch or on breaks or both, and that may mean making changes to your routines. Try them out if you are working the last couple days of the year and see how your mind and your body react.
Don’t Neglect Self Care
Get up, stand, and walk around often. Don’t sacrifice sleep or exercise for your writing time. Remember, this is a marathon that lasts an entire year. You can sacrifice sleep for a few days, but after even a few weeks, that will take its toll. So will skipping walking, running, or working out.
Watch your diet too. Writers tend to munch as they write, so make sure if you do you are eating healthy snacks. Drink lots of water too. Hydration may seem like an afterthought when writing, but you will be surprised how much exercising your brain will exhaust your body too. Eat foods that feed your brain, and if you need to take vitamins and supplements to stay sharp.
That means planning to have water wherever you write, having the snacks you may want or need, and to plan for restroom breaks and walking around. If you take the right kind of breaks, you will actually be more creative, refreshed, and efficient when you come back to the keyboard.
Practice Being Distraction Free
Close your email programs and social media, or better yet turn off your Wi-Fi as you write. Put your phone on “do not disturb” and let your significant other, if you have one, and others know that you will be unavailable.
Shut your office or bedroom door if you have to. If music helps you concentrate, use it. If it is a distraction and you need silence to write, shut it off.
Remember, if you are going to meet your goals, you don’t have time to wait for your muse to show up. You must sit down and write without hesitation. This means you must start writing. You can always delete words (you don’t have to subtract them) but you can’t count the words you thought about but did not type.
This means when you sit down, you must be laser-focused. No distractions at all. Use the full-screen mode in word, the distraction-free mode in Scrivener, or another program to keep you from looking at other programs. There are even apps like Write or Die that punish you if you don’t write fast enough either with annoying pop-ups or worse, by eating the words you have written.
The point is that whatever helps you focus the best is what you must do. Practice it for a few days before you start and starting will be even easier.
Prep Your Brain to Write a Million Words
Yes, you need to eat brain food, as we talked about above. However, there are other ways you need to prep your brain as well. You will be working it in entirely new ways. Here are some tips to keep the creative edge.
Read: I know, you are spending a lot of time writing. Read too, things in your genre and professional improvement books. Don’t have time? Stop reading as much on Facebook and social media or binge streaming shows less.
Take a walk: This can be part of self-care too. Exercise is great for you, but a simple walk will often spark your creativity for your next writing session, or for a transition to your day job. Walking has been proven to improve your brain function. Do it.
Limit screen time: If you are writing on a computer, take screen time breaks and cut off your television use at least an hour before bed. Use that time to read or exercise, whatever works best for you. You will sleep better, your eyes will be more rested, and you’ll be more creative.
Do meditation: You’ll want to be in the right frame of mind to write. Before you get started, take a few minutes to meditate and clear your mind of whatever you have been doing up to that point. If you can, do the same thing after you finish.
Your brain is the most important tool you have, so use it to its utmost advantage by keeping it sharp and clear. This will take work, but if you don’t care for your brain, this challenge will be even harder for you.
As you get ready for your kickoff on the first, think about these things:
When writing fiction, leave yourself on a cliffhanger, so that the next day or session, you will want to start writing again to find out what happens.
Do the same with non-fiction if possible. If you finish one thing, start another, even if you just put the title and headings of whatever you’re doing next in a document. It will be easier for your brain to drop back into that writing mode when you are ready to get started.
Think about ergonomics. People get taken out of this and other writing challenges all the time because their workspace or desk is not set up properly, or the space they have chosen is not conducive to the physical demands and challenges of long writing sessions. If possible, have places in your workspace where you can stand, sit, and recline, and alternate between them when possible. You don’t want to end up with carpal tunnel or other physical ailments that keep you from writing.
Try dictation. It doesn’t work for everyone, but you can master it with practice. You can generally talk faster than you can type, so you’ll be more productive if you find a way to make that work for you.
This is a long and hard challenge, but you can do it. There will be some days when it will be easier than others, but the key is to keep going. Evaluate your goals each quarter of the year, and adjust your goal accordingly. There is no shame in lowering your word count goal to one that is more realistic once you find your rhythm and what you can really accomplish. Do that before you quit.
This is a life-changing challenge that will do more for you than just enhance your writing life. Get ready, get set, and when the new year hits, GO!
So from a late-night Facebook post after doing some goal setting and planning for next year to a group on Discord and Facebook, here we are. I thought when I posted the idea of writing a million words in 2020, a bunch of writers would say things like”
“No way, dude. You’re nuts.” (Better than your nuts, if you know what I am saying grammatically)
“I’m behind you. A long way behind you.”
“I hate you right now. How can you possibly write that much? Oh yeah. You work at home and have all the spare time in the world.”
So here’s the story. First, the first time I tried this, I was still working a day job. And if it had not been for some unfortunate events, I would have made it, too. You can do this no matter what your circumstances.
Second, freelance writing is a job with a lot of non-writing things to do. I wish I had all the time in the world, but I don’t. I know you don’t either. That’s why they call this a challenge.
It won’t be easy. Here are some answers to common questions and an explanation of how this all works.
What Words Can I Count?
The answer I have been giving is simply this: you can count anything you want. This is a very personal challenge, but I would encourage you not to include Facebook posts, personal emails, and similar items. You want to count words that are productive.
The reason is the challenge is not all about getting one million words written in a year, although that is the name of the challenge. The idea is to develop a regular and productive writing habit. There is no waiting on your muse to show up—you have an appointment or time set, and you sit down, and words come out of your fingertips or dictation, or whatever method you choose.
I am counting the following projects:
Capital City Murders Novellas (I hope to write 8 this year)
Monster Marshals Novellas (I hope for 2 this year)
Teaching Moments (Novel)
The Good Shepherd (Novel)
Short Story Challenge (one short story a week, minimum 2K word count)
Freelance and Ghostwriting
Writing as a Business for Freelancers (non-fiction)
Blog Posts and Web Content
This multitude of projects is one of the reasons I think this is doable for me this year. You can count the things you want, just be sure they are work-related and productive, they further your overall writing goals (you have those, right?), and that what you have planned fills the word count.
How Does This Break Down?
The word count breaks down to just under 2,800 words a day if you write 365 days with no days off. That’s just north of 19,000 words a week. Almost a novel.
As Jim Lambert (not related, but also a writer) put it on our original post, intending to be encouraging: “It’s twice as much a day as NaNo, and twelve times as long.” Okay. Maybe as encouragement that needs a little work. But let’s break it down to what you really can do.
If you write 4-5K words a day, five days a week, you will more than make your word count, and you can still take two days off a week. This also lets you “bank” some words for those inevitable days and weeks when you won’t be able to write at all, or at least not as much. However, you do what works for you.
Trick your brain. Use certain programs to write certain things. Train your muse to show up—you don’t have time to wait for her.
Write every day. Make it a habit. That habit will also chemically change your brain, and you won’t be able to not
Set your calendar as busy. This means for your kids, dogs, spouse, and anyone else who might interfere with your writing. The key is to be distraction-free.
There are also various methods of writing, from timed sprints to multiple writing sessions a day. If you work a day job, this may mean your breaks and lunch hour will also be spent writing. The key is to do what it takes.
In our Facebook group and on Discord, we will have time for sprints and other writing prompts designed to get you moving. Just be sure to have a method, a time, and a place for your writing. The more structured your writing time, the more successful you will be.
You are also welcome to, and encouraged to, set up write-ins and other gatherings in your area. The idea is to hold each other accountable and encourage you toward your goals.
Look, there really is not a failure here. We want you to reach a million words, no doubt, but above that, we want you to develop good, solid writing habits. This challenge is not for everyone. The idea behind goals is that they be achievable but challenging. If you can’t dedicate a few hours a day to writing, you probably won’t be able to fulfill this particular challenge.
Instead, set yourself another one you can achieve. Try a quarter or half-a-million-word challenge to start with, or even something simpler like writing a page a day. Do that, and in a year, you have a book written. This is not a place for judgment or bragging.
However, it is a place for encouragement. Need a sprint buddy? Reach out. Want to have a write in to catch up? Post here. Even if we can’t join you physically, we can virtually. Need a pep talk? Reach out to nearly anyone in the group or your own accountability partner. (Please have one. You will need them, and they will need you.)
We want you to catch up and even be ahead. We want you to succeed just like we all want to succeed.
Questions? Ask in the group page, or reach out to me at [email protected] with the subject line “One Million”. I’ll do my best to answer as I can. I may be busy.
I have a lot to write, and so do you.
What will this challenge do for you? I bet it will change your life. The only way for you to find out is to say “Yes.” Join us?
P.S. Feel free to share this post and the group with your friends. Let’s make this an epic year for every writer in our lives.
Just recently, I got the rights back to one of my books, titled Stray Ally. It did okay in sales, pretty well a few times, and came out in print from a digital publisher. People liked it. There were good reviews on Amazon, and I thought it was a pretty good book overall.
The editor I worked with was thorough and professional. The story idea itself was pretty solid. The publisher I worked with had (and has) a good reputation. The cover was pretty amazing, and professionally designed. A lot of people liked that too. Actually, I still like the old cover.
I thought it would be an easy turnaround. I thought I would simply do a quick brush re-edit and release it with the original cover under my own publisher and brand. Nope. Wrong answer.
Okay, the story was not bad. Let’s get that out of the way first off. Second, I usually don’t read my books once they are written and published. It’s not that I don’t like them, but I am my own worst critic, as I am sure you are your own. So I could spend my life re-writing those first books, or I can move on and write more and better ones.
But in this case, I had to look. And there were issues. I’ve learned things about story and story structure since then, and I left some important elements out of the story. Enough elements that I was not content to just “put it out there again.”
So I did some re-writing and editing. And the story is better now, one I can live with.
I’ve worked as an editor, and I know for a fact that I have gotten better over time. I catch mistakes I never did before, even when it comes to plot, pacing, and story. I’m sure my editor at the time, who is still editing, has gotten better. But there are some things in the old version that I could just not let go.
So I fixed those too. Hopefully, I caught them all, and those who read the book after that caught more. I hope it’s perfect now, and I know it is not.
Old cover: great. But new story elements, new editing, all those things told me a new cover was the answer. So I talked to my current designer, and I can tell you that Elle at Evernight Designs knocked it out of the park. The new cover is amazing, and it fits right in with the fact that I have always wanted to turn this book into a series. She also did the cover for Harvested, and many of my other books.
That—well, that is another part of the story.
My Part in All This
Okay, so for a few years I had some personal issues, ones I won’t go into here. So a part of what happened is that I stopped promoting my work in large part, and actually (gasp) took a day job for a while.
The second was that I stopped writing fiction nearly as much. That means the second book in that series—well, it languished. But not anymore. I came out of the other side of that dark passage swinging, writing like crazy. And that meant my muse went: “What about book #2 in that series?”
What about it? The Good Shepherd has had stops, starts, and restarts. But now it is back in the writing mix and ready to be finished. The Dog Complex series is revived.
On September 30, Stray Ally will be revived. You can find it at your favorite e-book seller, and hopefully in print a whole bunch of places too. In fact, you can go to your local bookstore and request that they carry it, or order it for you if you like, or you can order it directly from this website once it is out.
Your own works, five years later? If you are a writer, you might see just how far you have come. For you, the readers? This is probably the best Stray Ally will ever get. But there are more stories coming. I can promise you that.