Tag Archives: Books

To Publish, or Not to Publish, That is the Rub…

back cover art for Panthology artwork by Jack KnightHaving spent quite a few months working on the Panthology it’s time to ask myself: what’s next? I’m happy to get back to reading and writing in my collaborative novels at Pan Historia, but ultimately I thrive on goals and projects that can yield tangible achievements. Writing on Pan is the most pleasurable form of exercise I know, but I still consider it exercise. It’s social, it’s fun, it’s interactive, but the end of the day it’s building things that last that I enjoy the most. Tinkering with the structure of Pan is something that gives me great satisfaction and joy as I strive to increase membership and participation by increasing the ease and functionality of the site. Of course I’m only a tinkerer when it comes to site construction but I believe that Pan reflects its users to a large degree. It’s not so much about bells and whistles and high tech apps, but about being a comfortable place to express one’s imagination. Writers just need to write, ultimately.

Perhaps that explains my mild obsession with publishing Pan Press books? I mean the logical conclusion of a writer’s work is to be published. It’s as old as the hills—or as old illuminated manuscripts anyway. To be published is to be real, genuine, accepted, legitimate. Technically it’s considered a form of publishing to post material, such as this blog, on the internet for others to read, but both you and I know it’s not what WE mean, as authors, when we say we are “published.” Even when we boast, as I have done, of my status as a “published” author deep down in my heart I want that book with pages of vellum, binding, rabbit skin glue, and black ink. This is probably why authors, as a group, are the most resistant to the idea of eBooks. It’s not quite… printed… is it? Of course it is, and I would be thrilled to be selling millions of copies of my novel in eBook format, but that will never cure my schoolboy crush on the first object of my desire: the book; either paperback or hardback.

So what is next? Besides going back to work on my own novel, a supernatural/horror adventure, I think I will prepare one of my collaborative novels, FLESH, from Pan for publication. Like the Panthology it will be a collection of writers, but this time we will bring the whole stories. It will be a challenge to edit the pieces together in order to tell each story (it will be a collection of about 4-5 stories set in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has turned people into zombie-like killing machines). Zombies are hot items, and some of the stories are really very good with some great writers from the site. This is a piece that I feel has merit beyond the site, and can engage a larger audience of readers from hardcore zombie fans to general horror lovers. I would love to see if I can expand beyond members of the community and engage the interest of other readers for our publications. If it’s even mildly successful it opens the door for any number of such projects for any number of genres represented at Pan.

Illustration by Jack Knight

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Panthology

cover art for PanthologyI’ve been gone from the blogosphere a long time. Life got a wee bit hectic (marriages, moves, family, and much much more!). But here is the most interesting (for my bloggie buddies) reason for my absence:

I have been compiling, editing, and designing Panthology: A Celebration of Ten Years of Pan Historia. I’m really proud of this second volume of Pan’s creativity. We published The Pan Historia Birthday Book in 2004, and the second anthology has been long overdue, but how wonderful to be celebrating ten full creative years online as a collaborative writing community.

Here is my preface to the piece (and I hope it whets your appetite):

Trying to explain to bemused friends what I spend so much time doing online is a challenge mostly likely ending in mystification whether they are writers or users of social networks.

Media is increasingly filled with alarm calls that the internet is destroying our minds, our children, and our ability to interact with one another. Few people dare to challenge that notion. People apologize for spending time on their computers. Studies (skewed to the bias of the researchers no doubt) show that we are all increasingly unhappy, particularly when seated at our computers.

I cannot address these concerns except to counter with my personal experience, and then present the evidence to you with this anthology of one community’s creative soul. There is at least one place on the internet where the mind is stimulated, the soul is fed, the imagination set free, and people find genuine warmth and community: Pan Historia.

The stories and excerpts that follow are eloquent testimony to that assertion. Every day for ten years I have logged into Pan eager to see what the day will bring: forays into outer space aboard a derelict spaceship; a gunfight in a dusty silver boom town; romance in medieval times; blood feuds between faery races; fan fiction; good conversation; a new recipe for the best chocolate cake; battles with slugs and snails in the garden. The possibilities are endless, and in ten years, always changing.

It is not just the writing, but the companions that you take with you along the way. Read the story “Farewell My Heart” on page 499 by KhemumRa Hatshepsut to fully discover how imagination, fiction, and reality intersect. This heartfelt piece was the end of a long
collaboration between good friends, both at Pan and in real life, due to the death of one of the writers, Meritites. “Farewell My Heart” is a tribute, an ending – a perfect example of how deeply a community like Pan can touch people’s lives.

In Clio’s blog entries: “Musings” on page 497, the writer chronicles for her friends at Pan, one of the most grueling and painful experiences of her life – because she trusts us.

Behind most of these stories is another, true life, story. Marriages have been made, friendships have grown, children have been named in honor of Pan friendships and associations, and people have found solace for their real life afflictions and troubles. Young writers have literally grown up on Pan, maturing into seasoned adults. I could write a whole book about the incredible interactions I have experienced with my friends in this community. I have been moved to tears on more than one occasion when someone has confided in me how much the site has meant to them, and how it has helped ease them through a difficult period in their life.

There is so much to Pan Historia that one anthology cannot possibly encompass it all. When the Publishers were faced with the daunting task of choosing pieces for this collection it was simply impossible to include all the great stories, writers, and friends, that have graced our virtual world in the last ten years. We simply had to do the best we could. Hopefully we captured enough to give a window into our soul. At Pan Historia we don’t just write the stories, we live them.


Write Together

I’ve been even more quiet than usual when it comes to my blog and twitter but I have an excellent excuse. I had a brainstorm of an idea – one that helps to make Pan Historia an even better destination for writers as well as one that is helping motivate me to write my own novel. I started a writing group at Pan for those of us who want to move from just writing ongoing collaborative fiction to finally finishing and publishing a novel of our own. This concept does not exclude collaborative projects (I hope to include a version of my zombie novel in this mix one day) but does focus on story structure, discipline, craft, and actually sitting down regularly and making time to write.

For those of you who know me or know me through my blog you’ll be aware of my intention to write a novel and how I have been working on one based on the life of Wyatt Earp for just about forever. Mostly it’s been in the endless research phase with a sort of Mobius strip of trying to work out my new ‘fresh’ angle on this particular subject. When I started the new writing group Write Together at Pan I fully intended to finally write and complete this work. Our group is really fortunate to have a published author of a sort of mentor consultant and the first thing she asked me is “why am I writing this particular story” and I could no longer answer the question. I got some good feedback from my fellow writers and had worked out some possible interesting twists on the Wyatt Earp story and how to tell it in an engaging way, but there was no real purpose for me. I ended up answering that question with “I’ve been researching it? I have a book case full of books on the topic?”

Beep. Not good enough.

So I decided to shelve the project and immediately begun work on another novel idea that had been flitting around my mind for a while. This time I jumped into a genre that I have come to love writing in: horror. I’ve started work on a sort of supernatural thriller set in the 1920’s full of glamorous characters, many of whom are historical, and dark sinister magic. I’m very excited about the story and using all the resources of my novel writing group as well as the many great resources I have found since using twitter and blogging, I have already got a good working synopsis, a stable of interesting rich characters, and the beginning of an outline using a classic story structure. The basic storyline and characters has been something I have been working on for quite a long time on Pan as a collaborative novel, but my focus will be on my own ideas and characters and developing a plot that has not been told in the collaborative forum so it’s all original.


Progress on The Pan Historia Birthday Book

Work has commenced, as promised on the second Pan Historiapanphoenix-72dpi Birthday Book. The title needs a little explaining. Pan Historia is a community for collaborative and role-play writing, as well as history buffs, and a place for people with a whimsical or literary sense of fun to hang out and make friends. It’s like a non-stop costume party (which is why October is such a popular month with our members and writers). We first went live around May 2000 and were in beta forever (it seemed at the time) due to a some what rocky start and no capital investment. Our first collection of work by our writers and artists was prepared and published in time for our 3rd Panniversary (yes, we do awful plays on words at Pan) – which is held every February because our official launch date was Valentine’s Day, 2001. I think. Record keeping is not my strong suit. I forget my own name sometimes as well.

Hence the anthology was named “The Pan Historia Birthday Book” with every intention of creating a new collection each and every February. This turned out to be a laughably ambitious concept. Shortly after the publication of the first book we had a major server crash that ripped the site apart, and it took many months of hard work to re-establish trust and fun as usual. I cannot stress how amazing our members were throughout that whole ordeal. Our second effort which was to be a cookbook: it died before delivery. After that it just seemed like the idea was to be shoved to the back burner every year.

This time, however, determination has returned, and the small press world has radically altered. Back in 2004 I had to order several boxes of books, and we never did sell every copy. This time print on demand has developed to the degree that I don’t have to take that kind of risk again. By affiliating myself with another small press I’m planning to open the work of our talented writers and artists to a wider audience and have the book available on Amazon. It should be exciting to see how our labor of love and fun does in the ‘real’ world. I have pushed the publication date to prior to December in order to take advantage of Christmas sales, but I might be too ambitious. There is a lot of work still to be done.

The deadline for entries to be included in the book closes tomorrow. After that we’ll be judging the entries so that we have the best and the book isn’t the size of Lord of the Rings. Following that is the process of editing. Thankfully we have a number of people qualified to edit who are members of the site. All in all this is a terrific project with great potential, and I can’t think of many other writing sites that give their members an opportunity to be published.


The Passionate Salmon

salmonThe creative process is a tricky thing. Many hear the clarion call to create something – indeed it seems to be a fundamental building block of human nature – hence the proliferation of ‘things’ that clutter our lives from gadgets like egg slicers to paintings that uplift our spirits in some kind of deep and meaningful way that is ineffable. Of course the many millions of inventions that have been produced over the course of human history have many benefits, though there are many that have dubious benefit or can be labeled down right evil (the atomic bomb, the iron maiden). Our minds constantly seem to be thinking of new things. Even the least creative of us have the urge to create, improve, adapt, and otherwise manipulate their surroundings in some way. For many it’s an unconscious act (choosing wallpaper for the living room, selecting one make of car over another) that seems to have little bearing on the whole creative stream, but magnified by millions has an enormous impact.

It’s when you take a very active role in creating that the process of selection and manipulation becomes a powerful struggle. Which word? Which color? You’re like a salmon trying to swim upstream against a raging waterfall to spawn. The odds often seem against your work of art successfully being birthed into the world. Then all those little fish of creativity that do hatch then have to make their own difficult way back to that enormous sea. So few grow into a mature salmon. How do you have that original idea that will allow your small egg of concept to grown into a magnificent force of silver scaled nature? How does your book stand out of the crowd?

There are countless blogs and books out there to tell you how to write, how to be a better writer, how to sell, but there wouldn’t be a market for those things if it wasn’t actually a total shot in the dark, almost akin to that salmon heading upstream. You can be the sleekest healthiest salmon in the whole damn ocean but fate can still mess you up, you can still make the wrong move, just be unlucky. And ultimately art is not a salmon. The analogy can only carry us so far. Creating a story that lasts in the minds of your readers is not just about following rules, or even going with what’s been successful before. You can’t sit down and plan to be the next Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer (read Stephanie Meyer’s story in her own words to get a great idea what I’m next about to say to you). If you do it comes out formulaic and dry.

You can only sit down and write about something you are passionate about. No matter how much college you had, or creative writing classes, or blogs on writing you read, you will not write anything that anyone wants to read, that strikes a chord within another person’s soul, if it’s not something that sings to you. Meyer’s had a dream and she followed it through. I have not read the book, I probably won’t because I’m sick of vampires and turned off my young adult fiction, but regardless of my personal preferences Stephanie Meyers touched an honest chord in her readers and now she has her deserved fame and fortune. Some of it was just plain luck, but without the passion it’s never going anywhere.


Reading to be Write

Reading is to writing like water is to a fish. A couple years ago I realized that, somewhere around my middle thirties, all my reading had metamorphosed from fiction and poetry to research and essays. I was reading thick tomes on Ancient Egypt and the Wild West with a collector’s avidity and little focus on the writing. The irony is that my abandonment of reading fiction coincided with my eager beavering at writing fiction. I was reading to learn about the places and periods that inspired me to write.

It took me a while to realize that I was no longer in touch with the storytellers that had created a love of literature in me in the first place. A couple years back I pledged to make the time to read novels and short stories again. I decided that as a writer I need to breathe in and absorb the work of other artists; not to mimic them but to learn from and be inspired by them.

As a kid I totally absorbed the classics and many of the great writers of the last couple of centuries from Dostoevsky, to Dickens, to Hardy. I read Lord of the Rings about ten times (yes I was that geeky child) before the age of sixteen. As an adult I have had far more difficulty getting into novels. I’m still looking for good writing but I also need good stories and a lot of modern novelists of the literary variety leave me cold – yes, I’m that kind of luddite. I still believe in story and plot. It’s all style and in the head when I want something to actually happen. So from the classics of my youth I have been reading more along the lines of Stephen King and Elmore Leonard.

Much as I admire King’s storytelling ability and craftsmanship (and have tried to absorb the lessons in writing that he can deftly apply) he can be lacking in the sheer beauty of words. Elmore Leonard is the king of ‘spare’ dry bones fiction and I’m finding that isn’t what I want either. It’s highly praised by editors and other writers at this moment in time, but I consider it just one style and just one possibility and not necessarily the pinnacle of literary mastery. I recently read No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy and it was excellent – the writing both hard edged and lyrical at the same time. McCarthy is an author that inspires me to be a better writer, and to pick up more of his books.

The key to reading fiction in order to learn to write better yourself is to read more thoughtfully. It doesn’t mean you have to lose the rhythm of the story. It’s more akin to enjoying fine wine. You just don’t pour it into a jelly jar and gulp it down; you breathe in the aroma, sifting through the myriad scents, sip, roll it over your tongue, and then drink that baby all up. Feel free to mark passages that strike you. Query word choices that pull you up short and take you out of the story. Go back and read excellent bits again.

You should even feel free to mimic as a writing exercise, just remembering that all this reading and even mimicry is just a passage to finding your own style and rhythm.

So which writers inspire you? I would love to hear back from you all – so that I can find other gems and continue on my literary journey of discovery.


Announcing the Pan Press Project

guildimagePlans are moving ahead for the re-launch of the Pan Press as a division of a small publishing house. We had our first business meeting to discussion the structure of the operation. We have a couple designers ready and primed. My idea is to start with some of the best of the best of Pan Historia for the long overdue second Pan Birthday Book.

The Pan Birthday Book was published in 2004 as an anthology of all the various writing that could be found on the collaborative community’s forums. It included sections from the role-play novels as well as essays from the reference book section, poetry, and in addition some great original artwork from some of our more graphically inclined members. It was sold solely on the site to the membership of Pan. It was a great fundraiser for the site and a great snapshot of where we were then.

It’s five years later and I want to take our second Birthday Book just a little further. First of all it will be available via Amazon and other online booksellers and give our authors and artists a bigger potential audience. Because of my desire to showcase our creativity beyond our ‘borders’ I plan to run a contest for the entries with specific guidelines. The entries should be short stories that can stand alone for the pleasure of the reader. They can be collaboratively worked, based on storylines from the established novels at Pan, but tailored for inclusion in an anthology that might be read by people that have never visited Pan Historia.

If the second Birthday Book goes as planned I will start work on published versions of several of our collaborative novels, and hopefully members of the community will join in to create a shelf of work that can be treasured forever. The potential is limitless. Imagine being able to take your favorite online novel with you to the beach next summer? Imagine running your fingers over the pages of a novel you helped to write? I know I can’t wait to see my first edition of my original fantasy story The Midnight People or my zombie horror collaborative FLESH And yes, I plan ebook versions if possible.