The Christmas Tree

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pine

The sun broke over the mountain peak and shone down through the mist into the valley. A pine sapling squinted and yawned. The towering timber beside the sapling shifted a broad limb to shield the infant from the bright rays. The sapling turned to find the source of the shadow and found his mother smiling down at him.

“Hello, little one. Merry Christmas.”
“Hello, Mama! What is Christmas?”
“It is a very special day. One year ago today, a beautiful boy was sent to us from our Father. The boy will grow to be a great king and save the world. His birthday is Christmas Day.”
“So I have the same birthday as that boy?”
“Yes. It is a very special day. And you are the Father’s special gift to me.”
“Mama, why did he send me here?”
“Our Father sent each of us here for a purpose. We are here to fulfill His plan.”
“What plan?”
“Some of us are here just to be the forest. Some of us will give shelter to those who live here. Some will be used by men to build wonderful things like homes and ships.”
“What will I be, Mama?”
“Only Father knows. And only He can tell you. But He knew you before you were a cone and before you fell from my branches. You have a purpose in His plan, and I know your path will be beautiful.”
Each day, the sun climbed over the mountains to the east and raced across the sky over the forest. And with each passing of the sun, the sapling grew taller and stronger. One morning, the mist in the valley was darker than usual. The sun was hidden behind dark skies. The young tree saw animals racing past him and his siblings to the far end of the valley. The air became thick and smelly. Then the young tree saw orange lights dancing around his roots. Soon the lights grew taller and climbed his trunk. The tree couldn’t see past the dancing lights, and the roaring sounds in the forest drowned out his cries for help.

When the dancing lights and dark air were finally gone, the little tree called out for his mother. But he heard no answer. He called for his brothers and sisters. But he heard no answer. The ground around his roots was black. The trees and shrubs that once stood before him in the valley were gone. Only small stumps and charred sticks remained.

For many weeks, the small tree stood alone on the hillside. Then the snows came, and the tree thanked the Father for the long sleep. He hoped that when he awoke, he’d find his family again. But when he opened his eyes to the song of the bird on his branch, he was still alone.

As the days went by, new grass broke through the dark earth. New saplings sprouted across the valley floor. The hillside was covered in new life. But the young tree still felt lonely. So, he put all his energy into his branches. He grew as many cones as he could grow. In the fall, those cones fell and rolled across the hillside. After a few weeks, the young pine tree had some new family members around him, and he smiled. Each spring, the hillside grew more and more crowded with the Christmas Tree’s family. The sun poured energy into the trees, helping the new forest to grow tall. The Christmas Tree grew to stand the tallest and felt pride watching over the younger pines. Each time a new sapling awoke in the forest, the Christmas Tree would tell the same story his Mama told him.

Thirty springs later, men came to the valley wearing helmets and carrying sticks with sharp blades. The Christmas Tree watched as they used the sticks to knock down some of the trees around him. Then several men stood at his feet and started swinging their sticks at him. The sharp blades hurt, and with each strike, the Christmas Tree shed a tear that ran down his trunk as sap.

But the Christmas Tree was not sad. He was not frightened. Even though it hurt when he fell, the Christmas Tree knew he was finally going to fulfill his purpose in Father’s plan. He closed his eyes and did not complain when the men used the sticks to take off his branches. He did not cry when they dragged him through the valley toward the town. And he worked very hard to stay awake while they trimmed down his mighty trunk until only the heartwood was left. He was proud of how he looked as a heartwood beam. He was straight and strong. The grain of his body was smooth and beautiful.

The men in the helmets carried the Christmas Tree, now only a heartwood beam, and dropped him on the ground at the feet of a man. Instead of a helmet, the man wore thorny branches around his head. That man lifted the Christmas Tree gently on one end and placed it on his shoulder. Then the man carried the Christmas Tree through the town, while the crowds around them shouted and cheered. The Christmas Tree believed he was part of a great parade.

The man dragged the Christmas Tree up a hill until he reached the top. There, the man carefully placed the tree on the ground and gently stroked the beautiful wood. Then the men with helmets pushed the kind man down on top of the Christmas Tree and began driving nails through his hands and feet and into the beautiful wood.

The Christmas Tree tried to scream and cry out, but the men could not hear him. He tried to close his eyes so that he could not see the pain the man suffered, but he still felt the nails and heard the wails of agony from the gentle man.

“Mama, what is happening?” the Christmas Tree cried. But he heard no answer.
“Father, what terrible thing is happening to me and to this kind man? What purpose could this evil act hold in your plan?” But he heard no answer.
“I am supposed to be a beautiful thing! You are making a mistake! Please stop!” But the men in the helmets did not stop.

The Christmas Tree suffered with the kind man on the hilltop for six hours before they both finally found peace and closed their eyes.

When the Christmas Tree opened his eyes again, he found himself standing tall and strong on a hillside overlooking a valley more beautiful than he’d ever seen. His trunk was restored. His branches reached out far around him. He saw his mother standing next to him smiling. Then he heard a voice and saw a shining figure standing before him.

“Do you like your new valley?”
“I like it very much. But where am I? And how did I get here?”
“You are in our Father’s house now. He asked me to come here and be sure you were happy.”
“I am very happy. But I saw terrible things. Mama promised me that Father sent me for a purpose. I did not like what I became. I did not like what they made me do.”
“But Christmas Tree, you were a great gift for the world. Father sent you to the valley for the most important task of all trees in all of creation. You were sent to hold our Father’s Son up on that hillside for the world to see. You did very well.”
“But they hurt that man. They did awful things to him and to me.”
“They did what the Father sent them to do. They fulfilled their purpose, just as you fulfilled yours. And now you can live here forever with your family knowing that our Father is very proud of you. And because of your great deed, the world has been saved.”

Then the Christmas Tree smiled at the light and at his Mama. He had been a gift to his mother. He had been a gift for the world. And now the Father had given him the great gift of love and life. And now every day could be Christmas Day for the Christmas Tree and all the world.

Galactica and God

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battlestar-galactica-w

Since I rebooted this website earlier this year, I’ve focused my blogging primarily on my writing efforts. But today, I want to write about something that is far more important. It’s a long post, but I have a lot of ground to cover. If you’re not up for it, I understand. Today, the topic is:

God. And Battlestar Galactica.  Stick with me – I promise it makes sense.

I grew up in a rural area of Mississippi simply littered with Baptist churches. You couldn’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting one, or at least the graveyard next to one. I have preacher blood in my veins.  My mother’s natural father was a preacher. After her mother passed away, she and her siblings were raised by a close family friend who was also a preacher. Three of my first cousins are preachers. The matriarchs of our extended family (the five sisters who went to live with Papaw after their mother died) were dedicated to their churches and beliefs and taught their faith to their children, most of whom are committed members of their churches.

It’s fairly accurate to say that God “runs in my family.”

But I confess that my father’s blood also runs in my veins. And he was NOT from that faith or background. I question things. I poke holes in theories (and religious beliefs) to see what still holds water. I don’t take the preacher’s word for it just because he’s standing higher than the flock in the pulpit.

And that has set me on a different path than the one followed by my mother’s family.  Sometimes those paths meet and join together. Sometimes they run parallel. And sometimes, they go absolutely as far away from one another as is possible. That’s not meant to be hostile – just a fact.

The churches I grew up attending were led by pastors who’d heard “the call” and begun preaching. They didn’t attend seminary. Many hadn’t graduated high school. Some were veterans of WWII or the Korean War. They were self-taught preachers. They parroted what they’d heard other, usually older, men preach in their sermons. And that meant that they got a LOT of things wrong. I mean some BIG things. Time and again I found myself able to disprove some key teachings from their pulpit with nothing more than basic common sense and the research done by a novice. Often, the pastors taught archaic traditions as doctrine, often with little or no support in the Bible itself.

Now, I won’t attribute all of these errant beliefs to the entirety of the denomination I grew up in. But as a young person who witnessed the fallibility of the church’s leaders at an impressionable and formative period of my life, all the inherent and pre-existing traits I had toward skepticism and philosophy were made permanent. The die was cast. And it greatly impacted my religious beliefs and path.

In my mid-20s, I all but abandoned church. It wasn’t out of hatred or doubt. It was simply apathy toward an institution that, through the limited perspective I had from the old churches I grew up in, had proven itself inadequate and sometimes dead wrong. At that time, I was too young and inexperienced in life to be able to recognize and separate the doctrine from the dogma. They were all wrapped up together in my mind, and it created a mental and spiritual block. I had no real confidence in the church. How could I rely on any pastor in a church where they clung doggedly to historical and traditional views that were so easily disproved?

But leaving behind the old church world didn’t mean I left behind my own internal beliefs. One thing the old church got right was faith and salvation. And I know without a doubt that I had found salvation in my life. I remember the moment. I remember the inner peace and grace. I still have that feeling when I pray. That’s real. That’s undeniable. And I cherish that.

But I wandered for two decades. I read books on epistemology. I read Christian apologetics. I began following biblical archaeology. I sussed out what I believed to be core beliefs that could be proven philosophically and logically, independent of the King James Version or any dogmatic denominational teachings, to confirm my own faith in God. Over time, I developed my own unique view of religion, generally, and especially of Christianity. I don’t reject the KJV. I look for independent evidence that proves it (and more modern translations) to be accurate.

I search for Truth. And sometimes, that Truth can be found in really strange places. Like in Battlestar Galactica.

In 1978, Universal Studios and Glen A. Larson produced Battlestar Galactica in the afterglow of the Star Wars phenomenon. It had modest success (despite legal challenges from 20th Century Fox over claims it infringed on Star Wars). But it only lasted two seasons – just 24 episodes. In late 2003 and early 2004, Universal broadcast a rebooted and reimagined version of the show that received massive praise from critics and sci-fi fans. That series went on for 75 episodes over four seasons, plus mini-series, stand-alone specials, webisodes and a spin-off series that lasted for another 19 episodes. It was a rousing success. And the key to that success was the spiritual themes present that anchored the plot and enriched the characters. I won’t go into plot details here, but I’ll just say that it hearkened back to the science vs. religion debate that continues today in real life.

In Battlestar Galactica, the faithful watcher is rewarded in the last episode with a climactic and spiritually profound resolution. If the show’s journey through the stars was a parallel to that of the Israelites, then the last episode was the Book of Revelations.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that Battlestar Galactica is sacred or that it should be studied as scriptural texts. But the themes in the series are those we struggle with every day as Christians.

What does it mean to be human?
Where does science end and faith begin?
Does science truly disprove religion?
Is there a God?
What is our purpose and meaning in life?

If you watch the entire series from beginning to end and allow yourself to identify with the characters, you will likely find yourself holding back (or failing to hold back) tears in the last episode. It’s a triumph for the crew of the Battlestar. And it’s a spiritually affirming testament to the existence of God and the power of faith, even in the face of overwhelming science.

That’s right. A science fiction series reaffirms faith.

I recently finished re-watching the series. And when the last episode ended, I sat back, wiped the tears from my cheeks, and marveled at how well a secular entertainment production captured the spiritual struggles people face every day. It does so without pandering to believers or non-believers. It invites questions and debate. It challenges the viewer’s preconceptions. And it ultimately concludes with a message of hope and divine guidance.

When I think of where I am today in my journey, I smile at the comfort I feel knowing that even after wandering for two decades, God still loves and provides for me and my family. In recent months, I’ve seen that providence. Looking back, I can see that He’s been helping me the whole time I wandered. And I’m happy that I’ve found my way back onto a better path.

Recently, I’ve actively started the search for a church that my family can find comfortable and uplifting. I’ve begun to ask myself some serious and difficult questions about my own beliefs and my failings. That’s not a fun process, but it’s absolutely necessary. If I am to lead my family back to a more spiritual life, I have to start by acknowledging my faults and taking steps to remedy those failures. Battlestar Galactica didn’t prompt these questions and changes in my life, but watching the show again has coincided with those recent events.

In coming months and years, I hope to bring myself and my family closer to God. With His help, I know I can. It’ll be a slow process and hard work. But I’m looking forward to that. I see value in that work. I see meaning in that life.

If you ever wonder whether science and faith can coexist, I invite you to watch the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. It’s utter nonsense from a Christian perspective. But if you take a broader view and recognize the themes running through that series, I think you’ll find that it speaks to us about this conflict and whether Christians – or, indeed, any believers – can hold to their beliefs in the face of an overwhelmingly secular world.

#IndieRising Update

My project is still the same as I planned it. But I am not as far along into the process as I’d hoped.  Real life (and day job) disrupted the plan, and I’m not on track for the schedule I’d hoped for.  So, I’m trying to focus on completing the four books in the first series (three plus a prequel) and then use those as the launch platform.

We shall see….

#IndieRising Project

In my previous post, I gave a general outline of what I intend to do. Here, I lay out the detailed timeline of deadlines involved in this effort.

For Series 1 (mystery), I want to write three novels (60k each) and one novella (30k) in 30 days. That’s 250,000 words before editing (around 70,000 per novel and 40,000 for the novella). So, that’s 8,333 words per day. At that rate, I’d finish the three novels in about 25 days, leaving another five days for the novella. Using that schedule, with different totals for Series 2 (sci-fi), we get the following outline of work:

Day 1-9 – Write Book 1
Day 10-18 – Write Book 2
Day 19-26 – Write Book 3
Day 27-30 – Write Novella

I plan to give myself ONLY seven days to edit those books and format them for publication (with covers and marketing copy).

Day 31-37 – Editing and Publication

For my 90-day project, that leaves me with 53 days for Series 2. That is also a three-book series, but I’m targeting around 80k for each novel. The novella will still be around 30k. That’s 270,000 edited words, meaning I’ll need around 330,000 words before revisions (around 95k per novel and 45k for the novella). At 8,333 words per day, it should take me roughly 39-40 days to hit that mark. I’d still want another 7 days for editing and publication, which means this schedule:

Day 1-12 – Write Book 1
Day 13-24 – Write Book 2
Day 25-36 – Write Book 3
Day 37-40 – Write Novella
Day 41-47 – Editing and Publication

Putting those two schedules together, we get a total of 84 days of work. I’ve given myself a goal of 90. That leaves six days in that schedule (assuming I maintain the required pace) to take a day off for sickness, writer’s block, vacation, or anything else. It also gives some time in case I don’t keep up the 8k words-per-day pace.

Now, that brings me to reality. I have a family vacation planned in late May that will take up roughly 8 days of that month. I have to accommodate that reality as part of this project. That means that if I want to keep my 90-day deadline, I’ll need to have some high-output days to make up for the days away from the keyboard. We’re going to Walt Disney World, so there will be NO writing during that trip (though I might make some notes in my iPhone about things that come to me while waiting in line outside of the attractions). On top of that, when school is out for the summer, I plan to spend some other day-trip vacation times with the family (Six Flags, parks, etc.), which will also compete for my time. Fortunately, on those days, I can still spend some time writing, since we won’t be traveling far away. So, with all that in mind, I know I’ll need to produce around 10k per day as often as I can. For both series of fiction books, I need a total of 580,000 words before editing. If I can hit 10k on a good number of days, I’ll be able to take those vacation days I need, as well as the summer day trips, all without changing my timeline.

So when do I start?

Sometime later this month. I have to get some things from home (I’m camping in Dallas), then start getting my thoughts together and organizing my notes. It’ll also take me a few days to be sure I have the dictation software installed and operating normally. Then, I’ll start writing in earnest. I hope to start by the end of April. And if I get started a little earlier, all the better.

My goal is to be finished no later than the end of July. Using the schedule I outlined above, I’ll have six books completed and published, along with two novellas (and possibly short stories), all of which will be available for purchase. But that’s not the whole story. At the same time that I’m doing all the writing I’ve discussed above, I’ll also be working on marketing Series 1 (after it’s published and while I’m working on Series 2), as well as creating and updating mailing list pages (including basic subscription confirmation messages) for the two pen names. And then, when Series 2 is published (at the end of the 90 days), I’ll start work on the two non-fiction books while I’m spending some time marketing Series 2 (the sci-fi series) before I start taking stock of where things stand and what the outcomes were.

Sometime around Day 120 (about a month after all the publication is complete), I’ll spend some time doing detailed analysis of what happened and start making some observations about the results. By then, I’ll have finished the two non-fiction books and gotten them ready for publication (if I haven’t already published them). That’s when I’ll decide what to do next. Would it be Book 4 in Series 1? Or Book 4 in Series 2? Or a spin-off from one of those two Series? Or another non-fiction book? The decision will be heavily influenced by the relative success of the two series (or the non-fiction titles) and where the demand is. If I have a larger number of mailing list subscribers and sales for a particular Series, common sense would dictate that I work on that book next.

Now, let me be clear. I have a desire and interest in writing both of these series without regard for the fact that they’re both in popular genres. I’m not trying to cash in on the market. I like sci-fi. And I like the mystery series (especially the character) that I’m planning to write. I plan on having a great time building those worlds and telling those stories. I hope they sell well. The goal is to make money by writing (which I like) in popular genres which are predisposed to higher sales (I hope), thereby earning a separate supplemental income. And because I like both of the fiction series I am working on, I’m glad to pick up whichever one is in more demand to make more money sooner. I’ll write more in both series over time, so it’s just a matter of responding to the reader demand.

So, that’s the detailed version of what I plan to do. I’m going to print a 120-day calendar for myself with those deadlines listed above, along with some specific instructions about marketing and To-Do List items (e.g., when to make an advertisement in a specific place) that fall within that 120-day timeframe. When I have that completed, I’ll put it up here on the blog so you can follow along. Also, if I can find a WordPress plugin that tracks that, I’ll add that to make it a web-calendar, instead of a PDF or JPG.

Goals and Motivations

I’m a moderately successful attorney. I’m in my mid-40s. I just started a new job with the potential to put me on a path toward a very different legal career. Why on earth would I try to launch a separate career as a writer?

To answer that question, I need to take you back to 2008. Remember when the financial world collapsed? Now, go back to 2005. Remember Hurricane Katrina? Now go farther back to 1999-2000. Remember the Dot-Com Bubble bursting? Go farther back. Remember the economic slump of the late 1980s, after the Reagan years of spending? Still farther back…. Gas lines and economic recession of the Carter years?

Simply put, there are no guarantees. Changes in the economy, weather, politics, and many other factors, can all result in personal financial turmoil. When you work for one employer, you’re beholden to that master and the paycheck they provide. That’s an “all your eggs in one basket” approach to life. Lose that job, and it sends your family into a financial tailspin.

When you get investment advice, the strongest suggestion you’ll ever get is to diversify your portfolio. Taking the same approach to your income is equally advisable. Many people call it a “side hustle.” Some people make things and sell them part-time out of their homes to make extra money. Some people invest in post-tax day trading to increase their disposable cash. Some sell services that are in demand in the community. Others, like my friend Kelly Case I discuss below, sell financial services (or other products) in the evenings and weekends.

Writing is no different. It’s just a way to create a product for sale in the marketplace to earn extra income. Ten years ago, it wasn’t feasible to try and earn a living from writing, unless you were one of the lucky few to get a traditional publishing contract. But the Kindle and other e-readers, and their companion marketplaces, have revolutionized the writing and publishing market, enabling anyone – yes, ANYONE – to write and publish a book for sale.

My goal is to work hard and create a separate and independent source of income that can be a supplement in good times and a safety net in bad times. If something happens to take away my job, I want to have another stream of income to keep the lights on while I regroup.

Financial flexibility (and hopefully, one day, independence) is my motivation. On top of that, I like writing. So, it’s something I believe I could be relatively successful at, while enjoying the work.

Now, let’s talk about goals…

Back years ago, I learned a valuable lesson from a very dear friend of mine named Kelly Case. Kelly works with Primerica, a financial services company, and Kelly has built a long-lasting and successful business. And he’s still building. Back in 1995, Kelly taught me something that came from one of the many great leaders in that company. I’m going to break it down here in some detail, so if you aren’t interested in those details, skip down a few paragraphs and pick this discussion back up when I apply the lesson to my writing project.

Want to know the secret to success in virtually everything? It’s simple. It’s a mathematical expression that accurately describes whether you win or lose in almost everything you ever try to do. Ready? Here it is…

Effort
_________ = Results

Time

Now, I know what you’re thinking… “That’s simple.” Right?

Wrong. You see, each word is a variable. And each one is complex and worthy of discussion.

Effort. Effort is not just how much or how hard you work. You have to consider the QUALITY of the work. Let’s look at writing. I could rattle off a bunch of nonsense at breakneck speeds to produce a veritable iceberg of words for publication. But if I didn’t think carefully and put forth effort, those words wouldn’t earn any money. To be successful at writing, the work has to be very high quality. Writers have to learn their craft. They have to study. They have to be ruthless editors of their own work. They have to innovate. And, yes, they have to write lots of words. Writing is not an easy task. It seems simple enough – think about something and then type it. But anyone who’s ever tried to write fiction can tell you that the “simple” notion vanishes into thin air when you sit down and actually start putting your ideas into text.

Time. Time matters. It’s the one thing in your life you simply cannot squander without consequences. We are all given a finite amount of the stuff, and we are allowed to use or waste it in whatever way we wish. Once it’s spent, you can’t get a refund. And you can’t buy more. You get what you get – no more. So, in the context of working toward a goal, time becomes critical. The more time you take, the more you dilute the work you’re doing. The shorter the project, the more concentrated and potent the work becomes (assuming the amount of work stays constant). Time can be your enemy or your friend. Which will you let it be?

Results. This is the outcome of your efforts over time. It’s Truth. It’s unflinching. It’s brutally honest. It’s an indictment on you if you slacked off. It’s a trophy if you put in the work and kept your deadline. It’s a completely transparent and unequivocal proof of the quality and productivity of your efforts. You can’t hide from it. You can’t varnish or white-wash it. Whatever it is, we cannot run from it. But those results also can’t be taken as an isolated figure. If that “results” element shows that you made ten widgets, so what? Is that good or bad? How long did it take? How many widgets could you have made if you worked harder? Or smarter? What are widgets worth? The “results” are just a measurement. That outcome must be compared with something to be meaningful. To gauge the level of success from your “results”, you must first define what it means to be successful. That sets the tone. Success doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end of your efforts. A success could mean that you accomplished a PART of a larger goal. But for any of the “results” to mean something to us, we have to set a benchmark for success.

Now, let’s put them together. We know what “success” means. So, we use that to define the desired “result” to be accomplished from our efforts. That’s the easy part. Next, we have to look at the Effort and Time variables to decide what we have to do to achieve the Result, and how long it will (or could) take to get there.

Let’s use my first writing project as an example. I have a three-book story arc to write. I’ve outlined the big, high-level arc that covers the three books. I also have a companion novella to write to go along with that series for marketing purposes. In all, I estimate 210,000 words (60k each for the three novels and 30k for the novella). To get to that number, I have to break it down to words-per-day. I type relatively quickly, and it’s not uncommon for me to get 4,000-6,000 words in a day. That means that at the end of 30 days, I’d have roughly 150,000 words. Another ten to twelve days, and I’d reach the 210,000 total words mark. But I’d need to write more than that, because the editing process will cut way down on those words. So, at 5,000 words per day, I’d probably need six weeks or two months to get enough total words down to have enough raw text (let’s say 250,000 words) to edit down to 210,000 words for publication.

So, that’s the formula…

5,000 words per day
____________________ = 210,000 publishable words, or completion of 3-book series (with novella)

50 days

Now, I’m not happy with that. I don’t like the idea of taking two full months to finish a project that I think should take me a little less time. So, I have to find a way to reduce the time. So, keeping the results (goal) constant, I have to increase the words-per-day to reduce the total days necessary to finish the task. For me, I have an option. It’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Using voice dictation software, I can increase my daily output substantially. On average days with Dragon, I can produce 8,000 words. If I use that figure and keep myself disciplined to work every day at that volume of production, the total time falls to 31.25 days. That’s where I want it.

So, using the goal (results), and incorporating my capabilities and opportunities for improvement, I’ve created an acceptable path to achieve the desired outcome. I can spend 31 days writing consistently to produce 250,000 words, from which I will craft a three-book story arc and a companion novella. And if I miss a day (or three), it’ll mean it takes me 33 or 35 days, or 40, or whatever. But the goal – the guideline – to achieve the success I want (the results) is based on the efforts (8,000 words per day) over an acceptable time period (31 days).

Now, let’s say I get crazy. Let’s say that I have a bug up my butt and I have a few days where I hit 12,000 words in a day. Well, that’s what we call “collapsing timeframes.” When you bow up and put forth tremendous effort, you can greatly decrease the time necessary to accomplish the goal. Let’s say I get off to a fast start and hit 12,000 words every day for the first week. That’s 84,000 words in the same time I would normally have created 56,000. Then, if I drop back to the original intended pace of 8,000 words per day, it’ll only take me 21 more days to hit 250,000 words. That schedule cuts off 3 days from my original schedule. And three days ain’t peanuts. You see, after I finish the writing, I have to spend several days editing that work. Then, I have to spend inordinate amounts of time formatting those words into the book templates. I have to create covers for those books. I have to do the legwork to find the right marketing strategy (keywords, advertising, product description copy, etc.) for those books. Three days can go a long way to helping to get those books to market quickly. Three days are huge.

So, that’s the general idea. I want an independent source of income and support for my family. And I want to leverage my knowledge I’ve gained in the last four years as quickly as possible. So, I want to spend 30 days writing the first series, after which I’ll spend several more days editing and preparing the books for publication. From there, I’ll turn to Series 2, which will take a little longer (the sci-fi books are bigger and more complicated to write). But I hope to have both fiction series (including their companion novellas/short stories) completely written, edited, prepared, and published for sale, in 90 days from the date I start writing.

That’s not just ambitious, it’s ludicrous. It’s a herculean task. But if you don’t set a big goal, you’ll wind up with mediocrity. The final count might be 100 days or even 120. But if I start with 90 in my head, and I work hard to reach that goal, a 120-day schedule would not meet my original goal, but it would still be a huge success in the larger sense (completion of major steps forward in launching the writing career). The true “success” I’m willing to accept is that all of this happens in less than six months, after which I’d work on marketing and non-fiction. But I want to push myself to collapse the timeframes. I want to set a 90-day goal.

Cross your fingers… But don’t hold your breath!

Indie Rising

In Spring 2012, I discovered the Self Publishing Podcast. It’s an irreverent, educational, and entertaining podcast hosted by three friends and co-writers who collectively produce mountains of novels and novellas in at least five different genres, not counting the several non-fiction titles they produce chronicling their careers and publishing techniques and tips.

Since I found the SPP guys, I also found The Creative Penn, the Rocking Self Publishing Podcast, and several other newer podcasts that provide even more valuable information about self-publishing in the modern Information Age. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are going the way of the dinosaurs, and traditional publishers are soon to follow, unless the entire publishing industry recognizes the sea change that has occurred.

About the time I first discovered indie publishing, my bride embarked on a noble course to become a registered nurse. As a practicing attorney and father of two, my free time disappeared fairly quickly, leaving just drips and drabs of time to put together a few titles under a pen name, most of which were thorough discussions of my political philosophies.

And then 2016 came. Four years, to the month, after I discovered the world of indie publishing, and after four years of listening to countless hours of podcasts to learn everything I could and stay current in the indie publishing world, I am starting on a path toward becoming a prolific and profitable indie publisher. This post describes the general path, and future posts will outline the detailed project and openly report results.

So, here’s the scoop…

My previous efforts in publishing produced valuable works aimed at very narrow audiences. They certainly weren’t blockbuster titles. But they were critically important to me philosophically, and even more important to me in that they educated me on the process of publishing in the new age.

So, to succeed as a writer, I recognize that you must be intentional and strategic with your plans. Over the last two years, I have slowly baked story arcs for two fiction series in two separate genres. In addition, I have several intertwined products in a non-fiction focus area (outside of my political writing) that could be productive.

There are several theories about how to approach the marketing of books in today’s indie publishing world. I will write one three-book series first, following one of the two prevailing theories about how to launch a successful book series. Then, I will write and launch the other three-book series in the other genre, trying a competing theory. Both series are in fairly popular genres and should have a fair chance at decent sales. That means that the success or failure of BOTH of those series come down to (1) my writing quality, and (2) the merits of the two different publishing and marketing theories I follow.

The schedule for publication of the two series will depend largely on how quickly I can finish the books and how the launch schedules for those series fit within the strategies of the marketing theories. But here’s a rough outline…

Series 1 – Mystery (with a hint of romance)
Three books
Publish Books 1 and 2 simultaneously, with the third to launch about a month later.

Series 2 – Sci-Fi
Three books
Publish all three at the same time

The key difference between these two series and their marketing approaches is that Series 1 will be on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited platform, which requires exclusivity for 90 days. After those 90 days, I will upload the titles for sale at Apple, Kobo, and possibly other locations. Series 2 (sci-fi) will be made available at all retailers from the very beginning. Along with this different strategy there will be some minor variations on how to attract readers (make first title free permanently vs. using other reader magnets, like short stories). In both series, I will create and maintain mailing lists to collect reader contact information for future marketing efforts.

Once those two series are launched and running, I’ll write and publish two non-fiction titles that I’m outlining for the legal/medical field. That non-fiction work will proceed while I’m doing marketing and fine-tuning on the two fiction series. Then, when I’ve finished the two non-fiction titles and finished publishing those, I’ll evaluate where things stand and decide whether to start work on Book 4 in either or both fiction series, or spin-offs, etc.

It’s a comprehensive, organic, and thorough effort to build a writing career from the ground up, using all of the “best practices” I’ve learned in the four years of indie publishing education I’ve absorbed. I’ll be completely transparent and report all the details of the efforts here for anyone who is interested. And when I feel that I’ve given it a fair and complete effort, and after I’ve gotten what I feel are a full picture of the outcomes from those efforts, I’ll collect those thoughts into an organized non-fiction title that I can sell as a how-to and how-not-to guide. There are already many of those out there, but none of the books I’ve seen approach the publishing effort from a ground-up career launching perspective like what I’ve outlined here. So, I think it might offer something to fill a narrow void in that how-to manual market.

In any event, this begins the project. My next post will talk about the reasons for doing this, as well as some discussion about goals and timing.

Reboot Time!

This blog has been lying dormant for some time, after I pulled all the previous content.

Now,it’s time for a reboot!  If Hollywood can remake Ghostbusters, The Jungle Book, and Pete’s Dragon, I can reboot this website!

I’ll be focusing on my writing activities and projects here.  Over time, I’ll revamp the page to better organize the pages accordingly. For now, I’ll just add blog entries while I’m writing feverishly.