Saturday, April 23, 2016

Story a Day May Challenge

In 2015, Erotic Romance author Richard Bacula set off to challenge himself in a way that he never had before. He decided to write one short story a day during the month of May. The results of this personal challenge lead him to self-publish his stories as a series, as well as a complete collection. 

You can see all of his work here on his Amazon author page.

As an author, I know how difficult it is to sit down and write each day, let alone finish a project. Personally, I have multiple projects going at once, and they all want attention! I've recently learned that Richard Baucla intends to continue with his May Challenge in 2016. I sat down to interview Richard Bacula to find out more about his project and his motives.

Q: What inspired you to begin your "Story a Day in May Challenge" ?

Bacula: The phrase “A Story A Day In May” just popped into my head. At first, I thought that I’d thought of it all on my own, but later I found out that there’s a website dedicated to the idea: So I must have heard the concept somewhere and adopted it. Or I made it up on my own, but somebody else made it up on their own first. Either way, the idea got into my head, and I decided to go for it. With the website, they don’t have any minimum or maximum word count, so somebody could write a one-sentence story and call it a day. I picked the range of 700-2,500 words, so I had to do at least 700 words per day. Usually I was closer to the maximum count.

Q: What are the specific rules you set for yourself for the stories you write for your May Challenge? 

BaculaMy only goal other than word count is to write something each day that I can call a story with good conscience. It can’t be a chapter in a larger work. It can’t be a poem. It can’t be plotless, characterless sex. But there does have to be sex. I’m an erotica writer after all, and sex is my reason for writing.

Q: We all suffer from distractions. How were you able to stay focused on your goal in your first May Challenge?

Bacula: lol. I’m desperately trying to remember how in time for this year’s challenge! Mostly, it's just a matter of prioritization. I’d wake up early if I had to, or go to bed late, or go to bed early and wake up in the middle of the night to write. I cut back on my already limited social activities, and I just made it my absolute top priority to do one story every day. This year, I’m even busier than last year, and I’ve set my intended word count at 2,500 words minimum! I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it, but the way to improve is to test your limits and to push yourself to do things that you’ve never done before.

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of writing a story every day for a whole month?

Bacula: The main challenge was just finding the time and energy. The second most challenging aspect came in toward the end of May, when I started to get really, really tired of describing orgasms! I ran the spectrum of the usual metaphors: this one was like being hit by lightning, this one was like a volcano, this one was like an explosion, this one was like a deluge, this one was like an earthquake.... Toward the end, I remember thinking, “Then they had an orgasm. You know what that’s like, don’t you reader? Why do you need me to explain it?!” But, of course, explanation and description is a writer’s job--we use words to create images and sensations in the reader, and with erotica the orgasm is one of the most important parts. So I persevered and managed to get it all done.

Q: Where did your story ideas come from for your May 2015 Challenge? How were you able to keep them fresh & non-repetitive? 

Bacula: There are story ideas everywhere. I went to the dentist at one point last May, so I wrote a short story about a dental hygienist. I walked past a women’s restroom and wrote a short story about an incredibly drunken man who thought that the “Women” sign on the door was advertising a sale. I drove past a fire department one day, and came up with a story about a fireman who is mistaken for a male stripper. Ideas are something that have always happened to me, whether I want them to or not. That’s one of the reasons why I write--to purge some of the ideas out of my brain. The May challenge turned out to be a very good way to do that!

Q: What happened after you finished your May 2015 challenge? What did you learn about your writing?

Bacula: After the challenge, I didn’t write anything else for a month because the writing part of my brain was exhausted. When I did start writing again, my skills had improved. Practice does that! The biggest area of improvement for me was that I grew significantly better at brevity.  When I write especially about sex, I tend to go into incredible detail. For the first erotic short story that I ever wrote, “An Innocent Haircut,” I just wanted to write a simple, short sex scene between a man and his female barber. There wasn’t any real plot--just a guy getting seduced--but that story ended up being 9,200 words long!

With the May challenge, I had to finish a short story every day, and I decided to cap the length around 2,500 words, so part of the challenge was working on my succinctness. I started off aiming for 1,200 words or so, and ended up around 2,000+, but as the month wore on and on, I grew a lot better at gauging my word count. There were so many places where I wanted to elaborate on details--physical or mental--but I got better at staying focused and just cranking the story out.

Another thing that I got better at was the ability to fight my own perfectionism. Like many writers, I have any number of projects sitting on a metaphorical shelf in various stages of production, which I have never quite finished because I can’t get the story just right. My perfectionism gets in the way of actually finishing stories at times. I didn’t have that luxury in this case because any real delay in a given story meant that I wouldn’t accomplish my daily goal. Once I picked a plot and started writing, I had to commit to the plot and just keep writing until it was done.

There was at least one case where I had to abandon a story. I was typing away and I realized that I’d gone over 2,700 words, and the sex hadn’t even started yet! I shut it down, saved that file for later, and managed to crank out an entirely different story on that day to make my goal, but it was a bit taxing to do so.

It was a real challenge to shove aside all of my worries, anxieties, and concerns, and to just finish the story:

“Is it good enough?”
Doesn’t matter. Just write.
“Should this character be explored more?”
Maybe later, in a different story. For now, just finish this one.
“Shouldn’t we describe the sex more thoroughly here?”
That would be great, but we don’t have the time or the word count. Just keep moving!
“Will this one even be good enough to publish?”
Don’t care! Just finish it. If it sucks, we can always clean it up later or pitch it out. Just get the damned story finished.

In order to gear myself up for this upcoming May challenge, I’ve been rereading last year’s stories (my “Short Strokes” collection) and there hasn’t been one story yet out of the batch that I’m ashamed to have put my name on. They all turned out pretty good, and it turns out that battling my perfectionism and anxiety every day for 31 days wasn’t just good practice, it also helped me come up with ten new titles (the nine “Short Strokes” mini-compilations, and “Short Strokes: The Complete Collection”) that I’m quite proud of.

Q: Do you have a sneak peek for us for the 2016 Story a Day May Challenge? (story ideas, themes, etc) 

Bacula: Last year, I warmed up early by writing a practice story or two before May started. That’s why there are slightly more than 31 stories in the "Short Strokes" series.  This year, I haven’t found the time to do that kind of thing, or I’d share one with you!

One of my goals with this year’s challenge is to expand on my “Serpent’s Gifts” setting, and to that end I’ve decided to write an introduction to the general world. That way, any reader can pick up any story in the setting and have an idea what the world is about without having to have read any of the previous stories.

Here’s what I have so far:

It started on December 21, 2012, in the sky over Mexico. Tens of thousands of feet in the air, there was a bright flash of light, and a glowing miles-wide disc of energy appeared. Minutes later, something emerged from the disc: the head of a snake-like creature that nearly filled the portal’s huge diameter.

That head was followed by a body, which was followed by more body. On and on, a giant serpent flowed out of the portal, snaking its way through the sky.

Humanity took notice, and world-wide panic took place. Airplanes were grounded and the whole planet waited in to see what would happen next.

The seemingly endless Serpent ignored humanity’s attempts at communication and violence, and its flight around the globe was uninterrupted. Eventually, the Serpent reached its destination: the other side of the very portal that it emerged from, and that its massive body was still flowing out of.

When the Serpent’s head touched that glowing disc, there was a blinding flash of fire that covered the entire planet. When the flames disappeared, they took the Serpent and the portal with it, and that was the only thing that they seem to have affected. The rest of the world appeared to be unscathed.

It took some time, but soon the truth started becoming apparent: the Serpent may be gone, but it left something behind. People across the planet started manifesting strange, superhuman powers and abilities that seemed to break the laws of physics.

These abilities soon came to be known as “The Serpent’s Gifts.”

Interview with J Thomas Ganzer

J Thomas Ganzer has a wonderful new book out called "Chicago Two-Step" which is the second book in the the "Chicago Secrets" series. I recently sat down with Mr Ganzer to hear more about what to expect in this new addition to his series. I haven't read this new installment yet, but I"m excited! "Chicago Secrets" was an amazing story, and I'm awful damn curious about how this talented author will continue the drama between Jackie Dekker and her murderous boss! 

Exclusive Interview with J Thomas Ganzer

Q: What's your new book "Chicago Two-Step" about?

Ganzer: Generally, it's about something I love to play with: What if a prosecutor was a complete lunatic? What could he do if he had no conscience? Murder? Manufacture evidence? Stalking? So much delicious material to work with! Specifically, this book is a sequel to my first book, Chicago Secrets. The first book features a federal prosecutor who discovers his wife is moonlighting as a high-priced escort. He murders her in a fit of rage and spends the rest of the novel trying to get away with it. Two-Step picks up where Secrets left off. Told from the point of view of the Prosecutor's associate Jackie Dekker, the sequel is about the dance she does with her psycho boss, trying to convince herself and others that he is a serial killer while avoiding his suspicions that she is trying to bring him down. But I wrote the sequel so that it could stand alone if the reader didn't read the first book, which was tricky. I had to summarize things from book 1 without making it feel like a clumsy flashback.

Q: What inspired you to write your book?

Ganzer: I read too many legal thrillers that weren't dealing with the nuts and bolts of the law. Lawyers have a ton of interesting "you're never going to believe this" stories. I tried to incorporate those things so that a lawyer could read the book and instantly identify with an old law partner or a cranky judge they know. I also wanted to write something that non-lawyers would find fascinating.

Q: What was your most difficult scene/favorite scene to write?

Ganzer: The most difficult thing about the book was writing from a female perspective. I had a lot of help, asking my female beta readers, "Would a woman do this?" The answer was invariably, "No, you idiot. Women don't do that." In the end, I had one female professional editor tell me that I wrote in the female perspective better than any male author she's ever read. I did my best. It was incredibly challenging, but I think I got it.

The most fun thing to write was a disastrous first date for the main character. She meets someone who is funny and looks like a cologne model. But on their date, he takes her to a bar/arcade, drinks too much cheap beer, and tries to convince her to do business with him. She spends the entire evening planning her escape; it was the date from hell. My betas laughed because they've have all had a date with "that guy". But in the book, he gets his comeuppance, in spades.

Q: What message does your book covey to readers?

GanzerI think the thing I try to convey to readers is the fun in the dialogue and the setups. Too many novels have perfect conversations between the characters or neat and tidy plot points, which is a missed opportunity. The nuance in speech, the pregnant pauses, the realistic scenes where things don't always have a perfect resolution--that is where the good stuff is. I want readers to know if they read one of my books, they are going to laugh or mutter "holy shit" once every chapter.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of the writing process?

GanzerIt actually isn't the creative part. I always have the kernel of a novel in my head. In school, I could always write something that could get my entire class to laugh. I write characters and scenes that people ask excitedly, "How the hell did you come up with that?!" But the hardest part for me is the technical aspect of writing. I wasn't an English major and I never did better than a B- in any literature class I ever took. I could't tell you what a split infinitive is if you put a gun to my head. My proofreader wanted to punch me for my constant shifting of tenses, often within the same sentence.That is a real struggle for me. But I'd rather read a legal thriller written by a lawyer with questionable grammar than a perfectly written legal novel put out by a non-lawyer that bears no resemblance to what we actually do.

Q: What's the best and worst part about being a writer?

GanzerThe answer to both is the same: the unquenched desire to make a living as a writer. Most of us indie writers love writing and dream of having more time and resources. What kind of a writer could I be, how much better could I be, if I did this full-time for five years? Friends are impressed that I am a writer, but I think Stephen King is a writer. I suppose it is like a guitar player who dreams of playing before a sellout crowd at Coachella. People like me see him playing a wedding and think, "Wow, he is amazing," but all he thinks is, "I could be doing so much better."

Q: What can readers expect from you in the future? Any more books in the works?

GanzerI am working on the third book in the series and I want to make it the final act. But readers are telling me the characters are too much fun and I have to keep them going. Two years ago I was talked into writing a novel about science and research and the intersection between academia, government, and the private sector. The more I looked into it, the more shocked I was that people with multiple doctorates working to cure impossible diseases make less than a garbageman. The amount of bullshit they wade through is amazing. We spend billions on defense projects no one wants, but we force people to research diseases on a shoestring budget because a grad student put a shrimp on a treadmill for an experiment, pissed off Congress, and everyone saw NIH funding cut once again. I think it is far and away my best work, but I am sitting on it until I can find a national publisher. I think it should be required reading for anyone wanting to make a career out of science and research.

Q: Tell us something interesting about you? Do you have any Hobbies?

GanzerWell, coworkers recently asked me to think of two interesting things about myself, so I told them I can say the alphabet backwards as fast as forwards, and as a child, I once called an adoption agency to see if I could get new parents. Other than that, I am a news and politics junkie, I golf horribly, play poker even worse, but I can ballroom dance!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Author Spotlight: J Thomas Ganzer

Welcome to my fellow author J Thomas Ganzer! 

His new book is releasing this April!

This new release is the second book in the "Chicago Secrets" series. Here's a little about it:

Jackie Dekker is a young idealistic Federal Prosecutor in Chicago. Her career is on a hot streak until she discovers her boss, the esteemed Joe Haise, murdered his wife. Her world begins to fall apart. Will anyone believe her? Is she even right? And when her boss learns she has uncovered his secret, what will he do? When you know the law, you know how to break it. When Jackie dances with the Devil and the music stops, she must decide which one will be left dancing.

Exclusive Excerpt:

“I don’t understand. What did Joe do?”

Nate shook his head. “It’s not important. The point is…I owe him. And not just a little, I owe him everything. He has first dibs on my soul, Jackie. And if you stay here, he’ll get yours too.” Nate’s mood darkened and he refused to look Jackie in the eye.

She took a long drink and stared at the bar as well. “Nate, I have a problem too. I think that Joe, um…”

“Hey, m’lady and m’gentleman!” Stacey bounded up in between them and wrapped her arms around their shoulders. She grabbed her drink and took a swig, oblivious to their altered mood.

Nate drained his beer and put his arm around Stacey. “Well now, I think, dear Jackie, that this young lass is getting the hang of it.” He smiled at Jackie and she fought back tears and returned the smile. They drank for another hour before they all exchanged hugs and headed home.

Jackie decided that, after a lot of drinks, she would leave her car in the parking garage at the office and take a cab home. She made it home late and fifty dollars poorer, but she had enjoyed herself for the first time in months. She fed Burnita, crawled into bed and ruminated on where she was in the Ruby Lester case and where she could go in the Tina Haise case. Ruby’s case is on autopilot. We’ll get a decision on the motion to dismiss and the motion to exclude prior bad acts in a few weeks. I will start arranging witnesses soon, just in case it goes to trial. Maxwell doesn’t need much babysitting, so for now I just have to stay safe. I can’t look into Todd’s murder. Anyway, Buddy will take care of that. But I can keep digging into the Tina Haise murder. Joe made a mistake somewhere, I just know it. Okay, I can do this.

The rest of the week was heavenly. Jackie and the other prosecutors and support staff in the Fraud Section played pranks on each other, engaged in spirited discussions about the meaning of the law, and were generally happier than they had been in months. They collaborated on each other’s work and even held an impromptu Friday afternoon ‘pretzel party’ in the kitchen, a tradition started a dozen years earlier by legal interns too poor to afford to bring anything to share with their mentors but industrial-size bags of discount pretzels. Sadly, the ritual died when Joe took over the Section and no one felt like celebrating anymore. Dave Dunham noticed the renewed sense of cooperation and enthusiasm and on Friday morning he brought gourmet coffee from Starbucks and held court in the kitchen. The attorneys and interns marveled at his intellect and views on the future of federal criminal law over the coming decades. Wick was right, Dave’s a flighty sombitch, but he is brilliant.

Jackie closed a few files that had darkened her desk for months and actually managed to get ahead on her caseload. In federal prosecutor-speak, “getting ahead” really means, “being less behind than usual.” She worked out like a fiend over the weekend, reviewed a number of new prospects on, and slept like a queen each night. But Sunday afternoon she had an argument over the phone with her mother, snapped at a well-meaning produce clerk and, when a judge on Law & Order: SVU threw out evidence in a rape case, screamed at the television, “That’s total bullshit!” After a few minutes of introspection, she realized that Joe would be returning to the office tomorrow and she was subconsciously dreading going back to work. She called her mother back to apologize and spent the rest of the night mentally preparing to see Joe face to face.

She struggled to convince herself that Joe was a creep and a pervert, but not a killer. It would make things so much simpler if that was true. The more time she spent away from the Tina Haise case files, the more preposterous it all seemed. Yeah, right. Joe murdered two people and attacked Veronica Maxwell. Seriously? Maybe there is a reason no one will believe me, the entire thing is just plain nuts. Or maybe I am writing off these suspicions as paranoia as a coping mechanism. Lucy charged Charlie Brown just a nickel for psychiatric help, maybe I should call Human Resources tomorrow to see if she is in network. Ugh, I’ll take another look with a fresh set of eyes later this week and see if it still seems plausible. Jackie ended the debate in her head and fell asleep.

About the Author

J. Thomas Ganzer is an author and attorney practicing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has experience in both civil and criminal matters in private practice and at the Wisconsin Department of Justice. He currently practices civil litigation for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Armed with a diverse career, J. Thomas offers his readers a unique perspective on the traditional legal thriller, focusing on the odd characters and constant one-upmanship that lawyers, clerks, and judges know all too well.

Find him on Amazon and Facebook