Break Writing

I have three weeks of Christmas break on a tropical island. You might think it’s a paradise for writers. Well, not to rub it in, but it is.

My breaks away from teaching have fueled my writing habits for years, and this one is no exception. As I type, I’m sitting shirtless on a lounge chair, by the pool of a resort in the Straits of Malacca. My chair is overlooking the sea and the various water sports being enjoyed by the many vacationers. A delightful breeze has kept me so cool that I haven’t even dipped into the water yet, though that surely will come soon. And I’ve been typing away on my laptop, knocking out another 1500 words in my latest novel.

Let me clarify latest, however, because my novels always overlap each other. I finished my fifth novel a couple weeks ago, and now over the next two months will try to revise and edit it into publication shape. But that’s not what I’m working on now. Over break, I like to take advantage of the long empty spaces in my life and try to get some serious writing down. I don’t consider revision serious writing. It’s just seriously painful, and I like to do it in small doses. But for my creative moments, I like large chunks of time. And so I’ve started novel #6 before novel #5 is revised.

I must say, I’m thrilled with how novel 6 is quickly forming in my mind. It’s one of the more interesting ideas that I’ve ever had, and it’s certainly different from anything I’ve ever written. I seem to do that a lot. If I had to categorize my novels, I would say that #1 (Beauty Rising), #3 (The Reach of the Banyan Tree), and #5 (Which Half David) have a lot of similarities. Of course, not in story or characters, but in backdrop and style. However, novel #2 is very different and unique from any of them, and novel #4, my latest, also is unique. Novel two is a combination of 5 stories told in a unique manner. Novel 4 is, as someone recently told me, a “historical tall-tale” – kind of an oxymoron – quite different from anything else I’ve written. The one I just started, #6 falls into that unique and different category. It has strange supernatural elements that none of my other novels have ever had. I am very excited about it, though, as I find it gripping and fascinating even though I’m the writer. I’m currently 12,000+ words into it. I can’t wait to see where it will be heading.

So that’s my break. Sun, sand, water, and writing. I think it’s time to hit the pool.

The Best Part of “In the Heart of the Sea” for any Writer

I watched the Ron Howard film the other day. I would rate it as an “OKAY” film. Nothing earth-shattering, and certainly not one of the best films I ever made.

It was disappointing on a couple levels. The CG, especially of the town of Nantucket, was weak. As soon as I saw the the town in the backdrop I thought, “That looks fake.” Computer graphics should look natural. They shouldn’t draw attention to themselves, and when a normal movie viewer can tell that something doesn’t look natural, well, someone didn’t do their job.

Besides that, it seemed shallow on a personal level. There wasn’t a character that I ended up rooting for. There lacked an emotional connection, which is strange for a Howard film. I’m wondering what a re-edit and re-write could have accomplished. Perhaps a look at the first mate’s wife and daughter while he was out at sea may have added to the longing and personal connection that was missing.

But it wasn’t a bad movie. It just wasn’t one that will live on in my memory for much more than a couple weeks.

But there was one scene that, as an indie author, really resonated. When Herman Melville is talking about his insecurities as a writer, it sounded very familiar and right. He looks at the old man he’s interviewing and says, “I’m not a great writer. I’m no (Nathaniel) Hawthorne.” How true did that sound? The person who went on to write the great American epic compared himself unfavorably to a “real” writer.

Well, that’s the life of any author. Doubt and despair about their own writing.

Good for you, Melville. It rang true. Good for you, screen writer. You got that right!

To Give Free or Not to Give Free: An Indie Author’s Dilemma

I’m back staring at the same promotional dilemma that seemingly doesn’t have a great answer: is it still worth it for indie authors to offer e-books for free?

Three years ago when I jumped into the indie foray, the answer in my opinion was a  resounding ‘yes!’ But now, I’m not so sure.

My free Kindle days over the past two years have been less frequent, but they have also met with less downloads than I achieved back in the “hey-day” of free – 2013. (At least that was my experience)  With my first and second novels, I’ve received massive amounts of downloads which led to many reviews and even some residual book sales. But my experiences of 2014 and 2015 have altered my thinking.

First off, it must be said that there are fewer and fewer sites which will advertise free books without wanting payment. But even the times that I have  paid for advertising, I haven’t had huge downloads (average amount only) and I’ve noticed no up-tick in sales and no noticeable reviews which I can link to the free downloads.

Second, is there such a glut of free books on the market that readers just  stock their devices with reads most of them  will never get around to reading? I think it’s true. Members of my friends and family are examples of this.

I have run numerous 99 cent sales and they have been met with varying success. Sales definitely pick up and then eventually fall back down again.

Is it now better to build in some perceived value by not offering free books anymore? The book market has certainly been devalued. Of course, no author thinks their writing is worth only 99 cents, but there is not a lot of other tangible options available except for running the occasional sale and trying to hook in new readers.

I haven’t ever tried to run a free book promotion through BookBub (nor would it be assured because of their selective nature), but I’ve read accounts of other authors that in the case of BookBub, it is worth it because of their massive exposure. So is that the answer, only offer free books if accepted through BookBub?

Of course, I have no answers. I’ve read a lot of other blogs on the topic, and opinions vary widely. I’m currently on this policy: I generally raised the prices of my ebooks and work hard  to promote during promotional periods. I have no plans to offer free books again anytime soon, though I won’t rule it out completely.

How about you? Any thoughts or wisdom on the topic you’d like to share? I’m all ears!

Best Quote Ever by an Author: “I’m handsome.”

The new philosophical wave for authors is about to catch fire: true vanity.

It all started in my wife’s 3rd grade classroom. Each student was tasked to write their own book, complete with an author’s biography and everything. One student, clever boy he is, decided that he couldn’t deny the truth in his biography. As he outlined his family and pets and the other mundane issues of his life, he decided that the truth of himself couldn’t be kept under wraps under longer, so he wrote the vivid truth in his biography: “I’m handsome.”

Perhaps if more authors embraced this reality and let the world know how remarkably good-looking they are, how could the general readership resist? I’m sure it would have to translate into more book sales. It’s time we, as authors, come clean and let the world know just how attractive we are. Now, if you find yourself on the other end of the good-looks spectrum, photoshop is a distinct option you should explore. After all, even Paris runway models use it, so authors shouldn’t be shy. They did, after all, hang out in Paris in the 1920s. There’s a historical claim there that even models can acknowledge.

If photoshop is  not an option, then go ahead and hire a model to stand in for you. We already hire editors and book cover designers, so we might as well look good in our mugshot on the back of the novel. It’s time to let the world know just how devastatingly handsome and beautiful we all are. After all, what would people do without books to read? They might as well have Greek-god-like sculptures to represent the people who gave them their hours of entertainment.

(Note: The 3rd grade boy who started this trend, it has been reported, later confessed to his teacher that when he presented his autobiography to the class, he might edit out the “handsome” part because he didn’t want to brag. Perhaps he’s on to something. There’s no need to let the world know just how beautiful authors are. This is one smart boy!)


Two Book Giveaways for USA & Malaysia

I have simultaneous book giveaways which just kicked off in the USA and Malaysia on Goodreads.

First, if you live in the USA, you can get yourself a paperback copy of my new release, “A Love Story for a Nation.”  Head on over to Goodreads at this LINK to enter.

ALoveStoryforaNation Cover LARGE

Second, if you live in Malaysia, you can enter to win a copy of my debut novel in paperback, “Beauty Rising.” And you might have a good chance to win. Only three have entered so far, so the odds are in your favor. Here’s the link: Beauty Rising

Beauty Rising Mark W Sasse

I scream UNCLE! Okay, Back to Marketing

I recently posted how I really don’t care about marketing.

I do however care about my writing.

I also would love to be able to “retire” someday and write full-time.

I guess that means that I need to start caring about marketing. So I’ve decided to come back from my little anti-marketing hiatus for a couple of reasons:

  1. Grit. I should display it since I talk about it a lot. I’m in this writing thing for the long-haul, not for some quick get-rich scheme. (which certainly isn’t working if that was my plan)
  2. I can’t hide behind my busy-ness forever. Yes, I’m always busy. I teach full-time. I direct drama. I write and produce drama. I have a family. I have a writing routine. I have endless writing projects on the horizon. Yes, I am busy. I always will be, but that in itself cannot be my excuse for not marketing. I have to move forward.
  3. I’d like to find some new readers.
  4. I’d like to sell some new books.
  5. I’d like to get exposure for my new release, which I really like.

So here’s my commitment to myself – set a date and get started!

So I’m going to be organizing my first big push for my new release sometime in September. It will probably be a 99 cent Kindle sale for “A Love Story for a Nation.” Let’s do multiple days. Let’s go ahead and buy a bunch of advertising and see what happens!

I’ll also be hitting the blog circuit and asking for additional reviews. If anyone is interested in reviewing my latest, let me know. I’ll also be looking to do some guest posts and other promotional ideas as the opportunities beacon.

I have always believed that success comes from the commitment to the long-haul. It’s time to get back to doing it.

Much more on this promotion in the coming weeks.

Thanks to all who have continually supported my writing endeavors.


Do I (an indie author) really care about marketing?


But yes.

Do I hate marketing?


Do I want to market?


What do I want to do?


Okay, there’s a series of honest responses. I put marketing somewhat on the same plateau of being at a Chinese banquet and being served sea slugs because I’m the honored guest.

The honest answer is that I don’t want to eat sea slugs no matter how good my hosts think they are. I also do not want to spend time marketing my books no matter how important everyone in the universe connected to indie writing tells me it is.

Here’s the basic question that is always asked: how will anyone know that you released a book unless you tell them that you released a book?

I don’t know. I just pretend there is a way. I’m a creative writer. I can create all kinds of possible ways that people might know. Perhaps aliens will infiltrate a person’s dream, telling them that they need to read “A Love Story for a Nation” or they will be sucked up by a UFO within the next month. Or maybe a ghost will write on the bathroom mirror, “Recluse Storyteller.” There’s lots of possible ways. How about a time travelling Vietnamese who read “Banyan Tree” will encourage all Vietnamese teachers to choose this book for their classes. See, why would I want to market when I have all of this activity going on?

I see you aren’t impressed. Well, I don’t need to sell books to make a living. So there.

Yes. Yes. I do wish I could make a living by selling books. Okay, you got me there.

But I’m too busy. I don’t have time to figure out what to do wrong next.

Yes, I know. Thomas Edison didn’t have time to fail at creating a light bulb either.

But I really hate it, doesn’t that count for something?

Yes, it does. It counts for poor book sales. Get to it!

Okay, okay. I will reluctantly not give up, and I’ll keep on marketing as best I know how even though I don’t know how. I will spend money I don’t have in hopes of a future payoff. I will not stop simply because I am lazy or sick and tired of poor results. I will continue, showing off the grit and determination that I claim is so important.

But, I will also not stop writing because, honestly, that’s all I really want to do.

My Mother Approves

My mom is a reader, and she always gives me her two cents about my books.

Well, I’m happy to say that she gave “A Love Story for a Nation” a big endorsement. So there you have it, Mark’s mom approves, so it must be good.

She doesn’t follow my books blindly. She didn’t care so much for “crazy lady” book, as she calls it. (“The Recluse Storyteller)  But she likes this one.

Besides being one of my biggest critics, she also has one of the sharpest eyes for syntax, grammar, and, especially, word choice. No matter who edits my work, my mom is able to spot a couple issues which need to be changed. She always makes the manuscript better. She did that to me today too as she pointed out a couple word choices which were incorrect. It’s the kind of stuff that’s extremely easy to miss because spell checker won’t pick it up. But she does, and I’m glad!

I’ve had people in the past who shy away from pointing out mistakes in my manuscript. I understand why that would be. You don’t want to be overbearing and nit-picky. But I truly embrace it because I want to have the very best story and manuscript that is possible. That’s why mom always helps me out.

So if you want a good story, mother-approved and mother edited, then please check out my latest, A Love Story for a Nation.

Thanks for your support, everyone. (and mom!)

2015-06-21 16.40.29

The Self-Doubt of a New Writing Project

With slight trepidation I begin my next major writing project: an hour and a half dramatic production for my drama team, The RLT Players.

This is the fifth year in a row that I’ve written a full-length show for them. You would think that it gets easier or that the confidence of putting on wonderful shows in the past would mean something as I begin this new writing endeavor, but it doesn’t.

Each one is a battle with words. Each one is a battle with ideas. Each one is a battle with doubt.

Can I really do this again? Can I improve on what I’ve done before?

No one wants to slide backwards and create something that wasn’t as good as a year ago.

These are the thoughts that slip back and forth in my mind as I get ready to write.

What’s a writer to do? There is only one thing: persevere and move forward. One word after the other. It’s what writers do, even when they aren’t convinced that what they are writing is really up to par.

But what I think or feel doesn’t matter. All that matters is the time and dedication that I devote to my hands against the keys.

So let doubt rear its ugly head. When it does, I know that I’m on the verge of creating something new, something wonderfully new and unpredictable. I’m on course to add to the ideas and thoughts which have been formulating in my head for the past several months. This is the time to let it all come out, regardless of result or acclaim or high criticism.

A writer is meant for only one time: writing time.

Moving Beyond Vietnam

There were three specific items which led me to be an indie author.

1) A desire to be creative.

2) My introduction to drama.

3) My ten years living in Vietnam.

I have always wanted to create. I remember writing songs and plays as as teenager, just trying to find an outlet for what was going on in my mind. In college it was poetry that caught my fancy, and I wrote lots of various genres of poetry as an outlet. After that, I wrote various plays and small production in my church. I’ve always wanted to create and write, but I went for twenty years not doing much of it.

Drama. Drama changed everything for me. Once I had an opportunity to write drama with some of my students, it started this drama-like epoch which still hasn’t finished. I love writing dialogue and creating scenarios where extraordinary things happen. I’ve been writing drama for eight years now, and there’s no end in sight.

Lastly, my ten years in Vietnam expanded my horizons beyond that of any normal Western PA native. I learned a language, I learned a new culture, and I was constantly overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells of the amazing country of Vietnam. My time in Vietnam led me to my passion for history and an understanding of what really happened here, both before and after and Americans landed.

So in 2007 when all three of these (creativity, drama, experiences in Vietnam) all came together, I was once and for all hooked on writing. Since then I’ve written more than a dozen full-length dramatic productions and four novels. (The fifth almost there!)

All of these led me to become an indie author in December of 2012.

Since then, I’ve released three novels (the fourth just weeks away) and all of them somewhat based on my experiences in Vietnam.

How couldn’t that affect me? It was such an important and profound experience for me that as soon as I left Vietnam, I was ready to process it through my writing, which I did with “Beauty Rising,” “The Recluse Storyteller,” and “The Reach of the Banyan Tree”: my first three novels.

I needed Vietnam. I needed it to provide the context, history, and inspiration for my writing

But no more.

I’ve moved beyond Vietnam. My new novel doesn’t even mention Vietnam. SHOCKING!

Vietnam was my original inspiration, but now I am burdened with an endless supply of internal inspiration, which I hope I have time to release!

With my fourth novel, I realize I have moved beyond Vietnam. It’s a crutch I no longer need.

That doesn’t mean I  won’t revisit Vietnam anymore in my writing. I already have a political thriller based on Vietnam that I want to write.

But I no longer rely on Vietnam. I am beyond Vietnam, and that’s a wonderful feeling.

Vietnam, thanks for the inspiration. But I can take it from here.