Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Adventure Begins!

Actually, the adventure began last Friday, December 2, when I released my sci-fi thriller novel MARS STATION ALPHA on Kindle--all by myself! This is the follow up report to my last two blogposts, wherein (real word, properly used) I first contemplated following this course, then announced my intention to do so.

I couldn't be happier with my decision.

My sales are good and I can see the Amazon borg stretching out, connecting my book to similar works and similar authors. More importantly, I figured out how to format my own work for kindle, nook, and even paperback. Most importantly, I'm having fun.

So what's next?

Look for two more releases from me this month. THE DEAD SHOE SOCIETY short story anthology was just released December 12! It features stories from seven different authors, in different genres, with the only common elements being death and shoes. My contribution is a legal thriller titled Lady Justice Wears Heels. I've read all of these stories and already one of them may be my favorite story of all time. This is an amazing anthology. Don't miss it.

Then, in time for Christmas, I'll be releasing my next novel: SCOTTISH RITE. It's a paranormal murder mystery, set at the University of Aberdeen in the Scottish Highlands. Our hero is Maggie Devereaux, an American exchange student, who must solve a series of ritualistic killings before she becomes the next victim.

Thanks for stopping by. Check out MARS STATION ALPHA and THE DEAD SHOE SOCIETY, and keep your open for SCOTTISH RITE.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Future of MY Writing Industry

Last week I blogged about the future of the writing industry, and in particular the future of my writing. Now I will officially announce the decision I hinted at then.

I will be releasing my new science fiction novel, MARS STATION ALPHA, all by myself. (*listens/hopes for applause*) It will be available this Saturday, December 3, in Kindle format, followed very shortly by paperback, Nook and Smashwords.

So, let the shameless self-promotion begin:

The colonists of the first space station on Mars have vanished.

Captain John Stanton leads a second team to the Red Planet, unsure what he’ll find. Originally assigned merely to relieve the first group, Stanton must now figure out what happened to them, and keep the same fate from befalling his own crew. As he investigates, the mystery deepens and the dangers multiply: remorseless sandstorms, virulent bacteria... perhaps even ancient Martian ghosts.

Stanton’s mission changes from relief, to rescue, to simple escape.

This will be the first of several novels I will be releasing over the next few months. In fact, MARS STATION ALPHA includes a preview of my upcoming legal thriller, AGGRAVATING FACTORS. The characters from that novel also appear in the soon to be released DEAD SHOE SOCIETY short story anthology.

I hope you enjoy the book, and I look forward to updating everyone on my journey into the exciting new world of publishing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Future of the Writing Industry

Read that title again. I said "Writing Industry" not "Publishing Industry." There have been a lot of articles and blog posts lately about the future of the publishing industry. I think the future of the publishing industry can be summed up in one word: Amazon. All the handwringing about its future stems from the fact that "publishing" boils down to taking someone else's work and putting it into a package that the consumer can enjoy. That was an "industry" when you needed a commercial building to house a printing press. Now it's a software program.

So this is about the future of writing, and specifically the future of my writing. To fully understand, here's a bit about my writing past, present, and future, following by a teaser non-announcement. Enjoy.

The Past
In 2000, I wrote my first novel. I didn't tell a lot of people though because unless you got your novel published you weren't really a writer. At least that's what I thought. I was fortunate to know a guy who'd had a couple of novels published by Simon & Schuster. His advice was clear: (1) get an agent, and (2) mine doesn't handle your genre.

So I queried agents--lots of them. And I got some full requests--several of them. But ultimately no bites. My story was a mystery with a supernatural twist. Commonplace today, but in 2000 the only thing I could compare it to were some cozies with a talking cat. And remember, this was back when querying--and submitting--was by mail. It was time-consuming and expensive. Moreover, agents expected 3-month exclusives. After a year, I had no agent but had busied myself writing the sequel. A year later, still no agent, but we'd had our first child. Whatever extra time and money I had couldn't be spent on trying to find a publisher. I saved the files on my old iMac, and stopped writing.

The Present
In 2009, two important things happened. One, I wrote a silly story for my son about a goofy paleontologist and a couple of kids travelling back to dinosaur times. Two, I listened to a radio show called Coast to Coast AM, where the guest said, "It's easy to get published anymore. Just write something, then post it on a website called" So I did, and I snagged a publisher: Nimble Books. I was published.

What I didn't fully realize was that my writing hadn't changed, but the publishing industry had. Nimble Books didn't and couldn't have existed in 2000. But with Amazon and print-on-demand, the big publishers didn't control everything anymore. Not surprisingly, agents no longer required 3-month exclusives. And genres that hadn't existed 10 years earlier will all over Micropublishers were flourishing, and giving opportunities to writers like me.

But not totally understanding that, I figured it was just that my talent lay in children's books, not adult fare. Until a writer a met through Twitter, the incomparable Shelly Picarella, invited me to write a short story for an anthology she was putting together about the seven deadly sins. Not exactly kid stuff. But I agreed, and wrote a decidedly non-children's story about Wrath. What mattered most was what came when the other authors read it: they liked it. As in, "Hey, this is really good." Maybe I was an okay writer after all.

Then I got involved in a similar short story collection with some different writers. Again I wrote an adult piece. Again the other writers said it was good. I decided to believe them.

The Future
Throughout 2010 and 2011, I wrote not only those two short stories, but two novels, plus some more children's stories. I wasn't entirely sure what to do with them all. Querying agents takes forever, and the odds are long, and I wasn't even sure anymore why I wanted an agent.

Then I read these blog posts by Jonas SaulMichael A. Stackpole, and Bob Mayer.

I think I've finally decided on my future as an author. Come back in a week and I'll share my decision with you. In the meantime, what to do you think is the future of the writing industry?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Evolution of an Illustration

I recently sent "Prof. Barrister's Dinosaur Mysteries #5: THE CASE OF THE CRESTED CRYPTOCLIDUS" off to my publisher, Nimble Books. Yay! But as an author-illustrator, sending a work to my pub means more than just the manuscript; it also means the illustrations.

Now, just like the text, illustrations can go through edits. Sometimes, an illustration is perfect (or pretty close) the first time I draw it. Other times it needs to be fixed. Here's an example from THE CRESTED CRYPTOCLIDUS that I thought was kind of interesting.

Here, one of the books' heroes, intrepid 3rd grade dinosaur expert Nate, is swimming for his life from a giant Jurassic predator known as Liopleurodon.

Very rough, but conveys the idea. I knew when I drew it that I'd want to improve it. When I returned to this illustration, I realized two things: (1) I liked Nate's expression and body position (which is an extension of his expression), but (2) the illustration lacked the urgency and peril I wanted.

I realized the solution lay in the scale. Nate was too big compared to what I was trying convey as a gigantic marine monster. So I simply shrank Nate down (reduced on a photocopier) and tried again.

That led to also adding depth to the Liopleurodon's mouth. Much better. But still not quite right.

The Liopleurodon's snout was too blunt, and not like the scientific illustrations I'd seen. (I pride myself on paleontological accuracy). So I transformed it from stubby and dog-like to sleek and crocodilian.

Way scarier. Note that Nate hasn't changed from the original sketch.

Now just a matter of cleaning & adding color. Voila! The final illustration:
Very worth the edits, I think.

THE CRESTED CRYPTOCLIDUS is scheduled for December release, with this and 17 other full color illustrations. For information on the first four books (including links to purchase them!), check out

Bonus question: You may have noticed something about the Liopleurodon's nostrils. Free Prof. Barrister sketch to the first person who posts a comment correctly explaining what it is and why it was important to the animal.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Becoming a Better Writer

"A little bit of editing is a dangerous thing."
--Stephen Penner

I realized recently that I'm on the right path in my writing journey, although it was a bittersweet realization. The reason I know I'm becoming a better writer is because I'm not satisfied with what I've written lately. Not that what I've written is bad. It's not. It's pretty good, in fact. Almost very good. With the occasional gem of language or plot twist. But still not good enough.

I have two major works-in-progress which I've written but not yet edited. One is a middle grade adventure novel; the other an adult science fiction novel. I love each of these books and am very proud of what I've written. But I know they need more. A lot more.

I need them to pass the "Who cares?" test. Sure, I care what happens to my characters because I wrote it. But it needs to be better than that. It also needs to be better than my mom caring, or my buddy at work, or my best friend on Twitter. It needs to be better than the dream-literary-agent or acquisitions-editor-at-the-big-publishing-house caring. It has to be so good that the person who doesn't know me at all, who will forget my name after s/he has picked up the book, who isn't going to make any money or fame or friendship or anything off the book--that person has to care.

And right now, my books aren't near good enough for that person to care.

So I will return to them, and edit them, and step back, and edit again, and try to be patient. A year or two ago, I might have thought they were good enough. They were finished, after the sense that I'd written "THE END" on the last page.

But now I know enough to know they aren't good enough. And that's a good thing to know.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Giveway! -

In my last post I told you about a great new website called where I'm fortunate enough to be a Featured Author. Well, the site has officially launched and to help celebrate I'm giving away three copies of the first Professor Barrister book, THE CASE OF THE TRUNCATED TROODON!

To enter, just click over to and follow the links to the giveaways. Then scroll down to my name and click to send me an email at That's it and you'll be entered.

"But, Steve," you say, "I'd have to click my mouse like two or three times to do that. Is it really worth it?" Well, yes, it is. And to prove it, here are the Top 10 reasons to enter my giveaway:

10.  Free. Book. 'Nuff said.
9.  If you've ever said anything like, "We need to expect more of our kids," then you have to get a kids' book with the word 'truncated' in the title.
8.  The illustrations are amazing. See?
7.  All your friends' kids have read it.
6.  Dinosaurs. 'Nuff said.
5.  If (when) your kid(s) love it, there are already three other books in the series.
4.  And book #5 will be out by Christmas!
3.  The problems are solved by smart, nice kids, not snarky teen-wannabes.
2.  It's a really good book. Really. Check out these reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.
1.  FREE. BOOK. What are you waiting for? Click here now!

For more information on me and my books, check out these links:
and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Love a Happy Ending

Don't you just love a story with a happy ending? Me too. Not everyone does, of course. Some people even look down on them. I was a German major in college and they have a word for such an ending: "das Happyend." It's no mistake that they had to borrow from the English, and there is a decidedly negative connotation to the word, as something simplistic and unserious.

Similarly, there was a recent controversy in the YA (young adult) world when the Wall Street Journal published an article bemoaning the prevalence of violent and deviant themes in YA (think self mutilation, violence against homosexuals, incest, drug addiction, etc.). I'm not sure if there was an official response article, but Twitter lit up with the hashtag "#YAsaves" and testimonials about troubled youth who had found healing in these books.

To the extent the WSJ article suggested those types of subjects should be banned from YA, that's going too far. But the suggestion that YA--or any genre--should only have edgy, dark, downer stories also goes too far.

Happy endings have a place too. Just because the reader knows that there will be a happy ending doesn't mean s/he knows how that ending will be achieved. And there's nothing wrong with wanting to read a story with an uplifting message or feel-good resolution. In fact, I would argue that reading such stories can help instill a sense of universal, karma-like fairness which, even if not true, can nevertheless help us get through those times when life shows us just how unfair it can be.

So if happy endings have a place, where is that place? The answer is! This is a brand new site devoted to books with happy endings. I'm a Featured Author and I'm proud to share that status with a couple dozen other new and exciting writers whose works span from children's (like mine) to romance to adventureto whatever you love to read. Launch Day is June 29, featuring book giveaways and much more!

So if you're looking for a good book with a happy ending, check out the authors and offerings at There's sure to be something to fit your taste. And if you like kids books--especially kids books about smart kids, goofy scientists, amazingly well-drawn dinosaurs, and, of course, happy endings--check out my page there too.

So what say you? Are happy endings trite and unserious, or are they sometimes just what the doctor ordered?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Building a Story

How does an author build a story? I've heard and read a lot of different analogies. Here's mine.

Below is post from August 6, 2010 (on my old blog on It explains how I conceptualize crafting a story. I wrote it as I was finishing up the first draft of PROFESSOR BARRISTER #4: THE COLORFUL CAUDIPTERYX. I really like this post and wanted to share it on my new blog, especially now that CAUDIPTERYX has just been published.

Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Today was a good example of why you don't submit your first draft. But to fully explain, let me step back a bit into how I conceptualize the writing of one of these books. It's like building an animal from the inside out.

First, you decide what animal. Dog? Cat? Zebra mussell? That's the genre. Mystery, romance, or in my case: children's chapter book.

Second, you build the skeleton. That's the basic story. These characters do this to solve that problem. Here, Prof. Barrister and the kids, Nate and Emily, travel back to Cretaceous China to see if the professor's theory about feather colors is correct.

Next, the muscles. That's the story line that pulls the story along. Where does the story start (the professor's lab), why do they have to go back in time, how will they solve the problem, what additional problems will they face?

Then it's the organs. The parts of the story that are unique and self contained. They could encounter any number of different dinosaurs, but now that I've settled on a Sinosauropteryx, exactly how do they come across it, what happens with it, how does that interaction propel the story, how does it end?

Next is the skin. This is where the story gets smoothed out in a nice attractive package. This is the editing. Work out the kinks, fix those words and phrases that aren't quite right.

Finally, the clothes. That's the illustrations. Not necessary, but visually appealing. And if done right they accentuate the best features of the body (story) underneath. (Yeah, I know, animals don't wear clothes. Well, some do, and anyway the metaphor works here.)

So as I was editing the final dinosaur scene, I realized I had put the wrong organ in the body. It was a nice, well written organ, but it was in the wrong animal. Like a beautiful set of fresh, pink lungs ... in a fish. I had written it so the professor solved the problem and saved the day, but I realized the kids should solve the problem. A few edits later, Emily and Nate had saved the professor instead of vice versa. My fish had a wonderful set of gills and the story was immeasurably better.

To see how this particular animal turned out, get your hands on a copy of THE CASE OF THE COLORFUL CAUDIPTERYX.

In the meantime, especially you writers out there, how do YOU build a story?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Give Away!

The Case of the Colorful Caudipteryx (Professor Barrister's Dinosaur Mysteries #4) has just been released, and to celebrate I am giving away 3 autographed (and doodled on) copies over at If you're already on Goodreads, just click over and enter to win. If you're not, then you should sign up. It's a great place to meet writers and readers and people who love books of all kinds. The give away ends at midnight June 3, so don't delay!

Now, sure, some of you are probably asking, "Why are you giving away a book when what you really want is for people to buy the book?" Well, that's a good question. But people don't buy books they haven't heard of, and this is great way to let people know about the highly rated Professor Barrister's Dinosaur Mysteries series. Besides, I have met some of my biggest fans and best cyber-friends through giveaways of the first three Professor Barrister books. I'm looking forward to meeting more dinosaur loving readers.

"But Steve," you say, "I haven't read the first three books yet." (You're chatty today, aren't you?) Well, never fear, for these fine books are readily available for purchase or download at any number of fine outlets. And to help you out, here are brief synopses and links for each book.

The Case of the Truncated Troodon (book #1). The one that started it all! Third graders Nate and Emily discover Prof. Barrister's secret time-travel machine and travel back to dinosaur times (the Cretaceous Period to be exact) where they learn the secret of the professor's Troodon fossil--which for some mysterious reason (read the book!) doesn't have a tail. Paperback available at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Books-a-Million and more. Also available for Kindle and Nook.

The Case of the Armored Allosaurus (#2). Emily and Nate are back to accompany the professor on a trip to the Jurassic Period to discover why the professor has found a fossil of an armored Allosaurus when everyone knows Allosauruses didn't have armor. Or did they?! Paperback at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Books-a-Million and more. Also available for Kindle and Nook.

The Case of the Enormous Eoraptor (#3). Prof. Barrister thinks he's discovered a new dinosaur species--the Barristerosaurus!--but Nate and Emily aren't so sure. They think his fossil just looks like an enormous Eoraptor from the Triassic Period. So the three of them go back in time to see who's right. Paperback at Amazon, Barnes&NobleBooks-a-Million and more. Also available for Kindle and Nook.

So rush over to Goodreads and enter the give away, then stock up on the first three books to be prepared when that signed, doodled, literary masterpiece arrives in your mailbox!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Hello! and welcome to my new blog. I have an older blog over on, but I thought I should branch out a bit and grab the "" domain before some other pesky Steve Penner snatched it out from under me.

So who am I? Well, I am an author. And an illustrator. And I like sentence fragments. Especially ones that start with 'and' or 'but' or even 'which.' Which is a problem for a children's author because my writing should also be educational. But I'll make do.

What do I write? I am the author of a series of chapter books titled PROFESSOR BARRISTER'S DINOSAUR MYSTERIES published by Nimble Books. They are for early elementary school students, and are both fun and educational (despite the occasional sentence fragment). The webiste for the series is

What do I draw? I am also the illustrator for the PROFESSOR BARRISTER books. I draw the interior illustrations as well as paint and design the covers. Here's an example:

Interior Art from Book #1
 For more, you can check out the illustration gallery on

Where else can I be found? My main online outlet is Twitter. My username is @StephenPenner. I tweet about what I'm writing, or drawing, or painting, or thinking about writing, drawing or painting.

So there it is, my first Blogger blog post.

What's next? Watch this space (or better yet, follow this blog!) for updates on the Professor Barrister books. In addition, I'll soon be blogging about some non-dinosaur projects I'm very excited to be working on.

Thanks for stopping by.