Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Visualize Success! How to Write Back Cover Copy

(revised and updated from an older post
 
Many of us unpublished writers have a dose of humility and a smattering of self-consciousness.

I am here to tell you with visualizing your book on the shelf, which is also visualizing back cover copy, to knock that shit off.

Your back cover copy is about selling your writing.

Your back cover copy is about enticing a reader to buy your book.

Your back cover copy is competition. You are competing for the hard-earned dollar of an honored reader.

If you cannot write a back cover copy for your book, give it up. I am totally serious. Don’t give up witting if that is what you enjoy, but give up selling your book. You must own this process. Back cover copy is what constitutes the majority of your query. Back cover copy  is what you put on your website. The back cover copy  is your illicit lover. The back cover copy is fairy dust you snort when the pixies aren’t looking.

If you are on the publishing path, you have to want it. You have to want it real bad. You have to look at your significant other one evening, and think, “I could make bedroom eyes here. Or I could write.” You dream about your book. You go to the bookstore, and look at where your book would be, memorizing the author to the left of the book and to the right. You have pretend conversations with the characters in your book.

If you don’t want it that bad, this post is not for you. That ego that you check at the door while read’n da blogs? Ya, go get it. I’ll wait.

(la la la, la la la)

Alrighty then. By the way, I am smoking a cigar, sipp'n Congnac, and wearing a Glock 19 while writing this. That’s how ego I went here, folks. It doesn’t get any more MAN than that.

Rawr!

Let’s take it by steps.

Step One: Determine the type of book. Do you envision your book selling as a hardback or paperback out of the gate? For this exercise, we are going to use Hardcover. Because that’s my dream.

Step Two: Find a book, preferably someone else’s, that you don’t particularly like. In this case, we’re going to use Twilight. My wife’s copy. Sorry, honey. Behold! The actual book:


Please ignore the Nikon speed light flashback from the ceiling. I could not remember how to dial it down a notch to give a uniform lighting.


Step Three: Find the dimensions of this book. In this case, 8.2 x 5.9 x 1.7 inches (I got this from Amazon). We’re not interested in the thickness of the book (1.7 inches). For this exercise, girth doesn’t matter.

Step Four: Go into Word, or some other word processor, and under the Page Setup option, choose the Paper tab and change the height and width to the book height and width.


Then under the Margins tab, change all the margins to .25.


Step Five: Save the document.

Step Six: Paste in your back cover copy. Here is mine:

After breakfast, Investigator Lexus Toulouse, ex-soldier extreme, learns she must track down a war-era serial killer.

Before lunch, she finds her Libido Generator is on the fritz, her old warship wants to “get back together” and her impromptu partner, Scott, seems to be displaying very peculiar mental abilities while stirring the odd romantic feelings in her. She doesn’t want odd romantic feelings. She already has four husbands!

Her world spirals out of control when she mistakenly plugs herself into a simulation of the murders. As memories of the war surface, it all comes crashing down on her sanity. She struggles to do the right thing, but if the right thing is bringing back the soldier she buried deep within herself, can postwar Lexus ever return?

By dinner, she is lucky to be alive…

Step Seven: Change the font. My book is science fiction, so I used a nice sci-fi looking font.


Step Eight: Change the paragraph settings. I suggest for Spacing, 10pts After and 1.15” space between lines. Your mileage my vary.


Step Nine: Mess around with the document. Try using a drop cap, bolding certain words, etcetera.




Step Ten: Save the document.

Step Eleven: Go under Print Preview and mess around with the margins. You need to leave enough space for the ISBN number at the bottom of the page. Look at the actual book from Step Two for guidance.


Actual sample margins after adjustment:


Step Twelve: Save the document.

Step Thirteen: Print the document. Don’t worry about finding paper the actual size of the book. Your printer, unless it is stupid (and there are some out there) will print the page using the paper in the tray. The custom paper size was for your formatting convenience.


Step Fourteen: This is the most important step. Hold the paper to the back of the book from Step Two. You can see where the edges are beneath the paper. Does it fit? Are you using a too small of a font? Can you position the paper on the book so the text position looks good?

If the answer is yes, proceed to the next step. If the answer is no, then you must stop screwing around by writing a ginormous back cover copy. This is a real back cover copy. See! It's all for realsies now, it really lives on the back of a book, for you to visualize and think of how many words you really want to cram in there. It has to fit at on the back of the book and it must look like back cover copy for the sake of this visualization exercise. If it doesn’t, then it’s not back cover copy. Fix it. Cut. Or, rarely, add.

Repeat after me: If your text does not look like back cover copy, then it’s not, is it? It’s voodoo. It’s crap. You need to de-crap it. Be honest with yourself: if the font is too small because you just gotta write, you may want to consider that really, you’re not serious about explaining your book in just enough words.

This is what visualization is all about. Picture in your mind that book on a shelf.

But it’s not just about eye-candy. It’s being able to say what you want to say in short-form. Back cover copy. Write the back cover copy. Be the back cover copy. Print the back cover copy out and sleep with it under your pillow. Imagine what it would feel like if Babs from Slave to the Needle tattooed it on your ass. If there are many words, man, that back cover copy is gonna hurt.

If you are happy with how the text looks, the size, the wording, how it is arranged, then go to Step Fifteen.

Step Fifteen: Fold or cut the paper and tape or glue it to the back of the book (this is where someone else’s book you are not impressed with comes in handy).


Option: Add a book blurb:



Step Sixteen: This is almost as important as Step Fourteen. Does your back cover copy sound catchy, as a whole, now that you are looking at it as real back cover copy? It is on the back of a real book.

If it doesn’t look cool

If it doesn’t sound cool when you read it aloud

If you don’t get chills down your spine when you look at it

Start over

Optional Step Seventeen: Get crazy!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Fiction Writing Process Explained

cross-posted at http://anthony-pacheco.com/blog

Tam, the Princess of Snark and High Velocity Projectiles, talks about a subject near and dear to my heart.

Yes, I know, I said that writing about writing is counter-productive but every now and then something speaks to you.

The foundation of the Fiction Writing Process is honesty. Did I not write my minimum five hundred words today because... of what, actually? Five hundred words. Five. Hundred. Skipping five hundred words is the heart of a broken process.

But, actually, once you got that five hundred words down (ZOMG I WROTE A BOOK!) the hard part, the true trip to Writer Purgatory, is elimination of the Talent Suck Cycle.

That's where one day you hand a writer you wish you could be when you grow up some of your material and she breathlessly tells you over Skype "Anthony, this is brilliant!" which sends feelings through you as if the nubile barista whose ass you've been admiring from afar lifts up her skirt and begs you to take her virtue.

Then the very next day you produce the literary breakfast of gravel grits served over turd biscuits.



Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hoping Doesn't Make it Possible


The book I'm reading at the moment assumes some questionable scenarios, like the fact that a third world country has jumped ahead of the everyone in a particular type of technology, and nobody else knew about it. Now they are teaming up with a rogue general of the US in a military coup to take over the US government. Yeah, not likely.

It turns out that this technology isn't really key to the story, so I don't know why the author went through the trouble of concocting the thread in the first place. The other parts of the story are actually pretty good.

The thread seems to more than anything else, detract from the real story. Unless he was trying to make a political statement of some sort, I don't see the point.

The end result is a story that doesn't hold together. Hoping that a thing could be true, doesn't necessarily make it true and in this case doesn't help the story.

Have you read any books where the author made a leap that was just a little too far? Or maybe way too far?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wish I could have met him


Have you ever read a biography and mumbled to yourself "I sure wish I could have met him". (or her)

It just happened to me.

I am almost done with "Fighter Pilot, The memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds", and loving the book. What a great look inside the life of someone who I consider to be larger than life.

I had never heard of Robin Olds before the book, but I am into a kind of history kick right now and thought it might be interesting to check it out. I wasn't disappointed.

I haven't read a lot of autobiographies, and I did have a little trepidation about reading this one, mainly because my first impression is that they might be self-serving. This one is definitely not. I'm sure he left out some bad decisions, some bad behavior, but he didn't leave out all of it, and what came through seemed to be an honest portrayal of a guy I'd like to hang out with. The kind of guy that didn't give a rat's ass about political agendas, or covering up the truth to prevent putting some idiot in a bad light. He spoke his mind no matter what happened because he felt he had to.

I was captured by his ability to "do the right thing, no matter what", and using commonsense instead of relying on stupid rules and regulations that may have been well intentioned, but at the end of the day had nothing to do with commonsense.

There are a lot of flying stories, so if you are into that it's a great book. I had never heard of some of the crazy flying stuff that happened in Vietnam. It was incredible.

But even if you don't like flying the book shows the human side of World War II, Korea, and a bitter description of the Vietnam era.

For me this book is going to have a bittersweet ending. I actually don't want it to end, but I'm going to finish it very soon. And unfortunately there won't be more to the story because Robin Olds passed away in 2007. To me that's really sad. I would have loved the chance to meet the man behind the legend.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Slammed


I've been absent from the blog recently because I am raising money for a new startup. I came up with a fantastic idea, built a prototype, and filed a provisional patent. It was a lot of work, but so far it has been worth it because when I talk to potential investors, they love it. No one has written a check yet, but I feel that it is only a matter of time.

What is funny is that there are some interesting parallels to publishing. Just like in publishing a good intro goes a long way. Just like in publishing people have to fall in love with your work. In publishing they have to love it enough to push it through through the arduous process, in fund raising, they have to believe in it enough that they are willing to invest some of their precious resources in it. In both cases there is a limited amount of time and money.

Where it is different is that in publishing there is a chance, though small, that you can gain an agent's attention by the query process. In fund raising, that almost never happens. If you don't know someone, it's almost impossible unless your product targets a market with a specialized fund.

I've had some great meetings, but I'm far from done. My writing has effectively been put on the back burner until I get this done, but hopefully soon I'll be back with a vengeance.

Writing is a solitary process and this makes it hard to network. Make sure you take time to expand your contacts, you never know when one of them will turn into the key to getting your work published.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Coffee Shop Roundup, Part III, Now with Random Snorts

This economy blows.

The writing refuge has undergone the slow dance of change. The owners of the coffee shop let go over half the baristas. The evening baristas are out—instead, the owners, brother and sister, work the afternoon and early evening away.

They did not have this in mind when they bought the business I am sure. Some people invest in small businesses as a means to diversify their steady income streams. Don’t stick all the eggs in one basket, and all of that. Hire a good manager and let her sweat the details. Good plan, until everybody starts cutting their spending in half. Suddenly the manager is too expensive. Suddenly the shop needs you not as an investor, but to work.

The coffee tastes the same.

Nubile pretty, Allan is not.

I am sure he wants to go back to playing golf.

Epic Fantasy Book Reading Dude still comes into the shop. Yesterday he was actually reading a smaller trade paperback, obviously borrowed. Indeed, he looked like he was reader twenty-five or something—such was the wear on the book. I wonder if Epic Fantasy Book Reading Dude bought it used. It didn’t have a used sticker on it. The writer in me holds on to the small thread that this is a book passed down from friend to friend.

Work is consuming and too much of it occurs here, not because the economy blows, but because it’s so damn fascinating. Would a less intellectually stimulating job leave room for the fiction that needs to bathe in creative juices?

I wonder.

There are more people here working on… something… in the coffee shop. Handsomely Dressed Expensive Laptop Business Man hasn’t made an appearance in over three months, replaced by three other peoples of various persuasions: Homeschool Mommy with Two Fine Teenage Sons, New College Girl, and Perpetual Frown Woman.

The morning crew is still the same. Replacing the morning baristas would be a colossal business mistake and the owners aren’t dumb. The customers in the morning are all the same too, either people going off to work or mommies meeting other mommies with their bundle of cuteness in tow. I rarely set up shop in the morning, but I wonder if I did, what changes I would see?

There seems to be more readers, in the coffee shop. I spotted a book on an iPad, in addition to the occasional Kindle.

I’ve drank the cool-aid and Kindle got my business. I love reading books on my phone, and my new Windows 7 phone had a Kindle app. It did not have a Barnes and Nobel app like my old phone. It’s not as if I have a particular devotion of Amazon, it’s just blazingly clear that Amazon loves me (or, specifically my money) but all these other sellers don’t.

I only buy books that I would not lend to other people, because Kindle book lending still sucks rocks, but I devour books, selfishly only for me, on my phone. I’ve bought a book in bed. I’ve bought a book at the coffee shop and started reading a minute later. I bought a book at the office during lunch over my PC and told Amazon to send it to my phone.

And it did.

This is a reader drug. I feel like a teenager just discovering that kissing girls is great and wonder what else I can get that girl to do.

Thinking about teens and girls brings up the wondering about the afternoon baristas, and not in an Uncle Pervy way. Those girls loved their jobs. Did they find other afterschool jobs? What are they doing now? The coffee taste the sane, but Allan is no flirt. Maybe I should switch my hours, work in afternoons, and do some writing in the mornings.

Bah. Mornings are too noisy.

This economy blows.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Are Your Characters Real?


To a writer, this seems like an obvious question... Duh, no, they are characters, they are not real.

Well that's not what I am talking about. What I am asking is could your character exists in real life?

The answer to this question may not be as obvious. Some writers do use characters from real life, but unless it is a biography, there is some peril in doing so. I think we've all heard the stories about writers who asked permission to use a friend as a character, yet when the character showed up on the page, and the description wasn't as glowing as the friend thought it would be, it was a source of extreme irritation.

I try not to do that.

Though I may have borrowed an interesting characteristic from a friend once in a while, (without them knowing), I don't use enough so that they would recognize themselves. I blend them together.

So if your characters are not borrowed from real people, that means they are made up. They are inventions, and that's OK.

My question is, could they be real people?

If the answer is yes, then I think you probably have a believable character, but there is a flip side to that. Do you have an interesting character?

If you model your character after a person that you might meet everyday, that could have a chilling effect on your novel. There has to be something unique about that character that makes them interesting. But unless you are writing science fiction or fantasy, it cannot be so unique that the person literally could not exist.

It's like trying to come up with a new flavor of ice cream. You can add strawberry, to mango, or chocolate to vanilla, but adding roast beef to strawberry is probably not going to work out so well. Don't try to make them so unique that it doesn't work.

For instance I think it's highly unlikely that you could have a Geisha character that was also a heavyweight body builder. The two don't mix.

Keep your characters interesting. Don't make them too bland, but don't stretch the boundaries so far that they become impossible either. It's not easy, but it is a key attribute of great writers.

How about you? How do you stretch your characters but keep them real? Do you have any examples of ones that didn't work for you?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Plot Threads


I could get really technical and describe the interaction of the characters in your plot to be like the threads of execution that occur in a computer operating system, but I'm afraid that unless you are a software engineer, that doesn't really help.

I consider the adventures of each character to be a single stream, or thread of the story. Most of the literary descriptions call them subplots. The character starts at one place, travels through the story, and ends at another location. I guess they could come back to the same place, but the character would have to go through some kind of change, or what's the point?

Every scene in which the character appears is another length of the thread for that character, and for the story to flow, the different pieces of thread had better connect. If they don't, the story can break down.

It's a tricky business to make sure not only does the thread connect along the way, but doesn't seem to come from a different direction other than the one already traveled. There had better be a logical flow or the story won't work.

If the story is only about one character, that process may not be that hard, though I'm not sure I would find the story all that interesting. Most of the truly interesting stories are those with heavy interactions between different characters.

OK, so if the story has multiple threads converging and diverging, how do you manage those interactions so that at the end of the day every thread maintains a logical flow?

It's not easy.

What works for me is to write each thread of the story separately. Keeping in mind what I think is going to happen in other threads of the story I write the current thread.

Of course along the way, I discover that a character doesn't want to behave as I expected, and things have to change. Usually I make a note of the change that needs to happen in the other thread and keep going, though sometimes it is a big enough change that I feel I have to go revisit the other thread right away to keep things consistent.

FYI, this is also the reason that I have found tools like Scrivener to be so useful for managing individual plot threads.

When I have all the threads done, I integrate them together. Unfortunately I don't think you can write each plot thread separately, then simply squish them together and call it good. That's what rewriting is for.

What I do is write the different threads, then start the process of weaving them together. I connect in the dangling pieces, reign in the threads from the wrong direction, until, at the end of the day, I have something that resembles a rope.

Even then I usually have a few revisions to go through, but at least for me, it's easier than writing separate pieces of multiple threads.

How about you? Do you write complete threads? or do you write each piece at a time?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Balancing Your Writing Time


How do you balance your writing time, with your other time? Whether it be personal time, family time, work time, game time, grandkid time, heck any time... How do you do it?

The only way that I can do it, is to pick a particular time to day to write, budget myself a specified amount of writing time, and hide from everyone else. That's the only way I can make it work.

My writing time, is lunchtime. There are days when my lunches get taken up with meetings with other co-workers, friends, or my spouse, but otherwise, it's pen to notebook or fingers on the keyboard.

I know there are some people that wake up at 0-dark-hundred, fall out of bed, and immediately start typing. I can't do that. I at least have to have my coffee first. I would also need a shower to get the brain cells warmed up before I can start flogging them.

There are other people that wait until the kids and spouse are asleep and write in the middle of the night. I can't do that either. Once it gets past 9 pm or so, my brain has already packed his bag and is headed for the door.

So that leaves me no choice. I have to carve out time during the day, and by carve I mean with the same finesse as I have when I use a chainsaw.

How about you? When are you the most efficient writer? When are you the least efficient? How do you balance your writing time?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Am I a Dinosaur?


I still write on paper, not longhand, but I print. I know to some of you that sounds like a laborious process, but it actually works well for me.

I cannot do longhand, my longhand looks like a cockroach ran through a pool of spilled ink, then dragged his belly across the page. It's pretty much unreadable.

But for some reason, when I print, it's readable, and I can do it very fast. Much faster than I can type. When I try to type, it's almost as if I have invisible constraints on my brain. It's as though I'm worried about draining the laptop battery rather than getting the words typed in. I'm just not as creative. The words don't flow.

I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that I am a programmer. When I write software, I have to be very precise about every character. Even one character out of place can make the program fail to compile, or worse yet, fail to work.

I wonder if that is the issue that holds me back from typing my manuscript directly into the computer.

I am getting better. I used to write this blog the same way, on paper first, then type it in. But that's changing. I typed this one in directly.

There are definitely disadvantages to writing on paper. It's a lot harder to do a search for something. It's a lot harder to completely erase something that isn't working and start fresh. Then again, maybe that's a good thing. Sometimes that can bring back old ideas in a fresh way.

But from what I can tell, the only really good thing about writing on paper is that it works for me. I hope I can make the transition. I'm afraid if I don't, I might just become extinct.

How about you? What works for you?

Monday, February 28, 2011

E-book Reader


Do you have one yet? Are you going to get one soon?

In my case the answers to these are yes, and no.

As I have mentioned before I have both an iPad and a Kindle. For just the pure reading experience, you're going to have to pry the Kindle out of my hands with a crowbar. The iPad works well, as long as you are indoors.

I actually "prefer" reading books on a Kindle, versus one of those things made out of dead trees, and it's for a very simple reason. Because I read a lot in bed on my side, I hate fighting to keep the dead tree thing open to the right page, and having to shift my hands about while trying to go to the next page. On my Kindle I simply push the button and I'm on the next page. It seems trivial, but for me it lets me read longer without getting tired.

The Kindle is also light enough that I don't necessarily have to hold it on my lap, when reading sitting up. That's not true of the iPad. It weighs enough that it has to be lap mounted or very quickly your arms feel like there is a elephant hanging off the end.

Books on the Kindle are more expensive than in paperback, but a lot less than hardback. I justified the price of my original Kindle based on the savings due to hardback book costs, and it has already paid for itself.

For an author that might seem sacrilegious, I mean we should be supporting our industry, right? But here's the deal. No matter how much we may or may not want to see the industry moving toward the e-book, it's going to happen. It just a matter of time.

For me, the Kindle has also been quite a boon to my sales. I self published a book a couple years back and it did "OK" in the dead tree version, but the sales of my Kindle version are easily 10X and continuing to climb.

Yes, I am a techno-geek and always one of the first with new gadgets, but the Kindle is one of the ones that I truly use every day.

How about you? Have you made the plunge? When are you going to? because I can tell you, it's not if.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Can Dialog Be Too Fast?


I'm reading a book right now and the first two chapters are basically a Prologue for what is going to happen later. Books from 50 years ago might have had a huge information dump to give all the back story details. Remember, some of those authors were paid by the word.

That doesn't fly with today's readers. In the age of the Internet, you start as close to the end of the story and work your way back, at least that's what we're told.

Seems like good advice. Get the story rocking, get the reader involved and then give them the information dump.

Up until now, I've agreed with this approach, but this latest book has me scratching my head a little. It almost seems too fast.

It could be the author's style, short sentences tend to make the action seem faster. Long ones tend to slow things down. But it seems more than that. The exchanges are so lightning fast between characters that I almost feel like I'm sitting at the center of a tennis match watching the ball go back and forth between players.

Is there such a thing as dialog that's too fast?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tension


If you read writing blogs, you hear over and over about how you need to have tension in your writing. If you attend one of Donald Maas's fabulous seminars, he says the same thing. In fact Donald even goes further and talks about having tension on every page.

I agree a hundred percent.

Tension is what keeps you reading. Tension can help bring out emotion, or in most cases make a situation emotionally stronger.

So how do you do that exactly?

Well you could put a bomb in your protagonists back pocket with a timer set to the end of the book, but that's not really very realistic, is it?

The thing is, the tension doesn't have to be life or death, although that's of course one of the strongest ways to do it. It could be simply that two siblings don't get along and it creates tension because you the reader, care about the fact that they are not getting along.

It could be that your character wants something that they cannot have, a lover, monetary status, social status, it doesn't matter as long as it's something that they don't have, but they want.

I'm reading a book right now, where the author has done it a little differently, and it's working very well. It's a variation of the bomb in the back pocket.

One of the main characters is someone you don't want to see hurt, a true patriot, always willing to put it all on the line, someone that we would all like to be, but probably never will. That's not to say that he's perfect, no one is, but he's one of those characters that a lot of us can relate to.

OK, so he's attacked by a group of mercenaries, but they don't kill him, instead, they place what looks like a normal credit card in his wallet. Only this credit card has the ability to transmit his position to the bad guys that attacked him. They are trying to use him to find another person, because our main character thinks like the other person, and will likely anticipate his moves.

It seems pretty easy, and contrived, but I have to say that the author has done a great job of making the reader believe that it could be done, and that the main character has no idea. At least not yet.

The result is that every time I pick up the book, and this character appears, I can picture that card in his wallet, and I can feel the tension for him to find and remove it. It has helped the story immensely.

Of course this technique won't work with most stories, but the idea is not to stick a bomb in every character's pocket, it's to add tension in a way that fits with your story.

Have you read any books lately that used this effectively? How do you add tension?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sucking Face Killed the Stilted Puppies

Been working on a Secret Squirrel Contemporary YA novel for some time now, and today, I am puppy killer.

The main character in the novel is recovering from [redacted]. I researched recovery and the support one receives when Something Bad Happens.

One thing that helps people not feel so helpless is taking care of a pet. So, my main character got a puppy. Two, actually. Boston Terrier puppies. Who can resist the cute face of a Boston? I sure can’t. I get all gooey when my adult Boston looks at me, imagine TWO puppies and a teen girl.

This morning while I was working out trying to tame my writer’s butt (if you don’t know what writer’s butt is, start working out now!), I realized the puppies were not doing it for me because they weren’t doing it for the main character. Her puppy interaction, as she is coming to grips with her new life, was, God forbid, stilted.

How can I have stilted puppies? They are PUPPIES.

What was my main character trying to tell me? What did I miss?

She is pretty. She is vain. She isn’t exactly smart… anymore. She’s punchy, literally. She’s somewhat obsessed with boys. Her boyfriend in particular.

That’s when it hit me. Her boyfriend. He’s part of the experience of how she got to where she is. He’s more than just your run-of-the-mill boyfriend--he’s the personification of strength. Granted, he’s strength with a large side order of hormone, but still. A young man. She loves him.

She loves him… and he’s a fox. Somewhat of a studmuffin, actually.

Um, so what would a girl do with puppies when she has Mr. Charming Fox at her disposal?

Not a damn thing.

This morning, I selected all of the puppy text and deleted it.

I killed the puppies.

I am a puppy killer.

But I did add a great make-out session, so there is that.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Lone Survivor


There have been few books lately that have really had an impact on me, but this one by Marcus Luttrell hit me hard. Over the years I have had uncles in the military, a brother-in-law in Iraq, and most recently one of my son's best friends went to Iraq as well.

The brother-in-law that went to Iraq was tough, because it was during the height of the conflict (second time around) and he was in bomb disposal. So yes, the movie the Hurt Locker was something that also touched me pretty hard. Dave is no longer my brother-in-law, but he did make it back from the war in one piece, though not his entire unit.

When my son's best friend went over, it wasn't quite as close, but I still wondered if he was going to make it back. Luckily by the time he got there, most of the fighting was already behind us.

This book, brings back a lot of those thoughts, but at a much higher level, because Marcus tells it from his own experience. Rather than simply getting the broad brush description from those I know, Marcus described what is was really like to become a Navy SEAL (a major accomplishment in itself), and then what it was like to be sent on missions in the Hindu Kush, where the locals traveled the terrain like mountain goats, hundreds of them ready to open up their AK-47s at you without notice.

There was a surprising turn of events in the story, that really humanized the Afghan people, but I'll let you read the book to find out about that.

You may not have the same connections to the military that I do, but even so, if you are an American that values your freedom, I think you will enjoy this book.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Love Affair

I love writing.

I love it when my main character kisses someone for the first time. The soft lips, the visceral feel of intimacy, the scent of closeness. Does this mean that I'm a hopeless mush? Too much flirting with the baristas?

I love it when my characters make choices. Not choices born of necessity, but choices from the heart. From beyond the gut. A choice so deep that the result, good or bad, is everything. Sometimes it's a choice between very bad and really, really bad with a side of badness. But she made it, and it was real and THINGS HAPPENED because of it.

I love it when I can make the setting come alive. How many words are too many? Too few? If the setting seems like another character in the novel, I love that. That's how many words, that and no more.

I love plotting, I really do. I'm not a pantser, but I keep the outline only in my head. If it can't live there clearly and with distinction, the story isn't speaking to me.

I love creating individual voices for minor characters that are familiar yet not cliched. And this is so very hard. Hard enough that when it happens, I feel like doing a dance.

I love editing. I love taking three pages and making it a single paragraph that actually has more meaning and backstory.

I love how writing makes the day fade. My word processor doesn't care if I got stuck in traffic. The story demands my very best and my very best is what I give it. The novel is like a mistress or a lover that is never really satisfied. More, more, more give me more says the story until it's finally finished. Then it sits over in a corner pouting because I've moved on to someone new. Better looking. Younger, certainly.

I love writing. It's addictive. It's heady and delicious. It's a fulfillment of a craving that only grows the more you feed it.

What do you love about writing?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Get Delirious


Yes today is the day that you can get your very own copy of Daniel Palmer's new thriller Delirious. I had a chance to finish it on the plane back from the Philippines, and I have to say that it definitely kept me not only awake, but turning the pages at a furious pace. There is one particular scene involving water that was actually so creepy that I had to take a break for a few seconds.

Go and get your copy today. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

NY Times Best Selling Author?


I've said in the past that it doesn't bother me when celebrities get million dollar book deals, because as long as the book earns out the advance, and the publisher makes money, it's good for everyone. But a couple of books lately have made me question my thinking.

The first is from the Jersey Shore, umm, "star", uhh, Snooki. Now I have never watched even 30 seconds of the show, or seen any interviews of Snooki, so I'm kind of going by my basic impressions, but a NY Times Best Selling author??? Really?? That just seems to cheapen the list for me somehow. It feels like a sellout by the publisher.

Now, I'd be happy if the publishers make money on the book, because again, money that flows into publishing is good for all writers, but this one feels like the proverbial fingernails on the chalkboard.

The second was written by someone I met at Thrillerfest this year. The author is not a well known celebrity, but it was clear that their status is what allowed them to get a book deal.

So again, as long as the publisher makes money, everybody's happy, right? Not so fast. In this case because the book was less than perfect, in fact it pretty much sucked, I don't think that anybody is going to make money. Well, other than the author, which again, isn't such a bad thing for us authors, but here's the problem. Because the publisher is going to lose money on this book, there is one less slot open for us budding authors to get our book published. Because the publisher took on this book, they won't take on another book, even if they wanted to because they don't have the money. And that's a shame. It just makes it that much harder for one of us to get our work published.

What do you think about celebrity books? Or books that are published purely because the author is well known?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Random wi-fi

Hey all,

I have been in the Philippines for the last two weeks and not able to get WiFi access. I have been unable to post any updates, but now that I am back, I will try to provide some interesting accounts of my travels. I hope you find them interesting.

The Philippines is a diverse country, and the places that I went were fun and exciting to see. Hopefully I can turn it into an interesting setting for my next novel.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

eBook Thoughts and a Random Bit of Linking

So, um where did 2010 go?

But I digress.

Choices

Nathan Brandsford did a holiday repeat of a post he made in 2007, which was a year before I started following blogs about writing. And boy-howdy (boy-howdy being a technical term), did I love it. Let me link it to you, my friends:

Holiday Repeat: Writing Advice From Some Old Guys At My Gym

Oh, my gosh. If ever there was a point about fiction writing, that is it. Choices. It's all about the choices.

Speculative Goodness

My latest book review is up on my blog, DarkShip Thieves by Sarah A. Hoyt. For the classic science fiction fan in you, check it out. It was fantastical and quite lovely, and any writer dabbling in speculative fiction would find this book worthy of study.

eBooks

Blah blah blah, ebooks blah blah blah, 2011 ebooks blah blah blah.

Just wanted to get the obligatory stuffs out there. All the other kids are doing it!

Anyway, little family get together showed ebooks inroads in a major way. Here's how the reading went down over the family visit:
  • Nana: Reads from new Kindle
  • Papa: Reads from old Kindle
  • Sister in Law: Reads from new Kindle
  • Me: Reads from paperback and Windows Phone
  • Wife Unit: Reads from trade paperback
  • Son: Reads from trade paperback
  • Brother in Law: Hasn't read or seen a Harry Potter movie or book. Totally discounted as a family heretic
  • Niece: Chewed on her electronic book that goes "moo" when you press a button.
Both my son, wife and I are really interested in the Kindle, but none of us are very happy with the current book lending restrictions. For example, a book publisher has to grant you permission to lend the book.

Then, that publisher sets the terns like "lend this book once for 14 days."

Well, Mr. Publisher, that doesn't cut it over here at Chez Pacheco. There are three of us, soon to be four, that could read the same book in our house. We are not going to buy four copies of the same book. EVER. Not even if the hardcover is $18 and the electronic version is $4, for a savings of $2 between the four of us.

What I read on my phone is very limited. Basically, if there is a chance someone else in the house, or one of my friends, will want to read the book... I don't buy an electronic copy of it even though I love reading from my phone.

I can see the future of electronic books from my house. And that future for us is four DRM-free book readers loaded with DRM-free books. There is no other way for my book reading family. And that goes back to choices. Remove my choices, we remove our spending dollars.

God, I love capitalism.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Taking The Plunge


I've been threatening to do this for a while now, but I finally pulled the trigger, stepped off the cliff, lit the fuse, yanked out the pin, and a hundred other cliches for it. I hired a professional editor for my latest WIP.

She came highly recommended from a couple of my favorite authors. She does work for them all of the time, so I felt confident she would be able to help me.

I sent her the first 50 pages, physically wincing when I hit the send button on my email. You see for me, it was kind of like waiting for the doctor to stick me in the rear with a needle. Yes he needs to do it, but that doesn't mean it's still not going to hurt.

I know that my manuscript is going to come back with more holes in it than Bonnie and Clyde and I'll probably spend the next couple of months trying to come up with fixes for divots that would put the Grand Canyon to shame, but it needs to be done.

So it was with this attitude that I patiently waited for a response on my first 50 pages.

And I was shocked.

She actually liked it, well at least to the point that she was willing to take me on as a customer. In fact the changes that she suggested weren't that bad at all. They were mainly to tighten my manuscript up a little, OK a lot, but it wasn't like I had to rewrite the whole darn thing.

So she's supposed to get me the completed change list early this week so that I can make the changes. I'm excited but I am worried about one thing.

I hope that the modified manuscript will still fit in my inbox.

Happy writing everyone. Hopefully next week I'll be able to write about the result of the carnage.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Have a Merry Book Christmas!

One year, someone close to me gave me the book Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.

I had been feeling moody and blue, and probably a bit sorry for myself as teens are wont to do.

I loved that book. I read it in one sitting. Then, a few days later, I read it again. But more so, I loved the fact that someone gave me the book. It seemed to me it was the perfect book. I wasn't twelve, like the main character of the book.

But for just a little bit, from this gift of a book, I felt twelve, I really did, and the next day, I smiled.

This is why we write.

Merry Christmas everyone, from the intrepid staff of Adventures in Writing!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Delirious Contest


As I mentioned last week, I will be sending a lucky someone the ARC for Daniel Palmer's latest thriller Delirious. All you have to do is be the first to correctly answer a question in the comments for this post.

Are you ready?

Daniel works with a sports team to help raise money for vets suffering from PTSD. What is the name of that program?

First correct answer will receive Daniel's book.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm still Delirious


In my last post I talked about Daniel Palmer's upcoming new book Delirious.

I finally got a few minutes to start reading the ARC and nearly choked on my Cheerios. It seems that great minds think alike.

The setting for his first scene is one of my favorite places, and a place that is bigger than life in my current book as well. He set it at the center of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I have posted about this before, but it really is an amazing place. Perched almost three hundred feet above the water you have a magnificent view of San Francisco, or as most locals call it, "the city" to your right.

Straight ahead is Alcatraz, or as also commonly known as "the rock". To your left is Angel Island, one of my favorite places to hike. Behind you to the left is the Marin Headlands and in the distance Mt Tamalpais or as it's known "Mt Tam".

Continuing around behind you is the entrance to the Pacific Ocean also known as "the Pacific Ocean".

On a clear day about 30 miles out to sea you can just make out the Farallon Islands, a few seal covered rocks that are home to some of the best Ling Cod fishing in the area ( as long as you don't mind getting seasick from the swells).

It is truly a magical place and the reason that I picked it. I am sure that factored into Daniel's decision as well.

If you ever make it out to the Bay Area make sure you walk to the center of the bridge, you won't regret it. Who knows, you might see me there.

Don't forget that Daniel's contest is still running over at Daniel's website.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Contest That Will Leave You Delirious


This summer at ThrillerFest I made friends with new author Daniel Palmer. Turns out we had a lot in common, we were both aspiring authors and we both worked in the high tech area. At the time, Daniel was unpublished, but now I am happy to announce that Daniel's debut high-tech thriller Delirious will come out in February of 2011.

Way to go Daniel!

Because Daniel is a high tech kind of guy, he plans to use a high tech approach to the promotion and launch of the book. His plan is to use Twitter, Facebook, and blogs like this one to get the word out. But he hasn't stopped there. Oh no, he's also come up with some fun and interesting new ways to let readers know about the book.

One of those is a blog from one of the main characters (Charlie) that gives readers a taste of the book before purchase. This blog will provide back story about a number of the characters to whet your interest before you get to read the book. What's interesting is that each blog post also includes a piece of embedded technology. Your job (if you choose to accept it) is to assemble the pieces and solve the puzzle. In fact, the assembled pieces form the prologue of the book, so as a benefit, you get to read it before you get the book. But wait, there's more.... (sorry, couldn't resist)... The first 10 people that successfully complete the puzzle will also receive a free, yes you heard that right, a free copy of the book.

So if you want a free copy of the book, watch the posts on the Invision blog over the next few weeks. The first 10 people to correctly figure out the prologue and send a copy to Daniel' email will receive a free copy of the book.

Here's the back cover teaser:

Delirious is a techno-thriller that follows Charlie Giles, an electronics superstar who just sold his start-up company, InVision, Inc. to a large Boston firm. Charlie is at the top of his game in the digital world, until it all begins to spiral out of control. His job and inventions are pulled out of his possession, his family is targeted, and his former employees are being murdered. All signs point to Charlie as the killer. Soon, Charlie doubts whether he’s the cause of his own destruction, or whether he really is the victim of a diabolical attack. In the race to save his own life, Charlie realizes that nothing, not even his own mind, can be trusted.

Oooh, sounds good Daniel, can't wait to read it.

I'm going to have a contest of my own for an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of Delirious next week. So stay tuned for details.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Editorial Letter


This summer I got to meet author John Gilstrap of No Mercy, and Hostage Zero fame. He writes a blog over at The Kill Zone. This week's entry was quite interesting to me, because I've always been curious about the content of an editorial letter. John's description is quite interesting.

I like how he describes the letter as a balancing act. I can definitely see how that would be the case. I can't yet imagine how it must feel to have an editor say in basic terms, "well this part is OK, this part sucks, and this part needs lots of work". My poor ego would be shattered. The editor would have to walk a fine line, or I'd be tempted to crumple my manuscript into a ball and put it in the fireplace.

John's letter seems to focus on picking up the pace. My beta readers sometime criticize me for that, but most of the time I get hit for not explaining enough.

I thought it was funny that the editor thought that John's names were a little weird, given my post a couple of weeks ago, about names. I've read a couple of John's books, and I don't remember the names being that strange or different. Maybe the editor was having a bad day.

Like John, I try not to use adverbs either, but I'm sure if the editor made me pay a nickel for every one I used, she'd probably be able to pay for a nice steak dinner.

The editor also complained about language. Again, I don't remember John overusing any particular swear word, so I'm not sure where that came from. I also try to limit the use of swear words mainly because the overuse of them lessens the impact. I try to use them only where absolutely needed.

I like the fact that John says none of the changes will cause the manuscript to be rejected, but he will do them anyway. I would probably do the same. An editor reads way more books than I do, and knows what works and what doesn't. Especially as a first time author I'd probably do every one of them without question.

Thanks for the helpful insight John, and I look forward to your next post.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

For the Americans out there, Happy Thanksgiving from the 3.5 bloggers of Adventures in Writing!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Expression of Self

Some say writing is the ultimate form of self-expression. Language is the means in which we communicate. Thought, feeling, description, mood--all of these described with the written word. Indeed, a writer could describe other artwork in her writing.

Picture, if you will, a modern symphony hall, where acoustically there is not a bad seat in the house. Off to the left in the upper balcony is a woman. The seat next to her is empty, empty as she feels.

The beginning of the day brought her divorce. Her already shaky marriage did not survive the stress of her miscarriage. This morning, instead of holding her one-year-old daughter to her breast, she holds divorce papers.

Her forced expression betrays her inner turmoil. Her long black dress hugging her elegant and young frame is as dark as her thoughts.

Until, that is, the symphony starts and the music surrounds her. She closes her eyes. Her mind empties of melancholy. Her face relaxes, her hands go slack. No longer does she feel the non-weight of the missing wedding ring.

She does not cry throughout the entire performance.

In the third row, right in the middle, is a man in an Italian suit, looking all the world as if he was born to dress up and attend the symphony.

The seat beside him is empty. This man is a widower. Today was his wife's birthday. She always loved the symphony and dreamed of season tickets to sit in the best seats for each performance. He always thought the overpriced symphony was not worth the hard-earned money, the audience composed of snobs and elitists, the music not that great, everything a bore, really.

Oh, how he wishes he could take those feelings back. How he would trade anything, anything at all, to have his wife at his side, finally listening to the music in the seat she always wanted to sit.

She was young, and the breast cancer surprised them in its sudden viciousness. It spread throughout her petite body unchecked. She fought, but in the end, it consumed her. She died in the man's arms, her last breath a slow moan of pain and anguish.

He has been alone for an entire year. He closes his eyes and can picture his wife sitting next to him, smiling, leaning into him. Perhaps holding his hand. She was always mushy like that.

The man does not move during the intermission. He does not open his eyes. By the time the music starts again, he is crying silent tears. No one notices in the darkness of the hall.

After the performance, the woman walks down the street to clear her head. The music is gone, and she realizes that going to the symphony was a mistake. The sheer beauty of the sound simply highlighted her despair.

In the divorce, the woman insisted on keeping half her husband's guns. The husband, the judge and the two lawyers thought she was being spiteful. If they only knew the real reason. If they only knew. She doesn't know a lot about guns.

But she knows enough.

Her all-consuming thoughts betray her, literally, as the heel from her left shoe catches in a missed break in the sidewalk. She falls. Her shoe stays put. Her ankle twists away with her body. Sharp pain lances from her leg as she hits the ground.

She has landed in muck; dirt and mud from a recent rainfall that collected around the break in the sidewalk.

The woman sits up, wincing at the pain. Her dress now torn, dirty and ruined. How she loved that dress. Then she feels monumentally stupid for bemoaning a dress when in a mere hour she would not even be breathing. The utter loneliness of it all washes over her, and the damnable tears start. In seconds she is sobbing into her hands.

But in a moment she is not on the sidewalk, bur rather above it. Her addled thoughts catch up to her surroundings. Someone has picked her up. Right up off the sidewalk. A man. A man in an expensive suit and red, puffy eyes. He carries her halfway down the block to a bench at an empty bus stop. Her arms go around his neck instinctively.

The man goes to put the woman on the bench but she doesn't let go of his neck. The unexpected awkwardness throws him off-balance. Before he also falls on the sidewalk, he sits on the bench with the woman on his lap.

"Are you all right, Miss?" he asks.

The woman looks him in the eyes. Her eyes are also red and puffy, her makeup smeared, her hair a mess.

"I... I've gotten your suit dirty," the woman says, then she is crying again, her face buried in the man's neck, and soon the sobs consume her once more.

No. She isn't alright. She is not alright at all.

Someone needs me, someone needs me, someone needs me; the man's thoughts are circular and overpowering. He is crying into the woman's hair, but he doesn't realize he is. He pulls her closer to him, and the man and the woman are no longer alone. They will never be alone again.

Some say writing is the ultimate form of self-expression, but that is wrong.

Writing, true writing, is a story. It's not even the writer's story, but the readers'. Writing isn't really about the self, isn't it? It's about the others. The people in the story. The readers. Writing not for self, but for them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bad Writing or Bad Acting?


To improve your craft you not only have to study what works, but also what doesn't work. The best way to see examples of what works is of course to read good novels and analyze what's good about them. It seems reasonable then that to see what doesn't work, you need to read bad novels and see why it doesn't work.

Yes, that does seem like a good plan, but what seems reasonable, and what I can force myself to do, are two different things. I have no problem reading good novels, but I can't force myself to read bad ones. Depending on how bad they are I may put them down after 5 pages, or maybe 10. The only reason I would finish one was if I had another motive, like it being an important work or something like that.

So to find out what doesn't work, and why, I will from time to time watch a bad movie.

I think this works for me because reading a book and watching a movie are two different things. When I read a book, I can't do anything but read. When I watch a movie, however, I can do something else to keep me entertained while the movie sucks.

What makes a movie suck? Bad writing, bad acting, bad directing, bad story? The list is long and sometimes it is difficult to put your finger on the exact cause. Since there was nothing on TV last night I decided to watch an old B movie called Desperate Hours.

I had no expectations going in, and I wasn't disappointed. I thought maybe because it starred Anthony Hopkins and that it was directed by Michael Cimino that it might at least be entertaining, but one character and a few scenes were so bad, they were laughable.

In one of the climactic scenes near the end, a house is surrounded by a bunch of SWAT types with long guns equipped with electronic sights, lasers, and probably night vision. The antagonist bursts from the house with a hostage and the SWAT guys let off bullets as if it was a scene in the trenches of WWII. The unbelievable thing was that they didn't seem to hit anything but the bushes around the two characters. The antagonist then runs back inside the house and the SWAT team peppers the door as if now that they can't see him anymore they have a better chance of hitting him. Really stupid. I'm not a great shot and even I can can hit a 1 inch circle at 50 yards with a rifle.

The other thing about this movie that was so bad was one of the secondary characters. She was supposedly the team leader of a special FBI task force. I tried hard to understand whether it was the writing or the acting that made this character so bad, and I guess I'd have to say, it was both.

She was supposed to be a tough as nails, take no prisoners, hard ass team leader, but between the stupid dialog and bad acting, I could barely keep from giggling every time she appeared on the screen. In the previously mentioned scene she gets shot in the calf. One of the team members comments that she's bleeding and she responds "It's nothing, I got shot in the ego." Huh?

Watching a bad movie is probably not as good as analyzing a bad novel because it can be difficult sometimes to separate bad acting, from bad writing, from lousy screen work, but if you analyze what doesn't work about a particular scene, it can be quite helpful to show you what not to do.

How about you? Do you watch bad movies and analyze what doesn't work?