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.

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

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?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cheap and Easy

It's cheap! It's easy! It's...

Anthony's Writer-Centric Blog Roundup!

A smattering of some of the blogs I read.

Tonya R. Moore
Writer Tonya R. Moore kicks some major blogging ass. She is also a very good speculative fiction writer. Check out her stuff. Don't add her beautiful site to your RSS reader. Go there. Now.

Larry Correia
From POD to the New York Time Bestseller's List, Larry Correia not only writes charter-driven, pulse pounding action-centric urban fantasies, he has a mega platform. Remember how I said several times don't post political crap on your blog? Well, Larry's political rants (libertarian centric) are epic in nature, and that's partly how he attracted his initial following. A professional gun nut, Larry is a good study in platform. Everyone else is a piker.

Miss Snark
Oh, Miss Snark, how I love thee! How to learn to write and sell novels:

1. Read the entire Miss Snark Archives from start to finish
2. Don't be a dork
3. Keep. Writing. And. Never. Stop.

Pub Rants
Agent Kristin Nelson not only runs what I consider one of the best agent blogs of all time, but also has a killer newsletter you can subscribe to and look forward to every month.

Who Said Pixies Are Rational Creatures?
Rachael de Vienne, author of Pixie Warrior, is a top-notch researcher and an author of lovely pixie prose. Anybody with a fine appreciation for a look backwards via pictures, artwork and thoughtful posts will like this blog.

The Graveyard Shift
"Lee Lofland is a veteran police investigator who began his law-enforcement career working as an officer in Virginia's prison system. He later became a sheriff's deputy, a patrol officer, and finally, he achieved the highly-prized gold shield of detective. Along the way, he gained a breadth of experience that's unusual to find in the career of a single officer."

If you write modern murder mysteries, his blog is required reading. Every week I learn new things on modern police procedure by reading his blog. Priceless.

The Blood-Red Pencil
Best. Editing. Blog. Ever.

Writer Beware
Not only will Victoria Strauss keep you informed of current shenanigans, she also has her finger on the pulse of both the writing and publishing community.

What did I do before YouTube? Oh, that's right. I watched stupid crap on cable.

While there is an enormous pile of crap on YouTube, it takes all of a half-hour, if that, to learn how to expertly surf its golden electronic goodness bits.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I Want To Quit

I just received the rejection from hell.

It wasn't a bad rejection, in fact it was very informative, but it was the fact that I got a rejection.

I met the agent this summer and we hit it off at Thrillerfest. We developed a great email and forum dialog, and I knew she was going to be the agent for me.

We were both raised in the midwest and seemed to have similar tastes in books. When we were talking at the conference we were both reading a very popular book that neither of us liked, and for the same reasons. I felt like I had a connection.

So when I received the rejection it was not only hard, it was the worst possible feeling for my publishing dreams.

I feel like I want to throw in the towel, move on to something else, give it up.

I want to take the four books that I have completed, and self publish them all, not for vengeance, or anything like that, but so that I will be done with them, so I don't have to think about them anymore.

I want to take the one that I'm working on and hit the delete key, not only because I'm having problems with it, but I feel like, what's the point. It will never be published anyway.

I'm pretty down about the whole process right now.


I'm not going to quit.

I can't.

I like the creative process too much. I like coming up with new stories, new twists, new ways to tell them. I like putting the movie I see in my brain down on paper.

And if I examine what the agent said in more detail, it was actually quite positive. She said that I just missed the bullseye. She couldn't quite identify with the first scene and how the main character was put into that situation in first person. It was all positive feedback, feedback that I can use to make it better.

And that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to make it better so that the next agent can't possibly find a reason to reject it.

If you want to make it in this business you have to keep going. If you quit, you'll never make it.

Yes, I feel like quitting, yes, I'm pretty upset, but when I finally get the plot worked out for my next work and I'm writing down all the scenes that are flying around in my head, I'm going to forget all about rejections. I'll be back to doing what I like to do best, writing stories.

How about you? What's your worst rejection story?

Monday, November 15, 2010

What's in a Name?

Since I'm working on the next novel, I need to name my characters. In the past I haven't spent much time working on this. I would simply write down whatever name came to me as I was writing.

In my last novel there was one character name that I did put a little effort into. The protagonist was named Daniel Gerard Ross and there was a specific reason that he was named that. It's not obvious and that was sort of my plan for that book. All will be revealed in the next one.

He's a great shot, pretty good with his fists, and an all around capable guy. He can be very dangerous. Therefore I named him... wait for it... Dan G Ross.... Dangerous.

I know, I know it's pretty silly, but I had fun with it, and I like the name anyway.

For my next novel, I am trying to put a little more work into my character names. I think it is partly because I am putting more time into thinking about my characters, but also because I think there are times that names can reflect something about a character.

One of my new characters is a child of the sixties, a modern day hippie who lives in the wilderness outside of Silicon Valley, makes her own clothes, grows her own food, and tries hard to lessen her carbon footprint. Some people are going to love her, others, not as much.

Because of who she is, I thought it would be useful to give her a name that matched her personality. Since she was a product of hippies, I thought it would be apropos if her name was a common name used by the hippie crowd. I searched the internet and found some really strange names and decided that names like Moonjava, Snowphish, and Jazzerus were just a little too far out there. So I picked the name Hope.

I like the name because it really fits her personality. Even though it never really happens, she's always hoping that things will go better than they do. Besides it's not such a bad name for a woman.

How about you? How much time do you spend on character names? Which of your character names were picked so that they matched their personality?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Starting from the Beginning

I'm starting a new book. I have about 4000 words so far, and loving it.

I thought long and hard about it, but I decided to keep the main character from the last book. I put him in a new situation that is set to happen after the previous book. You don't necessarily have to read the other one first, but it may make the character deeper if you do.

Unlike my previous projects, I don't have the ending yet. In previous projects, I always started with some new technology and asked myself "what if?". From that premise I could see the end of the story. To write the story, I simply had to follow the path to get there. I usually added a couple of significant twists and turns, but knew where I would end up.

This time around, I once again have the technology, but what I don't have is the twisty ending. I have no idea where the story is going to take me.

Should be interesting.

I may plot it out a little, but probably not the entire book. I find that too much plotting limits where I can go as the story evolves.

What I have found though is that if the book is a mystery/thriller, it is necessary to drop the right clues at the right time. That requires careful planning.

I do a little of that up front, but most of the real work happens during the editing process.

After going through Donald Maas's class, there are a couple of techniques that I am going to try to incorporate this time.

I am going to try and include an item that has special meaning to one of the main characters, and a place that one of the main characters finds special. This can add considerable depth to your work.

In my last book I used the center of the Golden Gate Bridge as the special place for the protagonists twin brother. I spent most of the time with the special place, so I didn't really utilize a special item.

In my new book, I plan on having both, but I haven't worked out what they will be yet.

I think they will both come out as the story takes shape.

Any body else working on a new book? How far along are you?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Review Do's and Don'ts

My book reviews are one-third of the traffic on my blog.


I guess I am a book reviewer. Or something.

Actually, I love doing book reviews, but before I started out, I made sure to make a few “house rules”. I went out of my way to do reviews for people who like to write fiction. It’s fun. I get to talk about voicing, plotting, thematics, etc., in snobby writer terms.

I encourage everyone to review the occasional book on their blog. There are certain universal rules that make for a good book review:

Don’t internalize your review

The interwebs is rife with reviews that go “me me me me me me me (interesting thing about the book) me me me me me me.”

Don’t do that. Mainly because it’s been done before. A lot.

When you make a conscious effort not to broadcast your internalization of the appreciation or criticism of a book, the review comes across more professional and with deeper meaning.

This is a subtle point: while it seems there is a small gap between expressing why you loved something in terms of your feelings, and why you love something in terms of the art presented—that gap is an ocean. We all have opinions on art, we all feel art, but when we talk less about the artwork itself and more about ourselves, the context of the review changes, and usually not for the better.

Don’t meta the author

This happens all the time, even in reviews in magazines and newspapers. Rather than letting a book stand on its own, the reviewer tries to pick apart the work based on knowledge of the author or an attempt to examine the author’s motives.

This is elitists behavior. The reviewer usually comes across as either an ass or a creepy stalker, either way it’s lazy. Like super-duper-you-are-not-being clever-you-are-being-a-dork lazy.

Picking apart an author is a great academic exercise—only valuable to other readers when the reviewer examines the story on its merits first, and only if it’s done without an agenda.

Do buy the book

A book review carries more weight with readers if they know you purchased the book. More importantly, the book review has more meaning to you.

Do develop some house rules

Are your reviews comprehensive and all-encompassing? Are you going to post negative reviews even while searching for an agent? Will you have a common theme to your book reviews?

Spending a few minutes thinking about simple house rules makes things a lot easier. When I pick up a book to review, it sticks to a common theme (must deliver value to target audience) with a few ground rules (if I don’t like the book, I don’t review it).

Books books books books!

As writers, we love books. The online community is broad and diverse. A well-written book review not only serves my bursting need to talk about the cool stuff I read, but at the end of the day, serves other people who hop on the Internet tubes to read other’s thoughts.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why Are We Obsessed With the Young Adult Genre?

I've heard many theories on why paranormal stories are so popular these days, but I'm not sure if there is any specific answer on why they are so popular. Most of them, it seems, fall into the Young Adult category. In fact, Young Adult has taken the world by storm. I was riding in the car with my husband a few weeks ago and we started talking about my book, The Breakaway, which I've been trying to decide if I should switch from Adult genre to Young Adult genre. It could go either way depending on how I write it. So that got me asking my husband why on earth Young Adult is so popular amongst adults right now. Why aren't they reading in their own genre?

One of my husband's answers was because adult readers are lazy and most Young Adult novels are simply easier to read. However, he doesn't read much Young Adult, and neither do I (although I have been reading much more lately than I ever have).

So what is the appeal? Is it the subject matter? Do adults really have a fascination with coming-of-age stories? First love? Turning into something we're not (vampires...)? Is it because Young Adult is more straightforward to read because it's written for a younger audience? Because I've read many, many Adult books that are just as straightforward.

Help me out here! Give me your thoughts.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Political Suicide?

I thought since tomorrow we were going to cast our ballots it would be a good day to talk about politics. Don't worry I'm not going to try to sway you one way or the other. I thought it might be an interesting discussion about whether or not to include politics in your novels.

Personally it is a subject that I cannot stand. I find the TV attack ads disgusting. The sound bites that take quotes completely out of context, the out and out lies, and exaggerations from both sides make me want to throw my remote at the TV.

What really bothers me is that it seems the distance between the views of the left and the right is wider than I can ever remember. The left is so far left that they cannot even see the center, and the right really isn't much better. It's as if each of their political views are on polar opposites of the universe and there is no common ground whatsoever.

I mean we have a bobble head talk show host calling a woman candidate of an opposing view a bitch, and a candidate for governor calling their opposing candidate a whore. What the heck is up with that? The country seems more divided than it's ever been and that bothers me.

OK, so what does that mean to us writers and writing?

What it means to me is that if your writing exudes a political point of view, half of your potential readers may not like it, and that sucks. I think writers should be free to write want they want, regardless, but I think there are certain topics that can affect the market for the book, and not in a good way.

I'm not talking about out and out characterizations of the current administration, what I am talking about is if a character's actions seem to be those of one party or another. If the reader doesn't agree with the political point of view of your character, they may decide to put the book down, or maybe not recommend it to a friend.

I picked up a book from a new author, and that's exactly what happened to me. In a number of scenes I felt the character went way overboard toward a particular political point of view, and one that I don't agree with. It was so blatant that it disgusted me, and I put the book down. I have no idea how the book ended, nor do I really care.

I'm not talking about a situation where a character does something I don't agree with, because it's who they are. In this case there were a number scenes that felt almost forced. I felt they were put in simply to show the character as being from that political point of view and for no other purpose.

It may be important to some authors to have characters show a strong political point of view, but for me, I think it detracts from my stories, and potentially alienates half my readers. I think no matter how hard you try not to, your political leanings are going to come through the story, but I try not to be blatant about it.

What about you? Do your stories reflect your political view?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Peel the Layers

My co-host, Scott G.F. Bailey over on the Literary Lab is talking about character change today. He makes the point that characters don't really change more than they discover things about themselves. I agree with him. He says:
My current theory is that characters don't actually change. The way they are at the end of the story--the endpoint of the character arc to which we're moving--is actually no more and no less than how the character really is, already. His true self, if you will, is already there, but it is hidden or repressed somehow. The dramatic action, the primary conflict of the story, is created because the protagonist is unable to express that true self. Or, it can only be resolved once the protagonist expresses that true self. (Scott G.F. Bailey)
If you'd like to talk about character change, step over to the Lab and leave a comment. For here I'd like to discuss how we as writers are in our journey. Do we change as writers? Or do we simple discover things about ourselves? Does our writing change?

I'm preparing to rewrite a novel of mine in the next few months, and as I look at previous drafts that I've written over the past 15 years I'm very surprised to see that the writing hasn't change all that much. It's still my writing. It's just that certain things were "hidden or repressed somehow," just as Scott says above. I didn't know how to command my language as well, how to structure as well, how to control my descriptions, how to make certain character mannerisms work for the story, etc. I didn't even know what was missing! But, the basic building blocks were there. It makes me wonder how and what I'll discover in the next 15 years. It's an exciting journey, and I prefer to think that whatever I publish in my life now will not bring me shame in the future. It will still be my writing, my words, my talent. I will have just discovered new things to show in my writing later - like a beautiful package where I keep peeling back the layers of tissue paper. It won't be the gift inside but the experience of opening the package that will make all the difference. Practice and persistence are what get us to peel the layers. So keep at it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Setting the Pace

If there is one thing that early writers struggle with, it is paaaaaaacccccciiiing, paCing, yeah, pacing. Keeping the readers interest without either blasting them with a firehose, or boring them to death like a dripping faucet takes skill. It's hard, and there's only one way to learn it, practice.

Early writers are usually in such a rush to get to the "good" part of the story, that important setup details are glossed over at warp speed, and the reader doesn't get a chance to understand their significance. When the "good" part of the story is finally reached, there is no impact. The reader has forgotten those important details and the story falls flat.

Those forgotten details were put in for a reason. They were added to heighten tension, or add in layers of emotion . When they don't work, neither does the story.

On the other hand some writers spend so much time painting the most vivid setting and describing every detail of their characters in such detailed minutiae, that the reader simply falls asleep from boredom. If you finally do manage to get through the setup, the author has most likely followed the same pace through the rest of the book, and the reader spends the next 15 minutes wiping off the drool after passing out on the pages.

The best and most interesting books have a balance of action and details. The author maintains a speed limit as the story unfolds, alternatively speeding some sections, and slowing in others, with the intent of keeping an average speed that the reader can follow, and enjoy.

You might think that in this modern age of video games, television, and sound bites, the speed limit has increased so dramatically that you no longer have to worry about it. It has, but it is still not infinite. Even today's writers have to maintain a reasonable pace.

I tend to be in the first category. My stories include supersonic bullets and speed of light computer bytes, flying in every direction, but I do recognize the need to stop once in a while and let the reader rest. I purposefully stop the action once in a while, to let the reader process the significance of what just happened. I let the reader anticipate what's going to happen before it does.

When the reader anticipates what's going to happen next it builds emotion. Depending on the situation, it might create a feeling of dread, maybe excitement, or if I'm feeling feisty maybe even an amorous anticipation. The point is, it builds an emotional connection, and that boys and girls is what writing good stories is all about.

There are a number of techniques to stop the action, or speed it up. As I said most of the time I need to slow things down, so I try to do this through bits of humor.

Humor works for me for a couple of reasons. First, I'm fairly cynical so I can usually come up with a self deprecating quip, or an ironic observation that releases the tension and slows things down.

Secondly I like the fact that humor contrasts sharply with tense action. The effect of injecting bits of humor is that I can make the following action scenes seem even more tense than they might otherwise feel. The action speeds things along, while the humor slows them up. Using a combination of the two, I can maintain an even pace.

Writing is a balance. You need strong characters, an interesting plot, and a vivid setting, but it has to be delivered at the right pace.

How about you? How do you handle pacing? Do you need to speed or slow? What techniques do you use?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Obsessing Over You

I had an awful dream last night about getting online and seeing that everyone had posted something they hate about me. It was terrible. It's amazing I didn't wake up crying because...well, I kind of obsess about people liking me. It's a huge flaw. It's something I hate about myself.

What I wish could have been tacked onto the end of this dream was a big sign that said:


Yeah. I need that stapled to my forehead. This obsessing over what others think about me has gotten so bad that it has entered my dreams. It has gotten so bad that as I've tried to work on my novella, THIRDS, I keep stopping every other sentence to ask myself who will hate the line and why. It has gotten so bad that every single post I put up on Twitter or Facebook or my blogs runs through my head all day long as I ask myself, Who will find something offensive in this? Do I sound too selfish? Did I say what I want to say in the most political manner? 

It has gotten bad enough that I feel I can't even be myself...that being myself is a bad thing.

It's selfish to obsess over this, and it's got to stop!

Do you have any suggestions for me? I'll go hide in a corner now as I worry about what you think about this post...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Query Submissions

I sent out another batch last night so I have a question. Do you hate them as much as I do?

I'd like to say that the entire process feels like a roller coaster ride, but a roller coaster doesn't take a year to ride to the top of the mountain, and there's no flaming heap of rejections at the bottom, or else no one would ride the darn thing.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could send out a query when you had the idea mapped out on paper, but not yet complete, so you could get feedback on whether it's going to be interesting to any agent or not?

Wouldn't it be nice if once you finished the first draft, an agent would take a look and tell you "you need to change this" or "you need to change that"?

Wouldn't it be nice if after finishing the book, and sending out a query, the agent would tell you "I don't represent that type of book, but what's her name does, and why don't I call her for you?"

Of course, and wouldn't it be nice if I could buy one lottery ticket and win 50 million bucks?

First of all, there are way too many books, and not enough publishing slots to hold them all. Secondly, there are way too many bad books that need a lot more work before they are ready to publish. Third, agents do not have the time to babysit every author who wants to get their book published. There are just way too many of us out there.

So what's an author to do?

Write a book that stands out from the crowd. Write the best book that you can possibly write. Don't settle for mediocre on anything you do. Make every word the perfect word. Make every sentence sound as good as it can be. Give your characters life.

Read authors that you like and try to understand what it is that you like about them, and then emulate them.

Yes it would be nice if agents were waiting in line to hand you money, but I'm afraid life doesn't work like that.

I'd like to say that I had the magic idea for how to make things better, but I don't. When there is too much supply and not enough demand, it's the way things work.

What about you? Do you hate queries as much as I do?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

*SPOILERS!* Do They Really Spoil ANYthing?

I think movies have ruined us all for writing novels. Is the point of a novel really to surprise the reader with hidden twists and turns and gasps and shrieks at what was unexpected? Or are books - and stories in general, I might argue - really about the beauty of how they are written and told?

More than once I've talked with other writers about their stories where at one point they refuse to give something away. But I'll read it anyway, I tell them. I'm trying to to help you out here since you're asking for my advice. I can't help if you don't tell me what happens.

But it's a secret! You won't be surprised if I tell it to you now.

Really? Because as far as I understand it, millions of people keep reading Harry Potter over and over even though they know what happens. The last Harry Potter movie will be a huge box office seller - even though a huge percentage of people who go see it will already know what happens...

Imagine that.

When I read Lord of the Rings for the first time I had no idea how Gollum got the ring from Frodo in the end. Someone spoiled it for me a few chapters before I was finished by whispering the end into my ear. I was pretty upset, but looking back I realize that the end wasn't really spoiled for me at all. I still enjoyed reading the rest of the book just as much as I would have otherwise because the book wasn't all about that ending moment. It was about a myriad other things all layered together.

I think we storytellers often overlook one critical thing when it comes to telling a story: CRAFT. It isn't necessarily about keeping secrets. It's about telling the story. We all know how Cinderella ends, but we keep telling the story in a million different ways. We all know Hamlet dies at the end of the play...along with almost everyone else, but it is one of the most beloved tragedies of all time.

Especially keep this in mind when you write queries. I've written one query in my lifetime and I was so blasted scared to give away the end of the book that I think it ruined my entire query.

Monday, October 11, 2010

How do you write a synopsis?

Of the 15 agents that wanted to see more from my pitch at Thrillerfest this summer, nearly all of them wanted a synopsis to go with the first few chapters. In the past I have sort of "winged it". I flipped pages like a speedreader, waiting for interesting points to reach out and grab me.

That sort of worked, but I thought I would try to be a little more organized this time.

There are a couple of reasons for the change. First, the length of the synopsis the agents wanted, varies from agent to agent. Some agents wanted 1 page, another 3 pages, and another wanted 5 pages. Clearly one size wasn't going to fit all.

Secondly, using my unorganized approach, I tended to forget important points, or include points that weren't necessarily relevant to the main plot. They were points that just happened to reach out from the page and grab me on a read-through.

This time around, I've taken a different approach. I am reading each chapter, and writing down the salient actions that happened in that chapter in a notebook organized by chapter. For each chapter I classify whether it is character development, moving the plot forward, or backstory, and then write down notes about what happened.

I am writing these notes out by hand for the moment, but when I get even more organized, I will use the corkboard feature of Scrivener. (FYI, this has the added benefit that I am giving the manuscript yet another read, and finding little things that need to be corrected).

Once I have all of the notes, I will pick and choose interesting actions, or summarize a set of actions, to create the synopsis length that I want.

Sounds easy, but it's not.

I once tweeted that writing a synopsis is like trying to crush a car into a shoebox, and I don't think it's that far off. It takes a significant amount of time to get it right, but in the big picture, it can be very important.

How about you? How do you write your synopsis?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Are You Really Putting That Love Scene In?

I'm doing edits on my novel, Monarch, right now, and I've been thinking a lot about things I really want out there...forever. You know? If you publish something, it's out there. It lands in people's hands, on their shelves. It will get boxed up and sent to a donation center when the person gets rid of books, or it will get boxed up and sent across the country when they move to a new house. It will be picked up by their children in later years.

It will be read. With your name attached to it.

You know, that's a scary thought to me. Of course, I already have a book out right now - Cinders. At the moment 235 people have a copy of the book. 235 people....either on their e-readers or physical copies. 140 of those are physical copies that can't just disappear into an e-reader or computer file system. At least some of those physical copies are going to be around for a long time.

This made me stop and think as I was editing Monarch. It made me wonder what I'm really putting into my work. Do I want that love scene in there? Is it necessary? Do I need all those details? Really? No. I got rid of them weeks and weeks ago when I realized this. Do I need all those swear words in there? Really? What does everything I put into my novel say about me? Should I care what people think of me later on down the road?

To an extent, yes, I think I should.

Do you?

I certainly have my own set of morals and values and sometimes my characters, although they have completely different morals and values from me, are portrayed through my lens. I'm not some objective observer just relating their story. If physical intimacy happens in my novels, that's fine, but physical intimacy is a private thing to me that I don't personally feel comfortable showing in extreme detail of the pages of my book. Some writers and readers are okay with showing lots of detail. It's different for everyone. I do show some detail to get points across and tell a story, but how we handle things says a lot about us, for good or bad, and I do think every reader will interpret those things differently. I suppose the most we can do is stay true to ourselves.

Sometimes, I'm finding out, that is easier said than done.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Rookie and Writing

While watching the movie "The Rookie" last night, which by the way I love, I stopped and asked myself why. Why was it so popular, and what about that movie was so powerful?

In case you haven't seen it, it's about a baseball coach in a small town in Texas. His team has some talent, but they lose most of their games. The coach determines that it's because they don't want it enough.

In a pivotal moment he chastises his team for not following their dreams, for not wanting success enough. They fire back with the fact that he has done the same thing. He has a latent talent that would allow him to pitch in the major leagues, but here he is in podunk Texas, coaching a lousy team.

They go on to challenge him. If the team wins the district championship, then he has to go to a major league tryout and pitch. After some soul searching, he agrees.

(Spoiler Alert)

Of course the team goes on to success, he goes to the tryout, he ends up being hired as a pitcher for the minor leagues, and later ends up in the majors.

Overall it is a feel good movie about "the power of the human spirit".

Why are are these movies so popular?

This isn't the only movie of this type with this theme. Off the top of my head I can think of "The Karate Kid", "The Mighty Ducks", and many others.

What is it about this theme that so captivates the audience? And how realistic is it?

To me the theme is that "if you want it bad enough, you only need to give it your best and you'll get there".

Is that true in every case?

I would say no.

Can every kid who throws a ball become a major league pitcher? No.

Can every person who wants to become president get there? No.

I believe that to truly excel at most things you need to have some latent talent, or as in sports, you need to have the right size, strength, etc. Not everyone can dunk a basketball for instance.

There are activities where you can learn to be the best, though I think writing is not one of them. I believe that it takes a special kind of personality and creativity to be an exceptional writer. Lots of people can learn how to be a good writer, but the truly great ones have a gift.

Do you have that gift?

Do I?

I don't know? But does it really matter?

Do you think that every one of us has a great novel in us? Probably not, but like that coach, if we settle for what's easy, and not follow our dreams, we'll never know, will we? If we don't strive to be the best, stretch ourselves to the limit, push ourselves farther than we ever thought possible, we'll never reach the potential to be great, will we?

What about you? Are you following your dream? Are you writing the best book can possibly write?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Gee, no kidding...

Sometimes you've just gotta state the obvious.

To Kill a Mockingbird, doesn't mention the Ming dynasty isn't relevant. Gee, no kidding. Well, that fact escapes many a fantasist who thinks that in order to create a believable world, you've gotta show all of your cards.

Which leads me to my second point: You can always tell when someone is lying, because they'll give you way too much information.

Why? The simple "truth" doesn't sound convincing to them because they know it's a lie. Therefore, they add detail to make it more believable.

Fantasy authors are without doubt the biggest bunch of liars around. We're not just lying about the story itself--the characters, the plot, the relationships--we're lying to you about EVERYTHING.

The grass. The trees. The water. Everything-freaking-thing.

So, how much is too much?

Good question. I think it's important for the author to know all of the ins and outs. But, pick only what's relevant to the story. Ask yourself if it were any other genre, would it be necessary. If not, scratch it.

In my humble opinion anyway.

OK, I kid, my opining is never humble. But, you get the gist here. This issue is one of the reasons that genre fiction gets the short end of the stick sometimes when compared to literary fiction. They know we're all full of crap.

We've just gotta become better liars...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

And another place...

Occasionally, I will post book reviews of novels I believe other writers should read. I write these reviews for writers, and you can find them here: HW Reviews.

My next review is Kiersten White's Paranormalcy. Right now, I'm trying to describe how useful it is to a writer without sounding like a stalker. White's book is interesting coming down the line after I've reviewed a self-published book, a small press book (well, semi-small press) and now a release from Harperteen. While I review each work on its merits and not some faux analysis of publishers and other irrelevant industry factoids, I'm digging the diversity of fiction that makes its way to my nightstand.

For a fiction reader, I am almost paralyzed with the superb offerings out there. Every time I hear that the industry is going to hell, the fiction reader in me thinks that statement is full of shit in terms of relevance.

De-centralization of the reading culture will cause people to lose jobs, companies to go splat and dirty laundry to wind up in the street. That's the nature of the beast, and at no time in history has being a reader been so fundamentally awesome as it is today.

Wow. I had no idea my little pointer to my reviews would generate a rant. I guess I'm feeling punchy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Hate Your Ending.

It's interesting when you write exactly what you want and tell yourself you don't give a care in the world to what people will think of it or YOU for writing it. Of course, it's one thing if you decide to stick that project in the drawer at the end of the day...quite another thing if you decide to publish the thing.

Let's face it. Writing fiction is not only difficult in all the technical aspects, but it is difficult emotionally as well. You really DO care about what people think. You're putting your creativity out there to be scrutinized and critiqued, ignored and praised. Most of the time conflicting emotions abound.

When I published my novella, Cinders, I expected many readers to dislike the ending, and they do. I received two extremely honest reviews this morning. Both reviewers disliked parts of the book and on average gave it 3 stars. Still, they praised the writing and other things about the book they liked.

Like I said, I expected this kind of reaction, but it hurts anyway - no matter what you expect - when someone you like and respect doesn't fawn over your book like you envisioned them doing. I've had this happen again and again and again with my writing, published and not published. I've also had some readers love my work when I thought they'd hate it. Go figure!

All this is just to say, once again, that you should write what is closest and most real for you and no one else. You should also keep a very open mind about feedback, critiques, and reviews. I have learned to embrace every opinion and celebrate the fact that people read my work in the first place!

What is hardest for you to embrace about sharing your work?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Writing Tools

Do you have any special tools that you use for your writing work? Do you use any special editors, or software just for writers?

Over the past few years, I haven't. My toolbox included only Pilot Gel Pens, 5 subject lined notebooks, and Microsoft Word.

With the Gel Pens and notebooks, I write the first draft. I don't write longhand, or I'd need the NSA cryptographic computers to decipher what I've written. I actually print the first draft. Turns out that I can print very quickly, so I can write 5-10 pages an hour pretty easily. And I can actually read my printing when I get done.

I think the reason that printing by hand works for me, is that I don't have to think about creating the words, they flow off the pen. Although I'm getting better, what I have found it that it's more difficult for me to type the words directly.

When I am editing however, I will rewrite complete paragraphs from the keyboard. It's just easier for me to create the first draft by hand.

Lately I have been exploring some other tools for writing. I have been playing with Scrivener, and frankly I like it. I can see that having a tool that lets you organize all your research in the same area as your writing files, could be very useful. Plus having a corkboard like utility to let you move story elements around at will, seems like a great benefit. I'm thinking about trying it on the next project.

I recently bought a 5 dollar app for my iPad called iaWriter. I haven't used it a lot yet, but I love it's simplicity. I find that Microsoft Word has a number of characteristics that get in my way while trying to complete a manuscript. The auto-correct, grammar checking, and a bunch of other things don't help me, but get in the way more than anything. This new app lets you focus on the words, and you format it later.

What about you? Have you found any writing software that enhances your writing?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reading Sequels, Writing Sequels

"It's usually not a good idea to write a sequel to a book you haven't sold."

I've heard this advice countless times over the last two years, and one agent summed it up quite well: sequels are addicting. If you keep world-building and book writing without selling the first novel, it's easy to waste your time and creative talent instead of working on a story that sells.

Natalie Whipple (I love her blog posts, especially when she organizes her subjects in a list format, I wish more non-fiction writing was like that) lists a series of questions to ask yourself before embarking on a sequel.

Natalie is spot on.

With that said, I've read over and over and over (and over) how sequels are hard. How the second book was more difficult than the first, how the pressure to write a book already sold clashed with the creative energy needed to produce the novel.

I have also read many published sequels that did not measure up to the original book. Indeed, I can think of only the exceptions, like David Weber (The Honor of the Queen was arguably better than its predecessor).

Practical advice was telling me one thing, my over-stuffed bookshelves were telling me something else.

One day, I discounted the advice not to write a sequel to an unsold book, and wrote one.

It was difficult and a huge eye-opener. It took me twice as long to self-edit the second novel than it did the first. I found continuity errors that required much thought to fix and constantly waged war with my self-imposed word count limit.

It took me four months to complete the novel, and I would not trade that experience for anything. I learned so much about writing and my creative process that it changed the way I write novels for the better.

Was that worth four months of my writing time, even if the first book never sells?

For me, yes.

I can easily see how genre world-builders can get sucked into a idea that will not sell. I learn by doing, however, and for me writing a sequel was a vast educational opportunity. If you can separate the fact that writing a sequel and selling a sequel are two different things, a genre novelist could benefit from the opportunity to learn.

Still gives me nightmares (Stephen King may be working on a sequel)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Uhhh...Go Here

I am burned out, sorry. If you'd like to read one of my posts I put up today as part of my Cinders Blog Book Tour, go to Jamie DeBree's blog - The Variety Pages.

A preview:

I think, oftentimes, we writers don't give ourselves permission to write exactly what we want to write. Don't get me wrong - you're writing still has to meet the standards of quality that publishing a novel requires, but you should never compromise what you want to write just because you want to get published so badly you'd cut off your right toe. 

Yeah, go read and comment because I don't seem to be getting a huge, huge turnout for my blog tour like I was hoping. I'm very grateful to those who are participating, though!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Selecting Characters

I've written about this topic before, but I am starting a new novel and I need to develop some new characters. As I have previously mentioned, character development has always been the part of my writing where I have to work the hardest.

I haven't come up with the list of characters that I need yet, and I may or may not need to borrow a character from my last novel. I'll know a little more when I develop the plot further.

On previous novels I usually developed a premise, came up with the expected ending, then put in a twist or two. I sort of developed the characters as I went, and therefore my creations may not have been as developed as they should have been. On my next novel, I want to change that. I am going to spend the first month or so, just developing characters. I want to the chance to live with my creations for a while before I write the story. I want them to become my friends, well, except for the really bad guys.

I probably won't do like some writers I have heard of, and create scrapbooks with pictures, pages full of relatives, or physical descriptions that would rival the files of the CIA, but I plan to create at least a couple of pages of information. I haven't given it a lot of thought yet, but I will probably include name, sex, hair color, height, weight, shoe size, and a hundred other useless pieces of information. Whether or not I use many of these details is irrelevant. What they do is help define the character in my mind. They help solidify who the character is, so that when I put them into a situation, I won't have to think how they will react, I will already know.

I know that my characterizations will not remain static throughout the story, in fact I fully expect that they are going to change as the plot changes. Just like my plot, my characters will morph as the story evolves, but that's not a problem, that's all part of the process. As I come up with different parts of the plot that need to fit together, the characters will have to change to match the rest of the story.

In fact, in the best stories, you will find that the characters and the plot are intertwined, they really are inseparable. You cannot develop the characters without the plot, or the plot without the characters. Changes in the plot will necessitate changes in the characters. The change may be slight, but it is a change nonetheless.

Not everyone uses the same process to come up with their characters, we all do things that work the best for us. How about you? How do you come up with characters?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Something More Solid

I was recently in a small bookstore with a couple friends, and as we prowled around the aisles, I kept looking for books I had read. My friends and I strolled into the YA/Children's section of the store and they immediately started pointing to books they had read. They said what they liked and asked if I had read them. No, no, no, yes, no. First, I don't have a ton of time to read, and second, YA isn't my preferred genre. Still, there are several on that shelf I'd like to read now because of what my friends said about them.

I then said, okay, you guys, let's go to the section of the store where I like to read. So we wandered and wandered and wandered until finally we found the literary adult section. You know, where the classics are. One of my friends turned to me and asked me for recommendations in this section since she'd like to read more literary works. I started pointing to different books.

"I loved that one."

"Oh, you might like this one. It's one of my favorites."

"I LOVE the writing in this one."

And I thought, you know, what a lame excuse to recommend a book. It's not lame to love a book, but I think we sometimes forget to base our recommendations on something more solid. I know my friend Davin has often recommended books he didn't necessarily enjoy, but that he knows another person might like for various reasons.

"Here, Mom, read this Pulitzer Prize-Winning book, The Road, because I really enjoyed it. Forget the fact that it's ultra-boring and you'll put it down halfway through. I liked it. You will, too."

I guess it was worth a shot.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Readers, what annoys you the most?

Reading fiction is supposed to be an enjoyable experience, right? What if it isn't?

The funny thing is that as authors, we read differently than the average reader. At least I do. Before I started writing, other than what was forced on me in English class, I read either science fiction, or commercial fiction. As a kid I read Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and authors like that. Later I went on to Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, etc.

I still don't read a lot of literary works, sorry, I find most of them too tedious and some of them extraordinarily pretentious.

I still enjoy a good mystery, thriller, science fiction, and other types of commercial fiction. (No, not romance)

When I'm reading these works, there is one thing that bugs the heck out of me when I see it, technical inaccuracy.

I don't expect every author to be an expert on physical processes, but I also don't expect them to be lazy. Lazy authors gloss over how an event happens because it's not important to them how it happens, just that it does, so they can get on with the part of the story that they find interesting. When I read a story with a technical inaccuracy it sets off an alarm in my head and depending on how loud that alarm is, I may or may not be able to keep reading.

Let me give you an example. I was reading a thriller about a badass assassin type guy who's trying to save a family from the clutches of an evil corporation. (Really original plot huh?) Anyway, he meets up with an old friend in Europe who helps him escape from pursuers. The author needed the friend to stop the pursuers from catching the assassin dude, so what did he do? He blew everyone up.

OK, that's fine, but it was the way that he did it. I feel he took the lazy way out. He had the friend leave the gas on, and the shotgun blast from one of the pursuers set it off, killing everyone in the process. Of course our dashing hero has already left the building, so he's fine, but everyone else is not.

Given the recent gas explosion out here in California, this might sound reasonable, but there is a problem. By the time the natural gas reaches the consumer, it has had a really smelly agent added to it, so that if the consumer has a gas leak, they will know about it. The gas leak out here in California, was in a transmission line where the smelly stuff hadn't yet been added, but in your home, you will know if the gas is leaking. It REALLY stinks.

So I felt that there was no way that the pursuers wouldn't have noticed the gas smell, and got the heck out of there, rather than release a shotgun blast, and blow themselves up. I suppose there are scenarios that the author could have used to do that, but the point is, he didn't. He simply tried to suspend disbelief, and at least for me, it didn't work.

I don't expect that every action in a book that I am reading be 100% technically accurate, but if it isn't, the story better be compelling enough that I'm willing to let it slide.

What about you? As a reader, what kinds of things annoy you?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Zone

Nothing frustrates me more than the inability to articulate what I mean, either verbally or, especially, with written words.

Actually, my metronome frustrates me more, since its entire function is to prove to me my rhythm for a particular piece sucks.

But I digress.

I'm not referring to the mistakes we make in conveying information by bad communication, assumptions, being argumentative, etc. I'm talking specifically about higher, more abstract concepts. Taking the abstract concept and distilling it into understanding nirvana is my job. It's what I do.

Yet, a writer yesterday asked me to explain how I dropped into my Zone, and I couldn't do it.

As writers, we all have The Zone, and The Zone is not the absence of writer's block. It's that extra special oomph of story telling goodness. That mental state we drop into where words flow from the brain to the fingers to the blinking cursor to the page. I've blogged about The Zone before (somewhere in the 350+ posts on this blog), and I believe other bloggers here also have talked about it.

The Zone is the apex of creative process. It is not getting published. It is not landing an agent. It is the visceral creation of the story in the swirl of literary talent. Everything pales besides it. I could have five dancing naked  baristas in front of me and I would, if still in The Zone, keep writing.

Okay, maybe four. Five and I might pause and ask for another espresso.

But I digress.

Why do I drop into The Zone?

I don't know. There is an aspect of "butt in the chair" and the wondrous serendipity of reading great books, but what if it's mainly something else? Like, eating sharp cheddar cheese before bedtime (not recommended, by the way). Or exercising? Would a good back scratch put me in The Zone more often?

Now there's a good idea, must experiment!

But I digress.

What about you? Do you have a Zone? Are you a Zone chaser? Or have you obtained the zen top-shelf of writing, and can slip into literary harmony at will?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I hate yogurt. It's my #1 most-hated food EVER. If you put it in front of me I might just puke. I don't even buy it for my daughter at the store because I don't want to touch the containers. Sometimes I'll gulp down my disgust and put some in the cart. Grossssss....

Yes, I'm odd and unique. Most people are. I sat down with my father-in-law yesterday afternoon to discuss my novella, Cinders, that I released 6 weeks ago. He read the book and sent me a very honest email with his review. In the review he said some very nice things, but also said more in the email than he put up on his public review, and some of what he had to say seemed really harsh when I first read it. Then I read it again and again. I talked to my husband about it. I pondered and worried and read it again, then finally had the chance to sit down with my father-in-law and talk about what he had to say.

It seems everyone has their pet peeves. Some of the things that bothered my father-in-law about the book no one else would even think about or notice. Most people like yogurt. I'm not in any way bothered about what my father-in-law said now. In fact, it helps me see, once again, that you cannot completely please everyone 100%. Nor can you please 100% of readers 100% of the time. It's an impossible standard, so write what you write and love what you write and rest assured that readers who love your work as much as you do will come.

As an example, my friend Olivia shared with me how her father once pointed out she should count how many times people say the word "um" over the church pulpit. Now she says she can't listen to church speakers without counting their "ums" and it drives her nuts. It has even spread into her everyday life. There is no way I can never say "um" around her, though. It just happens.

Are there any quirks you have that keep you from fully enjoying a book? I personally can't stand list descriptions. They used to be a huge problem for me. Sometimes they still are, so I tend to notice them in books I'm reading, and they make me grit my teeth every time.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Call of a Lifetime

It happened yesterday. I had just put in a 12 hour day doing construction work at our latest elder care facility, when I got an email. It told me that someone had left a new comment on one of the posts of my personal blog. I checked the text of the comment, and nearly dropped my phone. It was from an honest-to-god Hollywood producer who wanted me to call right away and talk about my book.

After I finished peeling my jaw off the ground, I jumped off the couch, started yelling and screaming, and fist pumping into the sky. After a few moments and when the hyperventilation had somewhat subsided, I thought I'd better compose myself before I called him. I didn't want to sound like a slobbering idiot, even thought at the time, that probably would have been a good description.

After thinking for a minute, I dialed his number, and here's kind of how the conversation went.

He answered

"Hold a minute"

I said "OK", and waited patiently.

"OK, I had to put in my bluetooth headset" he said.

"This is Doug Perry calling as you requested." I responded.

"Wow, that was fast."

"I am very connected. I got your message on my iPhone."

"That's great. Well the reason that I am calling you is that I just love the feeling and environment that I got from your book The Girls of Murder City. You seem to have captured an interesting...."

Wait, that's not my book....

He went on talking more about the book using a lot of what I can only describe as movie speak, though I wasn't listening that close because I was trying to figure out what the heck was going on. He was really getting a head of steam going, but I decided I better tell him I didn't have a clue what he was talking about so that he didn't figure me for a complete idiot when I finally told him.

"Let me interrupt for a second."

"Uh, OK, sorry I got carried away."

"That's not my book you're talking about."

Silence for a second.

"This is Doug Perry, right?"

"Douglas L. Perry, yes."

Another short silence.

"Oh, I think I must have the wrong person."

"I think there is another author up in Oregon with the same name."

"Well, sorry about that. So what kind of books do you write?"

Oh my gosh, I was actually going to get to pitch to a real live Hollywood producer, but for some reason, my brain was still focusing on the fact that he had the wrong person, and my brain literally locked up.

"Uh, I write thrillers."

"What's your book about?"

I could hear my brain going OMG, OMG, OMG, and I have written posts in the past about how you should always have your elevator pitch at the ready, but did I? Heck no...

"Uhhh, It's about a guy on a plane going the wrong way."

Silence. Complete and utter silence.

What an idiot... was all that I could think. I tried to rescue the situation by thinking about the back cover blurb, but it wasn't coming. The problem was that I haven't thought about that book for a while, because I wrote it a few years back and unfortunately I wasn't ready to pitch it. I have been so busy marketing my latest WIP to agents, that I could hardly remember what that book was about.

I fumbled through a little better explanation, but if I was going to give my performance a gymnastic rating, my combined scores would probably average a 2.1 out of 6.

The producer listened patiently and got my email address, so he could send a mailing address where I could send a book. I found that to be a really classy move, and overall the guy was extremely nice. He sent me an email right away, and I will send him a book, but if I have to be honest, I'm not expecting to hear anything. I say that for a couple of reasons. First, I looked at the movies he's done, and while they seemed like interesting movies, they are not thrillers. Secondly, I think my performance wasn't up to the level I think I would need to garner interest. But hey, you never know. Maybe he's got a friend that does like thrillers and will pass my book along. A guy can always hope, can't he?

Overall I was disappointed with my performance, but you learn with every experience. Now that I have that one behind me, I hope I'll do better next time.

Are you ready with your elevator pitch? Are you confident you could have handled the same situation?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Truly, Madly, Deeply

“Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in reverie.”  ~Henry David Thoreau
I’ve always been this way. I’ve tried not being myself, by way of medication or force or both, but it never takes. I suppose it’s my soul’s way of adjusting for all the anxiety and fear I feel at moments like this one: I’m up at 4:27 am feeling excited and scared and everything in-between.
I’ve waited for this moment since I was 8 years old. When asked by a panel of judges for The Young Georgia Writers' Association, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I stated that “I don’t want to be anything. I'm a writer.” As if it were a state of being and not a profession and for the record, I recall being quite offended that they would even ask such a ridiculous question. 
Perhaps it is
Maybe I understood better then, in my childhood innocence, to providently place that niggling feeling in my gut somewhere nice and secure—say, the identity portion of my psyche. That way, it is a fixed, immovable thing. I think it explains an awful lot about me.
As authors, we have to know what it’s like to be in other people’s shoes. This means that we are always, at any given moment, apt to consider the very worst possibility in all scenarios. Not only is this the case, we are also forced to contemplate how it would feel to be in those circumstances, nevermind that most of what we imagine will never come to pass. This can naturally leave some of us feeling positively out of our minds at times. Or is it that unlike the vast majority of anxious individuals, we’re actually more in our right minds at that moment than we’ve ever been? This reminds me of something a dear writing friend said in response to a statement made by me with regard to fearing failure more now that I’ve been given a book deal, than before: “What if what feels like fear of failure is really a cover for the fear of success, for the fear of manifesting who you truly, deeply, madly know you are?” ~Ien Nivens.
And aren’t all good authors a little mad at the end of the day? He’s right really, perhaps more than even he realizes. It all centers around exposure and being found unworthy or led to feel less than. There is always the average fear of receiving bad reviews and so forth, but this goes a little deeper than that. It isn’t so much a pride issue as it is a personal one.
I fear being found out...
I need to access that inner 8 year old, that brave little soul that marched into a room full of adults and told them exactly how the world would run once I’d taken over.
So today, when the sun finally rises, I’m going to make it a point to do what I’ve done all along, what has always given birth to my stories and characters—I’m going to sit in a doorway with the sun on my face from daybreak till noon, rapt in reverie, getting to know who I must truly, madly, deeply be

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Long or Short

What do you think about reader's attention spans these days? I honestly believe Young Adult fiction is so popular right now because of its length and readability. You have Twitter, which is just insane, and I've even noticed commercials and ads on the radio getting shorter and shorter. It makes me wonder why so many writers don't like short stories. They're, well, SHORT. Flash fiction should be the most popular thing ever, but I don't think it is. I'm guessing readers - even the new short-attention-spanned generation - still like their stories complex and they don't even realize it. Then again, I think much of what is out there these days is fluff, but we can keep that for another post (and if you're thinking, oh my goodness, does she mean my book? no, I don't, because chances are that if we know each other you probably don't write fluff, but there can be exceptions because sometimes fluff is good and needed, trust me).

I had a blast writing my novella, and I'm itching to write another one, but first I have to work on my current novel and it's driving me nuts how long it takes to get through. It's only 74k, but it feels like forever after working on a sweet little 36k novella. I almost wonder if I've cheated myself out of being able to write longer works. I wonder if it's easier to write shorter things. Even though my novella was short, it was almost harder to keep it short than let it go long, if that makes sense.

Do you write long or short? Have you tried both? What are your thoughts on this?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Found a New Author

I read a lot of thrillers and most of them are from authors that I know. Every once in a while, I come upon a new author with a book good enough that I want to read more.

It happened last week. I found a book called "Lion's Game" by Nelson DeMille. It's a story about an ex-cop chasing a terrorist. If terrorist themes are not something you enjoy reading about, this book is probably not for you.

What I liked about this book is the protagonist. His name is John Corey, and he's a total smartass. I know there are some people that would think him juvenile, anti-authority, and a total pain, but what I like about him, is that he cuts through the all the procedural bull and gets the job done. Nelson really highlights how difficult a joint operation between different types of law enforcement can be. The story is the combination of a joint law enforcement operation, and an ex-cop that cuts through all the bureaucracy. It's the perfect scenario for this type of character.

I think that's half the battle sometimes, coming up with the right character, but also putting them in a situation that lets them show their true makeup.

Do you put your characters in situations that allow them to go beyond the words written on the page? If not, you're holding your characters and your story, back.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Literary WMD

Michelle's post got me thinking of an incident in one of my high school senior classes. I believe it was the last Creative Writing Course you could take, CW IV, I think.

The class was tweleve students,. me and eleven girls.

You know, I hate to say it now, but I think I loved that class and not for the subject mattter. I think pink fuzzy sweaters might have had something to do with it.

But I digress.

During the poetry writing section of the course, I vividly remember being dejected. Moody, even. Morose.

"Anthony, why the sad face," asked Mrs. Reid, the English teacher asked me while I was at her desk.

"My poetry sucks. All of it."

"Just yesterday the entire class loved your last poem."

"Oh yeah, look at what my girlfriend sent me in the nail." I handed her the poem.

Mrs. Reid read the poem and sighed.

"Look, some people are just naturally talented."

Another student snatched the poem from me as Mrs. Reid was handing it back.

She read it. "Oh geeze, excuse me while I go burn all my poetry in shame. Thanks, Anthony."

The rest of the class was very interested in the scene unfolding in front of the room. Mrs. Reid, in charge of the a dozen teenage angst-y writers, thought pretty quickly. "Class dismissed, we're done for the day."

I learned two things: In creative writing, no matter how good you think you are, you can, and will, run into someone better at it.

Also, some writing is just so damn good, it's a weapon of mass destruction. Use sparingly.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Never, Ever, Ever Enough

No matter what I do, I know I will always run across a comment or post or conversation where something makes me feel inferior. If I know someone just bought my book and then see a comment on their blog about how they're reading something that else that is just BLOWING them away, I think to myself, "Shouldn't they be reading MY book and being blown away by THAT one? How dare they read something else and think it's awesome."

Oh, wait, did I just admit that?

*looks around*

I did. Yes, I did.

We writers have mighty little egos, don't we? I often wonder if it's a good thing. I often wonder how mighty my little ego actually is. I really hate it when I get the feeling that a debut author is full of themselves as they promote their book left and right. I'll roll my eyes when I've seen it advertised somewhere for the 500th time. Then I published my own book and I knew that advertising everywhere was the only way to get the word out there so people heard about it and talked about it. Spread the word. Spread the love. Right? Is there a better way to do this without being annoying? I'm often wondering if I've been annoying with my own marketing, if I overestimate how good my book is, if I'll cry the first time a complete stranger marks it 1 out 5 stars and says publicly on an Amazon review how much they hate the book.

Then again, if these things truly bothered me I would never have published in the first place, and neither should you. Along with those mighty little egos, I think there's also a very fragile, frightened being inside of us. It doesn't take much for anyone to make me feel inferior, but one of my favorite quotes is Eleanor Roosevelt's, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

In the end, I think we need our mighty little egos. We can set the ego aside when it is inappropriate to have a huge head, but in the end, it gives us that little bit of courage we need...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lost Idea

I'll bet you're thinking this is a post about writing an episode of Lost. Well, that would be cool, but no, what I'm talking about is something that happened the other day.

I was talking to my wife and an idea for a scene hit me. It was a brilliantly poignant scene, funny, yet emotionally charged, sure to garner sympathy for the character, and render a clear description of their true behavior.

I was hurrying to get ready, so that I could go to the job that puts ink in my pens, and I didn't have time to write it down. Can you guess what happened? Yep, I lost it. I can't remember the scene, what it was about, how it would have benefited the character, ..... I got nothing.

You would think that if it was such a good scene that I would be able to remember at least some of the details. You would think. But for some reason, it's just gone. (Getting old much?)

I probably would have been able to remember it, if the scene had been attached to one of my new characters, but that was part of the problem, it wasn't. I don't have all the characters for the new WIP yet, so I had no one to attach it to. But it was such a great moment. Darn....

I've been wracking my brain for the last couple of days, and I'm still not able to recall anything. There's nothing up there but cobwebs. I may even have to employ desperate measures. Yep, as bad as it sounds, I may have to break down and ask the wife.

How about you? Have you ever thought of a great scene, or idea, and lost it because you forgot to write it down? Were you able to get it back later?