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?