Friday, July 30, 2010

We're All Mad Here

The first post by a new author is always a little awkward isn't it? No one really knows where to put their hands.

So I'll make this quick and painless...

I'm honored to be joining the team here at Adventures in Writing. So honored in fact, I thought I'd bore you with a few things about myself:

In March of this year I was offered a book deal on my epic fantasy trilogy, Guardians of Legend (http://www.guardiansoflegend.com) which will debut in November 2010. The website for it is still sort of 'in construction' so...

I run a blog, also dedicated to the craft of fiction, at http://www.welcometotheasylum.net. I tend to get a little feisty there so it isn't for those who offend easily.

I've never met a hot sauce or a horror movie that I didn't like (OK, that's not totally true---Killer Clowns From Outer Space was a bust...)

Though I don't write it in the purest sense of the genre, I LOVE reading a good horror novel.

I'm a purest when it comes to writing. The story and the art of creation are everything.

So...yeah...that's about it for today. Nothing terribly insightful. Maybe next time I'll tell you about the time I ran into Chuck Norris...and how that translated into the longest writing stint in my career to date...maybe.

Best,
J.S.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Am Not a Philandering Womanizer

There is a minor, but crucial, character in a novel I’m working on that has little redeeming qualities other than his admittedly warped sense of justice and honor. When it comes to the fairer sex, women are snacks. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate their intellectual capabilities or their feelings as people, it’s that they provide such physical pleasure, he just can’t see beyond getting his rocks off and looking for more.

He’s a character, this character.

And he’s not me.

But I wonder, sometimes, with this literary creation I’ve breathed life into, readers will think I’m either a) talking about myself or b) living out a male fantasy of moving from one beautiful woman to the next.

Neither which is true. I’m trying to tell an entertaining story.

How about you: do you sometimes write the rogue and rake, and then wonder if readers can’t separate the author from the character?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Purses and Shoes


I'll bet you're wondering why I'm writing about purses and shoes this week, aren't you. Given how little I know about the subject, I can imagine you don't expect much content. Well, hang in there, I do have a point.

I'm curious as to how many times you read your manuscript before you wave the rubber chicken over it and bless it as ready to publish.

I was at a Thrillerfest session when Steve Berry was talking about point-of-view and dialog. He recounted a story about his method for making sure that his manuscript was ready to go.

It was called the "Purses and Shoes" approach. His most critical editor would receive purses and shoes for every major faux pas she found in his final manuscript. The level of error was a little subjective, but they were at least at the level of embarrassing.

The interesting point was that these purses and shoes were not your garden variety items from your local JC Penny, or Walmart, these were designer items from Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and the like. Needless to say the stakes were high not only for the editor, who happens to be his wife, but also for Steve. If his wife finds even a couple of critical mistakes, he could be looking at a big bill at the designer store.

Therefore Steve reads his manuscript a lot. And by a lot, I mean a lot, typically at least 75 times according to his answer to my question.

I thought at first that seemed like overkill, but then my editor doesn't have one eye on a $5000 purse in the window of the LV store.

The technique his wife used was every time a particular character was described, or did something, or felt something she would write it down. Then she would go back through and look for inconsistencies, such as a character having blonde hair in one scene, and black in the next, or a character that was afraid of spiders at one point, but had a pet tarantula the next. These are extreme examples, but they do happen.

I read my manuscript all the way through at least 5 times, and through different sections at least 10 or 15 times. I also read the entire manuscript aloud. I find a lot of errors in syntax and timing by using that approach. To a point, I feel that every read is good for finding something that isn't quite right. I'm not sure 75 is the number for me, but it does make me feel that I should probably do a few more.

So tell me, how many times do you read your manuscript?

P. S. I was going to make a comment about wanting an editor like that, but my wife reads this blog, and besides, I'm not sure Jessica Simpson knows much about editing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gender

I was writing a book several years ago when I realized I needed to get inside the head of the female main character, in a girly way, and I just sat there looking at the blinking cursor.
What did I really know about women? Really? I’m married to one, but she is a singular person, and besides, who wants to read about my perfect wife? There is no conflict about her at all; indeed, her mere presence in a room will smooth out conflict. She eats conflict for breakfast.
Sure, I could observe the feminine critter in her natural habitat, but that didn’t tell me the why. Why does a woman say, “I’m sorry” when what happened was not her fault?
Actually, I figured out that girl-speak on my own: “I’m sorry” translates (this is for all you guys out there) to “I’m sorry that happened to you” or “I’m sorry you are feeling bad.” To a guy, however, “I’m sorry,” means “I'm sorry I did this bad thing. It was my fault.
The noticeable gender differences are so vast, even the simple act of nodding is different. When talking to another man (in the United States, nodding can vary per culture), if he starts nodding, he’s saying “yeah, I get that, move on to the other good parts,” but when a woman starts nodding she’s saying, “This is interesting, tell me more.”
So now, we have two people nodding at each other, the first going, “This woman will not shut up! I GET IT ALREADY!” and the second going, “This guy is about as dumb as a box of rocks!”
Thus, when faced with touching the deep well of femininity that I do not have (and trust me, I don’t), when the going got tough, the tough did research.
There were many books out there on gender differences, but most of them were full of crap. Really full of crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, (crap).
Nevertheless, I found some gems. The door opener was Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women. That book was a huge revelation and led me in many different directions, all of them tied with evolutionary theory and chemical neuroscience.
Observation is a writer’s tool, but so is experience. Could Stephen King have written Under the Dome right after Carrie? King is a great observer of human nature (and of course, fear and terror), but his latest novel is obviously a mature effort. He gets things.
How about you? Do you find yourself wondering if you’ve portrayed the opposite gender correctly and more importantly, did justice to the character you created? Alternatively, do you worry that you’re just telling based on gender behavior portrayed in movies, TV and books?
I must confess I’ve read some recent books lately where I could swear the female author had an honorary penis. There wasn’t a single simplistic male in her book, yet the men were men and they did manly things.
I eventually overcame that blinking cursor. It wasn’t easy. Some days, as a writer, I'm very fascinated by the opposite sex. Other days, girls have cooties.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Start with Action


If you've been reading blogs about writing, you always hear the need to start with action. Suck the reader in right away, get them involved. That's definitely true, but like anything, there is always a balance. If you start with action, make sure the reader cares about the characters in the action.

Some writers start their book with a bunch of back story, using tell instead of show. That's probably not going to get published. Today's readers don't have a lot of patience for this type of writing, are probably going to get bored, and end up putting the book down. However, the same can be said of action, action, action, if the reader doesn't care about the characters. If it is just page after page of bullets whizzing past some character's head, after a while, who cares?

So how do you get the reader to care about the characters? Use backstory to describe the characters so that the reader can relate to their motivation. But wait, you just told me not to use backstory. That I did.

The trick, is to weave the back story into the action so that the reader doesn't even know that it is there. Balance the back story with the action. If you look at any successful author, they are masters at this.

At Thrillerfest Ken Follet made a presentation on just this subject. He talked about the importance of having action, but written so that the reader cares about the action. Readers care because they worry about what is happening to their beloved characters.

Let's say you write a scene with a bloody shootout on page one. You start by giving each character a name, a hair color, what color clothes they are wearing, describe how tall they are, and let them kill each other. Do you really care? Bob is shooting at Fred, who is running away from Bill who's coming around the corner to ..... Boring.

It's like watching a shootout from a moving car. You may find it interesting for a little while, but you don't know who the players are and what they care about, other than not getting shot. Now, can you imagine the same scene if the shootout was happening on your front lawn, and it was your close neighbors doing the shooting. The impact is much more intimate and real.

That's exactly what you need to do with your story. You need action to get the reader interested, but make sure there is enough about the characters so that the reader can relate to their predicament, and have the chance to care.

How do you make your readers care about your characters?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thrillerfest Redux

Last year I went to Thrillerfest, and it was awesome. I went again this year, and it was even better. Last year I met a bunch of famous authors, got to pitch to lots of interested agents, and even got to spend a bunch of time with a bunch of fun writers.

This year, I got to do all of that and more.

On Thursday afternoon I pitched my latest novel (see last week's post) to 15 NY agents. Twelve, count'em, twelve loved it and want to see more. The only problem is that it varies as to what they want to see, so I do have a little work ahead of me.

The best part though happened a day earlier. I saw that one of the prime agents that I wanted to talk with (the lovely Barbara Poelle), happened to be one of three ladies putting on a session on crafting a great setting.

A day before the conference Barbara had blogged about her vacation and that she had found this wonderful new drink, called buffalo milk. So before the session began, I approached Barbara to compliment her on her blog, which truthfully, I really do love. (Honest, I'm really not sucking up) (very much). I went on to tell her that I was really sorry, but I didn't bring her any buffalo milk. She loved the comment and we seemed to hit it off well.

She had me pitch my book right there, and loved the pitch. She asked if I participated in social media, had a blog, and I said all of the above. She told me that I didn't have to pitch her at the agent session, she would simply give me her card.

I brought my iPad to the sessions so that I could (play games during boring sessions) take interesting notes, check my email, and browse websites. As it turned out this worked out really well because I brought up this blog on the iPad, and showed it to Barbara after the session was over. She got to read the first page of the new novel, and said it was good.

I was so excited I didn't need coffee the rest of the day.

Amazing how my new novel just happened to be on the blog hug? What great planning. If only it had really happened that way.

There were a number of interesting sessions that I will try to post highlights from over the next few weeks.

I thought I would leave you with a picture of me with a famous author. Unfortunately this blog doesn't have the budget for a real prize, so I'll just reward the first one with the correct answer with the fame and fortune of being first.

Anyone have a guess? (The color of the ceiling plus the lack of ambient light made for some weird flesh tones)


Monday, July 5, 2010

My Next Novel


This week I thought I would give you all a preview into my next novel. It is a thriller about an ex-cop who's been recruited into a clandestine arm of the FBI, called the Omega Division. Their job is to take care of business, when the justice system fails.

Now before you think they are a simple vigilante spinoff, you need to understand that they have a secret weapon that the courts do not, they have the truth.

When a suspect is brought in to Omega headquarters, they are strapped into a special type of MRI machine, called a Functional MRI. With this instrument operators can read the activation levels of different areas of the brain. When the suspect is interrogated, the operator can see what parts of the brain are activated and determine whether they are either lying, or telling the truth. (FYI, this technology is real, but not yet available in courts today)

If the suspects did the crime, Omega operators like my lead character Dan G. Ross (get it? if not say it fast a couple of times) take care of business. If they didn't, they are set free.

Everything goes fine for Dan until his twin brother Jimmy is accused of a crime that Dan knows he did not commit, and the machine says he is guilty. Dan now questions not only the technology, but the agency, and the guilt or innocence of all of his victims. He leaves a lot of mayhem in his quest to find out the truth, which of course he does, at the end of the book.

Just for fun, here is the first page. Let me know what you think

Imperfect Justice

Silicon Valley California

“Oh God.”

I stood for a moment in shock not only from the horrific scene, but from the fact that I had verbally reacted. I never express my thoughts in words, but what I saw would crack the resolve of even the strongest individual.

My usual response is to smile and say nothing, or more likely, release a torrent of smartass comments. I guess I use humor to release the pressure of stressful of situations, but in this situation, I couldn’t think of anything even the slightest bit ironic, or remotely funny.

I felt the bile rising in my throat, and grit my teeth to maintain some measure of composure. I knew I should call for help, but when I pressed the transmit button on my shoulder mounted microphone, the words wouldn’t come out. It was as if I couldn’t force air through my vocal cords. I swallowed hard and shoved my emotions as far as I could below the surface, but it didn’t help and my vision blurred as mist began to form in the corners of my eyes.

I hadn’t actually expected a body to be here. The last few calls like this had been mistaken identity. Some moron saw a pile of clothes next to a dumpster and assumed it was a dead body. I had no reason to think that this situation would be any different, but when I turned the corner to the address given to me by the police dispatcher, I saw the bloody mess. Instead of seeing a homeless person sipping on a bottle of cheap wine, I saw a body with an ear to ear gash across her throat.

Along the edge of the cut, a stain of blood traveled down the front and left dark streaks on her once tan blouse. On the ground, the twin headlight beams of my cruiser sparkled off the surface of pools of blood on both sides. Since the blood hadn’t yet dried, that meant one thing, this had just happened.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Literary SQUEE

I placed 3rd in Michelle Davidson Argyle’s short story contest. You can find my story, "The Woman" over at her blog.

*squee*