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

Gross

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