Wednesday, June 30, 2010
For example, when I first started writing I would plot out my books on the way to work. I would take a route down Warren Avenue, hence the title for this blog entry, "The Mad Woman of Warren Avenue," passed Wayne State University to Karmanos Cancer Institute. The daily commute took approximately 25 minutes. The ride provided a solid period of time to map out my book details, plot out the stories, and design the characters. I've always muttered to myself, so as I drove I'd talk to myself. Actually, I called it talking out loud, like working out a puzzle in my head.
Sometimes I would notice other drivers staring at me with this confused expression on their faces. I'm sure they were wondering who I was talking to or what was wrong with me. I didn't care then and I still don't. The car and drive provided a quiet, non-interrupted period for me to think through the details of my stories. Another thing I started doing was talking through scenes while I prepared dinner or washed dishes. I keep a pad of paper and pen on the kitchen table and jot down ideas as I work in the kitchen. Another trick I learned from my publicist was to leave a scene unfinished when I shut down my computer for the day. It gave me an opportunity to keep the creative juices flowing when I'm not on the computer.
Although I don't have children, I do have a husband that likes to spend quality time with me. When he's home in the evenings, we watch television or movies together. Being with him limits my writing time, so I sometimes get up at 4am, write for an hour or two and then return to my bed for an additional hour of sleep before rising and preparing for my work day.
I find early mornings to be a wonderfully creative time. There's no telephones ringing or people asking me questions. I go to my desk and without turning on a light, I power up my laptop and go to work. I don't do editing or rewrites, early mornings are set aside strictly for creating new scenes. Lunch time provides a perfect opportunity to edit, and after dinner I do my edits, if my husband is at work.
How do you make it all come together? Do you have systems in place that you'd like to share? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or click on the comment link. I'd love to hear from you.
Remember, don't be a stranger.
Monday, June 28, 2010
It always amazes me how so many folks think that the writing life is glamorous, full of excitement and that we all make boatloads of money! In the ideal world it would be, but as with any profession—and I emphasize profession—it takes work, patience and passion.
Crafting a story is much like the process of birth. The idea is the seed that over time grows and comes to life. We have great expectations for it, we long to see the final product. We eat well, treat ourselves well, people treat you with a sense of tenderness and awe that you could do this amazing thing called giving birth—crafting a novel. And when we present our creation to the world we want everyone to love it as much as we do. Some will. Some will pretend that they do. While others will flat out dislike it.
Giving birth is a hard, often painful experience that could take hours or days. As with writing, the process is often arduous. Writers spend hours, days sometimes years putting a story together. True craftsman, read constantly to feed and nourish themselves. They study, they write, they re-write. They want the final product to be as perfect as possible. A true craftsman does not do it for the love of money but for the love of the art.
Most writers are not the exceptions that land mega deals that set them up for life. They make a modest living, often writing for years without any real recognition. But still they write. They write because they must. The passion, the vision that swirls inside them propels them to put those words on a page . . . after page after page.
I say all of this because writing should not be a profession that is ventured into lightly. It should be entered into with the same level of skill, and experience as any other profession. It should be worked at and refined each and every time the writer sets pen to paper or fingers to keys.
Yet, no matter how many hours it takes, how much reading or studying or revising I have to do, writing, for me, is the greatest profession in the world. It has opened up doorways for me that I would have never entered any other way. I have created worlds and experiences on paper that have changed people’s hearts and minds. That’s a powerful thing.
And because of that I understand that I have a responsibility to my readers to give them the best of me each and every time. Sometimes I will fall short, but I try to use those shortcomings as a teaching tool for the next book.
So for those of you who are contemplating “becoming a writer,” be sure to do it for the right reasons. Enter the profession with passion and professionalism, nourish your mind and your spirit with the words of others; take pride in every word, every comma, and every period.
What you put on the page will remain long after you are gone. It is your legacy. Let it reflect the very best that you have to offer.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Now that the iPad has been released, it seems the topic of ebooks is all the rage. Ebooks are going to explode, people! Aspiring writers are going to turn away from traditional houses and go the e-press route, with more money funnelling into their pockets, and adulation from the masses just there for the taking.
Not so fast.
Another friend and I are in the midst of an onward chugging exchange of emails on the subject of agents. He wonders how useful they are. Because I'm a contrary creature, I tend to take the opposite view, no matter my private opinions but, in playing devil's advocate, a few things occurred to me.
First off, in my mind, a well-run e-press is equivalent to a well-run small press. So, when I say "small press" in this post, know that I'm referring to established print and electronic publishing houses.
It's true that, as an aspiring writer, you'll have a better chance of selling to a small press than one of the Big Houses. This is due to a number of reasons, of which a shorter management hierarchy, variety of genres and pushing of envelopes are just some facets; e.g. a small press is more likely to take a chance on something that's not mainstream commercial. That's not what I wanted to talk about.
What I want to discuss is contracts. The contract comes from the publisher, no matter what kind of press we're talking about, big or small. You don't get a publisher saying to you, "we'd love to publish your masterpiece, gotta contract we can sign?". Nah-uh, that's one of the things they've got sewn up even before they've decided on their stable of cover artists. Or writers.
Two, contracts aren't there to make you feel warm and fuzzy. They're there to protect the publisher. And if you get some money out of the deal as well, what are you complaining about?
Over the past few years, I've seen some humdingers of contracts from small presses, and some authors have been generous enough to share with me the details of contracts from big presses. And can I tell you, it's a jungle out there. And here's the problem.
I'm not a lawyer. I'm a writer. There's stuff in contracts that I don't understand. But good agents tend not to touch you when you're contracted with a small press. So even if you go running to them, publishing contract in hand, asking for representation, chances are they'll turn you down. Why? Because there's not enough money in it. The result is that you get stuck negotiating your own contract. You already have the odds against you, because small presses don't have the marketing weight of the larger guys. You're not going to make the same kind of money from Just Furry Felines Press as you are from, say, Random House. And, on top of that, you have a contract that was written and vetted by the publisher that they expect you to sign. The brutal truth is, it doesn't matter if you walk away; it's the law of supply and demand, honey, and there are thousands more on the supply side that the publisher can pick and choose from.
Truth #1: Well-established agents tend not to take on authors published with small presses. (Please note the word "tend". There are no absolutes in this business.)
Truth #2: The small press publisher doesn't really care if you sign the contract or not. There are plenty more writer fish in the sea. This is the downside of being open to more ideas.
So, if you're a well-informed newbie writer with your first or second contract, you already know that your royalty cheques with a small press are probably going to be less than if you were with a big press. And now you've got to sign a contract and you have no solid advocate because you're too little for the top-flight agents to bother with. Are you going to get screwed? Oh, absolutely. You may argue about the type of lube you're eventually going to use, but:
Truth #3: In any contract negotiation without a savvy advocate, you'll lose something.
The prevailing wise counter-argument to my little sprinkling of doom is to suggest you take that contract to an IP lawyer, pay them a flat fee and get the same kind of advice that you get from an agent. Where's the downside? The downside is that, after they've pocketed the fee, that IP lawyer is moving on. They're not going to argue back and forth with a publisher who's determined not to give an inch on Sections 3, 5 and 29. And they're not going to tell you that they can get another publisher lined up should this set of negotiations fall through. Once again, it's back to you. And what are you going to do if the publisher won't budge on a clause you consider a showstopper? (See Truth #2 for a memory jog.)
I have no answers. I'm just letting you know that contracting with small presses have their own set of pitfalls. There is no perfect model for a beginning writer determined to make a living at writing. It's just a question of how much you can afford to lose.
ADDITIONAL: Maya recently had a link to a Huffington Post post titled, "Publishing: Taking the Power Back" about a writer (Judith D Schwartz) who decided that enough was enough and published her book using the Espresso Book Machine. She says:
Readers have responded powerfully to the book.Now that's terrific and I'm very happy the book managed to find an appreciative audience (it would be the kind of book I'd pick up myself), but how has it translated to royalties? How much money is Ms Schwartz making via Espresso Book Machine, as compared to a similar title published by a big press? Will it even reach me in Malaysia? Is having only a North American edition enough? As I said, I have no answers, but I do think the prevailing fashion of deriding the big presses, and literary agents, is misguided. There's a reason why they're big and why agents are there, and you ignore the ramifications at your peril. Any other opinions?
* Kaz Augustin is a writer who hates contracts. You can find her website at http://www.ksaugustin.com She blogs three times a week, more or less, at http://blog.ksaugustin.com and also has a food blog at http://food.ksaugustin.com If all that isn't enough, she's also on Facebook and Twitter. Just look for "ksaugustin".
Friday, June 25, 2010
The more imperfect the circumstances, it seems, the more some of us in creative fields get done. I did more writing on a dinosaur of a second-hand PC some years ago than I did on its successor, the cute new flat-screen set-up I bought when T-Rex died. When the new machine revealed itself to be a dud and the visuals deteriorated, my output increased. Red and green lines dissected the screen; I frowned and typed all the harder.
Two years ago I received the gift of a brand new laptop. It was sleek, fast, hi-res, webcam complete, wi-fi ready, Bluetooth this and dual core that... I proceeded to spend most of my life with my sexy new friend. Our connection was intense - but I didn't do much writing.
Last week thieves broke into our house and helped themselves to my treasured laptop, among other things. It stings.
Victimhood is not new to me, and it sucks. I see red. I want to break things, kill with my own hands the sorry excuses for human beings who perpetrate the trespass, the violence, who turn perfectly good, sane, law-abiding people into victims, with all the baggage that word carries.
When I find myself daydreaming about blowing away two-legged vermin as they come in the door, when I seethe with rage, outrage or pain, when I feel adversities stacking up against me - something happens. A door opens in my head, ideas accrete seemingly out of the blue, and I'm writing as if my life depended on it. Maybe it does.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Deep POV is distinct from whether the story is told from first-person POV (each scene told only from the viewpoint of "I"), second-person POV (each scene told only from the viewpoint of "you"), third-person POV (each scene told only from the viewpoint of he, she, or it), or omniscient POV (third-person POV, but with viewpoints of multiple characters within the same scene). Although some authors view deep POV as a variety of third-person POV, it can be used with first-person or second-person POV as well.
Deep POV took me a long time to understand, and I still find it difficult to execute. At its essence, however, deep POV overlaps with that most basic rule of writing: Show, don't tell.
Rather than tell you any more about deep POV, I'll show you some example sentences and how they can be changed to reduce the distance between reader and character.
Mary wondered whether the cat was still in the house.
Distancing words: "Mary wondered whether," "the cat"
New sentence: Was Puff still in the house?
Mary could see Puff leaping in the air to catch a cricket.
Distancing words: "Mary could see"
New sentence: Puff leapt in the air and caught a cricket.
In the above two examples, we are in Mary's POV, so there's no reason to mention that Mary saw, smelled, tasted, heard, touched, thought, decided, or wondered something. Doing so only reminds readers that they are not truly experiencing what Mary experiences.
John felt as though he couldn't breathe.
Distancing words: "John felt as though"
New sentence: John couldn't breathe.
John thought he might throw up.
Distancing words: "John thought he might"
New sentence: John's stomach roiled.
John felt sad.
Distancing words: "John felt"
New sentence: Tears welled in John's eyes. OR Grief bowed John's shoulders. OR John picked up the phone to call Mary, then set it down and sought the comfort of his easy chair instead.
In these examples, the author tells us that John experiences an emotion or sensation. The revisions are more intimate: We see John's experience. In the suggested revisions for the third example, we see his response to his emotion, which also deepens characterization.
One could write a book on deep POV. (I'm surprised no one has.) I can't do the subject justice in one blog post. But I can list some warning signs that you aren't in deep POV.
✥ If you imagine your scenes as if you're watching a movie, you may be too far away. Put yourself inside the POV character, looking out of their eyeballs. The deeper you can burrow into their mind and body, the easier it will be to write from the character's perspective.
✥ You name emotions such as anxiety, anger, joy, or fear. For intimacy, show how the character responds physiologically or acts in response to the emotion without naming the emotion itself. Some writers recommend showing the physical reaction to an event first, then the character's thought about the event, and finally the action the character takes.
✥ You use "telling clauses" such as "he felt," "I heard," or "she saw." Instead, dispense with such introductions and show what happened instead.
✥ You provide information the POV character already knows and would not think about, such as her hair color or how to ride a horse or how mail is delivered in her time period.
✥ Characters' thoughts or dialogue reflect your perspective or knowledge. For example, a person from the Midwest sees a ship for the first time and describes it using the correct nautical terms. Or, a teenager thinks about his mother as "Jane Smith" instead of as "Mom." Or an average person knows the chemical composition of their prescription drugs.
✥ Characters' thoughts are in your authorial voice instead of in the voice they use for talking.
✥ Description stands on its own. When possible, provide description through your characters' physical and emotional interaction with their environment. For example, "Deanna's hair was the same bright copper that Mother's had been. John closed his eyes. She had been buried with a baby-smooth skull, courtesy of chemotherapy."
Can you think of other clues that an author may be unknowingly distancing the reader?
The Novel Spaces blog has some exciting changes coming soon. Our posting schedule will change as a result. I do not know when I'll post next, but the topic will be avoiding POV mistakes. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the new and improved Novel Spaces blog.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
From yarn and sewing supplies to lipstick pink, Kate Spade rain boots – it’s in there.
But I dream of the day I clean all the crap out and have my office closet transformed into this:
With my writing confined to the closet space, I’d turn the room into a private library with a comfy overstuffed chair for reading.
Now I’ve told you about my fantasy office. It’s your turn. What does the office of your dreams look like?
Saturday, June 19, 2010
You may be without realizing it – particularly if you are just starting out.
Wondering whether or not you're published may sound foolish - how could you not know – but the answer can make a big difference in the opportunities or options that come your way. Because the answer to the question depends on how the word "publish" is understood by the entity offering you those options and opportunities.
My first fiction sale was to an anthology for amateur writers. The publishing house – Simon & Schuster – at that time defined an "amateur" as anyone who had published fewer than one professionally published novel or three pieces of short fiction in a paying market. Sold a novel that hasn't been published yet? You're an amateur. Two stories in The Atlantic? You're an amateur. So far, so good: their rubric makes sense: they were using quantifiable experience to divide professional from amateur. But then it got a little weird. Any number of stories appeared in non-paying literary reviews or college magazines? You're unpublished. Did you self-publish six novels? You're unpublished. Their criterion was a paid sale. This may have changed in the decade or so since I sold to that anthology, but then their model assumed that only a story a professional editor and publisher found compelling enough to pay money for had met the standard of "professionally published."
A few years ago an editor at TOR let it be known she was looking for dark fantasy and science fiction romances. Published authors could submit an outline; the unpublished had to submit a complete manuscript. With my first science fiction novel already on the shelves, I confidently sent her my outline. And got an e-mail back explaining that because I had never sold a romance novel, I had not proven I could handle the romance tropes – by her standards I was an unpublished author. (As it happens, I did not complete the novel ms by deadline – she's never seen it.)
Back in the 1990s I was part of an online community of writers who were promoting the acceptance of interracial couples and racially blended families. Sounds quaint today – which I take as a measure of our success – but at the time we were breaking new ground. Another member of that group was J. J. Murray, author of interracial romances and – like me – a partner in an interracial marriage and the father of biracial children. Somewhere around this time, JJ also launched an online literary review featuring Southern writers writing about the south (primarily his native Virgina). He asked me if I had anything I'd like to submit; the online review was free to readers and offered no payment. At the time I was working on the framework of a novel about the children of a shadow family (which in the south meant a black woman kept by a white man who provided for her and their children – Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson are probably the most famous example) who moved to New York during the Harlem Renaissance. I modified the framing scenes of the novel into a single story and sent it off. The review lasted only a few months; a victim of the public's reluctance to donate money to something they can get free, and my story disappeared with it.
Nothing much came of the novel – though I have boxes of notes and clippings about the Harlem Renaissance and racially blended families in the early 20th century.
One day, many years later, I discovered Oxford American – a magazine of Southern writing I highly recommend. In reading a few issues it occurred to me that the story I'd sent JJ would be fit very well in the OA community. I tried and learned it was not acceptable. Not because of any flaw in the story – at least none I was told of – but because the story had been published before. Two, maybe three months on a free website visited by maybe 100 people constituted previously published. I could only sell reprint rights, and they did not accept reprints.
Since that experience, I've done a little research. Some markets still use the "paid for publication" model to define professional. Others regard any public display – including excerpts of a work in progress on a public website – as "published." But beyond paying markets, given the programs and contests available to novice and unpublished writers, discovering whether or not you or some of your writings are "published" could make a difference in what opportunities are available. And influence your choices in what you do with your works once they're written.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Guest Publicist Pam Perry: Publicity and Publishing Today - The Battle Between Old School Versus New School
Those Golden Days of Publishing are Gone!
In the golden days, an author would secure a book deal through an agent, publish the book, go on tour escorted by the publicist or media escort - and if they scored enough publicity, they'd become a "best selling" author.
Or at the very least, the author's book sales would cover the tour, pay back the advance and make the publisher some money. Profit was the name of the game - and the system was working - until about 2005.
Suddenly bookstores, media properties and publishing houses began to crumble. The internet was the "game changer" and the traditional book publishing and promotion process have become ineffective.
Up until this point, the world wide web was for those techy-geeky folks and had no real impact on book sales. But now Amazon.com, print-on-demand, viral marketing messages, social media and powerful online communities have leveled the playing field.
Bookstores, agents, fat clunky press kits and publicists scoring traditional media are not the keys to an author's success anymore. There are tons of self-published or independent books that have made history - and surprised the publishing world. Like The Shack, a Christian novel by William P. Young was originally self-published in 2005. And as of February 2010, over seven million copies in print worldwide, spent seventy weeks holding the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list, and it continues to remain in the top ten to date.
The success of The Shack demonstrates what word-of-mouth and community networking can do for a self-published book, but more interestingly, the market strength of religious books in the United States, within and without the book publishing industry.
So let's compare old school and new school way of doing things:
Old School: Traditional hard and soft-cover books
New School: Digital books, ebooks, Kindles, iPad and other wireless reading devices are on the way!
Old School: Book tours
New School: Blog tours & webinars
Old School: Getting reviews in magazines and newspapers
New School: Getting reviews on Amazon and in book communities where readers hang out like Shelfari, Goodreads, Librarything.com, Rawsistaz and more
Old School: Web 1.0 (webmasters needed for HTML and complicated stuff)
New School: Web 2.0 (freedom - just a Blogger blog or WordPress.com blog) Two-way communication!
Old School: Mailing out ARCs, books and big press kits
New School: EPK(electronic press kits) and ebooks
Old School: Media Escort
New School: Virtual Assistant
Old School: Press releases emailed and mailed to media
New School: SEO press releases sent or using online media matching service like Pitch Rate or Reporter Connection
Old School: Printing, stamping and mailing newsletters to mailing list accumulated over the years
New School: Sending out eNewsletters & continual email marketing campaigns using autoresponders and broadcast emails
Old School: Creating & updating media lists
New School: Capturing emails of interested readers using an "opt-in" database program like AWeber
Old School: TV interviews
New School: Creating book trailers, viral videos and streaming LIVE online
Old School: Authors visiting reading groups and libraries
New School: Teleconferencing or streaming live to many groups at the same time from the comfort of your home via Skype or a bridge line
Old School: Postcard mailings to readers, bookstores and organizations
New School: Eblast postcard to thousands using email marketing services like Goodgirlbookclub, BlackGospelPromo, ChristianPRGroup or DetroitGospel
Old School: Radio Interviews
New School: Podcasts and internet radio shows (heard online or downloaded via itunes)
Old School: Magazine features
New School: Ezine Features
Old School: Writing a column in newspapers
New School: Syndicated articles submitted on article directories like Ezine using keywords and generating web traffic or writing a regular blog
Old School: Stigma that self-published books "didn't cut it" and that's why they're not with a major house
New School: Savvy self-published authors are doing it big, getting noticed, making money and living a successful career doing what they love - writing!
Old School: Generating publicity in media outlets and getting no immediate input from audiences
New School: Building relationships, getting direct response from readers and creating communities online
Old School: Getting radio, TV, Newspaper and magazine reviews
New School: Creating thousands of followers, friends and fans online who interact with you and are connected with you through your whole career.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
If you hang out with me on Facebook then you may have seen my day-after status post. One of the kids gave it a 10 and the other gave it a 10.5. Mind you, though, the 10 was contingent on a pivotal plot device for that voter: My youngest actually said there was too much fighting in the movie and because of that, she initially gave it a 5. When I asked what she’d give it if there was no fighting, she said “10.”
I found her observation to be pretty astute for someone so young. But, as an author, it made me wonder how often one critical action, dialogue or scene element taints a reader’s perspective of an entire work. It also made me think about the elements that supported this central focus.
The “fighting” in The Karate Kid is bullying; it’s one child being relentlessly pursued by another who is more skilled and less merciful. For me, the emotions evoked by those confrontations ran deep and wide. I could remember being picked on in elementary school for totally random reasons (too tall, too skinny, I thought I was smart, I looked at the wrong person the wrong way – whatever), so I related to Dre, the soon-to-be karate kid.
As a mom, I’ve watched my own kids struggle through the challenges of growing beyond or in spite of friends and how tough that can be. I’ve had those days when you know something’s wrong and they don’t want to talk. When you’re in a bind because of work or life and your cache of “things to say at this moment” is empty. I could empathize with Dre’s mom’s attempt to make their world better and how that didn’t seem to be working for her son.
As someone who believes in giving back and making a difference, I appreciated Mr. Han’s reluctant protection of Dre. He had both the compassion and the ability to transform Dre’s life. And as difficult as it may have been for Mr. Han to give himself over to this scared, struggling child, he found a way to get past his own issues and help Dre overcome his.
Emotion ran rampant in this film and all of it resonated with me. But it all stemmed from the very unpleasant reality of bullying. The writers then surrounded those hard-to-watch, heart-wrenching scenes with universal connectivity: friends, teachers, parents, loneliness, insecurity, personal growth and victory. Together, they created a great story.
I try to weave common themes into my writing. My books revolve around second chances because I figure who hasn’t ever wished for a do-over? Even if you don’t claim to be a paranormal fan, maybe you’re enough of a life fan to route for my characters to get it right this time.
So, going back to The Karate Kid, what if you’re a person who was never bullied? Or you don’t have kids? Or no one came to your rescue in your time of distress? What feelings would the movie evoke if you were the bully? Or if you chose to walk away from your greatest challenge instead of facing it head on?
I believe it’s the common threads that bind the world community in real life and in fiction. What about you? Do you believe there are such universal threads? Do you weave them into your writing? Do you look for them in the books you read or the movies you watch? I’m interested in hearing the differing perspectives this blog on universal thoughts inspires.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Well, the evening didn't work out the way I expected. At the bookstore, I turned the corner to find Beverly and Elaine entertaining an eager group of readers. Surprised, I stared at the group of twenty-five to thirty men and women. Beverly introduced me as a fellow published author. When she mentioned my name, several people in the group muttered words of recognition and compliments. Stunned, I felt pleased and proud that they knew my name and work.
Beverly suggested I grab a chair and join them. I hesitated for a moment because I felt this was their event, not mine. After some encouragement from both authors and the audience, I joined them at the author's table and field questions about the writing process and my books. Both ladies were gracious and welcoming and I had a wonderful time. For once, I was prepared and had business cards with me. I handed them out while we talked and had a chance to mention that Borders carried my books.
At one point an eleven-year-old girl spoke and told me that her mother had read my book, I Can Make You Love Me. She said that her mother went into her room and shut the door and wouldn't allow her in while she read the book. It was a cute story. I really enjoyed the whole event.
To be perfectly honest, when I left home to attend the event, I never expected to be in the spotlight. The incident made me think about how many opportunities I've let pass because I was unprepared. Sometimes, I forgot to carry my business cards or information about my books and writing. There were times that I didn't have a pencil or pen.
My recommendation to you is be prepared. Embrace the opportunities presented to you. Carry the tools of your trade with you at all times and be ready to discuss your work.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the issue. You can e-mail me at email@example.com or click on the link below.
Remember, don't be a stranger.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
When I was a kid, I loved chocolate; I craved chocolate. The thing is, I hardly ever got chocolate. Not that it wasn’t available on the St. Kitts, it was just too expensive. I have fond memories of when my older sister was pregnant and had chocolate cravings. Every now and then she would send me to the shop to buy that creamy Cadbury milk chocolate bar, the kind with the fruit and nuts in it. I looked forward to those times knowing if I didn’t saunter too long or piss her off I’d be rewarded with a square of the chocolate. I savored that tiny square of chocolate. I loved chocolate then.
All that changed when I took my first vacation. It was in Puerto Rico. I discovered that not only was chocolate readily available, it was cheap. The first week I bought a huge bag of Hershey’s kisses. I ate and ate and ate, enjoying every one of those little chocolate kisses. I finished the bag in about two hours. Then came the belly ache, the nausea, the vomiting. After that I could not look at another chocolate. In fact, it took me seven years before I could taste another chocolate without getting upset. I am now able to eat a little chocolate occasional, preferably Swiss chocolate, but to this day, I cannot eat Hershey’s chocolate, especially Hershey’s kisses, even though that incident occurred 21 years ago. You can have too much of a good thing.
Sometimes that happens in writing. I have a habit, don’t know whether it’s bad or not, of writing chapter by chapter sequentially, and reading from the beginning of the manuscript before adding another chapter. It works fine, sometimes. Unfortunately, by the time I get to the later chapters I’m so sick of reading the earlier chapters, I want to barf.
A few WIPs ago, I got so sick of the manuscript I was working on I ditched it. A few months later while browsing my computer I stumbled across it, thought that it was interesting and resumed work on it. I got to chapter 20 and again found myself unable to go on. Initially, I thought it was because I didn’t have a written outline (I write by the seat of my pants). I eventually ditched it and began working on my current WIP. This time, I wrote my outlines, did character sketches, even did chapter by chapter outline. I used the same approach writing sequentially and reading back from the beginning or at least a few prior chapters before writing a new chapter. I got to chapter fourteen, and couldn’t go on, despite my well planned out plot. Yes like the chocolate, I got tired of reading the entire manuscript over and over again and constantly writing it in my head to the point of distraction.
So what did I do? I took a break for a few days. I wrote the outline for a new manuscript from ideas that were floating around in my head. I revisited some earlier abandoned or postponed manuscripts and found them interesting enough to desire to continue working on them. I did other day job related stuff, hung out with facebook friends, did some book promotion. When I returned to my WIP, I was seeing it with new eyes, and yes, I was ready to work on it again.
So how do you deal with reading your WIP over and over again without getting tired enough to feed it to the shredder?
Friday, June 11, 2010
Up to the day your book hits the virtual or literal shelves, there's some little hint of hope -- no matter how delusional -- that you can pull it if you want to. The book's not Out There yet, so you're sure if you come up with a good enough reason, you could stop it.
Once you see it in all its displayed glory, however, that chance is gone and, with it, any chance for you to modify a word. I wonder if my indifference about a released book is some kind of self-defence mechanism to stop me worrying about whether I screwed up anything. Somebody said that once a book is released, it's no longer the author's, and I agree with that. For better or worse, the book has to stand on its own two feet and take the bouquets and brickbats of readers.
And, like a neglectful parent, I'm on the next project. Of course I worry about it and hope readers will like it, but that's not my driving ambition. It gets easier as you publish, and realise that the time between release and a review is often incredibly long. You can either fret yourself into lethargy, or deal with it and move on. That's what separates the writer from the career writer.
That's right. It's not always down to talent. A lot of times, it's down to attitude. Do you have tenacity? Can you ignore criticism and keep belief in yourself? Can you walk away when you need to? Can you grit your teeth and just keep writing? These are all tough traits that appear divorced from the soft cloak of The Muse and Divine Inspiration that some authors clothe themselves with, but they are no less necessary.
Hard and soft. Yin and yang. Push and yield. A writer needs them both.
* Kaz Augustin is a writer who's in a strangely introspective mood today. You can find her website at http://www.ksaugustin.com and she blogs three times a week, more or less, at http://blog.ksaugustin.com.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
'All righty then.'
Whenever I hear someone use that expression I immediately think of V, my writer buddy and critique partner. He uses it a lot, so much, in fact, that I've been finding those annoying words sneaking out of my mouth during conversations, and I'm horrified every time. Those are not my words - they're V's! I despise that obnoxious 'y' at the end of 'right'. Why do we have to give it that campy little tail as if it weren't adequate on its own?
V is probably quite unaware that he sprinkles his speech with 'all rightys', just as I'm unaware that I sprinkle my writing with certain words. I usually get that problem sorted out during the editing phase, but even so, some of those crafty little fellers are so embedded in my subconscious that they fly under the radar and it takes my critique partner to zero in on them.
He noted that a character in my second book calls women 'baby' a lot. I have mixed feelings when men call me by this supposed endearment: on the one hand, there's a masculine protectiveness and appreciation of femininity that comes through, but infantilising women grates and grinds against the feminist in me and drowns out any covert whispers of appreciation. In my experience most men who sprinkle the 'b' word around tend to be players anyway, and they use it to create an immediate intimacy which I tend to resent. So why was my character laying on the 'baby' like that?
I figured it out: he appeared to be one of the good guys at the start, but turned out to be a sleazy, womanizing dude with all of the traits I ascribe to the men who call me 'baby'. V was right; there was overkill at work and I had some culling to do. Thank heavens for the 'find' feature in Word.
'Puh-leese' is another of my words. I say it, and my characters say it. At some point in the revision process, out it goes. Well, most of it anyway.
What are your under-the-radar words? And at what point do you smoke them out and send them packing?
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
We all want to make our books as unique as possible. It’s about grabbing the attention of that busy agent or harried editor, making it so they absolutely must stop what they’re doing and sit right down with your submission and – of course – ask for more. Through three unsold manuscripts and the sale of my series to Dorchester, I’ve developed a few techniques that help me keep my quirky paranormals fresh. Hopefully, they’ll work for you too.
The character push
In the beginning of my series, the heroine’s long-lost grandmother shows up and – whoops – locks the heroine in her bathroom with an ancient demon. I’d pushed the situation, but the grandmother was too nice. My critique partner called me on it and, blast her, she was right. I sat down and brainstormed a few pages of alternate “grandmas” before I hit on an idea I loved – a Harley biker witch grandma who hurls recycled Smuckers jars full of home brewed magic. One character change and the book became a lot more fun to write.
The unexpected additions
It’s also important to be open to unexpected characters. When I sat down to write my series, I had no notes about a sidekick for my heroine. But when Lizzie learns she’s a demon slayer and there are some very scary, very angry creatures on her tail, she takes comfort in her dog. As I was writing, I thought, ‘This is a sweet moment. Now how do I throw her off?’
I made the dog say something to her. Nothing big. After all, he’s only after the fettuccine from last week. And he knows exactly where Lizzie can find it (back of the fridge, to the left of the lettuce crisper, behind the mustard). It amused me, so I did it. Thanks to her unholy powers, Lizzie can now understand her smart-mouthed Jack Russell Terrier. I ended up having a ball with it. And as an added bonus, Pirate can say and do things that my heroine can’t.
Sometimes, the first idea isn’t the best idea. Mini-brainstorms during the writing of a chapter always help me see if where I’m going is where I want to be. Sometimes, I go back to my first idea. Other times, after I’ve forced myself to come up with a page full of alternatives, I find I like a new idea better.
It works on big plot points, but just as well on little details. For example, in A Tale of Two Demon Slayers, Lizzie finds a mysterious egg-shaped stone. I had no idea what it was, but decided to play with it. Turns out, it was a dragon egg. The egg hatches and Lizzie’s dog, Pirate, decides he has a pet. It made me smile to think of a pet owning a pet. Lizzie is not happy about that. She has enough going on and doesn’t think her dog needs to own a pet.
So she tells Pirate to find a new home for Flappy the dragon (Pirate named him, not Lizzie). So Lizzie is battling evil people and losing track of what Pirate is doing. He keeps promising to find a new home for the dragon, but instead Pirate is hiding the dragon, and loving the dragon and teaching him tricks. Every time Lizzie realizes the dragon is still there, it’s gotten bigger and bigger and, well, it’s just one more thing she can’t quite control.
The “chill out – this doesn’t have to count” brainstorm
Sometimes, when a chapter just isn’t working, I have a hard time making the (often necessary) massive changes, because I don’t know if I’m going to make things better or (gulp) worse. But one day, I borrowed a technique from my days as an advertising writer and lo and behold, it works on fiction too.
I made a duplicate copy of the impossible chapter, and then went to town on changes. By letting my brain loose on a “throw away” chapter, I freed it up to stop thinking about “How am I going to get my heroine out of the love scene and ramped up for hell?,” to “Hmm…pillow talk. This is a good time for the hero to admit he wasn’t one hundred percent honest with the heroine at the start of the book. Now the heroine can get so mad that she dumps his boxers in the ice bucket, throws his pants off the balcony and almost goes to hell without him.”
Brainstorming is all about freeing up your mind and your creative energy. You get to surprise yourself, and feel the rush of excitement as you hit upon new ideas and new places to take your story. Because when you’re fully engaged in the story, pushing your characters harder, waiting to see what’s around the next bend – chances are, your audience will feel the same way.
Angie is giving away a copy of A Tale of Two Demon Slayers right here! Just take the quiz, inspired by Pirate and his pet dragon: What supernatural pet is right for you? Post your answer in the comments and you're entered to win!
Monday, June 7, 2010
Writers everywhere can sympathize.
Our task perhaps is worse: We never get a reprieve. Sisyphus at least could stroll down the hill after each effort. As writers, the more we know about writing, the more room for improvement we see in our own work.
This is not such a bad thing. Where would the fun be if we reached some plateau and said, "Now I'm the best writer I can possibly be." Every book afterward would be like factory work, putting parts together over and over to produce a product. And isn't that boring repetition one of the reasons we left the security of our day jobs to become writers?
In a post at my own blog last week, I detailed my struggle to understand the term "on the nose" and to grasp why on-the-nose writing was a bad thing.
Several years ago, I spent months struggling with the technique of deep point of view. I finally understand it, but I still struggle to execute it. Next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, new problems will crop up that I must solve to improve my writing. Like dancers, like musicians, writers continue learning their art their whole life.
Author and philosopher Albert Camus said this of Sisyphus:
....one must imagine Sisyphus happy....The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart."
Thanks for visiting my blog. Next time, on June 23, I'll talk about deep POV for those of you frustrated that I did not define it here.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Saturday, June 5, 2010
I laughed so hard (to keep from crying) I clicked over to Amazon and bought one of his books!
Enjoy! And have a great weekend!
Thursday, June 3, 2010
You see, I'm transitioning from media tie-in writing to original fiction and the two industries play by different rules. Media tie-in is for the most part write-for-hire. The way it usually works is the book packager or game developer or whoever the deciderer is lets it be known she is looking for thus-and-so. We writerly types then pitch ideas or proposals illustrating how we would handle the thus and the so. The deciderer picks the one(s) she likes, contracts are inked, and we write stories that are even better than we promised and a mere three point four eons later the amount we'd agreed to in the contract is rendered unto us.
The process is more streamlined in freelance writing. The writer writes a story, mails it to the market, and waits to find out if the editor wants it. (There are some markets, like BattleCorps, that invite unsolicited stories but they're the exception.) I know this is how most writers do business. It's how I started out. But I still feel as though there's a step missing. (And not knowing if the story will be bought while I'm writing it feels a bit odd.)
The reality is chances of a sale are pretty slim. Fiction doesn't sell magazines the way scandal and true-life stories do, so there are fewer and fewer magazines looking for stories. Prestige print markets, like The New Yorker and The Atlantic receive several thousand submissions each month, of which they can purchase only one or two. Online markets are growing, of course, but competition is still fierce. All of which means the short fiction writer quickly develops a collection of rejection letters – and eventually learns that not all rejection letters are the same.
Ninety-nine percent are form letters. Given the volume of manuscripts they receive each month, editors can not take the time to include an explanation of their decision with every story they reject. Thus the form "Thanks for letting us see your story, but …" letter. A form letter does not mean your story was bad or that you need to rewrite it. It just means that the magazine could not use your story at that time. Don't agonize over what you should have done better; print a fresh copy of the ms and mail it to the next market the same day.
A form rejection with a handwritten (actually hand-scrawled) phrase across the bottom led to my first sale. He wrote "rough spots lose reader" and I knew what he meant. I was fond of "dramatic" scene changes, and the editor was telling me the jarring transitions were throwing readers out of the story. That story I did rewrite (a rarity for me); I smoothed out all the transitions and resubmitted (with a note saying it was a resubmission and why) and the editor bought it.
Two of my most confusing personal rejections came from the late Marion Zimmer Bradley. Both came attached to the copies of the stories I'd submitted to her fantasy magazine and both mss showed evidence – including words scratched in the margins – that she (or someone) had read them closely. The first story was about people who could change reality to fit their beliefs – reality altered to fit its nature was controlled by those with the deepest convictions; conflicts between faiths shaped the world. The note, signed MZB, said "Very well done but if there is an element of fantasy here we have failed to find it." The second letter was longer – a full page critiquing the story, which she evidently liked but could not use. However the critique had nothing whatever to do with the story I'd submitted (the ms to which it was attached). I know that at least one other writer out there somewhere has had the exact same experience.
My favorite personal rejection came from Esquire five years ago and came nearly six months after I'd submitted (normal turn-around for editorial decision is three months). The editor loved the story, and wished he could use it. What's more he said he wasn't the only one. The long delay had been caused by the editors hanging on to the ms trying to find a way to fit it in. In the end they'd decided it just wasn't quite right for Esquire.
As I've been writing and mailing original short stories, my collection of form rejection letters has been growing. Which is why the personal note cheered me so. It wasn't much. The editor wrote that the story was well done, citing a touch she'd liked, that she liked my narrative "voice," and that she wanted to see more from me. From a busy magazine that must reject hundreds of stories a week, a personal note like that is huge.
Never take a rejection as a defeat. It's a step in the process. Writers are people who get past rejections and keep moving forward.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
You know: Your partner has been on the warpath and taking it out on you. You are totally empathetic, but a little battle weary. So you think, “Oh, yeah, it was your smile. “ Even if you haven’t seen so much as a grin in weeks, you can push yourself through the “for worse” days by re-visiting the better ones.
Or, if you have kids, you know they invariably (more likely, consistently) test your patience and make you wonder what on earth made you think you wanted to take on that lifetime task. (We all know it doesn’t really end at 18, 21 or 30 – does it?) When someone brings home a poor grade, detention slip, or colors all over your freshly painted walls, you revert to the joy you get from their unsolicited hugs, the way dumb things make them laugh, or the way they look at you like you’re a superhero (or, maybe, used to. lol)
Every author knows that writing has those days, too. Your mind may have hit a blank patch, a deserted wasteland without so much as a mirage of an idea in sight. Or perhaps your muse has declared herself to be on vacation – or ditched you to manage a family emergency. Or maybe life is just kicking your behind right now and you can hardly see straight from one day to the next – less known, arrange characters, plots and sub-themes into a cohesive happy ending.
A few days ago, guest blogger June Shaw wrote about not giving up. Her focus was on editors whose visions don’t always align with our own. But beyond the decision makers at publishing houses and magazines, there may be family naysayers, skeptic friends, demanding children, even writing colleagues who disagree with your choice of genre, style, or subject matter. Those challenges affect your motivation as much as any internal stall.
But it’s going to take YOU to get that engine going again. Reach back for why you write in the first place. If it’s for accolades, well, your goals can get blown away like so much chaff with the first rejection or two. If you’re in it for the money, um, I think you’re in the wrong pursuit.
But, if it’s like breathing, a compulsive must-do, something you can’t see yourself not doing for the sheer sake of doing it, well, take a deep breath, pick up a pen, keyboard or tape recorder and start spilling your mental guts.
Like the partner you share your life with out of love or the children you care for out of love, write from that place deep within that burns no matter how the world tries to douse its flame. Eventually, you’ll surprise yourself with the joy of your own smile at a sentence, scene, then story well written – whether it’s sold yet or not.