Friday, May 28, 2010

Ideas, and Where They Come From


It's the most dreaded question that a person can ever ask an author.

"Where do your ideas come from?"

I've heard it asked of professional authors (Terry Brooks, Jacqueline Carey) at live events, as well as of novices and writers in myriad stages of their careers (Writer's Group, online, etc.). No two answers are the same, because no two writers are the same.

What is universally the same, I believe, is that we don't have a choice but to acquire ideas. Ideas won't leave us alone, even the bad ones. Once you set your brain to this frequency, I'm fairly certain it's impossible to "turn off the broadcast." While you might run out of good ideas, it's doubtful you'll ever run out of ideas.

This is why writers are so critical of everything they consume. Movies, books, what have you, it's incredibly difficult for us both to "suspend our disbelief" and to "just enjoy it." We're always thinking, always wondering, always searching, either for something we can glean from the work or an idea that pops up based on something the work makes us think of.

It's not an easy thing to describe, the way ideas just "happen." And yet, they do. There is no consistent source, no magic formula, for getting ideas. Live life, consume your surroundings and your interactions, consume what you read and watch. Ideas will find you.

And watch out when they do, for they rarely let go.


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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Why Edit? A Guest Post from Micah Newton


What, exactly, is the point of a writer going through the editing process?

As a person who has edited and would like to continue doing so as a career path, I have come across my fair share of things that should have been edited. Here's how I see it: you, as a writer, can have the best story ever written, but if there isn't any grammatical structure and the words themselves are a challenge to read, that story is never going to make it past your own computer.

Recently, I was subjected to a story by a writer who took the position that he would not edit past the first draft. This meant that whatever misspellings and grammatical or syntax errors he found, he only corrected as he typed them. Having read a very brief portion of the book, I can assure you that if you intend to write for a living (or even if you're just interested in people reading your work regardless of the financial gain), you must edit.

You, the author, have to take the time to go back and revise your initial work. You are the only person who can maintain the integrity of your story. As an editor, I can only give you my suggestions for revisions. Ultimately, those suggestions are for you to take or leave (most of the time). I did initial edits of my husband's first novel and we went back and forth over a number of issues where I thought there were errors and he mightily disagreed. He's a good writer and has a more-than-competent grasp of the English language so these discussions often got heated when we both had valid reasons for why something should be stated one way and not the other.

But that's just the thing. Only he knew what the point of the story was so only he could tell me why he would or would not give in to my edits. There were definitely a couple of instances when I simply would not back down. I reserve that right as an editor. All editors reserve the right to tell an author, "I'm right, you're wrong. If it doesn't change, I'm not sending it anywhere." Because at the end of the day, we both want what's best for YOU, the author.

Authors want to get published. Editors and agents want to make sure that can happen. No one is going to put their reputation on the line for someone else unless they believe in the work--that goes for the writing and the editing.

So as an editor, I implore the authors and writers of the world: Please take the time to edit. It shows that you really care about the quality of your work. It shows that you're willing to take the time necessary to really make your story everything it can be. It's all about initiative. No editor wants to see your first draft. It's true. Editors and agents want to see the absolute best an author can produce prior to the piece going through a formal editing process. That usually means that you're submitting a 3rd, 4th, even 5th draft of your original manuscript.

First drafts are for you to keep and for you and your editor and agent to laugh about later over beer and nachos. First drafts are rarely fit for reader consumption.

So edit, my writing friends! And don't be afraid to ask for other opinions, but remember: YOU are the one that knows what you want your story to say... in so many ways.


Micah Newton is an aspiring editor and writer. She reads books like Eats, Shoots, and Leaves for fun, and is currently leading the social networking charge at her day job. You can find more of her writing at http://usetheclutch.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter under @micahdl.


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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Musings


I don't have a topic to post a structured and well-thought-out view on, but rather than stay silent I will share some recent disorganized thoughts with you. It's a win-win.

So, I've been watching Legend of the Seeker. I saw the Season 2 finale yesterday and was mildly surprised to find that all that talk about Goodkind and deus ex machina was completely reasonable. Aside from the formulaic nature of television (where you have an action sequence and then a commercial, rinse & repeat until end of episode), I thought it was a fairly decent show, albeit a little cheesey. I feel like there isn't much in the way of Fantasy being broadcasted of premiered these days, so I appreciate what I get. Especially if it's not kiddish ... Disney Fantasy is not my cup o' tea.

I was kind of sad to hear that LotS was not picked up for a third season. Not sad enough to donate to the Save Our Seeker campaign, but mostly because the main character looks like one of my co-workers. I'll remain a Bridget Regan fan, but I think I'm going to stop following her on Twitter. She's kind of aloof.

Speaking of "oof," I recently watched Fiddler on the Roof. I'm still wondering what the actual plot of the film was. There was a lot of singing, and dancing, but when it was over I really didn't "get it." Can someone clue me in?

On another note, I recently watched The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. While funny, I found it to be one of the most mysoginist films I've ever seen (which is saying a lot, since I've seen nearly every 80's action movie in existence). It's kind of sad when a movie is about "real-life" characters and "in-game" characters, and the in-game versions are more interesting and well-developed. Even so, Jen Page seems like a name to follow.

I'm still reading Wicked, and still enjoying it, though I have one major complaint about the book that I will voice when I finish it. No spoilers, I promise.

I'm waiting for a few more reviews of The Ninth Avatar to be posted before I do a post talking about reviews. If you have a review, or are thinking of doing one, please let me know so that I can link it over. Yes, even if it's not full of glowing praise for my literary masterisms. Yes, I just said that.

I'll be in Paris next week, so don't count on seeing any blog posts. I have a life to live, after all, and I can't spend all my time chained to the keyboard. You shouldn't either.

Until next time!


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Thursday, May 20, 2010

What I'm Reading, update


Just a short post today (yes, I do do those from time to time).

My library books turned out to be a bust. The Parkour guide, while interesting, is more of a book you need to own rather than skim through in a few weeks. Cesar's Way was full of common sense things that, if you've watched his show more than once, you already know. He also references episodes of the show which, again, if you've seen said episodes, is kind of redundant. Talk Dirty French continued to disappoint but, in all honesty, how much about a foreign language can you possibly learn from reading a book [in a different language]? I need audio! Good thing I have it!

So I've recommitted myself to Wicked, wholeheartedly. This book is a pleasure to read, but I really need the plot to start picking up soon. I like the characters, but I'll like them a lot more when the book stops being about Galinda.

Next up are The Magician of L'hasa and Cyberkill, Trapdoor's other releases. I'm getting copies of them tonight. After that, I may or may not jump into [a used copy of] Magician's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Yes, I am well aware of the Goodkind situation. Relax.

Only ten days left in the month. Good thing I didn't have a goal of a certain number of books to finish by the end, but I've also got a trip coming up (when I tend to do a lot of reading). Viva Paris!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friends, Followers, and Fans: The Quest for an Audience

Far more important to me, as an author, than getting people to buy my book is getting people to read my book. This is because one of my main principles is to measure success by the latter. Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter how you measure it; the question remains, how do you find an audience for your book?

How many people do you know who have the goal of writing a book? Whether you're a writer or not, chances are you know at least a few, and if you're a writer then the chance is high you know quite a few. But is that goal shortsighted? Why do people want to write books, if not to have people read them?

That's where you come in, and by "you" I mean the royal You. Consumers-at-large. The bottom line.

The Audience.

Earlier this year, author John Scalzi posted a call to support authors in response to issues with Amazon. More recently, Rebecca at Diary of a Virgin Novelist posted a very direct and imperative instruction on precise how to support authors. In both cases, the main tenet is "buy their book[s]." This is helpful in many ways, as you can imagine, but supporting an author goes well beyond consuming their product -- much like supporting a local music act goes beyond buying their LP.

Rebecca goes on to suggest things that fall under the category of "calling attention to the book[s]." If you blog, write about it. If they're a local author, attend their readings and events. If they're not, host a book club, or suggest their book for your existing club. Honestly, though, nothing beats the old fashioned method of just plain telling someone about a book you enjoyed.

Is this post kind of self-serving? Of course it is. I would encourage you to buy, read, and talk about my book, but not just my book, and I don't expect this kind of thing "for free." I support my friends who are writers and authors, musicians, actors, or in whatever else they do, especially if I believe wholeheartedly in their purpose and passion. I morally support them, but I also provide tangible support with mentions, retweets, and money in the name of consumption. In short, I become part of their audience either as a friend, a follower, or a fan.

We all have friends who strive in some type of artistic pursuit. At least I hope we do, especially those of us who strive in one, ourselves. Friends do things that others can't; they provide a cushion against the impersonal world and let us know that people exist who understand what goes on in our heads. Friends are supportive by virtue of the relationship you have with them, but a person can only have so many friends (since a person only has so much time to nurture those relationships). Because of this, an audience absolutely cannot be comprised solely of friends.

That's where followers come in. The word "follower" can have good connotations and bad ones. Good, in the sense that a leader must have followers, a movement must have followers, and a twitter account must have followers. The bad comes in when people assume that a follower has no mind of their own, they are sheep led around by the promise of a carrot at the end of a stick. I prefer to think of followers in the good context.

To me, followers are more like acquaintances. This includes peers in your chosen industry or creative endeavor. More often than not, they are friends-of-friends, who become interested in the aforementioned artistic pursuits by virtue of the degrees of separation. Sometimes they become actual friends, but this is more of an exception than a rule. Followers provide an interest more on a surface level than friends. Where friends like your work because they like you, followers like your work because their friends like you. They can take comfort in becoming part of your following since they're not the only ones who think in that direction.

Fans are a completely different story. Fans can become followers, or even friends in time, but this is the most surface level of an audience. They may know a thing or two about you, especially from reading the About the Author blurb, but their real interest is in your work. Despite Facebook's frivolous use of the word, I believe fans are actually the hardest category of people to acquire into an audience. What? The most surface level is the hardest to acquire?

Yes. The general public has no existing reason to be interested in you, no compulsion to give you their attention, and no perceived loss if they fail to do so. This is especially true in our world of information bombardment. But wait, you say, how on earth do people like Terry Goodkind still have an audience? How do the shows on MTV have an audience? I don't wish to get on my soapbox any more than I already am, but to keep it short these things have fans.

As already stated, fans are people who have no reason to like or prefer something other than their own interest and curiosity. They either heard of, or found on their own, a certain something that they believe in (or that they believe in the quality of). It fits them. They enjoy it, or are otherwise entertained by it, and are proud enough of that fact to say so.

Many fans proclaim their fandom aloud, in blog form, and even in costume form. This gains momentum because, as people see this fanaticism, they get interested in what is so great about X. Twilight is a great example of fanaticism, as recent baby name statistics can attest, and to me it is a great example of how something grows in fame fed by its own popularity. Jersey Shore is somewhat similar, though it has grown more in infamy than fame.

Yet, even with all this (supposed) knowledge, how to win fans remains a mystery to me. Therefore, I continue to search for an audience. I'm lucky enough to have friends, and curious enough to network followers, but fans seem to run off of a unique fuel that I haven't quite found the recipe for. Any ideas?



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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What I'm Reading (May, 2010)

Picture from urbanphoto.net

As you know, I'm on The Big Break. Therefore, I'm reading quite a bit. Here's a rundown of what I've read so far, and what I have coming up. I may or may not post "review" type blurbs about each, but a few definitely warrant a response.

ToC
1. Heroseed
2. Dresden Files, Books 1-3
3. Talk Dirty French
4. Cesar's Way
5. Parkour and Freerunning Handbook
6. The Laptop Dancer Diaries
7. Wicked

[Completed Reads]

Heroseed, B.G. Miller
Paperback: 378 pages
Publisher: Outskirts Press (February 25, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1432755439
ISBN-13: 978-1432755430

I have already posted a review on Amazon for this book, as well as followed-up with additional comments in the SFFworld.org forums, topic Heroseed Revamp. The original topic, located here, should show my earnest attempt at helping this guy. He returned, on the Revamp topic, showing a bit of tenacity. So I took the bait, bought the book (for a hefty $18.68 from Amazon) promising to post a review after I'd read it. Done.

The book is, in all honesty, half-baked. It combines ideas obviously inspired by Dragonball Z, Mega Man, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and Dungeons & Dragons (the cartoon, not the popular gaming franchise), and it does not combine them well. The characters are paper-thin, and when I say "paper" I mean the Bible kind, not your standard 81/2 x 11 inch sheet of standard printer paper. I wish I could say they were cardboard, but they're not even that. The plot has an equal amount of issues, and I saw today, while obtaining the image for this blog post, that the author had posted his own review... of his own work.

Let me be clear in saying that I don't wish this author ill. I'm not even taking a "high and mighty" approach, here, or at least I'm not attempting to. He wants people to give it a chance, look past the flaws, and be entertained. I did, I did, and I wasn't. I have earnestly tried to get through to him with advice, and I thought buying the book would make that advice more sticky; he has a lot to learn about writing and about presenting himself. Heroseed needed more time "in the oven," as it were, but I hope Miller doesn't give up on writing as a whole.

The Dresden Files, Books 1-3, Jim Butcher (Boxed Set)
Publisher: Roc (April 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0451947207
ISBN-13: 978-0451947208

I am kind of a sucker for book recommendations. Let's be honest, most of us are. Recently, Giles blogged about how much he enjoys The Dresden Files, which he'd told me a number of times previously. I typically stay away from what I deem to be Urban Fantasy, not because I think it's "bad" but because I don't find it all that enjoyable. Butcher has completely turned me around on this.

In short, The Dresden Files is a series of books told from the first-person perspective of an incredibly compelling character, Harry Dresden. He is a wizard, one of the only practitioners of the art who publicly announces this fact, operating a somewhat-detective-agency out of semi-modern-day Chicago. If this sounds sort of bland, like you've heard it before, let me be the first to urgently intone that that's not the case. Sure, you've seen or heard of noir-style, hardboiled detective type novels, but are any of them wizards?

Butcher combines fantasy and modernity in a way that I previously thought was impossible, Twilight and Harry Potter notwithstanding. His writing style, particularly his descriptions, are masterful -- even in these early 3 books (and I'm told it improves even more throughout the Files, which is sort of rare for a long-running series). When I say that Harry, as a character, is compelling, I mean that he is both entertaining and likeable. Relatable. Believable. Endearing, even, though he'd probably punch me in the face for saying so (if he were, actually, real).


I will be picking up the rest of the Dresden books in short order, as the first three left many unanswered questions. Quite simply, I want more. I mean, if he can manage to make werewolves interesting again, what can't Jim Butcher do?


[To Read]

Talk Dirty French: Beyond Merde: The curses, slang, and street lingo you need to Know when you speak francais, by Alexis Munier & Emmanuel Tichelli
Publisher: Adams Media (June 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1598696653
ISBN-13: 978-1598696653

As many of you know, Micah and I are traveling to France in less than 3 weeks. Both of us believe it to be disrespectful to visit another country and expect them to speak our native language, American/English. It's nice when they do, as many did in Japan, but we don't expect them to. That being said, learning languages is incredibly difficult -- especially in a short amount of time. I mean, people go to college/university purely to learn languages, right? It's not an overnight job.

It is with this in mind that I've acquired a few "book on tape" learning lessons. I know a few phrases, a few pronunciations, and a few rules of speaking very basic French. Even so, communicating in a language that is not my own will be touch-and-go, just as it was in Japan. To assist with this natural handicap, I'm glancing through more of a vernacular-style guide to French. I don't expect I'll be able to hold a conversation en Francais anytime soon, but at least I won't be like [almost] every other American who visits France. I hear some of them even praise people for speaking proficient English. Ask Princesse Ecossaise all about it. Makes me want to punch something. Seriously.

Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Millan and Melissa Jo Peltier
Publisher: Harmony; First Edition edition (April 4, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307337332
ISBN-13: 978-0307337337

We have dogs. Occasionally, they misbehave. Recently Suki has begun eating a substance mysteriously left in our back yard... which shall remain nameless for the time being. If you follow my Twitter feed, you can probably figure out what it is purely based on the fact that I don't say what it is.

Micah and I have watched The Dog Whisperer show in the past and, though Cesar has many critics, we find a lot of his concepts very helpful in managing our dogs misbehaviors (and our subsequent rage over them). I bought this book for my parents when they got a dog, and I figured that if I'm recommending it to others I probably should read it myself. Should be interesting, at the very least.

The Parkour and Freerunning Handbook, by Dan Edwardes and Parkour Generations
Publisher: It Books (August 18, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061783676
ISBN-13: 978-0061783678

One thing that many people don't know about me is that, deep down, somewhere, I am a freerunner at heart. I watch movies like Casino Royale and District B-13 and drool. This is something I've always wanted to try, but I've either been too out of shape or just plain too cowardly to give it a go. I'm officially putting it on my to-do list.

Keep your fingers crossed that you don't see a broken leg/arm/head post sometime in the near future.

The Laptop Dancer Diaries; A Mostly True Story About Finding Love Again, by Yvette Francino (& Laptop Guy)
Publisher: CreateSpace (February 12, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1450580203
ISBN-13: 978-1450580205

I read portions of this book as it was being assembled because Yvette is a member of my Critique Group. It was hilarious, original, and well worth my time even then, in draft form. Now that it has been completed and put into published form, I got my hands on a copy and will be reading it from cover to cover.

I recently had a discussion with Yvette regarding the book's genre. It's part chick lit, part self-help, part romance, part humor, part memoir, and part inspirational. The book is about her journey to achieve a few goals, one of them being to write a book and (subsequently) publish it. I honestly can't wait to read this masterpiece, but I might allow Micah to give it a go first. She's working on White Oleander, at the moment, but I'm pretty sure LTDD is next in line.

Wicked; The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 27, 1996)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0060987103
ISBN-13: 978-0060987107

Yes, I started reading this book months ago and I haven't finished it yet. I'm not quite sure why I put it on the back burner to begin with, to be completely honest. The story is intriguing, the writing is lavish and beautiful, and the plot moved along at a fairly steady pace. So why the delay? Well, Scions of the Shade, that's why.

Don't fret, though, I'll be returning to Oz in the coming weeks to read up on the fate of poor little green Elphaba and her companions. Then, at some point, I'll need to see the musical. Seriously.


[Works in Progress]

I love reading so much that I'll even read books that aren't finished yet! No, seriously, I have grown to enjoy and appreciate critiques through my aforementioned group, and I feel I've gotten better at giving (and taking) them. Therefore, I put these talents to use for people who ask nicely and/or projects that I feel I absolutely must read.

Defender of the Crown, by Giles
Defender is one of the latter group. I'm pretty sure I practically forced Giles to send me the manuscript which I then sat on for a short time (while I was writing, give me a break) and then breezed through. We met over coffee and I gave him about 2 hours worth of feedback, mostly good but also some constructive suggestions wedged in between. It really is nice to have a local "peer"; someone who's interested in not only reading my chosen genre but writing it as well.

Currently I owe Giles a highlighted version of his draft MS to showcase where I think he can expound or otherwise improve the details of scenes. My goal was to finish this today, but that was before a 4-hour conference call, and before taking nearly 2 hours to write this blog post. Sorry Giles, I'm working on it.

The Devil's Blood, by Nila
A recent friend-of-the-forum "volunteered" to critique my initial draft of Scions, and I respectfully offered to do the same for her. I haven't cracked open the files yet, but it's on my list after I finish work on the Giles hardcopy. Her critiques on mine have, so far, been extremely helpful and insightful. I hope to offer the same quality of input back.


And there you have it. I'm sorry for the length of this post; I didn't know it would grow to be so enormous when I came up with the idea. If you took the time to read this far, certainly you have a few seconds more to leave a comment.

Until next time!


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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Big Break


No, not that kind of big break.

I'm talking about more of a "rest" break. As I said before, I recently finished the first draft of Scions of the Shade. Its folder has graduated up from my WIP folder to its own home inside the Writing folder. This is a big step for the project, considering there are only two other project-named folders inside there (the rest are genre-named and only hold snippets of ideas... or other folders).

No, the big break I'm talking about is the break I get to take from this particular project. And, frankly, from writing in general. I've been driving myself nuts with trying to finish this draft, writing about 50,000 words during the month of April to complete the second half of the manuscript. I deserve a rest. So do my fingers.

You might be wondering what, exactly, a writer/author does during a time like this. I read. Read, read, read. Not that I don't read while I'm writing, but it's to a far lesser extent than during a break.

Pretty much all of my energy while working on a project is tied to that project; either I'm agonizing over ideas I've come up with, agonizing over the lack of ideas, or figuring out how to put those ideas into the proper scenes. I'm always thinking about the book. The plot. The story. The characters.

I've had enough (for the moment).

They say, in numerous books-on-writing, that you should take a break after you finish a draft. Get some distance from the work so you can return to it with a sterilized eye when editing time comes around. At least, some say this... NaNoWriMo thinks it's a good idea to write 50,000 words in November and edit them in December. There's something to be said for looking at the project while it's still fresh, but right now I just don't have the energy.

So, I read. I'm in the process of examining a WIP of a friend, doing some highlighting on a printed version to show areas of particular interest for improvement or attention. I just finished Storm Front, Dresden Files book 1 by Jim Butcher (a fantastic book, by the way). Most of the day Monday was spent reading a vanity-pressed novel from an acquaintance on message boards I frequent, purely so I could write a review that would make him realize how half-baked the novel was (and, sadly, will remain).

I still have Wicked that I need to finish, filled with such rich prose that it is like literary cheesecake. Two other Dresden books await my perusal and, considering how much I enjoyed the first, I will probably tear through those in no time. What can I say? I'm a sucker for well-done 1st-person POV, high tension, and narrators who keep me involved in the story. I've also made a new friend who is having a first look at Scions, only the second person to see the finished product, and soon I will be taking a gander at their WIP to see if my scrying eye can pick out any areas of improvement.

What comes next, I can't say, but I have the entire month of May. Time to relax, unpack, and not think about how hard I'm going to hit my first draft come June 1st.

What about you? Do you take breaks after finishing drafts to distance yourself, or do you dive right back in? And, for all you non-writers out there, what are you reading right now? How are you liking it?


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