Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Next Big Thing – Authors Tagging Authors

When Natalie Buske Thomas, author of The Serena Wilcox Mysteries, asked me if I would like to be tagged as part of The Next Big Thing- Authors Tagging Authors, I was happy to do it. I’m opening this blog up next month for guest blogs, blog tour stops, etc, so this seemed like the perfect kick off to the blog’s new phase.

Let me introduce you to Natalie: Not only is Natalie an author, she is an oil painter, song writer and vocalist! Natalie is drawn to all things Irish and longs to visit Ireland. She can’t explain why her Irish ancestry has become so important to her, but she feels a strong sense of belonging when learning more about her Irish roots. You can check out all her books and other forms of art at her website, www.nataliebuskethomas.com.

Thank you, Natalie, for inviting me to participate in “The Next Big Thing”. Now it’s my turn to answer the questions and tag other authors at the end of my blog post.

What is the working title of your next book?

IXEOS: Rebellion. The tentative release date is the first week of June!

Where did the idea for the book come from?

IXEOS: Rebellion is Book 2 of the IXEOS Trilogy. The series is about an alternate earth, humanoid aliens, and the rebellion of the enslaved humans with a little help from some teens from our earth. The idea for the story came from a combination of a story in National Geographic about the almost 200 miles of tunnels under Paris, and a kayaking outing my daughter and I had.

What genre does your book fall under?

What genre doesn’t it fall under! It’s YA dystopian sci-fi fantasy. Thriller.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie version?

Liam Hemsworth would be good as Clay, since he’s a big, beachy kind of guy. Jennifer Lawrence would be a good Neahle, and Logan Lehrman could be Marty. For the older characters… Hugh Jackman could be Darian, Christian Bale might be a good Vasco, and Josh Lucas for Abacus.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Finally freed from his long imprisonment, rebel leader Darian must bring the humans of Ixeos together to fight a common enemy, the alien Firsts.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m an indie author! I have a small publishing company called Ross James Publishing, which is the imprint on my books.

How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I write pretty quickly. The first draft took about 30 days of actual writing, but there were some interruptions along the way. Probably about two months altogether.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was the inspiration for me to start writing novels. After that, it’s been full steam ahead! C

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?

The overriding theme of the trilogy is purpose, destiny and doing the thing you were meant to do.

WHERE TO FIND MY BOOKS

Here are some great authors who volunteered to be tagged for The Next Big Thing – Authors Tagging Authors:

FRAN VEAL – Mystery/thriller/suspense  “Finding My Escape”

C. ELLE KENT – Christian romance   “Finding Grace”

LEELAND ARTRA – Fantasy  “Thread Slivers”

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To blog or not to blog…

time

There have been conflicting reports lately (ironically, on blogs) about the benefit of blogging for writers. Jane Friedman had a guest post by LL Barkat, who gave compelling reasons that writers should stop blogging. Then she had a follow up (written by Dan Blank) that gave reasons to keep blogging as well as advice on when to kill a blog. Both actually make good cases, and it’s gotten me thinking about my blogs.

I have three blogs. The first one I ever had is called The View from the Sunroom and is a mix of personal stuff: life over 40, family, recipes and cooking, health. I enjoy it… but I rarely think about writing on it. Because of that, I don’t have many followers and don’t get many hits. On the one hand, I’ve used it when I can’t find some recipe I created. On the other… well, it’s not really a good use of time.

My second blog is for my non-profit, Ten Eighteen Inc. This blog is updated somewhat sporadically, but it’s important to have, because it’s the way I get my trip information, as well as things I want donors to know but don’t need to add to the website, out there. I promote it some, and it links to the website (and vice versa), and it’s the easiest way to disseminate that information, so I will keep it.

This blog is my writing blog, and I enjoy it. When I didn’t write for three weeks, on my last Uganda trip, it definitely lost momentum, which is a lesson learned: write and schedule blog posts ahead!  I don’t have a huge following, but I do have enough to make it worth the time. Plus, the homeschool mom/teacher in me enjoys passing on information in hopes that you will find it useful or thought provoking. It’s a keeper, as long as I’m still enjoying it. If it ever begins to feel like a chore… Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

What about you? A lot of readers of this blog are bloggers themselves. How do you feel about the time and effort you put into your blogs versus the return/reward? If you read the above to posts on Jane Friedman’s site, what are your thoughts? The digital age moves fast. Blogs have been around awhile now. There are certainly ones with big followers and a lot of success, but like other things, it’s not for everybody, and not everybody is going to hit it big, even if their content is great. A lot of things are like that, including books and restaurants… So how about you? Thumbs up or thumbs down on writers and blogs (or other professions and blogs)?

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Lazy Literary Agents In Self-Publishing Money Grab via Argo Navis

If you are self-publishing, as always beware of companies offering anything but fee for service (ie a one time charge for a service). This is ridiculous.

David Gaughran

argoI was at the London Book Fair last week – and I’ll be blogging about that soon – when the news broke that David Mamet is to self-publish his next book.

His reasons? “Publishing is like Hollywood—nobody ever does the marketing they promise.”

While I think it’s great that someone as high-profile as David Mamet is self-publishing, I was very disappointed to find out the way he’s doing it.

Self-publishing is big business. By my estimates, self-publishers have captured 25% of the US ebook market. It can be lucrative on the individual author level too, with writers getting up to 70% royalties if they publish themselves.

The reason why those percentages are so high is that self-publishing allows you to bypass the traditional middlemen (agents, publishers, distributors) who each took their own slice of the pie before the author saw any money.

Literary agents in particular must be worried…

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My first love, dialogue

Dialogue art

As I wrote that title, I thought, “Hm, that’s interesting. I like to write dialogue the best, but my stories evolve so that characters form last.” I don’t know why that seems interesting/weird, but it does.

ANYWAY, dialogue. Most people aren’t very good at it. Some very successful writers got by with being bad at it because they were such great storytellers. Robert Ludlum comes to mind; he was terrible at dialogue and a fan of very long soliloquies by his characters. But man, could he tell a story. Obviously people gave him a pass, and rightly so, although perhaps an editor could have helped him out a bit more.

In my twenties, I worked as a dialogue doctor for screenplays. That seems strange, if you know anything about screenplays, because they consist of two things: dialogue and action. There is virtually no description in screenplays, barring something like “DIVE BAR, NIGHT.” The director and set designer get to take that and make their scene. So one would think that screenwriters would be great at dialogue. Early screenwriters certainly were. Think of wonderful, witty old movies like “My Girl Friday” or any Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movie. But movies have moved on to being a great deal more dependent on action than dialogue over the last twenty years, and that’s opened up the script-doctor position in most studios.

Fast forward to my own writing. I still prefer writing screenplays to novels. The problem is that the indie movement hasn’t really reached the movie business. A lot of selling screenplays has to do with knowing somebody, or being at the right place at the right time. Conventional wisdom is that, unless you have multiple screenplays, don’t even pitch one. Conventional wisdom says that you won’t get a screenplay produced until you’ve had a screenplay produced. Given the political and incestuous nature of the whole industry, that’s a game I prefer not to play. There are some efforts to publish screenplays on Amazon, and Amazon itself does have a screenplay division where you can submit your screenplay for the chance of it being picked up. I’m not sure how well these options work yet — it’s a new thing.

But even if I don’t write many screenplays, I still love dialogue. Not surprisingly, I like the three elements of fiction in this order: dialogue, action, and description. When I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo in November, 2011, I don’t think the first 50 pages had any description at all, in my panic to “win.” I’m better now, but it’s still not really my thing. I definitely have to work at it.

Dialogue, however, is how my brain works. When I read, I hear it in my head. I don’t just read the words, I hear the words. So when I write dialogue, that’s how I write it. I hear how the people talk, and write it down, accents and poor diction and sloppy sentence structure and all.

If you find dialogue difficult, let me encourage you that it is something you can learn. It may never come easy or be your first love, but you can definitely improve. My lessons on dialogue were always the favorite of my writing classes, and I’ll share with you what I told my students.

*  Eavesdrop. As an only child who is also an introvert, I spent my childhood eavesdropping! I listened at restaurants, listened at home, listened at parties, listened at Disney World, listened at airports. LISTEN to how people actually talk. One assignment I always give is for the student to go to a restaurant and eavesdrop on a table behind them. (The caveat is always that, if the conversation is obviously personal, please find another table!) Don’t look at the people, just listen. Try to imagine what they look like from how they are talking. How are they dressed? Are they big, small, tall, short, thin, fat, well groomed or shaggy? How old are they? Married or single? When you’ve got your description down, look and see if you were right. Then do it again, and again. Begin to pay attention to the people around you, to accents, to quirks, to humor, to the way people who know each other well talk versus the way strangers or business associates talk. Figure out who’s on a first date and who’s been married twenty years. Who’s a good listener and who just likes to hear themselves talk? When faced with a person who just likes to hear themselves talk, how do people respond?

*  Read books with good dialogue. If characterization and dialogue are done well, you can tell who’s talking without the descriptors. One of the ones I always use in classes is Winnie the Pooh. Ask someone to read aloud a passage of dialogue in a book you’re familiar with and see if you can identify who’s talking. If you can, the writer did a good job expressing his characters through dialogue. Children and YA books are sometimes better at this than adult books: Winnie the Pooh, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is full of great dialogue and distinct characters. Characters don’t just have a particular hair color, a particular way of dressing, and a specific job. They have a voice. Learn to give them a distinct one.

*  Read books with bad dialogue. As I said, Robert Ludlum was bad at it. Read some of his books (not these new ones that are written “for” Robert Ludlum, who has been dead fifteen or twenty years, but his actual books, like the Bourne books, The Parsifal Mosaic, The Gemini Contenders, etc.). Watch Star Wars – one of the reasons the acting was so bad (although the movies are still great) is that the dialogue was so bad that there was no way for the actors to look good saying their lines. Bad dialogue can ruin a book (although it doesn’t have to if the story is strong). It can be a good teacher. Signs of bad dialogue are:

  • Long runs of it, essentially lecturing or expostulating on something for much longer than any real human outside of a lecture hall would do.
  • Wording and phrases that no person like the character would ever say. Example: a child or teenager would almost never use a word like “accomplished” to express how good someone is at something. Having a child use a word like that, unless the child’s character is a prodigy or otherwise obnoxiously advanced human, jars the reader out of the story because his brain immediately calls foul.
  • Everyone sounds the same. Have you ever had to go back through a piece of dialogue where there are no “he said,” “she said” and count back until you can figure out who’s saying what? That’s bad dialogue.

Good dialogue both advances the story and advances the character. It also allows the reader to suspend disbelief. As a fiction writer, your number one goal is to get your reader to suspend their disbelief in your concocted story and buy into what you are saying. You want them to believe it while they’re reading it, even when their rational mind knows there are no such things as aliens or wizards or elves or gorgeous, multi-lingual, lethal triple agents. Anything that pulls them out of your story ruins that, and will increase the chances that the reader doesn’t enjoy the book – or comes away with something like my comment on Ludlum: great story but the dialogue sucks.

What’s your favorite of the three parts of writing? Any tips on how to improve the other two?

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Editing and mistakes

do whatever you like

I just read a good blog post by internet-friend Victoria Grefer on typos, and it got me thinking about editing in general. On the issue of typos, the more casual the writing, the less typos bother me. In my own writing, they bother me more than when reading someone else’s. These days, most traditionally published novels have typos and other editing errors in them. Budget cuts or carelessness? I don’t know. If I’m into the story, it rarely registers beyond a tiny blip on the radar.

But I’m in the editing phase of IXEOS: Rebellion, and so this is pertinent point. I’m not a grammar nazi, although I know some, and I don’t strive for grammatical perfection. Grammar doesn’t matter one whit in dialogue, which is my favorite thing to write, and a lot of grammar is somewhat subjective. Don’t believe me? Try an experiment: run your document through at least three spelling/grammar checkers and see what happens. I use Scrivener to write my first drafts, and do the preponderance of editing in that program. When I’m about to move it to Word, I run the spelling/grammar check. I fix things, move the document to Word on a pc, and run the novel through Grammarly. What do you know? There are now more, new things, or things correcting my corrections back to the way I originally wrote it. After Grammarly, I move the document to Word on my Mac for a final (or two) read-through and edit. When that’s done, I run the spelling/grammar check a final time. And… you guessed it. More/new things show up, often to go back to a formerly “corrected” version. Sometimes words that didn’t show up as misspelled before pop up.

What does this tell you? That, for fiction at least, the rules are flexible. In fact, they aren’t even so much “rules” much of the time. They’re suggestions. (Kind of like the pirates’ code in Pirates of the Caribbean.) While people, even the best of editors, are incapable of total objectivity when it comes to editing and proofreading, computer programs have no such issues. They are incapable of subjectivity. If three programs, all respected and widely used, vary in their use of grammar rules, then what does that say about those rules? Now, I’m not saying we should all be ee cummings and use no punctuation or capitalization at all. Obviously, grammar is a necessity for the reader. But if you want a comma somewhere that your editor or your grammar program doesn’t like, because it puts a mental pause in that spot (or vice versa), use the comma. If you don’t use ellipses exactly how “the experts” say to use them, but you always use them the same way, trust your reader to be smart enough to figure that out.

As indie authors, we owe our readers our best product. We have to take the time to edit, proofread, and edit some more. But you will never get it perfect, because such perfection doesn’t exist. There is too much subjectivity. A friend of mine recently confessed that she “always” edits books she checks out from the library. In pencil, thank God. Her daughter, who used to work in a library, had a conniption fit at this disclosure and (supposedly) my friend has stopped this practice. But she’s done it for decades, and has even written letters to authors to tell them about their grammar. Obviously, these are all traditionally published books. And we’re not talking about a typo or two. What does that tell you about the subjectivity of grammar?

The above meme says it all… Write whatever you like. Edit. Proofread. Then let your imperfect child loose on the world.

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