Monday, December 26, 2011

The Unveiling of the Cover for Enigma Black

First of all, I'd like to wish a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my followers.  You've all aided in truly brightening a rather dismal year for me. Here's to hoping that 2012 is a million times better.

Every writer develops a vision of their work at some point in time during the writing process.  A vision of their characters (whether they're short, awkward, have freckles, or jet black hair).  A vision of the setting (in the middle of a bustling city, a blooming meadow, or lost in a galaxy far, far away.  A vision of  each scene in the novel (the looks on their character's faces during a pivotal moment, the intensity of a fight, the beauty of the summer day when the hero and the heroine share their first kiss).  When and where this vision occurs depends upon the writer and can vary, being as fickle as a Bachelor contestant. For some, this vision may change repeatedly during the writing of the first draft and again during the final editing process.  For others, it was the vision that inspired the book to begin with:  A photograph taken on a beach overlooking the aquamarine shimmer of a wave hammering the shore; watching a mother and child holding hands in a hospital bed; or the malevolence of an abandoned building rising toward a darkened sky.

In my case, Enigma Black (a science fiction/dystopian/superhero novel about a woman who transforms from victim to assassin) was born from images; a series of dark images, coupled with my admiration of the music of Evanesence and a brief detachment from reality.  Of course, just as the characters, setting, and scenes are visualized, naturally, so are the covers encasing those visions. I have to admit, when it came to the cover, I had several different visions in mind.  I'm more of an abstract person.  To me, a little can say a lot.  With that in mind, I didn't want my cover to be too busy, but more of an accurate reflection of the inner turmoil faced by each of the characters with a hint of mystery attached to it.  I also wanted the colors (red and black) depicted in a painting in one of the later chapters to be represented as they represent the good vs. evil struggle that is prevalent throughout the book and the series as a whole. 

With all of that in mind, a wonderful graphic designer came up with the amazing e-book cover shown below that I believe is the perfect culmination of all of my visions for Enigma Black:

The aforementioned designer assisting me with bringing my vision to fruition is the very talented George Arnold, graphic designer at WGA Designs (and the husband of the equally as talented author, Carolyn Arnold).  To see more of George's wonderful work, click the link to Carolyn's blog or contact him at

Actually having a cover is motivating me to work even harder on my final edits.  As the time draws nearer to my novel's actual release, I'll post a brief synopsis and sample chapter on my blog. 

My next post will return to business as usual for my subscribers and will focus on getting through the daunting editing process.  Have a great week!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Social Networks are Important for Writers

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When I first began writing I naively believed that all it entailed was for one to write a book, send it off to the agent/publishing company of their choosing, and then reap the rewards of sweet publication. After all, how many millions of other books are there out there on the shelves already? Of course, with experience comes wisdom and with rejection comes the harsh reality: I may never be least, not by conventional methods. Thankfully, we live in a time where new authors have many more options available to them. Their voices can be heard and the works they believe in are no longer silenced by a simple form rejection letter. As a writer, I feel blessed to be alive during this time and shudder to think about all those other aspiring novelists born decades ago who never had the opportunity to be heard in a society hampered by the limited technology available at the time. Who did we miss out on reading? What epic story was never told? We truly live in a time of limitless opportunity.

In the forefront of this technological boom social networking sites emerged. Like many, when I first heard of social networking sites, I immediately thought of their less productive uses: chatting with friends, playing games, catching up on gossip, venting frustrations, looking at cute photographs of babies, and listening to others brag about their lives. I didn't understand their instrumental and flat-out necessary role in launching a new author's career nor did I get why having your own blog was essential. My how a lot has changed. The truth is, in order to be a successful writer, you must also possess an ability to market yourself. This is especially true if you're self-published. Since most of us budding authors don't have a Trump-sized bank account, the best medium for us to get our names out there consists of the use of the universally accessible and affordable world of social networking.  Not surprisingly, this is not the only reason why social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Tumblr, and MySpace are useful. Every day, writers are finding more and more uses for these forms of technology. I've outlined some of the more popular uses below:

Networking--I'm one of those people who believes that everything they do needs to have some level of productivity attached to it whether minuscule or not (anal, I know).  So, when I joined Twitter I decided  I would make my account solely to network with other writers, authors, publishing companies, agents, and whomever else was associated with creating/marketing the written word.  Networking is one of the most valuable tools there is for anyone looking to promote themselves or get their name out there. It can open doors for you or point you in the direction you need to take to get you where you want to go with your work.  Through networking, I've met individuals from publishing companies who've invited me to send in my novel, beta readers to assist with editing, resources to submit short stories for publication, contact information for agents, and many, many other wonderful writers.  I've connected with people who've I've come to consider friends and of whom I know will be there to lift my spirits or knock me back down to reality when I really need it.  Get out there.  Network. Follow those people with similar interests as you and talk to them.  You'll be surprised at how close you may become with them or what vital doors may open up for you through their advice.

Maintain a Healthy Level of Sanity--Let's face it, there are times where you need to remove yourself from sinking plot lines you just can't salvage, dialogues that don't seem to be going anywhere, or from starring at a blank screen after a serious bout of writer's block rears its ugly head. This is a good time to connect with those writers you've been networking with to share your innermost insecurities (as they most likely share similar ones as well), gather advice, or just not talk about writing at all.  Losing yourself in the social aspects of social networking sites is sometimes just as good as therapy in that any mental break at all from something that's causing you strife tends to recharge your inner battery allowing you to find clarity and insight where it didn't seem to exist before.  It's also always good to know that you aren't alone and that there are other individuals out there who share the same insecurties as you do.  In a way, this often has the ability to help you regain you own confidence so you can tackle your own obstacles head-on.

Getting your work out there--Before the advent of social networking sites and the Internet in general, if a writer wanted to get their work read, they were at the complete mercy of the publishing companies.  If their work was rejected, it wasn't heard outside of the writer's own social circle.  It was as though an invisible gag was being placed over their mouths, silencing all their hard work.  Today, be it a short story, epic novel, or a couple of mindless sentences, a writer has the ability to reach hundreds of thousands of people through a click of a mouse.  For those who lack confidence in their writing this can prove to be quite a booster as well as a learning experience from the feedback of those who read your works.  Writing was meant to be shared and with social networking that's now more of a possibility than ever before.

Promoting yourself--Unless your last name's "Kardashian" you probably have no idea how in god's green earth to promote yourself and/or your work.  You're a writer not a marketing entrepreneur after all.  Well, it's time to wake up and smell the reality show because there's more to writing than just actually writing (as any writer who's experienced instant recognition of which they were totally unprepared for will tell you).  For those of us who aren't lucky enough to have an agent, publicist or army of people assisting us with our every step, there's the wonderful world of social networking.  Social networking sites have made everyone from Justin Bieber to Amanda Hocking household names.  Aside from counterproductive gossiping machines, they're also useful tools to get your name out there to the world and to showcase your talent.  Think of them as free advertising to a wide variety of prospective readers and those who's attention may benefit you in future projects.  In order for your voice to be heard, people have to first know that it even exists.  Make them aware of it by promoting both yourself and your work.  Just return the favor for those who help you spread the word.

Learning/Improving yourself--Sharing your work naturally welcomes feedback.  Feedback is like manna from heaven for writers.  It brings all of your strengths and weaknesses to light (and trust me, there are plenty of writers/readers out there who are just aching to give you their opinions in that regard).  Social networking sites connect you with both your biggest critics and your most devoted fans.  They can humble you while also serving to inflate your ego.  By gaining these different perspectives, your abilities will grow and your eyes may open to crucial errors that you may have otherwised missed. 

Aside from sharing your own work, these sites also allow you to read the writings of other aspiring authors.  Reading the works of others is extremely beneficial as, like fingerprints and personalities, everyone has their own unique writing style and ways in which they tell their story.  Studying how others write can teach you a lot about your own style serving as a form of research tool  for you to hone your craft (not to mention it's just plain fun to read the work of others).

Ideas--I've learned quite a bit about how to market myself and my writing (as well as how not to) along with how to set up my blog as well as a plethora of other useful information about the industry through social networks.  Seeing how successful authors market themselves and interact with others in this profession has been incredibly helpful and the knowledge I've gained will greatly come in handy when the time comes for me to start marketing my own book.  Whether your publishing through conventional methods or self-publishing, there's always something that can be gained through others on social networking sites.  Look at the profiles of other authors; read their blogs; follow them on Twitter.  Go straight to the horses mouth for all the questions brewing in your mind as opposed to turning to Google for all the answers.

What are some other useful ways you've discovered to use social networking sites?

As promised, I'm ready to announce my first ever giveaway winner! I've been promising a giveaway since I was at a mere ten followers (or so it seems) as a way to bribe/plead with y'all to join my blog and it seems as though it worked!  By utilizing a purely scientific, highly mathematical equation (a/k/a pulling a name out of a hat), I'm happy to announce that the winner of a $10.00 Barnes & Noble gift card is Erin!  Congratulations, Erin!  I'll be in contact with you soon!

Thank you again to all of my followers.  Without you I'd just be talking to myself.  Since this one was so much fun, I'll announce another giveaway when I approach 200 followers!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Avoiding the Bermuda Love Triangle

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Ah, the love triangle.  It's nearly as common in fiction (and non fiction for that matter) as the happy ending, an angst-ridden teenager, prophesies,  forbidden love and the secret that could ruin the protagonist's very existence.  In fact, if some of the books I've read lately are any reflection of the current trends, it would appear as though the love triangle is just as much a staple as bread and milk (or perhaps it always has been).  Of course, a lot of this has to do with our propensity for staring at train wrecks whenever we come across them hoping to catch a glimpse of the victims. Why else do you think magazines such as Us and People are so popular.  People like conflict; big, fat, juicy conflict.  After all, sex sells and doesn't appear to be going out of style any time soon.

Still, despite how often they appear in novels, crafting the perfectly believable love triangle is a fine art.  Anyone can write a story about two guys falling in love with one girl, but it takes real talent to delve into the dynamics of it all and create three characters who are real, sympathetic, and who tug at the reader's heartstrings.  In essence, it's easier to sail into the Bermuda love triangle than it is to make it out without sinking. 

For me, when it comes to love triangles I'm pretty vanilla.  I can live both with and without them.  However, that doesn't mean I don't have opinions on what I think makes for a more complete triangle (as if me having opinions is anything new).  The following are some of my thoughts about literary love triangles and what authors should do and what they should try to avoid:

Make both love interests interesting and appealing--Why is your main man or woman interested in these two individuals?  Is one of them mysteriously dark and brooding with a secret life only fantasies are made of while the other one looks like a cross between Hugh Jackman and Gerard Butler (or Justin Bieber and Zac Efron for the younger crowd)? Whether they're complete opposites in every way or there's only just subtle differences separating them, there has to be something that appeals to the leading character's senses.  Is the main character a bookworm with a hidden desire to be a bad girl?  Then perhaps it would be interesting to make her attracted to both her geeky study partner and the perennial school ditcher.  Whatever you do, don't make it easy for the reader to choose which one would be the better fit for your protagonist.

Have realistic reasons why your main character is completely torn over who to give their heart to--When it comes to affairs of the heart in the real world the ultimate decision--though sometimes heart wrenching--is usually made fairly quickly as not too many people are willing to wait around while their love interest waxes and wanes over whether or not to be with them.  If your main character is too torn to make a decision then there better be a darn good psychological reason why their heart is so fickle and why their love interests have no sense of self respect and are continuously swimming in a sea of uncertainty as opposed to moving on with their lives.

Don't drag it on--I understand cliffhangers and leaving your readers guessing until the next installment, but if you're on book twenty and your character is still submerged in a pit of indecisiveness, there's something seriously wrong with both them and their two love interests.  For starters, no one is THAT incapable of making a decision. There is always going to be one person who possesses a fraction more of your heart than the other.  Once you've figured out who that person is, bam, you've made your choice.  Secondly, no self-respecting person is going to sit around for four books waiting for the main character to make their move (I could see two, possibly two and a half books for that decision to be made, but no more than that). If your main guy or gal is honestly that torn, throw in another love interest for one of their potential suitors.  Throw in a death, an illness, or your Aunt Matilda as a distraction.  Just make things interesting, believable and, for the love of God, wrap it up before the characters are old enough to start drawing Social Security.

Why the main character is appealing--Let's face it, unless you're Jessica Alba, there isn't any of us who haven't experienced unrequited love.  With that in mind, if your main character finds him or herself entangled in one of these trifectas of doom it begs the question why.  What is so appealing about your main character that the rest of us average folk don't possess?  Why are they finding themselves irresistible to two equally attractive, interesting, and charming literary characters?  Are they unassumingly gorgeous, unabashedly hilarious, or possess a keen sense for the usage of adjectives?  There has to be something that sets them apart from all the other boys/girls in their high school, tribe, or state.  This is where the author must walk a fine line.  First of all, you want to keep your main character relatable to your reader.  Making a character flawless will alienate those who find flaws within themselves upon comparison to this character.  On the flip side, making a character the king or queen of self -deprecation isn't the answer either and will only make your reader want to usher them to a taping of Dr. Phil.  Make your main characters relatable; make them humble but not perfect, flawed but not shattered.  Above all, make your readers fall just as much in love with them as their prospective love interests.

Conflict--There's no way on God's Green Earth you can have a love triangle without there being some sort of conflict.  Love is a powerful, hypocritical emotion that can both tear people apart and piece them back together again.  In the real world, it has started wars and ruined friendships.  Why wouldn't the same be true in the literary world?  It's unavoidable; someone is going to get hurt and it's going to be ugly.  Don't sugar coat the ugliness, tackle it head on for the relationships of those involved will never be the same again.

Don't write a triangle into your book just to sell books--I think this is pretty self explanatory, but I'll go into detail anyway. When something is written without passion it--pardon my French--sucks.  The greatest stories are those weaved from the heart and not from the wallet.  Writing something because you believe it will sell as opposed to something you truly care about will be reflected within the final product. Did you enjoy writing those twenty page essays in school about subjects you could care less about?  No, of course not.  If you were to go back and read them could you honestly say they were your best work and a true reflection of your personality and abilities?  The answer to that question is most likely a resounding no.  Why?  Because you're forcing yourself to write something that you have absolutely no interest in and your readers will be able to see through your motive as though they were looking through your window.

Don't create teams (my personal pet peeve)--I know this is big in YA, but I cannot begin to express how absolutely annoying it is to me to see "Team Dumb" and "Team Dumber" paraphernalia associated with a book.  Perhaps it's the fuddy-duddy in me, but I just don't get it.  Sure, it's only natural to have your favorite characters and, of course, we're all going to secretly root for one over the other.  However, unless one of your main character's love interests is a complete tool, picking sides like high school groupies (and I'm mainly referring to those ADULTS out there with the "Team Edward" t-shirts hanging in their closets--you know who you are) completely takes away from the book itself.  If the story is well written and the character development is spot-on then both characters should be more than just words on a page. They should have hearts and souls that seem real and speak to you as the reader.  Think about it, if you had two incredible men/women pining over you and you ended up choosing one to the utter devastation of the other, would you want your classmates donning "Team Loser" buttons in class?  No, of course not.  Why?  Because someone got hurt and although your feelings for them didn't run as deep as the other guy/gal, it doesn't mean they should be dehumanized by the fan club of their rival.  Agree with me or not, just please sway your readers away from collectively turning your well outlined, serious work of art into something laughable enough to be the subject of a movie parody.

Don't let the relationships define the protagonist--Do you know those girls (sometimes guys too, but primarily girls) who are so completely co-dependent on someone else that it's a miracle they can breathe on their own without them?  Do you constantly find yourself saying, "Gah, I hate those girls"?  Enough said.  Your main character should be able to stand on their own two feet and not define themselves by which guy/girl they ultimately choose in the end.  Similarly, they shouldn't alter themselves to fit the mold of their love interests.  For instance, if love interest number one, Robert,  is a mechanic and your MC is a girly-girl, it would be completely out of character and somewhat annoying of her to suddenly subscribe to Car and Driver while simultaneously investing in a year supply of berets to keep up with Damon, artsy love interest number 2. Give your protagonist a backbone.  Don't let them lose themselves in their love interests as you may end up losing the reader if you do.

The love triangle should not be the story--Unless you're writing for Days of Our Lives, a story shouldn't just be about how three people found themselves embarking to Bermuda on the cruise from hell.  Of course, love triangles are interesting.  Hell, they've helped sell books for centuries.  But, the more interesting, worthwhile books only contain a love triangle as a subplot to an even greater cause (think Water for Elephants, The Fountainhead, and Anna Karenina ).  I believe books should be written to serve a far greater purpose than for just entertainment value.  They should also contain a message without being too preachy, leave their readers with something to think about, and provide knowledge that perhaps the reader was previously unaware of.  In all, a book should delve deeper than its characters fickle libidos.

I know from previous posts that some of my readers are highly opposed to the inclusion of love triangles in books at all.  My question to you is why?  For the rest of you, what do you think of love triangles?  Are they too overdone?  Do you avoid them at all costs or do you embrace them with open arms?

Well folks, I'm happy to report that as of today I have 100 followers.   It's so surreal seeing triple-digit people following me.  For those of you who have been following my blog, thank you so very much.  I promise I'll be far more active here in the next coming months.  For those of you who haven't followed me yet, please take pity on me and hit that "Follow" button. ;-)

As promised, now that I've hit the 100 mark I'll be doing a giveaway soon.  Look for details in my next blog post!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Doing Your Duty as a Beta Reader

Since I've only beta read one book thus far (Pursuit of a Dream the first book in the Victory Lane Chronicles by Rob Pruneda, available on Smashwords for a steal at $0.99), I can't say that I'm an expert on the matter.  However, as a writer, I do know the importance I place on what I do and I would hope that those who choose to become beta readers would understand and appreciate this importance and place the same amount of it on the books they're critiquing.  Beta reading is a very rewarding experience (no matter what side of the fence you're on.  On one hand, it gives you the opportunity to read the works of other writers, unpublished or published.  For me, reading the books of others gives me a new perspective on my own work.  It gives me ideas on how I can better my writing and, in some cases, on what I'm doing wrong.  Being the recipient of beta reading opens up your eyes (and makes your stomach turn with anticipation while you await the results).  Other people are naturally going to see things that would have otherwise completely eluded you, whereby giving you insight on what you're doing wrong--or right for that matter. No matter whether you intend on e-publishing or going the traditional route, I highly recommend the usage of beta readers to give your work that extra polishing.

As I mentioned, my experience with beta reading is limited, but I still like to think that I know what qualities to look for in a person who is going to beta read my work and what qualities I believe you, as a beta reader, should exhibit when evaluating the manuscripts of others:

Don't worry about hurt feelings:  Your most important job as a beta writer is to be honest.  It's not doing the author of the book you're reading any kind of service for you to sugarcoat any criticisms you may have.  As writers, one of the first things we have to develop is a thick skin.  Harsh words come with the territory.  The fact is, not everyone is going to LOVE your book (shocking, I know).  As a beta reader, you need to point out all the errors in the plot, the predictable dialogue, the errors in grammar, and--worst case scenario--whether a major re-write is going to be needed in order to salvage the book. You're there to give your honest opinion; that's why the author asked you to beta read for them in the first place.  If they're a reasonable person, they'll be able to take the verdict they receive and better their work.  If they're not, then they were never ready to handle their work being beta read in the first place.

Never beta read the works of your friends/family:  There is no way you can be 100% truthful and unbiased with those you care about.  Think of it as the crappy children's art syndrome. Okay, perhaps that's a little harsh, but for those of you with kids, you may know what I'm talking about.  When your child brings you that "puppy" they drew that looks more like an atomic bomb exploded in a room full of Smurfs, your reaction isn't, "What the hell is this crap?" It's more like, "Oh my gosh, sweety.  This is so beautiful!"  And you mean it, for the most part.  When you read the works of those you care about, like it or not, there are blinders that naturally appear.  What one may perceive as awful, another may perceive as needing only a slight tweaking.  Even if those blinders never show up, there is still the thought that you are going to have to see these people on a regular basis and you don't want your words to have completely shattered their dreams (making for a very awkward Thanksgiving). Read the works of close friends and family for fun, but never go beyond that.  Giving someone false feedback is never helpful.

Break out your fine-toothed comb:  Next to being honest, a beta reader needs to be thorough.  Read each page, digest every sentence.  Don't just look for those errors that stand out, look for those errors that are camouflaged in the midst of otherwise flawless, beautiful writing. Be watchful of small glitches in detail.  Did a character leave his or her coat at home and it has now magically appeared while said character is in the midst of a 600 mile road trip?  Are the characters being true to the original picture the author painted?  Is the story flowing like a babbling brook or is it slowly trudging uphill in a snowstorm? After reading their book a hundred times over, the author tends to become blind to the obvious; their minds mentally correct the mistakes.  Beta readers provide new eyes and have the capability of spotting those errors in detail missed by the authors after their 101st read-through.

When in doubt about a grammar/spelling error refer to sources:  Break out the dictionaries, thesauruses, and various other books on the proper usage of commas, semi-colons and em-dashes.  None of us are experts nor do we always avoid making grammatical errors.  If you don't know whether something is wrong, refer to the sources.  If you still don't know afterwards, then throw a suggestion in anyway.  At least this will give the author something to think about while simultaneously quieting the nagging monkey on your back.

Avoid discouragement:  As much as you need to be honest with your criticisms, you should never tell an author to give up on their dreams.  All writing is subjective.  There are published authors out there whose books I prefer not to read as their writing style doesn't do anything for me.  But, they're published authors and they have a fan base that I can only dream of.  Give the author your honest opinion, point out what doesn't work and what you didn't care for.  However, never under any circumstances tell them to quit what they love nor discourage them from writing more in the future.  Encourage re-writes and offer to read them once they've completed them.  Just because their writing doesn't work for you doesn't mean it won't for others who read it.

Your Preference v. Their Writing: Let's face it, we all have our different tastes and there are just certain books you see on the bookshelf that, although they may be well-written, simply just don't appeal to you because you're not into love triangles, ghosts, robots, cowboys or talking rodents. Hence the existence of genres.  Chances are, unless you stick to beta reading exclusively from your own genre, you're going to be asked to critique a book containing subject matter that appeals very little to you, if at all.  This is where you need to put your own preferences aside without allowing them to bias your opinion and focus on the writing itself.  Sure, you may rather endure Chinese water torture than read a shoot-em-up Western, but you can't let that stop you from focusing on sentence structure, plot lines, grammar, character development, dialogue and all the other jazz that comprises truly great writing.

Timeliness and Follow-Through:  When you agree to take on somebody else's work, you're essentially agreeing to make it a priority.  Granted, there are those unforeseen events in life that can act as a set back to your duties as a beta writer, but you should still keep on top of things by shooting the author a quick e-mail letting them know where you're at in the book, your thoughts thus far, and a reasonable time frame for completion.  Yes, being thorough takes time, but that doesn't make it acceptable to begin another writer's work when the snow is flying only to finally complete it while you're sitting on your back porch in your bikini sipping a mojito. When you agree to take on someone else's work, you agree to make it as important to you as it is to them and to honor the fact that they have their own deadlines and expectations of when they'd like to see their work completed.

What are your thoughts?  Have you ever beta read for someone else?  Ever had a bad experience with the beta reading process?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Art of Naming Your Characters

As I enter my fourth month of pregnancy (which is the good news I mentioned in a previous blog before things in my family went downhill), I'm starting to contemplate the all important conundrum that all parents face:  What in the world am I going to name this new bundle of joy?  For some couples--those super anal-way-too-organized-pairs-who-already-have-a-list-of-names-to-go-on--this essential part of child rearing was accomplished before conception even took place.  For the rest of us, there's countless hours of pouring over baby name books, looking up names on the Internet, and thinking of the names of those individuals in high school who annoyed the holy hell out of us--and avoiding the usage of their names like the plague.  There's arguing with our spouses over the aversion to some names as they sound too stripperish and beating our heads against the wall when the only names they suggest are also their favorite beverages (i.e. Bailey, Bud, Miller, Gin-ny, Jack, Daniel, Jim, Jose, etc--although we did end up naming our daughter Bailee so I guess, in a sense, he won that argument).  In the case of my husband and I, we have chosen not to find out the gender of our baby and, in essence, have thrown ourselves into the seventh circle of hell as we now have to come up with TWO names instead of one.  And so begins five months of nothing but arguments.

All joking aside, naming a child is something that a parent absolutely cannot eff up for reasons too numerous to yammer off.  The name you bestow upon your child sticks with them for the rest of their life.  It defines them, often painting a mental picture of them to those who've never personally met them.  For example, the name Bertha conjures up an image of a portly woman who could mop the floor with my ass any day of the week.  Whereas the name Fifi, on the other hand, brings to mind the image of one who is prim, proper, and dons and overabundance of pink. 

Since finding the perfect name for the real characters in our life is so important, shouldn't finding just the right name for our literary characters be equally so?  Like it or not, your readers are scrutinizing your characters and forming their own mental pictures of them based upon the names you've given them even before they get to actually "know" the characters themselves (and most of the time those mental images are completely skewed). 

As writers our goal is to write a story that resonates with our readers; one that leaves them both fulfilled and wanting for more.  We're like entertainers on paper whose duty it is to keep their eyes glued to the pages and their rears in their seats.  An essential part of this lies within the characters we create for our audience and associating names with those characters that they won't soon forget.  For instance, who doesn't know who Scarlett O'Hara, Atticus Finch, Howard Roark, and (unfortunately) Edward Cullen is?  I have to say that I will never be able to hear any of those names (either first or last) without associating them instantly with those characters. This is something we as writers need to accomplish and why finding the perfect names for our characters is so important. 

Therefore, the following is a list of questions to ponder prior to naming your literary bundles of joy:

1.  Is the name appropriate for who the character is or the image you want to convey?--Who is your character?  Are they a manly man or a string bean?  If the latter is true, then you may not want to go with Hercules, Steel, Tank, or Chuck Norris as names for this particular character (unless you're writing satire, then those will work just fine).  For a less than He-Man-like image, stick with names such as Mortimer, Leonard or Frankie--otherwise known as names that don't exactly scream sex symbol (no offense to the Mortimers, Leonards and Frankies out there). If you decide to use a more conventional first name, think of a last name that would convey the way you picture your character.  As writers, we need to get to know our characters; envision them in our minds; then put a great amount of thought in how we label them.  What names fit?  What ones miss the mark?  If there's a particular image you're trying to convey, amplify it with a name that makes your reader think, Yeah, that sounds like a Jessica.

2.  How memorable is the name?--Granted you don't want to go overboard with choosing your characters' names, but you also don't want to pick names like John Smith, Jane doe, or Mike Jones either.  Using  a combination of first names and surnames which your readers may hear on a regular basis will make your characters seem generic.  Pick an interesting yet simple combination of names that will both stand out to your readers and keep your characters from fading into the background.

3.  What's the character's ethnic background?--If you're creating a character who has a distinct ethnicity--say Irish, for example--and you name your character Vladmir Jankowski, you may find yourself creating a dark smudge on the otherwise flawless picture you're trying to paint.  Know you're character's family background.  Research common names associated with their ethnicity.  Sure it's fine to deviate every once in a while, but make sure there is a reason for this deviation that your readers will understand without leaving them puzzled and wondering how your Japanese protagonist can have Smith as their last name without having been adopted.

4.  From what era is the character from?--I sincerely hope that none of you out there are seriously considering naming a character from the 1800's Makenzie, Shaniqua, Dakota, Skyler or Hannah Montana.   If you want your stories to be believable, you need to research your characters names just as you would the events surrounding their story.  Using trendy names from 2011 is going to seem incredibly out of place on characters who lived 40, 50, 75 or 100 years earlier.  Use search engines to look up those names that were popular back in the days of yesteryear.  The Social Security Administration has an index of popular names that goes back quite a ways (how far, I'm not certain). 

But, what if you don't want a common name?  What if you still want your characters names to be somewhat original?  Just because you select a name that fits the era you're writing about doesn't mean you're going to be stuck with a Frederick or a Mabel.  Pick a name toward the bottom of the list.  You may be surprised at how "trendy" some of those names were back in the day.

Fun fact:  The present day "female" names Ashley and Madison were, at one point in history, exclusively names for males.

5.  Is there meaning behind the name?--Does your protagonist enjoy gardening, have a fondness for animals, or a love for the water.  What about names such as Violet, Faun, or Brooke?  Perhaps their name could foreshadow events in their lives.  Maybe they're named after a special relative.  You don't have to get too literal with your fictional children's names, just have fun with them.  Incorporate a special meaning behind them and the story.  Make them relate to something in your life. By doing this you'll make them seem more real and believable which will only add to their overall development.

6.  Research surnames--As I stated above, surnames are just as important as first names.  Make your surnames match up with your character's background.  Look up popular names from different countries around the world to acquaint yourself with names that would be believable to your readers and fit the person you're trying to create.

7.  Are you going overboard on the exotic?--As a writer, I love creating names that I never heard before (which is widely done in science fiction).  The name of the heroine in my first novel is a combination of two different names and one that I've not personally come across (but is one that is not too out there in the feasibility department).  Although it's fun to get creative, authors need to rein in their creative liberties to consider their readers when naming their characters.  For instance, how hard is the name to pronounce?  As a reader, there's only so many times I want to tackle Shenaboquazowalskimich in a manuscript.  Keep your names unique, but simple.  After all, we want our characters to be memorable for all the right reasons.

8.  How overused is the name?--There are certain names that are a dime a dozen (John, Jacob, Jingleheimerschmidt).  Although writers can't avoid using common names altogether, I believe that they should try to incorporate the uncommon into their story.  Take Esther or Winifred, for example.  If you're writing a novel set in the present day, these names are not exactly ones you would hear every five minutes.  Consider the untrendy and write your characters in such a way that the unpopular seems trendy.

Okay fellow writers.  What are some names that you find unforgettable?  Names you automatically turn to when writing?  Names you have vowed to stay away from?  How do you find that perfect name?


Thanks to the wonderful Rob Pruneda @Sharkbaitwrites on Twitter, I have renewed faith in the potential of my first novel Enigma Black and am going gung ho on revisions.  This means that I may not post much in the next month (though I will try to get at least one per week out).  I've decided to check into smaller publishing companies first and then Kindle and/or Smashwords if those don't pan out.  My goal is to get something accomplished in the next three months so, hopefully, you'll be seeing my first novel out very soon!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Writing the Sequel/Series

I'm beginning to notice that when I go dormant with my posting I start gaining followers quicker. *Quickly ponders whether or not the new followers are to get me to shut up*.   As of right now, I'm inching oh so close to 100 followers and still plan on doing some sort of a giveaway once that milestone is reached.  To all my new followers, thank you for following.  Unfortunately, I do post more than what you've been noticing lately. ;-)

It seems like every time a movie (or a book for that matter) does exceptionally well, a sequel to it is automatically guaranteed--whether that's a good thing or not.  Nowadays, it appears as though there are more series being produced than stand-alone bodies of work.  It's almost as if single novels or movies are slowly becoming extinct and a series potential is the only selling point to a book.  Don't get me wrong, I love sequels (which is a good thing considering I'm working on a trilogy).  I just have a fond appreciation for those great, solitary novels that are able to captivate readers in fewer pages.

Besides just for the pure enjoyment and the demand from a book's readers, a writer should set out to accomplish something as they progress with each book in a series.  Each book should serve a greater purpose.  The following are examples of what I believe a writer should set out to achieve with each subsequent book.

1.  Each book should stand alone--The difference between a good writer and a writer who's clearly writing for all the wrong reasons lies within the necessity of this statement.  A good writer--one who writes because it's an extension of themselves--believes the aforementioned statement to be silly and grossly unnecessary.  Unfortunately, however, there are those writers who, after achieving immense success and a loyal following, forget why they began writing in the first place and start churning out novels as though they were working on an assembling line.  One great novel is used as a crutch to support the others. There are several instances (a couple series come to mind of whom shall remain nameless) where the second and/or third book seem to be pointless and just there to fulfill the obligations of the author's publishing contract.  If these books were meant to stand alone, they most likely wouldn't make it into publication without some sort of overhaul.  As a lover of the written word and an unpublished author, this obvious lack of attention angers me.  As a writer, all of your books should be the best reflection of yourself (the reflection you cast when you're gussied up for a big event and not just rolling out of bed).  A writer shouldn't let one book in their series stand by itself. Instead of your readers having a clear favorite book in the series, make it tough for them.  Give them something to marvel over in each book instead of  leaving them wondering was that it?

2.  There should be references to events in the previous book but not a full blown recap--I loved the overall storyline in Amanda Hocking's Trylle Trilogy (for the most part), but what I didn't really care for was the constant rehashing of the events in past books.  To me it seemed sort of redundant and unnecessary as most people read a series in order (albeit there are those people who don't which really confuses the hell out of me).  I understand that if there is a significant expanse of time between books in a series that readers may need a refresher course, however a book report is not necessary.  Include only the most pertinent information.  If you did your job in the previous books, your readers should remember all the specific and important details that are driving your series along.

3.  Tie up loose ends--If your character's Aunt Matilda uttered something poignant and decidedly attention- worthy while on her death bed in the first book, then at some point in time throughout the rest of the series the importance and relevance of that statement should be revealed to the reader.  One of the things I hate the most is when a loose end is left dangling and not tied up in a nice, neat bow.  Do something with that can of worms you just opened. Carry the mayhem over to the next book if you have to  instead of turning what could have been a very memorable facet of your series into nothing more than just filler whose inconclusiveness leaves your readers feeling irritated and cheated.

4.  The sequels should stay true to the fans of the first book, but must be able to draw in new fans as well--As I've complained about  above, there are those people who start a series in the middle or at the tail end  (or those who don't read the books at all and just wait for the movies to come out--shudder). Whatever the case may be, a writer needs to stay loyal to their fanbase, but must also be able to spice things up a bit in order to expand this base.  You can't depend solely on one book out of a series to build a readership.  The entire series needs to do this job.  As the writer, you will need to balance on a tightrope in order to do it as your readers will begin to develop certain expectations of you and their favorite characters of which you will need to adhere to or risk alienation.  Still, the story has to move and it has to do so with enough oomph to capture the attention of those outside your circle of fans as well.  After all, the more the merrier.

5.  Make characters grow--Your characters should not come out the same way they came in.  Everyone experiences growth in their lives. Whether it be growth in an entirely wrong direction or growth toward a more positive self-being.  Throughout a series, characters are put through the wringer (at least they should be).  Everything they thought they knew will be tested.  Their faith, their friendships, their hearts and even their souls.  Nobody should come out unscathed.  What were you like ten years ago?  Before you had your heart broken; before someone you loved passed away; or before your best friend stuck a knife in your back.  It's a good bet that you're a significantly different person now than you were then because of all you've experienced between then.  This kind of growth needs to be reflected in your characters as well. Everyone changes and life is hard on both the living and the fictional.

6.  Aim to make it better--I believe the goal of any writer should be to constantly improve upon themselves. If you aren't progressing forward, you'll remain stationary; stagnant and left alone floating in an ocean by yourself while everyone else sails away toward uncharted territory. Most of the time, sequels fail to live up to the original.  If you're writing a series, strive to change that.  Look at all the elements that made your first book great and enhance them in the forthcoming books.  Even if it's just a slight improvement upon the original, it will still make for a welcome read for your readers (who will already be poised to critique your subsequent novels within seconds after finishing the final paragraph in your first book).

7.  If your book series was made into a series of movies can you honestly say that each movie would be worth the cost of admission?--When I write, I often imagine how what I'm writing would translate over to the silver screen (oh come one, you know you do too). After I've completed a draft of something I've written I read it.  If I can't honestly picture myself enjoying it while sitting in a theater shoving snowcaps in my face, then I redo it.  After all, just like movies, books are meant to be entertaining.  However, unlike movies, you can't just wait for them to come to video.

All right readers, it's your turn.  Are you writing a single novel or a series?  What do you believe is important in order for a series to be successful?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Picking up the Pieces/The Liebster Blog Award

Picking up the Pieces

After a very brief and heartbreaking battle with bowel cancer, my dad passed away on Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 8:15 p.m. est.  As he wished, he died peacefully at his home surrounded by family and friends.  Despite the fact that he died from such a terrible disease, my dad was truly a lucky man in that he knew without a doubt that he was loved by many, many people.  During his illness his house was never empty and the love and respect people had for him was evident.  In the three short weeks between his diagnosis and his passing, my dad knew more love and support than a lot of people realize in a lifetime.  For that, I'm truly grateful.

Those people who know me know that I was very close to my dad.  No matter what I did or path I took he was behind me 100% .  These past few days have been a roller coaster of emotion for me.  On one hand, I'm happy that he's at peace and is no longer suffering; but on the other hand, I'm furious/sad/confused with everything that has transpired.  Just mere months ago my dad was a healthy, active man readying himself for his retirement.  He knew he didn't have a world of time left ahead of him, but he thought he'd at least have a decade or two.  At the very least he thought he'd see all of his grandchildren grow into their teens and the dawning of his seventh decade.  At the very least, he thought he'd get a chance to fight for his life. 

They say that only the good die young.  To me, my dad epitomizes that adage to a tee.

I've never been a huge church going individual.  I have a strong faith and a belief in God, but I've chosen to worship outside of church (most churches I've been to have contained some of the most hypocritical people I know).  It's my belief that faith is faith and a person can practice it any way they choose.  Still, as I tried to come to terms with everything going on around me these past few weeks, I found myself asking God for a lot of favors.  Please make my dad's death as comfortable as possible Please let someone be there so he's not alonePlease give me some sort of sign that he'll be okay. Remarkably, all of my requests were answered.  My dad passed peacefully and without pain; he was far from alone; and I know without a doubt that he's all right.

Within five minutes after my dad's passing, a double rainbow appeared directly outside his home. As luck would have it, I happened to have my camera in my purse and I snapped the photographs that  I've included below.  The second rainbow is very hard to make out in the  photograph and appears faintly over the more prominent arc.  Despite the ominous dark clouds, it had not been raining before or during the appearance of these rainbows and in fact had been relatively sunny up until then. 

Through our grief, the appearance of these two rainbows gave us all the comfort we needed to get through the night.

RIP Dad.  You will never be forgotten.

The Liebster Blog Award

Now on to a much more cheery topic...

When I first started my blog, I figured that I'd pretty much be talking to myself.  As time passed I started gaining followers, comments and overall praise for my posts.  What started out as an aspiring author blogging about writing in the hopes of becoming a better writer herself has turned into a blog with nearly 100 followers and a slew of amazing writers/authors stopping by to render their opinions.  To each and every one of my followers/readers, thank you.

The wonderful Jennifer at  The Writing Cocoon bestowed the Liebster Blog Award (information below) upon me during my hiatus from blogging/socializing with the world. Jennifer writes a highly informative blog filled with her own writing insights, resources for writers and pretty cool photographs.  Check her out! 

Thank you, Jennifer.  I'm honored to be one of your award recipients!

The goal of the Liebster Blog Award is to showcase up and coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. The rules:
  1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who bestowed the award on you
  2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog
  3. Copy and paste the award on your blog
  4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love
  5. Have bloggity-blog fun!
In compliance with the rules of the award, my five picks to pass on the Liebster Blog Award lovin to are:
1.  Megan Rae Lollman @ Meganraelollman

 2.  Sarah Pearson @ Empty White Pages

3.  James Garcia, Jr. @ Dance On Fire

4.  Kate Kyle @ Gone Writing

5.  Linda @  Wistfully Linda

All of the following are either authors or aspiring authors who have more talent in their left pinkies than I do in my entire body.  Their blogs are informative, interesting, entertaining and highly resourceful.  If you haven't checked them out already, I strongly recommend that you do ASAP.
Congratulations to Jennifer and all of my Liebster Blog Award recipients.  You deserve all the bloggity goodness coming your writerly ways.

Now that I'm officially in the process of picking up the pieces of my life, my blog posts will become more frequent and hopefully worth it to those who follow/subscribe to this blog.  Thanks again for all of your kind words during what has been the worst period of my life.  Without people like you I wouldn't have been able to make it through it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dialogue Development

Before beginning this blog post, I'd like to thank all of those who've given me kind and encouraging words during what has been and continues to be the worst time of my life.  I always knew I had awesome friends, family and followers, but your thoughtfulness has cemented that fact in stone.  My dad is doing better than we expected and I'm hopeful that he'll be with us for longer than his doctors previously anticipated.

In returning back to my usual blog posts, I'd like to focus on dialogue.  Great dialogue moves a book along making the pages fly by so fast that the reader barely has time to notice.  In some cases, it can enhance a so-so plot and so-so story telling.  For me this was particularly true in the book Something Borrowed.  Overall, I wasn't too fond of the actual story, but the dialogue was pure genius.  Without it, I wouldn't have been able to finish the book.

Dialogue can spark wars and end them.  It can break hearts and mend fences; it can give hope and take it away. Speech is the most essential tool we as humans possess and should be represented accordingly in literature. Compelling literary dialogue should be able to move the same mountains for fictional characters as it does for living, breathing characters.

There is a trick to writing dialogue that grips the reader (and believe me, I'm still trying to find it).  However, there are some definite dos that I've both stumbled upon and hold true for writing dialogue and I believe that following some of these important tips can help even the most chronic of dialogue stumblers.

Listen to others talk--It's been said that the best way to write dialogue is to listen to how people talk.  To me, this can be both beneficial and a tad bit frightening (especially if you've ever caught the tail end of a conversation taking place at a bar, Walmart, while walking down the street behind a pack of teenagers, or occasionally even in your own home).  Real people don't normally use words in casual conversation that us average people have to grab a dictionary to understand.  This is especially true when it comes to adolescent characters and it irks me to no end when I read a teenager using the philosophical language of a forty year old. 

In casual conversation, a lot of nonessential information is often included that does nothing to move ahead to the point the conversation revolves around.  Although you want to have variation in your dialogue, rambling may be off putting to may readers reminding them of their battle to get off the phone each time Aunt Milly calls for a "brief" chat.  Keep your dialogue, short, simple, real and as a tool to progress the plot along.

Profanity, stereotypes, and slang--Anyone who knows me, knows I have a tendency to swear like a sailor.  It's not a habit that I'm particularly proud of but one that I attribute to working with attorneys all day.  Seriously, you'd be amazed how much you swear after receiving a law degree. Despite my mouth, I still don't like reading gratuitous foul language in books.  Granted, I know a mobster, inmate, or all around hooligan is not going to substitute frickin' in place of the less savory option, but like all things it should be done in moderation. 

The same can be said about slang and stereotyping.  Whether the characters are white, black, purple, or from Planet Zoltor; young,old or immortal, not everyone speaks a certain way.  I know grandparents who speak like teenagers, children with a better vocabulary than some adults, and Asians with a southern accent.  Just because visually a person fits every preconceived notion you've ever had doesn't mean they were cut from the same cloth.  In writing, I believe it's important not to play up stereotypes as not only are they played out, but some may even find them offensive.  Unless you are doing a period piece where some aspects of them may be unavoidable, use them sparingly, or in a humorous matter

Flow seamlessly--Dialogue should transition from one topic to another.  If your characters are talking about how their children's temper tantrums are driving them crazy in one sentence, it makes absolutely no sense to start spouting off about astronomy in another sentence unless there's some sort of transition between the two: 



Mary:  "Jill's tenacity is driving me crazy," Mary said.  "She just won't quit."
Holly:  "I know the feeling," Holly said.  "Henry is just as bad."
Mary:  "Have you heard how the shuttle launch went?"


Mary:  "Jill's tenacity is driving me crazy," Mary said.  "She just won't quit."
Holly:  "I know the feeling," Holly said.  "Henry is just as bad.  I'm about ready to ship him to the moon."
Mary:  "Speaking of the moon, did you hear how the shuttle launch went?"

Use action--In my opinion, the best dialogue is made while pouring a cup of tea, fighting an evil villain, or taking a walk in the park on a summer's day.  When two people are speaking, they're not always sitting side by side staring at the wall, they're doing something while they're in the midst of conversation.  Whether that something is a remedial task or a more complex physical feat, I believe a little action with dialogue goes a long way.

Don't provide too much info--Being overly wordy--especially in dialogue--and saying more than you really need to to get the point across in order to advance the plot is never a good idea. No one likes Chatty Cathy's or those people who give too much unnecessary details away (or the ending for that matter).  Keep conversations light, efficient, meaningful, and as a tool to advance the plot without giving too much away.

Dialogue tags--I've read varying opinions on the use of dialogue tags.  Many people like them as they leave no doubt about who is commanding the conversation while others prefer the use of gestures or actions as indicators of those speaking. 

Ex:  Sally gestured to the book on Harry's coffee table entitled Here's the Situation:  A Guide to Creeping on Chicks, Avoiding Grenades and Getting in Your GTL on the Jersey Shore with a disgusted look overcoming her face, "You know the world is going down the tubes when even The Situation can land a book deal."

One of the more resounding concurrences I've read surrounds the use of primarily the words "said" and "ask" for dialogue tags.  This is not something I personally agree with as I'm one of those people who hates to see one word used several times on a page.  But I can certainly see how using a variety of tags can make your dialogue unnecessarily hard to follow and a tad redundant.  It's been said that if a writer writes well enough that the reader won't even notice the use of  "said" and "ask" over an over again,  but in my opinion if you can use other tags sparingly, then I believe you should.

Real people have issues vocalizing what they're saying--If you're like me, you do your best speaking through the written word rather than the vocal.  Those who are quick on their feet with retorts or witty remarks have always been the subjects of my envy.  With that in mind, why should writing differ from real life?  Granted, you're going to have those characters who speak differently from others, especially if these characters are smartasses, but in real life people don't talk like characters from The Big Bang Theory (as much as I love that show).  In order to be realistic, some of your characters should stumble through dialogue in certain situations or they should be rendered nearly speechless.  Not all of us are rocket scientists and we all respond differently when confronted with different situations.  If your characters speak too perfectly, you may lose your readers as they'll start to see the story as fake and lose their ability to identify with the characters.

Exclamations and um uh--One of the biggest no-nos in writing is the use of an exorbitant amount of exclamation marks (some people say you shouldn't use them at all, some say you should use no more than one or two throughout your entire novel).  Although I've used them--a God awful lot in my earlier works--I tend to side with the whole staying away from them opinion.  Unless the exclamation mark adds something to the story or if the urgency of the situation wouldn't come across otherwise (which is a sign that you need to revise) then I believe the surprise, shock or emergency can be conveyed through the use of normal punctuation. 

With "ums" and "uhs", a little goes a long way.  Even though many, many people speak this way, their overuse is enough to make me want to pull my hair out.  If this type of speech is true to the character you've created, then I would say it's fine to use them, just keep track of how much you're using them.  Reread their dialogue out loud.  If you find yourself becoming annoyed by them, it's a good bet your readers will too.

Unexpected--One of the things I hate the most (whether it's in books or in movies) is predictable dialogue.  Recently, I was watching a movie I'd never seen before but found myself being miraculously able to  recite what the characters were going to say in a particular scene.  Why?  Because the writer went for the obvious  retorts instead of coming up with something new or original. As writers, originality on top of creativity is essential.  Going with the obvious or jokes that were around in 1920 is going to do nothing for your readers. This is why it's essential to test your work with beta readers or those people you know will not be afraid to exercise absolute honesty with you.  Have them review your dialogue, if they can predict where it's going, then perhaps change is necessary.

Now it's your turn.  In your opinion, what makes for compelling character dialogue?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Next Few Weeks

I honestly believe writing to be one of the most therapeutic of mechanisms used for coping with all of the curve balls life tends to throw at a person.  In the past I've used it as a tool for dealing with everything from a broken heart, a sorely ended friendship, mother/daughter angst, and the usual injustices of life.  In all, my life was pretty average.  The only issues I ever had to deal with were superficial and pretty easy to handle with a little time and my keyboard or a pen and paper.  In fact, I've always considered myself fortunate enough to never have had anything incredibly tragic in my life of which I've had to cope with in one way or another. That all changed in the last few days.

I've always been much, much closer to my dad than my mom--a fact of which has annoyed her.  It's not because I favored my dad over my mom, but because my dad has always stood by me.  When my mom and others in my life turned their backs on me, my dad was there. He never judged me nor did he chide me for making stupid mistakes.  Instead, I lived my life and when I failed, he was there to pick me back up and help me fix what I'd royally screwed up without so much as a complaint.  In my head, I always knew that if something--anything--happened in my life, my dad was there to get my back. 

As he (and I) grew older, his mortality became present in the back of my mind.  Even though he never (up until just under a week ago) stopped working 50-60 hour work weeks, there was a definite weakness in him that wasn't there before.  For two months, he'd been experiencing intense pain in his abdomen.  After a litany of tests were conducted, doctors found an abnormal amount of fluid around his stomach.  More tests were ordered and all the terrifying diagnoses were ruled out from those tests...or so we thought.  As it turns out, even though a certain test sounds promising and final in its determination, it really isn't. 

My dad's worsening condition prompted immediate exploratory surgery.  As a result, instead of harmless gallstones and an unexplained accumulation of abdominal fluid (which can happen), my family has been informed that my dad has terminal cancer and has only weeks (3 to 4, to be exact) to live.  I don't think I have to say how horrifically shocked we all are.  After delivering the devastating diagnosis and saying he was sorry, Dr. Doom immediately put the kabosh on any hope of chemotherapy being of any actual help to my dad and told us that we will just have to do our best to make him comfortable at home.  Thus, these past few days have been the worst days of my and my family's lives.

However, through all of this, there has been one ray of hope in that we've encountered one doctor who believes chemotherapy may actually be of some benefit.  It won't cure my dad, but it may add months (possibly up to a year) to his life.  This hasn't been confirmed by an oncologist as of yet and we're all on pins and needles awaiting the doctor's assessment.  All of us that is, except my dad.  Instead of lying in bed comatose (as I would be), he's been joking with the nurses and taking it all in stride.  Inside, I suspect it's a different story, but the way he's been handling everything exhibits nothing less than the strength he's personified throughout his entire life.  Truly, my dad is my hero.

I've left the hospital for now, but anticipate spending many days there (if we are fortunate enough to have chemotherapy even be an option) and am turning to the one thing that has managed to heal all the superficial problems of my past.  My posts for the next few weeks are going to be sparse, but I will continue writing to maintain my sanity. 

Not to be construed as a public service announcement:  For those of you who are holding grudges or are just plain peeved at your parents, siblings, friends, dogs, or whoever may be irking you, it isn't worth it.  Just a week ago I though I had years left with my dad, now I've been told that I only have weeks.  Assess why you're mad at that person or why you no longer speak to them and ask yourself how you'll feel if they pass before you've had a chance to make amends. Chances are, it's more petty than you think it is.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Makes a Writer a Writer?


What makes a writer a writer?  Is it the amount of hours a person spends writing; how long they've been writing; or how successful they are?  Is it having a million story ideas or just one insanely good one?  Or is anyone who simply calls themselves a writer in fact a writer? I believe there is no one characteristic that is able to define all writers; and that the list of what comprises a writer varies depending upon who you ask.  To me, the term "writer" carries no clear definition and should be left up to the beholder to define as I feel no one is going to be able to definitively state that it means this or that and have the majority agree with them--other than stating the obvious by saying a writer is a person who puts pen to paper or finger to key.  

In reality, being a writer encompasses so many spectrums.  It is both an emotional and physical act; a hobby and a way of life; a source for release and a contributor to frustration. In essence, writing is a walking contradiction which holds the writer a willing hostage until their work is complete--if it ever truly is complete.  All of us have our own thoughts on writing and being a writer and those definitions we choose to attach to those words define who we believe we are and how we go about accomplishing things in life.  Some people write, but don't consider themselves writers; while others think of themselves as a writer the second they pen their first short story or line of poetry.

What makes a writer?  Is there such a thing as a true writer vs. a person who just writes?  Here are some of my thoughts:

Show me the money:  Some writers (those who've most likely have received their first paychecks from writing) define being a writer by the amount of money their words bring in.  To me, this is completely ridiculous. In fact, I believe the opposite to be true.  Sure, getting paid to write is nice--and I'm sure we'd all like to receive payment for it some day--but that shouldn't be the driving force behind our writing.  In my opinion, I think the more a writer is paid and pressured to pump out work for those paychecks, the more their quality of work deteriorates (take James Patterson for example).  This is why my blog is so high quality <insert sound of crickets chirping here>.

Most writers write just to be read and to share their voice with the public--the money is just the icing on the cake.  I know that I'm more than happy just to share my work (whether people like it or not) for free as, to me, payment comes in the form of their interest and not how much money they're willing to shovel out of their wallets for it.

See improvement as a constant goal: A writer is a writer when they realize that improvement is a must and performing in a straight line isn't going to get them anywhere but lost. The act of writing requires growth and a willingness to recognize your mistakes and turn them around.  It requires constant research, practice, and the ability to take the criticisms of others to improve upon yourself.  Possessing an ability to recognize this and the understanding that most roads--at least the good ones anyway--twist and turn their way to the desired destination diverting from a straight path is something every writer should quickly grasp.

Patience and Perseverance--My mother always said, "Patience is a virtue".  It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood the weight this phrase carried.  To be a writer, you must possess patience; a crap ton of serious patience.  Patience when you're encumbered by the block; patience during the editing process; patience during the querying process.  In general, a vast amount of writing is all about patience and those who don't understand that are doomed for failure. 

Along with patience, perseverance is the next essential aspect of writing.  If you're one of those people who gives up after one person turns you down, then how are you going to manage yourself after five, fifteen, or even twenty rejections?  In writing, the competition is stiff and quite extensive.  I'm still floored by the sheer amount of people who write.  As with pretty much anything in life, only the strong survive and those who can persevere through the rough patches are the ones who will succeed.

New ideas=Exciting:  When I find myself thinking of a new concept for a story, I get excited to the point where I have to physically restrain myself from bouncing off the walls.  And from what I've been gathering by reading blog posts and tweets from other writers, this is pretty much a universal truth.  Ideas are our muses planting a seed in our minds for us to care for and cultivate into a story. Writers thrive on this, usually taking the ball and running with it no matter where it may lead them.  It's an adventure for us; a chance to explore a part of ourselves we never knew existed. 

That isn't to say though that all writers must have a million ideas going through their heads in order to be writers.  Whether a person writes a hundred books or just one; a writer is a writer.  Take J.D. Salinger, for example.  Although he wrote numerous short stories and novellas, it was his one novel that he's known for the most.  Now, does the fact that Mr. Salinger may have only had one idea for a novel or just simply didn't put all of his ideas into other novels make him any less of a writer?  I don't think so.

Recognizing that it's a way of life and loving it--Although I firmly believe that you can be a writer and NOT write everyday (contrary to what Mr. Stephen King may say), writing must be seen as a way of life and done as regularly as washing the dishes, doing laundry and mowing the lawn.  Everyone has responsibilities in their lives that don't revolve around writing.  However, a writer knows how to work around their schedules to make writing fit into their lives and make it seem as natural as making dinner and packing lunches. They realize that writing is not a chore and step back from it if they begin to consider it one.  Like raising a child, it's fun, challenging, and something in your life that you absolutely love doing,

Knows publishing may not happen, but keeps trying anyway--To be a writer, I believe that you need to accept the fact that publishing--at least by traditional means--may never happen.  This may in no way be a reflection on your writing and can lie solely with what traditional publishing companies view as marketable. A writer should stay true to themselves and true to their writing and keep persevering.  Just because you're not accepted by one of the big publishing houses, doesn't mean you won't see success through other means.

Researching and sharing knowledge--Yes, I'm a nerd.  I thoroughly enjoy learning about new things.  And  maybe my being partial to this is why I believe that a writer should care about sharing concepts and ideas in their work. Whether it's something trivial like a statistic or detailing the inner workings of an 1800's railroad system, I believe a writer should give their readers something they can take away from their books and perhaps wouldn't have known had they not read them.

A belief in yourself--Above all, in order for a person to be able to call themselves a writer, they need to possess a belief in both them and their abilities. Why should anyone else care about you or your work if you don't?  It's imperative for a writer to develop a hard skin and take all the bullets that are shot their way in stride.  Hurt feelings breed counterproductivity and you won't get anywhere if you're not being productive.

Okay readers and followers, what are your definitions of a writer?

I'm smack dab in the middle of Ascend, the final book in Amanda Hocking's Trylle Trilogy. I'd mentioned in my previous blog post that I was going to do a review of Switched and Torn, but since Ascend is moving fast, I'm going to wait until I complete it and just do a review of the entire trilogy in an upcoming post.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sex and the Novel

If the sex scene doesn't make you want to do it - whatever it is they're doing - it hasn't been written right. --Sloan Wilson

Sex; we all love it. In fact, it's the reason why we're even here at all (yes, like it or not, your parents had sex at one point in time). With that fact being evident, why is it still that some writers are so hesitant to go down a road we're all pretty much familiar with? I believe the reason lies behind the fact that sex is one of the hardest of human interactions to capture as far as believability is concerned. Writing about sex is difficult in that it's hard not to make it sound hokey. Everyone has their own definition of intimacy and what they believe is sensual or just plain sadistic. For some people, even the simple act of kissing in public is seen as completely taboo, while others think nothing of climbing all over each other in plain sight. Like most things in life, the key to writing a sex scene that successfully falls somewhere between ho-hum and whips and chains lies with balance. There's a fine line between being too raunchy and incorporating a necessary amount of detail to make the scene believable without completely turning your readers off (no pun intended).

For me, writing about sex is still one those areas that makes me blush. Although I'm getting better at it and am currently outlining/working on a book that is going to pretty much require the insertion (these unintended puns are writing themselves) of these scenes of intimacy, I still can't help but think to myself, what if my parents, siblings, pastor, 7th grade math teacher, neighbor, friend's dog, monkey's uncle, read this? If you're like me and this crosses your mind when you're writing, the best thing to do is just tune out that little prude inside your head and realize that you're an adult and all of those aforementioned individuals are no strangers to the topic of sex (no matter how much you wish to God they were). Turn off all your inhibitions and listen to the muse who guided you to write the story to begin with. After all, creativity shouldn't be marred by restrictions and just because you're writing about a shameless hussy, doesn't mean you too are one.

I think we can all--or mostly--agree on what makes for a good sex scene.  But what makes for a bad one?  What turns a scene from believably romantic to utterly vomit or laugh-inducing?  The following examples are my 6 don'ts to writing sex scenes in novels:

Avoid the cutesy body part names and adjectives: Trust me, unless your readers haven't matured above the age of twelve they aren't going to find descriptors such as man meant, one-eyed willie, junk, lady flower, passion rod, oyster, clitosaurus rex, lady pocket, love portal (my personal favorite), the promised land, or adjectives such as glistening, throbbing, heaving, moist, wet, suckle, lick, slobber, graze, or pant the least bit appealing ( I apologize if this portion of the post offended anyone--trust me, these were the tame ones).

Delaying or avoiding them altogether--One of the worst things a novel can do is hint at an attraction, go one step before the deed is a done deal, and then completely avoid it altogether. I think we've all read those novels where we find ourselves really pulling for the protagonist and their love interest. In my case, I know there have been numerous times where I've chanted in my head "Kiss her, kiss her dammit; oh for the love of God, just go for it." Or, on the flip-side, "Just do it now and get it over with." The latter of these statements is obviously not something you want your reader to think as it can mean the story isn't flowing as nicely as you intended. Sure, a measurable amount of tension should exist between the characters, but that tension shouldn't drag on through the entire book. Granted, your characters shouldn't immediately jump into bed together, but there's only so long your readers will allow the teasing to continue before they begin to feel played.

Less porn, more romance--Just because you're writing a sex scene doesn't mean you need to take notes from "Letters to Penthouse" to make it more effective--however, if you want a good laugh they're great material (or so I hear). Real passion comes from the heart and should be captured with equal amounts of grace and dignity in your writing. It isn't staged and it most certainly isn't vulgar. A true love scene is best written effortlessly without a lot of thought or interruption in flow. In essence, it should come to the writer naturally without having to resort to the usage of methods of contortion or colorful dialogue.

Does it move the plot--Like every other scene in a book, the purpose of any love scene should be to move the plot along and better the story. This is where outlining comes in handy. Are you writing the sex scene for the right reasons or is it just to entice the reader? Does it make sense with the story that these two characters are now bumping uglies or was it just an afterthought conceived by you as a means of adding a little zing to the plot? If you honestly can't answer these questions in the affirmative, then you may want to reconsider including the scene entirely as it may stick out for all the wrong reasons.

Sex isn't boring--There's a trick to finding that point between classy and just plain boring. Just because you aren't resorting to bondage and "Who's your daddy," verbiage, doesn't mean the sex has to be boring. To the contrary, a well-written love scene can be exciting.  It will leave you wanting for more from these characters; what they're future will be and if they'll end up together when everything is said and done. Get inside your character's heads. What are they thinking? Are they into it or are they pondering other things during the act--like whether the sky blue or teal drapes would go better with the decor in the living room, or whether they should make McDonald's or Pizza Hut for dinner. Capture your character's feelings and raw emotions and run with it. After all, if your characters aren't into the scene then you can hardly expect your readers to be either.

Is it a story about sex or story about love--There's a clear delineation between love and sex whereas sex does not equate love. To me, it's imperative to separate the two when writing. What are you trying to convey with your story? Is it a romance or are the sex scenes present specifically to illustrate promiscuity, destructive behavior or desperation/  If you're writing a love story, then the sex--in my opinion--shouldn't be prevalent as I believe too much in that type of situation can be somewhat of an overkill. For example, I adore The Time Traveler's Wife. It's incredibly well-written and a wonderful illustration of love conquering an incredible amount of pain and turmoil. But, with that said, after a while I began thinking to myself, Enough already. There are other ways to illustrate love and, although sex is one of the more entertaining ways, your characters should really explore alternate routes to take to prove their feelings for each other.

Because I believe seeing examples of what to and what not to do to be beneficial, I've included links to sites featuring novels that reflect love scenes done beautifully and those done so very, very wrong (lets just say I was slightly traumatized when I read those excerpts dubbed the recipients of the Bad Sex Award). Believe me, if you have any doubt at all about your writing abilities, those excerpts will give your ego a slight boost.

Sex scenes done oh so wrong

Bad Sex Award

Literary Sex is Such a Turn-Off

Sex scenes done so write

NY Journal of Books 101 Best Sex Scenes Ever Written

Blog: Jessica Barksdale Inclan

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment as to your thoughts on this topic. We all have our own points of view and I always appreciate reading yours.

A while ago I joined Goodreads (and by "joining" I mean I made an account and pretty much abandoned it).  However, I do plan on picking it back up and will hopefully have a review of Switched (and possibly Torn, as my Kindle is telling me that I'm 90% of the way through it) from the Trylle Trilogy by Amanda Hocking for my next post.