Monday, May 30, 2011

How to Handle Those Pesky Rejection Letters


Before I  began the stressful, prescription pill-inducing, living hell known more formally as the querying process, I did my homework.  Through Internet searches and reference materials such as Writer's Market, Guide to Literary Agents, and Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents, I formulated my list of "dream agents" representing my genre.  Making note of their individual submission guidelines as well as their specific likes and dislikes, I meticulously put together my query packages, diligently stuck them in the mail, sat back, and awaited the inevitable.  Within two weeks, I received my first rejection--a photocopied form rejection--via mail.  Even though I'd been anticipating--as the odds predicted--the receipt of several, if not all, rejections to the handful of queries I mailed, when the first one arrived it still managed to hit me like a ton of bricks.  Now, after several of  those little buggers, I feel as though I'm somewhat of a seasoned veteran.  Which means that instead of giving in to the overwhelming feeling telling me to give up on my dreams,  I now allow myself to take five minutes to feel sorry for my loss then promptly kick myself in the ass and move on.

With that said, there are still times that, even with my limited knowledge of the business and its high rate of rejection, I'm unable to escape from those pervasively negative thoughts.  What was wrong with my writing?  Why didn't they like me?  Everything we as writers are told not to think occasionally floods my mind.  However, instead of these thoughts, a writer needs to start listening to what those rejections are silently telling them.  Whether it be due to a weak query letter or an unpolished manuscript, there's a meaning behind every rejection letter and it's up to you to decipher it because, unless you've received the Holy Grail of rejections--the personalized rejection--a mere form letter isn't going to give you any answers.

Still, no matter how you slice it, rejection letters suck. So after you've ascertained their meaning and have made your query letter/synopsis/manuscript better because of them, what do you do with them?  Sure, you could save them to mull over on a rainy day, but what fun would that be?  The following list includes my suggestions on how to rid yourself of this dilemma (all tongue-in-cheek, of course):

1.  Practice your origami skills--Rejection doesn't seem so devastating when it presents itself to you in the form of  an intricately folded majestic swan, faux rose, or cuddly kitten.  Line the shelves in your office and computer desk with those pulp-laden figurines.  Their adorable presence will definitely help take the edge off the blow you've just been dealt (unless you find your office being overrun with them; then they may start to become freakishly disconcerting--kind of like the Children of the Corn).

2.  Frame it--Congratulations! You are now a member of an exclusive club of writers which includes the likes of  Stephen King, William Golding, George Orwell, Ayn Rand, John Grisham, Sylvia Plath, Rudyard Kipling, Madeleine L'Engle, and Judy Blume, to name a few.  Everyone has faced rejection at some point in time in their lives.  The thing that separates the rejected successful from the successful rejects is a willingness to brush aside said rejection and soldier on.  Look at your rejection slip as proof of your accomplishment.  By merely finishing your novel, you've set out and accomplished what many people only talk about doing.  Be proud of your rejection; consider it your validation as an aspiring author.

3.  A good chuckle--Look at it this way, every 'no' is one step closer to a 'yes'. When you finally find yourself bestowed with the affirmative, dust off your old rejection letters and, with a bottle of wine (because really, what fun is just a mere glass), sit down and have a good laugh.  "Oh really, Agent J.  My manuscript wasn't good enough for you? Well,  Agent B seems to think it was the bee's knees," (breaking into popular sayings from the 1920's is completely appropriate for this moment).  Did one of your selected agents not like the characters, the plot, or your writing in general?  Take their critiques and relish in the fact that your dream agent thought them to be completely erroneous.

4.  Use them as motivation--When I was a little girl, I didn't take no for an answer.  In fact, every 'no' I received only motivated me more to attain what I wanted. As an adult, nothing in that respect has changed for me.  Call it being beautifully tenacious or just painfully stubborn, but when I find myself faced with  defeat, I immediately take it as a challenge.  Whether that challenge requires me to revamp my query letter, retool my synopsis, or completely overhaul my entire manuscript, I tackle it head-on.  When you're kicked down to the ground, take a moment to regain perspective, then stand up and hit the pavement running. Take that one 'no' to motivate you into fixing what may be wrong and completely wow the next agent you come across.

5.  Make a new playground for Mr. Snuffles--The time has come to clean out your beloved rodent's cage (or bird, whatever your pet of choice is)  and you discover you're all out of bedding.  Why book it to your local pet supply store when all the supplies you need are within walking distance?  That's right; tear all those negativity-laced correspondences up into tiny pieces and watch as your little fur ball frolics in all their subjectivity.

6.  Confetti--What's a party to celebrate your much-deserved publishing deal without confetti?  And what's more perfect for confetti fodder than your stockpile of rejection letters?  Just think of it as poetic justice in action as you watch hundreds of 'nos'  shredded-up into thousands of pieces for use in showering you as you celebrate your sweet, sweet success and the one 'yes' it took to get you there.

7.  Summer Bonfires--Nothing's better than sitting around a bonfire in your backyard on a cool summer night, letting its warmth envelope you as you lounge under the stars.  But, what's this?  You can't get the kindling to ignite?  Don't wander around the yard aimlessly in the dark when the solution is resting right under your nose; sitting next to those ravenously torn-open envelopes on your coffee table; in tear-streaked file folders on your desk; or crumpled up in balls next to the john (don't judge).  Yes, that's right. Rejection letters:  they turn more than just your dreams into piles of ash.

8.  Compare/critique form letters--Take a handful of those carefully crafted gems and put on your crit cap.  Which ones are the most helpful; the ones that aren't just mere form letters; the ones that aren't photocopied replications; the ones whose author seemed to actually care about your query?  Now, deduct points for phrases such "not right for us", "I didn't fall in love with it", "good luck" and words such as "subjective", "although", "consideration"  and "pass". Give them points for the inclusion of phrases such as "the worst thing I've ever read", "is this some kind of joke", "don't give up your day job", "you suck", "WTF is this" and words such as "hate", "why", "really", "huh" and "craptastic" (after all, honesty is the best policy).  Then tally up the scores and see who the big winner is.

9.  Practice your skills on the court--I'm not sure if it's laziness or just some deep-seeded attempt on my part to reclaim my childhood, but there's just something about an empty wastebasket and a piece of paper that brings out the Michael Jordan in me. When you find yourself running out of projectiles to hurl across the room, just ball up your disappointment (that alone should give you some sense of satisfaction) and commence dunking, free-throwing and lay-upping your heart out.

10.  Let the kiddies turn them into works of art--No matter how indiscernible their "owls" may be, children's artwork has a way of brightening even the most sour of moods.  With that logic in mind, let little Jane have at your latest literary losses.  Allow her to fingerpaint, marker and crayon the holy heck out of those letters of discontent like some deranged Martha Stewart. Just think of it as killing two birds with one stone.  You'll get to spend some quality time with your children and also gain the satisfaction of turning something ugly into a work of refrigerator-worthy art.

11. A replacement for Charmin--We've all had those moments where the roll has run empty at the most inopportune of times...okay, okay, maybe this one is going slightly overboard a little.  But don't tell me it's never crossed your mind a time or twenty.

Included below is a link to a website dedicated to actual rejection letters received by now famous authors whose novels went on to become classics:

I love reading these as they are a perfect example of just how subjective the literary world really is and how writers need to take rejection with a grain of salt.

Now I'd like to hear from you.  What do you do with your rejection letters?  Do you keep them or cast them aside like a bad memory?

Friday, May 27, 2011

I Heart My Followers

It's the truth:  I have the best followers in the blogosphere (a fact of which I'm very giddy to pronounce as I never thought I'd ever have anyone willing to read my scribbles). What's my proof? Well, I'm glad you asked.  Once again, one of my followers/fellow writers has bestowed me with the honor of "The Versatile Blogger" award.  I must be one versatile, blogging fool as this is the second time this very prestigious award has been bestowed upon me.  I've been called a lot of things in my life--most of which I can't repeat if I want to keep this family friendly--but versatile has thus far been my favorite. 

Bestowing me with the award this time is the wonderfully talented, newly published (Yeah) Author Carolyn Arnold .  Carolyn's novel, Ties That Bind , is now available at Smashwords and Amazon POD and I highly suggest you support your fellow writers and check it out!

In order to fully be able to accept this award, the recipient must do the following:

1.  Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2.  Share seven random facts about yourself.
3.  Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4.  Contact the winners to notify them

1.  Thank you, Carolyn!  I wish the very best with your writing career!

2.  Since I've already accepted this award, I am going to skip posting the seven random facts about me.  However, if you're really interested in knowing some dirt on me click HERE for the fourteen random facts I posted when I previously claimed this and the fashionable blogger award.

3 and 4.  Because I just can't pick five of my amazing followers, I would like to present this award to all 46 (as of right now) of you.  Congratulations!  You are such an amazing group of people and I'm honored that you've chosen to follow my blog (and to think, I only had to beg 44 of you). 

All I ask is that you pay it forward and pass this award on to those bloggers/writers/ubertastic individuals of your choosing as we writers need to stick together.

I'll be returning back to my normal blog-happy self with my next post. Between edits on my first novel and working on two WIP's, I've been mulling over a few topics and would love your input on which you believe I should tackle next:

1.  Healthy things to do with rejection letters (tongue in cheek)
2. Composing your synopsis
3.  The Movie vs. The Book
4.  Pros and Cons of indie publishing
5.  Social networking sites and writers

All of the preceding topics are those of which I plan to cover.  If there's one of particular interest to you, please leave me a comment with your selection and I will get to the most popular topic first.  Or, if you have an even better idea, I'd love to hear that as well!

*FYI-Spell check seems to be on the fritz (it's saying I have no spelling errors and I KNOW that can't be true).  If there are any spelling errors in this post, I apologize now and blame it on the fact that it's after 1 a.m. (I get a free pass on grammatical errors and spelling after 1).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Death and Writing

"Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life."--Charles Frohman

Death.  It's one of the few common denominators that unites us.  There's not a single person alive who hasn't been impacted by its icy touch at one point or another--some of us have even prayed for its sweet, sweet release in the throes of a wicked hangover.  Or is that just me?

For many writers, the prospect of having to commit fictional homicide is quite daunting (unless you write dystopian novels, then you're used to a daily dose of genocide).  This is especially true if those characters are ones you've grown fond of--a main character or a particularly prevalent secondary one (sidekick), for example.  While writing my first novel, I was faced with the difficult task of killing off one of my most beloved characters.  It wasn't a surprise--not some fly-by-night decision.  I'd outlined it, and even eluded to it in previous chapters.  But still, as the big event drew nearer, I couldn't help but feel absolutely sick at the prospect.  So I put it off, even tried to figure out ways around it.  Did I really need to kill him off?  Was his death a necessity to the overall storyline?  The answer, of course, was a resounding yes.  I'd envisioned a plot that, in my opinion, gelled quite nicely and his death, though traumatic for me to write, was entirely essential.  Still, that didn't stop me from bawling like a baby--while simultaneously feeling as though I'd completely lost my mind--as I keyed in his last breathe.  Believe me, I was happy I was the only one awake in the house at the time or else I would have had some serious explaining to do--and probably commitment into the nut house once those explanations had been rendered.

That being said, as hard as it is for writers to shank their characters, it can be even more difficult for the reader to fully accept said shanking.  When I was but a wee one, I remember reading such classics as Charlotte's Web and Where the Red Fern Grows of which end results practically set my stirrup pants aflame.  Why oh why couldn't the authors have gone another route? After all, don't all stories have a  happy ending?  Needless to say, I was a pretty jaded child.  However, as ticked-off as my prepubescent self was at the utter travesties unfolding before me, my anger paled in comparison to those living a century earlier.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes channeled their aggressions in more productive means when their beloved detective was inexplicably axed by Arthur Conan Doyle.  Not only were faniacs of Mr. Holmes enraged, they--along with the books' own publishing company--damn near set out on a mission to force Mr. Holmes' resurrection.  Ultimately, the angry mob won, and in "The Empty House", the super sleuth was reborn. 

Was this the right thing of Arthur Conan Doyle to do?  Well, if you want my opinion (and I'm guessing you may as you are reading my blog), I believe the author should have stuck to his convictions and kept Holmes six feet under.  After all, there was a  reason why he felt compelled to hurtle him from a cliff in the first place.

A character's death in a favorite novel is always a contentious issue that, in the end, was the writer's rightful decision to make.  That being said, on the flip-side of the coin, there are those deaths--mainly in movies--that make eyebrows raise and the 'huh' factor kick in. Illustrated below, are ways in which I believe deaths in literature should be executed (unintended pun) and ways that I believe fall stiff (someone, please stop me):

Hands off the Chosen One:  I once read an article roughly stating that an author shouldn't kill off those characters their readers are attached to.  Are you kidding me?  I grumbled angrily to myself like a senior citizen discovering they'd missed a Matlock re-run.  Why not?  To me, killing off a main character--when done in a way befitting of the plot or of the character's nature--makes for a great read.  I detest reading predictable plot lines knowing the main protagonist has acquired an immunity to death.  When reading, I want the pages to keep me on my toes and leave me guessing.  Knowing there are those who are untouchable in a novel is far from guessing and downright boring.  As in life, not all stories have a happy ending.

Death should have meaning--In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings, Boromir dies while trying to save the hobbits from near certain demise.  His death served a purpose.  All lives have meaning (including literary ones); therefore, their deaths should follow suit.  This doesn't mean you need to make all your characters die in a heroic fashion, but their deaths should be thought-out and not just randomly inserted into the pages.  After all, you spent how many hours perfecting character development? Developing their individual personalities? Their family trees?  Who they love? With deciding what shade to make their hair; what hue that describes their eyes; and whether they feel Diet Dr. Pepper tastes just like regular Dr. Pepper?

Change is good-In The Lovely Bones, a deceased Susie Salmon narrates from the afterlife as her family copes with her tragic murder.  Death, whether it is foreseen ahead of time or completely out of the blue, is a game changer and Alice Sebold's story reflects this beautifully.  Susie's once quintessential-wouldn't-harm-a- fly father begins having murderous ideations of his own as he attempts to track down his daughter's killer.  Her mother, a once devoted wife, is stricken so severely with depression that she packs up and leaves  her husband, son and youngest daughter behind (after having an affair with the lead detective on her daughter's murder case--she was one busy woman).   

In my first novel, my teenage protagonist's life is turned upside down with the murder of her entire family.  She goes from being a happy-go-lucky teenager to--flash forward ten years later--an assassin for a secret organization formed to defeat the person or persons responsible not only for her parents deaths, but for the deaths of thousands of others as well. 

When someone you love dies they take a piece of your soul with them.  I liken it to a damaged puzzle piece.  Even though 499 of the 500 pieces still fit together perfectly, there's still a gaping hole where the 500th piece should be.  Fill your surviving characters with these holes.  Make them act out of character, display grief, or have them turn their walls into swiss cheese to let their anger out.  Just don't let them experience trauma unscathed as death leaves no emotional stone unturned. Use their death as a jumping off point to make your story better because it happened and not despite of it happening.

Mourning period--After a character I particularly care about dies, I like to see some sort of mourning period before the action picks right back up again.  This doesn't mean a writer should spend chapter upon chapter recounting the remaining character's endless therapy sessions, gallons of Ben and Jerry's consumed, or endless nights of their crying themselves to sleep.  What I mean is, I don't think business should go about as usual after someone kicks it.  Did you return to work the day after dear old Grandma Pearl passed?  Yeah, I don't think you did.  If the deceased meant anything to your main characters at all, it's simply unrealistic for them to shrug it off and return to their lives as if the person never existed.  Whether your characters later gather together around a poker table to shoot the breeze; sit at a window sill on a rainy day looking through photo albums; or devote their lives to finding their loved ones murderer; a realistic amount of mourning needs to be interwoven into your story.

Shock value--The absolute worst death is one carried out only to shock the reader.  If you're at a point in your book where you believe the only way to redeem a stagnating plot line is to have Little Johnny inexplicably axe Suzie Q next door, then there are more issues to your story that you clearly need to work out.  The only exception I make to this is if you're writing some psychological thriller wherein absolutely nothing else happening before it has made any sense at all anyway (of course, I'm not always the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to figuring out the hidden meanings in those things).

No blood baths please--The terms "bloody", "beheaded", "dismembered", or "disemboweled" are graphic enough to conjure up the appropriate imagery needed to transport readers to the scene of the crime.  They can stand alone without the added bonuses associated with them.  For instance, I don't need to know that the character's entrails were wound around a support beam like some sadistic maypole. Nor do I want to hear that said character's brain matter was spattered against the wall creating a grisly mosaic.  As far as brutal demises are concerned, the less you say, the more your readers are left to use their imaginations.  Believe me, those imaginations are more than capable of filling in the blanks as we humans are a very visual species and don't need to be reminded that crime scenes are not the Botanical Gardens.

An easy out--Ever have one of those characters you really aren't too sure about?  One that, at first, had all the promise in the world...until about nine chapters into the story.  Then they started becoming downright inconsequential, merely sitting on the sidelines while your protagonist and his/her/its posse ruled the roost.  Want to remedy that? 

Characters shouldn't be created only to be terminated when the writer doesn't want to deal with their complexities (yes, I have heard of writers doing this) or on a "what if" whim. Don't take the easy way out with your characters. Being a writer, you're obviously somewhat creative.  Put the depths of your creativity to the test.  When that fails, walk away from you story long enough to let your mind clear and your focus return.  If, after you pick up your manuscript you are still arriving at the same conclusion, then turn your grisly scenario into fruition and see where that takes you.  Although I believe it to be unlikely, who knows, you may find playing God to be exactly the rejuvenation your plot needed. 

Cliches Kill--I touch on cliches quite a bit in my blog posts so why should this one be any different?  The following are a few "For the love of God don'ts" when it comes to character deaths: 

Don't do the character death fake-out:  One minute he's dead, the next minute he's enjoying coffee at Starbuck's, WTF  There damn well be a good explanation for that.

Don't make the character see the light:  This is really only in the case in villain deaths (and I'm excluding Darth Vader from this).  A villain, a true, true villain is not going to be at all sorry for what they did in life in the seconds before their decent to the netherworld.

Don't put some wicked curse on the protagonist or the whole town:  It's not that I think it isn't at all exciting, it's just that it's been done over and over and over and over and over...

What are some of your least favorite death cliches?

Right off the bat--I'm one of those people whose attention is garnered by a good ole' fashioned demise right out of the gate (especially, if it's in a prologue and the character spends the actual story narrating the events before his/her death, but that's beside the point).  With the exclusion of sex, death is probably one of the biggest attention grabbers for readers.  It's something we can all relate to, have thought about, or have experienced first-hand.  A well-executed death within the first couple pages of a novel sets the tone for the rest of the story while captivating the readers, ensuring they stick around for pages to come.  An early demise begs the questions of who and why.  Who was the person killed (or, in mysteries, who killed the victim).  Why were they killed? Did they by chance proclaim their devotion to Team Edward amongst a slew of Team Jacob fans?  There's a lot to build upon and the possibilities are limitless.

In short, a great literary death should not only grab your readers attention but should also provide your novel with just the right amount of spice needed to make it palatable. As always, the preceding post is comprised of my opinions.  The literary world is one of the most subjective environments out there (as any agent will tell you).  What works for one writer may not work for another.  What fits with one genre, may be completely ridiculous for another. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sucker Punching the Block

Nothing steals a writer's literary mojo worse than the dreaded plague dubiously dubbed as writer's block.  Just the mere mention of it makes my brain cringe, inducing images of my eager fingers strumming keys like mindless zombies in their battle against my stubborn synapses. I akin it to a singer stricken with laryngitis or a lawyer without an argument.  When a writer's creativity is suddenly and inexplicably stripped away from them, it's as though their very soul has abandoned them entirely. Our once snappy rhetoric is whittled down to mere preschool banter while previously perfect prose is rendered mediocre in comparison to used car commercials.

Lately, I've been experiencing a horrible case of the creative jitters.  The ideas are there (after all, I am writing a trilogy), I just have absolutely no idea how I'm going to execute them.  It's like taking a cross country road trip without the luxury of GPS.  You now what your ultimate destination is, you just don't know if you're going to take Route 33 through Nebraska or Route 41 and cut through Kansas to get there.  Both are great options but, in the end, one is going to feel inherently smoother and be less apt to construction delays than the other.

It's during these times of uncertainty as to the right path to take or even after you've decidedly taken a wrong turn that the plague strikes. Believe me, it happens to the best of writers.  Fortunately, like most hardships, the plague will lift and you'll be up and writing in no time.  Until then, I've both come up with and have researched some coping methods to help you weather the storm:

Resuscitate your social life--If you're like me, when you're in the midst of your writing groove, you tend to forget about the all important aspect of human contact.  It's as though you and your manuscript are alone on a desert island with no one around for miles.  E-mails and phone calls go unanswered.  You find yourself becoming completely out of the loop with all the gossip around town--strangely, you could care less.  In fact, if it weren't for the fleeting glimpses of you sitting at your computer with one hand firmly on the keyboard and the other one clutching a hammer, your loved ones may just have assumed you ran away and joined the circus.  Being dedicated to your craft is a wonderfully admirable trait, but when you find yourself eating, drinking and sleeping it, your writing will become less organic and more mechanical in nature ultimately blocking your innate imagination.  Take time away from your manuscript.  Visit your friends, go out and have fun, it will do wonders for your writing.

Hit the books--Aside from being an essential part in the construction of most every novel, research may also open the doors to new ideas for your manuscript that you never thought possible. In my current trilogy, I dabble with the use of adrenaline in the creation of a bio engineered race of superheros.  During my research on the effects of adrenaline on the human body, I discovered a whole slew of health complications including pretty significant cardiovascular repercussions I was obviously (as I am no doctor) unaware of prior to my writing the series.  This new bit of information--aside from being incredibly necessary-aided in the creation and incorporation of certain elements within my novel that I wouldn't have conceived of before essentially preventing the construction of the proverbial brick wall.

Analyze nothing--One of my biggest hangups inevitably leading to my writing demise is my tendency to over analyze every little detail of my work. It's good to take pride in your work, to want to put your best foot forward, but when you're beating yourself up over a misplaced comma in your first draft, chances are your brain won't allow you to focus on much else aside from the technical aspects of your novel.  Save the analysis for your revisions and just write with the uninhibited spirit that drew you to the profession in the first place.

Prompt yourself to write--Get away from your manuscript altogether.  Writer's Digest (as well as other sources easily located by typing "writing prompts" in ye ole' Google) offers an assortment of writing prompts to readers. Such writing prompts allow you to think about other projects other than your own novel and the problems you may be encountering with your writing of it.  To be able to think outside the box or to write about a shipwreck when you've been toiling over an alien invasion allows your creative juices to unthaw whereby enabling them to flow again.

Just say "no" to writing--The most talented of athletes suffer from injury; the most celebrated of chefs burn the risotto and even the most prolific of writers suffer from writer's block at one time or another (Stephen King, Ralph Ellison, FS Fitzgerald, and  J.K. Rowling, just to name a few). To some, the condition is so crippling they literally cannot think let alone pen a coherent sentence.  If this sounds like you, it's time to take a step back, turn off the computer and leave your work space behind for less frustrating environments.  Take a walk, people watch at a local park, go to the beach, take a nap or, even better, indulge in some retail therapy.  Giving your brain a break is like taking a week's vacation away from the office (for those of us who can only moonlight as writers).  The harder you work and the more you push yourself past the writer's block breaking point, the increasingly more susceptible you'll be to burnout and a flat-lining productivity level.  Writing is suppose to be fulfilling with an added cup of fun.  If writer's block has left you questioning that sentiment, then it's time to take a step back, relax, and allow your brain a chance to recoup.

Write badly--What?  Isn't that counterproductive?  Won't the Gods of Writing strike me down?  Chill, Mary Sue, it's going to be okay.  As a writer, it's essential to remove yourself from the anal retentiveness of proper grammar, spelling, tenses, and punctuation and just allow anything and everything to flow from your fingertips.  Writers can be their own worst enemy and, sometimes, when we beat ourselves up over the impossibilities of perfection, we fail to realize that such perfection can only be achieved by making mistakes in the first place. Let your inner child run loose.  Write about that scheming unicorn plotting to take over the Land of Nod with a wave of its diamond-tipped horn. Misspell words on purpose, throw semicolons and em dashes in the most random of places thereby telling your inner school marm to go to hell.  You'll be amazed at just how liberating it is to make bad look good. 

*For actual published examples of this suggestion, please refer to anything written by one or more cast members of The Jersey Shore.

Channel your inner Poe--Poetry is an amazing outlet for venting frustrations. Through poetry, I find release that even writing novels can't always offer to me. Often, writer's block occurs during times of sheer stress with the frustrations in life that are completely unrelated to the act of writing itself.  Channeling those frustrations and stressors through haiku's, rhymes, verses and sonnets is a great way to grieve losses, mend mental fences, or verbally bitch slap those who've wronged you without resorting to homicide (I'm kidding of course...maybe). By jotting down all your mental suppressors through creative means, you're now relieving your mind of its troubles opening it back up to the business of productivity.

Drop and give me 20--They say exercise is one of the best ways to clear your head.   However, as the indentation on my couch in the perfect shape of my fanny would attest, I have absolutely no idea whether or not that's actually true.  Though, despite my lack of working anything other than my typing fingers out, I believe that, for an author, exercise is like changing the oil in your car:  it needs to be done on a regular and consistent basis and after a set amount miles if you're going to prevent your engine from blowing up.  After even the slightest walk/run around my neighborhood, I find that I somehow feel strangely rejuvenated.  My head is clear and my thoughts are curiously more organized as though each step recharged a hidden battery buried within my cranium. Exercise gives it's participant an energy high that makes them feel as though they're able to conquer the world and what better time is there to write than when you honestly believe you can move mountains?

Mix it up--The beauty about writing is that there really are no set guidelines to go by.  Outside of the practice of proper punctuation and grammar, there are no steps one has to follow to adequately tell a well-written and compelling story. Actually, I find that just the opposite occurs if such stringent  steps are imposed. Creativity doesn't follow an orderly course--at least for me it doesn't.  If such an orderly course is imposed upon it, that's when real writer's block kicks in and the fact that I even have ideas becomes moot.  

There are certain scenes (or chapters, whatever you want to call them) in my novels that, when I'm outlining them, I get excited, giddy even.  So I start writing in anticipation of reaching one of those aforementioned scenes knowing that, when I get to them, they are going to completely blow my readers away (or so I like to think).  However, even though I know where I'm heading, the prospect of making the trip doesn't excite me as much and the more I push myself, the less I find myself able to write.  This brings me to my final suggestion:  Write those scenes/chapters that compel you to write them first no matter if they're in the beginning, middle or even at the tale (pun intended) end of your novel.  Your excitement for them will show through and, well, isn't writing something you're excited about better than forcing yourself into a roadblock in order to deal with the formalities first?

As always, I want to hear your input.  How do you cope with the sucker punch of writer's block?

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Blog of Thanks

I've been having so much fun (HA!  I almost typed "phone" in place of "fun" which tells you how tired I am).  Lets restart this train of thought again.  I've been having so much FUN on Twitter lately that I almost forgot to formally accept this very calorie-laden award from the very awesomesauce Sophie Li . Thank you so much Sophie.  It's always cool to receive blog awards (especially for a blog I didn't think I could get anyone to read). 

Part of accepting this award is the obligation to pass it on to 15 other well-deserving bloggers.  Well, in the spirit of my fellow blogger/writer, Shawna, instead of selecting just 15 followers to partake in this award, I would like to extend it to all of my very awesome, talented, lovely, punctual (and all the other positive adjectives you can think of) fellow writers/bloggers.  Come claim your award everyone, you deserve it (just leave me a comment when you claim it).

Finally, I would like to thank all of you, my fellow blog, Twitter and Tumblr followers.  I'm consistently blow away by all the generosity, kind words and great advice you so freely dispense on a daily basis.  Writing can be a very lonely, thankless process, but knowing that I have such an outstanding community to turn to makes it all the more worth it. 

For those of you who are reading this who don't already follow me, what are you waiting for?  Just hit the "Follow" button and come join the ride.  I promise I'll try to make it worth your while.

Okay, enough sappy shit. Blogs on tap for this week include how to handle writer's block and killing off your characters (dun dun dun).  Be sure to stop on by for a cold one with me later.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Creating Antagonizing Antagonists

"No wise combatant underestimates their antagonist."
                                              ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"He that struggles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper."  ~Edmund Burke

Antagonists, can't live with them, can't write a novel without them.  We've all had our own personal antagonist(s). Someone or something that came into our lives seemingly to either make them a living hell or to act as barriers in our paths.  Whether it be a person, thing (robot, alien), institution (government), belief (religion) or an addiction (alcoholism), unless your lives have been downright perfect, there are antagonists we can all relate to.  As a writer, finding the perfect antagonist is like finding the perfect pair of shoes (which, if you've read my previous blogs, you'd know I usually care absolutely nothing about).  Your antagonist should fit your story flawlessly without cramping the flow.  He/she/it should complement your protagonist, enhancing them, improving upon their ascribed characteristics.  Your antagonist should make your protagonist better.  In fact, a well-written, well thought out antagonist, like a good pair of shoes, makes the entire outfit. 
The following list includes some examples I've come across when outlining antagonists for my own work as well as some tips I've come across through research:

1.  Not an afterthought--You're beginning Chapter 12 and your protagonist's life is still rainbows and sunshine.  Well, lets just throw Billy the record store guy in to spice things up a bit, you think to yourself. So you throw in Billy the record store guy for no reason other than as an adversary to Ryan for the affections of Colette.  There's no rhyme or reason for Billy, he's just there because it's convenient for you and it makes for a much better plot than what Chapters 1-11 had alluded to.  Now, two chapters later, you're stuck adrift a sea of convoluted plot lines looking for a life raft to float you back to some semblance of dry land.  Back to the place where your story made sense and you had the utmost of confidence in its execution.

The antagonist is one of the most important, if not the most important aspect in your story (yes, I'm even putting them a peg above the protagonist).  The conflict of the story is what makes the story.  Without it, you have nothing more than pages filled with a protagonist whose life is cloaked in perfection and, really, how exciting is that?  An antagonist is not an afterthought. Sure, your protagonists are the heroes of your stories, but it's the antagonists who make the most memorable marks (Darth Vader, anyone) and of whom your readers are going to fear and loathe--or if they really have it in for the protagonist, admire.  Make your protagonists memorable.  Put as much concern, care and attention to detail into them as you would your protagonists.  Your readers will appreciate you for it.
2. Relatable--I personally like antagonists that I can somewhat relate to. Sometimes, I even like rooting for them (until they do something incredibly bat-shit crazy that completely turns me off like August from Water for Elephants).  Antagonists come in all forms: humans, monsters, robots, animals, mothers-in-law, ideals, addictions, beliefs or whatever else you can find to cause your protagonist great discomfort.  Whichever form you choose to embody yours in, just make sure it's one your reader can identify with.  For instance, if you decide to use Missy, a self-absorbed, popular cheerleader, give her qualities to make her seem real and less goddess-like.  Give her a dark secret she's keeping from her friends, a devastating eating disorder.  Hell, give her a pimple at the end of her nose.  Anything that doesn't completely make her unreal to the reader.  If you're going with an addiction as your antagonist, find one most readers can identify with such as alcoholism, drug abuse, or sex as opposed to cat hoarding, glue sniffing or paper eating. 

 Your protagonist doesn't have to nor should they be the most interesting character in your novel.  On some level, your readers need to connect with the antagonist in the event they find your protagonist too goody two-shoes or otherwise unlikeable (there have been several novels I've read where this has been the case).

3. Stay away from the "I’ll get you my pretty" syndrome--As in all aspects of writing, there are those cliches one should refrain from using when crafting their characters.  Antagonists are no exception, especially if you, like me, write science fiction and your antagonists are more villain-like.  In this instance, you as a writer need to stay away from the muahahah-tie-the-damsel-to-the-train-tracks type of antagonist--as well any moustache twirling or any instances where the antagonist lays out their ultimate evil plans to the protagonist with the belief the protagonist will be unable to stop them.

The beauty about evil in writing is that it knows no bounds.  Let your mind wander and come up with a whole new brand of evil and not just the cliched, diet Coke of evil embodied in music videos and cheesy B-movies.   

4. Minor victory--What?  But good must always triumph over evil!  Really Mary Sue, no it doesn't.  The real world isn't perfect.  Injustices occur every other minute. Death and destruction are real and happen way more often than happy endings.  Why should the literary world be any different? Being as I'm a science fiction fan, I'm reminded of The Empire Strikes Back in the Star Wars trilogy.  At the end of the The Empire Strikes Back, Luke looses his innocence as well as his hand, Han Solo's fate remains encased in carbonite, and the fate of the Republic is questionable at best.  Sure, the whole trilogy ends on a happy note, but it's that minor victory by the Empire that keeps the audience entranced and wanting more. 

I'm all for leaving a story at a cliffhanger and putting doubt in the reader's heads about whether or not the protagonist is doomed.  But if the protagonist always wins, where's the mystery?  Where's the cliffhanger?  Where is the incentive to keep reading or the anticipation for the sequel?  If your answer to all those questions is "nonexistent", you're exactly right.

5. Nothing comes easy--An antagonist in any form is tough, nearly insurmountably so.  If your protagonist can quit drinking cold turkey, overcome their fear of failure within two pages, is able to knock the school bully down with a feather, or can stop a robotic entity cold with a drop of water, then perhaps you may want to reconsider the potency of your antagonist and overall plot line.  A true antagonist throws such a monkey wrench into the lives of the protagonist and supporting characters that, even after the battles are fought and the blood has been spilled, its overall effects have left enough scarring to impact them for the rest of their fictional lives.

6. Opposites attract contradiction--An antagonist must be the embodiment of all that is contrary to the protagonist's beliefs.  If your main character is the epitome of individuality, then your antagonist should display characteristics of staunch conformity. Contradicting beliefs and ideals have sparked century old wars and debates.  They've led to the fall of empires, political systems and alliances.  When two ideals collide, the impact rocks not only the holders of those ideals, but the rest of the world around them as well.  Aside from an interesting history lesson, this is the perfect fodder for a very dynamic storyline and your job as a writer is to make this collision as epic as possible.

7. Persistence pays off for evil geniuses--True evil genius doesn't give up after one, two, or even ten failed attempts and neither should your antagonist.  Like everything else in life, world domination doesn't come easy. It takes antagonists much planning, preparation, persistence and the ability to adapt and re-group once their initial plots have been foiled by the protagonist.  A well-orchestrated antagonist finds the ability to pick themselves up, wipe away the dust, dress their wounds and carry on with their drive to defeat their opposition.  There's a reason for your antagonist's drive and ideals.  There's a passion burning within in them--at least there should be--that keeps them striving to benefit their own agenda.  It's a passion that keeps them at odds with your protagonist; one whose embers should remain burning until one of them takes their last breath.

8. Rebel with a cause--Chances are a person doesn't just wake up one day and think to themselves: Boy, this being good and maintaining a normal level of sanity thing really isn't working out for me.  I think I'm going to go out there and be evil whereby making <insert unsuspecting protagonist's name here> a living hell.  Everyone has a backstory, a reason they are who they are. Whether they grew up in abusive households or with silver spoons in their mouths, something has made your antagonist despise the very keystrokes your protagonist is brought to life with.  Bring that out in your writing. Give them cause to be the anti-protagonist and not just page-filler.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Self-Doubt: A Writer's Worst Nightmare

"Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong." ~Peter T. Mcintyre

"Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt."  ~William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, 1604

"Once you become self-conscious, there is no end to it; once you start to doubt, there is no room   for anything else."  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Self-doubt: the bane of any writer's existence.  It's the dark cloud looming on the horizon, threatening to rain down self-loathing, inferiority and regret.  In short, it's the one thing that can end a writer's career before it even has a chance to take flight.  With its uncanny knack for stifling one's creativity, self-doubt renders it's sufferer an empty shell. 

I don't believe there has ever been an author who--at one point in time--has never suffered from a minuscule amount of self-doubt.  Recently, I've had my own bouts with this affliction and the symptomotology has been enough to render me virtually useless.  In going through my manuscript and some of my former blogs, I've noticed glaring typos and grammatical errors--I should be locked away for comma abuse--as well other cringe-inducing faux pas.   As my blogs are being shared and re-tweeted (of which I'm extremely appreciative of), I often find myself critiquing the hell out of what has been passed around and fear I may not be living up to the high standards I try to set for myself.  This stems partly from sheer fear; fear of being rejected by those in the community I'm striving to gain acceptance in.  The other part is being exposed to those who write so flawlessly and so seemingly effortlessly that I often wonder if they have the same fears and self-doubts that I do.  The answer to that is--I'm sure--a resounding YES. 

The question is how do you prevent it from consuming you and your writing?   The answer to that, I believe, is through lots of practice, support and self-motivation.  Now let's analyze some techniques, shall we?  Too bad, we're going to anyway...

Find a writing partner--A writing partner or support group of fellow writers is invaluable to any word- crafter.  It's imperative to receive both good and bad feedback (constructive criticism) and to have mini cheerleaders, motivational speakers and drill sergeants by your side at a moments notice to both encourage your pursuits, celebrate your victories, tell you what works and what doesn't, and most importantly, to prevent the storm clouds from rolling in. Before I started involving myself in social networks, I had a small group comprised of family, friends and co-workers who would read my work and provide me with the encouragement  I needed when I wanted to chuck my laptop across the room (because a bad writing day is all that blasted computer's fault, don't cha' know).  After I joined social networking sites for writers (or ones that just harbor a substantial writing community such as Twitter, Blogger, Absolute Write, Query Tracker, Tumblr, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.), I felt as though I'd arrived home.  These communities offer a seemingly unlimited amount of talented aspiring authors and authors, alike willing to dispense a plethora of advice and support.  After all, we're all in the same boat so why not travel together?

Quit standing in your own way--I know there are famous quotes out there roughly stating something about being your own worst enemy and creating barriers blocking your own path to success.  Well, they're all completely true. The human mind is a beautiful oddity with the ability to both propel a person into greatness or cast them aside in the gutter at the slightest twist in thought. However, it's when one allows those negative twists in thought  to consume  them that the problems really begin to erupt and minor problems such as grammatical errors and the writer's own fickleness in wording forces them to question their abilities. It's one thing to be critical of your work with the intent to make it the best it can be, it's a completely different story to beat yourself up over a misplaced comma.  Have faith in yourself, your errors aren't as glaring as you believe them to be.  And when you feel like giving up, take a walk, watch a movie, or do the moondance to take your mind away from the negativity. You'll be pleasantly surprised by how much a break and a set of fresh eyes will vastly improve your disposition.

Not everything you write is going to be bestseller--Wouldn't that be great, though?  You, sitting at home and typing away, knowing there are a whole slew of famished individuals out there ready to feed upon your every word.  Alas, for most of us it's time to wake up from this dream for we know it takes work--lots and lots of agonizing, frustrating work--before we even see a tenth of that kind of success.  That is, if we ever see any success at all.  To be a writer, you must remove the stars from your eyes and humble yourself with the sobering truth that writing isn't going to make you rich and famous.  With that truth, thankfully, also comes the equally as truthful statement that that's pretty much the norm for most writers and it isn't because your work isn't up to snuff that you aren't a multi-millionaire.  Write because you love it; because it makes you happy.  Don't write because you believe it to be your meal ticket or that success equals validation of your abilities.

Comparing apples to elephants--The worst thing you can do as a writer is to compare your work to that of others because, unless they're absolutely terrible or you have a slightly inflated ego, you're probably going to surmise their work as being on a level much higher than yours. I'm insanely guilty of this.  Whether it be  friends, fellow bloggers, writers, or published novels, I'm constantly critiquing my work against that of others.  Where does this get me?  A night without a single word written, a woe-is-me state of mind and a chocolate massacre on my hands (and face, and probably wound somewhere in my hair as well).  Your novel is yours and no one else's.  Your writing style is unique to you. How you write and what you write is a mark of our true identity setting you apart from the rest of the pack.  To compare your work to the work of another is like trying to compare your DNA with theirs.  In the end, the strands will never match and to tinker with one in order for it to comport with the other will only result in a contrived, mutated product.  Different is good; variety is the spice of life; Pepsi is way better than Coke...oops wrong blog.  The point is, your style is unique, special, something to be proud of and chances are the person you're relentlessly comparing yourself to thinks the same way about their work when compared to yours.

You possess the same tools as the next person-The beauty with fiction writing is there isn't a single person out there who is more qualified or who possesses a clear advantage over you (unless they're a celebrity, but that's a topic for another day).  We all come equipped with a brain comprised of creative, technical threads enabling us to put sentences together to create characters and worlds beyond the scope of reality. Although some naturally have more than others, all of us come off the biologic assembly line with drive and determination ingrained deep within our souls. Our collective brains, drive and determination, though differentiated by thoughts, execution and persistence are the tools every writer needs to succeed.  It's how one chooses to use them and how one lets their self-doubt affect their potency that makes all the difference in the world. 

Great expectations--If you're like me, you tend to set the bar at the peak of the mountain. Some days you're able to clear it so effortlessly you think your writing will ascend into orbit.  Other days, you're barely able to hurdle over a blade of grass and you feel your writing is on par with that of your toddler's (my daughter can blow me out to water most days with her creativity).  At the risk of ripping off Charles Dickens, setting great expectations for yourself is both healthy and necessary if you plan on succeeding at anything you set out to do in life. Yet those same expectations--if left to run rampant--can also be your undoing.  Don't make your great expectations impossible ones.  Instead of trying to clear hurdles in the sky, concentrate on those down here on Earth first.  Not to be cliche, but Rome wasn't built in a day.  Like your literary dreams, it takes time for empires to emerge. 

Creativity is key--For a writer, creativity is second nature. Telling a writer to be creative is like telling a kid to play at Chuck-E-Cheese; it's just going to happen.  When you write and you get stuck on the way your dialogue, sentence structure, narrative, or overall thought process is panning out, don't think to yourself, well, I'm not going to be the next Sara Gruen, keep writing. Allow your creativity to flow until you've either worked out your problems or completely replaced them with new, even better ideas.  Perhaps open a different document to draft alternative scenarios or move on to a completely different chapter in your book and come back to the section that's plaguing you when you feel you're better able to tackle it.  After all, the world doesn't need another Sara Gruen, it needs to be introduced to you.

Be positive--I know it's hard to do every day and I'm not saying that it's not healthy to have a good cry from time to time to clear your head.  It's just that, after you dry those tears and finally leave the pillow you were beating the hell out of alone, you need to move on.  Don't dwell on your problems and frustrations, fix them.  Even the longest, darkest tunnel ends eventually and so will the sudden resurgence of negativity encapsulating you.  This is where the writing group mentioned earlier comes particularly in handy. If you're stuck on a plot point or a grammatical dilemma, they may be able to supply you with the ideas and information needed to fix said dilemmas and reign in your self-doubt before it breaks you. 

One thing I've found particularly helpful when I'm in a slump is to read positive remarks I've received on past projects.  Those kind comments and helpful suggestions have a way of rejuvenating me like emotional coffee, giving me the drive to carry on and the ability to leave those negative thoughts in the dust.

There's my two cents, now I want to hear yours.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

It's Official: My Blog Is An Award Winner...

Let me start out by saying that I've been completely blown away by all the support and encouragement between authors and aspiring authors alike through social mediums such as Twitter, Blogger and Facebook (to name a few).  Why I didn't become involved with these websites earlier in my journey, I'll never understand.  For all of you aspiring authors out there who have yet to join the Twitter community, I implore you to do so lickety split.  Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

This week I was honored to have received two blog awards from two very talented and downright awesome fellow bloggers:  Melanie McCullough  and Shawna Railey (click on these lovely ladies names to check out their blogs; they're a must follow for any aspiring author).

This first award was bestowed upon me by the uber cool Melanie:

Never has there been a time where I thought I'd win an award for style--my sweat pants and raggedy tank tops would concur with that sentiment.  Thank you Melanie!  This is quite the honor.

In order to fully be able to accept this award, however, there are a few obligations that I (as well as those I pass the award on to) must follow:

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4. Contact the winners to congratulate them.

Without further ado, here are my seven random facts:

1.  I wrote my first book in the fifth grade. While my peers were still eating paste and sniffing magic markers, I was a child savant--hey, it's my world, let me live in it.  Actually, In the fifth grade I read about a girl my age who'd just had a series she'd written published.  I can do that, I thought to myself.  So I set out on my first literary journey and, when it was all said and done, I had ninety-something handwritten notebook pages filled (front and back) with my first complete story--with illustrations, of course. 

What was this future bestseller about? Well, I'm happy you asked. It was a YA piece involving five friends (ages 16-18) who travel to Hawaii after one of them wins the trip through a lottery ticket she purchased (even back then I was concerned about accuracy as I knew at least one character would have to be 18 for this to even be remotely feasible).  I'm not sure why or how that story came to me.  Perhaps it was my goal to become an adult, travel to Hawaii and win the lottery.  But today I'm happy to report that I've successfully managed to accomplish one of those things (since I hate flying and am far from rich, I'll let you deduce which one it is on your own).

2.  I'd rather listen to a Justin Bieber/Paris Hilton duet in an  infinite loop rather than step foot on an airplane--Every time I set foot on a plane something goes wrong.  It never fails.  Whether it be the pilot asking whether there's a doctor on the plane, a landing that tosses passengers around like pinballs, or turbulence that's so violent even the flight attendants are terrified, I've encountered it all and have vowed never again--unless it involves signing a book deal. 

In fact, when I went out to visit my then boyfriend (now husband) in California, I opted to take the train cross-country as opposed to flying.  It was a 36 hour trip of which I got very little sleep and was constantly hit on by a 13-year-old but it was oh so worth it.

3.  A psychic once told me that I would one day be offered a four book deal with Penguin Publishing Company--I'm just hoping this happens before I turn 90 and forget what books even are. Seriously though, as each month passes, I consider more and more about asking for a refund. What's even more strange is that she even went so far as to tell me what colors each of the book covers would be: mustard yellow (eww), purple, green and blue.  The mention of the mustard yellow cover proves she has no idea what she's talking about.

4.  I have an unnatural fear of clowns--There is nothing funny nor entertaining about those make-up encrusted, floppy-shoed, red-haired nightmares.  John Wayne Gacy, anyone?  Just saying.

5.  When I was younger, I had a HUGE crush on Luke Skywalker--And this my friends is where my descent into nerdom began. It took me a while--I didn't even know what Star Wars was until I was in middle school--but after I found it I was hooked.  While others gushed over Han Solo, I found myself incredibly infatuated with Luke Skywalker.  Maybe it was the whole being a Jedi thing or his skills with a lightsaber (I'll leave that alone), but there was just something about Mark Hamill.  Today, I'm proud to say my tastes have evolved away from fictional characters.  Peyton Manning, anyone...


6.   I'm a proud Army Wife--My husband and I have been together for nearly six years .  Of those six years, we may have spent 1/2 of it in the same zip code.  To say the least, being an Army Wife is rough.  To give you an idea of how rough it is, during his last deployment, I got to know a group of four other Army Wives pretty well.  Of the five of us, only two of us still remain married with the others having called it quits during the deployment.  We're now facing another deployment later this year that could last as long as 18 months--to a country where his cousin was killed three years ago.  It's been rough and challenging at times but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Please ignore the hair and wicked sunburn.
My pasty Irish skin can only handle so much UV exposure

7.   I love ketchup on macaroni and cheese--This habit has garnered numerous stares and commentary from those around me.  The bottom line is that I find plain mac-n-cheese just that: plain.  Adding ketchup to it gives a zesty, far more appealing taste.  Try it, you might like it.   I also find mustard on pizza rather tasty.

Now for those ladies I'd like to pass this honor to:

1.  Shawna Railey  I don't think you've been awarded this one yet ;-)

Please click on these ladies' names to check out their blogs. They're outstanding!

This next award was given to me by the hilarious Shawna Railey (seriously, her post about Oprah is one of the funniest I've ever read).  On top of stylish, I can now add versatile to my blog's growing collection of adjectives.  Thank you, Shawna!  :-)

This award comes with the same requirements as the prior one.  Which means, by the end of this post, you all are going to know more about me than even I do.

Seven more random facts about me (without the lengthy descriptors this time):

1.  When I was in elementary school I embraced my inner entrepreneur by entering into the business of making fake ID's for my classmates (with the use of note cards and plastic wrap).  At ten cents a pop, I was rolling in coin.

2.  Being a Michigan girl, I say "pop" instead of soda, cola or Coke.  Those in other states unfamiliar with this vernacular have often thought I was asking to be socked in the jaw.

3.  I'm most at peace when sitting near a body of water--with the exclusion of puddles and swamps.

4.  When I was in first grade my dream was to become a cartoonist for Disney.  However, those dreams were quickly shattered when I realized possessing actual artistic talent is required of a cartoonist.

5.  If I could change one thing about myself it would be my lack of self-confidence. Too often I've compared myself to others and felt as though I've fallen way short.  It was only recently that I realized this is a form of self-destruction and, in order for one to be successful in life, that habit must be nipped in the bud.  Still, there are times when my feelings of inadequacy consume me and, in turn, I consume a pint of Hagen Daaz.

6. What I'm about to reveal is blasphemy in the girl world:  I hate wearing shoes.  All shoes--heels, flip-flops, tennis shoes etc.  If I can go without wearing them, I do.

7. I'm convinced my Prius is the most indestructible vehicle on the planet. Since leasing it a year ago, I've been rear-ended twice, have hit my cousin's car (oops) and have had a near death experience with a curb without so much as a scratch on my bumper and only minor damage to my wheel.

Okay, I'd like to pass this award to the following fellow bloggers:

1.  Melanie McCullough

2.  Nicole Ducleroir

3.  Steph Hightree

4.  Everett Powers

5. Katherine Krige

Thank you again Melanie and Shawna!  To the rest of you, congratulations and enjoy!

(I swiped this from Shawna)---Award winners: On the off chance you're techno-challenged like me, you can post your award on your blog, just right click on the picture here and "save picture as." If you're on blogger, from your dashboard go into 'design' and 'add a gadget' and download the picture. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Excerpt, Rinse and Repeat

Why don't you make to it easy on yourself tonight, Sara,  I thought to myself. Post an excerptIt'll be a quick and easy post.  If ever there were famous last thoughts...

If you've been keeping up with my blog, you already know that I like to regularly post tips and whatnot for fellow aspiring authors.  Tonight, my brain just wasn't working < insert sarcastic remark here> so I decided to post an excerpt from my unpublished novel--of which it turns out needs more editing than I originally thought.  Which brings me to #7 of my previous blog post:  Advice I've Encountered Along The Way .  The last time I revised, Enigma Black, I thought I was done--finally, it was perfect.  My how a difference only a matter of weeks can make.  Needless to say, I read the excerpt with renewed faith of how completely true #7 really is.  It's for a writer to set their work aside no matter how anxious they are to present it to the world.

If you don't believe me, I challenge you to sit down and write a short story (a page or two), then edit and polish that short story.  Your editing has rendered it perfect, right?  Okay, now take that perfect work of art and place it on your desk, inside a folder, or tape it up on the wall next to your Justin Bieber posters...don't judge.  Let it stay there unread for three weeks.  After that three weeks, I would be willing to bet your once perfect short story is now riddled with more errors than a Jersey Shore grammar lesson.  Why?  Simply giving your work a literal once-over isn't going to cut it especially if you've done nothing but stare at the same passages for an extended length of time.  After a while, your eyes grow accustomed to the material before them rendering the most obvious of mistakes unnoticeable.  The only way to remedy that is to look at your work with "new eyes" and those new peepers are only obtained after a lengthy retreat away from that material that wore them out in the first place.  In short:  Edit, set aside, edit, set aside, lather, rinse and repeat.

Enough of my ramblings.  The following is a small excerpt from Enigma Black (of which I'm sure will be revised at least a half dozen more times before I re-query or Kindle it):


Blake paced the sidewalk taking feverish drags off a cigarette out of the pack he’d managed to keep stashed away from Victor‘s prying eyes. Smoking--especially when it pertained to someone of his kind--was not exactly smiled upon back at headquarters.  “Damn it,” he grumbled to himself in a tone unintentionally amplified by the deathly still night.

He threw the half-smoked stub onto the ground stomping it out against the cracked concrete.  The burnt orange embers from the dying flame held his gaze hostage as they slowly faded into nothingness leaving him alone to his thoughts once more.  There’d only been one other time when a woman had made him feel the way he felt now and that had ended miserably. So why was he reconsidering changing his philosophy for this one?  Was she so different?  Yes, he already knew she was.  She was unlike any other woman he’d ever encountered.  Never before had a woman been able to both simultaneously intrigue and terrify him.  Try as he might, he couldn’t deny his feelings for her even though he knew he had to.  For the sake of the mission and his pride, he had to. 

But that was easier said than done. There was just something about the way she smiled that crooked smile of hers; the way her eyes penetrated his very soul.  She always had an impeccable, smart ass retort to even his most audacious comments and he'd been blindsided--to say the least--by how completely enamored with her he'd become since her arrival at the Epicenter.  Surely, her feelings for this Chase guy would cool down eventually. Especially after he found some other broad to shack-up with to take her place. Of course, she'll be devastated when that happens, invariably making him want to rip the guy’s head off for hurting her. Then again, if that were to happen, she’ll no doubt need comforting and he was her partner after all.
Running his hand through his disheveled hair, he nervously pulled out another nicotine fix, stuck it in his mouth, and lit it behind his cupped hand. Nerves always had a way of bringing out the chain-smoking-pacer in him.  Tonight was no exception. Ash formed on the tip of the freshly lit cigarette, teetering precariously from its edge, until loosing its battle with gravity and descending downward where it landed on the ground just slightly behind his footsteps.

“Just tell her now you idiot,” he muttered to himself. 

He had to tell her and he had to do it now, if only to maintain his sanity.  At the very least, it would give her something to think about; something to consider when she was struck with the realization that Chase would forever remain nothing more than just a fond memory. Perhaps then she would finally be able to look him; to enable herself to reciprocate those same feelings burning within him tonight.  Taking one last drag, he tossed the cigarette aside watching as it rolled into an awaiting storm drain. It was time to man up.

Shuffling back up the sidewalk, he hunched over to crawl through the remnants of the furniture store doorway, quietly making his way back to the mattress where she lay…sleeping.  He’d only been gone twenty minutes and already she was dead to the world.  He eased his body down carefully at the foot of the mattress making his best effort to avoid disturbing her.   There, in the deafening silence with his head resting in his hands, he listened to the melody of her slumber.  This was as close to perfect as he was going to get tonight.  Tomorrow, he thought to himself.  I’ll tell her tomorrow.

In that instant, she began stirring in her sleep, mumbling unintelligible words he couldn’t quite make out until a single, undeniable name escaped from her subconscious lips shattering any hope he'd been able to scrape together.

“Chase,” she moaned.

Damn it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Prologues and Epilogues and Opinions, Oh My

Ah prologues and epilogues, you either love them or you hate them.  Those familiar with my previous posts know that I'm pretty sweet on prologues, myself.  In fact, if I could get them to cook, clean and do laundry, I'd flat out marry them--I'm sure the hubs would understand. 

Many agents and publishing companies despise the prologue--I've not heard much about their position on epilogues which leads me to believe there's an indifference there. Why such disdain for prologues?  Because often times they aren't used correctly (which is just another thing we writers need to worry about aside from practicing proper punctuation and grammar). 

When executed correctly, prologues, in my opinion, can serve an extremely vital purpose setting the tone for the entire novel. However, if  used solely to up the word count or as a dumping site for useless, uninteresting information, they are a writer's worst nightmare.  In essence, the prologue is a tightrope of which a writer precariously traverses at their own risk.  If executed successfully, the prologue adds a sense of intrigue and aids in the flow of the novel, propelling it to heights unimaginable.  On the other hand, if done poorly, the results could make your book a shelfwarmer, if it's even published at all.

A prologue should be used to accomplish at least one of the three functions (there may be more that I'm leaving out and, as always, I invite you to chime in):

1.  To entice the reader.  When I think of a beautifully effective prologue that entices the reader, I instantly think of the prologue in Water For Elephants.  To entice the readers, this prologue jumps right in the middle of the most pivotal point in the book igniting the reader to burn through the rest of the pages like wildfire.  When a prologue is used to this effect, it's dynamic; a force to be reckoned with.  This is the type of prologue I love to read, the type of prologue that inspired me to include one with my as yet unpublished novel, Enigma Black

In Enigma Black, my female protagonist is forced to make the painful decision to leave everyone she knows and loves in order to join a secret society charged with the capture of a masked sociopath (of whom killed her parents when she was a teenager).  In my prologue, my protagonist watches over those she left behind from afar, reminiscing about her former life and the hell that has overtaken her in her new life.  Is it perfect?  No, but I like to think it sets the stage for the rest of the story to flow like a steady, uninhibited stream. 

2.  To give the reader pertinent information on the back story.  If your story includes an involved, pertinent back story (keyword here being pertinent) of which absolutely cannot be incorporated elsewhere into the actual body of the novel, then by all means include it in a prologue.  Just bear in mind that, like most prologues, the information you contain here will be scrutinized and may be deemed unnecessary by some unless you keep it interesting, to the point and, most importantly, brief.  No one, not even myself, appreciates a long prologue.  In fact I often compare long prologues to family functions:  Entertaining at first, but if carried on for too long, absolutely excruciating.

3.   To give the reader information, in general.  Some novels take place in settings or involve circumstances or concepts that are entirely foreign to the reader.  For example, if your story takes place on a different planet and said planet is substantially different than anything seen here on planet Earth (especially if it involves different political policies or moral compasses), then providing some background information in the form of a prologue may be necessary in order to avoid confusing your readers.


So you've decided to pen a prologue, now what? Well, as in every aspect in writing--or so it seems--there are fairly well-defined lists of Dos and DON'Ts  the same (surprise, surprise) is true with the penning of prologues:


*Keep it Brief--Remember, you aren't re-writing the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.  Prologues are most effective when they are brief and to the point--unless you're Ayn Rand or Leo Tolstoy, then you can totally get away with it and brilliantly.

*Please stay relevant--It's exciting to learn new things.  However, outside of the classroom or the non-fiction section, people usually don't pick up books for the purpose of learning over their entertainment value.  As a writer, it's fun to research and obtain the information necessary to complete a novel. Just don't use your prologue as a repository for all the crap you didn't use in the body of your novel.  Trust me, your reader most likely doesn't care to learn as much about foreign policy or the Jonas Brothers as you did.

*Refrain from making your reader pass the smelling salts--This should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway:  Keep your prologue interesting.  If your readers are falling asleep two pages into your novel, what do you think the odds are that they'll actually finish it?  The purpose of your prologue is to entice your readers, to make them want for more.  It's a teaser promising to take them on a journey they've never experienced before.

*Keep the tone the same as the rest--Simply put, if your story is in first person, keep your prologue in first person and vice versa

*Have it include either the protagonist or the antagonist--Most people want to bypass the formalities and get straight to the point.  They don't want to deal with some piddly sidekick or a member of the supporting cast.  They want the main characters, the playmakers in the novel.  That's why it's a good idea to include your main characters--if there are any characters in your prologue at all.  As a twist, if your story includes a particularly nasty antagonist, then including them and their perspective in your prologue may be a smart move as well.  People love to hate villains and a particularly intriguing one whose dastardly deeds are explored within the first few pages will most likely reel your reader in hook, line and sinker.


*Rob Chapter One-If the content of your prologue can fit comfortably (i.e. make sense) in Chapter One, then you may want to reconsider the prologue and either incorporate the material into your first chapter or make it Chapter One instead.  This is usually going to only occur when your prologue is informing the reader of pertinent information or defining the back story.

*Plagiarize yourself-If there's one prologue I hate--yes, there is actually one type of prologue I DO hate--it's those prologues that are simply the product of a copy and paste job from a later chapter.  There is simply no excuse for a writer to do this other than out of sheer laziness.  I understand the need to fluidly incorporate the prologue into the scene it references but, as a writer, you should have the creativity to do this without having to rip yourself off.

*Size matters--As stated above, if you're readers are breaking a sweat from just reading the prologue alone, then chances are they're going to set the book down, recover, and then avoid it like the plague until the next yard sale.

*Wallflower--We all have those chapters that we're just "meh" about.   You know what I'm talking about.  Those chapters that are important but don't thrill you as much as the others do.  They're nothing special, they're just there.  This can by no means be your prologue.  It is absolutely imperative for your prologue to intrigue the reader; it is absolutely imperative for your prologue to intrigue you.  Re-read your prologue and ask yourself how it made you feel.  If your answer is "meh", revise it or don't include it at all.

Some Handy-Dandy Tips:

The following are a couple of tips I discovered while doing a little research of my own on prologues.  I've included a link below to some of the more helpful sites.

         --If you absolutely positively think your novel must include a prologue, give your novel, sans prologue, to a person who has yet to read it and has no idea what it's about.  After they've read it, give them the prologue.  Does the story make sense without the prologue?  If yes, then perhaps you should rethink the prologue.  You may also want to ask them if the prologue added anything to the overall novel.  If they can't tell you that your prologue was at least in their top three things about the novel, then, again, perhaps you should rethink its inclusion.

        --Research novels that include prologues.  Obviously, those authors have discovered what works and what doesn't and what better way is there to learn than by example.


I liken epilogues to those fancy, sparkly ribbons people add to gifts for that extra ounce of pizazz.  You know the ones I'm talking about. Those silver doodads with the glitter embedded in them that hang down in spirals in childlike ringlets--there's probably proper ribbon terminology for this of which I'm too lazy to research at the moment. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that, without the ribbon, the gift wrapping itself is satisfying enough but,with it, the whole package is more appealing--more complete.  This is how an epilogue should be to a novel.


*Make it flow--If your epilogue is nothing more than an afterthought, it's probably not important enough to include in your novel.  The entire novel needs to flow, epilogue and all.  One rough wave could potentially overturn the entire ship or, at the very least, help spring a rather nasty leak.

*Encore, please--Do you want to write a sequel? If so, an epilogue is a great way to hint at an unresolved conflict, introduce a new plot twist or end with a cliffhanger for the characters to address in a future book.

*Again with the length--The rules governing length are a tad more liberal with epilogues. Still, try to keep your thoughts brief and concise.  I remember watching The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King wondering why the last twenty minutes of the film was necessary.  I've never read the books by J.R.R. Tolkien (I know blasphemy) so I wasn't sure if it was something that was also included in the book.  From what I was told, it was the epilogue (for those of you LOTR fans, if this is wrong, let me know).  I'm not going to argue with the work of  J.R.R. Tolkien as if he felt it was necessary, it was necessary.  My point is that one shouldn't leave their reader/audience feeling as though ANY part of their work was unnecessary.  Every aspect of your novel should work as a well-oiled machine and nothing should be included "just because".


*Don't make it too cutesy--Unless it's a romantic or all around flowery, happy novel in general, don't do the whole "And they all lived happily every after" ending in your epilogue with the protagonist being married to their soul mate, with forty kids playing around their feet as they swing joyfully on their porch swing.  Maintain the same tone of the novel.  If it's a bittersweet novel all around, then the epilogue shouldn't stray too far from that theme.

* Leave unanswered questions at the finale--If it's the end of a single book or the series, don't use the epilogue to introduce a whole new array of drama to leave your audience wondering "what the hell".  My personal preference is to have everything wrapped up in a nice, neat manner leaving little, if any questions.  A good epilogue will efficiently tie up all those loose ends leaving the reader satisfied.
As always, I hope this blog was at least somewhat helpful to you all.  Remember, any advice or opinions of mine are to be taken as just that:  My opinion.  As writers, you need to write what's comfortable to you and what's in your novel's best interest.  I just ask that you don't stifle yourself with the personal preferences of others.  If you want to include a prologue in your novel, by all means, include it.

Sources: Novel