On a long car ride across Texas, my six-year-old daughter asked my wife to help her make one of those folded paper “tell your future” things. You know, the ones that go on four of your fingers and you pick a color and then a number and then lift a little flap to see the name of your some-day spouse or the number of kids you are going to have or what sort of house Destiny has waiting for you... You can probably still fold one if you think about it.
Anyway, when it got time to write these future predictions under the flap, my daughter’s suggestions were
1) You will have a pet dolphin
2) Two days after July 4th (known as July 6th in most circles) you will go to Candyland
3) You will see a rainbow tomorrow
4) You will see a red, white, and blue eagle three days after your next birthday.
Now that’s just not something most people would make up. But then I thought about it, and I understood how it would be exactly something a six-year-old would make up. Pure creativity, unfettered by logic, science, or preconceived notions.
Running with that, I dug up a few stories I’d written as a 13-year-old. No need to do that math on how long ago that was, but suffice it to say entire nations have risen and fallen between then and now.
I flipped through the yellowed brittle pages and read a few pages here and there.
I found a me that I’d forgotten. Young Steve couldn’t spell to save his life, and he didn’t care. He didn’t feel it necessary to scrawl his newly discovered cursive handwriting just between the lines either. Young Steve filled every corner of white space on the page. If a sentence needed to curve up the side of the page, upside-down across the top and back down again, so be it. The first section I turned to was about Young Steve transported to a fantasy world filled with all sorts of supernatural creatures. He’d stumbled into the cave of a Medusa, and needed some special item hidden in the cave. The paragraph talked about Young Steve walking up and attacking the snake-haired horror as if her mystical abilities were no problem. Older Steve was confused, and a little angry at the breach in logic. Surely Young Steve knew that the gaze of a Medusa…
Oh, yes, there it was. Reading further, Young Steve revealed he’d used a spell to pop his eyes out and slipped them in his pocket until after the battle was over.
I searched around some more and found a short story I’d written about a cursed potion and getting revenge on bullies. I rewrote that story, cleaned up the grammar, hit spellcheck a few times, and polished the descriptions, and in the end, it turned out to be one of my favorite short stories.
I try to take notes now every time my daughter makes something up, and her mom and I have stacked blank journals and colored writing utensils strategically all around her room. I want to make sure we capture as much of that raw imagination as possible.
So in the next thing you write, call upon the power of Young You. If you are still young, call upon Younger You, from before you could read even. Shove anything that inhibits you aside and lock it in the cellar. There will be time for outlines and plot points and character bios later. Daydream something that would have made you laugh or cry or jump up and yell “Yeah!” as a kid, and write it down. In the meantime, look out for a red, white, and blue eagle three days after your next birthday.
I know I will.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
|See this guy on the cover? I know him!|
He's a friend on Facebook: Jimmy Thomas.
What a dish!
Okay, I admit it. Today is about shameless self promotion again. I know, I know. I should be more modest, more gracious...but dang it, I'm not! I'm happy and I want to share why!
My urban fantasy, Nephilim was released on Monday of this week and is now available for your eReaders and laptops at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders (throw those guys a bone, will ya), Lyrical Press Inc., Manic Readers, and a bunch of other cool sites. Nope, it's not in paper back yet, but that should be a possibility really soon...
Nephilim is a urban fantasy I began working on about two and half years ago. Though I'd had several short stories about my protagonist, Nathan Ink, already written, it was during NaNoWriMo that I sat down and wrote out his story. The editing process was lengthy and the manuscript was rejected a thousand times. But along the rejection path, I got invaluable free advice from various agents and editors. Listening to them is what ultimately got me on the road to publication.
If you are not sure what urban fantasy is, here is a brief definition:
Urban fantasies are stories with otherworldly creatures in them which take place on earth. They typically occur in modern times, and usually the setting is a city or well-populated area. There can be a sprinkling of romance between characters, but it doesn’t necessarily have to have a happy ending. A mystery will unfold during the tale, keeping the reader turning the pages. Many times the story will arc over a series of books. Of course, there are exceptions to all of the things I just stated, but those are the basics. A few examples of current urban fantasy titles you may recognize are any of the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris or the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
I really enjoy urban fantasy, though it is fun to write in other genres, too. I think it's important to read outside your genre in order to be the best writer you can be. So with that in mind, here's a synopsis of Nephilim.
When sin stains your soul, he tattoos your skin…
Tattoo artist Nathan Ink is more than he seems. An angel living in secret on earth, he forces his clients to face their flaws by tattooing images of their sins on their bodies, but this glimpse into the soul often results in his clients' deaths. Although Nathan avoids the other angels, when they ask him to keep an eye on Faye, a nephilim being stalked by another of her kind, he reluctantly agrees.
The angels have kept Faye in the dark about her stalker, but to keep her close to Nathan, they've tasked her with investigating the high mortality rate of Nathan's clients. Despite her distaste for his methods, she finds herself fighting a growing attraction to Nathan, and discovering he's not a rogue after all forces her to question her own mission. When Faye learns her stalker is another nephilim who intends to use her to breed a new race of hellish beings, teaming up with Nathan may be the only way to prevent a genocide.
Contains strong language and violence
Monday, July 18, 2011
I'm actually away visiting family this week and I arranged this blog post before I left. Since it's a little over a week before the actual post date, I have no idea what I'm doing today, but I know it involved an adorable little baby grandson who is on the verge of being able to walk!
Thoughts on vacationing. I know some writers write every single day, whether they're on vacation or not. Some write more on vacation than when they're home. Is that healthy?
Do you ever take a complete break from writing? I don't know if I'm doing that or not right now. Maybe I'm jotting down a few things on my laptop every night after everyone is asleep. (I don't seem to sleep as much as everyone else.) Or maybe I'm opening it to check email, then putting the lid down after a few minutes.
I wonder if writers lose their writing chops if they quit for a week or so. I know I would if I quit for longer.
(The picture is NOT where I am!)
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
As a writer with a book coming out in a week, I'm always looking for new ways to self promote and connect with other readers. This has been the most challenging part of publishing for me. Of course, this is probably not a great revelation to you. One of the most basic things writers learn about the business of writing is how time consuming marketing is. It doesn't matter if you publish with Random House or self publish. You are still expected to promote your book and find unique ways to do it.
A great way to connect with readers and writers is through Goodreads. This website has been around for awhile, but I'd always thought of it as just a book club where you could list what you are reading and see what others have got on their virtual book shelves. I hadn't really explored everything it had to offer. For example, there are tons of on-line groups that can be utilized to chat about books or even about writing. You can publish short stories to be critiqued, or get advice on problems you may be having in your work. If you are a fan of a particular author, there's probably a chat group dedicated to talking about their novels.
I recently discovered the author's program Goodreads uses for people who have published books or are about to. When you sign up for it, you have access to lots of resources designed to help promote your book. You can post links to your blog, pictures of your book cover, reviews, upload ebook copies or excerpts, set up promotional giveaways, and even buy ad space. Best of all, it's free--except for the ad space!
One of the things I like is called Self Serve Advertising. Goodreads has book launch packages available to buy which are perfect if you have the money for it. But if you are like me, poor as a church mouse, Self Serve Advertising is a great option. It allows you to budget your ad to fit your needs and run as long as you want it, too. It also provides a "stats" area so you can see how many clicks you get on an ad, the cost, how often it runs, and how many people add your book to their Goodreads bookshelf. I talked to several authors prior to using this and all were satisfied with their sale results.
I think what's also appealing about it is that it targets readers. I know that Facebook offers a similar approach to advertising, too, but I rarely click on Facebook ads. I feel that your chances are better of getting attention on a site that is focused on books.
Curious about Goodreads? They are easy to find at www.goodreads.com. I have to do some shameless self promotion now! Go to Goodreads to check out more info on my ebook, Nephilim, which comes out Monday, July 18. You can pre-order it at Borders or Barnes and Noble. To read an excerpt come to my website www.maryannloesch.com or follow my personal blog, Loesch's Muse at www.loeschsmuse.blogspot.com.
Monday, July 11, 2011
There are lots of aspects to creating characters, I've found. One of the most important for me is the name. Once I have the right name, the character comes to life. I've had the wrong name for some of them, and they lie lifeless on the page, two-dimensional, forced characters. If I listen close enough, the character will tell me his or her name. Of course, that's the way writers speak of our own subconsciousness. It's not magic, the characters aren't really speaking to us, but it sure seems like it!
The first few novels I wrote had problems. The main one, I think, was with my protagonists. I got so many comments from agents that they didn't "fall in love" with her. I didn't want them to fall in love, but I did want them to represent me. My character was getting in the way. She wasn't vivid enough. One day it finally came to me. I'd been told many times, but for some reason it didn't take. Fiction has to be bigger than real life. No one wants to read about ordinary people, ordinary day-to-day happenings. They want what they read to be more interesting than that. I thought I had quirky characters, but they weren't quirky enough.
Do you choose someone you don't like for the victim? I don't think this is the best idea. Yes, it's cathartic to kill off someone who's done you wrong, and I can highly recommend it, especially in a short story or a piece for yourself. But for a mystery novel, you want to reader to care about catching the killer. The reader wants to see justice done and if a bad person is dead, it's been done--end of story--no need for the rest of the book. Kill off someone nice and the reader will be with you, wanting you to catch the bad guy.
That's where to put the person you detest. Make him the killer. Everyone can see what a bad person he is, right? Although a cardboard cutout all around bad guy IS a boring villain. You're only basing your bad guy on the hated person. Dig a little deeper for a real character. If you can see things from his point of view, if you can let the reader in on why he did what he did, draw a little sympathy for him, you'll have a more rounded, interesting character.
I'd like to hear about how other people view their characters. Do you have sidekicks? I've never gotten too much into those. But I like to have some other family members around, and at least one love interest.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
|This is not my editor. Tiffany is|
I'm a stubborn writer. I don't like to admit I need help with my work. I know. That's not a good thing. I try to remind myself that the way to get better at writing is to let others look at what you are doing and offer up their thoughts. It's not like I have to accept everything the other person says...
Still, letting others critique your work can a be a little trying. However, it comes with the territory, and it's better to embrace this fact than to fight against it. Accepting criticism is something I've gotten better at, especially if I'm asking for it.
I've been working on a YA novel for a little over a year now. That may seem like a long time, but I do work full time, have another book coming out this month, and I belong to a family who insists I pay attention to them. Truthfully, I'm not really worried about how long I've been working on this novel. I'm more concerned that it go the right direction and be where it should be as I begin the agent process. When considering my options with this manuscript, I thought back to all the things I learned from writing Nephilim.
Wow. I learned a lot. Including when it's time to get help.
Two months ago I began toying with the idea of hiring an editor to pick apart my book. My thinking was that another eye would be able to see all those little things it took me a million years to figure out with my first novel. Again, I'm not really stressed about how long everything takes, but I don't want to waste an agent's time or mine with a submission that's not really ready. The last thing I want to hear after four or five drafts is: It's just not ready yet.
Enter Tiffany Maxwell, editor extraordinaire! (http://www.tiffanymaxwell.com)Tiffany edited Nephilim for me through my publisher Lyrical Press. She was encouraging, but demanding, and knows how to ask questions that really make a writer think. This was exactly what I needed for Nephilim and why I decided to hire her to edit my young adult novel. We worked out a deal, she read it in two weeks, and sent me the kind of advice and criticism that I really needed. As a result, I feel that by the end of summer, this novel is going to be in much better shape and ready for the agents to look at.
Now, I know that some of our readers are thinking about the money or whether or not it's worth it to hire someone to look at your work. I use to feel that same way until I started working with one on Nephilim. Somewhere in that process, I started to realize the incredible usefulness of my editor. She started teaching me things that I hadn't even thought about before and now use in my every day writing. I wish I'd had her prior to the submission process! Hire someone to check your work, especially if you feel something isn't working in your story, but you can't quite put a finger on what it is. If you are considering the self publishing route, I beg you to get an editor to look over your work first.
But your broke financially! I know, I know. Start saving your pennies. Look editors up on line. Ask your writer friends who they recommend. Think about what you want out of an editor, too. Do you want a full line edit or jut a brief overview of what they think works or doesn't work in the story? Those things can also help determine what you are willing to spend.
Know any good editors? Promote them by leaving a comment!
Friday, July 1, 2011
It started as such things often do, with the simple preface, “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if…” uttered at that special time of night when people are most susceptible to suggestion and resistance is lowest.
There are many, many zombie novels and movies out there showing what it is like to take on the zombie apocalypse. However, while I’m sure they exist, I have yet to see something that takes a look at that popular fictitious war from the opposing viewpoint. So there I had it, before anything else, the tagline…
“Finally, the other side of the apocalypse story.”
I could tell I was on to something because that line did, and still does, make me giggle when I read it. I came up with the conceit of how the psychiatrists were able to “read” thoughts of the zombies via some technology that actually exists in a primitive form today. Then I read through many actual therapy transcripts which my late psychologist uncle left behind, and made a file of psycho-babble phrases in hopes I could incorporate them whenever I needed a touch of realism.
From there I made a list of various archetypes that I thought might make good zombie personalities, and set each one in front of a recorder and let them talk. The corporate mogul obviously wanted to “gain more biological market share,” the married couple would naturally be having martial issues after their recent changes, and the recently turned sorority girl saw the world through uniquely tinted undead sunglasses. I made sure also to include those who had close dealings with zombies before they’d somehow been infected, such as a “Zactivist” (zombie rights activist, also known as a zed hugger), a molecular biologist, and even a “Gorillas in the Mist” type journalist who’d written a book based on her year-long travels disguised within one of the larger undead hordes. The psychiatrists and neurologists interviewing the zombies gave the story a narrative voice and a way to propel the action forward, but the zombie personalities stole the show. It only got better when the scientists linked them all together for a sort of group therapy session.
Still, a book with nothing but monologues would get boring fairly quickly. Tossing in a few of the stereotypes from asylum movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Girl Interrupted was fun, but the overall concept needed a central arc to carry it through.
After I’d given the zombies a chance to say what was on their minds, such as they were, I sat around for a day or two imagining if I could talk to zombies, what would I want to know. At last I came up with a secret one of the zombies carried - a secret which carried implications for the entire zombie war. Viola! From there it was just a matter of plotting out how to reveal the secret a little at a time.
The hardest part was actually trying to explain the background of the zombie war without too much exposition before getting into the actual interviews. At one point I had an introduction by a futuristic senator submitting the transcript as evidence to what happened (past tense) in the war, followed by an introduction by one of the PhD Residents as to why they were doing what they were doing, followed by the introduction of how the first interview would work, followed by the first interview, followed by yet more explanation by that same PhD Resident on some more technical stuff.
Four edits later, I finally managed to drop the entire part about the senator, cut the PhD Resident’s intro down to a little over three pages, and incorporate all the other information here and there throughout the book so by page four we were in the first interview. Bottom line, once I’d done all the research and set the stage, it was mostly a matter of trusting the idea, leaping into the story and letting it tell itself. Or, as Dr. Clyde Marshall puts it, "To condemn this material is to condemn the true authors, the many undead who I subjected to hours of brain scanning and verbal interviews. They are the real storytellers. I only kept the record."
Check it out if you get a chance.