Tag Archives: writing

Rigors of Research … by Katriena Knights

Knights_SummoningSebastianOne of the great things about writing is that you can use it as an excuse to research almost anything. String theory, exoplanets, the Alaskan bush, ancient Sumerian literature, conspiracy theories—you name it, it’s story fodder. In fact, I’ve been known to tweak a story plot specifically to give me a reason to read up on something I’ve found that looks interesting.

Sometimes I might take it a little too far… But heck, that’s part of the fun, right?

In my new book, due out August 5th, I researched something that’s interested me for a long time—the Tunguska event that occurred in Siberia in 1908. I first heard about it on The X-Files (I’ve learned a lot of things from The X-Files); in fact there’s an episode called “Tunguska.” (It’s part one of a two-part mythology arc sequence—“Tunguska” and “Terma,” but I digress.) In that show, the mysterious explosion is blamed on aliens (because of course it is), but in my book I’ve come up with a different explanation.

Interest in Tunguska has come into popular culture again since the 2013 meteor flyby in Chelyabinsk, also in Siberia. That gets into the story, too, although not in terms of mystical origins.

This all sounded pretty cool when I came up with it. Then I started writing the story and realized how much research I had to do. My characters spend time in Chelyabinsk, then go to Vanavara, which the nearest small town to Tunguska. In the process, I ended up researching the layout of Moscow’s main international airport, including reading Russian maps that showed where to find the Burger King as well as menu items from a couple of airport restaurants (including one where you can get a baked potato with crab on it). So the time I’ve spent learning Russian—which came about partially due to another book, which has a Russian protagonist—paid off for that one. Otherwise it might have been tricky to figure out what was on those potatoes, because Google Translate, while an awesome innovation, isn’t always the most accurate.

I spent a lot of time on YouTube, too, watching video tours of Chelyabinsk and Vanavara, and then on Google Street View, taking a tour of a pedestrian mall in downtown Chelyabinsk. All the time, I was thinking not only that it was a hell of a lot of fun, but that it’s amazing the kind of access we have these days to details we previously could only get by spending time in the places we want to write about.

That’s not to say everything in Summoning Sebastian is a hundred percent accurate. I’m sure I made mistakes. But I did the best I could, and I enjoyed writing the book. And, best of all, I was able to travel to Siberia without having to deal with the bugs.

Summoning Sebastian is currently available for pre-order from Samhain Publishing at a reduced pre-order price.

Stop by my blog for news on upcoming books and other ramblings, and follow me on Twitter.

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem when she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinios, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children. Visit her at her website or her blog.

Would’ve Been Kinder to Stab Me in the I: How Harper Lee Ruined My Life

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

They say, Never Meet Your Writerly Heroes. I can see why. Writers are very much human, as in INCREDBILIBY flawed individuals. I mean, have you met me?

Then again, I’ve had the privilege of meeting three of my all time writerly crushes. In all three cases (Christopher Moore, Tim Dorsey & Robert Crais) they were perfectly lovely people. Not a one got drunk and tried to slip me the tongue (as opposed to a great storpicy a friend of mine has about a certain, now dead, author named Hunter and a wild night in Boulder, CO). Much to my chagrin I might add, but that’s a post for another time, and probably another blog – Fifty Shades of Crap You Don’t Want to Know about Me.

What I wanted to discuss today, is Harper Lee and Go Set a Watchman. Yes, I am going to whine and there maybe a few spoilers (which I learned after reading the 1st chapter online so they aren’t exactly spoilers for the whole book so I don’t feel too bad about spilling some secrets).

To Kill a Mockingbird was and is my favorite book. It has been since I first read it at the not so tender age of 18. I won’t go into the whys, but to me, it’s nearly the perfect novel. What added to the mystic was the lore of Harper Lee--having written only one perfect novel, and then never having published another word. It was/is my idea of the best writing career.

For so many years she was incredibly protective of her privacy and her rights. And then Go Set a Watchmen was announced. I, like so many others, was thrilled with a squeal to Scout’s story. I imagined all the ways in which the tale would enfold, about how Scout and Jem grew up, about who they became in the wake of the events of that summer.

That excitement faded under the elderly abuse accusations and later the investigation into those charges. But I hung in, pre-ordering my copy. And days before the release, the publisher put chapter 1 online…

Are you freaking kidding me? Jem’s dead? His death gets a throw away one paragraph?

My innocence is lost.

To Kill a Mockingbird will never be the same for me again. Which is why I’m sharing that factoid with you, so your illusions are shattered too. Misery loving company and all.

Which brings me to the point of this post, as a writer, I need to make sure I never do that to my readers. I can kill off characters all I want, but I need to do it in a way that acknowledges the sacrifice of time and attention my readers have put into my books.

I am not blaming Harper Lee for killing Jem off, nor with how she did it, as I fully believe she didn’t intend this book to meet the reader’s gaze. Not really at least.

Which is my second point of this post, as a writer, you don’t fully have control over what happens after you sell as book or aren’t in control of your rights anymore. So be careful in whatever decisions you make, now and going forward, i.e., who you leave your writerly estate too.

Did you read Go Set a Watchman? If so, what did you think? If not, why not? And do you have any other examples of when a writer you love destroyed your faith in writerly humanity?

 

Now come talk smack to me on facebook, twitter or on my website.  Or better yet, leave me all of your writerly estate. I vow not to Go Set a Watchman your stuff.

The happiness advantage – To write better novels, lighten up!

By Janet Lane

--What’s behind the happiness craze?

It’s summertime, and the weather’s finally fine. Sunshine is in abundance, and so are articles about happiness.

In July 9th’s Colorado Style, The Washington Post’s Brigid Schulte wrote an artcle, “Boost happiness with a few simple daily habits.” The July 12 issue of Parade’s cover headline reads, “50 Shades of Happy,” and the August Golf Digest cover declares it’s their “Happiness Issue.”

In one of those golf articles, contributor Bob Carney discusses a golfer on his high school team who was the happiest golfer he ever knew. He would be happy no matter the weather or what he shot, and he was not only the best player on the high school team, he was also the luckiest. His 6-handicap, Carney says, wasn’t all magic. It turns out there’s scientific proof that this “happiness edge” exists.

Shawn Achor, Harvard researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage, claims our brains, in positive mode, perform significantly better than they do in negative, neutral or stressed modes. Carney quoted five-time Open Championship winner Peter Thompson, who said, “You can think best when you’re happiest.”

So why are we all so hard on ourselves on the golf course, or at our computers, writing novels? One reason, Carney suggests, is that we “model” experience. We have preconceived notions about the “right” way to raise children, choose a mate, or in our case, write or promote our novels. These notions can be time-saving, but if we take them too seriously, we begin to believe that this is the way the world really works.

Are our theories about how to write a good novel simply a construct, also?

Annika Sorenstam’s coach, Lynn Marriott, says we have a negativity bias, that we store negative experiences in a deeper and more permanent way than we do our positive experiences. This suggests that we can undo the harmful, negative bias by replacing it with a positive bias.

If we have a propensity to imbed the negative, it will take a little more effort, but we can learn to apply this concept to make our writing more joyful, more satisfying.

Close your eyes and think back to the first time you wrote fiction—how excited you were, how magical it all seemed, creating a story from your heart, from that beautiful, magical place we call creativity. You couldn’t wait to write more, to discover what happened next, to watch your characters come to life on the pages.

Time, as we know, passes. Some stories get rejected, some get admired, some get published. We trudge on, dragging our feet through the industry “mud” of dashed hopes, disappointing letters in the mail, demanding editors, indifferent agents, careless reviews, puny sales numbers.

Over time, the joy fades, and our creative hearts need replenishing.

Take a deep breath. Hug your manuscripts and/or published books, and recall that early joy. Armed with positive thoughts, dwell on your successes and enjoyment. Remember to relish those memories, because it takes more effort to embed the positive.

When you’re preparing to edit (or, let’s be honest, “thinking” about preparing to edit, or tying yourself in the chair to force yourself to edit), engage encouraging thoughts.

Capture old, negative thoughts and turn them on their ear. Dash memories of plotting gone bad, and critique sessions that leave your manuscript bleeding from all the comments. You may have to hand back your bleeding manuscript to your critique partners and ask them to write two good things about your pages. Then you can take control and read and re-read those positive comments, giving them the same power as the critical comments . This will help you enter into your editing session with a hopeful, happy outlook, better able to tackle any problem areas.

When you’re gearing up to write new material, hug your creative mind and give it a jump start. Think of three or more outstanding memories of your writing, times when you could sing, you were so happy.

When you finished a scene that made you cry. Or laugh.
When you wrote a piece of dialogue that impressed you so much, you wanted to dance.
When someone looked you right in the eye, gave you a smile, and said they really enjoyed your writing.
When you wrote “The End” for the first time.
When you read a fantastic, positive review of your book, written by an obviously intelligent reader.

You’ll think of other gems. They’re in your memory bank, just temporarily dulled by the hard knocks that come with the industry.

Writing this blog made me happy. I hope it makes you happy, too. Join me next month as I continue my happy writing thoughts.

Everything I Learned About Writing I Learned From Mountain Biking

By Aaron Ritchey

I know what you are thinking.

When I first started blogging for RMFW I wrote that I learned all about writing from Johnny Cash. Well, that is true, but a blog entitled “I learned a little about writing from mountain biking because I didn’t learn everything from Johnny Cash” is kinda clunky.

The mountain bike rides I do can be divided into two equal parts—the sweaty, grinding, heart-puking climb up and the fast, glorious, soar of the ride down. Not a lot of flat, and I think in the writing life, there isn’t a lot of flat. It’s a struggle, but it’s the struggle that strengthens us.

As my friend Jason Evans says, all suffering is redemptive. So, that’s number one on the list, and you just know I was gonna do a list.

  • WRITING IS THE CLIMB – The climb is hard. The climb requires perseverance, and with mountain biking, constant pedaling. I’m a write-everyday-type of guy because if I stop, it’s too easy to stay stopped. If you don’t pedal while you are climbing, you will abruptly stop moving and fall.
  • FALLING IS PART OF THE GAME — When I was learning how to mountain bike, I would come home bruised and bloodied. Writing books and publishing books is just as bloody a business. There will be cuts, bruises, and injuries, sometimes to your very soul. It makes the successes all the more dramatic and heroic.
  • GOTTA UNCLICK — I would show my mountain bike guru my wounds, and he would say, “Gotta unclick, man. Gotta unclick.” You see, my shoes click into my pedals so I am one with my bike. If I ran into trouble bouncing up (or down) the rocks, or if I lost my balance, I had to quickly unclick a shoes from its housing, or I would land on my leg, thigh, side, arm, uvula. If I clicked out of my pedals before I fell, I’d set my foot down and avoid physical damage. In the writing game, when I fall, I have to learn to unclick. I have to learn to let go of bad reviews, a finicky editor, or terrible sales. I have to unclick, get my balance, and keep on biking up the hill.
  • GOTTA GET A GURU — Lindon Weibe was my mountain bike guru, and he taught me everything I needed to know. In writing, I’ve had many gurus—Linda Rohrbaugh, Andrea Brown, Laura Rennert, Jeanne C. Stein, Mario Acevedo, and many, many, many others. Find people to talk to. Listen to their advice and observe their lives.
  • LEARN TO LOVE THE CLIMB — So I bike Deer Creek Canyon, the east entrance of Mount Falcon, a little bit of Red Rocks, and the Apex trail near Heritage Square. All of these are a sharp elevation gain to the top, and then a swooping thrill ride down. I love downhill. It’s easy, exciting, no sweat. But to get to the downhill, I have to climb, so I taught myself to love the climb. It’s the joy of the struggle, it’s the self-discipline of figuring out a time to write, and then using that time to write. Even though the new season of Orange is the New Black is on. The good stuff is in the grit, baby.
  • DOWNHILL IS AN ILLUSION — When I’m climbing the east entrance of Mount Falcon, which I have dubbed MFE, Mount Falcon East, baby!, I am thinking, “Oh, the downhill is going to be so sweet.” And when I get to the top and turn around, yes, the downhill is fun, but it’s not as good as I thought it would be. I have a mantra, “There is no downhill. There is only the hill.” I think what happens to a lot of successful writers is that they get the fame and success and suddenly the writing game is like biking downhill. It all just comes, and it’s all so sweet. Humans were made to struggle and challenge their limits.
  • STOP AND LOOK AROUND— So we're climbing up the hill, sweating, or we're soaring down the hill, enjoying our successes. Either way, stop, look around, breathe. The writer’s life is a good life. Not an easy life, but a good life.

The biggest difference between writing and mountain biking is that writing doesn’t burn very many calories. Actually, writing is terrible for your physical health—carpal tunnel, back pain, weight gain from stress eating. Yeah, not good for you.

So remember, write a little, but put a little time in on your bike, mountain or otherwise. Gotta stay fit to write them books, partner.

Enjoy the climb. There is only the hill.

Saying Thanks

By Pamela Nowak

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about how much, and how many people, I take for granted.

How often do we all converse about losing people and how much they meant to us—most often in the past tense? People move, become less involved, or—worse—pass away. Too many times, we chat about how important that person was without having ever told them directly. This seems to occur in families, with childhood friends, in careers…well, pretty much everywhere.

We think conveying appreciation more with family members because there are built-in holidays that prompt us to tell mothers, fathers, siblings that we care about them. Yet, we have a tendency to mention it only on holidays and we forget entirely about our extended families. Have you ever told your favorite aunt how important she was in your life? How long has it been since you even spoke to your uncle? Your cousins?

And then there are those friends from high school who are remembered at class reunion time but easily forgotten in between. Recently, I discovered Facebook pages related to my former hometowns and was able to reconnect with people from my past…it’s been a fun experience. But…maybe it’s time to reach out to tell them how much their friendships meant all those years ago.

There are so many I’ll likely never have a chance to tell. I wouldn’t begin to know how to locate college professors, former bosses, co-workers who taught me skills I use today. One day, I’ll see obituaries and think about how important they were, and how I never told them.

And then there are those who are still part of my life, many of whom have guided me in my writing. Writers seldom develop their craft in a vacuum and seldom find the courage to undertake the submission process without the support of others.

So many fellow writers taught me craft, helped me grow, supported me as I floundered, hugged me in the face of rejection letters. RMFW is filled with people who impacted me as a writer and as a person. Yet, I may have never told them how much they mean to me. It’s as easy to neglect doing this when you see someone regularly as it is when you’ve not seen them for years.

It’s well past time to let them know the impact they’ve made.

My challenge, to myself and to my fellow writers, is to reach out to those who helped shape us. Whether it be a chatty note, a formal thank-you, or a “I never told you this, but…” next time you see them, take a moment to convey your appreciation. Tell them they’ve made a difference. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just heart-felt. The Colorado Gold Conference is a perfect time to do this but certainly not the only time. The opportunities are endless. All we need to do is take the initiative and convey our appreciation.

Think about those who are important to you. Then, reach out and let them know!

Nobody Writes Like You

By Mark Stevens

Can you write like your favorite writer?

I know I can’t.

You might have Ursula Le Guin or Patricia Highsmith or Ernest Hemingway in mind when you write something, but somehow it comes out on the page as, well, you.

Somewhere in all those choices of words, sentences, characters, images, plots, moods, dialogue, action sequences, big finishes, prologues and epilogues—no matter how much you might try to emulate another writer—you show up.

I was thinking about this recently when The New Yorker featured a podcast reading of “The Trouble With Mrs. Blynn, The Trouble With the World.” That’s a story by Patricia Highsmith (who happens to be one of my all-time favorite writers) and it was read by Yiyun Li.

The story is so simple—in a way. It’s about “Mrs. Palmer,” who is dying of leukemia in a seaside cottage in England. She is being tended to by a few people including a “Mrs. Blynn,” a nurse, who has a grating presence and inflicts various petty cruelties on her patient.

Not much happens. It’s true.

But yet—so much happens. Listen to the discussion between Yiyun Li and The New Yorker's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, and you realize how much subtext was going on around this cottage, where all the so-called “action” takes place. Instructive? To say the least.

It’s typical Highsmith. This was stuff she cared about, the needling insults and jagged edges between somewhat ordinary people. Her protagonists (Thomas Ripley, hello) are extremely flawed human beings. She crafted 20-plus novels and many dozens of short stories out of her fascination with warped humanity.

Plotting and Writing - HighsmithEarlier last week, I read a terrific story in The Guardian by Sam Jordison—“Creative Writing Lessons from Patricia Highsmith”—in which he looked at her guide, Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. One of Jordison’s many keen insights is this: that the guide itself proves it’s “impossible to walk in Highsmith’s shoes.”

Yes, I dig Patricia Highsmith—but I couldn’t write like her even if the Valyrian greatsword Ice was making its way toward my tender little neck.

I ask: what’s up with that?

Put a hundred writers in a room, give them 40 specific plot points for a novel, the setting, eight major characters and ask them all to write in the style of a noir thriller.

What will you get?

You will get precisely 100 different novels in return.

The best writers, in my mind, have their own fingerprints on the page, a dab of their own soul—sometimes a whole lot more. But unless you are outright stealing a style or lifting ideas wholesale, you will leave your mark on the page. It's part of the process. It's why we write.

What’s my point?

As a writer, I like to remind myself—nobody can tell the story the way I’m going to tell the story.

Nobody can.

Nobody will.

It’s not even possible.

And to do a decent job telling it, I better have a good idea of what’s driving me to tell it.

Patricia Highsmith (from Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction): “There is no secret of success in writing except individuality, or call it personality. And since every person is different, it is only for the individual to express his difference from the next fellow. This is what I call the opening of the spirit. But it isn’t mystic. It is merely a kind of freedom—freedom organized. Plotting and Writing will not make anybody work harder. But it will, I hope, make people who want to write realize what is already within them.”

TAKING CRITICISM

By Kevin Paul Tracy

Some of the most respected classical writers throughout history did literary criticism as either a sideline or as a career before they sold their own novels. From Edgar Allen Poe to Oscar Wilde, then great writers would often decimate their peers in papers and writing journals, eviscerating them in public treatments. Today, when two or more people get into heated, venom-laden, often imaginative insult wars in emails loops or chat rooms, we refer to it as a "flame war," but this sort of thing is not new to the journalistic world. Often quite famous writers would go back and forth in periodicals, attacking and counter-attacking each other's works in the most colorful and often personal ways. The public loved it, so it sold a lot of papers, so the editors loved it. Back then, there was a certain poetry to the insults exchanged. Poe once wrote of Ralph Waldo Emerson that he "...belongs to a class of gentlemen with whom we have no patience whatever — the mystics for mysticism’s sake." Because profanity was much more taboo than it is now, writers had to really challenge themselves to come up with original and imaginative ways to dress each other down that would both make their point and entertain the reader at the same time.

One could make a very convincing point about the lack of efficacy of such frontal assaults, popular as they were to the readers. It stands to reason than our best efforts in any endeavor are going to become intimately intertwined with our ego and self-esteem. This is our attempt to accomplish something intended for public consumption. We are expending effort and strain in its creation, and we want to do it correctly and in good form. We want others to not only read, but to enjoy it. No one sets out to fail, not on purpose. The man who does not care about whether others appreciate his attempts to create is a man better off dead - he is not truly contributing anything to the human condition, but stroking his own ego, little more than public masturbation. We are better off without him. Frankly I submit such men do not exist, or if they do, they are too rare to care about. So understandably we are going to feel attacked on a personal level whenever something we have created is attacked, and when that happens, any truth or lessons to learn from the criticism, however deeply buried under hyperbole and colorful language, is bound to be lost on us. We don't learn much from such criticism.

On the other hand, couching criticism in too much pillowy language to soften the blow often risks obscuring the points one wishes to make, or to blunt their importance so much that a very critical point may be ignored as less important. Saying, for example, "I love your writing. Just one small thing, for what it's worth, when you have a one-page character like the patrolman, who is very colorfully written by the way, discover the blood on the baseboard, no offense but you are not utilizing your protagonist, my favortie character in your book, in the most proactive manner," the point is so well couched in diplomatic rhetoric it could be lost. Ego and self-esteem of the writer aside, the best way to make a point is still the most direct, pointed, even blunt way: "You waste an opportunity to show your protagonist's sleuthing genius by having a minor cut-out character find crucial clues instead. And you do it repeatedly through the book." There can be no mistaking the point being made, and also the importance the critic places on that point.

Crying at The ComputerIn receiving a critique, I prefer the blunt approach to being coddled and swaddled and fed treacle. And still, other writers can get their hackles up and throw a glass of wine in your face for saying it.

There are those whose opinion, no matter how qualified, we as individuals do not respect, for whatever reason. I submit that the level of umbrage we take from a criticism increases exponentially in reverse proportion to the amount of respect we bear the critic: the less we esteem his opinion the greater offense we take at it. For this I'm afraid there is no remedy. As writers, we must merely bite the bullet and take it.

I further submit that to engage a critic on any level is folly. It doesn't matter that you can explain away his point, that you have a greater knowledge of writing craft than he, or that you are right and he is wrong. Engaging him can only make you look bad on a multitude of levels. One, you come off as insecure about your own writing. No matter how well reasoned or skillfully worded your retort, any retort at all smacks of defensiveness and lack of confidence, like you feel you have something to defend. Second, you can come off as petty, especially if anything you say can be interpreted as a personal attack on the critic. Reacting to a critique can sound like you are only reacting to the critique, and any personal opinions you express about the critic were only formed as a result of his critique, not based on any other independent knowledge or observation. Thirdly, you can appear quite arrogant in a retort, as if you consider yourself above any criticism at all, and not just this one critic or critique.

A lot of criticism, especially on the Internet, isn't worthy of response. It is in vogue these days on the Internet to launch attacks on someone who has put themselves forth in the public eye if only because it is so easy to do so. Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James recently underwent just such an ordeal, setting aside time to answer questions from fans on Twitter, only to be attacked by a collection of online thugs who found it funnier to lance and humiliate her publicly than to permit any serious dialog about her books. The only way to protect oneself from such a basting is to maintain some control over those permitted to participate - charge a nominal fee or issue invitations to the event without which one cannot participate. At any rate, the kinds of flaming criticisms to which she was submitted has been quite aptly described by many as appalling and uncalled for. These sorts of attacks aren't even worth a response, they are just ignorant and mean-spirited.

The only effective response to criticism is no response at all. Utter and complete radio science. It can be very difficult, but as I've already said, there is no way to indulge in the alternative with any sort of success at all. It is simply professional suicide to try.

There is a mind set to taking criticism gracefully, and while it isn't easily adopted, with practice it can make hearing harsh criticism much less sharp and damaging to our ego. First, always remind yourself that this person, whatever else they may be, is a reader, just like every other reader out there in the world that you wish to reach. In the end, his reaction is the reaction of a reader, which means out of the millions who potentially might read your book (and let's face it, none of us dream of a small audience) there are those out there who will have the same reactions, thoughts, and objections as him/her. You must decide whether you believe that number to be great or small, but in the end you are not going to be there, reading over their shoulders, ready to defend yourself against their reaction to your novel. So to the degree that they are honest, his criticisms are valid, not matter how they are worded, merely due to the fact that he is first and foremost a reader, your audience.

Second, if the critic is a colleague or fellow writer, be grateful that this particular reader, the critic, has himself writing chops, the skills himself to recognize flaws in prose and story craft, and the language to describe it in such a way that makes it very clear to you where you have gone wrong. Thirdly, especially if the criticism is badly worded, or deliberately worded to be insulting or to get a rise out of you, keep in mind that such personal attacks say much more about the person leveling them than they do the person at whom they are leveled. In such a case, leaving such caustic criticism unanswered tends to bring out in even greater relief and clarity the pettiness and arrogance with which the criticism was written/given.

And lastly, always remember that no matter the criticism, in the end you choose to accept it or not. If the project is still in development, you still get to decide whether to take the criticism and make the requisite changes to your work or to ignore it and leave it as it is. If already published, then you are limited as to what you can do anyway, and so it accomplishes nothing to take such things to heart. Even as you take the criticism of those whom you respect and admire, retain your faith in your own talent and skill. In the end it is your project, ultimately your offering to the world, and it must feel right to you, or you are not being true to yourself.


Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
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Surviving the Social Media Time Suck

By Kerry Schafer

When I first started dallying with Social Media it was all about fun and moral support. I didn't know you were "supposed to" have a blog, or a Twitter feed, and I wasn't on Facebook at all. I didn't have any finished manuscripts, let alone an agent or a publishing contract or any of those professional writing career things. My whole goal for my internet time was to find a writing community. In those early days, I wasn't even me – I was Uppington Smythe, and I loved the freedom that came from knowing real world people wouldn't ever know who I was.

Somewhere along the line one of my blogger friends dropped this casual little bomb onto my screen:

"Join us on Twitter dear, it only takes a few minutes."

Cool, I thought. And I did. It was a good move, joining Twitter, and one I don't regret. The connections I made and the things I learned led in turn to an agent and a contract and what is beginning to feel like a real career as a writer.

But it also sucked up a hell of a lot more than a few minutes a day. The more people I met online, the more I learned, the closer I got to publication, the more complicated my online world became. I realized that for the sake of "platform building" I needed to stop being Uppington and be Kerry Schafer, so that when I met people at conferences or submitted query letters to agents maybe they'd actually know who I was. I joined Facebook, because, you know, one Social Media account is not enough. And then, when my Between books were acquired, the need for an online presence exploded.

There was the mandatory Author Website, on which I must blog regularly. A Facebook Author Page, on which I must post regularly. Pinterest Account! LinkedIn. Instagram. Goodreads Author Page. Amazon Author Page. Oh, and let's not forget the Fascinating and Value Added Newsletter, so full of exciting goodies that all of my readers will haunt their computers waiting for it to drop into their inboxes!

Right. I have a newsletter. I also have great intentions of running monthly drawings, sending out free short stories, writing book reviews, and making other wonderful contributions to the lives of my subscribers. The truth is, I send that puppy out when I've got something exciting to say, like a new contract or a book release. I blog once in a blue moon, when I have news or am sufficiently driven by guilt. I enjoy Twitter and Facebook, so those are pretty easy maintenance except for the Facebook Author Page, which seems pointless since Facebook has decided not to show those pages to anybody anymore unless money changes hands. But still, it's there, and I feel responsible for it, sort of like it's a sad little flower in my garden that I keep forgetting to water.

And now, as if this isn't all enough, I have a new contract for my first novel of Women's Fiction, and since I'm new to the genre and the publisher doesn't want to confuse my fantasy readers, I now have the pseudonym of Kerry Anne King. I'm excited about all of this. But it means a new Twitter account, a new Facebook page, and there should probably be another dedicated author website. I haven't even considered the new Goodreads and Amazon pages.

Don't get me wrong. I'm over the moon excited to be moving forward with my writing career. But there's always a fly in the ointment, as the old saying goes. I want to WRITE ALL THE BOOKS. And how am I to do this and work at my day job if I'm also supposed to be cultivating all of the mandated Social Media Sites?

If you came to this post hoping I had the Magic Bullet Answer to this writer problem, I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint you. In truth, I'm hoping maybe some of you have ideas to share. All I've got to offer is a firm conviction that the writing must come first. If there is no writing there are no books, and if there are no books then there's no point in pursuing Social Media beyond the point of fun and entertainment.

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions, so speak up and tell me how you're handling the platform building.

Descriptive Power on Page One

By Karen Duvall

Description often gets overlooked for the power it can have in a story. Some dismiss it as no big deal, just use the five senses and you're good to go. Some avoid using it altogether because they think readers skip that part to get to the action. Some worry over excessive exposition that could be perceived as an info dump. And some apply it strictly as a means for building their story world, period.

The above assumptions are mostly false.

Effective description is one of the most powerful tools in a writer's toolbox. There's a skill to making it work in an active way that enhances both plot and character, and can make the difference between an okay story and a compelling one.

I could spend an entire day teaching a workshop on description, but I'll condense the basics for the purpose of this blog. In fact, I'm going to start at the beginning. Of a book. Like, page 1.

An overall issue I see with a lot of first books is an eagerness to reveal the setting in a cinematic way. A literary camera pans across a vista in the land where the story takes place. Or the camera slowly zooms in on some metaphorical image that sets the tone of the story about to unfold. Or perhaps the lens is pointed out the window as thick clouds of fog roll across the screen to create atmosphere.

The above might work great for a movie, with a voice over done by the main character. And though screenplays share a number of similarities with the novel form, they are different medias. Film engages the viewer visually and captures attention that way. Books use words, and call upon a reader's imagination to conjure the image that's intended to be seen. This takes time, and readers are less likely to have the patience to translate all those words into something visually engaging enough to compel them to turn the page. A writer needs to hook them before they decide to go watch a movie instead.

But you want to set the tone, the atmosphere, and visually engage your readers, so how else can you do this? If you want to use description to open your book, your job is to create context. Associate the description with the action and the characters. Don't separate the two. Engage your reading audience by creating a balance that ties all these elements together.

Let's use the vista as an example. As your words paint a panoramic view of the story world, they need to include an active element in the story. You'll be in a character's point of view as you do this (please avoid omniscient if possible) so his emotions are attached to this unfolding landscape. Maybe it's morning and the character is tense because of something about to happen. What he sees and feels relate to this scenery in some way. Maybe his job is to slaughter a farm animal to feed his family and he's loath to take a life. Or he has to check the zombie traps that were set the night before and he's scared of what he'll find. Consider having some conflict at play here because readers will be most engaged by tension rather than entering the land of the happy people. Even if your characters are happy, there needs to be a hint of unpleasantness just around the corner. Tension on every page.

Just remember that context is key, especially for genre fiction. And even though you think you're showing rather than telling, a description that lacks engagement with the plot and characters is like a barren island floating in a sea of nothing. Dry. Boring. Stagnant. It doesn't take the reader where he or she needs to go.

Does the first page of your manuscript open with description or action?

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
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https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
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TURNING OUR NOSE UP AT THE INDULGENT

By Kevin Paul Tracy

The other day I stumbled across, of all random things things, the old Punk Rock hit, "Turning Japanese." ("I think I'm turning Japanese. I think I'm turning Japanese. I really think so!") Before I knew it I was laughing and doing a silly dance there at my desk. It had been ages since I'd heard the thoroughly ridiculous, utterly indulgent song, and I'd forgotten what a catchy beat, toe-tickling melody, and nonsense lyrics it brought to the ear. I found myself completely delighted, my spirits lifted for no other reason than this empty-headed little song. And, as most things do, it got me thinking.

There is a certain snobbery in certain industries, most notably the arts, that summarily dismisses and in almost all cases delights in tearing down and lambasting the simple, the silly, the indulgent. "Turning Japanese" was roundly dismissed as inconsequential and in some cases even detrimental to the library of American music, and yet someone listened to it, enough people to make it, if not a number one hit, then at least a top 40 gem. There was something about it, silly and inconsequential as it might be, that pleased people. They enjoyed listening to it.

I stopped watching the HBO TV series "Game of Thrones" after the so-called "Red Wedding" episode, but only partially because I was disappointed as a viewer. While doing research online I came across several credible quotes by the author of the show who freely admitted he killed off his heroes in ignoble ways to shock and alarm readers/viewers. He didn't want them to rely on the heroes to save the day, didn't want fans to relax in the idea that the hero would eventually prevail, that good would eventually defeat evil. Perhaps that is fine for him and for the thousands who still read his books and watch his television program. But it seems to me a cynical focal point around which to pivot a plot. I write because I have a story to tell. I write the story that wants telling. I don't indulge some disgruntled agenda to manipulate an audience or to make a rhetorical point.

There is an on-gong debate I've been following online in British literary circles where the underlying operating assumption is that any book with a happy ending is immediately dismissed as unimportant, puerile, indulgent and of no consequence. Never mind the quality writing that may fill the pages leading up to it, if it ends with the good guys winning then it is summarily dismissed. Forgive me, but such a sweeping displacement strikes me as every bit as shallow as the books themselves supposedly are. Am I wrong? To me, I love reading well written prose. How the story ends is almost immaterial to me, if the intervening story and the skill with which it was written was a joy to experience. Almost, because an arbitrary or manipulative ending can spoil a good tale.

We are all entitled to write what we wish, and if you find an audience, well good God of course more power to you. But I think it wrong to try to shame others for indulging in certain literary palate cleansers such as Louie L'Amour's westerns, Ian Fleming's James Bond series, or even Charles Dickens entirely operatic but delightful fiction. There is a reason television shows like Little House on The Prairie, The Gilmore Girls, and today's Castle run for so many years. No one mistakes them for real life. But there is something simple, silly and pleasing about them to a great many audiences.

While I, myself, prefer a happy ending, I don't dismiss a book that doesn't have one. In point of fact I think Stephen King is an American treasure, probably one of the best writers I've ever read, and I don't recall a single one of his books that ended on a totally positive note. So while I prefer one, I can appreciate all. I would never dismiss the hard work of any writer on so slight and arbitrary a criteria as that. I take in the entire work as a whole and take it as it is offered by the storyteller, and judge it on that basis alone.

Something many of you have heard me say many times, and I think it is entirely true: Whether your story has a happy ending or not depends entirely upon where you choose to end your story.


Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

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