Wednesday, July 31, 2013
I had the weirdest dream, wherein my family moved into a multi-room apartment. Along came a man and his wife who claimed they had the legal right to occupy a room in any one of a multitude of properties in the city. We had no choice except to allow his presence. But when he began to redecorate, I got angry. He replaced my pictures on the walls, changed the furniture around, and put out his own knickknacks. But what fueled my fury the most was when he covered up my bookshelves. I could no longer see my collection of books—in particular, the hardcover mystery novels I’d written.
The man had no idea I was a writer, so he didn’t understand when I desperately began moving his belongings out of the way to search the shelves. I became frantic to find the books with my name on them.
When I awoke, I realized how much those shelves of books meant to me. These are my legacy, more so than anything I can leave my children. The books I’ve written will hopefully stay around in libraries and used bookstores and people’s minds long after I’m gone. Perhaps I am arrogant in this belief, and I will be forgotten after my demise. But unless there’s a big bonfire like in the science fiction tales or folks stop reading altogether, the books will still be around somewhere.
So where does that leave e-pubbed only authors? With a digital file? And why does hardcover seem more durable than mass market paperbacks? Will trade editions stand the test of time?
When you see pictures of those big manor houses in England, they all have the most sumptuous libraries. Is this tradition to be lost forever in the digital age? Will no one care to have home libraries anymore, regarding books as dust collectors rather than cherished tomes of knowledge, adventure and imagination?
This legacy is something to think about when you make your choice about where and how to publish your work. Holding a print book with my name on it still means a lot to me.
This post does not address other parts of leaving a creative legacy, such as donating your literary materials to a library collection. Those provisions should be included in your will along with instructions for ongoing management of your creative literary estate.
Here are some more shelves with some writing references plus more of my books in different formats.
How do you feel about leaving your books in print formats versus digital for posterity?
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The main challenge in getting our current house prepared for sale is that we need to do a little decluttering. Make that a massive amount of decluttering. My husband and I are both pack rats--we're the same species, just slightly different breeds and scale. (Scale-wise, I'm like a Jack Russell Terrier and he's more of a Great Dane. But I don't want to get personal here.)
My husband doesn't like to throw out paper, and I don't like to part with books. Over 11 years of marriage our combined traits have made our house a bit...how shall I say...full.
So we're currently analyzing everything that's been collecting here over the years, and making some hard choices. My hardest choices involve books. How do you let them go? Where do you send them? I have a strange possessiveness about books. I can't even part with ones I didn't enjoy and may not have even finished. I have this weird suspicion that there's a kernel of something useful hidden in each one of them, something that I shouldn't let go of, just in case I ever need that kernel down the road. (It's my version of hoarding. I totally empathize with the crazy people on Hoarders whose houses are filled to the ceiling with old plastic bags, bent forks, buttons, and the occasional cat carcass.) You just never know when you'll need those things again. (Except for the cats. The poor things probably just lost their way in the jungle pile.)
Sadly, I'm having to downsize when it comes to my physical books. I'm convinced we could live in Versailles with every wall lined with bookshelves, and we still wouldn't have enough space for all of these books. But what do you do with the ones you decide to let go of? Donate them to a library? Goodwill?
I actually found a site called BookCrossing, where you can "release your book into the wild". The idea is that you let other readers know where you left your book(s), and those people will come pick them up, and then pass them on. I guess the system even lets you track your book as it zigzags the globe, checking in from time to time like the Travelocity gnome. The whole thing sounds fun, kind of like the Readership of the Traveling Books. But I'm not so sure the authorities would be thrilled if I released my entire stash into the wild. For example: Where do you dump 10 years' worth of so-so mystery cozies? I guess I could leave the knitting mystery near a yarn shop. Maybe I could park the restaurant reviewer mystery and an old Zagat guide near CPK. But I'm afraid I just have too many books to "set free" all at once. It might even violate some local dumping ordinance. I might run into a humorless merchant or constable who doesn't appreciate my attempt to create my own episode of Lit Gone Wild.
So, what would you do with a ginormous book pile that you must somehow unload? We are working with a professional organizer who will help us resell things, including books. But I would hate for my letting-go process to turn into a tawdry commercial transaction. Selling them would make me feel kind of unclean about the whole thing, like I'm turning into a Ferengi from Star Trek. But really, what other choices are there? Any ideas?
Monday, July 29, 2013
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Friday, July 26, 2013
Thursday, July 25, 2013
We have another brave soul who anonymously submitted their intro to a book entitled THE SCISSORGATE. My comments on the flip side.
The tire treads dug into the snow covered road, shattering the icy surface, as the car with government issued plates pulled over. The car’s exhaust blew billows of white steam that hung in the air before dissipating. The Chicagoan neighborhood was still and the air was light and brittle. The two men prepared to approach the modest home at 428 Lincoln Drive.
Even with the heater running they could still feel the bite in the freezing air. As they exited the vehicle, they immediately squared the hard shiny brim of their service caps across their foreheads. Frosted vapors expelled from their lips and noses with every breath. Their patent leather shoes, shined to a mirrored finish, crunched over the snow as they passed through the gate across the small yard. The naked branches, like fingers on the trees, pointed accusingly and directed them to leave. No matter how well groomed, with their hard starched lines and mirrored shoes, in every way their presence was an assault and even nature knew they shouldn’t be there.
“Jaxon, son, you left your socks and shoes in the middle of the living room again!” Olivia yelled as she bent to pick up the discarded items.
“That boy would lose his head if it weren’t attached,” she mumbled. She started toward his room when a knock at the door stopped her in her tracks.
She couldn’t imagine anyone being out in the weather as cold as it was. But unbeknownst to her, the chill the two soldiers brought to her doorstep was far more than Mother Nature could ever conjure.
Olivia saw two dress blue uniforms standing on her porch. Her mouth went instantly dry while her upper lip became beaded with sweat. Every Army wife’s worst nightmare. Her heart painfully began to thud against her sternum, screaming to escape.
Don’t panic. Jason’s home early to surprise us. He always found new ways to surprise her and Jaxon. She tried to convince herself that that is what brought these two to her home. But something about the soldiers standing on the other side of the glass front door . . . something about their stillness . . . the tension so thick and heavy made the seconds pass like minutes but her thoughts raced out of control. They’re in dress blues. It’s too formal. Where’s Jason?
“Ma’am are you Mrs. Olivia Parks?” The first frozen soldier finally broke the silence.
I like the use of tag lines to immediately let the reader know when and where the story scene takes place. In this case, the date of January 2002 is used, but for a bit of house cleaning, I would add another line – Chicago, Illinois – so the use of “Chicagoan” would not be necessary. This is a very minor point. Maybe it wouldn’t bother anyone else.
First line structure
The very first line of a book should stir some element of mystery or capture the imagination of the reader, such that if the sentence stood alone, it might make the reader want to read the book just to know more. Many readers post their favorite beginning lines on Goodreads, for example. This structure of this sentence could be stronger, since the subject (the car) is at the end of the line. See Recommendations for suggestions on a different focus for the first line.
Point of View (POV)
1.) For the first two paragraphs, there is no clear POV. It’s as if there is an omniscient narrator until the action gets to Olivia and the POV switches to her. There are two men in the government issued car and the word “they” is used to describe them. To make the POV clearer, it would be better if the action started with Olivia and she noticed the dark sedan pull onto her street. Create a mystery and center it on her emotion as she sees the car stop at her house.
2.) Another POV issue is the phrase “unbeknownst to her.” If Olivia doesn’t know whatever is unbeknownst to her, then it can’t be in her POV. An editor or agent would look at this first few paragraphs and see “head-hopping” POV and assume the rest of the book is full of it. I would suggest picking one POV per scene and stick with the action as if it’s through that character’s eyes. I usually select the character with the most to lose. In this case, Olivia is a solid choice since she’s worried about the bad news these soldiers are bringing to her door.
3.) The last line is a POV problem too. The reader is in Olivia’s POV, but she can’t possibly know that the soldier is frozen.
There is a lot of really pointed use of the cold weather in the first two paragraphs. I love a good setting and weather is a great way to emphasize the emotion of a scene, but I would prefer it be used more subtlety. As example of overly dramatic use of setting AND POV problems are these lines: The naked branches, like fingers on the trees, pointed accusingly and directed them to leave. No matter how well groomed, with their hard starched lines and mirrored shoes, in every way their presence was an assault and even nature knew they shouldn’t be there. It’s as if the Chicago chill and the icy trees have POV now. The trees are telling the soldiers they should leave and shouldn’t be there. This is over-writing to me. Similes and metaphors can be done effectively, but they should be more subtle and add clarity to what the main POV character is feeling, not inanimate trees.
This is a minor point, but Olivia’s husband is named Jason, but the son is named Jaxon. Since I’m not sure how relevant this will be later in the story, if there are two characters with such similar names, the reader could be confused. I try to pick names using different letters in the alphabet, to make sure each name is more distinctive. This goes for secondary characters as well.
Since the main objective of this intro is to establish that Olivia has two soldiers at her door, presumably to give her bad news about her husband Jason, I would start with the anticipation of her getting that bad news. Have her see the car pull up. Maybe have her dealing with her son more directly, but trying to get him out of the room, while she deals with her emotions and the start of her horrific day.
Focus on her physical reaction to what she’s seeing – her heart racing, trembling fingers, unable to catch her breath and wanting to throw up, with flashes of her husband’s face in her mind as the soldiers walk to her door. A blast of cold air could hit her as she opens the door.
As they speak to her, where does her mind go? What does she see as the bad news hits her? She might focus on the details of the formal uniforms these men wear – their shiny shoes and belt buckles – or how a glob of ice melts on their shoes. But the point is to focus on Olivia and keep the POV in her head. That’s where the emotion is. The book may jump off into other characters and other action, but in this scene, it is about Olivia getting bad news.
What do you think, TKZers? What advice would you give this brave author if you were their critique partner?
Blood Score by Jordan Dane – Now Available on Amazon Ebooks at this LINK.
“Jordan Dane has an extremely skilled and talented hand at creating riveting suspense and characters that become real to us. You will find yourself living the story, holding your breath and turning the pages as fast as possible. I highly recommend BLOOD SCORE to everyone. It's truly among my Top Ten reads of all time.”
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
A beginning writer once asked me, “How do you find out what motivates your characters?” I suggested it could be done with something as simple as an interview. I said to consider interviewing your character as if you were a newspaper reporter asking probing questions about their life, quest, current situation, and other topics that could yield the answers. Come up with all the questions first. Then conduct the interview. It sounds simplistic, but it works.
As authors, we know how vital it is that all our characters have a goal. They must want something, and that something is what drives them forward in the story. But it's more than just a want. They must also have a need. If we don't know what our characters wants and needs are, neither will our readers. With nothing to root for, the reader will lose interest. And in the end, they won't care about the outcome.
So what is the difference between want and a need?
The want is what our character consciously pursues in the story (Dorothy wants to get home after being transported to the Land of Oz by a tornado). The need can be a quality she must gain in order to get what she wants (courage, selflessness, maturity, etc.) or the need can be in direct conflict with what she wants. In Dorothy’s case, she needs to find the Wizard of Oz who supposedly can help her return home. Of course, we find that her real need is a lesson learned while interacting with all the good and evil characters along the Yellow Brick Road—a need to appreciate what she already has.
So the quality she needs to obtain is an appreciation of the love her family and friends have for her. If we work backwards, we already know that at the beginning of the story, she should show a lack of appreciation (or apparent lack) of those around her. Around the farm she lives on, they give her little attention and constantly tell her to stay out of the way. Knowing this need, we have now given Dorothy room to grow.
Now we can start forming Dorothy’s character in our head. We know that the story should force Dorothy into progressively greater conflicts so she sees how much her friends care for her, how much they stand by her and come to her aid. These conflicts should build until the final crisis (the Wizard leaves without her and she is trapped in Oz) where she is made aware of the deep love her family and friends feel toward her.
Every character must have a want and a need. The most critical are the ones for our protagonists and antagonists. But I think that even the smallest, one-time, walk-ons must be motivated. If we determine the goals of every character, we will have an easier time writing them, and the reader will have a more distinct picture of the character in their minds.
In planning our stories, it's important that we determine our main character's wants and needs first. In doing so, we’ll always have a goal to focus on as we write. Ask ourselves, what are our main character's wants and needs? Can we express them in one sentence? Dorothy wants to return home and needs to find the Wizard of Oz to help her. Give it a try. If you get lost, just click your heels together and repeat, “There’s no place like home.”
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Wonder Boys: Make choices!
Throw Mama From the Train: Know what you write
As Good As It Gets: Write what you know
Adaptation: Know when to quitNot quit writing. Just what you are writing. “Adaptation” speaks to all of us writers on many levels, but its most gut-wrenching lesson is about the despair of trying to be passionate about a book you don’t really care about. I’ve had to make the hard choice to abandon a book in midstream. But I’ll let my friend Sharon Potts tell you about this valuable lesson:
Deconstructing Harry: Know when to keep going
Monday, July 22, 2013
Dear Me Five Years Ago,
I just read about a revolutionary new parenting method created by David Vienna called CTFD, or Calm The F*ck Down. Vienna proposes that kids are resilient and will grow up to be fine if parents would stop worrying about every little thing so much. CTFD isn’t for the children. It’s the parents who need to calm the f*ck down. I think his method has great lessons for you, so listen up.
As an unpublished author, you are concerned about everything (yes, I still remember like it was yesterday). You have so many concerns, I wonder now how you get any writing done. They go on and on: How will you get published? What if you’re writing isn’t good enough? Why doesn’t an agent want to represent you? Will you ever be able to do this for a living? Good God, you’re a mess.
I’m writing from the future to tell you…calm the f*ck down.
Even after you get Irene Goodman as an agent, you’re going to wonder why no publisher wants you (BTW, she advocated pretty much this same method, but you won’t really take it to heart at the time). When you get published by a big six publisher, you’re going to fret over the marketing for your first book even though most of it is out of your control. While you’re doing all that, you’re going stagger under the pressure of writing a great follow-up, convinced that you’ve run out of ideas.
Calm the f*ck down.
You’re going to give me an ulcer if you keep worrying about every little thing. You need to pace yourself. You’re so consumed with how that one book is going to be received that you’re not realizing you have a whole career ahead of you. I (we? you?) have six books published now, and I can assure you that there will be plenty of ups and downs in the coming years.
You’ve written three books without getting published? CTFD. Steve Berry wrote eight in twelve years before he got published. If you’re serious about making writing you’re job, don’t get hung up on those books. If they don’t sell, keep writing. You never know what’s going to be your breakout. When you were working at Microsoft, did you tell your boss: “My project is done—well-funded retirement, please!”? No, you went on to the next project.
You plan to be writing for the next forty years. That’s at least forty books ahead of you. Hell, Dean Koontz has written a hundred novels, and it took him forty before he wrote one you’ve heard of. You’re complaining that you’re career hasn’t taken off after three?
Buddy, calm the f*ck down.
I’m telling you, there’s no secret sauce. There’s hard work and luck. Sure, you’d love to have that one stratospheric hit that reaps millions of dollars and readers around the world. But here’s the thing: you have no idea which book that will be. It may be the next book or it may be ten books down the road.
Stop focusing on the book you just finished. It’s done. Yes, do your best to get the word out about it, but then move on and write another one. As James Scott Bell said in his blog yesterday, if you’re passionate about the story, odds are some other people will be, too. Maybe even a lot of people.
And if the next book doesn’t resonate with people, calm the f*ck down. You’ve got forty more chances to make it happen.
Five Years Later You
Sunday, July 21, 2013