Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Writing: My Cheat Sheet

By the time I reached the tenth month of draft one, all I thought about was how badly I wanted to revise.  Now, as I'm entering week eight of revisions, all I think about is how badly I want to send this sucker to betas.  Sigh...

Revisions are tough.  Then again, if you're reading this, you probably know that already.  And you most likely have more experience with the demon than I do.  So, let me ask: are they supposed to give me a bloody headache?

Throughout draft one, I learned a lot about writing.  I learned about the characters, voice, style, and the story I'm trying to share.  My writing improved as I progressed, and I know that's how it should work.

But, that doesn't make it easier to deal with the emotions flooding my brain when I return to weak sections: Paul, what is your freakin' point?  Paul, who the heck cares?  Paul, these fifteen pages can be condensed to a paragraph - it doesn't move the story forward.  Paul, this is boring.  Paul, you said that already.  Paul, stop telling and start showing, sir!  Paul, start entertaining!  Paul, I can't read another page....

My favorite brain buster is when I spend hours on a paragraph, get it sounding better than its original state, and realize the next paragraph needs to be rewritten.  The rewritten paragraph becomes a first draft, sandwiched between two revised drafts, and they can't be served on the same plate.  That rewritten paragraph is a generic condiment smothered on a gourmet entree.  It drives me crazy.  It ruins my entire flow.

I've been in a bad mood for the past twenty-seven years the last week.  I'm rewriting an entire chapter, and though I feel the content is improving, the writing resembles my third grade stories.

Okay, maybe tenth.

So, today I took a break.  I went to the pool and browsed the second half of Stephen King's On Writing for probably the fourth time.  While reading, I jotted the tips I felt were directed at me (you know, cause I'm tight with Stephen King...).  When I got home, I locked myself in my office (formerly known as Borders) and the teacher in me created a cheat sheet.  Even though you have all read the book more than I have, I'm sharing the tips that pinched a nerve today:

1.  Do not dress up your vocabulary.  Use the word you mean to use; chances are, it's the best word to convey your point.

2.  Too many details write an instruction manual.  Include those necessary to transport an image to the reader; leave the rest to the imagination.

3.  Adverbs are not your friend. 

4.  Dialogue tags clutter a novel.  Stick with said as much as possible.

5.  Avoid passive verbs; put the subject in charge of the sentence.

6.  Separate thoughts (rather than one lengthy narration) help the reader comprehend.

7.  Know the beat of your paragraph; keep the rhythm aligned.

8.  When it comes to names, it's always s's (i.e. Thomas's) and never s' (i.e. Thomas').

For those who have read, what key point did you take from King's memoir?  Do you have a favorite revision tip to share?  What other books helped you improve your manuscript?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Borders To Shut Down By Sept. 30

The Wall Street Journal published Borders Group Inc. has scrapped the bankruptcy-court auction scheduled for tomorrow.  Liquidation of operating stores will begin as early as Friday; the company is expected to go out of business by the end of September.

Longtime readers know I'm a loyal Borders customer.  It is one of my favorite retail chains; I spend as many as six days a week writing at my local store.  It is where I purchase books.  Thanks to the Rewards Plus program, I have been able to host many giveaways on this site.  And, Borders is where I've had the pleasure of meeting a number of people - managers, employees, and fellow customers, who in some way, shape, or form, became part of my writing journey.

I can't say the news is surprising.  The company has struggled for months; customers, who were already dwindling in volume, became apprehensive once the Chapter 11 news went public.  A number of popular new releases are not carried in stores.  Coupons were sent less frequently.  And the Borders/Seattle's Best partnership was terminated earlier this summer.

Having written over 100,000 words in a Borders location, it's obvious I dreamed my launch party/first signing would be held there.  I imagined the staff that rooted me on for years would be part of that experience - that I could give back to a store that gave me so much.  Borders became my haven when I lost my job.  It provided a friendly atmosphere where I could work.  It also provided a much needed escape from what I like to call unemployment-induced cabin fever; it gave me a place to go.  The Baristas and regulars became my newest social network.  They offered support and accountability.

As saddened as I was to learn this news (less than an hour ago), I was more saddened to read this statement towards the end of the WSJ article:

The loss of Borders may also make it more difficult for new writers to be discovered. "The liquidation of Borders is an irreplaceable loss of a big part of the book-discovery ecosystem," said Michael Norris, a senior analyst at Simba Information, a unit of MarketResearch.com "Thousands of people whose job consisted of talking up and selling books will eventually being doing something else, and that's bad for authors, agents, and everyone associated with the value chain in books."

Since I jumped on board, the writing community has discussed the future of bookstores and publishing industry in our advancing world.  Although the above statement is not fact, it is a perspective I find worth discussing.

So, fellow readers, what are your thoughts on the demise of Borders?  Will it have an impact on the future of publication?  Will it hinder the discovery of new authors?

Friday, July 15, 2011

CYBERBULLY Premieres Sunday On ABC Family

The world premier of CYBERBULLY, an ABC Family original movie, airs this Sunday, July 17, at 8/7c.

Synopsis (from IMDB.com):

Cyberbully follows Taylor Hillridge (Emily Osment), a teenage girl who falls victim to online bullying, and the cost it nearly takes on her and her family. Taylor is a pretty 17-year-old high school student but a little awkward, and painfully aware of it. When her mom gives her a computer for her birthday, Taylor is excited by the prospect of freedom and the independence of going online without her mother always looking over her shoulder.

However, Taylor soon finds herself the victim of betrayal and bullying while visiting a social website, and afraid to face her peers at school, including her best friend (Kay Panabaker), she is pushed to a breaking point.

Taylor's mom, Kris (Kelly Rowan), reels from the incident and takes on the school system and state legislation to help prevent others from going through the same harrowing ordeal as her daughter.

Trailer:

Friday, July 8, 2011

From One Lifer To Another: A Guest Post By Luke Raftl

From One Lifer To Another
By Luke Raftl

I look around the Internet most days and I see tens and hundreds of people just like me: driven, passionate, obsessed; in a word, writers. Some of us are studying, some of us are working two and three jobs, some of us are looking after young children, and I imagine a fair few of us are laid off, unemployed, doing anything we can to follow the dream we all share.

Most of us are in it for the long haul, even if we don’t yet know it.

I received an email a couple of days ago from an ex-girlfriend. We hadn’t spoken in a while (she has been ignoring me in recent times with great skill) and she asked me how the writing was going and what I was working on now. I told her I had finished the first book, was vaguely shopping it around to agents, and had begun working on a second, of which I was relatively and optimistically excited.

In the follow up email she asked:

“Is the plan still to write until you’re thirty and then get a 'real' job?”

She didn’t mean this maliciously, I would often joke that I was going to travel and write until the big three-oh arrived and forced me to rethink my life plan. As I sat there and read her email however I realised that my priorities had changed. I replied:

“Thirty and a real job? I think this is supposed to be my real job. I'll just keep knocking at the door until they let me in.”

I’m not sure when the ‘thirty or bust’ plan was scrapped; subconsciously I guess I made the decision that I was a writer and nothing else months and months ago, but I hadn’t admitted it to anyone except myself until that moment. I realised abruptly that I was in it for life.

One of the reasons I love coming to Paul’s site is because I know that he is in exactly the same position. I sense a kinship that requires no physical introduction. Every time I read one of his posts or correspond with him it is clear to see. The desire burns in him, unquenchable, and once he came to understand his calling in this life it could no longer be ignored. I don’t know if Paul has admitted he is a lifer yet, and I hope he doesn’t find it presumptuous of me to call him out like this on his own site, but a lifer can tell a fellow lifer when they see one, like two members of a secret society passing each other in a crowded street.

We’ll work other jobs in the meantime, we’ll make ends meet, we may even be hugely successful at what we do, but we’ll always have that burning desire, that unmet goal, that ambition that will not die. We’ll keep dragging ourselves to our computers, continue to wake in the middle of the night from a dream and scramble for the pen and paper to jot down a barely legible thought, we’ll endure our limiting and self-sabotaging beliefs. It is inevitable; we’re in it for life.

I called myself a writer the other day in conversation, probably for the first time. It was like saying ‘I love you’ at the beginning of a relationship. It went down well. The addressee showed genuine interest and understanding and encouraged me to follow the path. I feel it was a huge step, coinciding with the correspondence with my ex-girlfriend. My conscious and subconscious thoughts are finally on the same page.

We’ll all have varying levels of success. Some of us will taste publication, some of us will only ever read our work to our loved ones, to our pets, to ourselves, but we’ll never quit. The joy of creating with the written word is our true inspiration, and they’ll probably pry the pen from our cold dead hands. Such is a lifer’s fate.

From one lifer to another, I thank Paul with all my being for the opportunity to post on his site. Without ever having read a word of his work, without having met him in the flesh, he is a burning inspiration for myself and many others.

Keep writing my friend.

Luke.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Whatever Doesn't Kill You: A Guest Post By Gerard de Marigny

Whatever Doesn't Kill You …
Gerard de Marigny

I came from a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. I only stand 5'4" tall and I was a half-Spanish kid who grew up on an all Italian block.

We didn't have a lot of money, so I couldn't buy "Converse" sneakers or "ProKeds" sneakers … and forget about 'Puma's, they were $22 at the Army/Navy store – so I used to buy "rejects" at the supermarket for $2 and spend an evening painting the "Converse" emblem on the back of them. It didn't work – kids noticed.

While the other kids were hanging out on the corner, I was inside practicing my trumpet … and I was really smart in school.

All of those aspects of my childhood could have led to my being bullied. Many did. I learned a lot of important lessons from those experiences but the experiences themselves weren't positive ones. Some were physically painful while others were embarrassing, humiliating, and demeaning … pain of the emotional kind.

Emotional pain lasts a lot longer than physical pain and the scars lasts longer. Yet, these were the experiences that inevitably lead to my developing the most important aspects of my life – my Faith, my determination, my tenacity, my patience, my compassion, my consideration for others … and my forgiveness of others' sins - the same forgiveness that I desire from others.

How did such negative experiences lead to such positive outcomes? It has to do with how I looked at each experience. I'm the type to analyze the things that happen to me in my life. I don't look to blame others. Rather, I look for different ways that I could have reacted. I look for ways to apply my Judeo-Christian faith, for there's no better way to 'practice' your faith than to implement the principles of your faith in situations like being bullied. Ultimately, I looked for something constructive that I could take away from those experiences. I was committed to doing better the next time a situation like that would come around again … and eventually, those situations stopped happening precisely because I had adapted. I learned my lessons well.

Notice, I haven't spoken again about the reasons why I was bullied. Know why … 'cause they don't matter! The reasons why we face the situations in our lives aren't as important as how he react to them and what we learn from them!

One particular passage from the Good Book taught me the most about being bullied "…count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience."


Bullying is just another form of a trial in life. You'll face many trials in life. The trials aren't as important as how you deal with them.

Remember …whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

Author Bio
Gerard de Marigny has survived his youth and grown up to become healthy, happy and successful. He's learned the tough lessons that being bullied taught him and applied them to all the other trials that came his way. Gerard's debut novel, the geopolitical thriller, The Watchman of Ephraim_ is available in hardcover, paperback and all eBook formats from Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Smashwords.com, and for signed paper editions, from the Author's website, www.GerarddeMarigny.com.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Book Birthday, Matt Blackstone (Plus Giveaway Information)!

Congratulations to writer and English teacher Matt Blackstone, whose YA debut, A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE, is released today from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.  For those who did not get the memo, I am super excited to dive into this story and have been anticipating today for many, many months now.

Matt's book intrigues me as a reader, writer, educator, and person.  It's going to be a good one, folks!

Synopsis:



Rene, an obsessive-compulsive high school student hell-bent on becoming a superhero, smells his hands and wears a Batman cape when he’s nervous, which is six to eight hours per day, depending on whether it’s a weekend or weekday.  On a weekday, he witnesses his English teacher smash his head into the blackboard.  Rene is convinced that he is responsible for this and all other tragedies.  If he picks up a face-down coin, moves a muscle during a time of thirteen (7:42 is bad luck because 7+4+2=13), or washes himself in the wrong order, Rene or someone close to him will get left back in school, break a bone, fall into a coma, contract a deadly virus, and/or die a slow and painful death like someone in a scary scene in scary movie.  Or worse.
Rene’s new and only friend tutors him in the art of playing it cool, but it’s not as easy as he makes it sound.  Can Rene ever be safe—he doesn’t like to talk when not surrounded by security details like locks or walls or people he trusts—when the most horrifying place is in his head?


Related Giveaways:

1.  Regal Literary (Matt's agency) is giving away ten signed copies of A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE.  All you have to do is visit the site and enter your name and e-mail.  What can be easier?  This giveaway ends July 31.
2.  Carolina Valdez Miller is hosting Matt on her blog today.  The two of them participated in a great conversation that is both informative and entertaining.  At the end of the post, you can fill out the form to win a free signed copy of A SCARY SCENE IN A SCARY MOVIE - and - you can earn a ton of extra points by sharing the link.  The giveaway ends July 12.

3.  The author himself is hosting a contest on Twitter.  Ten winners will receive a signed hardcover copy of Matt's debut.  To participate, tweet your obsessions with the following hashtags: #myobsession #ascarysceneinascarymovie.  Each tweet assigns you a number entering you in the giveaway.  This contest runs until July 8 at 8:00PM.

For fun, here are the obsessions I've tweeted thus far (yes, I'm weird, but I'll overlook it if you will):

Every assignment I made had to be worth a point value ending in 5 or 0. #myobsession #ascarysceneinascarymovie http://t.co/C9k9KEv


I can't be in a car if something hangs from the rearview mirror. I make the driver take it down. #myobsession #ascarysceneinascarymovie http://t.co/C9k9KEv


I pop two Vitamin C pills before leaving the house every morning.#myobsession #ascarysceneinascarymovie http://t.co/C9k9KEv


I wear a cross every time I'm on a plane. I usually squeeze it during takeoff. #myobsession #ascarysceneinascarymovie http://t.co/C9k9KEv


In school, I only took notes in black or blue ink - never pencil. #myobsession #ascarysceneinascarymovie http://t.co/C9k9KEv


We can still be friends, right?


Monday, July 4, 2011

Interview On Writing Fire

Happy 4th, friends!  Today I am featured on Nick Hight's blog in my very first writing interview.  You can read the interview by clicking here.  Nick is a teen writer living in New Zealand.  He's participating in the Teen Writers Summer Blogfest.  This interview is part of that series.

Friday, July 1, 2011

On Fear And Life: A Guest Post By Nick Hight

Today I am hosting Nick Hight, an awesome fourteen year-old living in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Despite being a teenager, Nick is already pursuing his dream of becoming a published author.  He aspires to be a novelist, though he dabs in poetry as well.  Aside from writing, Nick is a Christian who enjoys acting, drama, and reading.  He finds language incredibly interesting, including specific dialects, and would love to study linguistics and phonology.  Nick is currently writing an epic fantasy novel.

On Fear And Life
By Nick Hight
Twitter: @nickhight

When I had the opportunity to switch schools, one of the more subtle factors that kept me at my current school was my headmaster. I love my headmaster. In my opinion, he is very wise, very knowledgeable, and probably one of the best public speakers you'll ever come across. He's been known for playing techno music so loud in assembly that it makes even today's teens feel uncomfortable, organising a whole-school swim in the sea on the coldest day of the year (that's over 1000 students, thank you very much), and even wearing a college graduation gown during one of his speeches. The topics of his speeches have ranged from wooing women (we are an all-boys school) to gangsters to fashion to spirituality, and he often tells several entirely different stories before weaving them together seamlessly at the end in order to emphasise a point.

Which leads me to one of the main reasons why I love my headmaster: unlike others I've experienced, he doesn't talk about school. He talks about life. He talks about things that really matter.

A few weeks ago during assembly, he began his speech by mentioning norse mythology (because he is just legendary like that). He said that, in such myths, the time of any human's death was preordained; that it didn't matter how they chose to live their life – whether it be crawling into a hole to escape the dangers of the world and living always in fear of death, or fighting battles and taking risks and living life to the full – that person's time of death was set.

And he posed us a question: were we going to live in fear of death, or would we live life to the full? That's not to say we should take careless risks or make reckless decisions – it is to say we should never look back, and not spend every waking moment worrying about things we cannot control.

Over the last 10 months, my city has been struggling with earthquakes. People have died. People have lost homes. People have lost businesses. People have lost everything. And while this is tragic, the people of my city have two choices: to always fear the chance the ground may shake violently and any moment, or they could choose to carry on and take things as they come.

Personally, I don't want to turn my face away from life and all it had to offer. I want a full life. It's too short, anyway, right? And when something has a low capacity, you try to fill it to the top. Apart from the fact that storytelling is my passion, that is why I am writing a novel as a teenager – because I can't stand the idea of spending my teenage years, or, indeed, all of my years, doing nothing, with no real goal or ambition. I want to wrestle with existence, and get as much as I possibly can out of it.

And this is where writing comes in. As writers, we purposefully design our characters with fears, because we understand that one of the keys to a compelling (and convincing) character is knowing what truly terrifies them.

Of course, one of the most fascinating characters in my fantasy novel, Seya, is no exception: she completely fears the loss of stability in her life. She spent her childhood in the midst of a war in another kingdom, and therefore her childhood was rough and wild – and she is utterly terrified of going back to that former way of living.

However, there comes a point in time when she must make a decision. When the hero of my story, Zeth, finds a magical crystal, Seya realises that the fate of the world rests in his hands – and she knows that Zeth is oblivious to that fact. She realises that she could guide him, help him, and keep the world's potential bane from falling into evil hands. But what's more is this: she knows that that crystal is linked to her past, to the war, and if she helps Zeth, she will inevitably be drawn back into that unstable world.

It's a moral dilemma: face her fears and do the right thing, or continue to hide in her cave and let that opportunity slip by? But she chooses, as choose she must. And soon she discovers that, by facing her fears, she can begin to live life to the full.

So, at the end of the day, it comes down to this. In stories, characters are generally designed to be plagued with a deep fear. This is human, this is real. But somewhere down the line, your character has to realise that living in fear or turning your back on life's opportunities is a waste of existence. That isn't to say that they should discard their fears entirely, but simply that they should not allow their fears to cripple them forever.

And the same applies to us, in real life. Live it up. We only get one shot. Let's not allow our fears to cripple us – and, as Brian Littrell once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.”

***

ANNOUNCEMENT:

Carolina Valdez Miller is giving away an ARC of Wildefire by Karsten Knight. The giveaway is international and ends on Thursday, July 7, at midnight EST. To enter, simply visit her site and fill out the entry form.

WILDEFIRE by Karsten Knight

wildefire
Summary: Ashline Wilde is having a rough sophomore year. She’s struggling to find her place as the only Polynesian girl in school, her boyfriend just cheated on her, and now her runaway sister, Eve, has decided to barge back into her life. When Eve’s violent behavior escalates and she does the unthinkable, Ash transfers to a remote private school nestled in California’s redwoods, hoping to put the tragedy behind her. But her fresh start at Blackwood Academy doesn’t go as planned. Just as Ash is beginning to enjoy the perks of her new school—being captain of the tennis team, a steamy romance with a hot, local park ranger—Ash discovers that a group of gods and goddesses have mysteriously enrolled at Blackwood…and she’s one of them. To make matters worse, Eve has resurfaced to haunt Ash, and she’s got some strange abilities of her own. With a war between the gods looming over campus, Ash must master the new fire smoldering within before she clashes with her sister one more time… And when warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm.