Category Archives: Writing

About Works in Progress, Past writings and future ideas

Has Writing ruined reading for other authors?

Think back to when you were a child.  An innocence, where magic investagationand fantasy filled your world.  The tooth fairy somehow always knew when you lost a tooth, and you stared in amazement (though not disbelief) how such a tiny car could fit twenty clowns in it at the circus.

Then you grow up, and you discover why.  You were taken backstage and saw how the magic was done.  And like that *snaps fingers* the magic is gone.  You can’t ignore it.  The next time you went to the circus you looked for the trap door.  Even if the magician guesses your card correctly, you wonder how he did it.  ‘What’s the trick’, you ask yourself.  Not, ‘Wow, that’s incredible’.  You want to know the trick…  Because there is no such thing as magic.

You discovered the Great and Powerful OZ was just a charlatan behind a curtain using smoke and mirrors to play God.

Okay, I’m getting a little melodramatic, I realize that.  But it makes my point.  Critiquing is habit forming.

Since I’ve joined this underground society of writers I have done a lot of critiquing.  There are days I prefer it to writing.  But it is not without its drawbacks.

Even though my daughter is in high school, I recently started to read to her again before going to bed.  Sure the titles and topics of what we now read have drastically changed.  Little fuzzy woodland critters dancing gleefully in meadows have been traded for teenagers stranded in a town entranced by some dystopian virus outbreak, but still quality time is quality time…right?

I like to think my daughter enjoyed the times I’ve read to her when she was a little girl, but I’m not so sure this is the case now.

“I looked down the street.  All the houses had the same exterior brickwork, same mailbox, same landscaping…”  I pause after reading that last sentence.

“What?  Why did you stop?” my daughter asks.

“Exterior brickwork?  The author would have been better off saying ‘façade’.  It flows better.  ‘Exterior brickwork’ drew me out of the story a bit.  Don’t you agree?”

A sigh and eye roll later she replies, “Not as much as you analyzing every sentence.”

Critiquing is a wonderful tool.  I believe it helps me improve my writing as I become aware of other people’s issues in theirs.  But I recently noticed that I can no longer just read a book for the sake of reading.  I critique as I go.

I’m not saying I’m a master wordsmith, merely that critiquing helps sharpen your skills since you train yourself to look for pitfalls even experienced writers can fall victims to.  Like ending sentences with prepositions.

But like the grown up now looking for the trap door the tiny car parks on top of, there is a part of me that misses the freedom of reading without looking at word choices and inconsistencies.  Wires, pullies, smoke machines, and mirrors have replaced magic.

I still can enjoy reading, but it has become easier to get pulled out of it now that I read it from a more technical viewpoint.  I would never have noticed that a word appeared three times within a four paragraph stretch.  Head jumping never bothered me, and I would gloss over any semi-colons barely aware they were there.

Maybe it isn’t such as bad thing.  After all, those semi-colons have no place in modern society…

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Honest Rejection

resume I recently saw an advertisement for a college.  It showed a man in a cap and gown smiling.  Obviously, he graduated and is ready to strike out and find his place in the world.  To find his fortune.  To blaze new trails…etc…

The caption read “In searching for the perfect résumé, you overlooked the perfect candidate”, though I may be paraphrasing.  But, I found it rather profound.

I remember years ago, I was working at a small startup software company.  I had zero managerial training, and was right out of college myself.  I was working in the shipping and receiving department…actually, I was the shipping and receiving department.

One day one of the owners came to me with a stack of papers asking if I was busy.   Sadly, being a startup company we were doing mostly receiving with very little shipping, so I had to honestly tell them ‘no’.

The owner handed me the stake of papers, which were résumés, and told me to sort through them.  I was to make one pile.  Résumés that contained certain buzz words, and the rest toss in the circular file.

Wow.  Just wow.  I couldn’t believe what job hunting came down to.  If you had three words on your résumé, you pass.  I think the ad nailed it.  It doesn’t matter what’s inside, it’s all about the packaging.

Finding an agent or publisher isn’t much different.  I saw a recent video where an agent spent about ten minutes going through his slush pile telling viewers why he was rejecting their query.  He mentioned several times he wasn’t sure if this would be well received, but hoped that it would be taken for what its intention was – an insight on how capricious the process can be.  He admittedly says he can’t give ‘the attention and consideration that probably every submission deserves’ because of the sheer amount he receives.  To be honest, I found it enlightening and sincere though I could see how another wanna be author could take offense to it.  The agent went through a small sample rejecting them solely based on certain details of their letters (not sample writing).

Two were rejected based on the titles, one was due to him being underwhelmed by the plot, and another because the writer plugged themselves in a bad way.  In one case the writer misspelled the agent’s last name, but he said that’s fine, although on a bad day, it could lead to rejection without a further glance.

He said these were not arbitrary decisions, but rather a system he put in place in order to get through the massive amounts of queries he receives on a daily basis.

I believe we have to acknowledge that fact.  Decades ago people would type out a query or résumé, stuff it in an envelope and drop it in the mailbox.  Somewhere between two weeks to a couple of months later you’d receive an answer with an explanation of the decision.  But those days are as ancient as leaving the restaurant’s phone number with the babysitter and walking to school in a blizzard, uphill, both ways.

Today applying for a job or querying can be done en mass with mail merge and online forms.  Decades ago agents may have only received maybe hundreds of queries a week rather than a day.  Job positions solicited a handful of candidates rather than hundreds.  Sure maybe there are more agents and jobs available, but that simply means more to apply to for those of us looking for that elusive ‘yes’.

So I do understand why that agent posted that video, and I do sincerely appreciate it.  He even admitted that he knows his system isn’t foolproof and he undoubtedly let some good stories slip through his fingers.  But that’s just something he has to live with, right?   Unfortunately, that’s something the writer of that would have been successful manuscript will have to live with as well.

Hey, I understand the reason for the process, but I don’t have to like it.

How to write a good book – It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

As a writer I feel my wife, critique partners and beta stormreaders are the life’s blood for my manuscripts.  I’ve never been strong in spelling and grammar, so developing a passion for writing may have been a very cruel joke on me.  I rely heavily on them, more than one should, to catch my many typos, misplaced commas, tense switches, and many other issues that plague my writings.  In this manner I realize how lucky I am to have married a teacher who has a reading endorsement.  But as much as I lean on all of them to make sure my ideas are communicated properly within the guidelines of the English language, there is so much more that a writer needs to be aware of beside worrying about the difference between affect and effect, and the three different meanings of to, too, and two.

I recently decided to try out for another contest.  In it participants must supply their query letter as well as the first two-hundred fifty words.  This seems to be coming more common in writing contests – including the first two-hundred fifty words.

It comes out to about three quarters of a standard page in an 11 or 12 point standard font, double spaced.  When I decided to enter I knew I needed to revise it if I were to stand any chance.  Why?  Well, because within these two-hundred fifty words the writer needs to communicate several things to the reader.

As any writer knows, the first line of the story is also known as a ‘hook’.  The attention grabber that will make the reader want to continue.   It makes sense, you want to make sure the readers are interested right from the start, right?

The following words need to do much more.  They need to be interesting as well, of course.  And if you were to ask other people what the first page of a book should do you’ll get a list as long as the number of people asked.  It should set the scene, set the mood, demonstrate your writing style, create a visual of the main character, endear the character to the reader, establish the personality of the character, determine the motivation of the main character, and you get the idea.

None of the above is unreasonable.  It would make sense for the first few opening paragraphs to do any one.  In fact, you can do any number of those suggestions in that list.  You can set the mood, introduce the main character and demonstrate your style.  But many also warn that you should not have any exposition.  The action should start right out of the gate.  Make sure the reader knows they are in for a ride.

While this is great advice I can’t help but wonder if readers are really that demanding.  Would a reader really toss a book away if they didn’t find out the main character’s eye color within the first page?  Is it a deal-breaker if we don’t fall in love with the character in the first four paragraphs?  Is all hope lost for the book if we don’t know by the middle of the second page that the boss is filing for divorce and the administrative assistance has been harboring a crush for her?

Can’t setting the scene take a few pages?  Can’t showing a character living a fairly normal life before all Hell breaks loose be acceptable, even if the disaster doesn’t happen until the fourth chapter?

Some of the books I read years (decades) ago didn’t start off at warp speed (and I’ve read sci-fi, so it literally could have).  But I didn’t toss it in the garbage.  Have the attention spans of readers nowadays degrade so much that if everything is not available to them right at the start they lose interest?

Has the influence of living in an age of email, drone delivery, ATMs, and immediate gratification spoiled the readers and denied authors the chance to slowly building up tension, plot, and character creation?

In Moby Dick the whale doesn’t even show up until about a third of the way through the book.  Gone With The Wind starts off with an exposition about her Scarlett’s physical features and family lineage.  Many of the classics and famous stories of even the mid 1900’s would probably never find representation by a modern agent, let alone a publisher.  Not because the author was a bad wordsmith, but because they don’t cater to the interests of the modern agent or publisher.

As writers, if we want our stories to be read we must capture the reader’s attention before they lose interest, whether that’s in one sentence or a generous full chapter.  Perhaps such high expectations force current writers to dig deeper into themselves in an attempt to bring out the most in their writing.  Even if the level of expectation may be unreasonable, it still may impel our creativity to flourish.

This may truly be the best of time and the worst of times, an age of wisdom and foolishness…

The Non-Science of Popularity

Roulette_wheelWhat if Star Wars never made it big? Is there a universe where Fifty Shades of Grey is just sitting on the Romance/Erotica shelves of bookstores collecting dust?   Can you picture a world where talking about a boy named Harry Potter is received with blank stares and requests for clarification about who he is?  What determines success and failure?

Marketing is a big, but not the only influence.   For example, I’m a big fan of Michael J. Fox.  I think he is an incredible actor and based on what the media reports is a great person (I never met him personally).  His most recent sitcom, The Michael J Fox Show (2013-2014), was plugged for months in advance with tons of fanfare.  By the time the first show aired many followers of the 80’s actor were excited to herald in his return.  Yet, it only lasted four months before NBC pulled it due to low ratings.

The (now) highly publicized book, Fifty Shades of Grey, is an uncontroversial best-seller both in print and film.  Yet, many people have criticized James’ writing, even her fans.  The marketing for the book when it first came out wasn’t nearly as prominent as Fox’s television series.

So why is one continuing to generate millions of followers and dollars while the other one never even got to finish airing all twenty-two completed episodes?  There’s more to popularity than marketing.

Perhaps luck isn’t the accurate term, but there is a component of randomness.  Perhaps the Chaos Theory as explained by mathematician, Ian Malcolm, from Jurassic Park, can be used to explain the behavior of the publishing industry.  The industry is made up of people, and they are, by nature unpredictable.   A query sent to an agent on Tuesday may be rejected, but if it was sent on Thursday instead, the agent may have accepted it just based on the kind of day they were having, or maybe earlier that day they had a conversation that helped them relate to the query.  Timing is as important to getting representation as location is to the real estate industry.  But even getting published doesn’t mean success.  Success, if you determine it by sales and popularity is a numbers game.

Fox’s show didn’t spark interest, despite fans wanting it to.  But E.L. James’ no holds barred…uh, you know what I mean…yet grammatically questionable, erotic story was a guilty pleasure that came out at the right time.  Despite the romance and erotica sections on Amazon and in bookstores being full, she struck a chord with readers who were willing to look past whatever mistakes may have been made in her writing.

(Disclaimer: I have not read the book outside of one single line – which was for a challenge made by someone who did read it and wanted to see if I can randomly open the book to a page that did NOT contain any sexual references…I was unsuccessful.  I am only relating reviews I have read or heard, I did not read enough to evaluate Ms. James’ abilities.)

Regardless of quality, content seems to trump all.  If the people want it, someone will provide.  If people don’t want it, it will disappear.  It’s a classic Supply and Demand concept.

There’s a reason why after Twilight came out the YA section in every bookstore became flooded with vampire books.  This was quickly followed by movies, tv series, ‘Team Edward’ vs ‘Team Jacob’ wristbands, spin-offs, spoofs and fan-fiction.  Almost overnight the world embraced vampires and werewolves.  Everything was into bloody fangs and fur.

Shortly after our love affair for the handsome undead and lycanthropes, the world moved on to the ugly undead.   Zombie hordes took over the theaters everywhere, it really did seem like a zombie apocalypse hit Hollywood.

So what have we learned?  If you can predict what people will fall for twelve months from now, you can make it big in the publishing world.  That really seems to be the main factor.  It’s not luck, but it is about capturing the interests of the masses, and that’s far from an exact science.

Is it too late to write about a young attractive vampire who falls for a zombie with an S&M fetish?

Blurring Genres

I always enjoyed Fantasy, as I mentioned in previous entries.  I read to escape reality, and perhaps it seemed the best blurred linesway to do that was to engage in a genre that removed itself from reality the most.

Even in my other free time hobby, video games, I enjoy fantasy – The Witcher series, Elder Scrolls, vampire sagas.

For a time I was interested in The Sims when it first came out (like a decade ago), but when I realized the game dealt with the same crap I had to deal with in real life it lost a lot of interest for me.  Like literally, your character had to find time to crap – go to the bathroom, as well as eat, go to work, shower, talk…  I had enough difficulty finding time for me to do all those things for myself!  I really don’t want to take up precious free time to do it for a virtual me.

So Fantasy was my passion.  It made sense when I started writing that would be the genre I was drawn to.  So my first two manuscripts were clearly urban Fantasy.   My first was a vampire novel, which has yet to see the light of day (seriously – no pun was intended).  Being my first attempt at a novel I made so many mistakes it is in dire need of revamping…okay, I chose that word on purpose, sorry.

My second novel, Natural Enemies, I believe shown major growth (you can check it out yourself here).  But then I wrote my third novel and was half way through it when my CPs mentioned I was writing a paranormal romance not a fantasy.  My opinion about blurred genre lines are posted here.

Now I started another manuscript.  Maybe the fourth times a charm…right?  When I started writing it was to be a good ol’ fashion urban fantasy.  However, as I wrote, as my characters and plots tend to do, it morphed.  As it turns out, it isn’t fantasy, it’s not even magical realism, or any other sub-genre of fantasy.  I thought it would become action/adventure, but I’m not so sure anymore.  In truth, if someone was to put a gun to my head right now and demand a classification I would have to say – incomplete, simply because I wouldn’t be able to answer them, so I they would shoot me, and thus, I wouldn’t get to finish the story.

I know this will be an issue when I finish, unless it develops in some clear and defined way so I can properly query it under the right genre to the right agents and publishers.  But what if it doesn’t?

Many stories overlap multiple genres, and at times it seems almost like a crapshoot when classifying someone’s work.

Yes, classifications are useful and necessary.  Most people when looking for their next book will make a beeline to a certain genre.  I don’t know anyone who goes into a bookstore or library and would say to the staff member or librarian if asked what are they looking for would respond ‘Anything, as long as it has words’.  People have interests matching the classifications of the genres.  I never had an interest in reading Romance novels, and I know others have no interest in Fantasy.  It’s not that one is better than the other, they’re just different.

But some genres can overlap.  Speculative Fiction has many distinct categories, and Romance can contain plenty of action scenes.  Mysteries can have plenty of romance scenes.  How do we know how to properly define a book when the relationship between the two main characters is as important to the development of the story as discovering who the killer is?  Just because there’s magic in the world, does that trump the fact the story is about the coming of age of a young girl trying to find herself in that world?

It seems that writers today aren’t so concerned with making sure they stay ‘inside the lines’ for want of a better expression, when creating their stories.  But if the industry isn’t willing to entertain that sort of flexibility, what happens then?

Be sure to read my latest entry of my Paranormal novel: Daughter of Lilith on Wattpad!

Everyone’s a critic

Muppet Critics
Statler and Waldorf, created by Jim Henson

Perhaps it’s human nature.  Although what purpose that particular instinct serves, I have no idea. Maybe it stems from the desire to be popular, to attract the best mate, or appear stronger in order to better our chances of survival and procreation. Perhaps it stems from a desire to feel superior to everyone else. Or maybe some people are just a-holes.

For whatever reason there isn’t a sport, hobby, or profession in existence that isn’t at the mercy of a critic. I don’t mean professional critics. I mean those people who, for example, walk into a room and see someone watching a game on TV. They sit for an hour watching and listening to the announcers and then see one of the players make a foul, error, or just basically mess up in some way. At that moment, they have absorb enough information about the pastime from observing for the past hour to pass judgment on that individual who has spent years, perhaps even decades, dedicated to learning, practicing, and playing that sport. They can jump right in with the announcers and click into place as easily as a perfect puzzle piece.

I’m just as guilty as the next person, I’ll own up to it. During the Olympics, I watch to make sure the gymnasts ‘stick their landing’, and when they don’t I’ll mutter a ‘tsk’ and shake my head in dismay. Never mind the fact that if I were to try as much as to walk across a balance beam the nearby hospital would have to be put on high alert.

Watching episodes of Family Feud sparks this as well. “Name something people drink at a wedding.” “KOOL-AID!” And of course the rest of the Family players jump and cheer, and pat the contestant on the back. “Good answer, good answer!” Well, no it isn’t. In fact it’s a stupid answer. (I made this example up, but if someone reading this thought it was a good answer, my apologies.)

But the truth is when you put yourself in the public eye, you open yourself up to judgment by EVERYONE. Those qualified to do so, and those who aren’t. Some will attempt to pass on constructive criticism; others will just pass on bad feelings.

The poor contestant who answers ‘Kool-Aid’ knows that isn’t a good answer, but they’re under pressure, on national TV, in front of a live audience with a microphone pointed at them. With that kind of pressure, a nice tall glass of cold Kool-Aid would really hit the spot…of course, so would hard liquor, which would be a better answer to that question, but whatever.

That gymnast has about a million things to consider when they are flying, twisting, and turning in the air. Inertia. Gravity. Momentum.   Where’s the f-ing ground? The fact they can do one-tenth of what I see is amazing to me. If they end up taking a tiny hop landing after being airborne for five seconds swirling around like a piece of dandelion fuzz in a tornado, I seriously can’t care less, I’m impressed!

Each page a writer types is a series of decisions. What their characters say and do. How they react to secondary characters. What setting should they create? Chances are some of those decisions will be bad ones. Some will be brilliant. Creating a world and populating it from your own imagination, then putting your name on it and shouting to the world ‘Hey, look what I did!’ takes a lot of courage.

With seven billion and counting people out there, it’s impossible to impress everyone. But not impossible to gather seven billion opinions. Some will share experience, and perhaps grant you some insights. Others will look for anything to pick at. The best you can do is take what you can glean from it all and move forward.

Interview with Michael Anthony – Author of My Best Friend Death

MY BEST FRIEND DEATH

Today I am trying something new – an interview. I would like to introduce a dear friend of mine, Michael Anthony, who will be releasing his debut novel My Best Friend, Death this Sunday, June 8th. It will be available on Amazon.com.

Mike has a wonderful talent to spin a story filled with colorful characters and an intricate plot that will take you on an amazing journey where you can never be sure where you will end up, and never wanting to get off. I’m honored he has agreed to allow me to showcase his story today.

Please see the book blurb following this interview for a peek inside the world of My Best Friend Death.

 

Let’s start with what inspired you to write this story.  Where did you get your idea for MBFD?

This story was inspired by a short (short) story written by a good friend of mine. It was a single scene describing a cloak-and-scythe Death walking into the woods. He was depressed and brooding, so he sat on a rock, hoping the sounds of the forest would lift his spirits. Instead, out of fear of capturing is attention, all the woodland creatures fell silent.

That’s where the story ended.

It doesn’t sound like much of a read, but the language he used painted such an amazing picture, and it truly captured the way people misunderstand Death. His story stayed with me for a long, long time, and My Best Friend Death grew from the way his story made me feel.

As for where I get my ideas—Everywhere. To share a novel next in my queue, the idea for Black Market Baby came from a conversation with a co-worker about the cost of babies on the black market. Around the same time, Edward Snowden leaked the NSA documents (which I perused), thus a story about a baby sold on the black market and raised as a torturess was born.


What is your (least) favorite scene in MBFD?

My favorite scene would have to be the mudball fight between my main character and two supporting characters. That was by far the best scene to write. Having never been in a mudball fight personally, it was great to live out that experience with imaginary friends characters in my story.

Yes, all writers are a tad insane, but you already knew that.

I can’t really get into my least favorite scene to write because that would spoil it for my readers. Between you and me, it was the turning point for Josh. That’s all I’m saying.

 

MBFD isn’t the first story you’ve written. I’ve been fortunate to work with you on other projects and notice most of them have a dark or sad overtone.  But your actual personality is nothing like that.  In fact I would say it’s quite the opposite, so where does all this character angst and suffering stem from?

To answer truthfully, my life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. Though I’m young, I’ve walked through storms that would bring stronger men to their knees. But what I’ve learned over time is that strength, much like happiness, is a choice.

I write a lot of dark/sad novels so I can better portray the choice that every man, woman, and child must make—will I be strong and happy, or weak and miserable. I write novels that explore both paths in attempt to persuade the reader, through moral integrity and impropriety, that strength and happiness is paramount to leading a life worth living.


That’s a great approach to life. So if you were swept back in time and sitting in front of your computer ready to type the first words to MBFD, would you change anything that might have been too difficult to alter once finished with your MS?  If so, what?

I don’t think I would change a thing. My Best Friend Death was 100% pantsed, yet it managed to come together in a way that surprised even me. I think that even the slightest change to the timeline would cause the story to spin off in such a manner that the ending wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying.

 


What do you want your readers to get from reading your books?

I want my readers to forget a meeting or train stop. I want them to put off something important so they can read just one more chapter, to stay lost in the worlds that I create. I want them to see the world as I see it—a great big beautiful place where magic and awe is just around the corner.

All in all, I want my reader to gain a sense of stillness peace in a world that can be so fast pace and erratic. If there is anything I want my books to do for reader, it’s that.


How did you get started in writing?

In high school, I had a crush on a budding novelist. I thought that if we shared the same interest, I’d have a better shot at wooing her. I didn’t get the girl, but I found my passion.

 

What other projects do you have in the works you would like to mention?

At the present moment, I’m working on an Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves retelling. It’s tentatively titled, The Thieves Guild. My goal is to publish it in the fall of 2014, but we’ll see how that goes. I’m also toying with the idea of publishing a post-apocalyptic series of short stories.

Thank you for taking some time out of your schedule. I know you’re very busy this time of year and congratulations on your release.

My Best Friend Death Blurb:

Damien Crown devotes his life to being his brother’s superman. Like all heroes, he’s locked in a deadly war with a formidable foe—his brother’s depression. Instead of perishing in a climactic battle as comics suggest, he dies at the screech of tires and the blare of a car horn. But in those last precious moments, he regrets not taking off the cape and living his own life.

But those regrets don’t last long when Death becomes his life-coach.

Given a new body and one more year to live, Damien seizes the opportunity to reinvent himself. Forbidden by Death from making contact with his old family, he knows the trek will be hard, but he’s happy to leave behind the pressures of his old life.

Until his brother attempts suicide.

Now, the only way to save his brother is to break Death’s rules. But with a life any kid would kill for, Damien finds himself stuck between who he was, and who he wants to be. He can don his cape and die for his brother, or hang it up and finally live for himself.

To find out more about Mike and his works please check out his social media sites:

IMAG0116Twitter

Website

Blog

 

Michael Anthony grew up in the suburbs of Virginia. As the middle child, everything requiring electricity or batteries was either hogged by the oldest or begged for by the youngest. All too familiar with boredom spawned from idle thumbs, he found adventure in the plethora of novels, encyclopedias, and maps found on the bookshelf. It was during his journey through those shelves that he discovered The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and The Giver by Lois Lowry.
From that day to this, Michael has had a love for great stories, fascinating characters, and travel. He hopes to see every corner of the world someday, and when he’s finished down here, he has his eyes set on the moon. He is currently studying history at a local college while he chases his dream of becoming one of the greatest writers of his age.