Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

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Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

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Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

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Hope's Rebellion

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Judgment: Sneak Peek

Happy Halloween! It's a day for scares, and that means it's perfect for unveiling my newest excerpt from Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4). The fourth and final installment in the Deck of Lies comes out next month. If you buy Death (Deck of Lies, #3) from Amazon, Smashwords or B&N, you'll get an excerpt from the first chapter. If you haven't already read the first three books in the Deck of Lies, you probably shouldn't read this sneak peek!



Chapter 4


The day’s mail arrived about forty minutes after my tutoring session ended. It was 3 PM, so it was Morales who came to the cell with a stack of envelopes and magazines in his hands. “Mail call,” he announced. “Please stand back from the bars in the center of your cell.”
I knew this, of course, and I rolled my eyes as he made the requisite announcement. Minutes ticked by in silence as he sorted through the pile. The magazines he shoved between the bars, where they landed on the concrete floor with lazy slapping sounds. The envelopes he saved until last, looking into each one before he either dropped it into the mailbag on his shoulder or slid it between the bars into my cell. They were all slit open, and earlier in the day someone had already looked at every single piece of mail sent my way. Everything I sent out was examined, too.
The guards used to give me every single piece of mail, even the ugliest stuff. My upcoming trial, and Laurel’s murder, had been national news for weeks. The story wasn’t being covered as vigorously as it had been in the very beginning, but I was still getting plenty of what the guards used to mockingly call “fan mail.”
It started arriving for me two days after I was locked in jail in July. The first “fan mail” was written in bold red marker on a crisp white page. It simply said “you will burn in hell.” Other letters were more intricate, and more threatening. I’d even received artwork, graphic caricatures of myself sitting in an electric chair or hanging from a rope around my neck.
They terrified me and haunted me, those pictures, until I finally broke down and told River about it. He assured me it couldn’t possibly happen. “They do lethal injection in California,” he’d said.
So the picture of me in the chair, with my hair sticking up all over my head and my eyes bulging out of my skull, shouldn’t frighten me at all.
Morales was the first guard to start sorting the mail for me, throwing away the hate letters and horrible drawings and leaving only the stuff I might want to see. By the time August was coming to its end, none of the guards still subjected me to the horrors the came to me in the mail each and every day.
The world hated me…because it loved Laurel.
I’d read all the articles that I could get my hands on, and managed to pull some information out of River and Asher. The press were treating Laurel like she was some sort of angel, and I was this totally messed up girl with a messed up past. Laurel was the queen of the Debate Team, she was on the volleyball team, she ran marathons for charity, she was active in teen activities at one of the big LA churches. She was beautiful, and she was tall, and she was apparently incapable of taking a bad picture at any point in her brief life. The media had printed the entire Riordan family album in the last few weeks. Pictures of baby Laurel, toddler Laurel and school girl Laurel were splashed on the front pages of People and the like. Teary quotes from volunteer organizers and teachers were printed and re-printed.
Every picture they’d ever printed of me showed wild hair, reddish eyes and a twisted facial expression that made me look like Satan’s daughter. The worst one of them all was one of the pictures taken at my hearing – I was wearing county jail orange and staring into the crowd with an angry, intense look on my face.
“Just one letter today,” Morales chirped. He’d thrown most of my stack back into the mailbag. “Anything outgoing?”
“Not today.”
“Be back to check on you later.”
I nodded, and waited for him to get to the end of the hall before I rushed forward to gather up my remaining mail. The one letter I still had was from River, and as usual it contained very few words. It was another pencil sketch, this one an elaborate design of curving lines that reminded me of flowers, with a short note on the back: see you soon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writing 101: Keeping Up the Energy

I am literally exhausted every day by 1 pm. This is because I spend my mornings cleaning and working out, and it's a pretty intense routine. When the afternoon rolls around, I finally sit down to work...and I stay right where I fall. I don't stop working until 9 or 10 pm at night. The life of an indie author can be packed pretty full of stuff to do, and that's why keeping up the energy is so very important. 



The American Obsession

Energy has become a commodity in the United States. Watch television Stateside for an hour, and you'll see that it's true. Shows are packed with ads for energy drinks, of all things, and they've become so prolific you can even get them in a diet version. Indie authors, who often maintain full-time jobs while doing all of the marketing, research, writing and editing for their books on their own, are probably the prime target for these ads. If self-published authors aren't tired and overworked, then no one is. 

But keeping up your energy level by pumping yourself full of sugar and caffeine, the main ingredients in energy drinks, is no way to write. Unnatural energy and heavily caffeinated drinks that make you wired are also going to totally wreck your focus, make you forgetful and may manifest itself as frantic, unorganized writing. By the same token, being overly tired can make you lazy when you're writing. You might skip over the details and rush too quickly toward plot points, creating text that feels harried and stilted. 

It's not natural to move between highs and lows all day long, and there are much better ways of keeping up the energy so you can stay focused, write well and still take care of all those other things on your to-do list. 

Healthy Energy

Trying to be creative after working all day, dealing with the family, maybe tending to chores and engaging in exercise is really a form of self-torture that many indie authors happily embrace. But this lifestyle will start to feel unsustainable pretty darn quickly. Everyone needs down time, rest time, time off and time to sit and stare at the wall if that's really what they want. Scheduling every available minute is wearing on the body and on the mind. Self-published authors have got to make room for themselves. Make sure you've got some free time and some "you" time. Take the time for that manicure. Take the time to go shopping for that new pair of boots. Take the time to wander around the bookstore (if there's still one open in your town). 

And in-between all of that time-taking, you're going to have to make time for everything else. Do it in a healthy way by learning how to keep up your energy in a positive way.

  • Showering. That's right, nothing's off-limits at this blog. I'm even going to give you shower tips. Instead of waking yourself up in the morning with coffee, change your showering habits. After you're all finished and nice and relaxed under that hot water, turn on the cold. Give yourself an icy blast to wake up and face the day with much wider eyes.
  • Coffee-drinking. Speaking of coffee, if you're going to drink it try to wait. I don't drink one of my iced coffee drinks until the early afternoon. When you wake up in the morning, you should already have some good energy going because you just stopped sleeping. If you pick yourself up with the caffeine early, you're going to feel totally used up by the three o'clock. 
  • Eating habits. You want to know why you're tired? Because you aren't eating enough carbs. It became the fashion to eschew carbohydrates in favor of losing weight, and suddenly the energy drink industry boomed. These two things are not unrelated. Carbohydrates are essential to providing the body with energy, and most people need to eat a diet that's 50 percent carbs every day. If you want to do it in a weight-aware fashion, eat wheat breads and low-cal crackers, thin bagels and potatoes that have been grilled or baked instead of fried. I eat a carb-rich lunch every day right around 1 pm to give myself a boost of natural energy and perk myself up after my grueling morning routine. When do you start to feel tired and unfocused? Go eat a slice of wheat toast with sugar-free jelly and see how that suits you instead of reaching for an energy drink. 
  • Sleeping. This is often where I fail, but never underestimate the importance of sleep. The human body needs to sleep daily in order to regenerate and recharge, and if you don't get at least three uninterrupted hours you may as well never get in bed at all. I try to give myself 6 hours of sleep and even that doesn't feel like enough. Don't work so much that you aren't sleeping enough. I started waking myself up an hour later in the mornings, because I found that I was so tired when I woke up earlier it took me an hour longer just to really get going anyway. Are you wasting time in the mornings because you're just too exhausted? Pay attention to how long it takes you to complete your morning routine. Sleep in the next day, clock yourself again, and see how sleep makes a difference. 
Keeping up the energy is important if you want to keep yourself sane while you work at being a self-published author. You shouldn't drag around all day feeling tired. When writing begins to become a chore, you might need to think about changing some habits and shifting your schedule if at all possible. If you can't function without using caffeine and other weird tricks to keep yourself energized, you're doing way too much. It's always okay to slow down a little, relax a little more and work a little less. Your writing will be better because of it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Writing 101: Committing Murder

At some point, every author has to face the possibility of committing murder by killing off one of their characters. When it's done well, you can bring an audience to tears. When it's handled incorrectly, you can receive death threats on Twitter. Committing murder is serious business, even if you're only doing it on the page.


Death by Fiction

You don't have to write mysteries to contemplate murder when you're writing a book. Ask J. K. Rowling. She writes fantastical children's books, but she's definitely guilty of fictioncide. Where there is life, there is also death. Instead of ignoring this universal truth, some authors embrace it and use it as a plot device. In some stories, death has to happen to get a certain point across or make something important happen. 

But it's not something you can introduce without advance preparation, and even then you have to walk a pretty careful line. Death is very emotional, even when it's the death of a fictional character.

1,000 Ways to Kill

Before you kill, think. There are lots of different considerations you're going to have to make before you delete someone from the pages of your book for ever.

  • Do I know this character? Don't kill for killing's sake. Kill a character that's already been introduced in the book or else it's just empty. If the character doesn't matter, fine, but in most cases you're going to want to create an emotional reaction. You can't do that unless I already know this character, and have preexisting feelings for them. 
  • How did they die? The death scene is often pivotal in any book. Make sure you do it justice. If the reader is going to witness the death through the eyes of one or more characters, don't make it too gruesome. It's okay for parts of a book to be difficult to read because of heightened emotions, but don't make it impossible to read. You don't want readers closing your book and never picking it up again because the death scene is too brutal. If the characters are experiencing the death second-hand, because they're learning about it from another source, you may have to work harder to establish the emotion of the scene. Here's something to remember: if you don't cry when you're writing it, I'm not likely to cry when I'm reading it.
  • Why does it matter? There should be some consequences from the death. If a character dies, every other character can't carry on with business as usual like it doesn't matter. There has to be some ripple effect, something has to happen as a result, or else the death really has no place being in the book. 

It's never an easy decision to kill a character, but sometimes it is necessary for the story. Make sure you do it right. If it's too traumatic to readers, they may hate you and your book. Soften the effects of the death, and make it clear that something good has come out of this death, in order to balance out the trauma of the event. If the character being killed is an evil and hated one, try to introduce some humanity and sadness into the death. You don't want readers celebrating death in a bloodthirsty fashion. Even when villains die, it should feel a little bit sad.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Books on Film: Psycho

Halloween is almost here...but not yet. There's still time for one more horror-themed book on film, and for the last novel in the series I've picked the best of the best: Psycho. As far as villains go, the one in this story is the one I've always found to be the most terrifying.


The Book

That's right: Psycho was actually a book before it became possibly the most well-known slasher film of all time. It was written in 1959 by Robert Bloch, and it revolves around a man named Norman Bates. 


He runs a small motel just outside of Fairvale, and lives with his dominating mother. The state, unnamed, has moved the highway and the motel has been struggling ever since. They are arguing angrily about the general state of things when the young, lovely Mary Crane arrives at the motel to rent a room. 

She should've stuck to the highway. She's avoiding it because she's a fugitive. After deciding on a whim to take $40,000 from the real estate company where she works, Mary had to make a run for it. The money is for her boyfriend, who has a ton of debt, and it's going to help them get married. But the plan is looking less and less practical by the time she arrives, tired and hungry, at the motel. When Norman invites her to dinner, she accepts. 

This enrages Mrs. Bates, who seems to hate everyone, and Mary overhears the old woman screaming "I'll kill the bitch!" Still, Mary doesn't back down from her dinner date and she gently tries to draw Norman Bates out over the meal. She asks him about himself, and suggests that he might be happier if his mother was off somewhere receiving the proper kind of care she so clearly needs. Norman insists there's nothing really wrong with his mother, and observes that "we all go a little crazy sometimes."

By the time she goes to her room for the night, Mary has decided to return the money because she fears she may end up just like Norman. She steps into the shower to clean up before bed. It's the last thing she ever does. Minutes later, a figure that looks like an old woman savagely attacks her with a butcher knife. Mary winds up beheaded on the floor of the shower.

It's Norman's fate to discover her there. He toys with the idea of turning his mother in, or otherwise letting her pay for her crime, but ultimately finds he can't do it. He gets rid of the body, and everything at the motel goes back to business as usual.

But pretty young women and $40,000 don't disappear without somebody noticing. Mary has a sister named Lila, and she's not about to give her up so easily. She meets up with Mary's boyfriend Sam to track her down. A private detective named Arbogast, hired to trace the missing money, joins them because there's always power in numbers. Arbogast becomes suspicious when he questions Norman Bates, who says that Mary stayed the night at the motel and left, when Norman won't allow his mother to be questioned. 

Arbogast goes to the house, next to the motel, to question the old woman himself. The old woman ends up killing him, too, this time with a razor.

It's at this point that the twist ending is slowly, painstakingly revealed to end with a chilling scene at the police station. If by some miracle you don't know the plot of the story, I'll not to completely ruin it for you.

Two sequels were written, but neither had a great deal of success. The book did gain some notoriety when Alfred Hitchcock adapted it in 1960, but this is one book that has been outshined by its film version. When you put an amazing horror story in the hands of the greatest horror director, this is to be expected.

Film

Hitchcock made a lot of strange decisions when he turned Psycho into a movie in 1960. He didn't allow advance screenings for critics, and decreed that no one would be admitted to theaters once the film began. He also decided to make it in black and white, though color was available and more popular at the time. 


It didn't matter. Psycho is still one of the best scary movies ever made, and if you haven't seen it then I implore you to do whatever you need to do to start watching it as soon as you're done with this post. Hitchcock's version has since been adapted and several sequels have followed, but the original is the best. How good is this movie? Janet Leigh, who was in the film for only the first forty minutes and appeared in a handful of scenes, won an Academy Award for her turn as Marion Crane (changed from Mary for the film). She became widely associated with the film and became one of the first "scream queens" on the big screen. She's also well-known for being Jamie Lee Curtis's mother.

Anthony Perkins chillingly plays Norman Bates, so well that he was typecast for the remainder of his career. The reviews were mixed, the box office numbers phenomenal. Psycho changed the face of horror movies, and the AFI lists it as number one for the best horror flick ever made.

They're probably right. The film is a very faithful adaptation of the book. It even lifts dialogue straight from the page to bring it to the screen. The shower scene where Janet Leigh dies is now the stuff of film legend. It spans more than 3 minutes and puts the viewer right in the killer's point of view, a technique Hitch was famous for using. The scene contains over 50 film cuts and maddening extreme close-ups that are designed to heighten the terror.

Hitch himself said that his film "came entirely" from the book. That's only mostly true. Read the book, watch the movie, and you will find some small differences.

What Got Adapted?

The book takes readers even deeper into the mind of Norman Bates, who doesn't look much at all like Anthony Perkins. On the page, he's a paunchy middle-aged man who wears glasses, a big difference from the slim, younger, passably attractive Perkins. It makes the character much scarier on film, I think, but it's much more clear in the novel that Norman is terrifyingly introverted and lonely. 

More of Mary Crane's thoughts are also revealed in the book, as are the secondary characters who enter the story a little later. Norman also drinks excessively in the book and maintains a collection of pornography, character traits that are erased on the big screen.

The murder scenes are actually more detailed in the film than the book, a surprising reversal. The author doesn't exactly skip over the murders, but he doesn't exactly depict them in clear, gory detail, either. There is more violence in the book. On film, Marion Crane's head is never severed. No way would the studio have let Hitch shoot a scene like that. So he cut the scene to pieces instead with quick edits, and rumor has it that he used chocolate sauce to create the blood. The sauce had the perfect consistency, and since the film was being shot in black and white anyway it didn't really matter if it was red or brown.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fiction Fashion Icon: Scarlett

Gone With the Wind was published 70 years after the Civil War ended, and introduced countless new generations to this bloody conflict in the United states. It was written in 1936 and became the biggest film ever made just three short years later. And even though it was written about a woman who lived way, way back in the 1860s, it helped to shape 1940s fashion and created one of the most famous fiction style icons of all time: Scarlett O'Hara. 


Belle in a Bell Skirt

Long-time readers of the blog know that Gone With the Wind is my favorite book and my favorite film, and if you've read and seen it then you probably know why. Many, many people cite the novel and the film as their favorites, and many women admire the central heroine (or anti-heroine, depending on your view): Scarlett O'Hara. 


Fashion plays a big part in the book. It's about living through a war, which is no easy time. In the south during the 1860s, it was particularly rough. There are many passages describing Scarlett's attire. She goes from wearing sprigged muslin and gowns with carefully-sewn pearls adorning them to being without a proper bonnet or even a petticoat under her dress. She lives without stockings and hoops and all those many mysterious items that were so essential in those days when skirts had to be several feet wide and brush the floor or you just weren't decent. 

But the fashion of the book didn't come alive until it hit the silver screen in full, glorious Technicolor. Vivien Leigh, playing Scarlett, was bedecked with yards of fabric, acres of jewelry and a wire hoop cage that was (blessedly) much lighter than the real deal would have been back in the day. And though she was already an aged heroine by contemporary 1940s film-goers, Scarlett's fashion leapt from the screen and into the closets of women all over America. 


After it was brought to the big screen in 1939, Gone With the Wind immediately became the most popular film of the day and of all time. It is still the highest-grossing movie ever made, if you factor in ticket price differences between then and now. Clothiers of all types took notice. 

The most popular pattern of the early 1940s mirrored the green and white dress Scarlett wears to the barbeque at Twelve Oaks. Many women also flocked to the dress shop to get a pattern for a white, ruffled gown with the long skirt, an item that mirrored the red-belted dress Scarlett wears in the opening scene of the flick. And the slim, cut silk wedding gowns of the 30s quickly fell out of favor as brides rushed to wear dresses made with puffy sleeves and organza fabric, more like the gown Scarlett wore when she married Charles Hamilton. Organza is still a popular wedding fabric today, though puffy sleeves are a bit less common.


Hats were everywhere in the summer of 1940. Big-brimmed styles were all the rage because of Scarlett's big hats, and some designers even created bonnet-like headpieces resembling some of the more casual headwear shown in the film. Women also rushed out to buy themselves hair netting and fabric bags, and began fashioning their locks with snoods like those worn by Scarlett.

Scarlett's fashion helped inspire women everywhere, and her story continues to delight book readers and movie watchers to this day. Her strong, fearless character has drawn the admiration of many, and that's why so many have tried to copy her style. So the next time you feel like ripping down the curtains to make a new dress, go with it. That's what Scarlett would want.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Writing 101: If You Can't Take the Criticism...

 As a self-published author, you have to go out and actively seek reviews if you want to get them. It takes a lot of work, maybe a little bit of deal-making, some letter-polishing and plenty of time. And if you can't take the criticism, you might as well not waste it...not yours, or mine. 


You Asked For It 

Before you actually ask someone to review your work, make sure you're prepared to hear it. Some authors absolutely want to get reviews for their books...provided those reviews are filled with praise. Others react quite poorly upon getting any sort of less positive feedback, and don't at all want to absorb criticism in any way. 

There are a whole lot of reasons why you simply can't have this attitude. Even if you didn't ask the reviewer for a review specifically, even if it's just a random Amazon reviewer whom you can't track, you have to be prepared to absorb their comments in a healthy and productive way. The very second that you put your work out there for others to read, you're opening the door to criticism whether you go out and seek it or not. So whatever they say, you owe it to yourself to pay attention...no matter how painful it might be. 

Time to Get Tough

If you haven't already had the sensitivity beaten out of you by the time you've decided to self-publish, I'm sorry. You're about to have some pretty ego-pounding experiences. Many indie authors have already been rejected, at least to their way of thinking, by the traditional publishing world. Agents and publishing houses are cold, impersonal, and their repeated rejections can hurt. More in-depth reviews are often even more painful, but at least those who have weathered rejection in the past have become a little more desensitized. 


Either way, you've got to get tough and you've got to be objective. Anyone who ever reviews your work is a great help to you, no matter how cruel or hurtful their comments may seem. It's always extremely valuable to know what even one reader thinks, and every review is a window right into their thoughts. Any tiny piece of information they give you can be used to make your work better...even when it feels like they're ripping out your heart. 

As a self-published author, you're exposing a part of yourself to the world and you're opening up a door right into your soul. That's the way it is. If you aren't tough enough to take all the slings and arrows that are coming, then please close the door. Don't let the criticism wear you down or diminish your love of writing. If you find that reviews are affecting you in a negative way, stop reading them. They can be a great help, but for some authors who are sensitive to it they can turn into a gigantic hindrance. You can still be a writer...just maybe a little bit more reclusive. And if you know you can't take it or you might be too sensitive to really process the criticism you receive, then stop asking for them. Any reviewer can get nasty if you manage to push the right button, and you never know when that might happen.

Whether you're reading the reviews or not, you have to be tough on yourself. Either be disciplined enough to ignore them, or be strong enough to really absorb them. For a self-published author, there really is no in-between.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Writing 101: The Politics of Being an Author

In case you've somehow been avoiding TV, social media and most public Internet sites over the past 10 months, it's an election year. Tensions are especially high during election season, when the news media is amped up on Red Bull and rhetoric, but some politician is always out there campaigning at all times. It's easy to get swept up in politics during any year, but you can't ever forget about the politics of being an author...particularly if you're a self-published author.


Politically Speaking

When you're a self-published author, you are your own PR agent. You're in charge of all your marketing and all your promotion, and it's a really hard job that takes up a whole lot of time. So don't screw yourself by actually being yourself in the middle of all that.

That's right. When your parents and your friends and your teachers were telling you to "just be yourself," they didn't count on you becoming a self-published author and your own best friend and biggest supporter. You can be yourself when you're at home, but you can't be yourself when you're in your author persona -- at least, not really

Politics are polarizing, and that's a real problem for you as an author. When you're presenting yourself to the world as a writer, the social media accounts you use to tout your books are no longer your own. That means you can't start screeching about politics in the middle of a bunch of tweets about your books. The minute you make your political or religious affiliation known, you're running the risk of turning off a large portion of your audience. 

I know it's true, because I'll hit my "block" button in less than 1 second if I see someone expressing a political opinion that's opposite my own...and I will not reveal on which side my bread is buttered, no matter how nicely you ask. Why? Because when you are a self-published author, like I am, you are neutral on any and all hot-button issues and political matters. Otherwise, you're going to be screwing yourself out of readers. Isn't it hard enough to get them already?

As a matter of fact, it's not even a good idea for you to have any sort of opinion except in a very specific set of circumstances.

Politically Correct

If you write about politics, then obviously you're going to end up tweeting about it, blogging about it, and what-have-you. If you write about politics, you're already targeting a specific group and that group is interested in politics. You're going to be using political opinions and rhetoric in your promotions, and it's totally appropriate to do so. But if you write about anything else, just stay neutral. Offensive subject matter creeps into books a lot, but your author persona should never be offensive or off-putting to anyone if you can help it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writing 101: Don’t Forget About You



 If you’re a writer, you have lots of different people living inside your head. You’re thinking about their lives, maybe killing them off (like me), maybe hearing them speak and watching them act. It’s not crazy – it’s what it’s like to be an author. But when you’re a writer, don’t forget about you while you’re thinking about all those other ideas in your head.



Truly, Madly, Deeply

There’s a scene in a movie I love. It’s about an author who’s having trouble finding her true writing voice. She’s writing about all sorts of fantastical things and inventing all sorts of passionate plots, until someone close to her tells her that she ought to write about things she’s actually experienced and people she knows. She doesn’t take to the idea at first at all, but later it becomes her inspiration. In the particular scene I’m thinking of, she sets herself right down at her desk and begins to write.

Mind you, this is a period piece we’re watching. When I say she sits down to write, I’m talking about there’s an oil lamp on the table and a feather in her hand. So this is real writing, here. The way the scene plays, she sits there and writes all night long. By morning’s light, she awakens from a brief nap (one assumes) and there is a gigantic pile of pages next to her.

She wrote the novel in one night. I love the movie...I hate that scene. It’s utterly ridiculous. I’ve staying up late into the night writing a chapter before, sure, but you’ve got to be part robot to write an entire novel in just one night.

It’s just not that easy. I might think about a book for weeks before I write a single scene, and no matter how well-planned I’ll still struggle over that scene – maybe for hours and hours. Then I’ve got to go back and read the darned thing, and take out all the inevitable errors I’ve made and words I’ve repeated too many times. Sometimes I might end up erasing the whole thing, because the plot changes or somehow the scene becomes unnecessary.

When it takes so much time, and blood, and sweat, and tears and sheer gut to write a novel (and it does, no matter what the movies say), you have to be the sort of person who has people living in your head just to live through it. You have to tune out the world and focus on your task, think and re-think your plot, really become those characters and step outside of yourself.

Just don’t get too far outside yourself.

Who…Are…You?

All good writers have to set their own limits. Otherwise, we’d never get up from behind our keyboards. I’ve forgotten to eat and missed major events because I got too caught up in a story, and didn’t even really realize that time was passing. How can time be passing when I’m not even here? I’m a hundred years in the past, so how could any time be going by?

But it does, and all authors are only human beings at the end of every day. It takes a lot of time and energy to write a book, but don’t start losing sleep over it. Don’t start skipping meals, or blowing off your family, or forgetting about your other responsibilities. Don’t stop doing all the things you used to do before you started writing the book. If you exercise or walk the dog, keep on doing that. If you play a game for an hour each night, don’t stop. When you’re writing a book, don’t forget about you.

The brain and the body has to have a certain amount of rest and a certain amount of nutrition in order to stay healthy and continue functioning at its peak. You can definitely get by with less sleep, fewer calories and a lot more stress, but your goal should never be to simply “get by.” Your book is going to be a lot better if you approach it with a clear mind, well-rested, with plenty of energy from food in your belly. Continue doing what you do to relieve stress, and continue staying in touch with friends and family.

Self-published authors have a way of putting a ton of pressure on themselves with self-set goals and deadlines, but this can be damaging. It’s good to be disciplined, but it can be taken to a dark place. You’ve got to give yourself downtime and rest, too. You cannot work all the time, or think about the book all the time. Some of the best ideas come when I’m not thinking about my stories, because that’s when my brain is actually free to be creative. You can’t go up to your brain, scream “be creative!” when you’re tired and stressed out and expect to get results. Whatever you write under such conditions will be less than your best. And why would you ever want to present less than your best to a reading audience?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Writing 101: Writing a Message

Not all stories are mere stories, something to entertain you. Some strive to teach some lesson, perhaps make some moral standpoint, maybe brighten up your day. When you're writing a message, you have to walk a delicate line and maintain a certain balance. Otherwise, I'm just going to get ticked off...me, and other readers too.


Getting the Point

There's nothing wrong with embedding a message into a story. In fact, lots of books have been extremely successful by doing this. People like learning a little something, and having their spirits lifted. But at the same time, they also want to be entertained. When you're writing a message, you can't over-write it.

What I'm saying is, don't hit me over the head with it. If you're continually spelling out your message, you're just being repetitive (and repetition is boring). The message has to be faint, subtle, so carefully placed that I'm not really sure if there was a message there. I read a book once where the author related inspirational stories in gigantic monologues, then went on to repeat and sum up the message I was supposed to get to end each chapter. Each message was a joyous and inspirational one, but each was getting pounded into my brain with each and every chapter. 

You can't force-feed your message to your readers, and you don't need to give it to them in multiple ways to make sure they're getting it. It has to be faint, slight, something that supports the story. The message shouldn't be the story.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dying of Suspense

"The reader can't help to want to know more about what will happen." 




Death (Deck of Lies, #3) has been reviewed at Kritters Ramblings. See how it rated on the YA shoe scale when you visit the blog for the full review!

Books on Film: The Raven

Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven isn't actually a book, it's just a really long poem about a crow. But the epic poem is about more than a bird or a man who can't seem to get to sleep, and it beautifully showcases the dark nature of Poe's work. Poetry doesn't translate easily into film, or in fact into any other medium. The three films loosely based on Poe's work reflect this truth rather spectacularly.


The Poem

Edgar Allen Poe published The Raven in 1845, and it became rather famous right away. The musical lines of the poem are studied often by scholars of all ages, and some people can recite entire passages. Reciting the entire thing takes a whole lot of study -- it's more than 100 lines long, but the rhyming scheme does help. 

The Raven mourns the loss of the lovely Lenore. A man wracked by grief for this woman, presumably a lost love, is being taunted by a raven who repeatedly tells him "nevermore." It's all the bird will say, and it's maddening. At the end of the poem, the bird is still sitting "perched above my chamber door" and still haunting the man who has lost his beloved Lenore.

It's heart-wrenching, and sad, and beautiful. But it doesn't necessarily made a great movie. Like, who would want to see a movie about a man sitting alone in a room with a talking bird? If you can get an audience to sit through 90 minutes of that, you're a genius. 

You will have also accomplished something that no director has ever accomplished before, and the three film adaptations of Poe's The Raven prove it.

The Films

The first film to borrow Poe's stark title premiered in 1935, with two masters of horror among the cast. Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi joined forces to bring the film to life. Lugosi plays a surgeon who is absolutely obsessed by Poe. He has his own torture chamber for his victims. Karloff's character is no better. He's a murderer currently on the run from police and living as a fugitive. 

In the film, Lugosi is asked to operate on a beautiful young woman who has been injured in an automobile accident. He agrees and succeeds, and begins to form a friendship with the young woman he's saved. As their friendship blossoms, he reveals his great love of the writer Edgar Allen Poe. He even shows her his prized collection of Poe's works, which includes many poems and short stories.

Her father, however, doesn't approve of the budding relationship. By the time the murderer shows up at the surgeon's home, Lugosi is angry enough to mastermind his own macabre plan. Using his surgeon's skills, he forces the murderer into carrying out a terrible plan about the family that has upset him so. He invites them all to a dinner party, and one by one they each come to some horrible fate as inspired by Poe's stories. The surgeon eventually falls prey to one of his own traps, and the beautiful young woman escapes (because that's the way of such movies).

Another movie named The Raven was made 30 years later, in 1963, but this time it had a totally different plot. Boris Karloff appears again, this time with legendary horror master Vincent Price. Though the plot was different, the theme of the film was the same: Edgar Allen Poe. This time, the story is set all the way back in the 15th century (long before Poe was born).

Price plays Dr. Craven (get it?), a wizard who is in mourning for his wife Lenore. He's been grieving for more than two years, a fact that distresses his daughter. Just like in the poem, Dr. Craven is visited by a raven who is actually a wizard named Dr. Bedlo (I'm not making this up). The two work together to create a potion that will transform the raven back into a man. Bedlo, you see, was transformed by yet a third wizard (they're coming out of the woodwork!) -- Boris Karloff. But the plot thickens, because Bedlo has actually seen the ghost of the beloved Lenore at the evil wizard's castle! 

Indeed. The two magical men set out to take on the evil wizard. Estelle the daughter joins them, as does Bedlo's son Rexford (played by none other than Jack Nicholson). Bedlo ends up getting killed by one of his own spells, or so it seems. He's really hiding inside the castle. Craven ends up recovering Lenore, who is also not dead as we believed. She actually faked her own death in order to take up with the evil wizard, because the guy does have his own castle. A magic duel is really inevitable at this point.

Naturally, Bedlo ends up getting transformed into a bird again. He tries to plead with Craven at the end, who tells him (what else) "nevermore." I'm not sure how Poe would have felt about it. 


But he may have liked the most recent film adaptation, in which he actually appears as a character and not just a subject of conversation. John Cusack plays the man himself in the 2012 movie The Raven. He doesn't really resemble Poe, but it's all right because he gives the famed writer an appropriately sad, hopelessly romantic aura.

The film opens with a mysterious teaser about the last days of Poe's life before it centers on 1849 Baltimore, where the writer spent his final days. The movie does mention The Raven and it does contain Poe as a character, but most of the plot is pure fiction. It's a very engaging murder mystery, and you know I love those. Many of Poe's stories are referenced, as they become clues in the mystery, and the writer's mysterious death is "solved" at the end of the flick. It has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the poem The Raven, other than a few references and some quoted lines, but it does draw from some true facts surrounding Poe's life. The movie does reflect the darkness and mysterious suspense that surrounded Poe's tales, but the twist wasn't all that startling and the pseudo-happy ending is a little too neatly done. It's a fun murder mystery, perhaps a little too fun to do Poe real justice, but it's well put together enough to warrant watching. It'll take you almost as long as reading the entire poem.

Friday, October 19, 2012

De-Mystifying the Tower

"Maneuver through this new world of money and lies and mystery."


"The characters were dynamic and so entertaining." 

Kitters Ramblings has followed up their review of Justice with a new review of The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)! Read the spoiler-free review to get a taste of where this installment of the series will take you.

Fiction Fashion Icon: Holly Golightly

Holly Golightly first appeared in the world of fiction in 1958, but her character lived on the page in the 1940s. By the time she debuted on film, she'd aged 10 years and moved into the early sixties. But no matter where you find her, she's always one thing: incredibly stylish. 


The Little Girl in the Little Black Dress

In any era, Holly Golightly's style transcends the page. She was introduced in a novella written by Truman Capote, ostensibly based on someone he actually knew when he moved to New York as a young writer. Holly's love of style and fashion are revealed early in the book when she talks about going to Tiffany's, the famous jewelry store, and how safe she feels when surrounded by the men in their dark suits. Holly is a party girl who loves the night life, and she's usually dressed for it even at seemingly inappropriate hours of the day. The story struck a chord with readers, and Holly became a well-loved fiction heroine (or anti-heroine, depending on your point of view) quickly. But it wasn't until she was transferred to the big screen that she became a true fashion icon.


And so did Audrey Hepburn, who played Holly for the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's. The 1961 movie cemented Audrey as a true film fashion icon, and made the little black dress the must-have garment for every single woman in America. The costumers who designed the movie did a great job of re-capturing Holly's look, as told by Truman Capote's narrator in the book.

But even Audrey thought of herself as a bit of a mis-cast in the role. She was thin and willowy like Holly, but the similarities ended there. In the book, Holly has messy blonde hair and she's rather unapologetically a high-class call girl for New York society's cafe set. Capote famously wanted Marilyn Monroe in the part, but she didn't want it and the producers didn't want her for it. In that ultra-conservative time of making movies, when the famous Code was in full effect, it was extremely important to downplay Holly Golightly's sexual nature and various escapades. Hepburn, who was the epitome of classy elegance, was strongly courted for the role and personally persuaded by the director to accept the part. 


When Holly Golightly first appeared onscreen wearing her trademark dark glasses and a long, black cocktail dress, fashion history was made. In the story, Holly is known for wearing her sunglasses and stylish, thin black dresses that are perfect for late evening hours. Whenever she's feeling down, Holly goes to gaze at the glittering, ultra-expensive pieces on display at Tiffany's. She doesn't own a whole lot of real jewelry herself, but she does hope to marry a millionaire one day so she won't ever have to worry about money. 


Holly's fashion plays a big role in the story, and it became the focal point of the film. For her role in shaping the little black dress as the must-have style garment, and for showing us how to wear dark sunglasses while window-shopping for jewelry, Holly Golightly is one of the most famous and best-loved fiction fashion icons.