Monday, December 31, 2012
"This book was perfect...The writing lovingly holds your hand and leads you through the story."
"It was brilliant. I wish there was a better word to describe it, but there really isn't."
Ariel Avalon has reviewed Judgment (Deck of Lies #4) at her blog. There are some spoilers, so feel free to read the whole review if you've already read the first three books in the series.
If you haven't, get the boxed set edition of the Deck of Lies, and get caught up on the entire series.
People use New Year's Eve as a time to look back and reflect on mistakes they've made, to think about what they want to change...to get drunk on life (and other substances). While you're making out your resolution list this year, include a few that will help you become a better writer. Maybe 2013 is the year of your bestseller.
What should you resolve to do as a writer? Make up your list, stick to it, and your writing will improve as a result:
- Show what you mean. Don't tell me that Stacey walked downstairs to the front porch. Take me on the journey. Maybe the stairs creak when I walk down them, and the floor below is cold on my bare feet. Is it cold on the front porch, or warm and sunny? Always write descriptively in the upcoming year, and write better.
- Write real dialogue. Make your dialogue sound true to life. Read it out loud, and ask yourself if this is how people really talk.
- Read and re-read. Edit, edit, edit. Many readers shun indie authors because they think our books are poorly edited. Let's prove them wrong in the upcoming year. Read and re-read your book until it's letter-perfect.
- Research. Make your books richer with good research. Describe your settings and venues more fully by getting to know something about them first. Readers want to taste the food, see the beach, watch the play -- so do your research, and make your writing even more readable.
- Think about your characters. All of your characters should feel like real people, not just the main character. Think about what they look like and who they are, how they spend their time and what drives them. In your characters' minds, they aren't supporting cast members. Everyone is the main character in their own life story.
- Get serious. Keep yourself more organized, and treat your writing more like a business in the New Year. Remember that you are a brand, and you've got to market your brand accordingly.
Resolve to be a better writer, and get serious about your craft in 2013...after the party is over, of course.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
If you've never thought about what it's like to be a single mother during the Great Depression, you've never read Mildred Pierce. It's a dramatic novel, stuffed with plot, completely revolving around one woman who's just trying to raise her two girls. There are two film versions of the story, both featuring very well-known actresses. But if you watch them both, you're going to think you're watching two totally different stories.
Mildred Pierce, written by James M. Cain in 1941, is set in the 1930s in southern California, and it opens in the respectable suburb of Glendale. This is where Mildred lives with her husband Bert and their two daughters. The youngest is Moire, or Ray, the eldest Veda.
Bert doesn't have a job. And to add insult to injury, he's cheating on Mildred. She knows it, and one afternoon summons up the gumption to kick him to the curb. It's in this fashion that Mildred finds herself practically penniless, with no husband and two daughters to support. For any woman, this is a pretty big problem. For a woman in the 1930s during the Great Depression...well, Mildred's really in for trouble now.
The book delves deeply into her life, and into the societal norms that make up the fabric of our existence. Bert was born into a higher social station than Mildred, a somewhat affluent family, and because of this she always feels a little outclassed by him. She certainly feels outclassed by Veda, who even at a young age exhibits a great deal of snobbery and disdain toward anyone who must work for a living. Bert is too fine for work, and Veda worships him for that.
Mildred secretly begins working as a waitress in a diner after coming to the realization that she really isn't skilled for anything else, and must earn an income. When Veda ultimately discovers what Mildred's doing for work, the mother parlays her restaurant experience into a business of her own. She opens up her own little place with the help of her husband's former business partner Wally, and even meets an intriguing new love interest in the form of Monte Beragon. He's a captivating and charming ne'er-do-well who, despite all his polish, is every bit as shiftless and lazy as Bert. Eventually Mildred catches on that Monte neither loves nor respects her, and she walks out of his life.
Ray dies tragically, and Mildred is secretly glad that Veda remains alive and healthy. Alive and healthy...and rather demanding. Mildred opens up two more restaurants so she may buy Veda clothes and music lessons, and everything else that Veda needs, even down to a fancy piano for their Glendale home.
It's never enough for Veda, who continues to despise Mildred for being a working woman. Veda fakes a pregnancy in order to blackmail a wealthy family, and it's too much for Mildred to bear. She screams at Veda to leave, and to her horror Veda actually does. Mildred spends months mourning her and attempting to make contact, but Veda shuns her at every turn.
Into this empty space, Monte re-appears. Mildred falls right back into a steamy love affair with him, and ends up purchasing his family estate. It's all really an attempt to bring Veda back into her life. In just a few months, Veda Pierce has gained quite a bit of local fame as an opera singer. It works out just as Mildred had hoped. She marries Monte, and Veda moves into the sprawling estate with the pair of them.
She's paying for everything again, but this time around Monte and Veda are even more expensive. Veda needs costumes and clothing and cosmetics for her performances, and Monte needs all his fine trappings and little luxuries to stay happy. Wally, still her partner in the restaurant game, notices that the profits of the business have sharply declined. He confronts Mildred, and threatens to take over the business.
Mildred goes to the one person who can help her in these dire circumstances: Bert, who has remained a big part of her life. She confesses that she's been taking company money to pay for Veda. Together, the two manage to work themselves into a frenzy of fear that Wally will somehow find a way to get at Veda's money. She does earn money for her performances -- but Mildred has still been paying for her just the same.
At Bert's insistence, Mildred goes to the estate to talk to Veda and find a way to protect her daughter's assets. Failing to find her daughter, she seeks out Monte to elicit his help in locating Veda. It's in this fashion that Mildred finds them both...unclothed, and in bed together.
While Monte rages in the background, Veda calmly gloats. She prances about, wearing nothing more than a self-satisfied grin, and Mildred snaps at last. She launches herself at Veda and begins to strangle her, not relenting until Monte finally rips her away. Veda dramatically stumbles away, coughing and choking, and demonstrably has lost her singing voice as a result of the attack.
Because of this, she loses her contract with the local opera house. Weeks pass as Mildred locates to Reno, where she must go in order to obtain a divorce from Monte. Bert joins her there. Mildred is forced to let go of her business, and remarries Bert once her divorce is final. They move together back into the Glendale home they once shared with two daughters.
Veda visits, and Mildred learns that she faked her apparent throat injury in order to get fired from her contract. She is now free to accept a more lucrative offer in New York, where Monte is already waiting for her. Bert puts his arm around Mildred, and the two agree to say to hell with Veda and get drunk together.
It's a deeply evocative tale, filled with titillating love scenes and intense emotions. Mildred is a hard heroine to like. She's tough to the bone, self-reliant and cool-headed. But she's a mess when it comes to her relationships. She's drawn toward men who are layabouts with little respect for her, and compelled to constantly attempt to win the love of Veda, who is incapable of loving anyone but herself. Mildred proves that she wants love and acceptance even more than financial security, no matter how hard-fought that particular battle, and ends up becoming dependent upon someone else because of it. But by the same token, Mildred does finally get the love and acceptance she so craved...even if it didn't come from the person she'd hoped would give it to her.
It's a great story on paper, but the film version of Mildred Pierce took several stunningly bizarre turns before it was finally turned out as a masterpiece.
The book was adapted for the big screen in 1945, with the gorgeous Joan Crawford in the title role. At this time, the infamous movie code was very much alive and well. Because of the code, most of the events occurring at the end of the book couldn't even be filmed. No way could filmmakers show the incestuous love affair between Veda and Monty, nor could they film Joan Crawford physically striking her onscreen daughter.
And because these things couldn't be a part of the film, the film had to have a completely different ending. Mildred Pierce instead became a strange film noir, a murder mystery in which Monte died by Veda's hand. In this version of the story, he had rejected her increasing sexual advances. In a fit of rage, Veda lashes out and kills him. Mildred is compelled to take the fall for her much-beloved daughter, but at the end eventually turns her over to the authorities.
It won Joan Crawford an Oscar, but it didn't win the hearts of too many book fans. This adaptation plays out like a wholly different story. Veda is much less monstrous and Mildred is much less weak. Some characters are dropped completely, and the timeline is compressed. It strikes a completely different tone and takes viewers to a far different place than the book.
That's why it was remade by HBO in 2011. This time around, Mildred Pierce became a dazzling, high-budget miniseries encompassing hours and hours of viewing pleasure. With Kate Winslet in the title role and Evan Rachel Wood (eventually) playing Veda, this adaptation becomes a slick and beautiful retelling of the original.
It's an incredibly faithful adaptation, which is why it's so very long. The book is a thick piece, and the miniseries certainly does it justice. Much of the dialogue is taken directly from the book, and the bulk of scenes on the page are recreated in whole onscreen. It's a very good (if quite long) adaptation, and one you shouldn't miss. Watch Joan Crawford and Kate Winslet both take a turn as Mildred Pierce, and see which version of the novel you like better.
Friday, December 28, 2012
Self-published authors have to work hard to build up a fan base and to establish themselves as "real" authors in the eyes of their readers. That's why stepping outside your genre and writing something completely different can be pretty tricky and scary business. What if you go out on a limb...and lose all of your fans?
Outside the Box
After putting all that time and effort into building up a fan base, stepping outside that comfort zone with a totally different book is a brave thing to do (some might say foolish). While some of your fans may stay true, others may be turned off because they aren't fans of that particular genre. That means you've got to start all over again, and start targeting fans in your new genre to find the readers that will be interested in this new book of yours.
It's a lot of work, but it's not all that different from all the marketing you've already done. You should re-focus your efforts with every new book you release, whether it's in the same genre as your others or an altogether different one. Stepping outside your genre actually gives you a unique opportunity to gain an even bigger fan following, and reach out to readers you mightn't find otherwise.
Don't ever be afraid to make a change. One of the joys of self-publishing is that you get to do whatever you want, write whatever interests you, and let your own skills as an author develop and grow in any way you like. You don't have to answer to anyone, uphold contracts or write sequels you aren't really feeling. If you have to do some extra marketing to get more readers, that's just something that comes with the job.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Lots of people swear. Sometimes alcohol plays a part, other times it may be sports. Around my house, you're sure you hear it if any cable news station is on the television. Profanity creeps into daily life, like it or not, and that's why it also appears in books. How do you write it into yours, and should you warn your readers when you do?
Censorship and Warning Labels
In the American culture, profanity is still profane. Certain words are regulated, and surrounded by rules. You can only hear certain swear words on certain cable channels, while others are offered up regularly across all networks. You'll find profanity filters on forums and online video games, and you're sure to see at least one offended face if you cry out one of these "off-limits" words in a church. When certain words are considered to be taboo, writers have to tread very lightly indeed.
When is it okay to use profanity in your books? That depends entirely upon the genre. It's pretty much never okay to use a swear word in children's books -- even getting away with hell is pretty tough business. In YA a certain amount of swearing is tolerated and it's even to be expected, because teens often use profanity to express themselves (it's due in part to a lack of vocabulary and part to general teen rebellion). But in the YA world, you have to be careful about which swear words you use.
Swear words aren't just swear words...they exist in a hierarchy. Hell and damn are considered to be among the most mild of profanities, and they're even accepted on daytime TV. Shit is a little stickier (pun intended), and may be heard only after a certain hour on some cable stations. The "mother" of all swear words, known as "the f-word" is only featured on premium cable stations (and sometimes on Comedy Central when they're feeling frisky). The really racy words are probably best left out of YA, because they may irritate some parents. Since it's probably parents who are doing the bulk of household book-buying, it pays for authors not to offend them. However, gaining a reputation for writing a YA novel that parents hate because it's too obscene is sure to increase teen readership, so it's a bit of a win-in.
It doesn't work that way in other genres. If you're writing anything that's specifically geared toward a religious or spiritual audience, don't use profanity in any capacity. That's bound to anger some percentage of your target audience, so just avoid it entirely. It you're writing a light-hearted mystery or romance, seeing an "f-bomb" might be jarring to readers in that genre (who aren't often exposed to such in the mass-produced paperbacks of those genres). A gritty crime novel, horror novel or dramatic novel is expected to have a bit of a harder edge, so profanity may naturally come with the territory (and readers will be prepared for that). Sci-fi and fantasy works, which are often written to be read by people of all ages, don't often have a lot of profanity in them.
But at the end of the day, each author has to make their own choice when it comes to adding profanity. If it suits a certain character, you may feel that you've got to include it. Always stay true to your own instincts as an author where profanity is concerned, because you'll usually be right. If you're nervous about it, try running your book past a beta reader or two and see if they make any comments about your use of swear words. That will help you gauge how your intended audience might react.
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Monday, December 24, 2012
In celebration of the season, today I've got a special edition of Books on Film, featuring my very favorite holiday movie It's a Wonderful Life. It's a wonderful movie, but you probably don't know it's also a great short story. It's one of those rare tales that's got it all: angels, romance, Christmas, shattered dreams, scandal, money...even Jimmy Stewart.
One of the most beloved and most-watched Christmas classics of all time is based on a little-known short story called The Greatest Gift. It was written in 1943 by Phillip Van Doren Stern, revolving around a main character named George Pratt. The story opens on Pratt standing on a bridge, ready to commit suicide. He's approached by a bizarre little man in worn clothing. George tells the man that really, he wishes he had never even been born.
So the weird little man grants George Pratt his wish. The man gives George a bag he's carrying, and tells him to use it as part of a cover story that he's a door-to-door brush salesman (seriously). So George does it. He leaves the bridge and goes back home, only to learn that no one knows who the heck he is. His wife doesn't know him, and everyone he has ever known is different and strange. They are not the same people he knows, having made different choices in their lives than they did in George's reality. And tragically, his little brother, whom George saved in a pond accident, died at a young age instead.
George returns to the bridge to talk to the weird little man, who explains that life is the greatest gift of all. George asks the man to put everything back to normal. The man does, and George goes back home to see that everything's okay now.
The author of the story, Phillip Van Doren Stern, couldn't get it published. He printed 200 copies himself in booklet form, and sent them to friends as Christmas presents in 1943. He published it again in 1945, without much success.
Somehow, an RKO Pictures producer got ahold of the short story and showed it to Cary Grant, who was interested in playing the lead. RKO bought the rights and let several screenwriters kick it around before the studio sold the story to Frank Capra, one of the best storytellers film has ever known. He turned the 4,100-word story into a full-length film bordering on epic. Your life will be truly incomplete if you don't watch it at least once.
It's possible that Cary Grant could have played George Pratt, the leading man of The Greatest Gift. He could not have played George Bailey, the main character of It's a Wonderful Life. This is only one of many ways in which the original story was changed in Capra's hands.
James Stewart played George instead, and did an amazing job of it. Stewart's "everyman" quality made him perfect as George Bailey, and many actors study his performance when they film holiday-themed movies. The story doesn't open with suicide this time...it opens with God.
At the top, Wonderful Life, shows us the stars. We hear speaking, presumably it's God and His angels; discussion of a man named George Bailey. Something important is happening in George's life, and that gives a failed angel named Clarence yet another chance to earn his wings.
But he can't get the job done unless he knows a little something about this George Bailey, so we go back in time to his childhood. We see young boys playing around in the ice and snow, sledding down a hill. George's little brother, Harry, goes farther than anyone...straight into the thin ice over the pond. He falls in! George dives in and saves Harry's life, but it costs him an ear. He loses his hearing on that side permanently.
We see more of George's life unfold on film, and meet an entire cast of characters that includes little girls Violet and Mary, little boys like Sam Wainwright, and of course Ma and Pa Bailey. We even see Mr. Potter, the meanest and richest man in town, brilliantly played by Lionel Barrymore (Drew's great-uncle). As a boy, George Bailey longs to be an explorer, a traveler, anything to get himself out of Bedford Falls. That's the little town where George lives. He's got big dreams and big plans, and everyone knows he'll reach them. George is smart, ambitious and hard-working.
And when he's all grown up, about an hour into the film, he's Jimmy Stewart. Non-threateningly attractive, adorably uncertain of himself and completely sincere, Jimmy Stewart was made to be George Bailey. Donna Reed is gorgeous as grown-up Mary, and the romantic scenes between the two of them are just about as good as what you'll find anywhere.
Things don't always turn out the way we plan. They didn't turn out the way George Bailey had planned it. As it turns out, George didn't leave Bedford Falls at all. He didn't even go off to fight in the war, like so many others, because of his bum ear. George lived and worked in Bedford Falls, taking over the good old Bailey Building and Loan after his father's heart attack. It's the only reasonable option for owning a home in the town, because old man Potter is still alive and kicking and he runs the bank with an iron fist.
George hates the Bailey Building and Loan. He hates Bedford Falls. He hates his old house that's perpetually in need of fixing up. When silly old Uncle Billy makes another of his mistakes, this one a real whopper, George thinks about giving up. He goes to the bridge, in the snow, and prays.
That's when a weird, small, old man jumps into the water below. George jumps in after to pull the man out, and something strange happens. The little old man says that he jumped into the water to save George! He then grants George's wish, to never have been born.
Along with the two of them, we re-visit Bedford Falls. The town is now known as Pottersville, and it's totally not the place that George remembers at all. Old Man Gowers is all messed up, Harry is dead, Ma Bailey and Uncle Billy are in just awful shape, and Mary...Mary is a spinster who works in the library. It's almost too much to bear. It's certainly too much for George to bear.
Did I mention that all this is happening on Christmas Eve? Because of Uncle Billy's mistake, George is probably going to jail. The Bailey Building and Loan is going to close for sure, and Potter is going to win. He's going to win, and there's no telling what's going to happen to everyone else in the town once the Baileys go out of business.
But even so, George is ecstatic when the angel Clarence puts everything back to rights. The scene where Jimmy Stewart runs through Main Street, screaming "Merry Christmas" at various buildings along the way, is a cinematic event. And when he returns home...well, you're just going to have to watch it.
What Got Adapted?
The basic plot of It's a Wonderful Life is clearly based on the short story, but to turn this small tale into a big feature film Capra had to do a whole lot of expanding. He shifts the story to a third-person focus; we know that we are casual observers in this tale, seeing everything through the angel Clarence's eyes.
Capra had to name the town and the angel, and he had to invent the entire sub-plot involving the Bailey family business. Characters like Violet, Bert and Ernie were added entirely, as were many of the events of George's childhood. But if you read the story, you'll see the clear parallels. It's a short read, and perfect for the holiday season. When you're done, watch the story on film. It's a wonderful way to spend your time.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
The boxed set edition of the Deck of Lies will be released on Christmas Day! All four books in the series are included, along with extras that I've never revealed before. The Full Deck edition includes entries from Elizabeth's diary, Fallon's private blog posts, and Carsyn's journal entries. Check the blog during the Christmas holiday to see the trailer and find out how you can get the boxed set.
Deck of Lies: The Full Deck includes all family trees, plus some new ones, all the covers, and all the stuff you wanted to see and didn't (like Rain's letter to River). If you think your family has a lot of drama this holiday season, you should really check out the one in this series!
Friday, December 21, 2012
Lots of people believe the world is going to end, and lots of that can be blamed on good fiction. A good story can instill fear in an entire population. Once upon a time, back when the TV didn't exist, a nationwide panic was created over a radio program. The public literally believed that Earth had been invaded by an alien population. That is good writing. The end of the world can make for a great topic -- just ask the Mayans. We're still talking about them 2,000 years later. A good story is pretty powerful stuff.
The End of the World as They Know It
Writing about a catastrophic, world-ending event can be a heady experience. You can make it thrilling, you can make it sad, you can make it frightening and horrifying. That's the power of the pen: you can do anything you want. But some writers take even that a little too far. Because you can't just end a world out of nowhere. You've got to lead up to it, a little.
Before you can end your fictional world with some sort of catastrophic event, you have to make me care. You can't just end an entire world without making it an emotional experience. Should I be glad this world is ending? Maybe it's a horrible place filled with villains. Should I be sad? Was there a hero or heroine I just can't help but love, someone who must now die along with all the rest? Should I be frightened and horrified? Maybe your world ends in a way that could make my world end, and maybe that scares me. Let me get to know the world before it ends, and meet some of the people who live on it. Otherwise, I'm going to be yawning over your descriptive passages and rolling my eyes as lifeless body after lifeless body is consumed by lava (or whatever).
To make the end of the world matter, you've got to add the human connection. And put some structures or natural wonders on the world while you're at it. I'm going to feel the loss of a beautiful world more keenly than an ugly one.
And when you finally end the world, or write about your catastrophic event, do it spectacularly. Describe the screams, the smells, the pure horror of the event. After all, the end of the world isn't something that happens every day.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
There are so many words in the English language, it's not even possible to count them all. This is how I know there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for you to make up any more of them. As a self-published author, this is something you just cannot do, and I'll explain why.
Neologisms, Portmanteaus and Other Stuff You Should Avoid
Making up new words has become a trendy activity, oddly enough. This may be due to the fact that so many people have trouble correctly using the ones we've already got. You might have all sorts of reasons for using neologisms, new words or brand-new uses for words, in your books. You might think it's cute to create portmanteaus, words that have been shoved together to create new meanings. You might really feel the spirit of creativity. You might, in fact, be channeling the spirit of the great Lewis Carroll himself, the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and coined quite a few new words.
Edit them out of the book. Here's what you do instead: write them down. Save them, file them away. If you can't wait, debut them on Twitter or Facebook. Don't put them in your book for one reason: people are going to think it's a mistake. You're a self-published author, so you're already under a microscope. There are always going to be readers who think you aren't a "real" author, who shun you and your books. Others will search twice as hard for mistakes and stuff to hate. So don't make up your own words, and give them a reason to tell other readers that you're no good.
You can always save your words for when you hit the big time, after your trilogy blows up and becomes bigger than Fifty Shades of Grey. And once you do, and you unveil your new words, you just may become part of the lexicon. Carroll invented the word smog after he shoved together smoke and fog. Frenemy, a combination of friend and enemy, is widely-used, as are made-up words like craptacular and fantabulous. Cheeseburger is perhaps the best example of a word that was just two words shoved together, a made-up thing, that's now accepted as proper English by one and all.
As a writer, part of your job might be to make up words. But it's also your job to learn how to use the ones we've already got. Chances are extremely high that there's a word to describe exactly what you want to write, and you don't need to make anything up to get there. Instead of making your readers think that you just don't know what you're doing as a self-published author, choose all the right words and prove them wrong. You can make up words later, because there are always more books to write.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Writing a book is incredibly difficult. Writing a great book is practically impossible. When you sit down to write yours, ask and answer three questions. If you break writing down to its simplest form, you'll find it's really not so difficult after all. Master the basics, and all the rest is just polish.
Every novel, no matter how thick or complicated, revolves around three specific questions. Ask them, and make sure you know the answers, when you're writing yours.
Every novel needs at least one main character. Juggling more than one main is hard, but it can create a very rich and engaging story. Make your main character(s) interesting and identifiable, and your readers will enjoy finding out about them.
Every book has a setting. Research yours to make it real and rich on the page. Readers want details. What's the weather like? What are the buildings like? What do the rooms look like? Good descriptive writing paints a picture without taking over the entire book -- remember that no one wants to read your rambles about the way the curtains hang. Strike a good balance, and use the detail to add to the story instead of allowing it to swamp the story.
You don't have a book if you don't have a plot. Stuff needs to happen in your book. Allow the readers to get to know the characters through specific events. Readers want to be put inside the story; they don't want a story told to them. Use plot to make your book happy, funny, exciting, sad -- any emotion you want to evoke.
If you can answer three questions, you've got what you need to start writing a book. It's the idea and the imagination that matters. Mechanics will come later, after lots of editing and hard work. Once you've found your three answers, the really hard part is already over.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Some readers love them, some readers hate them. Entire books have been built around them, and fans will practically go to war to defend their particular choice. They're love triangles, and they're a bear to write. Before you do it, find out if it's even worth it to include this very dicey plot point in your story.
Three's a Crowd
She likes him, but he likes someone else. It's a classic scenario, a literary tactic so old you can even find it in Shakespeare. Or maybe even in the Bible. And because it's so old, it's going to be really hard for any writer to use successfully. Readers have already seen it all before.
That's why you have to make you love triangles fresh and interesting if you're going to include them. Shakespeare didn't stop at a three-way knot of emotion; he added more parties to his triangles. While Helena was pining for Demetrius and he was pining for Hermia, she was madly in love with Lysander and all but oblivious to Demetrius. Then, a fairy gets involved and starts making all the wrong people fall in love with each other. Doesn't that sound good? Isn't that something you'd like to read?
It was popular 400 years ago. So if you're going to add a love triangle to your plot, you're going to have to really mix it up. Stephenie Meyer made it work by creating a love triangle out of three different species of humanoids. What's your gimmick?
You can always add fuel to the love triangle fire by adding more parties. Why stop at three? Add more love interests, more confusion, and foil the couple that "should be" together time and time again to keep readers interested. If you do it well, you can build suspense without breaking their patience. It's a fine line to write, so have a care. You can make your love triangle more engaging by dramatically changing someone's social status (a very wealthy love interest suddenly loses their fortune, for example), or putting one in a life-threatening situation to test the main character's loyalties. Perhaps the main character's parents hate one of the love interests. Mix it up, change it around, and make the plot unique. It has to be different if it's going to work.
The Sticking Point
Writing a juicy love triangle that's filled with suspense can be done with a lot of hard work. In order to resolve the damn thing, you're going to need luck and a whole lot of imagination. At some point, the story has got to come to an end. A choice must be made. So who will it be? And what's going to happen to the other one?
Resolving a love triangle is incredibly difficult, and some writers will come up with truly wild and crazy ways to put a cap at the end of theirs. You can't just show the happy couple riding off into the sunset; readers are going to demand to know what happens to the one who's left behind. Does the rejected love interest find a new love? Do they decide to leave the area instead, maybe explore the world or try some new career? In some books, the spare lover might die. That's a resolution, too.
Whatever you do, find your resolution and put a decisive end to your love triangles when the time comes. There can be no loose ends where matters of the heart are concerned. At some point, the sequels have to end and the matter has to be resolved.
Monday, December 17, 2012
"Another solid novel by Jade Varden that meets up to the expectations left by its predecessor. Book Two did not disappoint."
"It's very well crafted and executed, sustaining a very tense chase, almost to the point of becoming a thriller!"
The Tower (Deck of Lies #2) has been reviewed at Verdict Book Reviews! It's a must-read for those who are trying to sort out all the suspects in the book, but only if you're up to speed on the events of Justice (Deck of Lies #1). Go check out the whole thing!
It is a truth universally accepted that a reader in possession of a good book must be in want of another good book, and as a self-published author this is the mantra you must adopt. After your book is written, and published, and promoted, there's only one thing left to do: write more. Want to sell more books? Then start writing more books.
You're Only As Good As...
What's your favorite song right this minute? What was your favorite song, one year ago on this day? Do you even remember? Most people probably won't, for one simple reason: there's always something new. There's a new singer to hear, a new food to try, a new show to watch, a new book to read. No matter how remarkable or fantastic your book, eventually it will be eclipsed by another. Just ask J. K. Rowling, and 10 million Twilight fans, how quickly the tide of the MTV movie awards can turn against you.
Unless you write a book that becomes the basis of a religion, or come up with something wildly popular like the 50 Shades trilogy, chances are darned good that your book won't be self-sustaining. You have to promote it constantly, and after just a few months it's already going to be old news anyway. The best way to keep your books, your brand, fresh is by offering more.
So, you've just got to write more books. In this business, you're only as good as your last book...and even that isn't going to last too long. People are always looking for what's next, so in order for you to keep your name out there and keep readers interested you've got to give them what's next.
- Don't take breaks from writing. When you're done with a book, great! Drink a glass of champagne, high-five your friends, pat yourself on the back, and start thinking about your next project. Get to work on it immediately. If you need time to rest and relax, give yourself a week between books. No more. It's time for what's next.
- Don't stop promoting. Continue to promote all your old books. Re-release them with new covers and new extras; make them fresh and exciting again. Do this in-between promoting whatever your next book project is.
- Don't forget to tell your fans and reviewers. Whenever you have a new book coming out, make a big deal about it. Tell all the people who have reviewed you in the past. Offer them free books, tell them you've got something else they're going to like. Do cross-promotions so your existing fans know you have something brand-new for them. "Did you like Red Heat? Then you'll love my new book, Cold Wind."
- Don't fail to use your new books to get new fans. There's no way your last book appealed to everyone you wanted to target. Try again with this new book. If you gain brand-new readers, they might go back and read some of your older books while they're at it.
If you're only as good as your last book, then make that work for you. Make it work by producing new books and changing your reputation. If your work is very high-quality, well-written and well-edited, you will gain new readers and sell more books. Writing more books will make you more legitimate as an author, and will show that you're committed to your craft. Readers like that, and they like having a lot of reading options. Give it to them, and you'll sell more books.
Friday, December 14, 2012
A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens, is arguably the most popular Christmas story of all time. It's certainly one of the most-adapted, with more feature-length and TV-film versions than you can fit in a single blog post. The story is so famous, you can say just one word and everyone will know what you're referencing. But if you've only ever seen it on film, you don't know the whole story.
In a very real way, Charles Dickens is the father of the modern Christmas. When he wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, Christmas itself was in a transitional phase. Newfangled trends, like Christmas trees, were mucking up this traditional season of church-going, quiet reflection and somber celebration.
And so Dickens wrote about a man named Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old miser who loves money more than people. It's a very short story told in only 5 chapters, or staves, and it starts on Christmas Eve. It is 7 years to the day of Jacob Marley's death, Jacob Marley who is definitely dead. This makes it quite odd indeed when Marley appears that very night to Ebenezer, who has as usual been kicking around his much-maligned clerk at the counting house.
Marley is here, a ghostly apparition, to warn Scrooge. A wicked afterlife awaits him if he continues to value money more than his fellow man. He will suffer for his lack of kindness and charity. Scrooge thinks Christmas is a "humbug." He doesn't want to give his clerk time off for the holiday, or spend time with his nephew Fred, or donate to any charities that help people. To him, the holiday is "a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!"
It's good stuff. Ebenezer is subsequently visited by three spirits who arrive in succession after Marley. First comes the ghost of Christmas past, who shows Scrooge shadows of things that have already been. The ghost of Christmas present is a garrulous gentleman who shows Scrooge the horrors that are happening outside the walls of his fancy townhouse. There is suffering in the world, even in the home of clerk Bob Cratchit. He has a very ill son, Tiny Tim, who is also the sweetest child ever born. They are a merry family, but so horrifyingly poor.
It's all fun and games until the third spirit, the ghost of Christmas yet to come, arrives. He shows Scrooge a terrible future. Tiny Tim is dead, and so is Scrooge, and things are not good.
When Ebenezer wakes on Christmas Day, he realizes he still has a chance to change those shadows. He still has a chance to celebrate Christmas! And boy, does he. The final scene of A Christmas Carol is just as fine as anything ever penned by the hand of man.
It took Dickens 6 weeks to write the most beloved, most repeated and most famous Christmas story we all know. A Christmas Carol is credited with popularizing the phrase "Merry Christmas," and "Scrooge" is often applied to anyone expressing miserly qualities. "Bah humbug" has also entered into language because of the story. Some historians even credit the book with creating customs of family gatherings, consuming food and drink, playing games and behaving generosity in association with Christmas.
The Many Movies
A Christmas Carol has been adapted for the movies for as long as movies have existed. It was a silent film in 1908 and again in 1910, but you'd have trouble finding either version anywhere.
You can still see the 1938 version, which is darned good. The only version of the story ever made by movie giant MGM, it's still shown on cable TV to this day. Reginald Own plays the leading role, along with real-life couple Gene and Kathleen Lockhart as Bob and Mrs. Cratchit. You might recognize Ann Rutherford, who later played Scarlett O'Hara's youngest sister, as the Spirit of Christmas Past.
Lionel Barrymore, one of my favorites and unquestionably one of the best character actors in history, was originally slated to play the leading role. He was well-known for playing Scrooge on the annual radio production that ran at the time, but his health wasn't strong enough. You can see Barrymore in my all-time favorite holiday movie, It's a Wonderful Life, playing the role that was pretty clearly inspired by one Ebenezer Scrooge. At the time Barrymore made the Capra flick, he did need the wheelchair.
Reginald Owen does a good job anyway, and the film is very faithful to the book. But it was made by MGM, and it is a holiday film, so some stuff had to be changed. The love interest aspect of Scrooge's life is dropped in total, as were the companions who travel with the ghost of Christmas present. The thieves who so shock Scrooge in the vision of the future are also omitted.
But it's not the best version. That was made in 1951, and it starred Alastair Sim. He was born to be Scrooge. Sim looks the part and acts the part beautifully, making this the definitive version of A Christmas Carol. Ironically, that's not the movie's name. This version was originally produced as Scrooge, though sometimes it's listed under the proper title of the book instead. Once widely-run on TV during December, now you have to really search to find this simply fantastic (and very faithful) version of the story.
This version actually expands on the story, showing more scenes with Scrooge and the ghost of Christmas past. Now, we see exactly how Scrooge and Marley forged their partnership, and learn of some unscrupulous business practices besides. The love interest's name is changed from Belle to Alice, inexplicably, and she is given very charitable qualities in this version. This better explains why she eventually leaves Scrooge later in the story. We also see Scrooge's sister Fan dying in childbirth, something that's hinted at in the book but never told in detail.
The 1951 film has been re-released and colorized, and you can find it in pretty much every available format.
More versions of the story followed in 1954, 1962, 1971, 1977 and 1982. Another definitive version of the Dickens work would not be created until 1983, when Disney got ahold of it. This animated version remains one of the best-loved, and stars the entire pantheon of classic Disney characters. Scrooge (McDuck), Mickey Mouse (as Cratchit), Jiminy Cricket, Donald Duck, Goofy and Daisy Duck all appear.
One of the best-known versions was made in 1984, with George C. Scott in the role. This is still one of the most-recognized adaptations, because it's been aired on TV every single December since its original release. Scott is a broad, be-whiskered Scrooge who truly breaks down in the climatic scene with the ghost of Christmas yet to come. The tombstone used to film the scene is still standing where it was shot at St. Chad's Church in Shrewsbury, England.
Many more versions of the story followed, including one starring Patrick Stewart of X-Men and Star Trek fame, but nothing would stand out until it was re-created by Disney in 2009. This 3D extravaganza stars Jim Carrey in the leading role. Carrey also voices all three ghosts, which probably really saved on the talent budget. Despite the slick animation, the addition of magician Robert Zemeckis, and all the might of Disney, it's not a very good film. You'd do much better to watch the 1951 version in color if you want to see some wild animation.
What Got Adapted?
You always lose a little something in the transfer from page to screen, even when a story has been transferred as often as this one. In the book, the ghost of Christmas past has a hand with no skin, a hand that never appears on film. It's also a strangely childlike creature, something often changed for film. It's also rarely mentioned that Belle was actually Fezziwig's daughter, and that she broke their engagement on Christmas. This is another reason why Scrooge hates the holiday so much. Christmas Present is a giant, and near the end of the day he has markedly aged. Christmas Yet to Come appears immediately after the giant fades away, and this specter does wear a black, hooded cloak as is so often depicted.
The book is very short, and it's a delight you shouldn't miss. Once you're done, compare it to your own favorite film version of the story, and look for the differences.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Words are the stock and trade of every writer, but some authors get too caught up in their own words. When you're writing out a scene involving any sort of character action at all -- even when it's talking -- you also have to work out the logistics. If you can't put yourself inside of every scene and picture exactly what's happening, you've got a real problem.
Get Back Inside the Box
The environment the characters live in is just as important as the characters themselves. Your characters are only extraordinary or special when compared to everything else around them. How they move is just as relevant as how they think. That's why you've got to think about your books three-dimensionally, not just the way they read on the page.
Just about every room in the world is shaped like a box. Some boxes are bigger than others, some substantially so. Some are elongated so they're more rectangular in shape. Some are enclosed with walls made of plaster, others with windows of glass. Put yourself inside a room with your characters. In that room, you're the only thing that doesn't take up space.
Envision each scene as you write them, and see yourself and your characters inside that box together. In most cases they will be standard human beings who must stand upon the ground, so remember that. Is there also furniture in this room? Maybe they're going to have to move around it to get to one side of the room or the other. Are there other people in this room? Where are they standing? What needs to happen so that the characters may complete the actions the scene requires?
You've always got to think about their actions. If you have two characters who are supposed to be talking at a party, don't have them standing and shouting across the room at each other. Don't allow me to picture it playing out this way. Explain to me where they're at in relation to the rest of the party. Are they in a corner, by a window? By the buffet table, off to the side? Maybe they stepped out onto the balcony, or into a back room.
If you can't picture it as it's happening, you've got to change the scene until you can picture it. That's the only way I'm going to be able to picture it as the reader, and I want to picture every single scene.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
"This was a great third instalment in this series. I thought that we had maybe uncovered all the lies in the last two books, but there are just more and more!"
"I enjoyed this book, and I can’t wait to find out how it all ends in book 4"
Death (Deck of Lies, #3) has been added to Sarah Elizabeth's bookshelf. Visit the blog to read the whole review -- the big spoiler is hidden!
If you've read any of my books, you know I'm a big fan of end-of-book promotions. You should absolutely be including them in your self-published works. Find out why they work, and how to add them to your books.
Beyond The End
The end of any book should leave readers with some of good feelings -- satisfaction, excitement, happiness. If you've done your job, they ought to be in a receptive mood. And they should also want a little bit more. The end of a good book is always a small disappointment, too, because you wish there was more.
So add more. Now that the book's over, you've got one more shot to connect with your readers and turn them into you fans. You've got one more shot to get them to buy another one of your books. You do that most successfully with an end-of-book promotion, also known as a teaser.
That's right: I want you to give them a taste of the next book. If you're writing a series, this is really a necessity. You want to show readers that hey, there's another book that continues the story. You also want to give them an idea of what the next book is about, and get them interested in the new story.
If you haven't written a series, you can still use this promotional idea. Include a snippet from a similar book in your collection. If I've just finished a contemporary romance you've written, why not point me toward an historical romance you've also published? Obviously I like romances. If the romance in question has a touch of mystery to it, point me toward another book of yours with a mystery element. Include an excerpt (usually the first chapter of the book) and an "About the Author" box so I'll also know where to find all your links and find more of your work.
Promoting Your Books
Take that last opportunity to promote your work, and hang onto your audience for just a few moments longer. If you let them know that you've got more to offer, you'll be much more likely to get repeat customers and continued readers.
You're probably going to publish your book before you have another new book available, and that's fine. Once your next book is available, just edit your ebook, add your end-of-book promotion, and re-publish it. All you have to do is upload a new file; very easy!
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
"It's very engaging, and from the moment I started reading Justice, I was hooked."
"The author's writing is superb. I think the story unfolded quite nicely, and that the revelations were well-thought. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more from this author."
Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at Jelly Loves Books! Go read it before you go buy your copy of the book.
As a self-published author, getting reviews has to be one of your main goals. You should spend time on it at least once a week, sending out letters and refining your review requests. Once you figure out how to get reviews, it's not going to help unless you know where to go.
Finding Book Bloggers
Save yourself time by looking not for individual book blogs but lists of book review blogs. There are so many book blogs out there, you could never find them all through individual searches. Vary your search query to get more results. Look for book blogs that review indie books, ebooks, and books in your genre.
In the meantime, use my list of book review lists. Some of these are YA-specific, and you'll run into many blogs that are old, broken or no longer about books. But, you will find some viable blogs inside the lists, and nobody ever said it wasn't going to be hard work. These are in no specific order whatsoever:
The Indie Reviewers List
The Indie Book Blog Database
The YA Book Blog directory
Book Bloggers Association
A list of indie book reviewers
Book Reviewer Yellow Pages
Ottinger's Book Review Blog List
Book reviewers on the Web
Book blogger and reviewer listing
Other Book Reviewers
Monday, December 10, 2012
by Margaret Yang
Asking someone to beta read a novel is terrifying. We ask—beg—people to take the work of our hearts and attack it with a machete. If done well, the pages come back with so much red ink on them it looks like someone mopped up after a goat sacrifice. And yet, we do it. We seek out new betas and bribe the ones we already have with coffee and chocolate. We know it’s going to hurt, but we need the lessons our beta readers will teach us. We beg for critiques because we know the only way to make a manuscript strong is to first let someone tear it apart.
As scary as receiving a critique is, it’s even scarier to give one. A beta reader never knows how a writer will take her suggestions. Will she find it helpful, or have I wasted my time? Will she understand my points, or have I made things worse? And most importantly, will she kill the messenger? I once lost a friendship over a critique. Every time I beta read, I’m afraid I will lose another one.
In a relationship so delicate and emotional, both sides need to be on their best behavior. A writer owes a beta reader her best work. It must be complete, polished, and formatted correctly. Never, never, never make your beta reader do your copy edits for you. Of course, your manuscript isn’t perfect—that’s why you’re getting a critique. But your beta knows the difference between a manuscript you’ve toiled over and sloppy work that you’ve rushed out because you couldn’t wait for feedback. Knowing you can do better, but not doing it, isn’t fair to your beta. I have returned manuscripts half-read for that reason, telling the writer that I will critique the next draft, but not this one.
A beta reader owes a writer complete honesty. But honesty comes in many flavors. A critique must be given in the gentlest of terms and only up to the edge of a writer’s vulnerability. The problem is, a beta reader never knows where that line is. I crossed that line once and it still haunts me to this day.
When I critique, I’m usually careful to point out what a writer does well along with suggestions for improvement. However, one time I was reading for an old friend. We’d been betas for each other for years and I thought we were both pros. She was in a hurry, so I rushed through the critique, pointing out the errors, skipping the flattery. After all, she knew what her strengths were, right? I didn’t need to keep spelling them out in each and every critique, did I?
Actually, I did. That writer was crushed by my negative critique, and our long history together only made it worse. She was used to me telling her all the good and bad things about her manuscripts. Pointing out only the bad must have meant it really, really stunk.
I lost a dear friend that day.
Since then, I err on the side of caution. I pour on the praise and sprinkle in the criticism. I don’t worry about being too gentle. Writers have special antennae for criticism of their work. They can zero in on the mildest comment and understand it full well.
Most of the time, my critiques are received with grace and bravery bordering on heroism. I feel closer to the friends I’ve beta read for. Like war heroes, we’ve gone through this terrifying experience together and emerged on the other side scarred, but whole. I learn from every critique I get, but I learn more—much more—from the ones I give.
About the Author
Margaret Yang is the co-author of The Caline Conspiracy and Fate's Mirror, written under the pen name M.H. Mead. Her newest novel, Taking the Highway, was just released December 1st. Margaret is a reader, writer, and parent whose true mission in life is to find the perfect slice of key lime pie.