- Keep it straight: If you're going to multitask, keep notes and keep all your stuff separate. Don't confuse blog posts with book projects, and don't confuse book projects with each other. Use folders to keep everything organized. And when you go to write, get out all your stuff. I pull up notes, cast lists, outlines and everything I've got. This reinforces the project that you're working on and immerses you in that world. If you lose your way, all your stuff is right in front of you.
- Keep it casual: Setting deadlines is where many authors end up failing. It's very difficult to manage a bunch of tasks and maintain discipline. Give yourself an unreasonable deadline or writing goal on top of it all, and you're going to break. Go easy on yourself. It's important to maintain discipline and work hard, but it's also important to take breaks and get some rest. Be willing to loosen up on deadlines and put some tasks off until tomorrow. Otherwise, you're going to make yourself crazy.
- Keep it balanced: Why multitask? Wouldn't it be easier to complete one thing at a time and then move onto the next? For many authors, focusing on just one project alone can be too draining. A lot of emotion and thought goes into writing a book, and it's necessary to lose yourself in that world to write it correctly. Getting too deep in a single world for too long can make it difficult, nigh impossible, to create a wholly different world. Many authors multitask to bring a certain balance into their lives. If you're working on a dramatic tragedy novel, try spending some time on a more lighthearted project as well. Focusing too deeply on a single project can give you tunnel vision and lead you toward a whole host of problems. Multitasking is a good way to bring balance back.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Do you work on more than one book at a time? Blog, tweet and edit your latest creation all at once? Keep a smartphone in one hand while you get work done on the laptop with the other? Multitasking can be a great idea...but it has definitely got its limits. Too much multitasking can be the ruination of every goal you set.
Self-published authors tend to keep a lot of balls up in the air. They work full-time, promote their indie books and write in their spare time. They have family lives, and friends, and favorite shows to watch on TV. Multitasking is a natural side effect of leading a busy life and to be frank, pretty much everybody does it. Those social media breaks you take when you're in the middle of a chapter is multitasking, just like maintaining a blog and writing a novel at the same time. You do it, I do it, self-published authors can't survive without it. But if keep on juggling, eventually something's going to fall. Try not to be standing under it when it does.
Multitasking is a fine art form and, for many, a way of life. Master certain tips and tricks to keep all your balls in the air successfully.
A Cautionary Tale
Some researchers say that multitasking affects concentration, and that's probably true (after all, they've got evidence and everything). It's the author's job to learn how to focus deeply and concentrate intensely on the creative task at hand. If multitasking seems to interfere with that, stop. The truth is, sometimes it's necessary to take a quick break and to shut off that creative switch every once in a while. When you loosen up your thoughts a little, it's much easier for good ideas to appear.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
I'm behind my laptop most of the time, working (or playing around on Twitter). I usually find a way to work on it even when I'm eating dinner. And when I do put it down, I'll pick up something else. I've got a box of crafts projects just waiting for attention. I'm not idle very often...and sometimes, I have to force myself to do nothing. The importance of daydreaming just can't be neglected if you're a writer.
It's easy for an author to keep their minds busy, even if you don't have your face shoved into a laptop screen. I think about plots, imagine conversations, endlessly go through my list of stuff to do...think about all the junk I'd like to buy on Amazon, and pine for Game of Thrones (hangin' in there until March).
None of it leaves a lot of room for daydreaming, but it's important to make a point of stopping your brain every once in a while. Put down the smartphone, walk away from the TV, refuse to look at your laptop and just be still for a moment. It's in the quiet spaces that daydreams are born, and daydreaming is an important activity for any writer.
The good ideas creep in once your mind is free to daydream and wander, roam and ponder. Great ideas rush in to fill those quiet moments, when your guard is down and your mind isn't so busy. Authors need to daydream to get the creative juices flowing, and to stay open to new ideas. Fresh thoughts create new stories. So close the laptop and put your feet up on the desk.
If anyone asks why your eyes are closed, tell them you're working on the next great American novel!
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Frankly, it would be laughable for me to make an attempt to advise anyone else about time management. I've got hours of actual work to do still, and as I write this it's 12 am on a Monday night. I have to get up at 10 am by the latest to start a new day. I don't even have time for this blog post, but the post I was going to write was all about sticking with your commitments. It was so preachy, I decided to save it and edit it down for another day (I've got to remove all none-too-subtle judgments). Honestly, if I knew a thing about time management I would get more than 5 hours of sleep a night. But here's what I can do: I can tell you how not to end up like me.
Time Can't Be Managed
First things first: admit defeat. Wave the white flag, and give in. You can stress about time, you can plan, you can make lists, you can set alarms and you can create all the rules you want, but time is still going to win. It marches on. Time can't really be managed, but you can learn how to live with it peacefully -- declare a truce, if you will. It's the best you can hope for when you're a writer, because no matter what you do (or how independently wealthy you become) there's never going to be enough time for all the stories that deserve to be written.
So now that you know you're waging a losing battle, you're in the appropriate mindset. The only way to win, or at least to escape with your dignity, is to make the most out of your time.
- Get your priorities in order, or at least figure out what they are.
I'd rather be working on my newest book right now. I haven't touched it since Saturday and won't get 'round to it again for many days to come, I'm sure, but I'm doing this instead. I don't get much time, but I make a list of things I'm definitely going to do for the author aspect of my life. Writing blog posts is one of them, so here we are. What are your priorities and your must-dos?
Once you know what you have to do, you'll know what's acceptable to skip. First thing off my list when I'm in a time crunch? Going through forums, naturally. This can be put off for another day, or three.
- Say no, sometimes.
You know what takes up a lot of time? Favors and extra commitments. You don't have to beta-read, post reviews, write guest posts or even participate -- unless you said you would. Once you say yes, you're locked in (and a serious time crunch may not be far behind).
So learn how to say no. This is where I fail, because I pretty much never turn anything down. You don't want to end up exhausted like me, so just get used to saying no. Do it politely and prettily and wrap it up in great words all you want, but say it: no!
- Recognize distractions for what they are.
There are a lot of demands on your time when you're an author, and work full-time and have a life to juggle on top of all of that. When Twitter is going off and your email inbox is screaming at you and you're getting comments on your blog, it all feels very important. But is it, really? Stop taking time out of your workday to answer emails, respond to tweets, poke around on Facebook and reply to all those blog comments. All that stuff can wait, even if it feels urgent.
They're just distractions, cleverly disguised as important stuff. There's always time to catch up on your social media and to respond to the fans; they know that you've got lots of things putting demands on your time. Getting sidetracked is a great way to waste your valuable time.
- Keep everything organized sensibly, from dresser to desktop.
Make it easier on yourself by getting organized -- everywhere. Clean up your workspace, your dresser drawers, your desktop and even your inbox, if it's a mess. The more time you spend looking for that document or trying to find that favorite T-shirt, the less time you're spending on getting stuff done. This is one thing I excel at, and I'm still a total mess when it comes to time management.
Keep a set of review copies in a single folder in your computer, along with all your profile pictures, author biographies, book blurbs and other promotional items. This way, you can access your stuff to respond to emails quickly. Organize your drawers in the order that you get dressed: underwear, T-shirts, socks, accessories. Arrange stuff on your desk according to how often you use it, and keep important items handy. Find other ways to get organized, and clean up your life to squeeze more valuable time out of every day.
Good time management will keep you from falling behind, becoming overwhelmed with work and ending up exhausted...like me.
Monday, February 25, 2013
Are you willing to produce really ugly writing? Sometimes, there's just no other way. There are going to be times when putting something (anything) on the page is the most important task. The details can always come later.
The Beauty of Ugly Writing
There are moments in every writer's journey where suddenly, it's all easy. The words just somehow flow magically, appearing on the page through your fingers with absolutely no effort whatsoever. Later when you go back to read it, you're amazed.
Then, there are those other moments when it physically hurts to get words on the page. When everything you write just looks terrible, and every word is difficult. But there's beauty to be found even in ugly writing. You can always come back and do your editing later, clean up that text and add all the necessary details.
Just get down the rough bones of the story, write the stuff that's supposed to happen (no matter how ugly), and add all the descriptors later. Writers are supposed to write...right?
Sunday, February 24, 2013
If you could see behind the scenes of the blog, you'd probably be appalled at the vast number of Writing 101 posts I've started and stopped writing. I wrote several of them last week in multiple abortive attempts to add content to the blog. More than one of them was a thinly-disguised rant...because a single forum post ticked me off for a solid three days.
Zen and the Art of Stress-Free Forum Maintenance
I've been working a lot lately. I've been on the job most of the time, and when not on the job I've still got stuff to do around the house. There are only two boxes remaining, so I've made a lot of progress...but I'm not done. Two of the biggest projects still loom before me; I've got to do them both tomorrow and attend a bridal shower.
With all this weighing on my mind all week, and deadlines looming over my head, I've been getting only four to five hours of sleep a night. So I'm understandably cranky when I check my forums, which I only have time to do late at night and early in the morning.
I check them after I go through my email first thing in the morning. Early in the week, I got an email from a fellow blogger asking me to pick up one of their review responsibilities. Clearly he doesn't read the blog, or he'd know how shamefully behind I am on my own TBR pile (several authors I know could give him an earful). I was a little affronted, but I got sort of pissed when I got around to checking my forums -- where he posted, in more than one place mind you, asking for help with this same review.
I was sort of enraged by it all, and began a heated Writing 101 lesson about commitments (which may still appear in the future once I've distanced my own feelings from it a bit more). I wrote the whole thing, and had it scheduled, but thankfully second-guessed myself an hour later and changed it to draft.
I repeated this pattern several more times throughout the week, halfway committing to new Writing 101 lessons and then giving up on them entirely. Only one such post made it to the blog this week, and that got a two-day grace period and two false starts before it went live.
And I spent much of the rest of the week grousing to myself every time I went to read the forums, and responding to them more hatefully than ever before. The week was nearly out when I realized that I wasn't really mad about that guy, or even about the forums.
I was mad because I wasn't getting any time to really write. I've been behind on my newest story, and I didn't realize how angry it was making me until I nearly threw my phone over a totally benign post about country-specific terminology. So on Friday, after I completed a long to-do list, I made myself take the time to write.
Back on the Wagon
I finished chapter 4. That's the big news. My Facebook followers know that I've been wallowing in that chapter for some time now, and I'm happy to say I finally tackled it -- a little less happy to admit that I spent three hours writing two pages. Sometimes that's the way it goes. Now I'm on chapter 5, and writing from a whole new POV, so this is exciting stuff. I feel much more comfortable with this chapter.
Surely I'll just burn right through the rest of the outline and get the book completed in record time...just kidding. That definitely won't happen, but I am in a much better mood at the week's end.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Julie and Julia is one of the more interesting books on film you'll watch, because it's not based on one book. It's based on two books written by authors who were worlds apart. The movie shows both stories, though they did not occur concurrently, and somehow manages to blend both together pretty seamlessly.
Julie and Julia is based on My Life in France, an autobiography by the famous chef Julia Child. It was published in 2006 and compiled with the help of Julia's grandnephew Alex Prud'homme. He completed it after her 2004 death. In the main, it takes place from 1948 to 1954. This is when Child lived in Paris, Marseilles and Provence with her husband Paul. It's when her star as a chef rose, and she became a household name.
The book details the arrival of the Childs in Paris, and Julia's love affair with French cuisine. She began taking classes at Ecole du Cordon Bleu and learned how to master cooking. She learned how to make amazing things like souffle, gnocchi, canard a l'orange and turbot farci braise au champagne. Sounds good, right?
She was well into her 30s when she discovered her love of French cuisine, but she embraced it with unfettered devotion. Julia stubbornly pursued all the goals she set for herself, and the story is truly delightful. As most of you probably know, it ends happily. Child went on to accomplish the goals she set for herself and became one of the best-known chefs to American audiences. She was so well-known, Dan Aykroyd even spoofed her on SNL.
And she was still interesting a few decades after her cooking show went off the air. The cookbook she wrote in France during the 50s was still darned good in 2002...good enough to interest a blogger living in New York City.
Julie Powell decided that she wanted to learn how to cook -- really to cook -- and began to consider her copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child. She decided to blog about it, and gave herself a deadline for cooking her way through the entire book. Later, Powell's blog became a book in its own right, and formed half the basis for the movie that would follow.
Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen is the blog that Powell wrote, slightly reworked for print. The book was published in 2005, and later re-titled in paperback as Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.
The blog took off, and Julie developed a following. For the book, she added a backstory describing her own life and her marriage to high school sweetheart Eric. The book doesn't read like a typical memoir...it reads more like chick lit, containing lurid descriptions of Julie's day-to-day life and squalid apartment. It's hard to find the bits about cooking within it all. But the book is saved by Julie's humor, which springs up often, and her persistence to finish her goal. In that, she is very much like Julia Child indeed.
Their similar personalities are made more apparent in the film that followed, aptly named Julie and Julia.
On the big screen, Amy Adams became Julie Powell and Meryl Streep Julia Child. Streep, who stands at 5'6", was manipulated on screen to look more like a stately, 6'2" Child. Camera angles and Hollywood trickery were employed to make Streep look a little more Amazonian, like Julia.
The movie shows Julie Powell, a woman in her late 20s who is unhappy with her job and her tiny apartment. She latches onto Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1961. Hilarity ensues as Julie attempts to execute complicated recipes in her itty-bitty kitchen, sometimes breaking down into hysterics when the lobsters must be boiled alive or the bone marrow burns.
Julia's story is woven equally into the narrative. We go with her to French restaurants, and futilely pursue a cookbook of French recipes written in English. We go to culinary school, and watch as each woman realizes her true fate. Julia Child is meant to be a chef...Julie Powell is supposed to be a writer. They take different journeys in different places, in vastly different times, and doggedly attempt to succeed at all costs.
Julia's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is the thread that ties them together. Each woman is obsessed with the book, and captivated by it, in different ways. Each is creating something. Each is learning. In other words, it's a movie about three books, two writers, and a ton of French recipes. Watching it without snacks is impossible.
It's a really good movie. Both are writers of different sorts, and like most writers both face rejection and obstacles that stand in their way.
Julia Child certainly learned how to master French cooking, and thanks to her all us Americans may attempt to do the same. Julie Powell learned how to cook, and blog. Both became published, and Julie and Julia was born on film.
But like all good books on film, changes were made.
What Got Adapted?
Julie Powell seems to have ambivalent feelings about the film. She wrote an online article distancing herself from the way she was portrayed on film (by Adams), while simultaneously stating that she liked the movie very much.
Powell is right about some things. Amy Adams doesn't totally capture Julie Powell's voice because she's more sanitized on film. Powell has a knack for the colorful euphemism, and only a scant amount of this remains in the film. Her use of f-bombs is cited as the main reason that Julia Child didn't like the blog, and did not consider Powell to be a "serious" cook. Powell's pets aren't shown as often, or at all, and some "characters" from the book were dropped altogether. Julie's brother Heathcliff is not present, and her friends appear only on the fringes.
However, the movie does a good job of capturing the flavor (pun intended) of both books, and showing both heroines in a positive light. It's two stories about writers, and how can that be anything but appealing?
Friday, February 22, 2013
"Rain knows her new family is hiding something, she just doesn't know what yet."
"Pretty soon everything in her world begins to topple down like, well, a deck of cards...the unraveling is perfectly paced and skillfully executed."
Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at Lost in Books! There are some spoilers, so check it out if you've already read Justice and see if you agree with the reviewer.
Today I'm very pleased to host author and friend of the blog, Theresa M. Jones. She offers up amazing reviews on her book blog, Keepin' Up With the Joneses. Now, other bloggers will be reviewing her debut novel Power. My blog is an official stop on her book tour, so stop! Keep reading to learn more about the book and find out how to get your copy. Don't miss the amazing giveaway opportunity at the end -- you could win a signed copy of the book and a $15 Amazon gift card!
Thousands of years after the battle between the angels, when Lucifer was defeated by Michael in the Heavens, the war is still being fought on Earth by the humans who have their Power, the Angel’s Power.
Allison Stevens is a 21 year old single mother who gets thrown into the middle of this battle when Damien, the Leader of the Rising, decides to hunt her down and kill her because he fears she is the descendant prophesied to save the world.
David, a member of the Order, takes Allison under his wing in order to show her the ropes, and hopefully groom her into being the one they have been waiting for. The only problem is that they start to grow more attached than a teacher/student relationship should allow.
But that isn’t all. Damien wants to open the Seven Seals and bring about the apocalypse and it’s up to Allison to not only save herself and her family, but save the world, all while trying to keep her heart from breaking.
No problem… right?
POWER is the first book in a New Adult (Mature YA) Paranormal Romance Trilogy and is the debut novel for author Theresa M Jones.
Keep reading for an excerpt from the book...
Part of Chapter 15
I stepped outside into the fresh air. The sky was cloudless, and I could see all the stars. I walked to the pond and thought about putting my feet inside. It was summer, but we were high up in the mountains and the wind was chilly; so I decided against taking my shoes off and dipping my feet in the cold water. I snuggled my robe closer around me as I felt a small breeze. Being surrounded by massively tall cliffs, one would rarely feel a breeze out here, but when you did, boy was it cold. I sat leaning against a tree and looked out over the pond.
I didn’t hear him come up behind me, but I could sense him. I turned around as he greeted me the same as he always did, “Good morning, Allison.”
I chuckled, “I guess it is morning already.” He offered his hand and helped me stand. I took it eagerly, and went straight into his arms. He didn’t pull away. If anything, he held me closer. It reminded me of the morning when I thought he would kiss me. After that morning he had distanced himself. But over the last few days he had gotten back to normal. He had even kissed my head and my cheek on a few occasions. Tonight I wanted more, though I was a little afraid to risk it. What if he started acting all weird again?
I breathed in deeply, allowing his scent to fill my nose and my lungs. He nestled his head into the crook of my neck and I could feel the scruff from his beard scratch my cheek as he started to breathe deeply as well. I could feel his breath tickle my neck and it sent shivers down my spine. It made me pull him closer still. I could feel his muscles touching mine, and I could feel the heat emanating from him, warming my skin through my clothes.
My heart started beating faster, and I felt my face flush with anticipation. He pulled away, just enough to look me in the eyes. I stared back into his, allowing him access to my soul, hoping he could see how desperately I needed him. I didn’t hold back at all.
Before I could even react his lips were on mine. The heat that I had felt when he kissed my cheek, was like a lit match compared to the forest fire I felt now. Every inch of my body was deliciously ignited.
This kiss started very slow. Tentative. Wary. Unsure.
But as my lips parted, allowing him full access to me, things changed. He deepened the kiss. His arms pulled me closer to him, wrapped around my back, and held me firm.
He tasted like heaven on earth. My arms were all over the place. On his face, on his neck, then down to his back. I couldn’t get enough of him. I couldn’t touch him enough, or smell him enough. Or… taste him enough.
This felt right. Like the ultimate goodness. My body tried to inch closer, but it appeared we couldn’t get any closer. His chest was warm and hard against mine, and fit perfectly, as if we were two pieces to a puzzle.
About the Author...
In her spare time- as if there ever was such a thing as "spare time" - she reads and reviews books on her book blog, and writes paranormal romance novels.
POWER (The Descendent Trilogy #1) is her debut New Adult (Mature YA) Paranormal Romance novel.
Goodreads: Author Theresa Jones
And Facebook: TheresaMJones
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Any novel is made up of many different elements. There's the story itself, and the cover of course, and you can't forget about the title or the blurb. Then maybe you'll need a trailer, a whole marketing campaign, an idea for a sequel...it's a lot to do. But while you're doing all that, don't forget another important element: the log line.
The log line, also spelled logline and log-line, is a one-phrase teaser for your book. Even if you don't recognize the terminology, you've definitely seen log lines before.
A good log line is a great hook for readers, a brief taste of your writing and everything the story has in store for them. The log line can bring the entire cover design together, tempting readers to explore further. To come up with a good one, try to sum up your book in a single sentence, without giving away any sort of spoilers. Vague is okay as long as it's really interesting.
Place the log line prominently on the cover, but not obtrusively. It should work as a part of the overall design, and naturally draw the eye. Remember that it's just a teaser, a little taste, but it's also your one good shot at grabbing new readers. Keep it simple and interesting, and you'll nail it.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Lots of authors have "day jobs." This is because writing books really doesn't pay well, unless you're a prolific bestseller like Stephen King or you write a runaway hit like Stephenie Meyer. In perusing forums, a hobby that's eating away at much of my free time, I've discovered that many indie authors dream of the day when they can become full-time writers. But be careful what you wish for. It's time to find out what it's like to write full-time.
Writing All the Time
I am a full-time writer, and it's not glamorous. It's not even convenient. What's it like to write full-time? It's like having 5 different parents, or rowdy children, demanding something from you every single second. And it's a whole lot like staring at a screen for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Out of the 80-plus hours you spend writing in a given week, you're incredibly lucky it you get to spend 5 of them writing something you actually want to write.
Many full-time writers are freelancers, like myself. Many of them receive income from several different sources, and continuously seek out new freelance opportunities. I currently work regularly for three different outfits on strict deadlines, irregularly for another outfit on very tight deadlines, and two others whenever the wind blows. That means I may do writing work for up to 6 different employers during any given week, and any of them may come back with rewrites. Sometimes they might even do it on the same day -- like Friday, around 5 in the evening. Lots of times, they want what they need ASAP, and give me a 24- or 48-hour deadline.
I write, on average, 5 to 10 different pieces a day ranging from 250 to 1000 words in length. Out of those 5 to 10, I might get to choose the headline and all the content for the entire piece twice. The other three to eight times I start writing something new, I'm writing what I got told to write...and even on those two I might get to choose, there are very strict formats and requirements I must meet. Sometimes, even the words are chosen for me. My job is to put them in a reasonable sort of order. I don't always get to insert amusing anecdotes, and many times I might not be inspired to write one anyway. The tone I write in might also be chosen for me, until very little of my own native writing voice remains.
In other words, it's a job. The writer who writes full time still has a boss -- and it's quite likely that they have several. Editors are persnickety, and sometimes vague, and there will be times when you wish a reviewer would come along and tear your indie book apart before you have to rewrite this how-to article even one more time. Sometimes it's scary. A gig that seems solid might change all of a sudden, because a website got bought out or an editor got fired or a search algorithm on Google got revamped. Suddenly you're making less money, and everything is insecure. Then tax time comes, and real terror enters your life. And while you're typing away 80-something hours a week, everyone around you will actually get to have a life.
Often, you'll be lonely. You're staring at a screen all day, writing about dull subjects with words you don't even get to chose and answering to editors who may only address you as "freelance writer." You'll get the feeling that you're replaceable, and you'll get a taste of the massive competition out there every time you reply to another freelance job opportunity.
But you'll be a writer, using your words to make a living. Every once in a while, you might have the chance to revel in that. It's kind of fun when you say that you're a writer to someone who doesn't realize how really un-glamorous it all is.
Writing all the time is just great, until you've actually got to do it to keep food in your belly. Then it gets annoying, and scary...and lonely. If wrecking your eyes and answering to too many bosses is your idea of a good time, you're ready to do it.
However, know this: when you write full time, you have to make an effort to keep loving the act of writing. When it goes from hobby to job, things change...and writing can be very, very hard to love then.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
So, I'm obsessed with The Time Machine, the story by H. G. Wells. I've always been fascinated by time travel, and as a point of fact I very sincerely believe that Back to the Future, and not Star Wars, is the best movie trilogy ever created. Wouldn't it be amazing to go back in time? Or even better, to go forward? But time isn't the main reason I'm obsessed with the story, why I find reasons to bring it up all the time (and spend a ton of time getting completely blank stares in return). It's because of the way the story ends...and not even the way it ends on the page.
That's the Power of Words
In the original short story, the main character doesn't have a name and he comes to a very vague end. The reader sees him leave in his time machine, and he's pretty much never heard from again. It's not the greatest of endings (sorry, Mr. Wells), and that's why it got changed for the 1960s film adaptation.
In the film version of the story, the Traveller's name is George (after Wells himself), and he takes something with him before he leaves London for the second time. After he leaves in the machine, presumably for ever, his colleagues notice something strange in the library.
Three books are missing, only three. The time machine isn't quite like a tricked-out DeLorean -- it's got shite storage space. So George takes just three books, and goes back into the future that he found. And one of the men asks "which three books did he take?"
The other man, quite seriously, gives him a level look, and he responds "which three would you take?"
I've been thinking about that damned scene for ten years. I mean, I just can't get it out of my head. It could be that my mind is just blown from the idea of living in a world with only three books, but I've never been able to stop thinking about it.
Which three books would you take? I just can't answer the question. Three books to rebuild the world...it's a tall order. In my extensive research on the subject, I've seen every idea under the sun. A first aid book. A book about engineering (for like, literal rebuilding). A history book. The Bible.
And maybe he grabbed The Joy of Cooking, you know? The people he found in the future were eating weird stuff, and nobody wants that. Every time I think about three books I would just have to have, one fiction novel leaps immediately to mind. I understand the uses of a first aid book, sure, but who the hell wants to live in a world without fiction? Wouldn't you want to take just one amazing novel with you, and plant that seed somewhere it could sprout?
Thinking about those three books makes me crazy every single time, and I repeatedly go back to it. I've never been able to put together a reasonable list, not once. The dictionary? The complete works of Edgar Allen Poe? The history of the world? Carol Burnett's memoir? I just can't do it.
I would not be able to rebuild the world, because I would have been standing in front of those library shelves long enough to actually really need a time machine. I could never choose just three books.
I would have taken them all, or maybe waited for Doc Brown to come along in the DeLorean. Could you rebuild society with just three books? Give me your list, and maybe I'll finally be able to put an end to this sick obsession.
Monday, February 18, 2013
What's the secret to being a better writer? Read a lot. Now, you've got to figure out how to fund your book habit without going broke.
Easier Reading Isn't Always Cheaper
Ereaders like the Kindle have put hundreds of books in every reader's hands, but the easy availability of ebooks doesn't automatically equal cheaper reading. Even if you set a spending limit, buying books adds up quickly. Suppose you never spend more than $5 on a book. Read three books a week, and you're $15 in the hole before you get your next paycheck.
It starts to add up. There are ways to fund your book habit, however, and get your reading material...and no, I'm not going to tell you to go to the library.
- Swap: Visit Paperbackswap to list the books you're willing to trade, and get the books you want in return. The website connects book lovers who want to swap, and makes it easy for you to keep yourself in fresh reading material.
- Review: Start reviewing books on your blog (oh, and start a blog) and ask for review copies outright. If you advertise a review policy on your site, you will get requests. You can also look for books you might like on Goodreads and contact the authors directly about getting a review copy. Stick to indies and lesser-known authors to make it easier to get those free books. You will have to follow through, however, by writing an honest and thorough review.
- Trade among friends: Start your own trading circle among your friends and associates, and swap books to get your hands on new stories. Arrange a get together once a month and trade out books. It's kind of a fun way to visit with friends, and you may enjoy exploring their reading material.
- Kindle lending: You can trade ebooks with friends, too. Authors who have opted into the lending program allow you to send their books to your friends' Kindles. They get to keep the book for about 30 days. Start a reading circle with your friends and keep track of all your Kindle books to create your own lending library.
Find your own creative ways to fund your book habit (and despite the hidden tone of that, I'm not advocating theft!), and keep on reading. What they say is true. Reading more can make you a better writer, even if you're reading something bad. Read books in your own genre, and read other indie authors, and keep improving your craft.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
You know how they say that no matter what you write, it's all been done before? They're 100% correct. Pygmalion, you will find, is a plot line that still appears in modern story all the time...and it was written two thousand years ago.
Chances are pretty good that no matter what you want to write about, your main theme was already written into a play by the Greeks, or Shakespeare, and likely both. Such is the case with Pygmalion, which revolves around a now-classic plot. It appears as one in a series of epic poems written by Ovid back in BC. In this early version, it's about a sculptor who falls in love with his own creation.
I can relate to that. Don't all writers fall in love with certain books, certain characters, maybe even just a paragraph? In the story, the sculptor (he's the title character) takes his love to the alter of Venus, and she is transformed into flesh. It ends happily.
And it's a familiar theme. Remember Pinocchio?
Pygmalion is better-known to modern audiences in a different version, however. George Bernard Shaw turned it into a play in 1912, and he set the story in then-modern London. The story revolves around phonetics professor Henry Higgins (he's Pygmalion under an anglicized name), who makes a bet that he can turn a guttersnipe of a Cockney flower girl into someone who will pass for a duchess at a fancy party.
It's a bet that's just too thrilling to turn down, and soon the game is afoot. Higgins will teach the flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, how to speak properly -- like the finest of English ladies. The play is a joy to read, but only if you do so out loud. Eliza's broad Cockney speech is recaptured in words you have to speak to understand. Do it the right way, and you'll learn how to speak proper Cockney.
Higgins does win the bet, and in the original version of the play Eliza finds her own strength and leaves him. George Bernard Shaw said this was the statue coming to life -- Eliza would stand without Higgins, and on her own. But the story was written for the stage, and audiences wanted the happy ending. Directors began to change Shaw's ending, sending Eliza back to Higgins at the end of the story instead. Shaw spent years fighting for the integrity of the original story.
Shaw wrote his version of the story for entertainment, and it's good stuff. So when entertainment evolved, the story was adapted...though, not much.
Pygmalion became a film in 1938 with Wendy Hiller starring as Eliza Doolittle. Shaw was involved with the production, which very closely follows his play. A ball scene is added, along with a few other smaller scenes, to lengthen the story. It's a very English production with very English actors, and perhaps that's the best way to view it. This version of the story contains the play's most famous line: "Walk? Not bloody likely!"
Trust me, it was extremely controversial at the time. The stage actress who first said it was known for having said it for the rest of her days, and Wendy Hiller similarly raised eyebrows when she screeched it in the film version. But the ending was tweaked a little. Eliza leaves with Freddy, but returns to Higgins in the end...though in what capacity she's returning is left very unclear. The 1938 adaptation of Pygmalion was nominated for several awards, including Writing, Best Actor and Best Actress.
But I urge you to opt for the 1964 version instead, or at least watch both. When the story was adapted for the big screen again, it became a comedic musical...starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. My Fair Lady is one of the best musicals ever made, and my personal favorite.
The film is technically an adaptation of an adaptation. Lerner and Loewe used Shaw's play to craft their stage musical, and this is where we get the score and the film version of My Fair Lady. The role of Eliza Doolittle was played by Julie Andrews on the Broadway stage, and New York fans wanted her for the movie. But it was to be a big-budget MGM production, and the studio wasn't about to go with an untested star who, at that time, had not been in a single film. They chose Audry Hepburn instead...and Julie Andrews was drafted by Disney to star in their big musical, Mary Poppins.
What followed is Hollywood legend. Audrey Hepburn worked hard to play Eliza, mastering several different dialects and painstakingly recording each and every number (the entire 170-minute film is chock-full of them). Rex Harrison, who could not sing, played his part with so much vigor and flair it earned him an Academy Award. How good was he in the role? He played the part on Broadway, and legend has it that when Cary Grant was asked to play Professor Higgins on film he said "I won't be in the movie. I won't even go see the movie if Rex Harrison isn't in it."
My Fair Lady also earned Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, and practically swept the Academy Awards that year to earn a whopping 8. It did not receive a nod for the Best Actress category, despite Hepburn's hard work. That Oscar was won by Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. Hepburn wasn't nominated...because she was purposefully snubbed.
After Audrey Hepburn recorded all her songs for the role of Eliza, those involved in the film decided that her voice wasn't good enough. Veteran movie singer Marni Nixon was selected to re-sing all the songs but "Just You Wait," a tune where Hepburn's harsher chorus worked just fine. Nixon's voice was also dubbed into The King and I, starring Deborah Kerr, and West Side Story for Natalie Wood. The Academy Awards wasn't impressed that Audrey's singing voice wasn't a part of the film, and she was completely ignored that year in favor of Andrews.
Pygmalion was made into a film again in 1999, this time without the music, to become the teen flick She's All That. The poorly-named comedy is fairly cute, but it's a pretty big departure from the original.
What Got Adapted?
Musical numbers notwithstanding, My Fair Lady is a pretty faithful adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. The ambiguous ending closely echoes Shaws, and Rex Harrison is wonderful in his final number. A few things are expanded (like Eliza's learning scenes and the big ball), but they add onto the original story instead of changing it. If you haven't seen it, shame on you. My Fair Lady is an absolute must-watch.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Love is a big focus of February, and it commonly crops up in books. By no means is love limited to the romance genre (though this genre is dedicated to the emotion). It appears in mysteries, horror novels, suspense tales, science fiction, YA...well, we don't have all day. When characters fall in love, you've got to write it in a believable way. Otherwise, I won't feel the love...and then, what the heck is the point of having it in the book?
When characters fall in love on the page, authors are always taking a risk. Love is perhaps the hardest of all emotions to define, and it's certainly difficult to recreate in fiction. How does one describe the euphoria...and the unspeakable pain? The deep longing for togetherness...and the desperate fear of losing one's own independence?
Yeah, it's hard to write about love. I know this because I've seen so many authors get it totally wrong. Look out for common love traps in your own writing, because you want me to smile instead of gag when I get to those romantic scenes.
- At First Sight: You're a genius if you can pull it off without sounding trite. Love at first sight is one of the most common elements used in fiction, so you're running the risk of a tired plot if you're employing it. It helps if you don't base love at first sight solely on looks. Give your main character more depth than that.
- Codependent: While it may not be spelled out, codependent love is prominent in fiction. The hero or the heroine falls so deeply and irrevocably in love, they cannot even exist without their love. That sounds romantic and all, but it's actually a mental illness of sorts. Let us as authors refuse to create codependent love on the page, lest we give rise to the wholly mistaken notion that everyone in the world must be paired up to be happy. Break ups and independence are good for characters. Codependent, I'm-going-to-die-without-you love is not healthy and it certainly isn't romantic. My own personal opinions on the matter aside, it's also bad in your writing. You don't want to weaken your main character, or turn readers off of them. It is very difficult to like a character who lacks their own sense of identity and independence.
- Unrequited: It's hard to write about unrequited love because it's one of the most painful emotions to experience. Loving someone who does not love you back, and perhaps never will, is a terrible torture. It's also a great subject for fiction if you get it right. For this to work, you've got to have balance. Readers don't want to spend the entire book wallowing in sorrow, so remember to lighten things up a bit here and there. You've also got to show readers why the main character is in love with this other person. Really, you have to make us fall in love with them, too, in order to understand and really connect with the story. If I'm not feeling the pain of loving this person, I'm not really feeling the words.
- Illicit: Love that shouldn't blossom can be exciting in any story -- if it wasn't, Romeo and Juliet wouldn't still be popular 400 years after Shakespeare's death. Affairs and other types of illicit love are perhaps the most difficult to write about, because you're setting your characters up to be hated. It's hard to root for characters who are doing the wrong thing, so you've got to really show the readers different reasons to get on board with it. Your characters have to be very likable in other ways, perhaps even have some misguided and noble notions for cheating, unless you want them to be disliked.
- Returned: Sometimes, the object of your character's affections may also feel the blush of love. It's sweet when both characters are fully in love, but you've got to add tension to maintain my interest. If everything is sunshine and roses all the time, where's the plot of the book? I expect the couple to hit some bumps in the road, maybe even to have some knock-down drag-out fights. Why? Because that's what love is like. Sometimes it's the worst feeling in the world, and sometimes it's terrifyingly close to pure hatred. Make your love three-dimensional, especially when it's mutually realized between the couple in question.
- Triangle: Love triangles are the thing in YA fiction right now, but not everyone's writing them well. The triangle is a delicate balance of emotion and decision, and it's hard to keep a character tottering on the edge of that cliff. Before you write it, understand it. Why can't the character decide on a love interest? Why are two love interests into this character in the first place? What are the differences between the love interests? What are the similarities? And, most importantly, how does it end?
Writing About Love
It's never easy to write about love. It's such a big emotion, and everyone feels it differently. Sometimes, I'm 100% convinced it's not even real -- that's how bloody confusing love really is. It's just about impossible to find it, to keep it, to deal with it and to manage it, so writing about it can make you sweat blood. It does help if you have been in love before you try to write about it, and that's really the best advice I've got for the topic. So soak in the emotion of the day by falling in love with someone, and go write about it. Happy Valentine's Day!
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
"There are many more interesting characters to round out the cast, each with their own secrets and mysteries. To be honest I'm not sure our main character can trust a single one of them."
Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at A Thousand Lives. Read it to find out why the reviewer gave the book the highest possible rating!
Do you know how to interpret the rejection letters you get? Figure out what agents really mean when they say your book "isn't the right fit" or "doesn't meet our current needs," and figure out what you need to do to start getting some different answers.
Interpreting the Literary Agents
Literary agents speak in a polite code couched in metaphors...and it practically takes a degree to figure out. I myself have received many, many hundreds of rejection letters, so I can speak with some authority when I say that rejections are all very similar. You'll see the same vague phrases over and over, and it's easy for authors to make themselves crazy staring again and again at those words.
Stop staring. It's time to decipher those polite phrases, and figure out what agents actually mean when they say what they say.
- Form Rejections
Just about every author has received form rejection letters. These are generic slips of paper or emails that may be so impersonal they actually start with "Dear Author" instead of your name. It's just a few short paragraphs, or maybe just one, that says they aren't "seeking new submissions at this time" or the manuscript "doesn't sound like it would be a good fit" or perhaps it's because they just "aren't the right agent for this particular work." Some of them are smart enough to shift the blame to themselves, but truthfully that isn't helpful to you.
Because no matter how the agent tries to frame it, the impersonal form rejection tells you that one of the following is true: the agent didn't think the work is marketable, the agent already has projects that are very similar to yours, or the agent just didn't love it. They have to love it before they're willing to think about taking it on.
How to respond: The agent didn't give you much to go on, and there's a reason. First things first: re-read your entire manuscript with an editor's eye. Double-check all your mechanics, formatting, grammar and punctuation. If you didn't get the courtesy of a personal response, it could be due to errors within your submission. You should also re-write your query letter, make it more interesting, and try harder to "hook" agents with your letter. A boring query letter is very likely to get meaningless "no" response.
- The Personal Comment
If you are quite lucky, you'll get a comment tacked on at the end of a form letter, maybe even a signature signed in actual ink. If this happens, be amazed and pleased with yourself. This means the agent who's signing the letter actually did read what you sent, and they felt very strongly about you or your writing. It's hard to feel good about a comment that still tells you no, but you should. It means you're very close.
Of course, a tacked-on comment at the end of a form letter isn't going to tell you very much. In all likelihood it's still going to say something sort of generic, like "just not right for me" or "didn't love it as much as I hoped I would." But something about your writing did grab them, that is definitely true. Otherwise, they would not have bothered to scribble the note.
How to respond: Write back, and say thank you. It sounds weird to write thank-you notes upon receiving a rejection, but that's what you ought to do. Be polite, and maybe that agent will be more receptive to you when you send another query letter. Maybe they'll even respond in more detail. Probably nothing will happen, but that's the business. Once you jot off that email, go back to your manuscript. Check over the first few chapters; this is the part that sells the book. If your first two chapters too excessively detailed or too exposition-heavy, that warrants a rejection. Get to some action, quick, in order to grab onto the reader (and the agents). Perfect these chapters, tweak your query letter, and try again.
- The Detailed Letter
Very rarely, if your work is quite good and just a fraction short of being ready for publication, you will receive a detailed rejection letter. The agent may point out specifics that you need to change. The best case scenario is a "revise and resubmit" letter, in which the agent asks you to make specific changes and invites you to re-send the manuscript for their viewing. Work very hard to follow their instructions and take your time before you resubmit. You just got a do-over. That's like winning the lottery.
How to respond: In most cases, however, the detailed letter will still be a rejection -- with vague instructions that don't mean much. Review those comments carefully, and read them more than once. After that first reading, after your guts have been ripped out, put the letter away. Wait a week. Read it again, and then take a look at your work. Try to absorb the criticism you've received, and respond in kind. Tweak your query letter, and try again.
You're going to get rejected. Many of the greats have also been rejected. You should keep writing, and keep trying. But you should also fix your work, and keep revising it. The further you move up the rejection ladder, the better you're getting as a writer.