Wednesday, December 31, 2014
There's an entire school of thought that certain substance abuse doesn't hinder your mind, it frees it. If you get drunk enough, you'll be open to all sorts of new ideas and imaginings. You may even finally get over that writer's block and figure out the ending of your book.
This a school of thought that was clearly developed by someone who was actually drunk at the time. Writing and drinking do not mix, and I don't care how many famous authors have said that they do.
It's pretty much common knowledge that Mark Twain liked to drink. Hemingway famously drank all the time. Edgar Allen Poe and F. Scott Fitzgerald both liked to his the sauce, and let's not even talk about Hunter S. Thompson. There are so many authors who were known for drinking just in America, NPR did a whole show about it. And now they're all dead.
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
If you're trying to be an indie author, the first thing you need to do is change your Twitter photo. Do not take a picture of yourself with a webcam. Do not scan your High School yearbook photo. Take a nice head shot. Otherwise, you could wind up looking at me with googly eyes while I'm trying to enjoy social media.
Michele Bachmann Eyes
Always double- and triple-check your photos before you upload them to Twitter. Have a picture of your face taken by someone who likes you. Look at yourself in the mirror and practice your author pose. If you don't do this, you could end up with Michele Bachmann face. Don't have profile that looks like this picture of Jon Stewart. He's making fun of Michele Bachmann here, but I see people on Twitter who look like this all the time.
Monday, December 29, 2014
I always thought that automatic spell check was one of the greatest inventions of modern man. I thought that until about a week ago, when I realized all at once that spell check has actually ruined me as a writer. This is a cautionary tale to warn you about how spell check may also be ruining you. Please, proceed with care.
How Do I Hate Thee
It happened just the other day. I had cut-and-pasted something from Word into Google Drive, or vice versa. It doesn't really matter. The point is, I was proofreading what I'd just written. I didn't realize that spell check hadn't yet kicked in.
Monday, December 15, 2014
I've said this several different times, and in a few different ways, but here it is: it's really, really hard to be a writer. It's hard in ways you won't think of and hard in ways you can't even imagine. It doesn't get easier. And even if you still want to do it after reading that, and I know you do, you have to ask yourself a question: can you always come last? Because when you are a writer, you probably will.
From Hero to Zero
Even if you don't use an entirely different pen name, like I do, you have to create an entire new persona when you're in author mode. You can't put all your opinions out there on social media, you have to stay polite and professional even when someone is coming at you with criticism, and above all you've got to keep writing. You have to write, and you have to research. You have to edit. And of course, you've got to promote. Then you've got to make the cover, and the trailer, and write a blurb...
In other words, you -- the real you -- is going to come last. And you're going to come last all the time.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Now available for pre-order!!
“All set for your school project?” As always, my mom was standing at the stove when I entered the kitchen the next morning. Dad was long gone on the boat, out fishing. He would finish up about the same time I finished school, leaving him free to greet me when I came home. For as long as I could remember, my mom sent me off to school in the mornings and my dad was there to make sure I got home in the afternoons. By that time, mom was usually standing out on the deck—or by the bay window, in bad weather—looking out at the ocean.
“I think so.” I slipped into my usual chair at the kitchen table, still trying to hold onto the dream I had during the night. I could only vaguely remember bits and pieces of it, but I was sure it involved Luke, and I was pretty sure we kissed in the dream. If only I could remember what it was like, maybe I wouldn’t make a fool of myself if he ever kissed me for real. After the two false starts, and the embarrassment at dinner, Luke was quick to leave at the end of the night. He mumbled “good night,” and practically ran out to his father’s truck after we finished eating. He didn’t even hold my hand again. How would he act at school today?
I suddenly became aware my mom had been talking to me when I felt the roll of paper towels hit me in the side of the head. I looked over at her. “Sorry, what?”
She laughed. “You must be thinking about that cute boy who was over here last night. I was asking you what you found to use for your school project. With all the excitement, I forgot to ask.”
I nodded. Dad had monopolized the discussion last night after my mom’s flub. As it turned out, Dad was a huge fan of Luke’s father’s artwork. Come to think of it, no wonder Luke didn’t want to kiss me after he spent most of dinner talking to my dad. “I found this old seal skin up in a trunk. Maybe it belonged to Grandpa, you think? Didn’t Dad say that he…what?” I stopped when I noticed the strange look that had come over my mom’s face.
“Can I see it?” Her voice was hoarse when she asked the question, but I barely noticed it at the time. I was busy thinking about Luke, and school, and catching the ferry on time. I’ve often wondered what might have happened if I’d acted differently, if I’d stopped long enough to ask my mom some questions. If I’d done anything but what I did do.
What I did was shrug, reach into my book bag, and unwrap the old animal skin I’d found and placed in a plastic bag to take to school. As I shook it out, I might have heard my mom make a strange sound, but I wasn’t sure. “This thing.” I held it up.
My mom reached her hand out, then quickly pulled it back. “It’s lovely. May I…may I have it?”
“I’ve got to take it to school.” I folded it and shoved it back into the plastic.
“Be careful with that,” my mom snapped. I looked up at her, surprised. “I think maybe it did belong to your grandpa. You know how Dad gets about Grandpa’s things,” she explained. “May I have it after school, then?”
“Sure. I don’t care.” I was barley paying attention. I wanted to eat my cereal quickly, get on the ferry and maybe find Luke. Maybe he would sit next to me on the ferry. Maybe we would walk into school together.
Maybe he would even hold my hand again.
“Today?” My mom pressed.
“Yeah, today. I gotta go, Mom. I don’t want to be late for school.” I grabbed half a piece of toast, scooped up my bag and kissed her on the cheek before I went out the door.
It was one of the last times I ever saw my mother again.
“You never called me back last night!” Stacey wore a wounded expression on her freckled face.
“That’s because I didn’t want to re-live it. My mom embarrassed him, and then my dad spent the whole night asking Luke about his dad,” I sighed and slid into my usual seat beside Stacey, glancing around to see if Luke was already on the boat. He wasn’t. I pulled out my phone to check the time—ten more minutes before the ferry pulled out of port.
“Oh no,” Stacey groaned. “How did your mom embarrass him?”
“Well,” I smiled. “Actually, that part wasn’t so bad. I mean, for me.”
I grinned and leaned forward, ready to relate the whole story, when I felt the air around me change. I knew instantly that Luke was on the ferry, knew that when I looked up he would be looking back at me. “He’s here,” I breathed, my eyes lifting to find him.
“I think he’s coming over here,” Stacey hissed.
He was. With a determined stride, Luke walked right up to us and jerked his head toward the bench seat opposite ours. “Morning. Mind if I sit here?”
I shook my head quickly.
“Why don’t you sit here?” Stacey jumped up like she was sitting on a pile of springs, she got to her feet so quickly. In one motion, she pulled her book bag and her purse over her shoulder. “I’ll go up front and grab Paul when he gets on, so he knows where we’re sitting,” she offered. Stacey moved around Luke a little too closely, forcing him to move nearer to the seat she wanted him to take.
“Good morning,” I smiled at Luke as he slid into the bench next to me. “Sorry about Stacey. She can be a little pushy.”
“That’s okay.” Luke’s smile never failed to take my breath away. “I’d rather sit next to you than Paul anyway.”
“Yeah, me too,” I answered.
“I never thanked you for dinner last night. So, thank you.”
Luke’s face was so close to mine, I could see the gold flecks in his brown eyes. “That’s okay,” I whispered. “I don’t think I really thanked you for helping me with our English project. So, thank you.” My mouth felt dry. Luke was giving me that look again. What if he kissed me right here, on the ferry, in front of everyone?
“Listen, Brenna. I was wondering if maybe you’d like to do something this weekend. Like maybe go to the mainland and see a movie or something?”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “I would like that. A lot.”
He smiled back at me. “So would I.”
We were sitting there, grinning at each other, when Stacey and Paul walked up.
“Well, I found him,” Stacey announced breezily as she sat down. The boat whistle sounded just after her words, halting conversation for a few moments.
Paul Smithson was a tall, skinny boy with longish black hair he wore parted down the middle. He always wore boating shoes. I’d gone to school with him since kindergarten, and Luke was the only friend I’d ever known him to have.
“Morning, Paul,” I offered.
“Morning,” he muttered, shooting a questioning look at Luke, who shrugged back.
“Did you finish your English project?” I asked him.
Paul shot me a strangely guarded look, face expressionless. “Yes.”
“Well,” Stacey quickly filled the awkward silence. “I finally finished mine at the last minute, as usual. Talk about epic. I was digging around in our attic for three hours.” She leaned back against the bench and quickly launched into her narrative, entertaining us all the way to school.
Midway through the ride, Luke smiled at me and casually wrapped his hand around mine, which I’d left sitting next to him on the bench just in case. I couldn’t concentrate on anything Stacey said for the rest of the trip.
Luke and Paul joined Stacey and I in the hallways between classes most of the day. We walked together to first period Math, from there to Art and then to Biology, where Stacey and I whispered excitedly about the development for the entire hour. I looked for them all through lunch, but didn’t see a sign of them. I didn’t see Luke again until English, which we had fifth period.
He sat near the front, of course, while Stacey and I had two seats next to each other near the back of the class. I had to walk right past him as I made my way toward the front of the room carrying my project. I felt him brush my arm as I passed, and shivered with a little spark of delight.
My voice started out a little shaky as I shook out the skin, addressing the very back of the room where Stacey maintained an encouraging smile. “I found this in a bunch of my dad’s boating stuff. It’s a seal skin that belonged to my grandfather, Sean Douglas.”
“It looks really thin for a seal skin.” The heckler was Charles Goode, who always had an opinion on everything.
“Well, that’s what it is,” I shot back. “It represents my family’s history on the water, which goes back four generations,” I quickly launched into my presentation. “My great-great-grandfather came to Maine from New York about a hundred and fifty years ago, during the Potato Famine in Ireland. He loved the sea, so he came to live on the islands. And my family’s been here, fishing, ever since. I think my grandfather got this skin when he went up to the Arctic Circle.”
“Thank you, Miss Douglas,” Mrs. Arnold sounded bored, but she always sounded that way. “You’ve written your report?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I walked toward the corner of the room where her desk was located. Mrs. Arnold spent a few moments examining the skin before she nodded. I dropped the report on her desk, folded the skin, and went back to my desk. I carelessly shoved the skin back into my book bag. I didn’t think about it again that day.
The first thing I did, most afternoons, was run up to my room to drop off my book bag. I usually had a snack with my dad in the kitchen before I worked on homework or called Stacey to dissect the day. But today, all I could think about was Luke. He sat next to me again on the ferry ride home, and just before we docked he asked if I wanted to come over for dinner. It only took me a second to say yes.
It would take much longer to figure out what I was going to wear.
“Hi, Dad! No snack today—I’m going to the Allens’ for dinner and I have to get ready!” I didn’t pause to wave as I ran through the kitchen.
“Slow down!” He laughed at me as I buzzed by.
When I got up to my room, I threw my backpack on the bed and ran for the closet. I forgot all about the conversation I’d had with my mom that morning. If only I hadn’t. If only I had remembered that she wanted the skin. If only I had asked her why she wanted it.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
It's not enough to have a great idea that's really interesting. It's not enough to plan carefully, and work out a perfectly precise outline. It's not even enough to create highly engaging characters. You've got to really sink into the story, until it comes so naturally you're practically speaking in an accent to your family members.
Drowning In It
Here's an example of what I mean: my newest book is about a girl who's always lived her life by the ocean. I have not. But in the book, I used quite a few different metaphors and phrases that are ocean-related. But I didn't have to think about using them or struggle to put them in. That's what being in the zone means, I think. When you're really deep into the story, things that fit into it just start coming to you naturally.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
The word unless is a tricky one, but sounds so nice writers like to use it anyway. I was writing something the other day with unless, and had to stop. I stared at the screen. And I realized that I didn't know if you're always supposed to use a comma with unless or not. I had to find out. Now, I'm going to tell you.
Unless You Want to be Wrong
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Some of my Twitter followers may know that I have only recently emerged from a battle, me against my newest book cover. And in addition to getting a few (invisible) scars, I learned an important lesson about doing it yourself. Even when you have to step outside of your own skill set, sometimes -- most of the time -- you have to do it yourself first. It's a lot easier to move forward from there.
The Starting Point
It all started when I had to hire someone to do my book cover. I don't have a standard person that I use, mostly because I want every cover to look really different (because they're different books). So I used the site that I like to hire an artist. And I hated the cover. Things got a whole lot worse from there.
Monday, December 8, 2014
The phrase in to and the word into are not interchangeable. In fact, they have totally different meanings and you're supposed to use them different ways. Honestly, if you use them the wrong way most people aren't going to notice. But if you are on a quest for grammar perfection, you're in the right place. Because I know what the differences between them are.
Not That Into You
Grammatically, saying he's just not that into you is not correct. It should always be in to you. But how do you know the difference?
To get technical about it, into is a preposition. When used in a sentence, it indicates movement. Something is happening when into comes into play. In and to, by contrast, are used to indicate position. It's not quite as confusing as it sounds right now.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Have you ever read a Sherlock Holmes story? I ask because of a specific technique that the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, often used. As you probably know, Sherlock Holmes always rather miraculously solved very complex mysteries. What you may not know is that Holmes generally solved these mysteries at the very beginning of the book. It's not until the end that he reveals how he noticed mud on the pant leg, or scratches on the back of so-and-so's hand, or some other incredibly important clue that you, the reader, was never made aware of in the first place.
It never failed to piss me off, and I hope you'll pardon the language. The point is, maybe I could have solved the mystery as well. But nobody ever told me about the mud on the pant leg. The author chose to be ambiguous. And I don't think I'm the only reader out there who prefers that writers be straightforward instead.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
In life, you should never go around kicking innocent little kittens (or even mean and nasty kittens). You shouldn't throw a rock to break the window, or step on that person who fell down, or stomp on a plant just because you think it shouldn't be growing there. Never do those things in your daily life. But when you're writing your books, you should be doing them all the time. You're an author. And I hereby give you permission to give in to your cruel streak.
Being cruel to the characters in your books goes way beyond simply killing them. Killing a character is difficult, yes, but it can all be done with a few paragraphs, really. But making a character suffer? That takes a certain level of sadism, a particular brand of cruelty. It takes meanness. And you've got it in you.
The question is: can you bring it to the surface and put it down on the page for the entire world to see?
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
A lot of people who like to give advice to writers say that you have to write from your own experience. You've got to write what you know, they say. Some authors even go out to experience life before they write. But I find that the best way to write is just to sit down and write. That doesn't leave a lot of time for living. Never worry. There's another way to force inspiration to come to you, and you can still pull from your own life experiences...sort of. Because the way I'm going to tell you to do it, you don't actually need to have the experiences that you're going to write about.
The Writer's Life for Me
People ask me where I get my ideas, and my answer is always the same: by asking questions. You don't need to have a bunch of life experience to write about. To be a writer, there's really only one thing you need (outside of a rudimentary command of the English language): an imagination. If you've got that, all the rest is going to take care of itself. Well, with a little help from me...naturally.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Do any serious reading on Twitter at all, and at some point (probably within 10 minutes) you're going to find some trite little piece of advice from some famous writer. Mark Twain doesn't want you to use the word "very," Salinger can't stand the semicolon, so-and-so wants you to be descriptive. And on and on and on it goes. I hate reading these little bon mots -- hate it. Every time I see some little gem of wisdom from some well-known author, I always have the same thought: easy for you to say.
Excuse Me While I Roll My Eyes
I used to read author origin stories. Meaning, I would hunt down various interviews so I could see actual quotes of how they got started as authors. I actually spent time doing this. And without fail, it made me angry every single time. That's why I have no patience for all the little bits of wisdom floating around on Twitter now. I've read all that advice, and I know a lot of the back stories. I've heard what authors had to say about writing in their own words. And you know what? I'm not them. Neither are you. That's why all that wisdom floating around is really just a bunch of white noise.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
The holiday season is a special time of year, and plenty of writers have used that to their advantage. Stories about Santa Claus, believing and the holiday spirit are always going to be popular. But few are destined to gain the sort of love and popularity enjoyed by Miracle on 34th Street, one of my all-time favorites. You've probably seen the movie, but what do you know about the book?
Valentine Davies wrote Miracle on 34th Street in 1947, as a companion novelette for the film released the same year. It was actually published by 20th Century Fox, who also made the film, but it's managed to stand on its own and has sold millions of copies. The book introduces readers to Doris Walker, a rather cold career woman who works for Macy's. She's managing personnel for the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and must fire the Santa Claus she's hired at the last minute when he turns up drunk. She hires bystander Kris to take his place, an elderly gentleman who looks the part. He's so good in the parade that Toy Department head Mr. Shellhammer suggests that Kris play the department store's in-house Santa for the duration of the holiday season. Kris accepts the job and goes to work at Macy's, on 34th Street in New York City.
Doris has a daughter, 6-year-old Susan, who has been raised in a world without fairy tales, dreams or fantasies. Doris doesn't believe in illusions; apparently she already got her fill of them with her former husband (Susan's father). Once the parade is over she goes to fetch Susan from the apartment of Fred Gailey, a lawyer who lives in the same building, and he manages to wrangle an invite to Thanksgiving dinner with Susan's help. Gailey is single, Doris is pretty, and he's hoping the dinner will only be the beginning.
The dinner goes well, but Doris's next workday does not. It seems that Kris thinks he actually is Santa Claus, like the real one, and this is cause for concern. He is taken to Macy's company psychologist Albert Sawyer, who takes an immediate dislike to Kris. Meanwhile, Kris has managed to strike up a friendship with Fred Gailey, and together the two of them plan to unthaw Doris and Susan. Gailey will work on opening Doris's icy heart, and Kris will teach Susan how to be a child with an imagination she's not afraid to use.
But Sawyer proves to be a fly in the ointment. He manages to get Kris committed to Bellevue, the famed insane asylum, without Doris's knowledge. Gailey signs on as his lawyer in order to prove that he's sane and get him out of the place.
Gailey comes up with a truly unique defense. Instead of finding a way to prove that the man who calls himself Kris Kringle is sane, he decides to prove -- in a court of law, mind you -- that Kris actually is Santa Claus. And maybe he is. It's the holiday season, and anything's possible...as Susan will learn at the end of the story.
The story beautifully comes to life on film, which makes since as the book was created to complement the movie. Natalie Wood stars as the adorable Susan, Maureen O'Hara is gorgeous as Doris, and Edmund Gwenn is Kris Kringle/Santa Claus. He was so good in the role, young Wood actually thought he was Santa, and the Academy agreed. He won an Oscar in the role.
The movie opens with Kris window-shopping on Thanksgiving, where he corrects a store clerk who has put the reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh in the wrong positions. The audience is this taken into the bustling middle of the parade, where Doris is putting out several different fires. We know at once that she's a strong, capable career gal. We find out soon that she's also a single mother who does her best to keep her daughter firmly grounded in reality.
My favorite scene occurs early in the film, when Gailey takes Susan to Macy's to visit Santa. She matter-of-factly tells him that she doesn't want anything for Christmas -- "whatever I need, my mother will buy me, if it's sensible and doesn't cost too much." But when he speaks fluent Dutch and sings a song with a little girl who believes he is Santa, even Susan is touched. I just love it. Another great moment comes later in the film, during the trial, which is filled with absolutely fabulous moments. One of the best is when Gailey calls the prosecutor's own son to the witness stand to testify that Santa does, indeed, exist -- "because my daddy told me so." I adore trial scenes, and the one in this flick is worth watching again and again.
What Got Adapted?
Very little changes from book to film in this one, for obvious reasons. As the story goes, it was originally written around 1944. Davies later adapted the work when Fox thought it would make a great screenplay, and she worked on both the novel and the script with other Fox writers.
The AFI ranks the original film in their Top Ten of classic American films, and it's part of the National Film Registry. Several remakes of the movie do exist, but the 1947 version is still the best by a country mile. Now is the season to watch it, so go and watch it! This story is a delight, both on the page and on the screen.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
I'm in a toxic relationship. It's not easy to admit or to talk about, but there it is. I have such a bad relationship that it seeps into everything I do...and almost everything I write. And as a writer who's having this toxic relationship, it's impossible for me to write about this relationship without giving readers a skewed, distorted viewpoint. But I know that I can't fix this toxic relationship...so I've found a way to make it work with my writing. If you have a personal issue or some strange quirk, you can't ignore it. You can't write around it. All you can do is embrace it...just like I have.
The Girl with the Most Cake
Those of you who follow my colleague Annalisa Crawford may be aware that I've been engaged in a battle with my toxic relationship for years. I am winning, but not without casualties. My toxic relationship is with food. We've been having a torrid love-hate relationship since...well, perhaps since I was born. Me and food just can't love each other the way we want to, and so we find ourselves constantly at odds instead.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Food and books go well together. When you're nice and full from your Thanksgiving feast, there's nothing as sweet as curling up with a good book. They seem to encourage snacking, and sometimes a book is so good it's difficult to pull one's eyes away to bother with looking at dinner. Why not cut right to it, and add food directly into your books?
Even Characters Have to Eat
Everybody eats. It's one of the universal truths that ties all human beings together. I live in Kentucky, in the United States, and passionately love books and basketball. But when it comes to food, I'm not so different from the boy working on a farm that has no electricity in Asia -- because I eat it, too. And that brings us right back to why you want to add food to your books.
Anything that makes your characters feel more real to readers is a good thing, and there's nothing like food to do that for you. Have your character eating pizza with friends or stopping at the fast food burger joint; we've all done that, so we can all relate. Use food to help me relate to your characters, because it'll work.
- Descriptive writing
Food also allows you to be really descriptive, and that's exactly what you want your writing to be. Describe the smell, the texture, the taste. Put me right there in that moment -- in that booth, eating pizza. Put me at the dinner table, cutting into the steak.
- Introduce something new
Books allow readers to go to new places, to meet new people...to try new things. Why can't one of those things be food? It can be exciting to read about a food that I've never tasted, to learn about some new dish. I read one book that actually gave me a recipe, and I was delirious about it. I went straight into the kitchen once I got to the end of the chapter, no kidding. Use food to give your readers something new and different, and it will make your writing more memorable and enjoyable.
Food and Books
Add food to your books, and your readers will eat it up (pun intended). It brings more flavor to the page, and your fans will end up being hungry for more of your writing. I could do this all day, but now I'm the one getting hungry. So think about ways to add more food to your writing while you're eating today, and have a happy Thanksgiving!
Monday, November 24, 2014
The holiday season makes people feel excited for something, anxious and happy. It's a thrilling time, and it's a time when everyone's wallet is a little more open than usual. So writing about the holidays is tempting. After all, doesn't the Hallmark channel need new movies about Christmas every single year? Obviously holiday stories are in demand. So why shouldn't you write about them?
Don't worry -- I'm going to tell you why.
My Thanksgiving with YouTube
Let me start by telling you a story, since I am a storyteller. I was planning a pretty big event about three years ago, and I was so into it I was barely sleeping at night. So a few days before Thanksgiving, I found myself cruising forums at 3am. It's not as bad as it sounds -- it was a party-planning forum. And there was a link to a YouTube video, and I'm a sucker for those.
It ends up being a video diary of this Australian guy who was getting the wrong email. Apparently, he had the same name as an American and he was on the family mailing list in lieu of the correct person. This is how he became aware of an intriguing discussion about Thanksgiving. He read about deviled eggs, and turkey, and stuffing and gravy and all sorts of different back-and-forth. It was fascinating stuff, so much so that he launched a YouTube campaign in order to find this family.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
How often do you speak your more intimate thoughts aloud to an empty room? Probably not often, but writers use this little trick all the time. And frankly, it's bad writing. Don't do this, I beg of you. Many people do not have conversations with themselves aloud, so I don't know why so many authors are making their characters do it.
Don't get me wrong. I have talked to myself. Catch me in a store during the Christmas season, and you may even see me having a rather animated talk with myself. But rarely do I ever stand in the middle of a room and pour my heart out to the walls. When I'm talking to myself, it's much more "didn't I buy that last year?" and "Well, if I knew what her size was..." It's not "I always wanted Ronnie to love me. I don't understand why he doesn't. Maybe it's because I talk to myself so much." See the difference?
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
So, I got all excited about writing this particular story. It completely fired my imagination; I found myself shirking other responsibilities just so I could research. Who does that? Anyway, I was thrilled about it so I started writing it. But then, something just didn't feel right. I tried forcing more chapters, but it just didn't sit well with me. Eventually, I had to put the book aside...and ended up writing an entire other novel instead. Then, just the other day, all the answers came to me out of nowhere. Knowing when to stop is a big part of being an indie author.
Hitting the Brakes
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Please, take a moment to look at the image on this post. What do you see when you look at it? You may think you're seeing a box. You may take it one step beyond, and call it a moving box. It's the holiday season. Maybe it's a gift box. Maybe you're morose, and you see someone's home when you look at it. But I'm here to tell you that this is not a box. This is the box that was used to move the very first kidney used in the very first transplant in the country. And I want to tell you the story of that box.
When you're a writer, you have to know how to take a regular box and turn it into a story. But a regular story of an ordinary moving box isn't enough. I have a question to ask you: what's your angle?
Monday, November 17, 2014
Remember when you were growing up and your parents or parental figures told you "just be yourself?" When you become an indie author, you've got to disregard all that advice. In a way, the author's career hinges upon the opinions of others.And that means the last thing you really want to do is be yourself. What other people think is very, very important...and it's going to be harder to face than you think.
What I Think...
What other people think of you as an author is important, and if you don't use a pen name then how you act in life becomes a part of the picture as well. I always advocate using pen names because it's the easiest way to keep your true self and your author persona separate. As an author, you can't get political or religious or express too many opinions. That might affect your readers. The exception is, of course, if you write political or religious books. But if you write ordinary genre fiction, you've got to keep it buttoned up during election season. It feels impossible. I know it's hard for me. But what other people think is always going to matter when you're an author. It matters even more when you're an indie.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Every writer has to create a world for their books, even if their books are based in a real time and place. You still have to create that in the reader's mind out of nothing. You may have a reader who doesn't know what living on he beach is like, and that means you have to be the one to tell them. No matter what sort of setting you're creating, do yourself a huge favor. Base it on an actual place that you can find on a map.
Pick a Real Place for Your Setting, Or Else
No matter where your book is taking place, you must give your readers some frame of reference. If you can make me understand that snow is frozen water and it's capable of falling from the sky in soft, icy little pieces, you've done your job as a writer. But you can never make me understand what glub is when it gets on your hands unless you can compare it something I do understand. If you tell me that glub has a slimy texture, I'll get that. You have to do the same sort of thing with your setting. You've got to ground it in something I understand.
You've got to pick a real place, somewhere, and use this as your foundation.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Starting a scene when it's already in the middle of the action can be a good way to grab a reader's attention right away. Starting a book this way can be especially arresting. But at some point it goes from being attention-getting to being just plain jarring. No one likes feeling like they've showed up 10 minutes late, and all the really good stuff has already happened. When it comes to writing a scene in progress, a light touch is the best touch.
What Did I Miss?
Setting up scenes can begin to get a little tedious, from a writer's point of view. You've got to figure out where Sally has been and which door she's using. Why is T.J. in the room and what has he been doing? How does it all start, what makes it all exciting? And on and on...and on. When you begin the scene already in the middle of the action, you've cut right past all this nonsense. But how much of that setup does a reader really need to keep themselves anchored in the scene? That's what you've got to figure out.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
The holiday season is approaching quickly, and it's time to start thinking about gift-giving. So give yourself a few handy items this year to make it easier for you to write. It's time to make out your writing gift list.
Gifts for Writers
There are several items that will make writing easier and allow you to be more productive. Give yourself the gift of getting more done in the coming year.
- iPad shower curtain: This is a real thing, and it's totally cool. The shower curtain has a waterproof sleeve in it so you can still work while you're in the shower. Since I'm constantly looking for new ways to work, I think this thing is amazing.
- Writer's Market: You don't have to get it in print, but you do have to get it if you want to traditionally publish. The Writer's Market has information about agents and publishers that will help you take the traditional path.
- Cooling pad: Save your laptop some work by getting yourself a cooling pad. This nifty device is really just a fan that keeps your laptop cool. If you write for 12 hours straight and you don't stop to eat and you run a dozen different functions at once because you never know when you'll need Google Earth (like me), this thing will be worth its weight in gold.
- Keyboard cover: This thing is absolutely worth every single penny, and it will save your laptop's life. A keyboard cover is a simple plastic deal that fits right over the keys. I lost two N keys, an Enter and both Es before I figured this out. You can find keyboard covers that are custom-made to fit on specific laptops, so match your products up and it will be smooth sailing. FYI, covers don't last for ever. If you type for 12 to 14 hours a day every day, you'll go for a year or two before it has to be replaced.
Get yourself a small gift, and get more productive over the coming year. The more you're able to publish and build your brand, the better you're going to do as an indie author.
Monday, November 10, 2014
How carefully do you watch other people? How often do you try to figure out why they said something, or did something, that you didn't understand right away? I'm not talking about obsessive behavior. I'm talking about observation, the power of paying attention. And if you want to be a better writer, you should start doing it.
My Eyes on You
If you want to be a better writer, I have some easy advice: pay attention. Observe the people and the world around you, and then take that one step further. Don't just be a better writer. Become a great one.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
There are many different narrative styles out there, and writers use them in all kinds of ways. But one of the trickiest is the stream of consciousness. If you hear thoughts inside your head all day every day, you still might not be able to pull this off. But if you want to really challenge yourself and write something different and amazing, this can be a great way to do it.
Voices in My Head
The stream of consciousness style of writing is relatively new when compared to the rest of the world of literature. It was first applied to a novelist in 1918. In short, this writing technique is an inner monologue that never stops. It's the character's every thought. Sometimes, it even lacks punctuation. If that sounds really difficult to write, it's because it is.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
No one is a born writer, contrary to what they may say. No infant comes out of the womb with story ideas. You've never heard of a writing prodigy who was completing novels at age 6. It is a learnable skill, one that you can hone and sharpen. There are ways you can become a better writer. Start using them.
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember when you learned to drive a car? You were shaky and unsure of yourself behind the wheel the first time. But when the car didn't go careening into the river and kill you right away, your confidence began to grow. You started to feel a little more comfortable. Now, you're whipping in and out of parking spots, burning rubber all over the city and fixing your hair while you set the air conditioning. We at Jade's blog advocate safe driving at all times. Please stay responsible.
The point is, the more you drove the better you got at driving. Writing is like that, too.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
In my frequent quest to discover new writing advice and various tips, I come across lots of bad ideas that just aren't going to work. Instead of laughing at them alone, I thought I'd share some of the craziest ones I've discovered recently. Just remember: don't follow this crazy advice for writers.
These Are Not My Tips
Remember, this is not my advice. These are crazy tips I've collected online that I'm convinced aren't going to work out well for anyone. I'll be explaining exactly why they won't.
Monday, November 3, 2014
Somebody asked me about being a writer the other day, and I told them what I always tell everyone: I don't recommend it. The person replied that they know it's hard, but they don't expect to make any money from their writing anyway. It's a romantic notion, isn't it, to simply write for the love of writing? But long gone are the days when the noble artist could be sponsored by a wealthy patron, some sort of Duke or maybe even a King, and simply do their writing for the love of it. You can't eat words. So maybe it's not about the money, but it's still going to be about a whole lot of hard work. When you don't even get money for doing it, you're setting yourself up for a long, hard, uphill walk.
It's Not About the Money, Money, Money
If you're not into writing for the money, that's just swell. But you're going to have to be into something for the money, unless your last name is Vanderbilt and then this doesn't apply to you. But on the off chance that it's not and you're a pretty normal person, you're going to need some money. If you're not writing to get money then you're doing something else to get money and writing just for fun. And now, things are getting dicey.
Monday, October 27, 2014
I could tell you that the parched ground was swept clean of leafy hues under the enkindled sunlight. But it would be a lot simpler if I simply said there was no visible green on the desert ground under the burning sun. Wouldn't it? Here's my point: there are at least 15 different ways to say green. But why not just use the word green?
She Fell in Love with a Thesaurus
The messages that writers get are confusing. We're told that our words need to be descriptive and compelling. That our stories must captivate and entertain, evoke emotions and leave a deep impact. It's easy to read into the advice, and assume that it's always better to choose more complicated words. Why say that Jerry laughed, when you can say he chortled? I'm actually about to tell you why, and it comes down to this basic advice: when it's green, just say green.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
"I absolutely loved the story...I definitely didn’t see the ending coming!"
"The plot twists, interesting characters and easy-to-read prose makes this novel a perfect read for a nice afternoon or evening off."
Hope's Rebellion has been reviewed at Me Love Books. Check out the full review to find out why the reviewer almost didn't read it at all (and how happy they are they did anyway, of course).
Thursday, October 23, 2014
The days of Jane Austen and Louisa Mae Alcott are over. No longer do authors sit in romantic little rooms, cut off from the rest of the world. Now, authors need to be in the public eye. Indie authors have to be public figures. They have to be exposed. And when you're exposed, you are a target. Are you really ready for that?
In the Line of Fire
I've blogged a lot about marketing and promoting books. I've written about Twitter and blogging and being on forums and all the other stuff that indie authors have to do. What I have failed to mention is the consequences of all this public exposure. I have failed to mention that you are making yourself a target.
Now, it's time to take a look at the dark side of your marketing.
Now, it's time to take a look at the dark side of your marketing.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
It is not uncommon for literary characters to make mistakes. Sometimes, they will even commit some wrong. But the worst characters can be redeemed, or gain sudden insight, with a simple literary technique: the epiphany.
Come to Jesus
The epiphany, also known as the come-to-Jesus moment, gives your character sudden clarity. They realize something they did not before, and in this fashion find redemption or otherwise advance their plot. The epiphany is used a lot in literature. It happens a lot less frequently in reality.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
I'm going to be honest here: I don't know that much about Virginia Woolf. She was a writer, and she came to a rather poor end after penning many well-loved books. For my purposes, that's not important. My recent quest to be more like Virginia Woolf isn't about her books. It's about how she wrote them.
Will the Real Jade Varden Please Stand Up
Legend says that Virginia Woolf actually wrote standing up. This is a contrast to Truman Capote, who purportedly wrote lying down. Woolf had a competitive relationship with her sister, an artist. In a stunning bit of sibling rivalry, Virginia Woolf chose to write while standing so her sister could not say writing was an easier job than being an artist. I don't have a sister, but I think the idea of standing up is absolute perfection.