Tag Archives: reader investment

The Value of Violence

Last night I dreamt I went to went to Manderly again…

Actually, I didn’t, but it’s a famous opener for a reason. It sounds a heck of a lot classier than:

Last night, I dreamed I was running around with a bunch of kids fighting a bunch of other kids on a populated island, and then we holed up in a mobile home. I had just dyed my hair a blue that was both dark and bright, with streaks of lighter aqua and was thinking about how it really brought out my eyes when the bad guys came to the window and tried to get us. So this one girl lunged at them, a look of intense and horrible concentration on her face and the girl who was hanging in the window gasped as all her teeth turned to white chicklet gum and fell out of her mouth to the floor, blood spilling everywhere. So then they were really mad and their fists turned to small, flesh-colored cinderblocks, and they were duking it out with the intense girl and Clark Kent through this little kitchen window. It was pretty freaky, what with the block fists with the holes in them on both sides, but not wholly threatening. Until the trailer started to move and the slid across the packed dirt of the lot…

My interpretation: I’ve been thinking about action scenes.

The other day I talked about Monster Hunter International which is full of action. And that’s part of why I read it, because I’m not comfortable writing the fight scenes, and I need to read more and see how it’s done.

B and I were watching the special features on the Challenge of the Super Friends the other night and one of the things that kept coming up in the commentary was how there had was a period of relative non-violence for superheroes, where they’re tackling a lot of natural disasters and stuff, and that part of the awesomeness of Challenge is how they actually had cool villains to battle. (ah ha, tip 1, make it hard). Even so, they’re still not terribly hands-on and it is what it is.

In a lot of my reading, the action hasn’t been very hands-on, unless we’re talking the bedroom action (oh. yeah.). There’s been a lot of out-witting the foe. A lot of distance. The occasional surprise elbow from a spunky heroine that allows the hero to get the drop on the villain. So much threatening from weapons that are never fired that you start to wonder if any of these guns are even loaded. But, you know, it is what it is.

I don’t object to violence in my entertainment (as long as it remains entertaining). On the contrary, violence can pull you in, invest you, raise the stakes and make you feel the story like little else can. Sometimes the mere threat is not enough. The reader has to know you’re serious. Has to feel like you can might just cross a line–even if you’re in a genre where some lines are just never going to be crossed. As a reader, I’ve found the the shock value of a good beat-down is a way to get there. Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind, is a great example of an author who just shackled me to a character with my utter devotion because he just kept on torturing the poor the guy and yet Richard would just keep getting up, finding his feet, and choosing to move on with his mission. (Of course, in subsequent books, he just pushed past my personal tolerance and I had to quit, but the first book will always rock.)

I think this is part of what’s going on with the popularity of paranormal romance. Certainly not all PNR is violent, but the fantasy aspects seem to lend permission to it, and I think we’re seeing more vivid stories and higher stakes than we were seeing in romantic suspense.

Or I’m just totally off base. I don’t know. I’m just yammering here.

Back to the Monster Hunters. MHI was most definitely hands-on, although there were also plenty of shotguns, grenades, and some anti-tank weaponry. Two things I noticed here:

1. The use of all five senses in the battle scenes. Carefully, of course, without getting in the way, but thinking about loss of hearing, the sound of screams, pain, the look and feel of spattering body fluids, the smell of battle, the dirt in the mouth,  rage, desperation… And delivering it all fearlessly as as a writer.

2. Sequences. These were rarely simple in-and-out missions with one fist fight to serve as the conflict before the prize. These battles started off with scary odds and then just kept growing. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any bleaker, something new would happen. Challenge after challenge after challenge, each one drawing you in, investing you emotionally as you turn pages to find out how the protag is ever going to get out of this and if all his friends will survive. So that by the time it’s over, you feel like you’re nearly as exhausted as the rest of the group.

So I don’t really have a conclusion. This isn’t one of those things where I feel like I know what I’m talking about. I just thought I’d throw out some observations about writing action and violence and see if anything bounces back. Got anything ideas?

Something else…

I really think that nothing helps you grow as a writer like a really good crit. The biggest thing that the indie movement has working against it is a lack of good editing. Editors are out there, but we don’t know who to go to, we’re concerned about the costs, will it be worth it, should I trust this person’s opinion of my work, etc.

I would like to have professional editing and proof-reading recommendations, but so far these have been services I’ve traded with friends since I’m lucky enough to have some BAMF indie friends. I’d love it if you would email me with your experiences using professional editing services. What you thought of the quality of the work, how long it took, how much was paid, anything about the process that a fellow indie might like to know. Email me with those stories, ask your friends to do likewise, and if I can collect enough info I’ll be able to present them in some way hopefully others can benefit from. Please specify if your editor work on your content, or proof-reading only. Please understand that I’m looking for client testimonials and will probably not include info sent by editors directly. Please ask your clients to contact me.

Thanks!

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Running At An Artificial Pace

At the top of the email it reads, “To: Susan”

These emails I get from Holly Lisle, I so often wish that I could find them and link you to them, because they’re so often very wise. And, of course they are. Holly’s been putting out great books and teaching writers for how long now?

Since I can’t show it to you and I can’t copy/paste it for you, I’ll give you the gist. Once upon a time, Holly decided, based on some extrapolation of daily page count and faulty thinking, that she would be able to write 12 books a year. An agent whom she queried with this plan shot her down, explaining that he wouldn’t rep anyone who wrote twelve books a year, because they would all be crap.

Now it is true that everyone writes a different pace, and I think that a lot of people can write more than the one or two books a year that NY will publish for you. Some people can write twelve good books a year, witness Amanda Hocking with 6 out of 12 in the Kindle top 100, last I checked.

And you know, that’s what I wanted to talk about. They’ve been talking a bunch around the indie blogs lately about what some are even calling the “Amanda Hocking Effect.” (Poor thing, I wonder what she thinks of all this.) I first heard this theory from Kait, and then the term itself a few days later from Zoe. The basic idea is that one of the ways to climb quickly and build a very excited, involved fan base is to keep feeding those fans new work. Amanda hasn’t let two months go by without a new release. She doesn’t have to worry about her fans forgetting about her, and when she comes out with something, it goes to the top of the list for those fans because they’re still reeling from the last Hocking book they loved.

So in addition to having a backlist available, feeding your readers new work without too much time lag between releases now goes into our theory about how things work.

Since that came up, a bunch of indies I know are talking about ways to do that. More short stories and novellas, the possibility of serialization. I don’t like serials. Cue Queen: I want it all, and I want it now. I don’t read many short stories. I like novels, I understand the…physics of novels, and that’s how my brain works. And yet this recent talk has made even me think about these things. I don’t know if that’s me being open-minded, or just plain wacky.

But this was all still stewing in my head when I read Holly’s email because I’m just trying to remind myself that it has to be good. I know everyone who’s thinking about doing shorts knows that. We all know that. But I needed to remind myself that it might be better to play to my strengths. There was the idea that maybe I could dash off some shorts and that would take some of the pressure off, make it easier to ask people to wait for the next novel.

And then the Gin Blossoms came in and said, Susan,

How you gonna ever find your place, runnin’ at an artificial pace?

I know, it seems odd, but people be showin’ up to tell me all kinds of stuff all the time. It’s part of why nothing gets done.

Do you know what occurred to me the other day as I read my piece on Hush Money at 6 months?

It’s only been 6 months. It seems like so much longer to me, but it’s only been 6 months. Jesus H. Washington Christ, what I have I been flogging myself for for the last few months? I’m totally new at this. I set myself an unreasonable deadline. I made a mistake. Criminy, how long am I going to make myself pay for that?

I’d guess that most trad authors get at least a year to write book 2, and probably longer than that to get it all polished up and ready to go. I dunno. It just seems like Holly was giving me a wake up call. Wake up and listen to what you friends have been trying to tell me.

The top of the email reads, “To: Susan,” and it’s like she wrote it just for me.

If you’re a writer and do not get Holly’s newsletter, please consider doing yourself that favor.

That segues pretty well into this week’s

Recommended Reading

Why I’m a Fandrew
Actually, I’m not just any fan of Andrew Mocete, I’m Fandrew #1. And if you want to see an example of why, check this out. Andrew’s writing a Love Series on his blog, about loves that have shaped him as a writer. Who gets the first spot? His wife. In a charming and heart-felt post, Andrew talks about the importance of support, how rare it is, along with some good ideas about why it’s so hard to find in My Wife: Love Series Part 1. (found because you know Fandrew #1 subscribes)

I’m a speshul snowflake too!
Ok, this is a bit of ramble, but stick with it, because it’s full of sincerity, and drizzled with beauty. It may inspire you a bit, and open up your brain a bit, as Larry Brooks so often does for me. Writers, Give the Gift of “Getting off the dime” is Larry’s answer to that every-person who casually says “Yeah, I’d like to write a book someday.” (found via subscription to the Storyfix blog)

I don’t wanna sully my art by doing what I love in any way that’s less than…
If you’re on the fence about going indie because of the stigma factor, here’s a post to think about. Another from Larry Brook’s Storyfix blog, this is a guest post by Carol Tice. (via subscription)

ROW80

I’m a bit backwards this week, and I’ll admit that ROW80 hasn’t been much on my mind. I wrote a lot on the short piece this week. In both the stories I’m working I’m now at a point where I will have to break down and write an action scene on something. Damn.

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Hush Money: 6 Months and 10,000 copies

I’m a real boy!

As I begin this post, a few days before it will go live, days before Hush Money turns six months old, I’m still looking at the number on my spreadsheet. Marveling at it. Recording the numbers from the previous day is usually one of the first things I do in the morning. Seeing how many potential readers I gained overnight is generally a pretty awesome way to start the day.

So let me tell you why I’m posting this, even though I said I wasn’t going to share numbers anymore. Let me tell you why this is a special occasion.

Deciding to self-publish isn’t easy for most people. Even for someone like me who was more or less “it’s indie or nothing” because I didn’t feel like I wanted to get involved in the traditional industry, even for someone who believes in the tremendous potential of independent publishing, etc, etc, it was hard. It was hard to get over that concern of being called a “fake author.”

Now I’m a nice person (right?) and probably,  hopefully, no one’s going to say it to my face. But they’re out there, saying it, saying it about us. And even if it’s not directed at you, you know, you still kind of carry that.

You ask yourself, “Am I going to regret this use of a manuscript that I believe in so much? Am I going to wish I would have at least tried to shop it in a traditional manner?”

So something I did was I picked a number. (You may not agree with my number. You don’t have to. It’s MY number.) They say that many books don’t earn out their advances. I looked around and figured my advance as an unknown would be $6k. I had read that with a standard royalty, authors generally earned about 64cents per copy. So… 10,000 x .64 = more than a $6,000 advance. And that’s how I picked the number of books I wanted sell by the time Hush Money was 12 months old.

That was the number of books that would make me know that I wasn’t a fake author. Because sometimes, the hardest person to convince is yourself.

Now there will be some people who will come across the post and say, ten thousand copies in six months? Why are you even bothering to mention that? Have you seen the cavalcade of stars Konrath has been parading on his blog?

Yeah, I have. And I admire those authors. I’ve loved reading their stories. They’re selling more in a month than I have in six, and I couldn’t be happier for them. They’ve earned that. Maybe when I’ve earned that, I’ll get there too. But this post, this goal, wasn’t about out-performing anyone else. This is about me, something I hoped to get for myself, and how incredible it is to not only pass that mark, but to do that in half the time I thought it would take. No one else’s success takes away from that.

(Dudes, every time I write else’s–and I do that a lot–spellcheck hates me. Is that not a word?)

So that’s where I am today, feeling like Pinocchio, Version Shrek 2, flying through the air yelling, “I’m a real boy!” and waiting for something to strike and turn me back to wood.

Meanwhile, I owe you a ROW80 update, so here it is:

My goals were to spend at least an hour a day in my world and write at least 3 scenes per week.

I’m still spending lots of time in the Talent Chronicles world. Not a problem. I’ve written a number of scenes and thousands of words.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I wasn’t writing. But I wasn’t terribly worried about that. I said that when I was ready to write, I would write, and the words would come. And that was pretty much true.

Something happened this fall as I worked, or didn’t work, on Heroes ‘Til Curfew, as I let my mind fill up with the personal problems that cropped up, and then tried to squeeze in a brand new full-time career as an indie author in on top of that. I tried too much, pushed too far, and pushed those words right out of my head.

I know that there are a lot of people out there waiting. I value all those readers (I know there should have been a paragraph above thanking all the readers and friends and stuff, but if you guys don’t know by now how grateful I am, then I just don’t know what to with you!), and I’m sorry to have to keep saying that it’s just not ready, and no, I don’t know when it will be. But I do know that since I really owned that, since I made up my mind that it’s okay for me to say that and to work on my own schedule, it has been so much easier.

My ROW80 update for this week is that I’m finally starting to feel like when I’m ready to write, the words will be there.

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#ROW80 and Thoughts on Blogging

So life here is slowly returning to what passes for normal. Last week wasn’t terribly productive as I had a lot of catching up to do in a lot of areas and needed a lot of staring dumbly at the wall time. If you have little kids and a low tolerance for chaos, you know what I’m talking about. But things are better now and this week I found myself faced with the fact that I REALLY have to actually work.

This resulted in a lot of procrastination. But since I had decided to give myself a freakin’ break all around, I was able to allow it to be productive procrastination. I think that when I decide I have to work on JUST THIS AND NOTHING ELSE BEFORE THIS, I end up with more stress and less productivity overall.

I’ve recently been spending more time on my blog. I’m always going around in circles about what I want to do with it and getting it “right,” and like you really care. But I finally came around to some ideas of things I want to cover. I do want to talk about writing and self-publishing because most of you who visit on a regular basis are interested in those things, and often seem to appreciate those posts. Even though they aren’t things that readers are into, and even though they’re not the kind of thing that would draw a reader in or get her to subscribe to the blog, I have no doubt that sharing my experiences and opinions about what works has earned me a lot more support than I can measure. So I’m going to keep up with the posts about writing and self-publishing.

I’ve been trying to blog too frequently, I think, and I just write up a post when I think about it and hit Publish. Now I’m hoping to jump in and write up that post and hit Schedule. And keep those writerly posts for Mondays. Maybe that will keep it from being so feast or faminey around here.

I do absolutely agree with Kristen Lamb–and how can you not?–that readers don’t want to read about writer stuff, and the way to attract readers is to talk more about the kinds of things that readers like in your fiction. Well, it’s easy to get caught up in that expert knowledge trap we talked about the other day. I’ve probably mentioned before that I was caught in that for a long time with regard to the Talents. There’s that bit of wisdom, and it is wise, that says you need to read a lot in the genre you want to write in so that you understand the rules and reader expectation. So I thought that to write about superheroes, I needed to become an expert on comics. Even when I put that aside, I still felt under-qualified to blog  about superheroes on a regular basis.

Just like it was hard to blog about writing before had a book out there to point at and say hey, here’s how I put this into practice. Lately I’ve come to realize that my best posts aren’t the ones where I try to be an expert, they’re the ones where I really personalize what information I have to offer, wrapping it in my own perspective, and feeling less like it’s my turn to stand in front of the class for the oral report and more like we’re all sitting around getting caffeinated and I’m the one sharing for a few minutes before the really hot guy painting the storefront across the way takes off his shirt and I lose your attention.

So in the one day a week reader-oriented (hopefully) posts, I’m talking about what I love in fiction: superheroes, heroism, and/or romance. Those are the things I tend to pay attention to when I read or watch. This may lead to me feeling like I’m reviewing some stuff, which I don’t like to get into, but I’m more trying to think of it as discussing my perspective on a particular facet of the fiction in question, and if I have to include a paragraph or two to gush or whine about the overall fic in general, well, you guys are used to OT babble, so…

We’re in ROW80, and rounds of that are planned throughout the year. So I’m also looking at two more days on the blog for updates. On Sundays, I’ll be combining my update with list of recommended online reading for the week. I don’t have time to read a whole lot of blogs, but sometimes something really stands out and you just think others should read it or might enjoy it. I keep a file on my desktop to make note of those when I read them.

Wednesdays, in case you haven’t figured this out, are for me to be even more self-indulgent than usual. A free day to include in the ROW80 update whatever happens to be on my mind, or not include anything else at all. Today the bloggy stuff is on my mind, along with the fact that our bus driver just told us she’d be coming over 45 minutes earlier starting tomorrow which is going to add more time to my work day (good) and cause less sleep, more morning stress, and take some getting used to (bad). Anyway, a me me me babble day. Witness the babble.

So back to the update: This week’s productive procrastination has allowed me to try out the schedule I had tentatively set for myself, and I now have posts for my topic days scheduled through Feb 4. I’m still spending a lot of time on writing blog posts. I posted the schedule, tinkered in my sidebar a little, gave some thought to what people are looking for when they come to the site, if they can find it, what I’m trying to present and what they see, etc, and I’m pretty satisfied with what I have right now.

Goal #1 has been to spend specific amounts of time on the work. Recently I’ve been suck and fail at that, but I didn’t change my goals because it wasn’t about scoring, it was about continuing to strive for that. This week I’ve been excessive as far as time spent working on problems in the Talent Chronicles world and in Heroes ‘Til Curfew specifically.

Goal #2 has been 3 scenes in Heroes per week. I wrote the first of those three yesterday. I also finished listing everything that was supposed to happen from here forward so that I could identify all my holes and logic problems. A loose outline that allows room to move around is important. But it is amazing to me how it can seem like a solid story and then you get to that part and it’s like–well, that doesn’t really make sense. Why would he do that? Why wouldn’t she just…

Meta-humans are fascinating, but their abilities cause all sort of dilemmas.

So I’ve made copious notes and written all my WTF? questions in pink, and hopefully I’ll be able to draft some of my buds to help me kick ideas around this week because talking things through with someone else really helps me focus, and I often lack focus even though there are no shirtless painters in my neighborhood.

Today’s ROW80 Linky.

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…Nor Do I Play One On TV

but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Today I want to talk about expert knowledge. This take on the “write what you know” trope is inspired by a recent post from Larry Brooks, whose brain you know I admire greatly. In it, he observes how the biggest name authors, the ones we all recognize, even if we never read their genre, have taken their expert knowledge from a previous career path or life experience and use that to write books packed with inside information and perspective, to create a story that no one else could have written.

As a young writer, it can be frustrating to read an author like that, to feel that you have it in you to tell that kind of a story. The writing inspires you, and you start to spin your own genre-similar tale in your head. You love the idea. It would make a great book–if only you could get the experience as a fighter pilot to fill in the gaps. Sadly, watching Top Gun a dozen times in one weekend doesn’t seem to make that happen, now you’ve got “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” stuck in your head, and you’re seriously bummed because you’re pretty sure there’s no cooler name than Maverick, but it’s already been used, so screw this whole thing.

One thing Larry says:

There’s nothing wrong with a housewife from Wisconsin setting out to write a sexy novel about a drug dealer operating out of Havana.  Research is a beautiful thing.  But the truth is, the real ex-Havana crack dealer writing the same story already has a leg up on her, and no research in the world can supplant the vicereral, minutea-bound credibility of someone who knows.

This, by the way, reminds me of a writer I know who was drawn to a particular kind of story that she hadn’t lived, and got so wound up in perfectionist research that she was letting the minutia run the story. Her thinking was much more about what would happen next according to real procedure in the real world, and not so much about telling a story and using the research to color it and fill in the blanks.

Anyways, a lot of us are writers because we love to read, and a lot of us love to read because we love the escapist fantasy of it. Because we’re not ex-FBI agents, nor did we stay at the Holiday Inn Express last night. So while Larry’s talking about these big-name authors having a leg up because they’ve been LA crime reporters, forensic techs, spies, pilots, etc., he also says:

Sure, it’s fiction, we get that.  But you have to bring it to life, and life is about truth.  And everybody has lived a truth worth telling.

This is what I believe. And you know who really inspires me in this regard?

La Nora.

That’s Nora Roberts. Now, you don’t have to be a fan, you don’t have to like her books. But you can probably bring yourself to admit that she’s done mighty fine for herself as a writer. If you go back and read Larry’s post, and you read about the big-name authors who have “lived their way in” to their type of story…I think La Nora probably smokes them all in terms of fame and earnings. (I don’t have to be right about that and don’t much care. It’s enough to say she’s at least on par for the sake of argument.)

So what’s her expert knowledge? The story goes–and I read it in The Official Nora Roberts Companion which has a lot of interesting stuff in it–that Nora started writing in 1979 when she was snowed in with her two boys and turned to writing a novel in a spiral notebook in an effort to save her sanity. The story paints a picture some of us–ahem–can relate to. It’s a picture of family, together, sometimes driving each other nuts.

The concept of family plays a huge role in her work. Whether it’s the family you were born into or the people you choose, the family themes, plots, and subplots in her works are part of what make them different from a lot of what’s out there, and part of what helps readers relate to the work, draws them in, and contributes to her popularity. There’s a very strong component in many of her works, a connection between characters that’s almost like ownership. Whether it’s a relationship between a hero and heroine, a relationship between brothers, or the relationship between a cop and the victims she wants justice for, there’s a sense that this person is mine, mine to care for, mine to protect, mine to stand with.

I think that if you look back at what Nora chooses to reveal in her origin story, the story of a harried mother of two young boys, it’s pretty obvious where at least part of that is coming from.

She has never been, to my knowledge, a spy, a pilot, an FBI agent, a cop, a cowboy, or a vampire. Part of what amazes me about Nora, and part of why she’s managed to put out well over 100 novels, is because it seems like she can write about anyone she wants. The research is there, the feel of it, but those professions–and their attendant minutia–aren’t what her stories are about. They’re about relationships, not just romantic relationships, but relationships of all kinds. They’re about family, something nearly everyone has or at least longs for, something to which everyone can relate.

So you’re just a high school student, or a retail clerk, or a server at Applebee’s, or you’re the night person on the desk at the Holiday Inn Express, so what? Something in your brain, in the way you think, makes you so different that you’re absolutely fascinating. If you weren’t fascinating, you’d never have started writing because you’d bore the crap out of yourself. And you’re human; you’ve got something that makes you just like me. That’s why I’m going to connect with what you write and have to read every book you put out.

I think that’s the magic. If you’re Grisham, you can write about all the little lawyery details we don’t know about, and that, in and of itself is interesting, especially since we get it in a gripping tale instead of having to sit through law school. If you’re not, then maybe your tales will have lawyery flavoring and a dash of artificial attorney color #5, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about something that only you bring to it out of your experience.

At least, this is what I understand about me: I can write about things I know in an academic sense, but I can write passionately about things I’ve felt my way through. And when I write with passion, it’s a whole other level.

So, expert on all things youish, what parts of your own unique journey are you using for your current work-in-progress?

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Beware Groundhog Day

Probably the thing I loved most about this movie was just getting a new term for the same ol’-same ol’ phenomenon.  My husband walks in. I say, “Hey, sweetie, how was your day?”

The movie gives him another option to choose from:

  • Grunt
  • Same shit, different day.
  • Groundhog Day

What was cool in the movie, though, was that it wasn’t ACTUALLY the same day over and over. Not for the viewer. Part of what makes it enjoyable is looking for the things that are the same, and for the things that Phil does differently and the way that changes events. So Groundhog Day, the movie: sweet, funny, entertaining.

Groundhog Day

  1. A movie in which a character must relive the same day over and over until he gets it right.
  2. A description of a day, or other experience, that feels tediously repetitive.

Movie = good, in life = blah, more often than not. But what about books?

The reason I bring this up is because lately I’ve noticed a personal intolerance for Groundhog Day.

The way a lot of books are written now is very visual and very TV/movie-like. Which I like. And in TV and movies, there are often only so many sets. So in a story, there are going to be places that are familiar to your characters and your reader, places they keep going back to because they have to (like school), or because they’re comfortable there (like a favorite coffee shop). Some familiar places that come to mind would the Sunnydale High library, Roswell’s Crashdown Cafe, Keith Mars’ PI office, Clark’s loft in the barn.

Having these kinds of familiar places in books is good, partly because it provides a kind of shorthand for the reader. We once we’re into the story, we don’t have to keep describing places as much because the reader already knows where we are, what it looks like, and how it relates to the life of the character. We can all concentrate on what’s happening.

But I think I get fouled up when there’s too much sameness. When there’s a combination of same place and similar sequence of events that feels like a Groundhog Day. When I feel the characters and I are experiencing a similar set of events, a change affects a different outcome to the scene, but the scene itself doesn’t give me enough that’s unique to make me feel the gift of having read it. (I’m big on gifts to the reader. Don’t get me started because I have to out this morning and there’s a towel on my head.)

I’m lazy. Even in my head. If you take me from one location to another, I like there to be a reason. Because, yes, people meander and take drives and go to coffee shops for no reason (even though they invariably stink like coffee). But characters aren’t really people. That’s why we don’t need to be in on their brushing and flossing habits either, unless it has something to do with the DNA trail or there’s a zombie behind the shower curtain.

So if we have to go into school again because that’s the time of day this scene takes place, that’s cool. I get the necessity of that. But I don’t need to go through the whole approach to the school, the bell rings, visit my locker, get a dirty look from the same person in the same place as yesterday. Too many same place, same sequence things feel like tedium, rather than a gift. Start where the new stuff happens. If there was something important in that sequence for me to see or experience, it’s important to find a way to make that new for me.

This is on my mind because I’ve complained about it a few times recently, and I’ve got a Groundhog Day twin-set of scenes in Heroes that I know will have to be combined or in some way fixed. It’s such an easy thing to fall into when you write because you know it’s different this time, and sometimes don’t realize–it’s really not different enough.

So what about you, readers? Is this all in my nit-picky head, or do you experience Groundhog Day when you read too?

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Filed under tips, writing

Why the Talents Have Potty Mouths

Now, obviously, the simplest answer to that is: because I do. As you know, I’m back from a weekend up home, having seen some peeps I went to school with, and have been talking to people who use “f**kin’…” the way other people use “uh…”. This is the way we talked, from middle school on, much more gratuitously foul than the language that went into Hush Money.

Now, this isn’t confined to the place or people of my childhood. When I was a military wife, it was the same thing–only taller. And you’ll notice that while the girl Talents also cuss, it’s more often a matter of emphasis, while the boys tend to be more conversational about it.

Now, this post comes out of some of the reviews I’ve had that give me a bit of a wrist-slap and a 1-star demerit for the language. I want to say, up front, that these demerits are COMPLETELY VALID. One of these days, maybe I’ll write a post about reviews and the disconnect between writers and readers in that regard, but the short version is that writers (as I’ve read them around the ‘net) tend to think readers should be evaluating their book on some kind of objective criteria, while readers tend to rate a book based on how it affected them personally. So if my cussing kids diminished your enjoyment of the story, and assuming that a rating reflects a reader’s enjoyment of the story, then what do I expect them to do, lie? No. That would be dumb. So there you are.

Anyway, on with the behind-the-scenes stuff.

When I started to write Hush Money, I really put myself back in that time.  When I felt my way into these characters, the language just came out. Right away it gave me pause. I hadn’t really set out to write YA. When I started the book, I actually didn’t know that writing about teens would automatically make the book YA. I found this out soon after beginning the book, and I was very concerned. I’ve read YA that I consider far worse than mine in terms of adult content, but not a lot of it. Kait told me, “Don’t worry about it. Just get through the first draft and edit later.”

And, of course, that’s always excellent advice.

So why didn’t I tone down the language in the edit? I’m fairly good with words. I probably could have taken all those problem elements and re-worked them into something that still carried some strong emotion, without the actual cuss-words, right? It’s not like censoring a movie for TV and having Johnny say, “No, flip you, Dad!”

I kept the language because it’s not just words or emotion. For kids, forbidden language is part of posturing. And, as some of you may recall, posturing is very important in the wild. For those of you who went to schools where the threat of violence seemed pretty constant, maybe you’ve had that feeling that you needed to have a facade that was a little harsher and a little less vulnerable than who you really were. And maybe that’s not something all readers relate to. But I do.

The Talents live in that kind of fear state, under a constant threat, and they build walls. When I went to do the edits, I couldn’t see reworking the language as anything but removing bricks from those walls and weakening my characterization overall.

I’m not defending it like I want to change anyone’s mind. If a reader doesn’t see that, it’s probably because they either don’t relate to those feelings, or because they have personal values which override them. No book can be all things to all people, and while some people enjoyed the style of the book and have said the characters seemed very real to them, in part because of the language, others didn’t like that. I totally get that.

The point of this post was more just that it’s a thing I’ve struggled with, and I thought maybe you’d be interested in a little insight into my world.

I’m not defending it like I want to change your mind or anything. It’s more that you had mentioned being able to talk to authors about the books, and I thought you might be interested in how that particular element developed for me and why it remains.

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Filed under author blog, characters, Hush Money, ideas, insecurities, Talent Chronicles, writing

Konrath’s Cross-Pollination: What do you think?

This post is eventually going to be about character cameos, guest-appearances, and working with other authors on the same book. It’s inspired by this post on Joe Konrath’s blog. Readers, I would love to hear what you think of these ideas.

I’ve talked a lot about Kindle rank lately and one thing I think about often is that it’s going to be harder and harder to break into those higher numbers as more authors/publishers seriously enter the ebook market. (Seriously as in stop insulting us with higher-prices for digital than paper, $10+ ebooks, etc.) As we continue to analyze what works and more motivated people do what they need to do to move up those ranks more quickly.

And, as Joe Konrath keeps hogging up all the slots and filling more…

Did you read that post? Does it make you grind your teeth how you’re pushing for a few hundred measly words a day, and he’s at a point, reached through a combination of talent, drive, experience, and discipline, at which he makes it look like child’s play.

Yes, I greatly esteem him. And not in an Elinor Dashwood way, though I’ll admit that past posts of his have induced Misery-inspired thoughts from time to time.

But beyond being boggled by the output, and by the amount of different stuff he must be able to hold in his brain at any given time, the massive amounts of creativity, I really enjoyed that post because the concept of working with other authors to cross-promote is one that has been very attractive to me.

Besides talking about his own characters crossing into different series, he also talks about working with other authors, having his characters appear in their series, and vice versa, writing stories together, etc.

Since Kait Nolan and I talk every day, work so closely together, and have complimentary specialties when it comes to writing fiction, we’ve often said that we should write something together. But it never happens. And there are good reasons for that. She has multiple jobs and not enough time to write her own stuff. I have to spend a lot of time spinning my wheels with this whole emo-artist persona that I wear around the house like bunny slippers. But I sort of think that, at the end of the day, we just  might not be ready to do that yet. I think maybe ego-wise, and probably mine more than hers, we might not be ready for that level of sharing and cooperation yet.

We do have a super-seekrit project proposed with a handful of other authors. An over-arching world concept under which each participating author would be able to write their own, autonomous story or stories. Sort of like writing fan fiction, except that the aforementioned concept was an original one that Kait came up with, not something taken from a book, movie, or TV show.

This was a marketing idea that captured my attention when I saw the Legend, TN website, the group of authors who created it, and read their first collection of novellas. I stumbled across that while Googling for something else and was intrigued because the fictional town is where I lived. The concept was able to get me to read not one, but four authors I had never read before. I thought it was quite brilliant.

It was not a new idea for me. Have I ever showed you my wall of Harlequin Intrigues. Remind me to dig up a photo when I have more time. Need a few hundred of those from the 80s and 90s? I need to move them and the idea of recycling them is too sad. Anyway, Harlequin’s done a lot of short series branding, having a few authors write books about the same family or bits of the same over-aching plot. A great idea that had customers looking for the next book in the story, no matter which Harlequin author had written it, possibly generating new readers for some of their authors.

I’m not really optimistic about us getting around to the super-seekrit project any time soon. Everyone is really busy with their own worlds right now, but fictional and real-life.

I’ve recently been offered a spot in an anthology. I would LOVE to be able to participate in that. It was an honor to be asked, as there are really good indie authors involved, and I’m sure it would help me find new readers. And yet, I’m not sure about my ability to write something at the requested length. I’ve never done a short before. But I’m going to try.

Anyway, I’ve gotta wrap up this rambling, so…

Q for writers: What do you think about the idea of working with other authors? Think you could do it? Think you could let another author write YOUR character into her book? Think you could stand back and let someone else tinker in your universe?

Q for readers: What do you think about these ideas? Do you buy anthologies for a single author’s story and find new authors to love? How would you feel about trying a new author in order to follow your favorite character?

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Filed under author blog, books, characters, ideas, Laws of the Universe, self-publishing, Violations, writing

Love and Romance: Do You Believe in Magic?

Before I get onto this, a few things:

  • Hush Money is featured today at Indie Books Blog
  • It’s doing really well. It broke into the Kindle top 1000 early last week and though it’s fallen out a few times, it’s been holding position fairly well (it’s at #888 while I’m writing this).
  • Coming up, I’m going to have a post on getting to the top 1000 within the first 8 weeks of release, talking about some things I did that I think helped and a series of posts that concentrates on those things in a bit more detail.
  • Still have the Help Me Find My Dylan contest going.
  • You know the paperback is out, right?

And now, on to the post…

When it comes to Love and Romance, I absolutely believe in magic. Here are some things I believe in:

  • Love at first sight
  • True love
  • Fate
  • The idea that there is a perfect mate for every person
  • The idea that you can fall in love in a week, in a day, in a moment

And I’m going to cut that list off there before the sweetness of it gives us all cavities.

For me, these, and similar notions found in romance lit, are true possibilities in our world. Even if some of them haven’t happened for me, I can still believe in them in the same way I can take your word for it that things are made up of molecules, or that the Earth orbits the Sun.

  • I don’t have to experience everything in the world in order for it to be true for someone out there.
  • I know that people experience different things, and experience the same things differently.
  • I WANT to believe.

And so do other people. For a lot of them, that’s why they read romance.

Some people absolutely do not believe. These things haven’t happened for them, or, if they have, they didn’t see it that way. After all, love and romance, like anything good in life, require effort, work. And when you frame love as something purely mystical (which I don’t think it is), it confuses the issue for some people. It’s doesn’t make sense for their somewhat more practical take on matters.

In fiction, a disconnect between author and reader often comes about when the story falls too close to one end of this magic to pragmatic continuum.

You have that story where two characters meet, they feel this immediate, overwhelming attraction, connection, and even things like devotion and intimacy, which possibly should grow and evolve out of what they experience with each other, just kind of magically exist between them. This kind of romantic setup will be accepted by readers far at the magical end of that spectrum, but you won’t go far along the line before readers are finding this weak, thinking the author was a bit lazy in supporting the romantic elements, and the pragmatists are throwing the book at the wall and using words like “tripe.”

For me, the incredibly logical characters can be just as maddening. These are characters who are SO practical, who need everything proven to them, everything spelled out. They can be so unwilling to just feel. To take leaps of faith. Isn’t love worth taking a leap? Sometimes they come across, to magical me, as so ungrateful of the gift they’re being offered in the story. They’re so unwilling to allow themselves to feel within a context that (to me) is supposed to be about feeling.

Just because there are two people with relationship potential, doesn’t make it a romance.

What I’m getting at here, is that there’s a middle ground. A good romance finds it, finds a way to please the widest range of readers. Showing the evolution of a relationship, supporting the True Love and Fate angles with moments that allow the readers to say “this is when she fell for him” (and “oops, I just fell for him too”), deepens the experience of the romance even for the reader who would have accepted the magic of it. Allowing the characters to just feel things because they feel them, even if they need to question those feelings, allowing them to sometimes act on things they don’t quite understand yet, and to just go with the flow once in a while, can create and ebb and flow of tension, rather than frustration for the reader. It can make the characters seem more real, since sometimes people have unguarded moments, sometimes they do take chances, just because they want to, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Romantic elements, unsupported, can seem ridiculous. Characters who approach love like Mr. Spock can be maddeningly unromantic and frustrating.

But in the middle ground, between the ridiculously love-struck and the frustratingly logical, there’s room to create something special, something more than just magical.

Romance.

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Filed under books, characters, love, romance, tips, what not to do, writing

Setups, Flawed Characters, Ginger or Maryann?

Last night I finally got my files uploaded for the print version. They’ve been reviewed, and I had a problem with my title page, so I have to get that fixed this morning, and then upload the interior file again. But it seems like that was the only issue, so I might be able to order a proof copy tonight.

This morning I’m doing some thinking about first acts, how I understand them, and how I approach them. What follows may be a lot of me talking to myself, so don’t let all the yous get to you.

For me, the first part of a book is all setup. The actual story, the thing your characters are going to have to work through—you’re not into that yet. In fact, the point where you actually get into that doesn’t even happen until the end of this section.

Now, you can’t just do nothing here. You can’t just go about describing the characters, their environs, their backstories, etc, and not having anything going on to engage the reader. That’s about as much fun as watching someone else play Barbies. There should be something going on, something the reader is going to want to know more about.

So you’ve got a character (or characters) and a something going on. And part of what the reader wants to know is: how is this something going to affect the character? When is she going to a) either become aware of what’s really going on, and/or b) have to deal with this? And then what’s going to happen? While she’s reading on, to get to that moment when things come together and you come to that point of shoving your character through the door into the story world, you’re feeding her lots of important information about the world and the people in it, you’re planting seeds, doing a little foreshadowing, but, most importantly to me, you’re setting up your character arc.

The stories I love best are those in which a character learns and grows, is changed by the events of the story. I think I probably especially love characters who seem a little hard to love when they’re first introduced.

Take Lost’s Sawyer as an example. (Oh, I’d like to.) He’s not a nice man. In fact, he’s a criminal. Not only is he nasty to everyone on the island with the name-calling and the constant lashing out, he also does things like gathering up and “claiming” as many supplies as he can so that he can profit from everyone’s plight. I think there’s a part of Sawyer that remains inherently selfish at the core, which keeps his character consistent. But in a show in which the challenges presented by the island transform many characters, helping them find the inner hero that may lie within all of us, I think Sawyer is the one whose change is the most dramatic, and therefore the most moving. (Or I could be just blinded by the dimple. It happens.)

Spike is another example of this kind of character. Someone who starts off really enjoying the killing, especially of slayers. Until he falls in love with one, and is changed by that love, and by his story into someone who ultimately—does something spoilery that’s pretty selfless. You know what I’m talking about.

So yeah, I guess I’m into that. Characters need to have a starting off point in which they are somehow less that they’re going to be at the end point. And in a series, in which they’re going to appear in more than one story, that means they’ll need even more room to grow.

They have got to be likable in some way, and often, with flawed characters, that’s a matter of empathy. When a reader talks about characters that seem real, what they’re saying is that they felt empathy, they recognized something that they’ve felt, or at least something that they understand, in something that your character feels. There has to be something they connect to. This is why they tell us to make the character care about something.

Spike had Drusilla, for example, showing that he was capable of some kind of love, even if it wasn’t the nicest relationship to watch. Later, he formed the same kind of obsessive attachment to Buffy. And we really got to see how it hurt him, to be so constantly rejected by her, to feel that she was so unattainable, because he was so unworthy. To feel the hopelessness of that obsession, even if one hasn’t been a vampire obsessed with a slayer who won’t have them–a lot of people can still relate to, and be moved by, those kinds of feelings. And that’s what keeps them tied to Spike as he waits for his moment, his opportunities for growth (internal, not always conscious), and to win the Slayer’s affections (external).

But be advised, it doesn’t work for all readers all the time. If you present flawed characters, not everyone is going to connect, empathize, or wait around for them to get better. Sometimes a reader will be so turned off by something your flawed character did or said that, not only will she give up on them, but the book, and you as an author. Our different tastes, experiences, the issues that can pull us in or make us throw the book at the wall, that’s all part of what it is to be human and sentient, and makes all these varied stories possible.

After all, it’s this variation in taste that makes possible questions like:

  • Angel or Spike?
  • Sawyer/Kate or Sawyer/Juliette?
  • Marvel or DC?
  • Ginger or Maryann?

And where would the internet be without that?

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Filed under books, characters, Hush Money, ideas, love, romance, story structure, Talent Chronicles, tips, writing