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Entries in writing (4)

Monday
Nov042013

Careful ... They Bite!

Writers are weird. There's no way around it, no other way to say it. We're odd ducks. We prefer the people who live inside our heads to the vast majority of those we've met in the real world. It's a solitary profession, this weaving of ordinary threads into extraordinary tapestries. An isolation that is difficult to explain, even for those who live and interact with us daily.

But help is on the way.

Welcome to the first in a who-knows-how-many-part series on the proper care and maintenance of your typical writer, or scribus domesticus. We'll start with a handy guide on recognizing common behavioral problems. Look for future posts on grooming techniques, feeding requirements, and breeding tips.

Enjoy!

__________

How to Tell When the Writer in Your Life is Dying Inside at a Creative Roadblock

 

  • Their “To-Be-Read” pile of books no longer resembles a 1:4 scale model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
  • The DVR is less than 93% full for the first time in years, leaving nothing but eighteen episodes of Masterpiece Theater they’ll never watch but for some reason cannot delete.
  • They’ve become an overnight expert on current events, providing regular updates on Syria’s civil war, Iran’s nuclear threat, and whatever crazy shit Kim Jong-un is up to in North Korea. Your appreciation for their expanded worldview fades when they demand you play “Richard Engel meets Noori the Naughty Freedom Fighter” each night.
  • Dinner comes from the oven, not the delivery kid who spends so much time at your place he qualifies as a tax deduction. You're starting to miss him, too.
  • They mow your grass, trim your trees, prune your shrubs, and then replace all your fading annuals with perennials. Your apartment complex politely requests that, for liability purposes, they knock it the hell off.
  • They want an elliptical machine that you know will become an expensive storage device for dust and cat hair once they resume writing. (But you can’t say that without them accusing you of hoping they die young, probably so you’ll be free to sleep with that tramp from Accounting being unsupportive.)
  • The high-octane, double-espresso K-cups no longer disappear faster than fairy blood at a vampire convention. (Random shout-out to Charlaine Harris!).
  • You have trouble falling asleep, unaccustomed to them lying beside you any earlier than 3a.m. You long for the click-clack lullaby of their keyboard.

And the number one way to tell when the writer in your life is stuck?

  • They write stupid lists for their blog when they ought to be working on their novel.

 

Thursday
Jul262012

Thank You For the Music

You know it’s gonna be a good post when it starts with an Abba song, amiright? Kickin’ it old school today, homies. ‘Cause that’s how I roll. Hells to the yeah, I’m down with the hipness.

*clears throat*

*stops channeling Eugene Levy*

 

 

Aren’t his eyebrows the most glorious thing since the invention of hyperbole? Just looking at him makes me want to write a Groucho Marx biopic. Are you listening, Hollywood? Call me.

Speaking of cool cats, I came across this video yesterday:

 

 

I have so much misplaced love for this. I simply adore the way someone, somewhere had the comedic sense to insert the “Mississippi—1870” caption at the start of the video. It helps explain so much. I mean, everyone knows the post-Civil War south was littered with riverboat gamblers and well-to-do African Americans. But the heavily made-up, strangely dressed spectacle of Boy George would have been difficult to understand without the crucial information that this was Mississippi in 1870. Whew, I get it now. Also, wtf are those boys stuffing into that barrel at 00:40? Methinks someone has been steeping in their creepers tea a tad too long.

 

Lest you think I sit around all day YouTubing Culture Club (an awesome pastime, no?), the video actually appeared after I’d watched this gem:

 

 

This video was the shizzle when I was young. I was totally entranced by the rotoscoping, although in all fairness I was pretty easy to impress as a kid. Dust particles in sunbeams captivated me back then. Also Madonna. But I was right about this one, which won several categories at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. I recently played it for my seven-year old (who inherited my sunbeam fascination), and I’m happy to report that twenty-seven years after its debut, the effects are still wowing audiences (and simple children.)

Just to wax nostalgic for a moment … remember when MTV played videos all day? And The Weather Channel featured real-time weather, rather than bad reenactments from every Jolene and Bubba out there (“God listened to our prayers and saved us from that there tornader.” (Sorry, everyone else who died—I guess God totally hates you.)) Oh! And remember when ABC News actually verified facts before Brian Ross projectile vomited them into the airwaves? And speaking of the media, remember when CNN was just a struggling cable news organization? Oh, wait …

Anyhoo, back to the music. Rambly Girl is rambly today. But I swear there’s a point in here somewhere.

Whether videos enthrall or repel, the music always moves me. When I write, I continually add and subtract to the “soundtrack” of my novel. The playlist for THE GREAT WALL started with a dozen songs and ended with 132. Some of them contain lyrics that represent a character, some capture the mood of a particular scene, and a select few play to the underlying theme of the story.

My protagonist, Kate, could star in a video for “Good Intentions,” Toad the Wet Sprocket’s stirring tribute to malaise and inadequacy. Listening to that song not only transports me to Mill Ave in the 90’s (and to my broker-than-a-crack-smoker days), it also crams me inside the head of my character. Can’t everyone relate to lines like this?

 

It’s hard to rely on my good intentions
When my head’s full of things that I can’t mention
It seems I usually get things right
But I can’t understand what I did last night

 

Yep. Been there, done that. Got the misdemeanor important life lesson.

Songs help me “hear” my character, and they also allow me to craft a scene around them. Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” and S.H.E.’s “Superstar” were on repeat when I wrote about the charity gig Kate attends at a glitzy Macau casino. Both songs evoked a powerful vibe, even though I couldn’t decipher the lyrics. (“Superstar” is in Mandarin, and Gaga’s native tongue is a combination of Gibberish and Cetacean, if I’m not mistaken.)

Understanding the lyrics became more important at the climax of my story, as Kate battles bad guys and seemingly insurmountable odds. That's when I called on Breaking Benjamin to deliver these rousing lyrics:

 

All is lost again
But I’m not giving in
I will not bow / I will not break
I will shut the world away
I will not fall / I will not fade
I will take your breath away

 

Of course, no novel about an American high-tech worker auditing a Chinese factory would be complete without a visit from Coldplay:

 

Come out upon my seas
Curse missed opportunities
Am I a part of the cure
Or am I part of the disease

 

Although if I’m honest, I played this final blast-from-the-past just as often.

 

 

SOLID GOLD, baby! Man, I miss the 80's.

Other than the “I sailed away to China” line (followed by a racist reference to laundry), this song has nothing whatsoever to do with my story. It stayed in the rotation nonetheless, inspiring me in a different way.

In fact, ALL music inspires me, which is the point of this post (and arguably of music itself). I may not like all genres, but they all have the ability to affect me. Rock moves me to write novels, while country music moves me to pierce my eardrums with ice picks. And without jazz, I’d never have learned how to tie a noose.

I’m not sure I would be a writer without a trove of songs to inspire me. Even if I were, I doubt I’d care for anything I produced. Which means I owe music a great debt of gratitude.

So I say thank you for the music, the songs [they’re] singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it? I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a [book] what are we?
So I say thank you for the music, for giving it to me

 

 

Wednesday
Jun272012

Self-Promotion: The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly

I had a lovely time at the Writer’s League of TX 2012 Agents Conference in Austin this past weekend. I made new friends, met some of New York's best literary agents, and learned a ton about the wacky world of publishing.

Two topics came up time and time (and time and time) again.

Self-Promotion is a Requirement

Whether published by the Big Six or Kindle Direct, an author handles the bulk of their own promotion. I expected this for indie houses, and it goes without saying for self-publishing. But it was surprising to learn that even successful, multi-book-deal authors, published by Hachette or Simon & Schuster, for example, must spend a good chunk of time building and maintaining their “platform.”

In one respect, I think this is good. Nobody’s more excited about my amazing plot and fabulous characters than me. Who better to sell it? From an integrity standpoint, self-promotion is great.

Time-wise, however … not so much. I’m not a marketing professional; I don’t know the first thing about branding. And yet I am the brand, so it behooves me to figure it out. Establishing an online presence takes time, and keeping it going takes longer. As if it weren’t hard enough to grab a few hours of writing-time to begin with, all this time spent promoting means even less time writing. Not good.

Love it or hate it, resistance is futile. This is the new reality of publishing, a point so universally accepted it’s written into contracts. At the conference, I met a best-selling author who’d published over 20 books with HarperCollins, and she spent just as much time on self-promotion as self-published authors.

If you think being traditionally published means less work on the business side of things, you’re fooling yourself. You need a strong presence, and you need to start building it yesterday. The good news is …

Social Media is Your Friend

Like all your other friends, it loves when you take advantage of it. Okay, maybe not, which is why you must cultivate the hell out of this relationship. This is a friend you want to keep around for a long time, after all. Those kind of friendships don’t just happen overnight. Don’t expect to join Twitter and have a Neil Gaiman-like following in a week. Especially if all your tweets go something like, “My book is on sale,” “Look at my amazing book,” or “OMG PLZ BUY MY BOOK YOU WON’T BE SORRY!!!!”

Yeah, I already am. Or not, because I clicked “unfollow” ten tweets ago.

At the conference, this aspect of social media was likened to newspapers (but without the dying-medium aspect). Papers tell us what’s happening in the world, right? We learn something new, we’re touched by poignant human-interest pieces, and we laugh at Dilbert. Bottom line is we-the-reader get something from the experience. Sure, there are ads. It’s a business, after all.

But imagine if EVERY SINGLE PAGE offered nothing but ads. We’d stop reading pretty fast. Likewise, readers will stop following your Twitter feed if you do nothing but slap them in the face with your book. Put some time and effort into it. Don’t be afraid to tweet about something off-topic. Chances are if it interests you, it will also interest your followers. Better yet, make your tweets relevant to your book. If you wrote a thriller about a cutting-edge prototype, go forth and tweet about the latest tech advancements. It’s a great way to reach potential readers in your target audience. But use book tie-ins sparingly. The goal is to inform and enrich—not alienate.

Not a fan of Twitter? Not a problem. There are plenty of other outlets for authors to connect with readers. Experiment with Facebook, start a blog, decorate a board for your book on Pinterest, connect with professionals on LinkedIn. And don’t worry. You don’t have to do them ALL. Take a test ride and choose whichever you like best.

Keep your audience in mind when deciding, though. Someone writing YA will probably reach more readers on Twitter than, say, LinkedIn. But the author of a non-fiction book on management trends may find the opposite.

One last tip: set a goal and stick with it. Whether you decide to blog monthly, post to Facebook weekly, or tweet daily, your readers will appreciate consistency. Just as no one wants a newspaper full of ads, they’ll be equally frustrated by something that arrives on a whenever-the-hell-I-feel-like-it schedule.

So do some research, take the time to tailor your social media interactions, and be consistent. Your readers will thank you for it.

 

 

Tuesday
Jun262012

The Story of Dani (aka: Stay in School, Kids)

When I was 18, I left college and moved into a crappy little apartment with my boyfriend. Times were tough. Living paycheck to paycheck would have been a luxury. The credit cards were maxed out, the rent was always late, and the debt kept snowballing. We blinked, and our world was an eviction notice away from ending.

And so I did something horrible. I traded my soul for a career. I killed the woman I was, the one who dreamed of changing the world with the beautiful things she created. Nearly two decades later, I can't say I'm sorry. That bitch needed to die.

Even so, I'd committed murder. And when one does the crime, one must also do the time.

I began serving a life sentence in the penal colony known as corporate America. Books offered a rare chance to escape from vicious wardens, cruel guards, and an army of shiv-wielding, back-stabbing inmates. Words were my lifeline—they bandaged my wounds, lit the darkness of solitary confinement, and kept the fragile elastic of my sanity from stretching too far. It's no surprise, then, that I turned to them in 2005, when my sentence was commuted. The moment I was granted parole, I went straight to the bookstore. I found new authors, visited old favorites, and spent time in nearly every genre. That's when I realized something was missing. I could never quite find The Perfect Book.

I love mysteries, with their twisting plots and clever characters. Yet no matter how satisfying it was to know the who in whodunit, I still wanted more. A touch of romance, perhaps.

I tried romantic suspense and found all the lovely UST (unresolved/unfulfilled sexual tension) I'd been missing. And more. Too much more, in fact. After the first hook-up, I was done. I wanted to dive back into the action, not wade through several more sex scenes.

Thrillers gave me an exciting, fast-paced storyline but held the same drawback as mystery. I yearned for emotional depth and an element of romance.

After much fruitless searching, I decided to write the books I wanted to read. I'd written novels before, although they shall forever remain in a dark and scary sector of my hard-drive (you're welcome). It is my hope that I am not the only one who looks for a story with a thrilling plot, a dash of mystery, and non-explicit romance. And if I am? Meh. At least I've entertained the hell out of myself!