Story Hack

Meet William M. Brandon III

Today I’m pleased to introduce William M Brandon III. He just released a new novel called SILENCE and was kind enough to spend some time trading emails with me.

William and his wife.

William and his wife.

What are three things you think everybody should know about you?

  1. I’m a Los Angeles ex-pat, having escaped to the simpler life in NE Georgia. My recent move w/ my Wife and our six-year-old son is the 56th time I’ve changed addresses in my life.
  2. I prefer to write on typewriters.
  3. I began SILENCE when I was 19 years old (I am currently 38)

What is one thing almost nobody knows?

I love the Peaches’ album “Teaches of Peaches”

56 moves is a lot. You’re probably pretty good at it by now. 

Very good; prior to meeting my wife I had my worldly possessions down to three boxes and my typewriters. Less is always more in that regard.

Do you have plans to settle down there in Georgia?

We are definitely very settled. We plan to stay here until our little man graduates from school, then the Wife and I may skip the country for a little while.

Okay, I’m intrigued by the typewriters thing. Do you have one at home that you use to do the first draft or something?

I have several: a Burroughs (of adding Machine fame), a Olivetti Lettera 22,1923 Remington Portable, 1966 Smith-Corona, and an Olympia SM-4. The Olympia is the only fully functioning typer at present, although the Lettera is very close and so is the Smith-Corona. When I start a long project I like to start on a typewriter because it prohibits me from editing the hell out of everything I write. Using a typewriter helps me put together a body of work to edit, rather than editing to death a few pages and paragraphs  which I inevitably do on a laptop. My first attempt at a novel (SILENCE) was written long hand on legal pads at first – my desktop typing was far slower than my printing. While I was taking the initial parts of SILENCE and putting them together, my company performed an office product purge and I took home a late 80s electric typewriter. I loved being able to produce sheets of writing rapidly, and I have a deep nostalgia for the use of typewriters as a means of collecting ideas and thoughts. However, when it comes to editing a 300 page manuscript, I’m a big advocate of the laptop!

burroughs

One of William’s many machines.

Are there aftermarket parts available for those old typewriters, or do you have to search thrift and antique stores?

No sir, it’s all cannibalism now; weak machines have to be sacrificed to keep the strong ones going. For 70s/80s machines there is a dwindling supply of parts, but prior to that your best hope is to find a cheap typewriter on eBay, an antique store, or an estate sale and use it for spare parts. People also become creative, e.g. degradation of the piece of rubber surrounding the platen is a very common issue with antique typers. Industrial rubber isn’t manufactured on the level it once was, so collectors developed ways of stripping wires and taking their coating and applying it to typewriter platens…voila! The outland areas of Hollywood, like Burbank, and North Hollywood are excellent for typewriter shopping: all of the old movie props flow through the second-hand and antique stores and are usually in good enough condition. There is also a full typewriter repair and restoration shop in Glassell Park, California, but I haven’t found its equivalent in Georgia.

Any other hobbies besides writing and typewriters?

I’m an auto-didact, so pretty much anything that inspires me to learn. I’ve been programming in PHP and SQL for a little over a decade. Though I primarily use this skill for profit, it very much began as a quest for knowledge. I also do a lot of design work, from web design, to branding, to publication and digital layout. I’ve also been a drummer in bands off and on for the past twenty-five years. However, keeping up with my step-son’s VAST knowledge of dinosaurs is probably the most intensive hobby I presently participate in :)

Have you been writing SILENCE on and off this whole time, or is it something that you just put away for a while and recently dug back out and finished up?

I stopped working on it in 2000, aside from correcting an occasional spelling or grammatical error, it remained untouched until last year. That made the project very interesting: since SILENCE I’ve written several novels, and a bevy of short stories, so my writing has changed, refined I hope. I decided to send the manuscript to my editor, Elise Portale, as unchanged as possible from the 2000 version. Elise did a superb job of challenging me to develop many underdeveloped parts of the plot and to further develop the characters. Making changes, edits and additions in my old “voice” was a lot of fun and less paradigm-shifting than I had feared. I consider the manuscript done now, prior to completing the novella for Black Hill Press it felt unfinished to say the least.

So give me the elevator pitch for SILENCE.

SILENCE is about a man who is almost completely ruled by his desires. He is the embodiment of reckless youth; recklessness I experienced my early twenties. Dean O’Leary, SILENCE‘s protagonist suffers from a lack of subtlety and as a result is akin to the old saying, “He’d burn the house down because the front door squeaks.” It’s a love story, a journey, a and a thriller as seen through the eyes of a person consumed by his desires and always just short of complete personal destruction.
Thanks William!
For more about William M Brandon III:

Plus, if you’re in the area, you can catch William doing book signings this month at Hendershot’s in Athens, Ga, on April 16th (http://hendershotscoffee.com/event/silence-by-william-bill-m-brandon-iii-book-signing-and-reading/) and at Book Soup in Los Angeles on May 16th (http://agentofdiscord.com/book-soup-los-angeles-may-16th/)

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Dean O’Leary is a man who lives on the edge: of life, love, and happiness. After a bank robbery gone horribly wrong, Dean leaves his life of crime in Los Angeles and exiles himself to the cold grey sands of Las Vegas. A cruel and unusual twist of fate shows Dean a life filled with the love and hope that he has always thought impossible, and then rips it away. With nothing left to lose, Dean goes all in on one final crime.
Editor’s Quote:

“Many a yarn has been woven around the quest for love. But that familiar tale starts to fray at the edges when young Dean O’Leary, a bank robber whose pinstripe suit is a better fit than the age in which he lives, packs up his cigarettes and his battered heart to start fresh in Las Vegas. With a voice and style that drag you in, Brandon sets up a character whose neurotic, mile-a-minute mind echoes the desire, anxiety, depression, and insanity found at every intersection on the road to love. From Dean’s ultimate highs to his rock-bottom lows (making a quick pit-stop at the surreal), Brandon will take you on an emotional walk in a desperate man’s wing-tip shoes—and you’ll be hooked from the very first step.”-Elise Portale

Five Ways to Plan a Story

NaNoWriMo is upon us again. I don’t think I’ll be trying to hammer out a novel, but maybe I’ll finish up that kid’s book I’ve been sitting on.

As I’ve been planning my next project, I’ve been thinking (again) about the various storytelling frameworks that I’ve come across. Many of these contain similar concepts, but I think all are different enough to be useful.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are five of my favorite teachings on story planning.

Dan Harmon’s Story Circles

Dan Harmon is the creator of the TV show “Community.” This borrows heavily from Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey,” which in turn borrows from Joseph Campbell’s “Hero Journey.”

Story Structure (Larry Brooks)

Larry’s written several novels and integrates lots of storytelling ideas from the screenwriting world.

5 Act Structure (a la Shakespeare, via Film Crit Hulk)

It’s no secret. I love Film Crit Hulk. His all-caps manifestos are fantastic.

Jim Butcher Style Planning

Jim Butcher pens fantasy novels. He has plenty of writing street cred, with 20 novels published, also had a TV series made from one of his series. He has a (apparently now-defunct) livejournal where he used to lay down some of his thoughts on writing. The part that deals with planning a story is actually the last one “Putting it all Together.”

The Snowflake Method

This was my first introduction to story planning/structure of any kind. It’s an excellent way to write a novel.

The Snowflake Method

Templates

I built some little templates to help me out when I’m planning a new story.

Here they are in two formats: plain text and as a WriteMonkey plugin. You’ll have to make a donation to WriteMonkey to unlock the plugins ability, but I think it’s worth it.

  • Story Planning Worksheets – Zipped .txt files
  • Story Planning Templates – Zipped WriteMonkey plugin. Just unzip the file then copy the “Story Planner Templates” folder into your WriteMonkey’s (ver 1.5+) “plugins” folder. Next time you start WriteMonkey, hit Ctrl+F10 to insert the story planning text. I like to insert it into the repository so I can use it like a story bible.

So busy. And my kids are famous somewhere in Asia.

Okay, so I’d love to say that I finished my round of edits for Journey of St. Laurent and I’m ready to send out some copy to those who have said they’ll help me edit. I’d love it.

I’d love to say that I actually finished the draft of my Children’s novel.

But I can’t.

*Frowny Face*

Things have been crazy in my life.

The biggest thing is that I’ve been fixing up my house / building a shed / installing a new retaining wall in preparation for selling our house. Well, I guess it paid off, because the house is now under contract.

As soon as that happened, it was frantic-search-for-a-new-place time. We’ve now made a verbal agreement with a nice couple, and we’ll sign some papers and pay some earnest money tomorrow evening. Yay!

Assuming all goes well, that means we’ll be in a new place by Christmas. So now there’s lots of boxing up and such to get done.

As to the Asia thing.

Several months back I was downtown in Salt Lake City waiting for my daughter to finish a choir practice in the Tabernacle at temple square, where her choir was soon to have a big performance. As I played on the grass with the baby (then about 8 or 9 months old), an Asian group tour came out of the Assembly Hall and saw him (my son) sitting there smiling. They went nuts over him. About 20 people gathered around and started snapping pictures.

And then few days ago we went to Yellowstone for a family reunion. As I came out of the restroom at Mammoth Hot Springs There was a group of 15 or so nice Asian folk gathered around something and taking pictures. As I stepped into the crowd, I saw my 3 year old sitting on a big rock, hamming it up and posing for all she’s worth. I turned to my left, and there was my 7 year old doing the same thing with a crowd around her as well. My wife was just standing off to the side, trying not to laugh.

So by now I’m certain that my kids have made it onto a dozen personal blogs that I wouldn’t know how to read.

Report on Day 6

After yesterday’s writing, I’m up to 4,226 words on the new book. I think I’m on pace to finish by the end of the month, but I’d like to get a little ahead, just in case. We’ll see how inspired I get as I sit down to write.

I’m writing this one using Scrivener, due to Dane‘s  nonstop praise of it. I’m liking it pretty well, but I do have some questions. I’ll have time to figure those out after I’m done writing the book, though.

Version Control for Authors (on Windows) Part I

Here it is, my long promised article on Version Control. It’s a big enough subject that I felt it best to split it into five uneven parts. I’ll update these to be links as each part is posted.

Edit 8/15/2012 – This is now available collected into a single ebook for your kindle. Only a buck. Version Control for Authors

Part I: What is Version Control and Why Should Authors Care?

Authors vs. Programmers

I’m an author that moonlights during regular daytime hours as a programmer. For the purpose of this series of articles, I’m going to assume that you are not a programmer, and that furthermore, you don’t care about programming concepts or lingo. I’ll do my nerdy best to leave out the tech term. The reason for throwing this disclaimer up first thing should be clear in about two paragraphs.

What is version control?

Here’s the deal. As programmers add features to software, they often break stuff that used to work. This is because programmers are so smart. Also, often several programmers are working on a single piece of software at a time, and on different parts of the software. A programmer wants to be able to test his wonderful new features without having to wait for the other programmer to finish the new feature he is working on.

To help combat these (and other) problems, programmers came up with version control systems. These systems allow programmers to keep a running diary of all changes to a program. They also allow a programmer to work on a specific part of a program so he doesn’t have to worry if his co-worker is currently breaking another part.

How do these “version control” systems do this?

Programmer magic.

Ha ha. I got you. Programmers do not perform magic. We leave that to hardware designers.

Where was I?

Oh yeah, what are version control systems? To make it clear let me suggest an analogy. Better yet, let me proclaim an allegory.

The Allegory of the Library

There is a library. Steve walks up to the library and asks the librarian for copy of “Raising Vegetables.” The librarian hustles back to the shelves and runs the book through superfast photocopier then gives that photocopy to Steve. Steve notices that the book doesn’t have a chapter about asparagus, his favorite vegetable. So he writes one.

The next day he returns to the library with his asparagus-added version of the book and hands it to the librarian. The librarian flips through it and sees the added part. From now on, the librarian makes sure that when people ask for a copy of the book, they get the asparagus chapter as well.

A month later Steve and Trisha go to the library (Separately. They’re not on a date or anything.) and each asks for a copy of “Raising Vegetables.” The librarian runs two new copies and hands one to each of them.

At home, Steve adds a new chapter, this time on his second favorite vegetable, arugula.

At the office, Trisha is reading the book and sees that in one place it has the word “carrion” where it obviously meant “carrot.”

The next day both Trisha and Steve bring back their respective copies of the book. Trisha get’s there first. The librarian notes that she has changed “carrion” to “carrot.” All future copies will now say “carrot.” Then the librarian picks up Steve’s copy and reads through it. The librarian notes that his book still says “carrion”, but knows that Trisha’s version changed things for the better. The librarian does not change the master copy back to say “carrion.” Then the librarian sees and adds the chapter on arugula.

Years later, a pumpkin supremacist named Kip comes in and demands a copy of the book before it contained information about asparagus. The librarian keeps good records, so he runs back an makes a copy of the pre-Steve edition.

And they all lived happily ever after.

In this allegory:

  • the library is like a version control system.
  • Steve and Trisha and Kip are like programmers
  • “Raising Vegetables” is like a piece of software.

That’s a long way of saying it, but the version control system’s job is to keep track of every change that is made to the code.

I think that dead horse has been beaten enough, so let’s move on.

Why would an author even care?

Perhaps you don’t yet see how all of this might affect you.

“That’s great,” You say, “But why does a mild-mannered sanitation engineer like myself care about this miraculous solution to a problem that only the nerdiest geeks have? I just want to write the great American novel.”

I’m so glad you asked.

Here are some reasons why an author might want a version control system of his very own. In other words, here’s why you might want to keep a history of every version of a piece of fiction.

  1. You want to compare your first draft to the final draft.
  2. You have lost part of a story before by accidentally deleting a large chunk, saving the file, and then closing the program.
  3. You have ever accidentally copied an old version of a story file and replaced the new (correct) one.
  4. You aren’t sure about editing out a character and it would be an obscene amount of work to add her back in if you decide you don’t like the change.
  5. You are a control freak and need to know that you have a complete history.

If none of these reasons work for you and you can’t think of any of your own, well, then you might as well stop reading this article.

The Basic Process

Here are the steps that you’ll be taking as you begin to use version control.

  1. Create a repository.
  2. Check out a copy
  3. Work/Edit/Write/Create
  4. Commit your work to the repository.
  5. (optionally) delete the checked out copy.

Create a repository

The repository is like the bookshelves in the library. It holds all the data that you want to keep track of.

Check out a copy

You don’t work on the repository itself. As a matter of fact, many version control systems won’t even let you try. The one I’ll be showing you later is among these.

What you do instead is check out a copy. You pick a directory and tell your version control system “I’d like a copy of my repository in this directory.” The version control system then goes to work.

After you check it out we’ll be clever and call it your “Current Working Copy”

Work/Edit/Write/Create

Now you do that literary voodoo that you do so well. Even though I’ve listed several steps, this is where you’ll still spend the bulk of your time.

Just make and copy files into the folder that is your current working copy. Then you can edit any of those files.

Commit

This is where you bring back your updated work to the library (repository) and the librarian saves a new version. Programmers call this process a “commit.” However, unlike the allegory above might suggest, you get to keep your working copy. It isn’t deleted or anything. The “librarian” just looks through it and updates anything that needs to be updated in the repository.

Delete

If you are the only one working on a story you don’t need to delete your current working copy. If you are like most authors and working alone on a project, you can just repeat Steps 3 & 4 rather than 2,3,4, & 5 every time you want to work.

Don’t worry if you do delete it (after you’ve committed it, of course.) You know you’ll always be able to check out the latest version from your repository.

Overwhelming tools

Let’s just pretend that now you’re sold on the idea of being able to use a version control system for your writing. Now you just need to find software to do help you, because it sounds like an awful lot of extra work if you’re going to do it “by hand.”

There are tons of revision control programs out there. Just bring up the Wikipedia article for “List of revision control software.” Some are paid, some are free. Some require a separate server program and some don’t. Some are difficult to use, some are easy. Some are command line only, and some have cutesy graphical interfaces.

How are you going to know what is strong but simple enough that you’ll actually use it?

Well, I’m going to tell you.

 

…In Part II. (tomorrow)

Report for Day 3 & Maybe 4

Yesterday I ended up losing my lunch hour to a minor crisis and then at night I took my wife dancing for the first time in years. We we got back I typed in a paltry 141 words and then passed out. I am so weak.

Anyway I was up bright and early this morning hitting the keys before life could inturrupt too much, and I was able to write another thousand words or so. We’ll see if I get another chance tonight.

Total manuscript count so far is 3,641 words.

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Report #2 & Lots of Words

I added 1299 words to my manuscript and finished Chapter 1 yesterday. Total word count is now 2398.

I was recently finished of one of the original “The Shadow” pulp novels and it got me thinking about the author. he primary writer was Walter B. Gibson. He wrote 282 of the 325 Shadow novels. The “house” pen name for the Shadow was Maxwell Grant. Anyway, I was thinking about how productive guys like him and Lester Dent (Doc Savage pulps) had to be. After reading up a little, I was blown away.

For a while the Shadow was a twice a month magazine, each issue being a novel length work. That’s right, for most months, Gibson cranked out two 60,000 word novels. In fact, for fifteen straight years he had over 1,000,000 words a year published. Published. Holy crap. And yeah, it’s not exactly high literature, but it’s still all fun and readable.

IF he can do that, I should totally be able to put out a novella every two or three months, right? That’s why I’m getting serious about writing every day.

In other news, I’m working hard on the major change that I have to make for St. Laurent. It mostly affects 3 or 4 chapters there in the middle and it’s quite a boondoggle. Once I get that done, it’s mostly minor changes, so it should go quickly.

Not Quite NaNoWriMo

You know how when people get into running, they will sometimes start out by training for and running a 5K race? Then they step up to 10K, and maybe a half marathon or two and then they finally arrive at running marathons?

1389662_22069019Well, I’m trying to train myself to be a more disciplined and faster writer.

So, starting tomorrow I’ll be typing a half-NaNoWriMo. My goal is to write a children’s book of about 20,000 words in August. I’ve been promising my daughters for a couple of years now that I’d write one, and by golly, August is the month I’m going to make it happen. I’ll post something every day to let you know my progress. That way I’ll feel like a total loser if I don’t write, and I’ll thus be compelled to type, type, type.

If August goes well, I may do something similar in September and write the Hardboiled Detective novella I’ve been thinking about for a while.

In other news, next week I’ll be posting the series on version control for authors that I mentioned over at J. Dane Tyler’s blog.

And yes, I am still editing The Journey of St. Laurent. My goal is to have that done, too, by the end of August.

So despite the fact that I haven’t been posting regularly, I am doing something behind the scenes, I’ll be doing lots more in August.

Wish me luck.

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The Triumphant Return of J. Dane Tyler

Dane’s been here before, but he’s got new stuff to talk about and an awesome new book out. Unfortunately, no talking robots this time.

You used to give me a hard time about self publishing, and now you seem to have embraced it – what changed?

Honestly, the business model changed. It used to be disastrous; now it’s really awesome. I knew, once I heard about publishing for free online to ebook readers, I knew the race would be on. I won’t claim to have the same insights as Joe Konrath, but I knew self-publishing had become something reasonable. It stopped being a money-pit where writers desperate to get their work to readers would be taken advantage of and bilked out of a lot of money.

Being able to allow anyone to publish, without penalty of cost, is a great business model. And readers finally have real choice, real options. Nothing else has changed — only my mindset. I gave up a long time ago on the notion that making it through the gatekeepers meant being a better writer somehow. It doesn’t. It just means being a luckier writer. I don’t think someone’s opinion should stand in the way of someone else’s dream. Those who felt the opinionated ones validated their ability somehow I pity the most.

Writers can write and reach their audiences directly, without anyone making a free buck from their labors and “screening them out” of publishing. Maybe some who are publishing now won’t be up to public standards in terms of skill, but the readers themselves vet those things out.

Now, rather than sitting around for years hoping and praying, and instead of having to cough up hundreds of dollars and having to buy their own copies as a minimum order, writers can write the way they believe their audiences like their work to be, and publish it, and see it for sale within days or hours, not years.

I like that.

What is your very favorite book about writing and why?

Tough choice! If I had to pick just one, I’d have to go with good ol’ Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style“. I believe it is still the definitive guide to writing good, solid, vigorous prose. It’s a small, non-threatening book which delivers rules in punchy, one-sentence capsules you can embrace as a writer. Find the nuggets particular to your quirks and style and hold on to them, work them into your prose, and before long you’re a stronger writer. It worked for me, it will work for most who give it a chance.

I also loved James Scott Bell’s book called “Plot and Structure“, but if I can only pick one, I have to stay with S&W (not Smith & Wesson, though they’re a good choice too).

How did your affair with Scrivener start?

Well, it’s funny. A few months ago my wife and I were surfing around, and I found several writer-specific software programs which could accommodate my “new story structure method” (which isn’t “new” at all, but that’s another story). My method, of course, was the Larry Brooks adaptation of the Three-Part Story Structure. He changed it to FOUR parts, which makes it a LOT easier to digest and manage, and then there are five milestones to which the writer moves the story. I wanted software which could manage Acts, Chapters and Scenes.

Well, when I heard about Scrivener (long before this), I was instantly jealous because the feature set sounded great, but it was Mac-only at the time. About a year after that, I heard they were producing a Windows version. When they released free trials for beta, I tried it. I didn’t know what I was doing, and figured the software wasn’t what I wanted. Like yWriter, it was just too complicated for me. So I shelved it for a long time.

So, here we are, shopping for writing software again. My wife gives me the go-ahead to buy several, try them all, settle on one and have done with it for once and for all. So I downloaded the three and found myself instantly drawn to them because they could indeed be broken into Acts, Chapters and Scenes, just like I wanted. I could structure the outline in a sidebar to meet my Four-Part structure, insert placeholders for the milestones, and start pecking.

I wrote my latest WIP using one called Power Writer, and I really enjoyed it. I loved managing my outline directly in the document. When it came time to revise, though, I found myself exporting to Word so I could work through the document. (Word 2010, by the way, is a very nice piece of software and it’s outlining capabilities are fantastic.) I did all the edits in Word, then I had to jump through all the hoops to turn my Word document into an HTML file which could then be fed to MobiPocket Creator and THEN uploaded to Amazon. Whew! Lots of work!

Well, for my next book I was torn between which two packages to use. I chose Scrivener because no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t get “into” the other package. So I took a look at Scrivener’s documentation. I saw a few books on Amazon written about it. I then found out — because I didn’t explore their web site well at all — they had _video tutorials_! Well! Being a visual learner, this was the pot o’ gold for me!

I watched the videos and the more I learned, the more I liked it. Last week, I took my short story “Lucky Caller 7″ from the collection “A Fine Cast of Characters” and imported it to Scrivener. I compiled it as a .mobi file directly from Scrivener, without having to go through Word or MobiPocket Creator. It uploaded beautifully to Kindle Digital Publishing, and the next day was for sale. It formatted fine, and what I didn’t like about the formatting I’ve since learned how to change. It’s brilliant. Complete control, and in the end, I’m a control freak where my fiction’s concerned.

So, it’s a long story, but that’s how my affair with Scrivener began. I see us being happy long into the future this way.

scales-of-justice_thumbTell a bit about your new book Scales of Justice.

It’s about a guy who lost his family to a dragon attack. In his world, they’re common. He became a dragon hunter to find and kill that dragon. But he’s been riding the canyon where he first encountered it for 20 years and hasn’t seen it. Then he comes to a little town at the far side of the canyon, where he’s not been before, and he meets someone who’s also lost his family to the very same dragon. He reluctantly partners with the old man, and together they set off to find and kill that dragon. But there’s a lot they don’t know about each other or their adversary, and finding out the hard way could cost them their lives.

Scales of Justice is set in a world very like ours, but not. I wanted to be deliberately ambiguous about the when and where, but drop hints about those things along the way. I hope it worked! I also wanted plenty of action, so this one moves a little faster than I expected. I also tried new stuff with characterization, so hopefully that went well too.

It seems to be a bit of a departure from your previous horror work. How did it come about?

A couple of years ago, I got into cowboys. BIG time. I watched “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “High Plains Drifter,” “Tombstone,” “Wyatt Earp” (which stunk, btw), and “Silverado” (also bad). I watched “3:10 to Yuma” (the remake), I watched “Unforgiven” again (love that one), and basically anything western I could get my hands — erm, eyes — on. I even tried reading a Louis L’Amour.

While I was in this mode, I got this weird idea — what if cowboys had been faced with dragons? What if dragons were wild in the old west? How cool would that be?

I wrote a short story, a vignette actually. Just one. And I loved it.

Then, I got this vision in my brain about a guy standing at an old hard-pack dirt road while his wife and kids get on a carriage. They ride off into the sunset. And against that backdrop, the black shadow of a dragon swoops out of the sky to spew fire on the carriage. I wrote that, too, mostly as a character study, but just to see how it went.

It was only a vignette too, but I ended up turning it into a short story. And I loved it.

Those two vignettes, less than 5,000 words together, became “Scales of Justice.”

What’s next for you?

Well, I have one book mostly outlined and another two are on deck. The next one and one of the two in planning are definitely horror. But the third one is sort of a paranormal-fantasy thing. I think the manuscript I wrote back in 2007 — the one through which you and I met, actually — is going to get an overhaul before too long, too. It’s got good bones, but needs a little touch-up here and there, like an aging beauty. Me, for instance. But that and its sequel are fairly complete stories. I need to outline them, add some Dramatica touches, and then start pounding the keyboard.

To learn more about Dane, check him out on:

Interview with Raven Bower

Raven_6wRaven Bower writes speculative fiction with her husband Lain. Let’s get to know her.

Tell me three things about yourself that you believe everybody should know and one thing that almost nobody knows.

Oh good ones! Let’s see, the three things everyone should know are:

I’m addicted to reading and haul books around with me everywhere I go. Sometimes more than I need, but hey better too many books than not the right one, right?

I’m a hopeless movie addict, I confess. I’ll watch almost anything that strikes my fancy at the moment.

Gardening! I blather a lot about plants on my blog. Hm.

The one thing almost no one knows, that takes some pondering. I’m allergic to bright colors. Okay, not in a real sense as in breaking out in hives or sneezing, but they do sear my eyes.

Your blog is titled “Gothic Living”. What does that mean?

Gothic Living is about living outside the box. It means gardening with intriguing twists – a Gothic cemetery, haunted orchard and ancient ruins. Decorating outside of the fabled ‘norm’ and creating fun recipes. It’s about celebrating the love of art, movies, writing and reading outside of the mainstream.

What is the process for writing a book with your husband? Do you talk about it and then type up parts of it separately? Do you sit at the computer together while writing?

A little of all of them, depending on what stage we’re at in the story. Usually I design the plots and most if not all of the characters, then Lain reads them over and we bat around ideas based off what I’ve concocted. When the writing begins I generally write the first draft and toss it to him, then he works his magic on it and hands it back to me. We play pass the manuscript for a while until we think it’s about right. During final edits, or particularly finicky scenes, we’ll work together at the same computer.

How do you resolve differences of opinion?

Usually by dropping it for a while, then returning to the manuscript with fresh eyes. Then each one of us makes our case and we decide which to use based off what is truer to the story and what the reader will enjoy more.

Do you find it easier or harder to write a screenplay or a novel? Or is it the same?

Screenplays are easier because of their nature. An average novel runs roughly 300-600 pages, depending on the genre, while the average screenplay runs 80-120 pages. Though a lot of the aspects of creating a novel and screenplay are the same, novels are far more work.

How did you get the “The Nano Effect” screenplay gig? Was that something you had already written and then just shopped around?

The director for “The Nano Effect” approached us. He had this lovely idea brewing in his head and the basics of the story set. However, the plot and characters just weren’t working and he realized that he needed writers. We took his basics and completely rebuilt the world, revamped the characters and created a new plot. It was a lot of fun and best of all it gave him a workable script.

Primal-Cover2What is your new novel Primal all about?

The clash of love and hatred, greed and malice! A mix of urban fantasy and romance, it revolves around Wrey and the werewolf Arvon as they attempt to outrun their enemies, and each other.

What’s your next big project?

Right now, we’re working on a romantic, swashbuckling fantasy on the high seas!

What one question should I have asked you, if only I knew you well enough to ask?

What’s for dinner? – blueberry pancakes yum! (I uhm.love food too)

For more about Raven:

Meeting With A Bestseller

Due to a long and bizarre sequence of events, a couple of weeks ago I got a chance to sit down and chat with Chris Stewart. He’s a bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction. If you listen to Glenn Beck, you’ve probably heard of him before, as Glenn is currently re-releasing a series Chris wrote a few years ago. Also, it looks like Chris has a lock to become my congressman in Washington next election.

Needless to say, I was pretty excited about the whole deal.

Anyway, this wasn’t really an interview so much as a chance for me to sit down and chat about writing with an experienced and successful author.

Here are a few things he said in our conversation which I found interesting. These aren’t direct quotes or anything, just the stuff I jotted in my notebook.

  1. The traditional publishing world is basically controlled/directed by interns from NYU right now. They are the ones working for the “Big 6″ who make the first, and maybe second cuts of all submissions.
  2. Keep your number of beta readers low. Perhaps two people. He said any more than that and you’ll start to lose your voice by trying to please too many differing opinions. As a corollary to this, he’s not a big fan of writing groups.
  3. Write what you love, because at some point writing is going to feel an awful lot like work. If your heart isn’t in what you’re doing, you’ll never finish it.
  4. Writing a lot is better for your skills than writing classes or craft books.

Anyway, it was a great opportunity for me and I’m grateful he would take the time to squeeze me into his schedule.

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Interview with Rachel M. Hunter

Yay for author interviews! Today we have Rachel M. Hunter.Rachel4

Tell me three things about yourself you think everyone should know and one thing that almost nobody knows.

Three things, eh? Well, for one, I love the outdoors (assuming the weather is warm, as I hate the chill). If I could, I would spend all day frolicking amongst Nature’s glorious bounty. Well, maybe not actually frolicking, but I would be doing several activities, including kayaking, biking, and mountain climbing. I can think of no better way to connect with oneself than through the elements, Nature’s gifts.

Secondly, I am probably the most random person I know. Seriously. I can go from talking about something as mundane as the weather (and truly, I don’t find the weather that mundane; it’s quite fascinating, really), to something completely different and unrelated, such as conspiracy theories, cyborgs, or Einstein’s theory of relativity. And Joan of Art is not such a bad topic either. Oh – and the universe: space travel, time continuums, that sort of thing. See? I told you I was random. Refrigerator.

Thirdly, I am an author – a ‘wordsmith’. Truly and absolutely. I have two poetry publications to note; a recent short story publication, titled, Perfect Nothing; and my recent fantasy novel release, Empyreal Fate, which is ‘Part One’ of my Llathalan Annal series. Yep. And there’s more on the way: fantasy, steampunk, poetry, and otherwise.

Goodness – now for something almost nobody knows? Well, I am highly nostalgic. And I mean highly. In fact, I have various newspapers and newspaper clippings of random events that have happened during my lifetime. And know where I keep them? Under my bed. But they’re nostalgic for me – just like the Nintendo 64 I keep in the other room. And my GameBoy Color with the ‘Pokemon Gold’ game still inside the slot in my top dresser, beneath the socks. And that art book from when I was ten… pressed between my novels on the bookshelf. Oh, my friends, the list goes on and on…

I see on your website that you go to the University of Oklahoma. That’s where Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) got his degree in writing. How come you’re not studying that? :) (The University of Oklahoma also publishes my very favorite writing book of all time – “Techniques of the Selling Writer” Just FYI)

Really? Jim Butcher went to OU? I actually did not know that. *Googles ‘Jim Butcher’* Well, what do you know! Here is an interview where Mr. Butcher says so himself: Interview. Hm. I learn something new every day. And I was not aware of “Techniques of the Selling Writer” until now either. Maybe I should interview you next, Bryce! ;)

Anyway, to answer your question, I am not pursuing a degree in writing, for I do not think there is any single way to write or to write well. I’ve always loved my English classes throughout the school years, but I never liked the aspect where we’d be assigned an essay in which we had to write in a certain style, and if we did not adhere strictly to that style, the paper was ‘wrong’ and points were docked. No. Rigidity in writing was – and is not – my style. I let the Muse guide me as it will, and I write what feels… well, right. I write what the characters whisper in my ear. Besides, I like helping people too much – ergo my pursuit of a degree in psychology and in the medical field. The human brain truly fascinates me to no end. But I will always write on the side – oh, yes!

What are three of your favorite novels?

*grumbles* A cruel question indeed. Out of all the novels out there, and I have to chose only three? Hm. Well… I do quite enjoy The Dragonbone Chair, by Tad Williams; Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings; and Empress, by Karen Miller. But can I call these my favorites of all time? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It depends on my mood.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

There are two, actually:

First, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov (Basically, show, don’t tell)

Secondly, write for YOURSELF. Don’t succumb to the nonsense that you must write for a particular audience or write about a subject that most people are fond of. Not. At. All. Write what YOU are passionate about. Only then will the readers sense that passion in your work. Otherwise, all you’ll find are cardboard cutouts of what you want to be. Don’t write cardboard!

What’s Empyreal Fate about?

462903_10150660690470997_713230996_9573740_222916156_oAha – my time to shine. :)

Empyreal Fate: Elves and men – on the brink of war. Love. Betrayal. Lies. Greed. An ancient evil. A dark past. Will true love conquer? Will Fate..?

Filled to the brim with forbidden love, an ancient evil, and a nation in disrepair, Empyreal Fate is a tale of riveting bravery and mortal corruption.
The land of Llathala lingers on the brink of war between men and elves, a dark history surrounding each race. Stirred by tensions of the land, a shadow of the past reemerges, taking precedence in reality and consuming the very soul of mans’ mortal weakness. Darrion, the son of a poor laborer, is ensnared in a hostile world, forced to choose between loyalty to his king or the counsel of the elves. Yet Fate has other plans in store, tying his course to Amarya, an elven royalblood of mysterious quality and unsurpassable beauty. But this forbidden connection incites betrayal from members of their own kin, marking them as traitors to the crown. In a land torn asunder, only Fate’s decree can allow such love to coexist with an ancient enmity.


Behold: A Llathalan Annal:
Empyreal Fate – Part One.

So I have one question for you… Do you believe in Fate? *Second question*…. Do you dare?

What’s up next for you?

Part Two of my Llathalan Annal series, of course! *taps fingers together with glee* Actually, I have five books already written for the series. I just need to take the time to go through edits and rewrites – and major polishes.

But, in the meantime, I am working on my first steampunk piece: a Victorian-era, dystopian, sci-fi, fantastical, all-around mechanical type of novel. If you are interested in following my blog or social media sites, I will be posting periodic updates (I’ve included various links at the end of this interview).

How many books would you like there to be in the Llathalan Annal series? Or do you even have that planned out?

Well, as I mentioned above, I have five already written (counting Part One, Empyreal Fate). However, in the process of edits and such, I may very well add more or take some away. Who knows? The Muse is seldom consistent from day to day.

How has being published changed your life?

I have not only grown as an author and individual in general, but I have met such amazing people – readers, writers, and otherwise – who have introduced me to so much more in life and in the imagination than I could ever have dreamed was possible. My life is forever changed, for creativity thrives within. And the opportunities that have come to me are incredible. I am ever-thankful to Fate, to life… to friends and acquaintances… to family. And to the Muse, which guides the innermost spirit.

What should I have asked, if only I had known to?

Why, you should have asked about my plans for world domination! I would have refrained from telling you, of course, but you should have asked all the same. It’s only proper. At least… *glances both ways* …you did know I had plans, didn’t you?

But, in all seriousness, thank you for having me here today, Bryce. It’s been a blast; and if you or anybody else has any other questions about me, Empyreal Fate, or the randomness of life in general, please – don’t hesitate to get in touch. And – even if you’re not the talkative type, feel free to get in touch anyway. Because, you know, the 21st Century demands social media. And we’re all a part of it. Frightening, I know.

Learn more about Rachel

Found a Podcast

I’m always on the lookout for new sources from which to build my writing skills. I recently came across a podcast run primarily by three authors. One is the guy who was hired to finish Robert Jordon’s Wheel of Time series (as well as plenty of his own novels), one is the author and artist behind long-running webcomic Schlock Mercenary, and the third is a horror writer with 5 novels in print.

They talk about all facets of writing, from genre-specific stuff to the business end of writing and marketing.

It’s called Writing Excuses. It’s only 15 minutes (or so) per episode, and I have found it amusing, interesting, and helpful. For an introduction, here’s a collection of podcasts they’ve done about world building in fiction. Just look down for the “Audio MP3” link at the bottom of the post, but before the comments.

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Thank you, Kim Harrison

I’ve had a problem recently. I’m getting close to the end of The Journey of St. Laurent, but I keep getting stuck. I write, rewrite, revise, rewrite, stare at the computer screen, and generally can’t seem to make it happen. And it’s not like I’m writing literary fiction or anything, so what’s the deal. Action adventure pulp is supposed to be easy to write, right? What’s the deal?

So last weekend I decided to give up. Not in the book itself, but I had to stop that staring at the screen waiting for words to type themselves. If only for a while.

I ended up fiddling around on my local library’s website. After all, I’ve never checked out an ebook before. As it ends up, they do have electronic versions of a couple of series that I’ve started reading in years past. Unfortunately, there’s a waiting list for all of the books I want to read. Sigh.

The next stop was the Kindle store on Amazon. I ended up getting the bargain priced first installment to Kim Harrison’s "The Hollows" series. It’s one of the zillion urban fantasy series that now make up approximately half of every retail bookshelf in America. It’s called "Dead Witch Walking," and and it’s perfectly fine entertainment. Especially for a buck. I’m not going to review the book here, but I will tell you what it did for me.

It reminded me what I needed to be doing. And what I need to be doing is reading more fiction. When I read, I get all sorts of creative juices flowing. It helps me get unstuck.

Anyway, I’m back on the writing wagon and this Friday I should have a new chapter up.

So thank you, Kim Harrison. Thanks for getting me to write again.

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Author Interview: Hillary Peak

Today we have an interview with Hillary Peak, author of “Wings of Hope.”

Tell me a couple of things about yourself that you’d like everybody to know and one thing that almost nobody knows.

I love being a mommy!  I don’t think I’ve ever done anything as much fun.  My two year old wants to make cookies all the time, so my house is overflowing with cookies! 

I went to college and law school in Texas.  I miss it terribly.  I would really like to live near a college that had great football.  Every fall, I miss going to games.

When I was in high school, I made commercials for a drug treatment facility.  Not because I’d been in treatment, just as an actress.

So, in the commercial, did you play the part of an addict?

Yes, I did.

Did you do any other acting or theater back then?

Yes, I was in theatre from the time I was five until I graduated from high school  I even won some drama awards.  

Do you do any now?  

No,  I don’t have time anymore.

What is Wings of Hope about?

The letter said he was dying, that’s all Jules Weinstein knows when she leaves her life in San Francisco and moves to New York City to be with her father. She never dreamed he had liberated a concentration camp, dealt cards to Bugsy Siegel or saved the life of a Black Panther. Little does she know that by getting to know her father, she will find herself. While her father struggles with whether his life was meaningful, Jules discovers that her father’s last gift to her is the ability to reach for her dreams. Her journey teacher her that “the goodbye” is sometimes the most heartbreakingly beautiful part of life. Wings of Hope is a road trip through the memories of a man making peace with his life through conversations with his grown daughter. Hope is the last gift of a father to his daughter–the power to reach for her dreams.

Why did you write “Wings of Hope”? 

I wrote this book when I was pregnant.  My father had already passed away.  I wanted to be sure that I’d have his stories to share with my children.

What’s the hardest part about writing a book like yours?

For me, it was hard to write a fictional character on someone I love (in this case, my father) and keep it fictional.

Do you have any peculiar writing practices?

I do.  Sometimes I write different pieces all over the book, rather than from beginning to end.

What’s the very best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

Keep writing.  After being rejected over and over with my first novel, it was hard for me to start another one.  Now I realize that the only way to get better and get a writing career is to keep doing it everyday.

What’s next for you?

I’ve finished a legal thrilled called, Justice Scorned.  I’m giving another try to going the traditional route of an agent, editor, publisher.  I read an article that stated that you should try to get a book published for twice as long as it took you to write it.  So, I’m giving it a year.  Then, I’ll publish it myself if I haven’t gotten anything through the traditional route.

Where can folks learn more about you or your book?

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Wings of Hope on Amazon

Wings of Hope on GoodReads

Hillary’s Facebook Fan Page

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Writing Historical Fiction

I always find it interesting to read how other authors come up with their stories, no matter the genre. Today we have a guest post from Linda Urbach, a new writer of historical fiction (but not a new writer). She’s going to talk a bit about how she came up with the inspiration for her book and then her process of writing. Her latest book, Madame Bovary’s Daughter, will be released on July 26, 2011 by Random House.

And for those of you wondering where the heck the next chapter of the serial is, wonder no longer. It’ll be here Friday.

Tell a little bit about yourself and your writing background.

I was born in Los Angeles, raised in Denver, spent a year in Paris trying to master the language and “came of age” in NYC. I have two novels published by Putnam’s (under the name Linda U. Howard) The Money Honey and Expecting Miracles.

I co-authored with Roberto Mitrotti “The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud” (20th Century Fox Specialized Film Division). My one act play “Scenes from A Cell” was a finalist in the 2002 New England One Act Festival. I am the originator of “MoMoirs: The Umbilical Cord Stops Here!” a theatrical production in conjunction with Theatre Arts Workshop of Norwalk. I’m also the creator of MoMoirs-Writing Workshops For and About Moms.

I spent over 30 years writing advertising copy in NYC. My big claim to fame was a CLIO for “My Girdle is Killing Me.” I worked for at least seven different agencies on more than 50 different accounts from Excedrin to Ocean Spray. I live in Black Rock, CT.

Tell about your inspiration and research for writing Madame Bovary’s Daughter.

When I encountered the novel Madame Bovary for the first time in my early twenties thought: how sad, how tragic. Poor, poor Emma Bovary. Her husband was a bore, she was desperately in love with another man (make that two men), and she craved another life, one that she could never afford (I perhaps saw a parallel to my own life here). Finally, tragically, she committed suicide. It took her almost a week of agony to die from the arsenic she’d ingested. But twenty- five years later and as the mother of a very cherished daughter, I reread Madame Bovary. And now I had a different take altogether: What was this woman thinking? What kind of wife would repeatedly cheat on her hardworking husband and spend all her family’s money on a lavish wardrobe for herself and gifts for her man of the moment; most important of all, what kind of mother was she?

It was almost as if she (Berthe Bovary) came to me in the middle of the night and said, “please tell my story.” This is the first historical fiction I’ve ever written so research played a big part. My first two novels were all about me but my life had gotten very boring which is why I turned to historical fiction. I used the Internet almost extensively. I found sites where I could walk through Parisian mansions of the times. Sites that not only showed what women wore but also gave instructions on how to create the gowns that were popular. I bought this great book, Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management which gives you details of absolutely everything you need to know about the running of a house in the 1850’s. You want to serve a 12-course dinner, she’ll tell you how. She’ll also tell you how many servants you need and how many pounds of paté you need to order.

The thing about research is you have to be careful not to let research get in the way of the writing. I tended to get so interested and involved in reading about the Victorian times and France in the 1850’s I would find the whole day had gone by and I hadn’t written a word. So the important thing for me is making sure I’ve got the story going forward. That’s the work part. The fun part is then filling in the historic details. It’s like I have to finish my dinner before I’ve earned my dessert. The other thing about research is that I learned to keep room open for a character I hadn’t thought about before. For example, I suddenly came across the famous couturier Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman who went to Paris and revolutionized the fashion business. He jumped off the page at me and insisted on being part of my novel. So my advice is always keep a place at the table of your book for an unexpected guest.

What is your writing process?

Oh, if only I could call it a “process”. It’s so much more of helter-skelter operation. I stare at the computer. I get up. I water the plants. I go back to the computer. I read my email. I throw out the plants that have died from over-watering. You know the drill. Anyone who has ever written will recognize this routine.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on a new novel, Sarah’s Hair, the story of Sarah Bernhardt’s hairdresser.

About Madame Bovary’s Daughter (Booklist Review)

hp_MBD_cover“Picking up after the shattering end of Gustave Flaubert’s classic, Madame Bovary, this beguiling novel imagines an answer to the question whatever happened to Emma Bovary’s orphaned daughter?

One year after her mother’s suicide and just one day after her father’s brokenhearted demise, twelve-year-old Berthe Bovary is sent to live on her grandmother’s impoverished farm. Amid the beauty of the French countryside, Berthe models for the painter Jean-François Millet, but fate has more in store for her than a quiet life of simple pleasures. Berthe’s determination to rise above her mother’s scandalous past will take her from the dangerous cotton mills of Lille to a convent in Rouen to the wealth and glamour of nineteenth-century Paris. There, as an apprentice to famed fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth, Berthe is ushered into the high society of which she once only dreamed. But even as the praise for her couture gowns steadily rises, she still yearns for the one thing her mother never had: the love of someone she loves in return.

Brilliantly integrating one of classic literature’s fictional creations with real historical figures, Madame Bovary’s Daughter is an uncommon coming-of-age tale, a splendid excursion through the rags and the riches of French fashion, and a sweeping novel of poverty and wealth, passion and revenge.”

Your Characters Aren’t You

by Randy Ingermanson

Note: This article is reprinted with Randy’s permission.

At least twice a month, I get a letter that runs roughly like this:

"Hi Randy:

I’m writing a novel about something horrible that happened in my life. Nobody would ever believe what those dirty rotten scoundrels did to me, so I’m making it a novel. It’s gonna be great! The only question I have is what legal problems I’ll face when they read my book. Can I get sued, even if it’s all the exact truth? Do I have to change their names? I want them to suffer!

Sincerely, Joe Wannawriteanovel"

Before you read on, think about that for a minute. How would you answer Joe? Can he get sued for telling the truth?

I usually begin my answer to this kind of e-mail by pointing out that I’m not a lawyer, and therefore nothing I say can be construed as legal advice. Then I say that, so far as I understand it, telling the truth is not libel, but it can be invasion of privacy. So even if a novel tells the absolute truth, the author might still be sued for making private details public.

I usually advise Joe to make a few eeny weeny changes: Change the names of the characters. Change their genders. Change their personal descriptions. Change their ethnic heritages. Change their personalities. Change the facts of the story so that nobody could possibly recognize the circumstances and guess that the people involved are friends or family of Joe. Change everything.

In short, write fiction.

In my view, the legal issues aren’t really the biggest problem with writing a novel based on real people. The real problem is that real situations involving real people make really boring fiction.

In fiction, nothing is written in stone. If you need to edit a Gertrude into a Gary, then you must have the freedom to make that change. If you need to merge five fuzzy characters into two memorable ones, then you must feel free to merge. If your lead character needs a horrible seventh-grade experience involving a tarantula, a blindfold, and an icepick, then you have to be able to conjure up that memory.

You can’t afford to hamstring your fiction with an inconvenient set of facts. If you base your novel on something that really happened, then every time you need to tweak your plot or characters, you’ll hear a voice in the back of your head saying, "But it didn’t happen that way."

Let’s be honest. Fiction is about telling lies. Big, fat, hairy, prevaricating lies. If you want to write about the truth, or approximately the truth, or even something remotely approaching the truth, then the career you’re looking for is called "Journalism." It’s a fine career choice, but it isn’t fiction.

Which leads me to another common question I hear. "Is it OK if I write a character that’s really just me?"

That depends on what you mean by the word "OK." I doubt very much that you can sue yourself for libel or invasion of privacy if you write a character that is just you. (Again, I’m not a lawyer, so if you sue yourself and somehow win, then don’t blame me.)

I see several problems with writing a character that is just you:

  • You may not be quite as interesting as your lead character needs to be.
  • If you buff up your character to be "you plus a little extra," you may wind up looking egotistical.
  • If you add in some traumatic backstory that never happened, your friends and family might get upset. * What will you do for an encore?

Let’s unpack each of these in turn.

Fiction is about characters in conflict. The characters are often a bit larger than life — in some cases, a LOT larger than life. Let’s face it. Although we writers are a talented bunch, most all of us aren’t quite as talented as the characters we create. We’d like to be, but we aren’t. We can’t afford to limit our characters to be no better than we are.

Suppose you write a lead character just like you in every way. Then, halfway through the novel, you realize that he needs to be quite a bit better than you are in some way. Maybe smarter. Maybe faster. Maybe cooler. Whatever. So you tweak him and finish the story and get it published. Now all your friends and family read the story and they see right away that your lead character is intended to be you. But they also see that he’s smarter than you are, or faster, or cooler. Naturally, they’re going to assume that you think you’re smarter, faster, or cooler than you actually are. That makes you look like an egomaniac. Is that what you want?

Suppose you write a lead character just like you in every way. Halfway through the novel, you need to explain why your character is afraid of electricity. You decide to make it plausible by adding in some backstory about being shocked with a cattle prod by an unstable mother. Now you’ve got problems, because it’s going to be "obvious" to everyone that your mother must have tortured you as a kid. If it’s not true, your novel could be construed as libel. If it’s true, your story could be considered invasion of privacy. Either way, your mother may just take you off her Christmas list.

Typically, publishers are interested in doing more than just one book with you. They invest quite a bit of money in developing an author, and it make take a few books to earn back that investment. Suppose you write a great novel in which your lead character is you. That’s wonderful, but who’ll play the starring role in your next book? You might be able to do a sequel that again features you as the lead. But can you keep that up forever? If not, then why get started down that road in the first place?

It’s perfectly OK to inject a bit of yourself in your characters. In fact, I recommend it for every character, even your villains. Give each of your characters some little snippet of yourself, whether it’s your tight-trigger temper or your obsession with stamps from Zimbabwe or your amazing skill at juggling buffalo chips.

You have plenty of interesting quirks and character traits to go around for every character you ever write. Your characters are like your children, and each of them should get some bit of your DNA.

My rule of thumb is that none of my characters should "inherit" more than about a third of their traits from me. I have no idea how much inheritance is too much, but I prefer to be cautious, so I try not to go over a third.

I’ve written several major characters who were physicists. Another was a software engineer, another an archaeologist, another a novelist. All of them shared a major interest with me. But I never thought of any of them as "me plus a little extra," because I’ve always started with somebody who was fundamentally different from me and then added chunks of myself. I think of my characters as "somebody I’d like to hang out with, because we have a major shared interest."

Now here are some questions you might want to consider for the novel you’re working on right now:

  • How much does your lead character resemble you? Will your readers wonder if that character is secretly you? Is it possible that this character is more nearly your clone than your child? Does your character have some trait that makes it clear that he or she can’t possibly be you?
  • How much of your DNA does your villain inherit? Is there nothing in your villain that you can relate to? Is it possible that you might be better able to empathize with your villain by giving him or her some valued trait of yours?

Fiction is a pack of lies that masquerades as truth. Don’t risk spoiling your carefully crafted lies with too much truth — or with too little.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Practical Pointers on Plot Pacing

by Randy Ingermanson

Note: this is a follow up from yesterday’s article, and it originally appeared in Randy’s eZine. It is reprinted here with permission.

Last month we talked about the theory of pacing. About how when you have a fast-action scene, you spend a lot more words, showing every detail of the action. And when you have a dull scene, you blip through in just a few words.

This month, we’ll try to make that practical by looking at an example.

Since I have a choice in showing either an exciting example or a dull one, I’m going to show an exciting one from THE KEY TO REBECCA, by Ken Follett.

We’ll find something that may seem surprising. Even in a very fast scene, there are places where the pace slows way down. Here’s the setting:

It’s 1942 Egypt, and Erwin Rommel is closing in on Cairo. Our hero is William Vandam of British Intelligence, hunting down a spy who is Rommel’s prime source of information. If Vandam fails, then Cairo will fall, and with it all of Egypt.

In this scene, the spy, Wolff, has kidnapped Vandam’s son Billy and girlfriend Elene, but Vandam has pursued them. After Elene purposely wrecks the car, Wolff gets out to fight Vandam. We watch the scene from Elene’s point of view.

Paragraph 1: Vandam jumped forward again. This time Wolff dodged back. Vandam kicked out, but Wolff was out of range. Wolff jabbed with the knife. Elene saw it rip through Vandam’s trousers and draw blood. Wolff stabbed again, but Vandam had stepped away. A dark stain appeared on his trouser leg.

Randy sez: In this single paragraph, the pace is as fast as a knife fight can be. We see six actions and reactions by the two men.

Paragraph 2: Elene looked at Billy. The boy lay limply on the floor of the car, his eyes closed. Elene clambered over into the back and lifted him onto the seat. She could not tell whether he was dead or alive. She touched his face. He did not stir. "Billy," she said. "Oh, Billy."

Randy sez: In this paragraph, the pace slows down sharply. Why? What is Follett is doing here?

The answer is that Follett is giving the reader a chance to rest. You can only show fast action for a short time before the reader begins numbing. In this one-paragraph lull, Follett gives you a chance to recover. A little.

Paragraph 3: She looked outside again. Vandam was down on one knee. His left arm hung limply from a shoulder covered with blood. He held his right arm out in a defensive gesture. Wolff approached him.

Randy sez: The pace is still slow here, but the tension is ramping up hard. Wolff and Vandam are positioning themselves for the next series of moves. Vandam looks ready to collapse. It’s not a fair fight. The odds are heavily against our hero.

Paragraph 4: Elene jumped out of the car. She still had the broken-off gear stick in her hand. She saw Wolff bring back his arm, ready to slash at Vandam once more. She rushed up behind Wolff, stumbling in the sand. Wolff struck at Vandam. Vandam jerked sideways, dodging the blow. Elene raised the gear stick high in the air and brought it down with all her might on the back of Wolff’s head. He seemed to stand still for a moment.

Randy sez: The pace turns electric again, with every detail now shown, frame by frame. There are six actions here in this single paragraph, each one an emotional hit point for the reader. Now watch Follett bring the pace smoothly down to normal speed again in a series of short paragraphs:

Paragraph 5: Elene said: "Oh, God."

Paragraph 6: Then she hit him again.

Paragraph 7: She hit him a third time.

Paragraph 8: He fell down.

Paragraph 9: She hit him again.

Paragraph 10: Then she dropped the gear stick and knelt beside Vandam.

Paragraph 11: "Well done," he said weakly.

Overall, the pace of the scene is very high, but it’s not constant. Follett varies the pace, faster, slower, faster, slower.

Like a violinist using vibrato to constantly vary the pitch, Follett makes the entire passage read better by constantly varying the pace.

This is a very important principle for your fastest action scenes: Vary the pace. The fast parts will feel faster by contrast with the slow parts. And in the slow parts, build tension by showing the preparations for more action in exquisite detail.

Your reader will love you for it.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Pacing Your Novel

Note: This article is reprinted with permission.

by Randy Ingermanson

When I sold my first novel, one of the comments I got back from the editorial team was this: "The pace for this novel was perfect — never too fast nor too slow."

I was surprised, because I’d never thought much about pace. Certain things come easy to every author, and other things come hard. Pace comes easy to me.

What is pace?

It’s the amount of time you spend on each part of the story.

The Goldilocks Principle applies to pace — it should be neither too fast nor too slow, but just right.

There isn’t any tidy little rule you can memorize to define what the perfect pace is for a story. A general rule is to vary the pace to suit the tension in the scene.

So most often, you’ll want to zip through the boring parts of the story and take more time on the exciting parts.

That seems very strange, doesn’t it? If you’re showing a high-speed car chase, surely you’d want to make it read fast, wouldn’t you? Which means using fewer words, doesn’t it?

Yes and no.

Yes, you want it to read fast. But no, you don’t want to spend fewer words on it, you want more.

There’s really no paradox here. Ever seen a football game in which one of the players makes a huge play, dodging first one defender, then another, all the way down the field, finally dancing into the end zone for a touchdown? What happens next?

You can bet your shirt that the networks are going to show the whole thing AGAIN, this time in slow motion, dragging out every twist, turn, head-fake, missed tackle, fancy step, jump, roll, block, clip, and lost helmet, all the way down the field.

Showing it in slow-motion takes a lot longer, but it doesn’t cut the pace. It INCREASES the pace.

Why?

Because when the play ran at normal speed, you missed most of the action. You saw a guy running and you saw guys missing him. It all went by in a blur so fast that you couldn’t take it all in.

When they ran it in super slo-mo, you saw every little move. You saw your man do an inside-outside-inside fake. You saw the defender respond to each fake in turn, finally overcommitting in the wrong direction.

Then your man cut to his right and sped on to the next defender, faking left, then right. You saw the defender freeze, then set himself low for a tackle. Then your man leaped right over the defender.

And on down the field. When your man reached the sidelines, you saw him threading a needle between his blocker and that thin chalk line. You saw every block, every weave. You saw the last desperate flying tackler miss your man’s heels by an inch.

As he entered the end-zone, you saw his gait change to a high-stepping strut, saw him raise the ball in triumph. And then the normal pace resumed.

It took ten times as long to see it that way, but this time, YOU SAW IT ALL. You saw every action, every reaction, in beautiful, sharply cut detail. That’s what you came to see. With that one play, you got your nickel’s worth for the game.

In your novel, the moral equivalent of super-slo-mo involves spending far more words than you normally would, but using much shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs.

You alternate rapidly between what your point-of-view character is doing and what his opposition is doing.

If your paragraphs are normally three sentences apiece, they might drop down to two sentences or one.

If your sentences are normally ten words apiece, they might fall to five words. Or three.

Or one.

You can’t keep that up very long, of course. That would be crazy. In the same way, it would be crazy to watch an entire football game in slow motion. You want to ramp up the pace only for the high-tension scenes, where the stakes are high.

Slowing down the pace works the opposite way. Longer sentences. Longer paragraphs. Fewer actions and reactions. More interior monologue, longer dialogue.

Why does this work? It’s really very simple. The reader reads fiction hoping to have a Powerful Emotional Experience.

Inside a scene, you provide this by showing actions and reactions between your point-of-view character and the other characters. Every time you show your POV character reacting to the other characters, you have a chance to provide an emotional hit point to your reader.

If you have short actions and short reactions (using short sentences and paragraphs), then you score emotional points with your reader faster. If you lengthen out the actions and reactions, then you score fewer emotional points.

Naturally, it only makes sense to speed up the pace when the tension is high. If you try this when the tension is low, the story is going to drag. (Imagine showing the team’s huddle in slow-motion.)

There are an infinite variety of paces you can use as you work through each scene. You speed it up and slow it down, possibly several times in the scene.

How do you know when you’ve got it right?

That’s easy. You’ve got it right when it feels right. Fiction is about creating a Powerful Emotional Experience in your reader. Tweak the pace until you’re doing that, and your reader will feel like Goldilocks.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Hewn out of the Living Rock

OK, so I’m currently reading "King Solomon’s Mines” by H. Rider Haggard. And I came across a passage that describes something that was “Hewn out of the living rock,” and it occurred to me that every single book I have read where any action takes place in a cave or near a cliff has that phrase. Or at least “Hewn from the living rock.” It’s cross genre, from thriller to fantasy to science fiction to anything else.

So I hereby am making a pledge to never put that description into any fiction I should write.

Also, sorry about the lack of a chapter. There should be one Friday. I got distracted with other goings on in my life.

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Mark Twain’s Rules Governing Literary Art in Domain of Romantic Fiction

Mark Twain wrote these rules in his roast of the novel “Deerslayer” in an essay titled Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences. I didn’t write them. He did. Don’t get mad at me. There’s some good reminders in here for us writers.

Rules 1-11 he considered to be the big rules (hence the bigger font), 12-18 are the little ones.

  1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
  2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it.
  3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
  4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
  5. The require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
  6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.
  7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it.
  8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale.
  9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
  10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
  11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.
  12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
  13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
  14. Eschew surplusage.
  15. Not omit necessary details.
  16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
  17. Use good grammar.
  18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

p.s. It’s my birthday today.

Coauthoring Without Murder

by Randy Ingermanson

reposted with permission

"We’re Best Friends Forever," she said, tilting her head toward the woman sitting beside her at the dinner table. "And we’re writing a novel together. Isn’t that COOL?"

I nodded noncommitally. "Sounds . . . great." We were eating supper at a writing conference and I was hosting a table and trying to get to know the other writers at my table. But anytime I hear that two friends are coauthoring, I get nervous, because writing a novel together can be murder on your friendship.

"We heard you coauthored a couple of novels with your best friend," one of the BFFs said. "And those worked out great, right?"

I nodded. Yes, I wrote two novels with my best buddy, John Olson. Yes, we sold the novels, won several awards, and remained best buddies. Yes, it worked out extremely well. Yes, we would do it again.

But the fact is that writing a novel with a friend doesn’t always work out great. In fact, it rarely works out at all.

Coauthoring is serious business, and there are a lot of ways to go wrong. John and I were too ignorant to know better, or maybe we wouldn’t have tried it. But we did and it worked.

The main reason — probably the ONLY reason — you should ever coauthor a novel with anyone is that you each bring some skill to the table that the other person doesn’t have.

With fiction, the most common reason two people coauthor a novel is that one of them is an expert on the subject of the novel, while the other is an expert at writing fiction.

The reason this works so well is that fiction needs both good content and good craft in order to work. Normally, an author brings both the content and the craft, but it makes perfect sense to team up one person who has the content and another person who has the craft.

For example, the LEFT BEHIND series, which sold tens of millions of books, teamed up Tim LaHaye (famous in certain circles for his interpretation of biblical prophecy) with Jerry Jenkins (a talented novelist). Tim brought the content; Jerry brought the craft. Together, they made an enormously successful team.

So whenever I meet BFFs who are working together on a novel, the first question I ask is, "What does each of you bring to the project that the other doesn’t?"

A lot of times, this draws a very long, blank look, and the words, "Well . . . we’re FRIENDS."

My next question is, "How do you split up the writing?"

If this also gets a blank look, then I know this partnership is in trouble. You have to split up the writing somehow. You have to. You can’t sit there at the keyboard all cuddly and both type at once. (John and I NEVER tried this, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work.)

I’ve often thought about what went right with John and me. There were several reasons that we made a good team.

First, we have complementary organizational skills. John is a visionary guy who is great at setting strategic goals. I am good at taking a vision and translating that into a set of tactical goals. So our first novel, OXYGEN, was John’s idea (although I contributed a lot of ideas). I made the battle plans (and John played a key role in revising those plans).

Second, we have different areas of expertise. John is a biochemist. I’m a physicist. Our novel, about the first human mission to Mars, required a ton of research. John handled the life-science aspects. I took on the physical-science stuff.

Third, we have different skills as fiction designers. John is exceptional at developing plot and he LOVES writing synopses. I find character development easy and I LOVE writing character sketches. So we each did what we liked best in developing the story and writing the proposal.

Fourth, we have complementary emphases in our writing. John loves to "write from the shadows" — giving each scene an air of mystery and intrigue. I like shining a bright light on things, so that the reader always knows exactly what the viewpoint character knows.

So when John edited my scenes, he added some mystery and shadows. When I edited his scenes, I clarified things that might have confused the reader. Somehow, it all melded together into a unique style that was neither mine nor John’s. Our editors were completely unable to guess which of us wrote which parts.

Now here is where things could have gone badly wrong. If we’d asked anyone for advice, they’d have told us not to both be the writer. It’s very hard to mix two people’s styles into something that works.

But we didn’t ask for advice because we didn’t know there might be a problem. So both of us wrote first draft material and both of us edited. Our biggest problem was scheduling things so that we were always up to speed on what the other guy had written.

Early on, we thought that if we each wrote a scene at the same time, then we could work twice as fast. But then we discovered that the scenes simply didn’t work, because the tone of one scene’s ending determines the tone of the scene that follows. And you don’t know exactly how a scene is going to play out until you write it.

So eventually, we hit on a plan where we’d map out the scenes for a week in advance. It would go like this: Randy will write a scene Monday morning and send it to John. John will edit that Monday night, then write the next scene, and send them both to Randy. On Tuesday morning, Randy accepts or rejects John’s changes, then edits John’s scene, then writes the next scene, and sends it all to John.

Repeat until the end of the book. It’s a little complicated, but it worked without anybody losing an eye.

There was another rule we had. Each of us "owned" certain characters and we got to write the first draft of any scenes in which our character was the point-of-view character. John "owned" the female biochemist astronaut named Valkerie. I "owned" the male physicist astronaut Bob.

There was a third character named Nate who had a fair number of viewpoint scenes. Nate was a very rude and belligerent guy, and it turned out that I’m ruder and more belligerent than John, so I wound up writing Nate’s scenes. This evened the work out, because John’s character Valkerie had more scenes than my character Bob.

If you are going to work with another author, then one key requirement is that you both have to leave your ego at the door. This is hard. Writers have big egos (otherwise, they’d never do something as egotistical as believe that they might be able to write something that many thousands of people might actually want to read.)

I think what made things work for John and me was that we each had a very healthy respect for the other guy’s talents. We had been friends for a few years, and each of us knew what the other was capable of doing. I think each of us felt lucky to be working with the other guy.

There is a very bad reason that people sometimes give for coauthoring: "It cuts the work in half to have two people working on it."

No. It cuts the MONEY in half. But there is always some inefficiency in getting two people working together. I suspect that in most cases there is a LOT of inefficiency.

Don’t kid yourself on this. It may take more time to coauthor a novel than to write it alone. I used to joke that "John wrote 80% of our book . . . and I wrote the other 80%."

But I suspect that each of us actually put in about 120% of the normal effort for a book. This would be foolish unless the end result is better than either author could have done alone. In our case, I think we did get a better result as a team than either of us could have done solo.

When John and I first pitched the idea for our book to an editor, one question he asked was what we’d do if we disagreed. We hadn’t thought about that, but the answer seemed obvious to me. The book was John’s idea. So if we couldn’t agree, then he had the deciding vote. For the same reason, his name would go first on the cover. And if we decided to break up the team, then John would own full rights to the book.

Our editor thought that made sense. It would have been wise to spell that out in writing, along with a few other details. Maybe we should have. I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to write a contract between coauthors, but we never did.

Should you write your novel with a coauthor? Before you do, here are some questions you MUST have answers to:

  • Why can this NOT be a solo project?
  • How are you going to split the work?
  • How are you going to split the money?
  • When you disagree, who gets to decide?
  • Whose name will go first on the cover, and why?

You’ll notice that none of those questions has anything to do with whether you’re best friends with your coauthor. Friendship is a fine, fine thing, but you need a good sound business reason before you enter a business relationship with anyone.

I never heard what happened to the two BFFs who were writing a novel together. Maybe they finished it. Most likely they didn’t. I hope they’re still friends.

People ask me once in a while if John and I are going to write another novel together. The answer is always a good, firm, "Maybe." We’d like to. Working together was great fun, and I learned a lot about writing from John. I hope that he may have learned a trick or two from me.

But it has to be the right book, at the right time, for the right reason. When that happens, we’ll do it. If it doesn’t, we won’t. I value John’s friendship more than I value any book we might write together.


Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Pain – It’s why I write

pain

Yesterday morning at 3:20 AM a carless friend calls me, says his wife is in labor. I hop in the golden minivan of power and rush over to his place. When I see them and I talk to her, I’m pretty sure she’s not in labor. I’ve seen labor several times now, and I’ve done lots of reading on the subject. Anyway, I know it’ll only cause friction, so I don’t say anything – besides, who knows what the hospitals going to say. So we take the five minute ride up the hill, I make sure they get situated, and I go home and try to get some sleep. I’m unsuccessful, and that’s OK, because they call me at 4:45 to come pick them up – false alarm. Fast forward a few minutes. I’m home, tired, and trying to sleep. 5:30 rolls around, I’m still awake, and now it’s my mother-in-law’s wake up time. She’s been with us the past week and a half, for which I am grateful. I love that woman. Anyway, even though she’s great, she is noisy, and thus interrupts my (attempted) sleep. I eventually get an hour’s worth of sleep and then it’s time to go to work.

While I’m at work, my wife smells gas, and calls the gas company. They come out, find a leak and shut off the gas – no hot water or furnace.

After work, I have some duties at my church, so I take care of those and come home. My parents live six minutes away so my wife and I head over there to shower.

We get home, I get everybody in bed, then go to the fridge for a snack. The light in the fridge doesn’t come on – Yay! The power’s out!

No, wait – only half the power’s out!

I check the breaker box and everything looks like it’s in order – no breakers tripped.

I can’t figure out what has happened.

So a dig up an extension chord and string it from one of the few plugs in the house that is working to our refrigerator. After, all, I don’t want a bunch of spoiled food. I go to sleep and hope the home repair fairies visit me in the night.

This morning, I wake up, and the home repair fairies have passed me by. I must not have been good this year.

I call the power company and they come out. The guy gets in the bucket lifter.

Half of the old school power line that feeds my home has burned out. The other half looks like it’s about to go at any time. They can’t repair it, as for liability reasons they only use newer style wire. To use the newer style wire, I need to get a new meter box, poke a hole in my roof, and install a weather head thingy. So he has to cut the other half of my power until I can get things fixed up. Yay!

So now my house is not only cold, but dark.

I buy dome dry ice and throw it in the freezer and the fridge, then pack up the family and send them off to my wife’s sister’s house. We were going to all head there Saturday afternoon, anyway, so it’s no big deal to juggle things and get them on the road.

Now it’s time for me to get on the phone, dig up some professionals and funding, and get to work. (and of course, do my day job, too.)

Now before you get all weepy, let me just say: don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I have good friends, good family, and I’m willing to do what it takes to get stuff fixed. Like all storms, this too shall pass. Pity isn’t the point.

Here’s why I share with you my sad, sad story:

I use writing to deal with the pains and frustrations of everyday life. Something bad happens to me, and I kick Corbin St. Laurent (The hero of my book & its sequel) in the groin. Writing takes my mind off irritants and is releases some of the pressure. For me, writing is better than therapy. I love it, and I’m grateful for all of my painful experiences. Not only to they help me grow personally, they give me an emotional reservoir from which to draw every time I sit down to write. If I can just learn how to tap it fully, I’ll be unstoppable.

I think all successful writing is drawn on big emotions, whether it be fiction or non-fiction. There are folks who have experiences huge financial losses who now use that pain to write on money management. Jane Austen apparently wrote about relationships that were happy endings to her own tragic romance.

So, yes, I believe great emotion can bring about great writing.

All I can say is that after all this, something absolutely evil is on its way to meet poor ol’ Corbin.

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