A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, June 26, 2009

Inkheart Got Me To Thinking

We sat down last night to watch a movie and stumbled on the film Inkheart. Although I hadn't seen too many previews of it, my youngest son said it looked like something good. So we went ahead and ordered it through Comcast.

The movie is from a book of the same name (written by Cornelia Funke), and the premise is that there are certain individuals (known as Silvertongues) who can literally bring things out of books when they read aloud from them. I always like these types of movies, because they resonate so strongly with me as a writer. Even if the movie isn't great, I can feel the storyline going on behind the images.

There is one interesting aspect however, that really got me to thinking. At one point in the movie, the author of the book the Silvertongue has read from is told that his characters are walking around in the flesh. So what does he do? Well he strides out to meet the character of course. I thought this idea had some really interesting implications. What if I could meet a character from a book in person? Which ones would I really like to meet, and which ones would I be terrified to meet?

One of my favorite characters is The Walking Dude from the Stand. He's truly diabolical and just plain cool. I don't think I'd want to meet him on the street however, since he is evil personified. Actually, since it's implied that he just might be Satan, maybe I've met or seen him already and haven't known it? I also don't know if I'd want to meet any of my own characters. My writing process is so jumbled and messy, I'd be afraid my characters would want to string me up for not fleshing them out enough.

There is a scene where a character goes back into the book Inkheart, aware that he is merely a character in a book. Could he change the path of the book, since he has attained awareness? How would we feel if our characters didn't really like the roads we were taking them down (post publication)? In my case, the characters usually tell me what they're doing anyway, so I guess it wouldn't bother me. But what about in your stories? Would you be upset if suddenly your MC decided he liked the blonde thin girl instead of the saucy brunette you'd taken pains to set him up with?

Would you relish the opportunity to meet a character in the flesh (yours or any other one)? Are there any that you'd rather not meet?

A final note - I really like books like this that get me to thinking. It's fun, even if the answers are merely theoretical. Sometimes the answers can lead me to more new stories.

A Small Excerpt

Since I had a burst of inspiration this morning, I'm going to post a small excerpt of a story I've been working on for some time. If you look back through some of my earlier posts (or you've been reading all along), you may recognize the character Kris. This is first draft stuff, so please keep that in mind. I like the way the story is going however, so I thought I'd share.

Mara sat across from him once more, her legs hidden beneath the pale robe. Her emerald eyes were hidden behind closed lids while her ruby lips tightened.

“Will you at least try to concentrate?” He jolted out of his examination of her with a sheepish grin.

“Sorry.” She pretended not to notice the flush that filled his face.

“Kris, you cannot perform your duties if you don’t know where these rifts are going to appear. You have to concentrate.” Her eyes were now open, boring into him with their usual fire.

“I don’t even know what it is I’m really doing. How about a better explanation than that last metaphysical crap you tried to throw my way?” The last few weeks had been filled with endless sessions of them sitting across from one another. He was supposed to be learning to control himself, put up walls around his mind to keep her out. He didn’t know why he needed to keep everything out, but she insisted on it, so he kept trying. Mara was too powerful however, and she would cut through his flimsy barriers like paper.

“We’ve been over this. You must begin with a thread, weave it around your thoughts until it becomes a blanket of steel.”

“I’m not a seamstress, Mara.” It came out harsher than he intended. “I’m sorry, but you’re too powerful. And what does all this have to do with black furry nightmares and holes in the universe anyway?” Kris jumped up and stalked outside, his frustration with himself boiling over. The whole thing made no sense, and Mara was holding back something important. He didn’t know what it was, but there were too many gaps in her explanations.

Her light touch on the back of his arm made him jump. “Do you think knowing everything all at once will teach you control?” Her voice was quiet, soothing his anger as if by magic.

“No Mara. I know what you’re trying to teach me is important. I get that. But if we’re running out of time, don’t you think you ought to tell me what’s coming down the pipe? And why do you go stare at those poles every morning? Why do I feel lines of power crisscrossing all over this place?” He turned to look down at her, his blue eyes demanding an answer.

Mara looked him over, searching for something in his face. “You are not ready, but I can see I have no choice.” She grasped his arm and led him to a nearby pole, unintelligible markings running down its length. “You do not know this language.” Not waiting for confirmation, she began to trace the characters with an index finger. “These markings are written in the tongue of the Kazak’Tun. The beast that attacked us was one of their minions. These poles are here for our protection, and these words prohibit any intrusions.”

She turned to face him, arms outstretched in front of her. “The ley lines you feel beneath your feet form a net I learned to craft very long ago, and they tie the poles together. It is a prison, Kris, designed to keep us safely inside.” Her eyes hardened to steel as she told him, “You cannot pass these borders Kris – not until I decide you are ready.”

The implications quickly sunk in, and Kris could feel his anger igniting. “Lady, I agreed to come with you because you were supposed to be teaching me something, not making me a prisoner. You ain’t turning me into some hermit so I can end up like you, hiding from the world behind invisible bars.”

“I’m protecting the world from you, boy. I’m protecting you from yourself. You have power beyond imagining, but you can’t control any of it. If that means I have to chain you inside a tiny box, you better believe I will do so.” The fire in her voice was echoed in her eyes. “And the Kazak’Tun will not stop their attempts to break through the rifts, so cease your childish tantrums. We do not have time for this.”

Kris watched her walk away, her stride quick and full of fury. Damn her. He had trusted her, and look where it got him. He didn’t care if she did know things. Nobody was gonna cage him up. He turned on his heel and strode purposefully towards the strangely marked pole. He was going to walk right out of here, and there was nothing that little lady could do about it.

Steeling himself, he built a wall of invisible force around himself. The hum of its power vibrated along his bones with aching familiarity. With effort, he took a step towards the border.

“Kris, don’t move!” Mara came running back out of the hut, terror in her voice.

“Adios, Master Yoda”, he grinned at her. “Don’t wait up.” As he took a step, time slowed to a crawl. Lightning raced through his body, every nerve firing in agonizing pain. His skull was ablaze, a migraine of catastrophic proportions. He barely noticed the familiar dance along his spine as the rift opened before him. Silver tipped claws shot out from behind the purple curtain and grasped his shoulders, pulling him violently forward into the gaping maw. Mara’s scream was the last thing Kris heard before the rift closed tightly behind him.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Spreading Your Wings

The wind slides across my helmet, its touch soothing despite the anxiety warring within my heart. My mind is racing, but I'm in less control of it than I am the motorcycle beneath me. Fears sneak in, to be chased away by reassurances. Worry creases my brow even as I remember how much I've taught you.

From the moment you first entered my life, I've worked hard at molding you, helping you grow and watching how much you learn. You impress me every single day, and the pride in my heart at your accomplishments is without measure. I cannot help but worry however, since that is my job. You are about to leave, even if only for a short while. You will be learning things I cannot teach you, living through experiences I cannot provide, and smiling at new friends around you. When you come home, you will be altered in subtle ways, but there will be a new gleam in your eye and exquisite memories to enjoy.

I have always tried to be a well of confidence that you draw from, but I realize that soon enough you will no longer need it. It saddens me in small ways, but this is the way of things. Much like a young eagle, your wings will soon spread wide and you will be winging your way across the landscape looking for a place to land. This first small test flight is only the beginning of what your life holds for you.

Take care, my son. As always, I hope the world you are walking into celebrates you as much as I do. Although I will worry about you anyway, I'm proud to say you are ready for everything life is handing you. Remember I love you, and return safely to me when you're done.

** This post is a silent ode to my son, who is headed off to wrestling camp in Wyoming for five days. While a bit melodramatic perhaps, it was a necessity for me to get this out. For those who do not have children, you may not understand just how difficult it is to allow them on a trip away from you. We have always spent so much time with our children, that being without them is really weird and uncomfortable. He is growing up though, and while I know that I will miss him, this will be a memorable experience. I didn't think I would have too much trouble dealing, since I know this is no big deal and he's going with a coach I have known for a long time, a man I highly admire and respect. But the worry-wart in me is making itself known, and I won't feel better until I see him safe and sound on Monday.

May the Lord take care of my son and return him to me safely. Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Voice In Writing

Sherrinda over at A Writer Wannabe has an interesting post about voice. Her thoughts (and forgive me Sherrinda if I describe the intent of your post wrong) revolve around finding our voice as authors. As I was putting a comment, I realized I have a slightly different perspective on the subject and I'd like to share it with everyone.

Voice can be described as the way the story is told, or the stylings of the particular author that comes through in their writing. I've heard it said many times that we need to find our voice, but I disagree. Distinctive voice in writing is something everyone has, even if they are barely capable of stringing together a complete sentence. If their writing is disjointed and ugly, they still have a writer's voice. It may not be pleasant to read through or even intelligible, but it's there waiting to burst forth. Voice is as much an expression of our personality as it is our experiences - and so much more.

Since everyone has it, there really isn't a need to find it. As we grow and improve our writing, our voice has the chance to shine. We break down the walls that keep us from writing well, and with each brick removed, the voice is allowed to be heard more clearly. For example, when we learn to stop obsessing over the perfect word, a brick is removed. When we are able to sit and write for hours on end, a brick is removed. When we use our red pen like a sword, cutting a swath of edits through our own manuscript, a brick is removed. All that remains is the story, told in our voice, unhindered and unencumbered by all those bricks. So while it's splitting hairs, the focus shouldn't be on finding our voice. Instead we should concentrate on improving our writing, getting past our own bad habits and issues, and the voice will come through naturally like a beacon.

Have you removed all your personal bricks? Do you hear your voice in your writing? What barriers do you still need to get rid of in order to free it?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's In A Title?

Before I plunge into the current topic, I'd like to take a moment to bid one of our fellow bloggers adieu. Michelle a.k.a. The Surly Writer unfortunately is refraining from blogging (hopefully just for a while, not permanently). If you have not had the pleasure of reading her posts, enjoying her talent, drop by her blog and browse. I for one have enjoyed every moment getting to know her through her writings, and I am quite sad to hear she will be absent for some time. Don't stay away forever Michelle; we'll be here waiting for your momentous return.

Today I'd like to talk about titles. I'm talking about the moniker we hang on our stories. This is a sore subject for me, because I usually cringe when asked to come up with a title. I like titles that say just enough but not too much. A title can be compelling enough that you'll want to read the book without really knowing much about the storyline. A perfect example of this is 'Twilight'. It doesn't really give away that the book is about vampires. But as you read through the book, you understand why it was named that way. Another example is 'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet'. The title is compelling, making you wonder what makes this hotel the centerpiece of the story.

Is it better to use one word titles or should it be a few words? I would argue there really is no "right" way to name your book. Sometimes, the title that jumped out at the author doesn't end up making it as the name of the book. What the author thinks it should be named may be different than what the editor or publisher thinks. I've heard of this type of thing anyway. For me, titles usually sneak up and scream at me when they are ready. In the case of one story I'm halfway through, I still have no title for it. The book I began (and am still editing/re-writing) had a title months before I ever wrote the first word. It still rings true as the right title for the book too.

How about your stories? How do you decide on a title? Is there a process you go through or does it just sneak up on you as the story progresses?

Friday, June 19, 2009

UK Book Shops Need Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

If you don't know I'm a fan of Jamie Ford and his book, you haven't been reading my blog much. Unfortunately, our friends across the pond do not have direct access to this wonderful tome. Fear not Jamie, help is on the way. My bud Rebecca has a great idea, which you can read about here. Rebecca has some great ideas for using Twitter:

Help through Twitter by doing the following:

1. #followfriday Jamie (@JamieActual)
2. #fridayreads Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
3. Link to this post mentioning Jamie or Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
4. Help to make #jamiefordinUK a trending topic

I've copied from her blog, so I hope she won't mind. Run your own blog post (with the exact same title as mine here) and let's get the word out. If you haven't read this book, go get it right now. To quote a great 80's movie line, "It's a moral imperative!" Bonus points for those who know what movie that quote is from. C'mon blog-o-sphere. It's a damn shame the UK doesn't have access to this book, so help us do what we can to get it there.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled broadcast.

Poll Results

Well, the results are in and evidently I have a bunch of followers who enjoy healthy discussions. Book reviews and author interviews took a beating, so I'll try not to offer up too many of those. I make no apologies however, for my enjoyable review of Hotel and the subsequent interview of the author. That was a fun time, and once Jamie cranks out another one, you'll have to bear with me doing it again. Yes, I'm that big a fan. No Jamie, I won't start cyber-stalking.

Interestingly enough, although some of you like my musings, it wasn't overwhelming. I'm not sure whether that means they suck or they're just not capturing everyone's attention. Either way, you'll just have to suck it up and deal with 'em. This is the one place I can let my muse run wild, and if I try to cage up that monkey, he's liable to slap me around.

Thank you to those who put in an opinion. The feedback is helpful, if for nothing else than to know how I'm doing.

Race In Writing

I stumbled on a post by Michelle (a.k.a. The Surly Writer) about her experiences with race growing up. This led to reading through her friend Jim's (a.k.a. Suldog) post along the same topic. They both got me to thinking about race in writing. Let me put forth a disclaimer first however. If you have strong feelings about race, racial tension, etc, you may want to stop here. I will be using the blanket terms like white, black, hispanic, etc. Its less typing for one thing, and I don't want to get into worrying about who will be offended if I choose caucasian instead of white or african-american instead of black (or visa versa). This will not be a soapbox discussion. No, this will be something slightly different than their particular posts, though I do advise you to read through Michelle and Jim's blogs anyway - it's good stuff.

What I thought about after reading their stories is how race affects my writing, how my perceptions of race (or maybe my experiences) affect what goes into my writing. For example, although I don't purposely write about just white people, I am man enough to admit that most of my characters end up being white. Is this because its easier for me? Or am I being close-minded in my process? My WiP ironically has a MC that is hispanic, so I guess that's a step in the right direction. But what I'm trying to get at is that my writing is definitely affected by my own experience and background, regardless of how much I appreciate the diverse cultures in humanity. Should I be doing more to involve a multitude of races? That's a soapbox question better left unanswered.

A mantra that has been stated over and over again in this industry is "write what you know". If that's true, how can I possibly be successful writing a book about a homeless hispanic woman? This mantra has good and bad implications, and sometimes I think it limits us as much as it benefits us. In the context of race, writing what I know means describing a middle-class white man who rarely had to deal with racism. I can't possibly comprehend what its like to be a poor black male living in the southern US amongst white neighbors. Or can I? As if writing well weren't difficult enough, putting myself in the shoes of someone whose experience is completely foreign is really a challenge. I don't think it's an impossibility however, and this is where the mantra should be tossed to the curb. I might not know what a particular person of a certain race might do in a given situation, but walking through his footsteps could be a really interesting and rewarding experience. And if I work at it, the writing can be something to admire.

So what tools can we use when we're outside of our comfort zone, outside of our "known area"? Language is the first obvious answer. Dialog speaks volumes about the person and they're background. While it may not necessarily dictate their race, there are sometimes indicators or language that can be used to help fill in the details. We can also provide our character with clothes, an accent, a certain type of car, etc. Of course we want to avoid stereotypes, but whether we like it or not, there are certain perceptions that everyone has about a given culture. We should use the ones that advance the story, not an agenda - unless the agenda is the story, of course.

At some point in our writing, there will be racial tension. Even if we're writing a sci-fi epic about the Borlians and the Pugnats, somewhere along the line race should enter into the equation. There hasn't been a society yet that is free from racial tension (not even Star Trek's utopia), so we need to include it in our writing as well. Despite the negativity of racism, including it's facets in our writing makes things more believable. Perhaps someday we'll be able to look back on our history and laugh about how ignorant we were, being worried about everyone's race, but for now it's an integral part of humanity - whether we like it or not.

How do you deal with race in your writing? Do you even think about it? And how often do you push yourself out of your "coccoon of personal experience" to describe a different perspective?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Crafting A Story...Within Guidelines

Usually when we decide write something, we have a basic idea or inspiration to launch from. We are taking a shower and suddenly in pops the next short story or novel for our armada. Characters begin to form, plot is constructed, and - if we're really lucky - a framework for the story magically draws itself upon our mind.

What do you do however, if you're given the topic (along with some very rough parameters) and have to create something? For example, what if you are asked to write a story about a unicorn? You're given guidelines, such as the unicorn needs to be a central part of the story, there needs to be humor, etc. But you're also given leeway, such as being able to write the story on another planet (i.e. purple unicorns), during a different time period (Unicorn use during WWII), or in a unique culture (Tibetan Unicorns). How do you proceed to jumpstart the creative juices?

For me, letting the ideas form on their own is alot easier. My story ideas usually come when I least expect them, and not always with enough helpful details. When I'm presented with a topic though, the pressure of creation is almost too much. It's as if my brain doesn't like the restrictions; it would rather ramble freely across the landscape, picking up the diamonds of it's choosing rather than ones pointed out by outsiders.

The reason for this post is because I am currently standing on the edge of this virtual chasm. I have a story I need to craft, with a given topic, some rough parameters, and a concrete word count. Where do I begin? Do I start building some basic characters? Do I instead work on the plot? Or perhaps I should build a world for my story first? Spitballing within the confines of a defined vein is really difficult for me, and my muse is laughing his butt off in the corner with dunce cap in hand, ready to place it solidly on my head.

If you have any advice at all, I'm all ears. I feel like an American Idol contestant who has suddenly been struck mute right before the audition. Eep!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another Musing

"Y'know, there aren't that many left of us."
Tyrian looked around, the ivory landscape blinding in its brilliance. Whoever decided on white should be slapped silly. After a few millennium, it was aching to the sensibilities. He'd love to have a few blues or greens to break things up once in a while. The original architect was gone though, for a long time. Either that or he just no longer cared.

"How much longer are you going to stay here, Tyrian?" His companion was nothing if not persistent.

"I'm not a follower, Asa. You know what will happen once he has everyone." He gazed over his shoulder at the beauty behind him. She was perfect. Too bad. "Death isn't necessarily an evil thing at this point."

Asa sighed, "Steadfast to the end, huh Tyrian? He will come for you, when you're the last one standing behind the line. You're right though; death isn't evil. What he subjects you to will be."

He heard her fly off, barely a whisper of movement. Maybe that was the problem. They had been too silent for too long. Nobody really objected when the first bunch left. No uproar was heard as their numbers became quickly thinned. Now there were so few of them left, it was doubtful anything could be done.

Tyrian raised himself up, unfurling grey wings in a wide stretch. It had already begun. He concentrated a moment, easing the grey back to pearl. As much as he had come to hate white lately, he had chosen a side. It didn't matter that he was one of the few left who cared. Some things shouldn't change, no matter how useless they might seem.

His gaze pierced the veil, eyeing the buzzing activity. The poor things had no idea how lucky they were - and what was coming. They might have been given the prize long ago, but it was about to be stripped from them very soon. Well, soon was relative of course. For his kind, soon was a few centuries. For them, nothing happened soon enough.

Shaking his head, Tyrian started off once more towards home. The smell of decay hit him, an instant before he heard the beast leap. He barely managed to duck beneath the blackened claws and matted fur, swearing in surprise. The demonspawn skidded on the marble street, acidic saliva leaving pockmarks in it's wake. He hadn't expected another attempt so soon, but obviously somebody wanted his attention. With practiced ease, a short spear appeared in his right hand. The demonspawn crouched once more, assessing its prey. A feint to the left was lost on Tyrian as it lept once more, an unearthly growl bellowing from its maw. He was ready this time however, the spear burying itself in the blackened chest as it flew towards him. With a spine-wrenching yowl, the demonspawn fell heavily to the ground before fading away.

This was getting ridiculous. Tyrian wrenched his spear from the fractured stone, taking a moment to watch as the last drop of acid dissipated. He couldn't keep dodging attacks every day, even if they were about as intelligent as a rock. Eventually one of them would get lucky, and he wasn't ready to end it just yet. Making a decision, he vaulted skyward in a rush. The original architect might not care anymore, but Tyrian needed to hear it for himself. He might regret it, but it was time to pay somebody a visit. He just hoped he could get in.

Let's Support Each Other

Rebecca over at From Brain To Bookshelf is someone I think I can call a friend. Unfortunately, her latest foray in offering up a work for publication was rejected. If you can, stop by and give her words of encouragement. She has gone through hell and back just getting to this point, so she could use a few "virtual hugs". There's always a reason something is rejected of course, but at one point or another we all need a little support. So give her a comment or two if you can, help her feel a little better about the whole deal.

Friday, June 12, 2009

My Favorite Books

Icy Roses has a post detailing some of her favorite books, so I thought I'd follow her example and put up some of my own. You may (or may not) be surprised that my favorite books jump across the genres like a wayward rabbit.

1. Lord Of The Rings series/The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) - The stories told here describe intoxicating worlds and vibrant characters. If you're someone who enjoys swords and sorcery, this is the book series you have to read through at least once. I am lumping these together because I enjoy them all equally. These are also one of the few books that transferred to the silver screen in an incredible way. Sure they missed a great amount of detail. Yes, they changed the characters and storyline somewhat. It's Hollywood, so your expectations should never be too high. Overall though, the movies are just as enjoyable as the books in their own way. I recently bought an exquisite hard bound set of LOTR and The Hobbit, since I had read through my paperback copies way too many times.

2. The Stand (Stephen King) - It's hard to choose which Stephen King book I like the best, but this one is probably it. The storyline is apocalyptic with religious undertones, but it's told well and an enjoyable journey. I love the characters, particularly the diabolical Walking Dude. The intensity of the story keeps me enthralled from beginning to end, and if I start reading this one, I can't put it down even when my eyes are burning from staying awake too long. Don't bother with the movie though - it is a waste of time.

3. Without Remorse (Tom Clancy) - While you may be familiar (thanks to movies) with Tom Clancy's character Jack Ryan, this book doesn't feature him at all. This book deals with a former Navy Seal by the name of John Clark (who Hollywood ineptly portrayed using Willem Defoe in a Jack Ryan movie) and how he deals with a teenage abduction/prostitution ring. The quiet intensity of the MC is incredible, and I could not put this one down once I plunged in. Thankfully this one has not been destroyed via Hollywood, probably since there are few people who could play the MC accurately.

4. Battlefield: Earth (L. Ron Hubbard) - Before you accuse me of being a scientologist, understand that (as far as I'm concerned) L. Ron Hubbard wrote one good book and one decent dekology. This is the one good book. It's very much sci-fi, set a few millenia in the future. The storyline captures you right away and just when you think the story is over, the MC has a whole new hurdle to get past. I had to buy this one in hardback as well; I accidentally destroyed the covers of two paperback copies due to reading it over and over. Oh, and this is another tragedy in Hollywood. Avoid watching it on the screen or you'll get a really bad impression of a good book.

5. Otherland (Tad Williams) - Being a computer geek, this series appealed to me right way. The premise involves virtual reality in the future and its use in society. It's sci-fi fun with an apocalyptic twist. Those who play MMOs will also find some interesting parallels here, and looking back at the story, I find myself amused at just how close the author's vision of the world is to today's reality. This is a great read, and as I'm typing this I realize I haven't gone back through it for a long time. Note to self - find this paperback when you go home today.

6. Russka (Edward Rutherfurd) - A historical tale, this book begins in a small town in Russia when Genghis Khan was making his war on the known world. It then journeys through time, describing events from a compelling viewpoint. My parents lent me this book because I had studied Russian in the military, and I was instantly captured by the first page. While I have not yet read other books by this author, Russka is one I thoroughly enjoyed.

7. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Jamie Ford) - I did a review of this not too long ago, as well as an interview of the author. While this is a new book, its subject matter and storytelling are singularly individual. I initially bought the book so that I could learn from the author, since his first full-fledged novel ended up on the NYTBSL almost immediately. I did learn alot from the book of course, but not all of it had to do with improving my writing. The story of Japanese internment camps (here in America) from a Chinese perspective was something I had barely a glimmer of, and I'm thankful to Jamie for bringing this story alive for the rest of us.

8. On A Pale Horse (Piers Anthony) - This series of books presents the offices of Death, Time, War, Fate, Mother Nature, God, and Satan in a very unique sci-fi/fantasy setting. I say offices, because that is the premise of the books. Each office is occupied by someone, performing the essential duties required by that office. While it's probably YA (correct me if I'm wrong on the genre), I'd wager most adults would find it enjoyable to read through anyway. The characters are realistic, and the concepts are singularly interesting. I still have a paperback copy of each of these, but I probably need to buy them in hardback (if I can) at this point.

This is by far a less-than-exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea of how varied my tastes in reading are. While I think I excel more at Thriller or Horror writing, I enjoy reading just about anything. The writing has to be good of course, but if you capture me from the get-go, I'm usually willing to keep reading until the last word. The only book I can remember ever putting down multiple times before I finally struggled through it was The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. If you've ever attempted this read, you may remember just how difficult it was to grasp the concepts and visions he was trying to display. Or perhaps it was just me. I don't buy books though, unless I am sure I want to read them. I'm sure my wife would love for me to get rid of half (or more) of my library, but I treasure each of them equally.

Tell me what you think of my choices. If you want to do a list of your own, let me know and I'll add links here at the bottom of this post. This is a fun exercise, remembering which books I am most fond of. Maybe in a few years I'll have to revisit this idea and see what has changed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My First Poll

In an effort to improve and streamline my blog, I'm calling for a vote by all my followers. Let me know what works and what doesn't. If there's anything else you'd like to see that's not listed there, feel free to comment here and I'll do something about it. This has been a fun process so far, and hopefully the blog is a source of information (or entertainment, depending on your perspective) for other writers. While this blog is a tool I use for myself, I like to think I'm contributing some useful discussions (among other things) to this industry. Most important, thank you for stopping by from time to time to share your thoughts and ideas.

Talent Comes In All Flavors

I have to applaud Teresa over at Blueberries, Art and Life. If you haven't stopped by her blog, you really need to. She is a skilled artist, and one that I admire a great deal. Way back when (a.k.a. high school) I took a drafting class because I thought I could draw fairly well. I was quickly disillusioned as I realized my inability to create images with dimension or depth. I have never had the most steady hand either, which I assume is an absolute necessity in drawing or painting. The art world can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I will never try to subject others to my scribblings.

In my family however, there are a number of people who have artistic talent. My mom can sew (both by hand and machine) incredible blankets, costumes, pillows, etc. Her sisters all have talent in sewing, crafting ceramics, or other artistic endeavors. I can't explain what happened to me, other than to say I'm ecstatic that the drawing talent seems to exist within my youngest son. I have a tattoo on my right bicep of a yin-yang amid ocean waves that he sat and copied freehand one day with amazing results.

What does this have to do with writing? Writing is an art, and as I've said many a time in comments on other blogs, it takes talent. I am also a believer that not everyone can do this well. I've had the pleasure of reading works created by many of you, and I'm often times in awe at the apparent talent. The Surly Writer is one who can capture the soul of a southern rural setting with ease. Elana is a master of dialogue, among other things. The Screaming Guppy writes with a flow I am constantly envious of. At times we may feel hindered by our own inability to write the way we want, but thankfully we just have to look around to find inspiration and example in the works of others. And if I didn't mention you as an example I admire, please don't feel slighted. All of the blogs I follow have something that helps me to improve my own writing. You all have talent I admire and respect, and the three listed here are merely the first ones that came to mind.

Who do you look to for inspiration? Who are your iconic examples of excellence in writing? Feel free to share, because everyone has talent in some way and all of us can improve through examining the works of others.

Adjectives And Description

One of the most important aspects of storytelling is being able to drop our reader directly into world we're creating. The story is important no doubt, but if our reader can't visualize where they are, what's the point? Brian over at The New Author got me to thinking about adjectives, description, and visuals, so let's talk about how we might improve our writing in this area.

The use of adjectives does not necessarily mean we pull out the thesaurus and find an alternate way to describe trees other than "green". We've all had those moments where we stumble on the words, knowing in our mind the picture we are trying to paint but are unable to accurately create it on paper. A proper description should include as many of the senses as possible. Take the following sentence:

As Kyle walked through the green meadow, he couldn't help but notice the red and yellow flowers all around.

The sentence has action (somewhat), and we get a very basic sense of the environment around the MC. There is nothing descriptive here however, other than sight. How do we dress up this scene to make it more appealing? The following might be one way to describe things a bit better:

Kyle waded through the waves of verdant grassland, the tawny and scarlet blooms floating like algae on a quiet emerald sea.

In the second sentence, a few things have been done. Height has been added to the grass via the word waded. More descriptive and lyrical words like verdant, tawny, scarlet, and interwoven provide some flow. There is now a theme, comparing the meadow to a sea. There is even a hint of sound from the word waves, implying motion and breeze around the MC, as well as the quiet emerald sea. The second example has more impact than the first, and yet we did not add more sentences, nor is the word count significantly higher. The reader will be able to envision the scene in much greater detail.

If we can then take this example and expand on it throughout our writing, the reader will find themselves catapulted directly into our world. They will be able to see, hear, and feel the scene around them. More importantly, they can pay attention to the story unfolding before them and believe they are sitting right in the middle of it all.

The sentence improvements shown are only one way to handle this. How would you improve upon the basic sentence, without merely adding more words or switching one word for another? How do you approach description in your writing? And is there a point where things become too descriptive?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Agent And Writer Relationships

I was reading through an interesting question posed by Rachelle Gardner, asking "what does an agent need to know about you?" The idea is a platform for writers to allow agents to get a glimpse into who they are. Of course I pounced on the opportunity, putting in my own style and spin on what I think an agent should know about me. If nothing else, I figured some agent might read through my carefully drafted comments and make a mental note of things. It's highly illogical and improbable perhaps, but positive thinking has gotten me this far.

Later on, I darted back onto the page to read some of the other comments out of curiosity. I need to say first however, that Rachelle made it explicitly clear what she was NOT hoping to get. She didn't want it to be a forum for griping about unresponsive agents or the relative slowness of the process. If you've done any research at all on the web regarding agents, writers, and their respective thoughts on the industry, you'll quickly get the sense that agents don't want to hear about writers complaining and visa versa. It's a common theme that agents are usually swamped with work and (right or wrong) they sometimes take a while before getting back to you. It's also common knowledge that some agents do not respond to queries, expecting the prospective writer to get the hint rather than having to send out a "no" response to every MS they choose not to take on.

When I first began my journey of learning about writing and the industry as a whole, I was astounded at the number of stories to be found regarding poor behavior on the part of writers. Patience, fellow writers - I'll get to the agent side momentarily. As I was reading through these endless tales, I found myself saying, "There's no way any respectable writer would act this way. I mean c'mon, of course you wouldn't write a query that poorly. Of course you wouldn't act so needy and demanding towards an agent. It's common sense, isn't it?" I had chalked these stories up as the usual urban legend-type Internet nonsense. You can imagine my surprise then, that as I returned to the comments on Rachelle's page, I read in horror examples of this same behavior. Granted, there aren't many and they are not nearly as bad as they could be. But (as has been said so many other places) it seems as if some people do not recognize a golden opportunity when they see it, and they throw a portion of their professionalism out the window in order to return to that well-worn platform. Me'thinks this does not bode well.

Now I have not had the pleasure of dealing with an agent yet, and I hope that when I get to that point, my experience will be more enjoyment than pain. But I completely understand the expressed frustration with the process. I agree that agents should give a good faith effort to respond to queries, but I'm saying this while not having to do their job. I have the luxury of not having to wade through piles of insufferable ignorance (and not quite good enough writing) in order to find the one or two gems that will make it worthwhile. Judging from some of the responses on Rachelle's site, I can almost hear the groans from agents everywhere - or the silence as they turn away from the page. Yes, they should be held to a standard of professionalism in their work. That's obvious and expected. It's not going to help our case much however, if (when given the opportunity) we choose to vent frustrations rather than utilize the forum in the manner it was intended. I don't have any answers regarding what changes agents might consider in their work, but I can say that negativity in any process is counterproductive.

I may be starting a war here, but I was really hopeful to see some intriguing responses to Rachelle's question. It's almost too bad that a few of us see conflict where instead we should be realizing opportunity.

Am I off base here? I urge you to stop by Rachelle's site, read through what is there, post your own comment, and let me know either way.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Copyright Woes

I stumbled on a news article this morning that was interesting. I'm sure most (if not all) of you are familiar with the novel The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger. I mean seriously, who hasn't at least heard of it (even if you haven't read it, something I'm almost ashamed to admit)? A new novel has come out called 60 Years Later - Coming Through The Rye, written by John David California (which may or may not be his true name). This novel begins telling the story of the MC in Catcher as an old man, but unfortunately the author evidently did not contact or get approval from Mr. Salinger. The reclusive author has come out of hiding to rectify the situation, via a lawsuit of course.

You can Google the story to get more details, which I won't go into here. The question that occurred to me however, is how should a writer deal with a novel they want to write that has direct ties (or even subtle ties) to a previous work? Obviously if you are plagurizing someone else's work, you should be tied to a horse and dragged for an undetermined amount of time through rough terrain. It's just common sense at this point, so I don't have much sympathy for the guilty. But what about using someone else's ideas as a launching point for your own? This is not a new phenomena, as any reader of fan-fiction will tell you. And on the surface, I don't necessarily have a problem with being inspired by someone else's work. But how much do you owe the author of such works?

Here's my uninformed take on the subject, and I'm more than happy to hear your own thoughts as well. At the very least, any writer wishing to expound upon or advance the story of a previous work needs to contact the author. There should be some attempt to get permission or even coordinate the work with the author. For all you know, the author could already be working on a followup. Particularly in the fan-fiction realm, you have to be careful what ideas you decide to put on paper since it's possible the author has their own rendition brewing somewhere. This should include multiple attempts to contact the author, not just a simple email that never gets answered. So what happens if you cannot get ahold of the author or if the author is deceased? I am not going to try to state what the legal requirements are (if anyone knows, feel free to write a post on it or let me know please), but you may just have to take your chances and begin writing the work. I can say this much. If you have documented attempts of you trying to contact the author, it will go much easier for you in court later should a lawsuit arise. That doesn't necessarily mean your book will be accepted by the author and all will be well. I'm just saying it will help present you and your work in a better light. I would hope also that reputable agents, editors, and publishers would not put out a work that clearly is illegal or borders on copyright infringement. Or am I wrong here? How much work do agents, editors, and/or publishers put into making sure they are not pumping out something of this nature? Maybe the assumption is that the author did his/her homework.

My final thought is that it's better to write as unique a story as you can. Not only does it help you garner your own following (as opposed to fans of someone else), but it avoids the pitfalls of copyrights. Fan-fiction has its place to be sure, but there are definitely steps you should take to make sure you're going to be able to publish the work without problems later. Now I'll open the floodgates for comments, questions, etc. If you want to take this post and run with an aspect of it, let me know, blog about it, and I'll link to it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

WIP Wednesday

I have been lapse in my posts, so forgive me. I'm trying to finish up my studies for a rather intense network security certification test, and I've luckily been asked to be an editor for a second area of Bright Hub (a website I write and edit articles for). So to say I've been swamped is an understatement. I have managed to get some writing done however, so that's a good thing.

I have been pushing forward on my story Illusions of A Deity, which will most likely end up as a short story (at least for now). I'm trying to use this opportunity to hone my craft more, not think so much about how I'm writing and just get it all down. Thankfully, I can say I am making progress and slowly learning to leave editing for the 2nd draft.

I'm also making my way through the book Devil's Gold by Julie Korzenko. I won this a while back in a contest, and after chatting with the author briefly, I have managed to wrangle an interview. I will be putting up both the interview and review of this book sometime later this month. From what I've read so far however, this is an engaging story that is definitely keeping my attention.

Lastly, I received a notice from Barnes and Noble bookstore that Dan Brown's latest entry in the saga of the Da Vinci Code storyline is coming out soon, and I'll be able to save a little bit pre-ordering it. The book is titled The Lost Symbol, and evidently the events in it happen just after the Da Vinci Code. I'm a fan of his literature, so you know I'll be picking it up. Now I'm off to peruse everyone else's blogs, since I am woefully behind on dropping by. My apologies, friends.