Monday, November 29, 2010
I've been noticing a pretty interesting trend the past few years in my gift-giving. As I've started to write more, and therefore read more, and follow authors and other writers online more, I've become sort of a book-selector for various friends of mine. I have at least three friends who come to me when they're looking for new reads.
So when their birthdays roll around, and then the holidays, I've tended in the past to give these particular friends books.
This year, I'm finding myself thinking more and more in terms of books for everyone on my list: that Nora Roberts series for my mom. Introducing my niece to Percy Jackson, maybe-- she might be a little young for it, but I think she would love it. Something super secret for the new hubs because who knows if he'd decide today would be the day to click over and read my post (Hi honey!).
I've come to the realization that, more than just writing them, books are my thing. I will probably be known as the aunt that always gives books. And my friends have already started saying that they don't bother buying as many books around the holidays because they just wait to see what I'll get them. I love sharing stories that have touched me with the people that I love, and I love supporting authors that I know and adore. So come on, December, I'm ready to start sharing!
And rest assured, I will be putting quite a few books on my own Christmas list this year, too.
What do you think about books as gifts? Do you tend to give books for special occasions or not?
Thursday, November 25, 2010
So, I'm a huge fan of my characters. I like to spend an absurdly long time getting to know them before I have to subject them to all sorts of dastardly things MUA HA HA (we writers are a macabre people.) The more time I spend digging into their psyche and WHY they are who they are, the easier writing them becomes, no?
Getting to know a character goes way beyond hair color, eye color and favorite type of pie (pecan, always pecan). We could all fill in a dossier of information about the hero down to their blood type, I'm sure (which, incidentally, means a lot more than I realized in Japanese culture) but can we detail our characters minute quirks? Their conversational tics? Sometimes we ourselves don't know how WE'LL react to a particular situation until it presents itself. But that's not really a liberty we can leave up to our characters alone--we, as the almighty writers, have to know before they do.
As it is with time spent with a family around the dinner table, there's sometimes no greater way to understand someone than to eat corn next to them for extended periods of time. Therefore, I present a Thanksgiving Day Challenge (challenge challenge)! Take a few characters out of your WIPs and set them around the dinner table. Put the Chinese immortal goddess next to the AV club geek. Put the apologetic dragon next to resentful ex-Nam soldier of fortune. Let the mad scientist carve the turkey. What do they talk about? What do they doodle on their napkins? Who spits in the gravy boat? And who retaliates with a bottle of salad dressing to the face? (but enough about my family) Though the scene will never make it into a book, it'll be priceless for what you might learn about your characters.
Now if you'll excuse me, the pecan pie is ever so insistently calling.
P.S. I took the challenge myself and drew a picture of it. This was, of course, before the cupcake stuffing started flying. Happy Thanksgiving, all!
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
For reference, here's some quick numbers:
Distance from my home to Utica, NY (picking up my copilot)? 285 miles
Time spent between Essex County, Mass. and Utica, NY? 4.5 hours
Distance from Utica, N.Y. to Greenville, S.C.? 832 miles
Time spent from Utica., N.Y. to Greenville, S.C.? 13.75 hours
Total time spent on the road? 18 hours and 56 minutes
Total distance traveled? 1,117 miles
I left my home in Eastern Massachusetts at 3:45 am on Friday, November 19. My copilot and I arrived in Greenville, S.C. at 11:00 pm that evening. This was the longest single road trip I have ever been on -- not my copilot though, as he'd driven Utica to Florida before. And that was about 4 to 5 hours longer than our journey. Definitely the longest one-day trip though.
But anyway, the drive from Eastern Massachusetts to Utica, N.Y. goes straight through the mountains of Western Massachusetts and the Capital Region of New York -- which are both very similar in geography. To be entirely honest, Upstate New York and Western Massachusetts blend together almost seamlessly. The only reason you can tell you're in another state is because you have to pay a toll to get off the MassPike and then pick up another ticket for the New York Thruway (side note: New York is the only state in the Northeast that calls it a Thruway. Everyone else says Turnpike).
My copilot and I switched off before we crossed into Pennsylvania, which incidentally was the second-longest state on our route (Virginia was longer by a good 50-ish miles) but it felt like the longest out of all of them. Maryland and West Virginia were both short -- about 10 to 20 minutes apiece -- and we drove more or less straight through until we hit Virginia itself. Then I took back over and the copilot rode shotgun and navigator.
It's fascinating now to realize that most all the scenery I saw was exactly the same. More than 1,000 miles of green fields, a smattering of cows and horses, and long interstate roadways. It's enough to make a guy doze off fairly regularly when he's not driving, which I did actually do a few times. I mean, I'd woken up at 3 am to start this trip, of course I would be tired.
Now that I'm not staring out the passenger window at miles and miles of fields and hills, the realization that much of the East Coast has a homogeneous geography enough to make one bored made me think about what happens if we make our stories look the same. No one wants to read lengthy descriptions of a stick, or of the character's actions at breakfast, or getting ready for bed. Unless it's different from what we the reader are used to.
As writers, we don't want readers to be able to put our book down or even take their attention away for one second. That's how engrossed a reader should be -- if they sit down to read a chapter and then look up at the clock and realize they've been reading for the past 6 hours then I say the writer has done their job. But don't make your story seem flat and the same as everything else for 500 pages (the equivalent of 1,000 miles of driving). Readers won't find the story intriguing if you do things that way. Shake things up, throw in a Dairy Queen or a massive ball of yarn by the road side.
That's the biggest lesson I gave you after spending 19 hours on the Interstates of the East Coast -- keep it interesting and people will stay alert. Make it boring and the same, and folks will doze off in the passenger seat when they're not driving.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Okay, so I left my laptop open, and my little girl cat stood on the keys while I had Blogger up. This is her contribution to the Archives today:
I took a bit of a break from not doing other things this weekend to read one of Douglas Adams' often lesser-known books, which is actually the second and final book in a series, called THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL. If you're an Adams fan and haven't read this one, it and its predecessor, DIRK GENTLY'S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY, are AWESOME (which is not, as it turns out, the title of another Douglas Adams book. It's just capitalized for emphasis). They are Adams at his best-- better, even, I would daresay, than the HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series. (You can find the Dirk Gently books here at Amazon.com).
In THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL, Adams goes on a bit of a rant about a fictional author who has essentially sold his soul to sell millions of copies of his books. One of the characters makes a quip that she doesn't understand why she still reads his books, when it's clear that "his editor doesn't anymore."
Hilarity (and ring of truth) aside, this struck a chord with me. The novel I'm querying right now is most easily described as commercial fiction, but the definition of commercial fiction is that, well, it's commercial. It's meant to sell, to appeal to the masses. Now, I'm not saying I'll ever have an internationally-bestselling author's problems, but I would be lying if I didn't say that it crosses my mind what people might want to read when I write.
I try not to let it get to me. But every now and then a twinge of "well this is really popular right now" does cross my mind. I don't want to be a supposed sell-out, but I do want to be relevant.
Writing isn't about any potential money for me. It's more about the afore-mentioned relevancy, if I'm honest: seeing my book on bookstore shelves, and being able to say that I am an author. So my drive to write with mass appeal comes only from upping my odds of that happening. Agents and editors are people too, after all. Commercial appeal starts with them.
I'm struggling with this as I find myself with tons of the also-afore-mentioned free time. A shiny new idea has again reared its head, and I'm writing it just to get it out of my head while I query my other novel and let a third simmer before diving into edits. The shiny new idea has the potential to be very commercial, so we'll see which road I take.
So for today's question, tell me: when you write, do you write for yourself or loved ones, or do you write for what you think might sell?
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Kid and I are on our way to meet the rest of the fam damily for a reunion in Disneyland. Now, whatever your personal feelings towards the Mouse in his great house may be, you have to admit that Disney creates pretty airtight worlds. Movies, parks, you name it: the "magic" often comes from complete immersion in such fantastical settings.
And details? Disney is the absolute master of details. Every ride, every frigging fruit stand in the parks is loaded with inside jokes for the astute, hidden gags and Mickeys, anything to keep you from being "jolted" as it were, from the world. Ever been on a Disney ride that has broken down? It's AWESOME. You wonder why they put so much work into an exit sign or a patch of wall that no one sees...but that's what we world-creators need to do. Create something strong enough to hold a plot, characters and your reader's imagination for hours afterwards. This doesn't necessarily mean listing your world's bus schedules of course...but if your character does take public transportation, this means you should know it for sure. Spare no street sign!
So, writer friends, what do your settings look like? Are they movie props to be filmed from the front and put away the second the plot passes them by? Or are they three dimensional, tangible worlds to walk around and play Quidditch in long after your reader turns off the Kindle?
(that's right. I said Kindle. I went there.)
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
One of the things I notice in this practice is that I always have a hard time re-capturing the voice of the story I was working on; I'm seeing this with CALLARION AT NIGHT, which I've started working on again for the first time since about June, so it's a thought that's fresh in my mind. Moriah, that story's heroine, is a very distinct speaker when it comes to the way she talks and the way she thinks. I was well on my way to capturing her self-deprecation and cynical disregard for people in general when I paused working on the story in June, and I'm now finding that it's difficult to get back into her head really well.
I know it's going to take a lot of re-writing and character study to get back into Moriah's head again. She sounds and thinks a certain way that I have in my head (or think I do at any rate) that I need to represent effectively on paper; she's what's charitably called a "tough nut to crack." So it's going to take a lot more thinking like her to get that back on the page.
This all leads me to wonder how many of you have the same problem? Do you find it hard to step back into your character's shoes when you've walked away for a time, or is it like coming home again?
Monday, November 15, 2010
I love finishing a book, or a movie, and experiencing a catharsis afterward. That feeling of openness, and sanity, and a story well-told and well-wrapped, that stays with me for days. My favorite stories are the ones that I just can't stop thinking about. They earn an exalted place in the Top Stories of All Time list that I carry around in my head. You know, like the kinds you find in the sidebar of someone's Facebook page.
Stories that move me in this way tend to be any combination of epic, gritty, original, romantic, and tense. [Insert any other cliche movie review adjectives you can think of here]. I love the romantic tension in YA books, along with the (usually) upbeat plots. I love a good puzzle thriller, and the occasional spy/ suspense novel. I love quirky fantasy, a la Piers Anthony. I love sweeping mythos and world-saving adventures in MG books. And of course, a good mystery is always great fun!
Okay, so my tastes tend to swing far and wide, it's true. This is probably why I write in so many different genres-- because I read in so many different genres. But these are the story elements that move me. I was thinking about this the other day, and thought it would make an interesting survey. So pray, tell me, what kinds of stories make you have an emotional reaction? What stories stay with you for days?
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Hi all! I’m K. Marie Criddle, here for your Thursday Alliterati Archives mind-massage. Let me honestly say how happy I am to be here, guys. Some of you know me as a writer, some of you know me as a drawg-er, some of you may know me as that chica who is a little too obsessed with unicorns. And I don’t hesitate to say most may not know me at all. And I don’t know some of you! No worries! We'll get right on that.
But I do know we were all brought here with a similar interest: snacks! I mean…WRITING!
Most of us that find ourselves here have a mild to wild interest in putting pen to paper or even just reading such, regardless of genre or style, right? So I thought I’d introduce myself in a bookish manner. (This is probably the place I could do it with the least amount of derpy looks.) And PLEASE do the same! I wanna meet everyone. How else are we going to get comfortable with one another over drinks and proverbial petit fours in this weird, giant cocktail party known as the internet?
If I could live in any bookly world, it’d be: HARRY friggin’ POTTER (JK Rowling). Wands down. Did you know the French word for wand is baguette? I have since imagined this series in a whole new delicious light.
Have any bookly friend: Falkor from THE NEVERENDING STORY (Michael Ende). I’m a sucker for mutts. And flying! And Jonathan Brandis, too, but that was a completely different story.
Meet any bookly villain: Miss “Two Slice” Hilly from THE HELP (Kathryn Stockett), mostly so I could nod politely, put away my pacifist tendencies for a moment and punch her in the boob.
Avoid any bookly villain at all costs: Lynex the Wyvern King from SON OF THE SUMMER STARS (Meredith Ann Pierce). I do not like worms. I’ll say it again: I DO NOT LIKE HUGE SEVEN HEADED WORMS.
Happily married, but I’d totally would have bookly dated: Giovanni from RAMPANT (Diana Peterfruend). Mmmm…Italians who fight unicorns. But only because he reminds me of my husband!! Ahem…sure.
So that’s me! What about everyone else? Thanks for inviting me to the Archives party. Let’s talk books and pick cashews out of the trail mix together.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Pantsers are the writing equivalent of "shooting from the hip." A Pantsers sits down at the computer and writes the first draft without any sort of planning or forethought on where the story is going to end up. They have a character, or a scene, or a series of scenes and write to those without consideration for how things connect in the greater whole of the story.
Plotters, on the other hand, spend copious amounts of time in the planning stages before they write a single word down. They have piles upon piles of notes on character interviews, scene sketches, outlines, etc to the point where they already have a rough idea of the opening, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement of the entire story before they've even typed/written Chapter One in their novel or the opening words in their short story.
There's also the Pantser/Plotter blend, where the writer will "shoot from the hip" for some sections, but still has a general outline of where they intend the story to go. These people might have pages of notes that they've taken down and don't use, or may have started off with a sketched out idea but not kept to it.
Now we come to the question I posed in the post tile: Is it better to be a Pantser or a Plotter?
For my money, the answer is that the type that's better is the type that works for you. Case in point: Cynthia Reese is an avowed Plotter -- she's said herself that she plans practically everything out before she writes a word on her novels, whereas Tawna Fenske is a Pantser through and through.
Two writers, both published with contracts, and they have two different writing styles. This should go further than anything I have to say to show that your writing process doesn't matter so much as writing a good story does. Whether you fly by the seat of your pants or plan things out in minute detail, the only thing agents, editors, and eventually readers care about is that your story is interesting enough for them to read.
Monday, November 8, 2010
-Why am I thinking about this NOW?
-That would make a good idea for a book
Or my personal favorite:
-Now I have to write a blog post about that, thanks brain.
Today's blog post is brought to you by last night's random thoughts. You're welcome.
So yesterday, the shiny new husband and I (don't worry, he's not actually that shiny. Unless he's been working out or just took a shower or is dressing up as a golden statue of Adonis for Halloween or something) were sitting around, doing a whole lot of nothing. We've pretty much exhausted most of our television and movie choices lately, and were feeling a little desperate. So we scoured Netflix for something, anything to watch, and mine eyes alighted on several examples of none other than my favorite category of movie ever: bad shark movies.
Bad shark movies are, for lack of a better descriptor, the Frankenstein's monster lovechild of Jaws and any other (horrifying) factor. My favorite example is DEEP BLUE SEA, with genetically engineered sharks that are wicked smart. And actually JAWS itself, due to its age, is a bad shark movie now.
So we found both SHARKTOPUS and MEGA SHARK vs. GIANT OCTOPUS yesterday, and we watched them both. They did not fail to live down to my expectations. (If you're curious what they're about, click through to their IMDB pages, or look 'em up on Netflix. But don't say I didn't warn you that they're bad. Really bad. Awesomely, deliciously bad).
The thing is, as a former marine educator and a big shark aficionado, I still scream at the television whenever they get something wrong in one of these movies. Yesterday it was things like, "They keep saying it's acting like an octopus but it has the head of a shark! Clearly it would think more like a shark!" and Hubby had to calm me down by saying, "It's a B-movie, honey. B-movie. B-movie."
And the writing in these things is pretty brilliantly bad, as well. A lot of the cheesiness of these movies has to do with the horrible special effects and bad acting, but even a good actor can't hide some of the cliche and stilted lines that get used. Or a bad story premise in general.
All of this got me thinking about the sort of writers that write b-movie screenplays, and sell them to SyFy (come on, we were all thinking it). And then of course I wondered if there is an equivalent in book form. Fiction has come a long way in the last 10-20 years. I would have said romance novels ten years ago, but frankly, that doesn't hold absolutely true for me anymore. Writers like Nora Roberts have actually brought decent story-telling to the genre (you may groan but it's true), a trend that I see continued in the (admittedly few) romances I pick up.
So I guess what I'm asking today is, because I love b-movies so much, are there any good b-books you can think of? Extra points if they're about sharks. I do have my limits, people.
(Feel free to share your favorite b-movie finds, too!)
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Just in case you haven't guessed it yet, our new Thursday contributor is K. Marie Criddle of C'MERE.
Everyone be sure to give her a warm welcome and look for her inaugural post next week!
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Ummm ... that kind of hasn't changed.
The work schedule is still madcap with a vengeance, and is probably only going to get more and more crazy as time goes on. If you want some evidence, let me announce a few bits of news that developed within the past few months:
- Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders has become more prominent, having received its first two unsolicited submissions since launch back in June. As a result of that, I've also added two volunteer staff members to my roster there -- L.T. is now my Submissions Editor, and my college friend Jillian Aldrich is the Chief Correspondent and Calendar Editor. Trying to get more advertisers for that site is also taking up a good chunk of my time.
- I've started tutoring in various subjects through working with WyzAnt.com, and find myself driving around the Boston area helping students with studying for the GRE, studying for the SAT, and also assisting with improving their writing ability.
- I was named the Steampunk & Clockpunk Director at the Speculative Fiction Database, (@specficdb on Twitter), which aims to be the IMDB of Speculative Fiction. Kimi Alexandre, voice actress and urban fantasy fan, is the big boss over there and she's got some ambitious plans.
- Flying Pen Press, the publisher I do marketing work for, is looking to do some very interesting things in regards to Steampunk within the next year; I'll make sure to keep y'all abreast of new developments once I have the go-ahead to make official announcements.
- And of course there's the maintenance of my primary blog in Free the Princess, and the review blog Gear Bits and Clockwork is picking up steam.
So yeah ... how are all of you doing?
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Ms. Stephanie Thornton and Mr. Bane of Anubis have elected to step down from their regular weekly contributions to the Archives. While we are sad to see them go, Mr. Delman and I are pushing forward and continuing the blog because we think we have something special here to share with you.
And now, the good news:
What this means is that we need two more regular weekly contributors! If you think you might be interested, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with why you think you'd be a good fit.
And as usual, if you want to do a guest post on a Friday, let us know!
Thanks for sticking around Alliteratus. Stick with us during this period of turmoil-- we promise there are neat things in store!
Monday, November 1, 2010
So, while I was gone, several things occurred. One of them was rather large and amazing, one of them was rather large and sucky, the rest ranged from spectacular to average, but all in all, I'd have to say that it was a pretty good 2-3 months. Rather than trying to remember all these events, I've decided instead to answer some lingering questions you're all sure to have:
Q: Did you get married?
A: Why, yes I did! Here we are, looking hot and loving and adorable and all that:
My wedding was a dream come true. I couldn't be happier with my new husband, and boy is it nice to have time for other things! (Like blogging, and writing, and breathing. Always nice, that).
Speaking of having more free time:
Q: Are you still working?
A: Um . . . no, actually. Yeah. That's the pretty major thing that's happened that sucks. It's fairly recent, and through no fault of my own, and hopefully we'll be okay. But still. Suckage.
Still, I am optimistic. And trying not to view this "Oh hey! I'll finally have real writing time!" Because making money so we can eat, and our furry babies can eat, is more important than all-the-time-I-could-ever-want-to-write. Right?
Q: Did you find an agent?
A: No, no I did not. For a very simple reason: you have to query agents in order to risk that they might sign you, and I haven't been querying. Rest assured, despite my assertions above, SOME of my new-found free time will be spent querying. Just not, you know, most of it.
Q: Did you get to meet any fabulous authors?
A: I did! While I didn't get any pictures, I did meet Kiersten White and Cindy Pon (both at Kiersten's signing, interestingly enough). Then, last week, I got to play native guide to Gary Corby, who is just as cool and full of fascinating historical info in person as he is online. WH and I had a fabulous time at his signing, where we also met P.L. Gaus, who writes Amish murder mysteries. We then spent Saturday showing Gary around our famous San Diego zoo (during which Gary, Scott and I had a long discussion about the possibility of owning a wallaby, and the ways someone could die by various animals) and topped off the evening by getting the only food I can think of that screams "San Diego"-- fish tacos, from a bar on the beach, by the pier. I hope Gary had as much fun with us as we did with him. Here we are at his signing:
We all look much happier in the picture on his blog. We were having a good time, I swear.
And while I neglected to take any pictures of Gary at the zoo (especially near the World's Largest Rodent [a capybara]), I did take a picture of the souvenir Gary brought me from Australia:
Thanks, Gary. I'm still working up the nerve to try it.
Aaaaaand I got to buy and then therefore read his book! Here I am, reading it:
Look for an author interview with Gary here at the Archives soon!
Q: Did you get any writing done?
A: Well, yes, actually. Not nearly as much as I'd have liked, but I did. I have a 43K "first draft" of my mystery done and, thanks to Gary, am moving ahead full force to start really querying my second novel, V. And this time I mean it. Sorry, where did that come from?
Q: So, uh, did anything else happen while you were gone?
A: Aside from all that I mentioned above, not really. All in all, I'm glad I decided to take the break because I honestly would have been too busy and too stressed out to be a good blogger. But on the same hand, I am SO glad to be back amongst my writer friends and catch up on everyone's lives.
So now here's a question for you:
How have you been?