Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tidbits and Reminders

Today is a housekeeping post.

For members of the Speculative Fiction Group on Agent Query Connect, this is the last week to submit your short story for our Anniversary Contest. Remember, it's a Halloween (or equivalent) theme. The top prize is a partial critique from an agent. Second prize is a collection of books published by fellow group members. Third prize (depending on the number of entries) is a partial critique from me. Details are in our forum.

National Novel writing month is eleven days away; are you ready? If not, you might like my post from last year regarding the Easiest Outline Ever. Instead of pounding out a first draft this year, I'm going to set goals to try to get through a second draft. The second book in my Trefury trilogy is coming along. We'll see how much I can get done by the end of November.

Other posts to get you brainstorming ahead of time:
Because: One of the Most Important Words a Writer Can Use ...
Outlining: The Simple Version
Fun Ideas and Tips #7: Mix and Match
Fun Ideas and Tips #5: Find Your Truths
Fun Ideas and Tips #3: POV Reversal

Regarding My Book!
There's still time to enter to win a free copy of Trefury: Mendi's Curse on Goodreads. It's open to people living in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia. The giveaway ends November 1st.

If you've marked Trefury: Mendi's Curse as want to read on Goodreads but are having a hard time locating a copy, that's because it's in the queue for distribution for places like Amazon. At the moment, you can get a copy directly from Lulu.com. I'll be sure to announce it when it becomes available elsewhere. Want to read a sample? There's a preview link under the cover picture of the book on Lulu.

After you've read Trefury: Mendi's Curse, try your memory with one of the three quizzes I've set up on Goodreads. You can also ask me questions on my profile page.

... And that's all I have for the writing side of my life. Be glad you're not seeing the housekeeping for everything else. ;) Have a great week everyone. Happy writing!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What I Learned at Book Club

I belong to a mother-daughter book club at my local library. We have about a month to read a book then have a meeting where we discuss the book, do a craft, and eat a treat; sometimes we watch a corresponding movie. My girls and I love it.

I keep my writing life and my personal life pretty separate, so the other people in the book club don't know that I'm an author. I like that because then I get to see very honest responses to books.

We had one of our meetings last week. The book we were reading had been written around eighty years ago. It's still a very popular kid's book today and the start of a series that has had several spinoff series made and a huge extended world of movies, games, merchandise, etc.

What struck me as we discussed the relevance of the story to today's readers and how it pioneered some things and at the same time reflected the age in which it was written, was that the other women and girls who had read it said that they liked what an easy read it was. The story was intense in places (it's a mystery book) but everyone agreed they liked how they weren't running into one twist after another in order to complicate the story. Relationships between people were pretty straight forward. The book took a piece of the main character's life and displayed it without feeling the need to have ominous undertones in the ending. The author didn't have to wonder what to do with their character at the end.

For me, as a writer, this was my opportunity to sit up and listen. We writers get so caught up in what others in the writing world are saying books need to be that we don't see the disconnect between us and normal, every day readers. These readers were saying they appreciated that the book we'd read didn't have all the flash, bang, and pop of modern novels - especially for a children's (technically YA) novel.

I've been thinking a lot about older books versus newer ones and how it reflects upon society then and now. Being a writer and seeing what agents, publishers, and readers seem to be clamoring for, and being someone who loves to read older books, I confess I feel a little sad. We live in thrill-seeker times, a time when we want more as fast as we can get it. People join reading groups like Goodreads and then churn through novels as if they were eating potato chips. Some people are fast readers, but stop for a second and think - are we tasting our food or simply devouring it? Modern books are tailored to be inhaled, not savored.

Why is this?

Compared to eighty years ago, our world has become very complicated, fast-paced, and competitive. We have so many options for leisure and entertainment no wonder we've become gluttonous and easily bored. Writers are often expected to turn one book into an entire series and then churn them out yearly to sate the insatiable appetites of voracious readers. And if we don't? No big deal. There are millions of other books and writers out there. Books have to compete with TV, movies, games, sports, fine arts programs, contests and competitions, thrill chasing, and so much more. Most people don't plan on spending more than a few hours a week reading, if at all. So books have to be choppy, condensed, pared to the bone, but super exciting and full of twists and turns to keep the easily distracted readers from straying.

Yes, it's sad.

Eighty years ago, people didn't have a plethora of entertainment options. No computers or TVs. They were lucky if they had a radio or could go to an occasional movie (which was still a very new technology). Books were more valuable then and readers liked meat on the bones of their stories. Books helped them wile away the free hours. Authors could describe more back then. Books were an escape to other worlds most people had never been to or couldn't begin to imagine. People didn't have the advantage of easy travel or the internet for looking up information and pictures or video footage. Books didn't have to have shocking twists, or a lot of extremes to keep readers' attentions.

My challenge to you when you next pick up a new novel to read, is to slow down and try savoring it. Don't think about your ginormous to-read pile. Don't think about giving reviews and ratings. Decide to block out all the other options for entertainment. Just read to enjoy a book. Don't see how fast you can whip through it. Take your time and really explore the story as you go along.

If you take me up on the challenge, let me know in the comments. Did you enjoy your reading experience? Did the book seem too thin when you slowed down? Think about the kinds of books you are reading and buying. Will you pick them up again, or are they really thin potato chips? Did you learn anything about your attention span? Did you notice a difference in your weekly routine by blocking out other forms of entertainment? Good results or bad?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Filling the Void

A couple of nights ago my husband and I were trying to decide on a movie to watch and ended up putting on an old tape recording of a movie that came out in the 80's that he really wanted me to see. It was based on a comic book series and the main character had supernatural powers. The sets were well made, the costumes glamorous, and there were a handful of A-list actors playing out the parts. The special effects were pretty good for a movie made back then. Even the brief premise my husband had told me had potential.

But the movie felt flat to me. The screenplay jumped around too fast for proper story development. The characters were stereotypical and I couldn't get into any of them. I was never even sure who to root for, since the main character was a bad guy to begin with and who channeled his bad side to fight other bad guys. (His motivation to do this had been completely omitted from the screenplay.) I had to give my husband a ho-hum response afterwards and as I explained why, he admitted I was right.

It got me thinking about how often we encounter a creative work or endeavor and while we can pick out one or two good things about it (sometimes really good things) the rest leaves much to be desired. I've gone browsing for movies to rent and end up frowning most of the way through the store, because while a certain genre or premise or even actor piques my interest, when I look at the rest of the product I'm disappointed. We live in a day of remakes, rehashing, too many special effects, and worn out plot lines. Even TV shows string you along through all kinds of sludge, holding back that one vital piece of backstory just to keep you hooked to the whole series.

Many of us take to our own creative endeavors to try to fill in those voids. Say we like the idea of certain setting or type of character and we want to make the kind of story we can champion all the way. We write it. Why do you think fan fiction came about or the deluge of similar novels after one story has reached bestsellerdom? Individually, we want to add to that story, fix it, or make it go the way we hoped it would to begin with. Sometimes we want to revel in that kind of a world for a bit longer. We reflect borrowed light. And creative people have been doing this forever.

Have you ever been in the mood for a particular type of story, or story atmosphere? Have you ever shaken your head during a book or movie and thought about alternative outcomes? Do you lay awake at night thinking, "Wow, that was amazing. How can I do something that?" or "That story could have been better, they were so close, but they ruined it by adding in ..."? It's like an itch that won't go away. And having that itch can lead to productive writing.

However, I've always felt that once you've identified what you love or what needs changing, that you then find your own story path to play with, not someone else's. Spin-offs and alternate versions of something are okay, but people know that these versions are merely playing in the shadow of something else. Do you really want to relegate your time and effort to a shadow?

There's a market out there for shadow novels, I won't deny it. And some people are happy to be there.

But how much better it is to come up with something shiny and bright of your own. It's more work, and more to be proud of. To create something that fills in the voids of your desires and then send it out to hopefully fill in the voids of readers is a wonderful accomplishment.

Write to fill in the voids. Revise and polish until your story needs are satisfied. Find joy in your work. I challenge you to come up with something not in the shadow of someone else. Be a light. Create your own borders, be bold in your imagination, think carefully about how you tell the story, and have fun.

People who do are the trend-setters.