Monday, December 27, 2010

Vacation!

This week, I shall spend time recovering from this crud that's been in my system for the last six days. I'm going to make sure that my wife recovers from her crud (which she probably got because she insisted on kissing me). But we're going to have fun, too.

This evening, we're headed to the Springs for the All Service Academy Ball to celebrate my sister-in-law's senior year at the Merchant Marine Academy. Tomorrow, Emily and I will go see Voyage of the Dawn Treader, followed by dinner at the Elephant Bar because, hey, it's out third anniversary; we should do something fun. Of course Friday will be an awesome New Year's Eve party.

That's all I have for today. Have a great week. See you on Wednesday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Writing

Writing around Christmas time is always difficult for me. Not because I get depressed, or anything. It's just because my wife is around more often. And when she's sleeping next to me, it's so much easier to sleep in. I do have a lot of trouble getting up in the morning when the bed is so warm and I'm so comfortable next to my wife.

It also doesn't help that today I started getting sick.

All of that to say that my writing isn't going as well as I would like it to this week. Next week is vacation for me, so I don't expect to get much done then, either.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas

Christmas is nearly upon us. My wife and I just got our shopping finished yesterday, except for our shopping for each other. I'm really enjoying this season. Even more so than in years passed. There's nothing tangible that I can point my finger at and say, "That's what I'm looking forward to!" I'm just having a great time, and I'm excited for the events that I get attend. And I'm working this week!

This will be a Christmas themed week on my blog, and today I want you to go to Pandora and type in Vince Guaraldi (Holiday). It's a great station to listen to, especially if you want to just sit back and let music play in the background.

Oh, and go get some egg nog!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stay on Topic

I get really annoyed with the forums when I see a newbie post their very first query letter and all they get in return for putting their work out there is, "You're never going to be published. Throw it all out and start again."

I'll give you a specific example: there's a person (I think the poster is a guy, so we'll say he) who just posted his first query on the forum I visit. It was written in the first-person perspective, which is frowned upon by many-an-agent. I mentioned that to him, especially because he said he had a version of that query in third-person.

However, the next person who commented on the letter brought up the author's word-count: 169,000 words. That's a long book, especially for a mystery (fantasy novels are commonly this long...if you have clout behind your name). This commenter told the writer, "That word-count will get you an instant form rejection. Can you cut the word-count?" (He said some other stuff, too, but it's along those same lines.)

I had to ask myself (especially because similar things have happened to me): what does this have to do with my query letter? I'm not looking for a comment on the length of my book. I suck at writing query letters. I need help learning how to do this difficult, important task.

Sure, the word-count may hinder your chances of getting an agent (especially if it's long), but you don't know what's going to happen. And why does it matter to you if the word-count alone will get that writer an instant rejection from every agent he sends the letter to? If he's done the research, he'll know what the industry is looking for, he'll know what the "standard" is, and then he'll make his own decisions from there. In the mean time, let him write the best query possible. If the word-count is ALL he has going against him, then he's still way better off than I am, at least as far as querying goes. He needs to learn how to query, he needs to know what works and what doesn't as far as the letter-writing process goes. He may even get an agent or two to request pages. But even if he doesn't, who are we to rob him of a valuable learning experience?

So, when you're critiquing a query, please comment on the content of the letter, not the length of the novel. His core critique group can handle that bit. After all, this industry is discouraging enough. And as solitary creatures (which many writers are) we've already put ourselves out on a limb asking for help. In the long-run, it'll be more helpful to stay on topic because then he'll be more open to learning from the critiques you give.

Update: Kiersten White has a post that relates. It's all about how aspiring authors should behave in this community... and she tells her readers about some of the consequences of not behaving well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More progress

I got my new query finished yesterday... kind of. I have it on the message boards now. I'm just waiting for feedback on whether or not it makes sense. Did I confuse anyone with the information that I have in the letter? Do I need to put more info in, take some out? I'll do a few revisions, and hopefully, when the agencies open after the holidays, I'll have a letter to send out again :D

Monday, December 13, 2010

Characters make the story

I know I've talked about this before, but I strongly believe that in any good story, it's the characters doing the work, not the narrator. Let's make a distinction here: narrator and writer are two different entities. While a writer's voice may be unique from other writers, and while their voice may be similar in all of their books, the writer is a real person and the narrator is another character in the story. A character, I might add, that should be all but invisible. Except in first-person POV. Of course there are a few exceptions where the narrator inserts his own voice into the narrative, breaking the fourth wall to talk to the reader, but that's the exception, not the rule.

Anyway, on to my actual topic: characters are what make a story. If those characters are flat, or if they simply sit around waiting for the narrator to tell the reader what they did, then the story is boring. As far as the writer is concerned, those characters that aren't doing something on the page should at least be doing something in the writer's mind. An easy example comes from mystery novels: just because we see the protagonist hunting down clues to prove that the murderer is the man we believe him to be, it doesn't mean that the antagonist is sitting around waiting for us to look at him. The protagonist is looking for clues on the page, but the murderer is across town, mucking around with another, possibly unrelated, crime-scene in an attempt to frame the protagonist's cousin in two separate crimes.

If planning an example out like that sounds like it takes a lot of work, that's because it does! I've tried to write a mystery in the past, and it's not easy. I hope to write one soon, but I do a lot of that kind of work in all of my stories. I may not know what each and every character is doing while they're not on the page, but if they're changing the story in any significant manner, I plan it out before I write it.

I even use that writing technique when I'm running a role-playing game. Just because my players don't see an NPC, it doesn't mean that a character isn't running around ready to send a plant-monster at them when they move on to the next scene. (And for those of my players who read this blog; that was not a clue.)

This is why characters must be thought out well. We need to know that they have depth because as readers, if we see that your characters do stuff (like shuffle their feet in a corner of the bar, drink coffee while the detective interrogates their sister, rolls their eyes at a corny joke, etc.) we'll assume that they have a life when they're not on the page. We don't always need to know what you intended them to do, but if you don't fill in those behind-the-scenes blanks, we'll do that for you...as long as the characters aren't set-pieces. If you plan out off-page actions, it will come through in your writing, and we'll love what we read.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Audio Books

Audio books are, in my opinion, are one of the best options for people who love books but have busy lives. I really love getting through books because I enjoy stories. But I don't have time to read all of the books that I want to read. Especially non-fiction books. In fact, I'm almost half way through the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris, and I haven't even picked up a solid copy of the book.

The only disappointment about my method for getting audio books is that the Library doesn't have all of the books I want to listen to, and I can't afford to buy them on CD or get legal downloads. And I REFUSE to pirate any form of media.

So, this weekend you should take the opportunity to check out an audio book from your library. Pick a book that you want to read but don't think you'll get to for a while. In fact, pick a book that you said you'll read but that you don't plan on moving higher on your stack of "stuff to read." Maybe it sounds a little boring, or perhaps you heard something negative about writing style... whatever the reason is, if the producers got a great reader, they can bring that book to life in a way that may not be possible when you read it.

I remember listening to a book on CD many years ago that actually made me laugh, kept me interested from beginning to end, and genuinely sparked my imagination. I can't remember the name of the book, but when I analyzed the book later, I came to the conclusion that, without that great reader, this story would be boring. I wouldn't even be interested in the outcome of the first chapter (which introduced some of the key plot points).

And then, when you get awesome writing with a great reader, you have a quality product that will make you laugh out loud, even if you read the book before. The proof? The Dresden Files. James Marsters does such a fantastic job that, despite knowing the jokes are coming, I still find myself laughing in the middle of the warehouse where I work... garnering several odd looks from my coworkers.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Keeping Notes

I've discovered that my brain is fantastic at storing useless information that I can call up without any notice or reason. When I try to do the same thing with knowledge that is important to me, my brain decides that it doesn't want to work.

So, like when I was in school, I take notes whenever I need to remember something important and I'm afraid that I'll forget it. I'm doing this more often with blog posts, too. I don't scribble anything down when I get post ideas, but with this post (and several others) I simply logged in to blogger, jotted a few words down, and then saved the post as a draft.

When I'm working on a book, especially in the early stages, I like to daydream to put together the plot, the character interactions, and many of the other parts of a book that are usually handled in the planning and outlining stage. I often have time for this on long car-rides or while I'm working since my brain is occupied with a menial task that requires little concentration. (And believe me, when I need to focus on something important, I stop thinking about my book and focus on my job!) I found that, unlike when I was 13, I forget these ideas quite easily. So I'm taking more notes and I puzzle out my plots.

My point, I guess, is that note-taking, while tedious and capable of making you feel old, is very useful, and even helpful. Sometimes, especially when you're playing RPGs, it'll save your life!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Christmas Music

I know a lot of people hate Christmas music, and when I worked at Borders, it drove me nuts. However, there are some music collections that I really enjoy! The Vince Guaraldi Trio (the guys who performed the Charlie Brown music) have some awesome Christmas stuff, and if you create a Pandora station based on Celtic Woman (holiday), you'll get some truly relaxing/festive music that's easy to listen to and enjoy. It's also great background music when you need to write a query (which I've been doing this morning, and with some success despite waking up late).

When I'm playing my music at work (which is an awesome perk!), I keep the Christmas stuff to a minimum. Usually, I pull up a Pandora Quick Mix with a handful of rock and/or ska stations, and then I add the Charlie Brown Christmas station. It's easy to enjoy that mix of music without my co-workers threatening to lynch me for over-indulging my perky Christmas Spirit!

I know it sounds weird, but I love Christmas. At least now that I'm not working in retail! I remember setting up our Christmas tree every year on the day after Thanksgiving, and we had the railing that we would put garland on, along with snow-flake ornaments that depicted each scene from the Twelve Days of Christmas. My twin and I (at ages 5-7 or 8) would then get the Christmas CD with that song, and we'd run up and down the stairs, singing along and pointing at each ornament as it's corresponding notes shrieked out of our lips.

I miss those decorations. And it bums me out that all I get to do at my apartment is one strip of garland with a handful of ornaments on it. If only my cat would leave a Christmas tree alone. Not that I have room for a tree in this tiny place.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Giles Hash's Guide to Christmas Shopping part 2

On Wednesday, I gave the fellas some advice on gift-shopping for women. Now, ladies, pay close attention because this is the moment you're waiting for. I will tell you the one secret you need to know to get the perfect gift for your man each and every time you go shopping!

Go ask him what he wants, then get it for him :) If he says he doesn't know what he wants, he means it. He won't give you covert hints about what he might like, but when he thinks of a present he would like, he'll point it out to you.

Two tips: get him what he asks for. If he wants a Black&Decker cordless drill, don't get him a DeWalt. If he tells you to get the newest Mario game for the Wii, make sure it's not Little Planet for the PS3. Now don't accuse me of condescension, here. I'm using rather basic examples just to make a point. And my point is: if you ask your boyfriend/husband for a very specific sapphire necklace that you know is in your price range and matches several outfits in your closet, you might be rather upset if he gets you pearl earrings that don't match any outfits that you own.

But in the end, shopping for a guy is just as much a hit-and-miss venture as is shopping for women. Get to know your significant other, and ask lots of questions. Then you'll be sure to get each other the perfect gifts this year!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Giles Hash's Guide to Christmas Shopping part 1

So it's that time of year again. Time to go buy gifts for the people in your life. Now, shopping for women is hard, guys, and each woman you know needs or wants something completely different. Many of them would get offended or even mad if you shop for them the same way that you would shop for the other women you know.

On top of that, when a guy asks his wife what she wants for Christmas, her answer may be direct, but too often she'll say something like, "Oh, just surprise me," or "I don't want anything, but go ahead and get me whatever you like." And then she expects you to get her exactly what she wants. She won't tell you what it is, though. You have to guess! Sure, she'll leave hints around house: pages from catalogs with a single item circled on it, or when you're watching TV together, or walking the mall, she'll point at a piece of clothing, jewelry, book, movie, or whatever, and then she'll say, "Oo! I like that." And what she means is, "If you don't get me that exact item, you'll sleep on the couch for a month."

What's a man to do? Well, nothing. It's like walking through a minefield. Men, I can't give you much advice, just get her something you think she wants, or get her a giftcard. If that doesn't work, I don't know you. You're on your own.