Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Relationships

I'm going to take a moment to offer some relationship advice based on my own experiences.  I'm not sure what prompted this, but I'm glad I got the idea because I wanted to blog about something today.

So you know how, when you're in high school, and you're shy and/or infatuated with someone, you daydream about how you're going to ask them out?  And you know how you imagine what the relationship will be like?  Don't do that, and here's why: if, for whatever reason, it doesn't "live up" to your expectations, you could get really disappointed.

Don't imagine fights, either, or try to plan how you might handle a situation "in case it comes up."  Both of those things focus on YOUR imagination rather than reality.  And the more you do it, the less you associate reality with the person with whom you're in a relationship.  And that puts an expiration-date on the relationship.

I did that with two relationships, and they both tanked.  I haven't done that with my marriage, and while I haven't been married long enough to "have all the answers," I did learn that lesson.  I don't plot out how I'm going to win a fight should a certain argument come up.  I don't daydream about how much "better" the marriage might be if I made more money, or if she spent all of her free time brewing me beer.

Together, we plan for the future, and we live in the present.  As a result, we've gone more than four years without resenting each other.

That's my two cents.  Any thoughts?  Discussion is more than welcome.  As I said, I'm not an expert, but I did learn this lesson and it definitely applies to me because I do have a very active imagination.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Show Business

I LOVE shows about show business.  Studio 60 was one of the best shows I've ever seen.  I loved the behind-the-scenes of how a show is written, put together, and fixed on-the-fly when disaster strikes.  Whether it's accurate to reality or not isn't what's important (even though I heard there were some accuracies, and from what I know of producing shows, there is a touch of reality in the last-minute panic).  I love the drama.

I love well-written movies about writing books, creating prose, getting from the bottom to that magical moment of publishing.  I can't remember any such movies off the top of my head, but Finding Forester is one of my favorites.  That scene where Jamal just sits and stares at the typewriter is right on the money for me!

So my new favorite show?  Smash!  It has music, writers, actors, and it shows the behind-the-scenes!  Like Studio 60, I don't know how accurate it is to reality, but from what little I know of putting together a live event, I imagine much of the process is similar to what the writers and producers show on the screen.

Life in show-business is hard.  That's one of the reasons we've adopted "celebrities" as modern royalty.  Many people struggle to reach the top, and the tension of that climb makes for great entertainment!

What about you?  Do you like the struggle?  I get tired of real celebrities.  In fact, the tabloids bore me.  As do the complaints of celebrities who "have it all" but still "need" more.  But shows about them?  Where many of them seem like real people who aren't self-absorbed?  It's great!  Do you agree?  Disagree?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Unusual Schedule

So my schedule at work didn't look the way I expected it to.  As a result, I didn't bother taking my computer in to work today.

It turns out that my brother had to come in to the shop for some reason, and since I hadn't seen him since his wedding, I decided to invite him out for a beer.  We sat around talking for a couple of hours, really eating into my "free" time for the day.  As a result, you get a crummy blog post about how I spent time with my brother, and I get to write through the haze of a beer for thirty minutes before I have to start making supper.

But none of that is a bad thing.  I get to write, you don't have to read a long post about how nothing happened today, and my wife gets food when she gets home.

Have a great weekend!  :D

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lyrics in Print

Short question: what's your opinion of songs in books?  I know Tolkien did it in pretty much every book he wrote, and I've seen a couple of other authors add the lyrics of really long songs to their stories.

Personally, I don't mind it if it's done well, but after reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it's hard to keep my attention through the entire song.  Four to six lines followed by story description is my preference.

But what about you?  What have you seen in print that you like?  What do you prefer to read?  Does it bother you, or does it excite you?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Shoes and Ships and Ceiling Wax

Or was that Sealing wax?

So I just finished reading the Best Book Ever!  Many years ago I had the opportunity to listen to CABBAGES AND KINGS by O'Henry.  It was funny, clever, and it had an ending that I NEVER saw coming (there's a reason they call it the O'Henry Twist).  As I've said in the past, audio books are great, and depending on how they're done, they can make a decent book better, a boring book entertaining, and sometimes they can even make a masterpiece boring.  I wanted to see what happened with this book, and I was not disappointed!

Sure, the book wasn't as phenomenal as I remembered, but that's not a bad thing.  It made a fantastic first impression on me, and the reread had a lot to live up to, especially since I barely remembered the story itself.  But the more I read, the more I liked the book.

It's the story of a Banana Republic in the midst of change.  Many characters come and go, and they all play a part in transforming the landscape of the little town in which they live, which in turn changes the country.  Romance afflicts two or three of the gentlemen, getting them to take risks they otherwise would never have taken.  Government corruption feeds the pockets of greedy men, and conscience only plays a role for a brief amount of time.

This book is filled with many of the basics of high-quality writing, and in my opinion, it is the one novel every writer should read.  Since it was originally written in 1904, it does have a few of the "don'ts" of modern writing, but they're so clear that they make an easy learning tool, and they never detract from the story.

Go down to your library and pick up this book.  Or download it for your Kindle or iPad.  The statute of limitations ran out years ago, making the work public domain, so the download is free.  You may get some issues with a free version, and if you do, there are copies as cheap as 99 cents.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A New Frontier

Five years ago, if asked, I would probably laugh at the idea of reading a romance novel, YA or otherwise.  Not because I held any sort of negative opinion of the genre, just simply because it's not a genre I choose to read.  I must admit I've never read a romance novel.  I've read novels with romance sub-plots, but that's never been the primary genre.

But the romance in many of the books I've enjoyed in the last five years has given me the desire to read some of the more highly recommended romance novels in the YA market.  I'm excited to go to the library to pick up ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins.  After that I'm going to look for the two books by Tara Kelly when I finish with ANNA.  Why?

Well there are many reasons.  I'll admit I am eager to read some quality romance.  But at the same, a romantic plot or sub-plot is considered vital to most YA stories.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not jumping on a bandwagon to "help my book along."  There's a romance sub-plot in the book I'm getting ready to query.  But I want to learn how to add romance to a novel in a more organic fashion.  I want it to feel more natural in my outlining process so that I don't have to fight with rewrites to get that important character-interaction/development added to my stories.

Looking back on the last dozen books I've read, only two or three are absent a romantic sub-plot.  And as a result, the character-depth is lacking.  I love characters, and I want those characters that play the parts in my book to seem as real as possible.

So that's my new frontier.  I'm venturing out into the [publishing] universe to find great romance novels, and I'm excited for the adventure, even (and especially) if the stories don't turn out the way I expect.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Life's Funny

So I planned on writing a post this morning about broadening my horizons, but then I got a call from my boss asking me to run in before the shop opened to help someone who needed gear we were storing for them.

I got down to the shop and back with enough time to get the post written, except that my cat was nowhere to be found.  That's right, I lost the little booger.  He figured out how to claw open the bottom of the box spring of my bed and then crawl inside to sleep where I can't find him.  So I didn't have time to do anything more than get a shower and get to work setting up a show we have downtown today.

I have a crazy remainder to my week, but I'll do my best to get a good post up on Friday :).

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Write a Synopsis

We're going to assume that you don't have a contract that requires you to submit your synopsis before you write the book.  (Don't scoff: plenty of authors are required to do that.  It all depends on the genre, contract, publishing house, etc..)

So where do we begin?  Well, you've written a book.  You know what it's about, right?  Now here's the most important question: What's the character arc?  That's right, you need to put in character arc as well as story arc.  Remember, the protagonist may not be the character who arcs, but if you're writing commercial or pulp (pop) fiction, chances are the protagonist IS the arcing character.  Now if you wrote an outline before you started the book, good.  That'll give you a great place to start with your synopsis!  If not, don't worry.  Most of the steps are the same.  Now to begin!*

Step 1: Make sure you have your favorite drink available.  I stick with coffee because of its stimulating effect.  Compulsively drink said liquid until it's gone.  Stare at your computer screen, looking back and forth between the blank document that will be your synopsis and the novel you just wrote.  When you realize your cup is empty, refill it.  If necessary, run to the store to replenish your supply.  Stare at your computer some more, and the write the first paragraph that describes your story.  Make sure it's in present tense, third-person POV!  That's the ONLY consistent rule for writing a synopsis.

Step 2: Hurray!  After drinking so much liquid that you've had to go to the toilet a dozen times in three hours, you finally got the first paragraph written!  Does it accurately convey the action of the first opening scenes?  No?  Don't delete it!  Keep it on the page, write a new paragraph, using some of the ideas you write above, and when you're satisfied, THEN you can delete that first paragraph.  Now I realize this has been a difficult day, so turn off your computer.  It's time for bed.  Pick it up again tomorrow.

Step 3: Sleep in.  You got a lot done yesterday!  When you're up, repeat step 1.  Now it's time to finish that synopsis!  This is the easy part.  You're just going to describe the MOST important scenes of the plot and how the arcing character feels about them.  Make sure the character's change is clear.  Pepper in a few colorful phrases to make sure the synopsis isn't boring, but try to keep word-count to a minimum.  (Note: Industry standards vary.  Some agents and editors want one page, single-spaced.  Some want one to two pages double-spaced, and some want anywhere from three pages, single-spaced to eight pages, double-spaced.  There's no standard, and only five or six agents I've run across in the last four years even mention what they want in a synopsis.  Don't stress about it, just do the best you can).

Step 4: YAY!  You got that ENTIRE synopsis done.  It only took you two days, too.  Now it's time to send it to your writing partner/critique group/beta readers.  Enjoy this, because this will be the best feeling EVER.  Until you get your feedback.

Step 5: Bang your head against a wall, door, table, counter-top, or any other handy surface.  Try not to cry TOO much because swollen eyes are difficult to see through.  You need to see because it's time to throw out all of your hard work and start over.

Step 6: Repeat 1-4 until your feedback is EXTREMELY positive.  Avoid step 5 as much as possible.

I hope that helps.


*Disclaimer: I am not an expert at writing synopses.  Do not – I repeat – DO NOT use this advice unless it ACTUALLY helps you.  I assume ZERO responsibility for any consequences that result from using this guide.  On the other hand, if this is a successful method, I expect to see my name in your acknowledgements section.  Thank you, and have a great writing day!

Friday, February 10, 2012

No Update

I got nothin'.  It's a long day at work, so this is about all I have time for.

See you Monday :)

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Excuses

I don't remember who said it, but I heard once that "People who want to write, write.  Everyone else makes excuses."  Well I have a confession: I've been making a lot of excuses lately.

Don't get me wrong, I've been writing.  I have these regular posts, I'm working on a short story, and I'm trying to put together another book.  But the book that I want to query has to wait until I hear back from a friend of mine who is looking it over for flaws.

I've been tempted to put my eggs all in that basket, and I know that's a mistake.  That's why I'm sitting down to write this short story.  I know I need to write.  I know I need the practice.  And I need a break from novels.  This gives me a chance to experiment with genre, POV, voice, and format.  And it's been a huge learning experience for me.

But I'm still making excuses now and then.  I sleep later than I should because "I don't have any ideas right now."  Or, "In a few days I'll get back to it.  I just need a break because I worked so hard on that one book."

That's going to change.  Because I want to write.  I would love to say that I'm done making excuses, but I won't lie to you.  What I am going to do is continue to write, and I'll do my best to stop avoiding what I genuinely love to do.

What about you: do you make excuses?  What gets in the way of your desire to write?  What do you do to make sure that you're still writing even when you want to make excuses?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Critique Partners

I've been spending a lot of time evaluating my writing situation these days, especially where critiques and feedback are concerned.  I love my critique group, but to get an entire book critiqued, it would take  over a year!  We only do about ten pages per meeting, and we meet every other week.  Assuming everyone can make it every week, that's 260 pages that will get looked over in a year.  That's too long to wait to complete a book.

So I came to the conclusion today that I need a critique partner.  Someone with whom I can swap pages on a regular basis.  I can read their stuff and they can read mine, and we can call each other up and get "emergency" crits done in a pinch.  If we're on a deadline, for example, and we only have a week or two to go over thirty or more pages, we can send or pages to each other and blast through them without having to wait for the next crit session.

I think one of the biggest differences between a crit group and a crit partner (at least as far what I'm looking for) is that, with critique GROUP, the members can be at pretty much any level in their career.  Maybe they're trying their hand at writing for the first time, and they really need guidance from those of us who have been trying it for over a decade, or they've been working at it for a while, and they realize that they need to be reading other peoples' work to learn how to improve their own writing.  Obviously, with a crit group, you get many eyes on your work, and that's always good.

But with a crit PARTNER, I think both of them should be in a similar place in their process.  This way they're on the same page with their needs and goals.  And the level of development at that point will help to better their chances at moving forward, rather than hinder either one of them.  I definitely don't want to drag another writer down!

Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about lately, I'm just not sure how to go about finding a critique partner.  I don't trust the forums anymore, so I'm thinking I'll have to get out and meet real people at one of the RMFW events.  There are other options, of course, but most of the authors I know are in different places with different needs.  I don't know how helpful I would be to most of them, and (not to be selfish but) I'm not sure if they would be as beneficial as I need them to be.  I think I know one author who fits the bill, but that's something I'd have to talk with him about, if he's even interested.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Snow Day!

Okay, not for me.  I'm at work for a few hours, waiting for the ONE client scheduled out to come pick up.  Then we're off tomorrow, most likely, which means I get to clean the condo.

Since I have tons of stuff to do, I'm going to make this a short update.  See you Monday!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Charity of the Month: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Rather than putting together my own, clumsy description of our charity this month, I'm going to direct you to St. Jude's Quick Facts page.

This isn't the first cancer treatment charity I've advocated here, and I'm sure it won't be the last.  As a young man with friends who have small children, this is something I've started to think about, though.  It breaks my heart to hear about children who have been diagnosed with cancer.  I couldn't imagine being a parent who has to go through that, but with St. Jude and other hospitals like them, I would have hope for my child's survival.

Groups like St. Jude are why I give to charities.  I have something that will help other people (in this case, a small amount money that I can set aside to give every month).  I want these organizations to continue to help the people who need them.  I never want to be faced with the necessity of going to a group like St. Jude for help, but it brings me comfort to know that they're available.

So please go donate to St. Jude and help bring a child some hope.