Monday, April 30, 2012

Pop

So I thought this month went really well for this blog.  And I wanted to write a killer post to end the month of April!  You know, go out with a bang :D.

Well, I haven't had much time to breathe in the last few days, so I didn't get around to putting together that fantastic post.  So instead of a bang, it's more of a soft "pop."

On the bright side, Wednesday is the first blog post of a new month.  You know what that means? New Charity of the Month!  I'm excited :).

See you then.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Self Awareness

Personal health is extremely important.  I've discussed physical health before, and I still recommend that everyone (especially writers) do whatever they can to remain physically healthy.  But today I want to discuss mental health.

Several of my family members have suffered and still suffer from various forms of mental illness.  These family members manage their illnesses with effective medication and/or professional counseling.  And I am extremely proud of them for doing whatever it takes to make sure that they're not in any danger of hurting themselves or others.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, Monday was incredibly busy for me.  On top of that, several major changes are happening in my life (not specifically to me, but friends and family).  These changes are bad, in my opinion.  People are getting hurt in one way or another (including my wife and myself), and that, combined with some other distressing news I received last week, piled up on my shoulders on Monday to send me into a genuine panic-attack.

In the past, I've struggled with anxiety (and in the future the possibility exists that I may need medication to manage an anxiety disorder), but I never knew why I grew anxious.  Over the past several years, I've taken upon myself to examine the areas of my life that cause stress.  Consistently re-examining my life, combined with a conscious choice not to let the stress control me, have helped prevent panic attacks in my life.  In fact, I suffer less than one per year where I used to deal with at least three each year.

This isn't me trying to brag.  My life is far from perfect.  My point today is that life is hard, it can get overwhelming, and sometimes it's difficult to figure out how to make it through the hard times.  Remaining self-aware will help all of us to manage our lives in a way the prevents us for going over the edge for "no reason."  It also makes it easier to see if/when you need help.

And believe it or not, it could save your life!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How To Die Young Without Even Trying

Short answer: get my job.  Long answer, carry tons and TONS of aluminum in the sun.

On Monday, I had to head over to an old Air-force hanger that's been turned into an aviation museum.  You see, a client of ours rented a bunch of bases and pipes for an event over the weekend.  Normally these pipes would be used to hang drape, and it's not really something that gets ordered in this volume unless there are professionals setting it up.

Not only were there no professionals (aside from myself), there weren't even any volunteers.  So after the client finished with the equipment on Saturday, they took it down and set it next to the door at the museum.  I spent two hours lugging that stuff from the museum to my truck.  In the sun.  After making two other stops earlier that day.

Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end of the day.

That wasn't really a normal day, but I get those often enough that I never have to join a gym.  What almost killed me, though, was the handful of deadlines that I missed.  I had a very stressful weekend with some distressing news and a LOVELY wife who got sick.  All of that stress built up and gave me a panic attack in the middle of my Monday.

In the end, everything worked out alright.  I'm alive, I accomplished most of what needed to be done, and I'm REALLY going to be able to pay my bills this month.

But if you're looking for a way to lose weight in a hurry, gimme a call and I'll see if there are some opportunities for you to put your health on the line for almost no money at all!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Free-writing

So I originally planned to finish this post and publish it on Friday.  But the Day Job got CRAZY busy.  I didn't even get to sit at my computer during the work day, let alone get a lunch break that would've afforded me the time I needed to post this.  But it's Monday, and I have time before my INCREDIBLY busy work day to finish up.  So here it goes!

On Wednesday, I wrote about outlining.  In the comments, Terry Wright (whose synopsis tips I recommended) said, "...[D]o the outline before you write the story, when that idea is festering, no matter how much you're itching to type that first murder scene (or whichever). In the end, you'll be so much more prepared to polish and submit a synopsis."

I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with this.  Except...

In my personal experience, I have to free-write new ideas to get a feel for my characters, the setting, and the style I want to use.  Now remember how I said, "Your first idea is your worst idea?"  If you free-write ANYTHING before you write your outline, that's probably going to apply.  I don't think I've ever used a scene that I wrote before outlining in a manuscript.  And if I did, I threw it out before querying because it didn't work.

Now, I free-write with new ideas.  I sat down two different books over the last year and tried to wrap my head around a protagonist, his world, and his motivations.  The reason I'm not writing those books is because the ideas didn't "feel" right.  They didn't sound like books I wanted to read.  And that meant I wouldn't want to write them.

You see, I needed to try my hand at a scene or two before I started plotting out the story because I have very limited free time for my writing.  I can't spend days, weeks, or even months writing a book that I just won't like.  In the future that will certainly be an option, but my time is better spent focusing on stories that I genuinely enjoy.

My advice, as far as this applies to you, my readers, is that you don't spend too much time on this concept, but consider it now and then.  If you spend any real time with it, though, make sure that it's valuable.  And be prepared to throw out everything you wrote when it comes time to write the book.

Keep in mind, too, that things change when you get a publishing contract.  Sometimes you have to force yourself to write a book that doesn't "feel" right.  But as the author, you have the opportunity to MAKE it the book you want to read, even if you're not in the mood to write it at that moment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How to Write an Outline

I'd like to thank Amie McCracken for giving me this idea.  Actually, she made a comment on Twitter yesterday that reminded me that as I TRIED to drift off to sleep on Sunday night, I'd planned this post.  Here goes:

Writing an outline is very similar to writing a synopsis, minus the head-trauma.  Terry Wright, the Contest Chair at RMFW, has a very handy PDF on how to write a synopsis (this one is specifically for their contest, but the basic rules apply, just shorten it from eight pages to no more than four).  But it's handy when you want to start an outline!  (A note: if you don't read the PDF, you might get a bit lost as we move forward.)

So my method, and the one I recommend, is to start with the 5 Ws mentioned in the PDF.  Pick out the one or two (try to limit it there) character(s) who play the protagonist(s) in your story and fill out the each of the 5 Ws.  Then do the same thing for your antagonist.  This is crucial because without this reminder at the top of your outline, it's easy to get lost!

Next, divide your book into five sections (or acts).  Using the 8 Elements of Story, I divided my story up this way, but the actual divisions are up to you:

Part 1 (Character Introductions and Inciting Incident):
Part 2 (Rising Action and Rising Stakes):
Part 3 (Turning Point and Black Moment):
Part 4 (Climax):
Part 5 (Resolution):

After I got those typed up in my document, I started a new paragraph below "Part 1," and typed "Chapter 1."  Then I summarized what I wanted to happen in Chapter 1.  Repeat those steps for each chapter, making sure that you keep the 5 Ws in consideration!  This is a great opportunity to figure out exactly what you want your protagonists to do, how you want them to do it, and what their motivations are.  And if you find that something doesn't work structurally, then you only have to rewrite a paragraph or two instead of and entire chapter!

Keep that in mind, as well.  I heard once (and I'm paraphrasing) that your first idea is your worst idea.  Be prepared to THROW IT OUT!  You don't have nearly as many "darling" scenes that will have to be butchered if you're prepared to make changes in the outline... you know, before all of the HARD work is done.

That's it.  It may be time-consuming in the beginning, but it gives you direction at ALL times.  And feel free to divert your path a bit as you write the book.  To keep things easier for yourself, note the changes you make to the plot in your outline, that way, when your book is done, you have a document that only needs to shrink a bit to turn it into your synopsis for querying!

Have fun with it, too.  This is a story that you're crafting.  No one ever has to see it, so don't be afraid to make plenty of "mistakes" as you go.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reapers Invading? I'm Listening!

Yesterday I had a day off.  It was great.  My wife and I sat around and relaxed ALL DAY!  When I went to be last night, I had a great idea for a blog post that I planned to write when I got up, but I can't remember what it was.  Why?  Because I only got about two and a half or three hours of fitful, light sleep.

You see, when I wasn't playing Mass Effect 3 yesterday, Emily and I watched Frasier on Netflix.  So last night, my not-even-remotely-tired brain decided to jump back and forth between scenes from ME3 and Frasier.  As I started to doze off, they would overlap in weird ways that made me wonder why Frasier was on the Normandy, fighting with Niles over some wine club or art show.  Of course, as soon as my brain asked that question, my eyes would shoot open and I would remember that I had to get up in the morning to write.

By 2 this morning, I gave up on that idea and reset my alarm to go off at 6:30 instead of 5.  By 3, I was very glad that I made that decision because I had to unload a semi-trailer today.  A chore that can be quite dangerous with no sleep.  Needless to say, I didn't drive the forklift.

But I still have this craving to watch Frasier, play ME3, and as tired as I am, I REALLY want to get pastries, coffee, and chips.  Potato chips AND Doritos.  I guess I'll have to "settle" with the AWESOME chicken-noodle soup that my wife made last night.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Guest Post

I'm a guest blogger over at Aaron Michael Ritchey's blog.  He's a new friend of mine (I met him at the RMFW conference last year), and I think he's a great writer with a great sense of humor.  His first book just came out two weeks ago, so you should keep up on his blog.

So go check out my guest post and read through his archives.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Alpha Consuming

Last week, Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton launched a new YouTube channel that is focused on geek culture.  Check it out here.

I mention this simply because it furthers my argument that in this day and age, geeks and nerds are cultural and social alpha-consumers.  The show Sword and Laser is evidence of this.  (For those of you who don't know, Sword and Laser is a show dedicated to SF/F news.)

The problem that I still see is that no one seems to care what we geeks actually want to see in the theaters, on the bookstore shelves, on television, etc..  Don't believe me?  Michael Bay ruined Transformers for a large portion of the genuine, old-school fans.  Soon he'll backhand the fans of TMNT with an abomination of a movie that will be insulting to anyone and everyone familiar with the franchise.

In my opinion, geeks between the age of 12 and 18 are the future of the publishing industry.  Why?  Because they spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year on books that inspire their imagination!

These are the guys (and many of them are guys, though the female segment of the demographic is equally important) who spend money on technology.  They decide which e-reader is cool, they spend hours, days, weeks, months looking for e-books that will satisfy their desire to be entertained.  And many of them are trying to WRITE books that fill a need that's not being met.

The geeks and nerds are an important part of why I write.  Why? I'm sure most of you already know that I'm ONE OF THEM!  I play tabletop RPGs.  I read hardcore fantasy novels that let me escape this universe and transport me to a world of magic, elves, gnomes, and new languages created for the single purpose of engaging the reader in that world.

What's the point of this?  Honestly, I'm not sure.  But I wish the publishing industry would invest more in this demographic.  Not sure how that might happen, but I'm going to try to get the demographic more involved in the industry and see where it goes from there.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Working out

I've never had to work out.  For any reason.  Don't hate me, I was skinny.  I looked extremely unhealthy, despite the fact that I ate like a horse.  But now how I eat is something I have to take into consideration.  And I have to make an effort to exercise.

I'm not gaining weight unhealthily, but I am gaining weight.  It's important to me that I remain healthy.  And now that I spend more time sitting in front of my computer than I used to (both because I'm taking time to work on my writing and because I my hours at work are still lower than I used to get), I need to make sure I take care of myself so that I DON'T get unhealthy.And call me shallow, but I want to look as hunky as possible for my lovely wife!  (And when you read this, dearest wife of mine, I know you think I'm hunky now, but I want to stay that way.)

My wife and I went for a long walk yesterday.  It was exhausting, but it felt great!  We haven't walked that much since New York last year.  And it made the meal at the end of the walk taste SO much better.  I've been doing small exercises around the house and during down-time at the Day Job.

I love that I have more energy when I exercise.  And I enjoy the clarity to comes my brain-space when I eat well.  I'm learning how to eat better.  Less Doritos and ice cream, more healthy dairies, meats, veggies, fruits, and liquids.  Occasionally I'll indulge in some junk food (I still love beer), but I'm going out of my way to make better decisions with what I eat.  I'll probably never cut coffee out of my diet, but I don't drink soda more than once every other month.  There are many little things like that that I'm trying to do each and every day.  And even thought it's not as consistent as I'd like, a healthy lifestyle is getting built.  I want to keep my health as long as I can.

How do you stay healthy?

Friday, April 06, 2012

It Feels Great!

Remaining productive is important.  Not only for the sake of getting something done, but also because we, as writers, need to keep moving forward, learning and building our skills.  More than that, though: it feels AMAZING to accomplish something.

I can't tell you how excited I am to be working on a new project.  I love the ideas I'm coming up with, even though I'm still in the early stages of outlining.  I have two protagonists, an internal antagonist for each of them, and two external antagonists.  I'm ironing out their motivations, but that'll come as I write the overarching plot.  The motivations will tie in VERY closely with the internal plots.

I did try a bit of a free-write for the YA romance I hoped to write, and it didn't feel right.  I think this is important.  If a writer isn't excited about their story, it can be a real battle.  And the story may even turn into a total waste of time (depending on how it's approached).  Some day I'd love to jump back in to this project, but there's a lot I need to learn about the genre.

What do you have to be excited about?  What amazing accomplishments feel great this week?

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Decisions to Make

I have a day off from the Day Job!  That means I SHOULD clean the bathroom.  But I have a headache.  When that goes away, I'll get to chores that I've put off for far too long.  Until then, I get to start a new book!

As I said last week, I'm back into the querying stage for my "finished" book (finished until agents and/or editors tell me to change it).  That means I need to get a new book in the works.  Yes, I'm still working on that short story, but I don't get entire days off all that often.  I can jump back to the short in the morning before I have to go in to the Day Job.  But It'll take me a long time to start a new book if I don't take advantage of the free time I have today.

So the decision I have to make today is: which book do I write?  I want to go back to the characters from DEFENDER OF THE CROWN and write a new book (an entire reboot of the story).  But I ALSO want to write that YA Romance.  Now, the market will be open to romance novels for the foreseeable future.  And I'm not writing the book to "write to the market."  I REALLY want to write it.

But I REALLY want to write my other book!  I love both of these ideas.  I just don't know which one to choose.

I have until my coffee is done brewing to make up my mind.

And don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining.  This situation doesn't arise very often for me.  I just don't know how to handle it.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Charity of the Month: Feed the Children

It's been more than a year since I started this Charity of the Month "feature," and now that I have one charity for each month in the year, I want to return to the first charity I featured.

It breaks my heart to hear that so many children around the world go without food on a regular basis.  Even in the United States, many children receive only one meal a day.  I watched the ACM Awards last night, and they partnered with a charity that gets food to children (I can't remember which one), and that reminded me of this charity.  I love what they do.

I won't bog down this post with boring details.  Just head over to Feed the Children, read some of their stories, and consider donating.  It just takes $10 to make sure a child has food.