Monday, December 30, 2013

Vacations are for Writing

It's my annual vacation! I celebrated my 6th anniversary on Saturday, enjoyed a wonderful weekend with my wife, and now I'm back to writing. Sure, I have stuff going on nearly every day this week, but I also have a goal: finish my outline.

My rough deadline is the end of December for this outline. I have a feeling that that won't quite happen, but it WILL be done by the end of the day on Sunday. Just in time for me to go back to work.

Often, I like to spend my vacations doing nothing. I like to sleep late, play video games, and watch TV until my brain shuts down. But I haven't done that in years. Sure, I take advantage of the opportunity to rest, but I also take advantage of the free time. To write! As someone with a full time(ish) job, I don't always have as much time as I'd like. So this is the best time for me to "catch up" on all of the little writing projects I never get to finish.

Okay, not quite. I'm actually pushing myself to get this outline done so I can write another book. And I finally have enough time to get some real work done.

Before I start rambling and repeating myself, I'm going to end this post. Have a great week! There's a good chance I won't be blogging on the 1st. Not because I'll be hung over (designated driver this year. On purpose), but because I have several things scheduled for the day which MUST be taken care of. We'll see if I have the time, though.

So happy new year!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Finding Character Balance

I'm writing a book with two protagonists: a young man and a young woman. The young woman is a typical high-school girl who isn't used to having major events happen around her. Life-shattering, paradigm-shifting events that shake up her world and make her realize how small and insignificant humans actually are.

I'm having a hard time figuring out how to balance making this character realistic—with human reactions that mirror a real person's responses to such enormous changes in their life—with making sure she's not just someone who lets things just happen to her. I want to stay true to her character. She's someone who's lived a calm, normal life without anything life-threatening ever happening to her.

But I don't want her cowering in fear. I want her to take charge of her life in a way that shows genuine personal growth. But I also want to make sure that her life's bubble pops in a believable way.

This is a tough line to walk for me. Part of me worries about what other people might think of my portrayal of this character, but the larger part of me realizes that remaining honest with the human experience is more important. She's a capable character, just way out of her depth. And figuring out how to make her learn to swim is proving a struggle. Not because of my fears of being judged as an author. Screw the judges and their petty grievances. I want a character who is real. A person who accurately depicts the struggle to survive in an unfriendly universe. Who has a will to survive, and does so, even if it costs her something.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Drama

I hate drama in real life. Especially when it's drama that could be avoided by being a mature, responsible adult. And MOST especially when I'm the one failing to BE that adult, and I end up making my life more complicated than it needs to be.

Drama can have many forms: situations outside of our control (such as how a friend or coworker treats us no matter how we try to get along with them), household plumbing issues that won't fix themselves no matter how hard we try to make them do so (something I've been dealing with since becoming a homeowner), and decisions we make that we then have to rectify if we ever want the drama to go away.

In fiction, drama is necessary for the reader to stay engaged. I've known people who prefer not to read certain genres because of the type of drama that's prevalent in those stories, but there is a lot of personality-driven tension in pretty much any book worth reading. It's what incites emotions in the reader. Makes the characters appear real. And the potential for personal grown within that book is what drives the reader to keep going to the very end.

There are times when drama drives me nuts, even in a book. But it's necessary in a novel or short story. So even if it's uncomfortable to write, put in the drama. Try not to make it melodramatic (unless that's the style you're writing), but make a character whine, complain, get angry for no good reason, and then make them LEARN from that situation. Because if they don't do THAT, you're just reminding us why people are hard to be around at times.

And let's face it: we read to see characters change and grow. Not to hear them whine and sulk for the rest of their lives.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Moment of Silence

Once again, Colorado has seen a terrible event at a local school.

Please join me in a moment of silence for Arapahoe High School.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Comedy Essential: Believability

When making a joke, it's important that the premise remain within the bounds of accepted reality. Stretching those boundaries is okay, but it needs to be done gradually, and the result has to be a NEW accepted reality. Otherwise it's just not funny.*

Let me give you two good examples of well-done humor that fits WITHIN an accepted reality: P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster thinks he's clever and intelligent. But his bumbling ends up making every situation he's in worse. THEN he goes to his genius butler, Jeeves, for help. Often enough, the simplest solution is the one Jeeves thought of. And he's typically performed the required tasks to solve Bertie's problems. The jokes always play on Bertie's incompetence and Jeeves's genius. Not much of a stretch in reality, right?

Example two: The entire Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. A two-headed intergalactic president is funny. Not because it's plausible in a real-world sense, but because when we pick up a sci-fi book, we ACCEPT the possible existence of two-headed aliens. And when we accept that reality, it's not much of a stretch to accept a spaceship with an infinite improbability drive. And when we accept THAT reality, a bowl of petunias that's capable of thinking, "Not again?" is just plain laugh out loud hilarious.

Now for the flip-side: I have a broad sense of humor, and generally Whose Line is it Anyway is funny to me. But every time the actors say something preposterous like, "I'll use my outie bellybutton to scale the wall," I cringe. It's not funny. At all. That's not my opinion, that's a completely objective, indisputable fact. Okay, maybe I'm overreaching, but I just think it's stupid. Not funny. But my point is, the reality is beyond acceptable to me.

Finally, I want to give you some homework. Go find two movies and/or TV shows. One must be something you find uproariously hysterical. Examine it for the jokes, the reality in which they take place, and then see if you can figure out WHY you think it's funny. THEN go find a movie that EVERYONE ELSE tells you is funny but you think is the stupidest, most boring film of ALL TIME. Examine that one, too. What jokes don't you like? Why? Is there some way you might laugh at those jokes?

If that's too much, just give two examples from memory in the comments. And I'll see you on Friday!

*As with any rule, there are exceptions, but this discussion isn't about those exceptions. Just like every other set of rules, learn to master them before figuring out how to break them.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Making it Work

As I've mentioned in the past few posts, I'm approaching my new book differently. And it's working! I kept getting an emotional detachment from the characters because I couldn't figure out WHO they were.

So after fiddling around with the first few chapters, I came to the realization that I needed to go back to my outline and figure out what the characters should be feeling in each chapter. Maybe even give each chapter a mini-theme to keep the story on point.

Another problem I've been having is figuring out WHERE this story's going. I don't want it to be a clone of other stories I've written, and I don't want to intentionally rip off another author. I know that every story has already been told a thousand times over, but I want to tell THIS story in a way that makes the readers laugh and cry and wonder why they've never looked at it this way before. I know, a lot of pressure to put on myself, right?

As with most blog posts of this nature, my big point is that it's important to KEEP WORKING when writing gets tough. Sitting around and waiting for inspiration may work for the "inspired artist," but if a writer wants to make a career out of writing, they have to treat it like a job. Getting the work DONE, even when they're too sick to stand, to tired to keep their eyes open, and when all of their friends are out having fun because they got to play hooky from work. It doesn't SOUND glamorous, but then again, many brewery owners think they'll sit around drinking beer all day when they start out. Then they discover that their job is mostly mopping and shoveling up grains. A passion is great, but turning that passion into an income requires commitment, followthrough, and a willingness to do the stuff that sucks when all we want to do is play video games.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Crazy Times? Crazy, CRAZY Times!

This is one of the busiest weeks I've seen in a long time. At least at my day job. It's even busier than the Katy Perry week!

Which means my brain is trying very hard to stay awake. Not a great way to start writing a book. I'm not done with the outline, yet, but that's because I felt myself getting lost with the story. I felt zero attachment to the characters and story, even though I am VERY excited about the idea.

That meant I needed to try something different. And just write. It's crazy. CRAZY, I tell you. Because it's kinda working.

I'm a big fan of finding a system that works and sticking with it. But if the system stops working, it's always JUST as important to find something that DOES work. It feels weird for me to be writing without a complete outline. But the weirder part is that I don't care. The OCD part of my brain is, CRAZily enough, more concerned with writing something than following my pattern.

There's supposed to be a point to all of this, but I think it got lost somewhere. Like I said, it's been a crazy week, and I'm surprised I managed to find my way to the blog today.

However, the weekend approaches! I have to work, but for those of you don't: ENJOY IT! For those of you that do: ENJOY IT ANYWAY! Sunday is my Birthday, and to celebrate, it looks like I'm going to work and bottle beer. Maybe I'll be able to go out and do something fun.

Next week some time, I'm going to talk about more COMEDY! That's right, I'm returning to a TOPIC. It'll be Wednesday or Friday, most likely, but I might pull something out on Monday. Maybe the stars will align and I'll write about funny schmeg all week.

Who knows?

Monday, December 02, 2013

Charity of the Month: Child's Play Charity Part 2

It's December, and that WOULD mean that it's time for another charity, but I want to help Child's Play with their end-of-year push to reach this year's goal. The goal this year is SO CLOSE. Just a few more people putting their best foot forward would push them over the edge.

So please head over to their site, hit the donate button, and send a few bucks their way.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Slog

The problem with a busy life is that it often takes time away from the things I want to do. Like blogging. I'm less concerned with this fact than I used to be simply because building a platform without a "product" to distribute isn't the best use of my time. Building the product is where I need to focus my efforts.

That's what I've been doing lately. I'm still querying my finished novel, and I'm outlining a new story that I like a lot. By this time next year, I hope to have another finished project to send out into the market, but at the same time, I'd rather get this WiP interrupted by the need to work with an agent on getting the finished book to bookshelves.

This is something that most writers talk about during their slog through the querying phase. And it feels like a slog because there's a lot of waiting, a lot of downtime between queries where it would be a waste to send out more, but the only thing I want to do is send out ALL the queries to ALL the agents. But I'm taking my time with this. I only want 5 unanswered queries out there at a time. This gives me a chance to research the market, make sure the agents I'm querying are the best match for me. And, if necessary, I can revise my query to make it stand out more.

Over the next few months, I expect my blogging to remain inconsistent. It's a necessary cutback that will greatly improve my book writing, but I know it could hurt my presence on the web. The problem is, my presence is only screaming in the wind if I don't have something worthwhile to say. Or anyone to listen.

I'll continue regular updates at least once a week, and the charity of the month isn't going anywhere. But this blog will continue to evolve until I figure out where all of this writing stuff is taking me. Until then, the publication of my novel has to be my focus.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Pleasant Diversion

Sometimes, distraction is absolutely necessary for my creative brain. I spent such a long time worrying over what I should write next that I completely lost track of how much fun writing is for me. This weekend, I finally hit that magical reset button that got my brain thinking about books again.

Last week, I did have a spark of an idea that I'm working on, but taking a weekend to just goof off and play helped so much I have to recommend it to all of you. Take the time to unwind. Let distraction take over for at least a day, then get back into your project with new vitality and excitement!

For me, I played Star Trek Online. It's free to play, and it's finally available on OSX. I stared at a screen half the weekend (thanks to my loving, caring wife who graciously let me zone out for two days), and now I'm ready to hammer through a new book. And excited for it!

That's it, that's all I got. Go read a book, or play a game. Or take a tour. Something, anything to pull your brain back into focus.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Child's Play Update

The other day, I saw an announcement on the Child's Play twitter. It made me very excited because they're branching out and working with domestic violence shelters!

From their site: “The very nature of family violence eradicates trust, self-respect, and physical and emotional wellness in all victims, but none more so than with the children. These “hidden victims” are often the most vulnerable, overlooked and the least likely to receive appropriate services during a time of intense trauma.
We believe that these “hidden victims“ can be reached through creativity and play; through the gaming opportunities and learning experience, they will build their self-confidence and self-esteem. Our ability to offer social and emotional skill development- through constructive play and gaming activities - will help the children impacted by violence develop self-understanding, creative thinking and empathy skills, designed to support their healing, growth and future success.”
This is an important cause for me. Not because I've ever experienced anything remotely close to what these kids and their mothers have been through, but because the very idea of destroying someone's life through domestic abuse makes me ill. And angry. To the point where I want to hit someone. Which, I understand, is counterproductive, but that's how angry it makes me!
Please go to the Child's Play site, check out their press release, and watch the thirty second video announcement. Then consider donating. As always, it's for a great cause!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Laboring Through

Often times in life, the events outside of our bubbles intrude on our journeys to reach set goals. Since finishing my last book, I'm struggling to put together a new project that excites me enough to turn into a full novel. I've come up with a few ideas, but when it comes down to outlining a plot, the overall structure feels weak. The protagonist isn't the type of character who would get involved in the conflict I've set up. The antagonist(s) isn't fleshed out enough to be more than a bad guy who does bad things because that's what bad guys do.

The reasons behind this are plentiful, and just yesterday I got news that an event that I've been expecting for eight years is going to happen in the next few weeks. And this isn't a good event. In fact, it's the type of event that makes me question everything I ever thought about certain people in my life. I understand that this is vague, but I'm not here to talk trash about anyone.

I'm here to make a point: even though motivation is lacking and inspiration is less than adequate for my next novel, I'm still working. I'm laboring through the distractions, fleshing out short stories and designing writing workshops. I'm critiquing other peoples' writing, and I'm taking this time to be with my wife.

At the end of the day, it's vital to push forward, no matter what obstacles stand in our way. I want to be a professional writer, and that means I need to write. No matter what. And while I'd prefer to work on the sequel to the novel I'm querying, I know that's not really a valuable use of my time until I have a contract to do so.

For now, that means I'll write short stories, create characters and worlds, and hope that something sparks to life in my extremely distracted mind that will turn into a project I can turn into a full-length novel.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Writing Playlist?

I'm gonna be honest: I rarely listen to music anymore. It's not that I dislike music, but I'd rather listen to podcasts, audio books, and the occasional stint of talk radio. I haven't purchased music in years. And the music I did purchase the last time I bought something, I used a gift card I'd received for Christmas.

Don't get me wrong, I don't steal music. I just listen to Pandora. I've listened to the same songs so many times with their service that I probably ended up paying the artists more than I would have if I'd purchased their album, anyway.

But even Pandora gets shut off too quickly when I sit down to write simply because music is distracting to me. And when I write, I can't tolerate silence. If someone's not walking around on TV and yelling at their costars, there's too much silence. Which is weird because coffee shops distract the ever-living stuffing out of me.

So what do I listen to when I write? Scrubs. The TV show. It's on Netflix, along with Mythbusters, How I Met Your Mother, and The New Girl. I've seen those enough times that they give my brain a quick reset when I need them to, but I can COMPLETELY ignore them when I sit down to write. I can't do that with music. I tend to think about the lyrics, bob my head to a groovy tune (yes I just said that), and then look up music videos and trivia on the artist.

I don't know how I got this way, but I've had this problem for almost two years. I just can't write with music on in the background. It just reminds me of how much needs to be done around the house.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Book Review: A Million Suns by Beth Revis

Ms. Revis did it again! Personally, I liked this book better than the first, mostly because I felt more familiar with the world. Listening to audio books is a great way to get caught up on all those books I "have" to read because I really want to but don't have time. But with Revis, sitting down with the book in hand felt so much more rewarding.

The story itself is a direct continuation of Across the Universe, so if you haven't read that one, yet, don't start with this one. You'll be TOTALLY lost.

The first book had an overarching murder mystery woven through the story, but this one follows a different track. There are a few mysteries in the plot, but the main conflict focusses more on the future of the ship where the characters currently reside. Personally, I really like the fact that Ms. Revis did something different with her second book, rather than making a clone of the first book with different character names. It advances the overall plot of the trilogy and it kept me engaged from beginning to end!

Any book that keeps me awake past my "bedtime" is something I think deserves high praise. It sucked me in more than the last book and made me more excited for the NEXT book than the last one did for this book.

All in all, Revis has kept me engaged through two fantastic novels, and I think you're doing yourself a disservice by NOT going out to get them right away.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Charity of the Month: Child's Play Charity

It's that time of year, again! I'm excited, as always, to announce the TWO MONTH drive to help raise money for Child's Play. They're already beyond the $5,000,000 mark for the year, but I want to help push them beyond $7M! They still have some HUGE events going on that will help raise money, including their charity auction, but I have no idea how much they're going to raise from all of those events.

So dig deep this holiday season, donate a small gift to a local hospital or some cash directly to the charity, and skyrocket this charity to new heights!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Problems with a Scrambled Brain

I've been struggling with my new WiP lately because I can't get any of my thoughts straight. I like the ideas I'm coming up with, but throughout this entire process, I've been struggling to come up with a basic story that I can limit to an appropriate YA word count. Since I'm not published, yet, I have to approach this book (just like my other projects) as if it's a debut novel. That means I need to be as low-risk as possible for the publishers, and that means taking risks on my own that make this book pop without pushing the length of the novel.

I'm not excited by the story I've come up with. I like the relationship between the characters, but at the end of the day, the STORY is really a story. It's several events in an unusual pair of lives with a good deal of conflict, but the stakes just don't pull me in. The stakes aren't high enough, any resolution I can think of sets up too much for me NOT to make it at least a trilogy. And/or 120,000 words long. 78k is about the limit for ANYTHING in a debut YA novel, but even with sci-fi, publishers are more comfortable with 75k.

And, to be perfectly honest, I don't want to spend the time it would take to turn a 120k story into a 75k novel.

It puts me in a real pickle because I want to be writing a novel. The short story I'm working on is fun, but that doesn't get me revved up the way novel writing does.

It doesn't help that I'm still in the middle of pitching another novel, looking over that once in a while to make sure I haven't missed anything, and the holidays are upon us and my day job is sucking away my free time like a vampire at a blood bank.

While I genuinely love the creation process of this job, when creative juices aren't flowing, I wish I could make a living doing something else. Like home brewing. But I know that when I start writing professionally, it'll be TOTALLY worth the effort.

Monday, October 28, 2013

One Comedy Essential: Familiarity

Familiarity with a joke, or the references behind a joke, is essential to delivering a fun, humorous experience for an audience (readers).

Think of "familiarity with a joke" as context. One of my favorite jokes, because it's SO corny, is "Two drums and a cymbal fall off of a cliff. Ba-dump tsh." I think that's funny. Not gut-busting funny, but still chuckle-worthy. Almost everyone I've told that joke to cracked a smile or laughed out loud. Except for one. She didn't grow up in the U.S. where the rimshot gained its greatest fame in the early nineties. She didn't even grow up in a Western nation. And despite the reach of Western pop-culture, that particular bit hadn't made it to Thailand. Where she grew up. So I told her that joke and got a blank stare. Because it was completely outside of her lifetime experience. Which means the context of the joke simply isn't funny.

See? Context is a HUGE deal. A familiarity with the references a joke is making are essential to understanding the punchline. That can make the difference between a successful joke and a total flop. Keep that in mind in your writing, if you're putting comedy in your book, because a reference to an inside joke shared by two characters but never shared with the reader will be nothing more than a wasted sentence. But if you set up the joke through pages of character-building and deliver a punchline after chapters and chapters of buildup, the reader will laugh and laugh and laugh. Because they get it. They're FAMILIAR with the CONTEXT.

Now for a writing exercise: go write a joke. Just a quick joke. Less than two hundred words. Is it funny? Are people laughing (other than you)? Now CUT IT DOWN. Less than one hundred words. If it works in the space of two breaths, chances are, you have a winner.

Post it in the comments, if you like.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Katy Perry at Lakewood High School

As some people may be aware, Katy Perry is doing a concert at Lakewood High School in Lakewood, CO. It's for Good Morning America. The reason I'm talking about it is because my day job ALL week has been putting together the lighting package for that event. It's kept me so busy that I've barely had time to breathe, let alone blog. I have been getting some writing done, but that's all-important novel writing and editing.

So if you're new, or if you haven't read it before but you still want to get something out of this blog this week, click on the tab at the top of the page that say "The Senator's Daughter." It's a short story (borderline novella) I wrote a little over a year ago. I like writing it, I know a few people who enjoyed reading it, so check it out.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Books to Read When You Write Comedy

Don't just read your own writing when you work on a book. Surround yourself with great books that inspire you, teach you quality prose, and show you techniques you may have never thought of before. In the vein of writing comedy, here's a list of books that make me laugh and that I think EVERY writer should read if they want their readers to laugh.

First, Eric Idle's THE ROAD TO MARS. It's hard to find, but I bet if enough people pester the publisher, it'll show up in an ebook format. It's hilarious. The storyline is engaging. And it's one of the best essays I've ever read, which is funny because it's just a novel!

Next, pick up anything Gail Carriger has written. That's comedy. Seriously, go do it now before you finish reading this. Go. Do it.

I'm waiting.

Done? Good.

Finally, read The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. It's not filled with humor the way the rest of my recommendations are, but they have comedy woven in so smoothly that any writer who wants to write serious fiction with a hint of humor should read this series. It'll give great ideas on how to keep the humor subtle without interrupting the flow of the narrative.

But if you don't like to laugh, then I will light a candle for your soul. And weep for the future of mankind. Because, let's face it, laughter is one of the greatest joys in life.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

When I decided to try my hand at writing science fiction, I knew I needed to brush up on the genre, read the more contemporary authors, and see what the industry was publishing.

With Across the Universe, I found a new author to look for! I really think Ms. Revis put together a trilogy that's worth every second spent reading these books.

The story takes place on a colonizing ship on its way to a new planet. It's narrated both from the perspective of one of the prospective colonists and from one of the boys born on board during the 250+ year journey. Our first protagonist is woken from cryo-sleep years ahead of schedule and must help the second protagonist solve a series of murders being committed by a psycho on board the enormous colony ship.

The picture painted by Ms. Revis is clear and vivid, with echoes of Earth resonating through the alien landscape of the ship. The narrative is engaging, and I found myself wanting more and more of the story the longer I listened (I got a hold of the audio book for this novel but am currently reading the hardback of book 2). On a side note, the audio book is narrated by two separate people, and it's done very well.

The science fiction universe is very believable to me, and I found myself considering how I would act and react to situations on board the ship if I was a colonist woken up to find society completely changed from the world I left behind. Every bit of this book drew me in and kept me wanting to experience more. Not just by reading, but I found myself excited to play sci-fi video games, read more sci-fi books, check out new sci-fi shows and movies, and even write a new book!

My only complaint is that it's written in present tense. This is a personal preference, but I think I would have engaged with the story more if Ms. Revis wrote it in past tense. That's simply because that's the majority of what I've been exposed to, and as I result, I can "ignore" the fact that I'm reading when it's a familiar format. I get truly lost in the narrative that way. But that's me, and it doesn't diminish the fact that you should go out and buy it RIGHT NOW!

Friday, October 11, 2013

What is Funny?

The fact that comedy is subjective doesn't change the fact that somethings are funny and some things are not. Rather simplifying the matter, though, that fact only makes comedy confusing. And as a writer, it makes it so much harder to put comedy in a piece of fiction.

I remember very distinctly laughing at the very first joke I ever wrote. I couldn't stop laughing for several minutes, and I thought it was brilliant. Of course, I never got to the point where anyone could read that joke because I was still a very new writer and hadn't learned to self-edit. So years later, when I read that joke again, I thought, "Why did I laugh at that?"

Where was I going with that? Oh, yes. Our mindset can influence our perspective on comedy. Something that's rip-roaring hilarious when we're sleep deprived may be nothing more than chuckle-worthy when we're properly rested and caffeinated.

But what is funny? And how does a writer know if a joke works or if it falls flat?

The answer is feedback. Get readers to read your work. Ask them if they laughed, and where. Don't feed them the answer to your question, just wait to see if they say your joke. And if they didn't maybe it's time to look at your style of humor.

But, again, what is funny? Are clowns funny? What about steaming piles of dog poop? Pie in the face? If it's in bad taste, is it still actually funny, or do we laugh to hide our embarrassment? And has anyone noticed how similar embarrass resembles bare ass?

Study comedy. What makes you laugh? Who makes you laugh? Do authors write jokes that make you snigger, giggle, or chuckle?

The first key to comedy, I think, is setting up a situation for characters, either in their actions or in their conversations, and then, rather than letting the scene play out as a reader might expect, make the characters say or do something completely unexpected. And make the results, the consequences, even more unexpected. If I say, "Knock, knock," and you say, "Who's there?" what should come next?

I mean, honestly, I'm not an owl. And neither are you. So why do you ask, "Who's there?" Perhaps you should give me an inquisitive look and wonder why I'm saying, "Knock, knock." Maybe there's something wrong with me. And by asking a weird question as if I'm actually knocking on a door is only encouraging my insane behavior.

Laughing yet? No?

Comedy isn't easy. A few years ago, I wrote a standup routine. I spent two weeks coming up with 90 seconds of material. It got laughs, and cheers. And it's something that drives me in my writing these days.

So I ask you, one last time, what is funny? And will you explore those ideas with me over the following weeks and months? I want to explore comedy even deeper, and the best place to start is with many, MANY perspectives on what makes people laugh.

From the example above, I find clowns boring, and poop is gross. Always and forever gross. Never funny. But a pie in the face? Hilarious!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Why The Blacklist Works and Why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Doesn't

I was as excited as anyone when I heard Joss Whedon was creating a TV show based on Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. I've never been huge into comics, but I love heroes, adventure, and ensemble casts with great chemistry.

The Blacklist has all of that. There's a clear protagonist with a supporting cast of sidekicks, a mentor, the armorer, bodyguard, and obvious antagonists. Agents doesn't have one clear-cut protagonist to attach to as a viewer. Yes, we're supposed to cheer for the team, but why do I care about the team? Sure, they are "the protagonist," but what makes them special? Aside from the fact that they work for a secret organization that's trying to save the world?

In The Blacklist, the stakes are clear from the get-go. For that matter, it was the same with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and even Dollhouse. And I guess Agents has clear stakes, but they're not enticing enough. Save the world, but from what? Or from whom? Villain of the week isn't good enough for a story of this magnitude.

The first episode was quite a letdown, too, because in the previews we saw someone with "superpowers." And then the creators specifically told the audience that this show wouldn't be about superheroes. So right off the bat they told us, "This is going to be awesome, but it's not what you think." And the one character with real stakes, the one the audience wants to get attached to, is sent on his way.

I hope you're following me on this, and if not, I'm sorry that I'm not being clear. But let me make another example from Whedon's most successful show: Buffy. We have Buffy. A vampire slayer chosen by the Powers That Be to kill vampires and protect the world from invading evil. She has a backstory, complex emotions, and friends who support her in all of her efforts. It's the same with The Blacklist. But the only character in Agents is someone without any discernible personality. He's bland, dry, deadpan, and not at all engaging. Despite the fact that he got stabbed in Avengers. The ONE person we have ties to is the hardest to connect with. And the rest of the characters so far have so little going on that it's nearly impossible to care.

To turn this to a writer's perspective, when creating characters, make sure they have several important traits that make them engaging. Not necessarily likable, but engaging. And give them friends. Foils to enhance and reflect their personality. No lone-wolves with a secret past.

Now, I'm not sure if I'm in the majority here, so I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts. Discuss!

Friday, October 04, 2013

Thoughts on Comedy

I've been thinking a lot about comedy in writing lately. I don't know why. What I've decided, though, is that I like laughing. And if an author gets me laughing at least once per book, chances are they've engaged me enough to make me a loyal reader. Five times, and they've really accomplished something. More than that? Well that's where it starts to get touchy for me.

I don't have much put together on comedy at the moment, but I want to explore the subject over the next couple of weeks. If my day job didn't suck all of the attention out of me, I might be able to come up with something more coherent for today, but I want to ask one huge question: What makes you laugh?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Charity of the Month: Samaritan's Purse US Disaster Relief

As pretty much everyone knows, my home state was plagued by some serious flooding last month. We're still cleaning up the damage, and one of my favorite charities is helping! Samaritan's Purse has a great work ethic, the majority of your donation goes DIRECTLY to the disaster relief rather than getting sent back to fundraising efforts. And it helps people recover from a terrible life-experience.

Fortunately for me, no one I know had any serious loss due to these storms. But I know two people who were directly affected in minor ways, and they have friends and neighbors who suffered the spectrum from minor home-damage to total loss. It breaks my heart to hear these stories, and that's why I want to help.

And I'm asking everyone who can help to dig deep and help where you can.

Thanks, and I'll see you again soon!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Random Wednesday of Randomness

Some day I'll come up with clever things to blog about. Eventually. Until that day, I'll try to regale you with ideas running around in my head.

Querying is actually kinda fun this time around. Yes, it's stressful, and yes, I compulsively check my email. But I'm enjoying the process in a way that I never have before. I think it's because I like this book so much more than my last few.

And I think it's important to enjoy what you write. I understand that a few writers get stuck writing a series that they absolutely hate (รก la Tarzan) simply because the market won't tolerate anything else, but that shouldn't stop a writer from finding joy in their work.

I think that's why I'm liking this book, still. That and it's still early in the process. I haven't received tons and tons of rejections. I'm not "demoralized" by "failure." But I have higher hopes for this project and realistic expectations of what comes next.

I don't know what comes after the queries all go out simply because I can't see the future or read the minds of agents. But I DO know that I'm going to start writing a new book soon. I'm already working on ideas. It's just a matter of time before I sit down and start plotting.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pitching

This last weekend I went to a writers conference. I met new people, hung out with old friends, and learned lots of awesome stuff from great presenters.

I came to one conclusion this weekend that I'm actually surprised not to have seen elsewhere on the internet. It's about pitch appointments with agents and editors. Ready for this?

Even if they ask for pages, pitching to agents at a conference doesn't really increase your chance of landing representation. I HAVE heard a few writers say that they've never heard any stories of writers getting their agents as a result of their pitch appointment, but that's not what I'm talking about.

What I'm saying here is that at that appointment, you're pitching an IDEA. Sure, you have a complete book that contains that idea, but in ten minutes, it's impossible to sell a full manuscript. You're just not going to do it.

Getting their attention is still key, though. If you have trouble with queries (as I tend to), a pitch appointment is a great way to get them to notice your idea. Because in a query, you're still pitching your idea.

Once you have their attention, that's where it's all "business as usual." They will be judging your work on the quality of the writing. If they request pages from a query, pitch appointment, or because you pulled them out of a burning building, the decision will ALWAYS be based off of your writing. I know this from experience. Every time I've pitched an agent at a conference, they've asked for pages. But that last project (NOT the one I'm pitching now) wasn't ready for publication.

I haven't gotten enough insider response to say whether or not my current book is ready, but I am sending out pages soon. I'm confident in the story I've written. Excited about the idea, the prose, the opportunities!

Now that you've gotten to the end of this post, don't think that I'm saying ideas don't matter. A really bad idea is going to be a tough sell. It sets up roadblocks simply by existing. Just don't oversell the good idea. Let the writing do that.

Don't undersell it, either.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Navigating Uncertainty

I've discussed the importance of community a few times on this blog. Well, not too long ago, I had an opportunity to experience the benefits of being part of a writers community firsthand.

I received some feedback on my current project that seemed contradictory to everything I'd read about publishing a debut novel. Immediately, one of my friends pointed out that there aren't really any rules dictating what is right or wrong in writing a book. Stylistically, anyway. And she named a few books right away that did exactly what I'd been told to do in my book.

Other friends listened (and I use that term loosely since this all took place in a Facebook conversation) while I rambled on about things I've read from agents and editors. Some of the members of my critique group spoke up and told me, with a good deal of confidence, that in my particular situation, many of the changes recommended by this bit of feedback wouldn't really work for my book.

And that was something I suspected, but with how eager I am to move to the next step, I needed to talk things out before making any decisions. I'd tried some of this person's suggestions in earlier drafts of my book, and they felt forced and boring. But a part of me wanted to jump in and start fiddling with my book right away on the off chance that I might be able to move forward with my career.

Without the support of other writers, I'd still be pulling my hair, desperate to figure out what the feedback meant and how to apply it to my book. I could've butchered the entire thing and turned it into a mess that might have sent me back to the beginning with this project. Unless I made all of those changes in a separate document, which is what I planned. But after the conversations I was able to have, I know that wouldn't have been the best use of my time.

The biggest reason I bring this up is because this was a completely new experience for me. Not the feedback, per se, but where it came from. I didn't know how to respond, and without the support of fellow writers, I think my head would've exploded.

My point, I guess, is that when a stereotypical hermit writer hits that point of uncertainty, like I did, they need to break away from their solitude and seek the advice and support of people who can give them a fresh perspective. It's dangerous to do this alone. With the quality of writing I keep seeing in the bookstores, and with the overwhelming mass of people vying for a chance to be published, I don't know if it's even POSSIBLE to do this alone anymore. If it ever was possible.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Next Project

When the first project is finished, it's important to move to a new project. As quickly as possible. That doesn't mean that the current project is tossed aside, but I've wasted a lot of time querying one book and doing nothing else.

To be fair, I didn't know what I was doing when it came to querying and get my book out there, so it wasn't ALL a waste. But now I have a better idea of what I'm doing. It's important for me to start something new while I work on getting my current project out into the world.

The problem I'm running into right now is that I don't know where to begin. I don't have writer's block, or anything, I'm just feeling a bit disorganized. Cluttered. Distracted. I can't decide if I want to write another sci-fi, go back to fantasy, do something more modern (like urban fantasy or near-future), or even which age group I should write for.

I don't want to waste any time. So I'm not giving up. I'm going to push through this brief "downtime" in my brainspace, and I encourage every one of you to do the same.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fear and Excitement

For the first time in almost a year, I feel like I'm part of the writing community again. When I worked on my project, I found myself focussing solely on the project, interacting with my critique group, a few writers I know from twitter and facebook, and no one else. At all. Despite my attempts to remain interactive with the community, I couldn't bring myself to do it. And I know it showed in my blogging and twitter feed.

Now, I feel like I'm out in the world again! It's exciting, and I'm very excited to pitch my book. I've already sent out three queries this week, and I'm going to send out one more by the end of the day tomorrow.

It also makes fear resurface. Not fear of success or even fear of failure, simply the fear of the unknown. What's the result going to be? Will I still be excited by this project if/when I start getting rejections? Will I get full requests or offers of representation? Will those offers be the right offers for me, and what will I do if they're not?

It's a lot to think about, and it turns my stomach in both a good way and a terrifying way. Part of me wants to celebrate all of my success, but the rest of me is constantly remembering that I need to keep working, enjoy what I've accomplished, but refrain from major celebration until I start moving forward again.

Just some random thoughts for this surprisingly sunny lunch break.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Be thorough

In everything that you do in your writing career, be as thorough as possible. For your own sake. If an agent represents your genre, and you think they might be a good fit for you, good! It means you've done your research. At least, if you come to that conclusion it SHOULD be the result of research. If not, go do research. Do it now!

But let's say that agent accepts your work and offers you representation. Do you say, "Yes, absolutely, without question!"?

No. Do some more research. Are they making an industry-standard offer? If they require a higher or lower percentage of all sales, ask them why. Read your contract. Are YOU the client, or is your IP the client? If they leave the agency, do you go with them or get sent over to another agent?

More than that, can you WORK together? Based on interactions that far, do they seem like the type of person you'd be willing to work with for the next 20 or 30 years?

Don't just agree to a business partnership because they asked. Make sure the opportunity is the RIGHT one. Be careful, though, because saying no just because they're not your "dream agent" could cost you a great working relationship. At the end of the day, if you don't see yourself working with that agent long-term, try not to waste their time by making them jump through hoops just to have you tell them "no thanks."

It goes back to my first point: be thorough in your research.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The First Draft

One piece of advice that I heard years ago really stuck with me, and it helped me out just last week. I don't remember how it was originally worded, but it came down to this: get the first draft down on paper, complete with cliches, weak description, and lack of emotion. Then go back and fix it later.

The point that came across to me is that a writer shouldn't try to make it perfect on the first draft. Because it won't be perfect. So many things will change from day one through day 365+ that if a writer polishes up each chapter before moving on, they're going to end up rewriting so many times they'll never finish the project.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but personally, that's how I write. I did it with my query last week. I couldn't figure out how to pitch my book on a single page, and I kept getting hung up on phrases that sounded cliche and generic. But when I "got over" that, I wrote a basic pitch and sent it off to my critique group for some review. Now I have a direction to take the query, and I have ideas that'll help me make it a solid pitch.

But if I wanted to get it "perfect" the first time around, I would've spent weeks and weeks dreading the task of writing a query letter, even when I sat down to work on it.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Charity of the Month: Feed the Children

It seems to me that every month I read a new story about how foodstamp usage is way up in this nation. I'm fortunate enough that I don't need assistance that that service provides, but I also know that many people on that program, and many more who are not eligible, still need help.

That's why I love Feed the Children. They put food in the mouths of people who need it, both in the U.S. and around the world. Please head over to their site, check out their mission, and consider donating. It doesn't take much to help a child eat.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Handling Critique

No matter how much you may agree or disagree with any critique of your work, NEVER dismiss it out-of-hand. There can be great value in a critique that you don't agree with, as long as the critique points out places that may need improvement. There's always the possibility that those critiques will turn out to be wrong, but in the editing stages of your work, it never hurts to take a second look.

With that said, don't go around making EVERY change suggested by the people who critique your work. Listen to their advice, then make your OWN decision! It's YOUR book, after all.

I recently received the critiques that I paid for with the RMFW contest. I didn't score as well as I'd hoped, but without a point of reference, I can safely say that my scores were not at ALL disappointing. One of the judges gave solid critiques, noting areas of the manuscript that needed work or polish. They didn't make any assumptions about the state of the book or suggest that I COMPLETELY rework the entire thing. While some of their suggestions differ from the notes I've gotten from my critique group and beta readers, on the whole, they're very helpful.

The other judge barely marked up the manuscript. Instead, they recommended making one of the secondary characters my protagonist. This assumes that this book is still in its early stages. And because this book is basically done and in first person POV, it's also a recommendation to write a completely different book. Rather than work with the one I've written.

BUT I don't think they wasted their time or mine. Sure, they could've been more helpful and given critiques rather than "this is lame, unbelievable, I'm walking away now" comments, (stuff I WOULD have listened to if it didn't directly contradict 10 other readers who dove into the story head-first and loved it, even while they "tore it to pieces" to help me make it better). It's still useful, though, because it makes me look at my writing as a whole. It makes me evaluate everything I've learned, read, and accomplished in this manuscript.

The only other note I can give to you, my readers, is that when you're giving critiques, be helpful. Don't be afraid to say the tough stuff (like "I don't know if this is working" or "this is difficult to believe"), but make sure that it's said in a way that helps the writer. Use examples of "why it doesn't work" that are relevant to the story itself. If a story takes place in the distant future and an evil person wants to do an evil act, don't say "this country wouldn't let that happen because in 1986 they passed a law that banned that action."

Laws change, nations change, governments change, and evil people will ALWAYS do evil things and create conflict in the universe, even if their governments passed laws banning those acts two or three hundred years ago.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The End?

After 11 months, I have finally reached "the end" of my novel. I'm not QUITE done, but it's close enough for me to celebrate today!

I got my critiques back from the contest I entered, and I want to look them over and make some minor changes. Other than that, I'm ready to start putting together the Pitch Package to send out to agents.

This is the scary part for me. I got some great feedback from the contest, but I still don't know what individual agents are going to think of this novel. Moreover, there's no way for me to know what the market it looking for. I don't "write to the market" as an author, but I do consider what's "selling" and sometimes speculate about possible trends. I'd like to think that I'm ahead of the coming curve, but as an industry outsider, there's no real way of knowing.

The best advice I ever received, and the best advice I can give, is to write what you love. That's what I'm doing. That's why this journey has been so much fun, even when it's been hard work. There's still a lot more work to do, even though the editing is almost over. For this stage, at least.

The reason this post has a question mark in the title is because there's never REALLY an end in this business. Unless a career is ending. There are only two places to go from here since I refuse to give up. One is to move forward with publication. That's something that I'm going to strive for with every book I finish. The second place I can go is "back to the beginning." And that means starting a new project. That's on the horizon for sure, and I'm already thinking of new ideas for the next book.

This isn't the end by any means, but it's a milestone that I've worked toward for a year. It's nice to be able to start querying again. And the next step is only moments away.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Coasting to the Finish?

I have less than 60 pages to proofread before this manuscript is ready for the query process. And I must admit I'm scared. I've worked very hard on this book, and I'm excited to draw near to completion. Part of me wants to start celebrating my success today, even though I'm not done with it yet.

Another part of me wants to sit back, relax, and revel in the fact that it's "all down hill from here." The last few pages have been edited several times over, and I'm quite confident in their quality. Part of me knows that this section of edits will be easy. And I want to just let the book edit itself.

It won't do that, though. I HAVE to edit it. I have to keep working, pushing, striving to make this the best book it can possibly be. I've already said that this is by FAR the best book I've ever written. What that means in the context of the publishing marketplace is yet to be seen. And I don't mean that to be self-deprecating. I know many people who loved this book. Teachers who want to give it to their students.

And I still love it. It makes me want to continue writing. But I'm so close to the end of this project that I want to coast through the finish line. It's like I've reached the last thirty minutes of my work day and almost everything is done for the day. All of the projects left can wait until the next day, so I find something easy to do and get back to the nitty-gritty tomorrow.

I'm actively fighting these desires and thoughts because I know that giving in would amount self-sabatoge. Apathy can be dangerous. In many ways, it can be more dangerous than "active" laziness.

I have high hopes for what comes next in my writing endeavors. And that excitement is pushing me to finish this project well while enticing me to simply jump to the next step and skip the last 60 pages of my book.

How do you feel when you're almost done with a project? Are you tempted to give up? Do you embrace the process and ignore the end-goal? Do you skip ahead for any reason?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fear of Success?

A couple of years ago, I read a blog post from someone who seemed interested in writing. I don't remember the entire post, but what stood out to me was that they held back on something they were interested in because of their deep fear of success. At least, I think it was a deep fear. Not that it matters for the sake of this post.

It got me thinking: what does fear of success look like? And as I thought about it over the following years, I came to the conclusion that I have no idea.

In various areas of my life, I do face a lot of fears. Most of them are minor and barely affect me, but they do remind me of the fact that life isn't easy. As far as my writing is concerned, I do fear failure. It's something that I think about from time to time, and with the lack of forward-progress in my career thus far, it sometimes feels like a looming presence over my life. But I don't give up because that would be REAL failure.

As I work through the final edits to this current project, knowing for a FACT that it's the BEST book I've EVER written (because I've learned SO much over the years!), I start thinking about the possibility of moving to the next step in my writing career. My fear in that area is a simple fear of the unknown. I don't know what the next step will look like. I don't know how I'll have to go about producing more work, what my job situation will look like, or even who may be representing me as I move toward publication.

I don't even know IF I'll get this book published.

But am I afraid of success? I still don't know what that looks like.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't about belittling someone else's genuine struggle. I don't think less of anyone for mental and/or emotional roadblocks that might standing in their way. In fact, the whole point of this post is that I really don't UNDERSTAND what that fear looks like, and I'm trying to "think out loud" in the hope that I might be able to comprehend a different mindset.

At the end of the day, though, success is why I work as hard as I do. And it's why I'm trying to work even harder every day. Yes, fear of the unknown makes me want to crawl into a hole and hide, but it also makes me want to move forward and take those unknown circumstances by the collar and "work out a solution" to any "problems" that they might bring my way.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Disconnected?

I don't know if I've been feeling disconnected lately, but I know I've been neglecting my involvement in the online writing community. As my previous post might have suggested, though, I've been very connected to close friends of mine.

I've been pushing through my project, and I think I'm less than a month away from being able to start sending it to agents. If I hadn't focussed so much of my energy on my interpersonal relationships, I know the stress of trying to finish this book would have caused unacceptable delays.

I honestly don't know if blogging will become consistent again in the near future, but if it doesn't, it's because I'm working on very important projects and even more important friendships. I will try to get more content up here, but no promises. And I want to get involved in the online community again, too. At the very least because I need to know what's going on in the world. But I also want to contribute to all of the wonderful conversations that everyone keeps having.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Importance of Community

Everywhere I turn these days it seems someone new is reminding people how important community is. Especially for those of us who spend a good deal of time on our own, writing. The writing community is vital for our survival. Both as a way for us to grow in our craft and as a way to remain sane when the trials of this industry make us want to pull our hair out.

The other day, a friend of mine showed me this video, and I think it's something to really consider.


Friday, August 02, 2013

Charity of the Month: Fisher House

Charity time!

Fisher House is one of my favorite charities. They're great because they provide housing for families who are away from home for life-saving and/or life-improving surgeries and extended medical care. Disabled vets get to stay with their families while they struggle to recover from injuries suffered in the line of duty.

And one of my other favorite features: 95% of ALL donations go DIRECTLY to houses around the country. Only 3% pays for administrative costs, and 2% is spent on raising more money.

So drop by and give them some support.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim

I saw this last Friday and thought it was AWESOME!

Let me get some disclaimers out of the way, though: the acting is mediocre—not BAD (though there are a few over-acted scenes), just not award-winning—and the story is very contrived and predictable.

But it's a BEAUTIFUL movie. And, come on: it's ROBOTS fighting MONSTERS!

I went in excited but almost prepared for disappointment because of the reviews. However, the analytical part of my brain (the one that managed to put together that disclaimer) completely shut down the minute the film started. Mostly because my inner child could stop bouncing in the theater chair squealing inwardly with excitement over robots vs. monsters.

The action blew me away! It drew real, teeth-clenching emotion from me, getting me to lean forward in my seat, anxious to see the end that I knew was coming but needed to see anyway.

This is a short review, I know, but it was a great movie! Anyone who like robots, monsters, or movies should go watch it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I know, it's pretty sad that it's taken me 28 years to read this book, but to be fair, I didn't learn to read until I was 5ish, and from there I never took the opportunity to read it. In part because EVERYONE told me I just HAD to. And that makes me hesitant.

But my wife read it and loved it. Most of the time, I tend to like the books she reads. So on her recommendation, I picked this one up.

I gotta say, I loved it! The plot is great, the action intense, the descriptions vivid: pretty much everything I would love to see in a book.

Most of all, I was surprised by how old it was. Everything I was reading gave me the impression that Card wrote this sometime in the mid -80s. The ideas behind personal computers, interactive VR, computer games just told me "this guy had a solid grasp on the direction technology was headed." But it was written in 1977! When Pong was the most "advanced" home computer ever imagined! The school's "desks" are basically iPads.

There were a few areas in the narrative where I wish he'd been more clear, and occasionally, he took too much time explaining stuff that I already understood. On the other hand, though, this wasn't abnormal for Sci-Fi. For that matter, it's STILL hard to find Sci-Fi—or Fantasy, for that matter—that doesn't have its fair share of setting description or backstory that may not have as much to do with the story as the reader might hope.

As far as I'm concerned, this book is great. A must-read for anyone interested in Sci-Fi. And I recommend reading it before the movie comes out this fall.

Friday, July 19, 2013

I swear I'm still here

I'm just working on my edits right now. Life with my family and edits to my book take precedence at the moment. But I'm working on a book review that will be out soon. Monday, probably.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Character Flaws?

Flaws in a character are what make them human and relatable to a reader. I've discussed making characters flawed before, but those were flaws in personality. The type of traits that might make a character annoying or unlikable but may be redeemed by other traits.

But now it's time to consider flaws that the character doesn't like. Does your hero want bigger fore-arms? What about the ability to hold a meaningful relationship? Does your heroine want to spend more time with her family but can't because of her career? Or does she wish she'd spent more time on her education? Maybe she wishes she didn't care so much about her appearance but would prefer to spend more effort on the people she cares most about.

And don't be afraid to look to your own life for examples. It doesn't have to be something big. It could be something simple and stupid. I, for example, STILL wish I could grow a beard. Sure, there may be other things that I would change if I could, but as far as character and personality go, I am putting effort into those. The one thing I CAN'T change but REALLY wish I could is that STUPID BEARD!

The protagonist in my current book wishes she had a prettier laugh. But instead she snorts. Loudly. And it bothers her.

So take that for what it is. But make sure you have an unchangeable flaw for your characters so they're relatable to your readers.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Vacations and Celebrations

It's summer time, and my wife and I are taking our big vacation again. It's been great! My sister-in-law is in town, and we've already been to two breweries, a meadery, a GREAT local restaurant, and a movie. I love time off.

Now that doesn't mean I'm going to waste my time goofing off. I plan on getting some GREAT work done on my book in the next day or two. I'm even getting a blog post in today, which hasn't been that consistent of a project for me.

Tomorrow, I'm celebrating the birth of my country with a proud member of the United States Navy. We're all going to a Rapids game (the Colorado soccer team) where we'll see some running around, ball-kicking, and a fireworks show. I'm proud of my sister-in-law and her service, and my wife and I are excited to celebrate the 4th with her.

Go have fun tomorrow. Enjoy the day, and I'll see you on Friday.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Charity of the Month: Samaritan's Purse

Like last year, my home state is burning. Samaritan's Purse is organizing volunteers to help with relief down in Colorado Springs, and I'm thrilled to support their efforts through this blog. Giving a donation to their disaster relief fund is easy. Just click here, enter the donation amount, and proceed to "checkout."

Even if $10 is all you can afford, every little bit helps. Please do what you can, if you can, to help those who are suffering as a result of this terrible disaster.

And thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

Friday, June 21, 2013

That Fine Line?

I'm a perfectionist. But I'm also easily excited and can get over-eager when it comes to my writing. I want every book that I write to be absolutely perfect. But I want people to read it NOW!

In all honesty, I'm not sure where I am with this manuscript. I know I'm close to finished, and I know I have to do line-by-line edits. But I have this nagging feeling that there are a few minor tweaks that need to take place to the story to enhance the overall development of the book. At the moment, I'm just not sure where to start.

My beta readers helped out a lot. Following up with their notes will definitely improve the book. But I'm almost done making changes based on their comments.

It's difficult, sometimes, to walk that fine line between working a project to death and making it the best it can be before biting the bullet and sending it out. I want hundreds of people to read through it to confirm my suspicion that it's ready to go. But if I had hundreds of people eager to read this book, that would be confirmation enough that I should send it out to agents.

I know today I'm being ridiculous. Sometimes I lose site of the big picture. And I'm also stoked about this book. As I've said before, it is by far the best thing I've ever written. I want it to be great. Awesome. Fantastic. And marketable.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Swingin' With the Punches

There's always a reason to procrastinate. As an unpaid writer with a nearly-fulltime job, I'm tired a lot. As a husband who loves his wife and loves spending time with her, I'm busy. A lot. The fact of the matter is, I have legitimate reasons not to sit down and write. Every day something else comes up that could allow me to say, "You know what? I think I'll just wait until tomorrow."

For that matter, I started this post early this morning. I'm so tired from a long day at work that I was tempted postpone this entry to Friday. And my EXTREMELY legitimate reason was that I need to work on my book. But I still think this blog is important, too. Especially when I get the opportunity to interact with all of you.

So when I'm tired every morning, and my wife wants to cuddle, it would be very easy to pull the covers over my head and stay put until it's time to go to work. I have deadlines, though. Sure, they're still deadlines that I set for myself, but they're important if I want to continue to move forward with my writing.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, every time you have time to write, take advantage of it. Doesn't matter how you FEEL, just do it. Eventually, you'll be able to work through just about any rough patch.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fame?

On Monday, I spoke of goals. One goal I want to caution against is Fame. Fame, in-and-of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. And WANTING fame isn't necessarily bad, either. But pursuit of fame can lead to disappointment, heartbreak, disillusionment, bitterness, and pride. Not the good pride, either. There's nothing wrong with pride in a job well-done.

I know this from personal experience. And I almost gave up on my writing several times because of it. I daydreamed all the time about becoming a famous author, spending all of my free time traveling the world with my family, spending money willy-nilly, and hanging out on the sets of TV shows to discuss my new masterpiece. I knew it was unlikely, but I figured that the smallest possibility made it worth daydreaming about.

Then, with every rejection, every change needed on my manuscript, I grew angry. I'd been told that my writing was good by people who had no reason to lie. People who couldn't care less if I got "hurt" by their honesty (I never did, by the way). So I let it go to my head and whined about "my turn" and "what's wrong with my book?"

Even then I was wise enough to at least assume that agents and editors know the market and the quality of someone's writing better than I did. So I did hold the responsibility solely on my shoulders.

Then something funny happened: I read my book one more time, fixed it as much as possible, and sent it out to an agent who seemed VERY interested. And I got a rejection. It made me feel free! I didn't have to work on that book again. It wasn't a BAD book, but it wasn't very good.

But I'd written a short story that I enjoyed quite a bit. And my critique group got really irritated with me for leaving it as a short story. But I took that universe, created new characters, and wrote a new book. The one I'm working on now.

I remembered why I started writing. It's because I love it. And I want to write high-quality books for young readers. There are so many high-quality books in the marketplace for the YA audience that that makes my job very difficult. And it's a challenge toward which I'm striving. I may get famous some day. But it's unlikely. What's more important is that I'm pursuing the best possible book I could ever write. As of this moment, I can say definitively that I have never written something this good. How it stands up to other novels is yet to be judged and will be left to agents, editors, and ultimately, the reading public.

But fame isn't my goal. And I'm happier for it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Know Your Goals

When sitting down to plan out a career, it's important to have a set of goals to work for. Those goals may change as you move closer to them, but it's important, none-the-less, to find out where you want to go. Otherwise you could spend your life chasing an intangible "perfect future" that will never come, which leads to frustration, discontentedness, and eventual depression.

As a writer, one of my goals is, obviously, to get published. I've known people who opted to take the self-pub rout to reach that goal, and they work their butts off to make that a successful venture for their careers. That can be a very tough path, and I have a lot of respect for anyone who can put out a high-quality book without the support network of the "publishing industry."

But, as of right now, that path isn't for me. Which makes writing a high-quality book my first, immediate goal, followed closely by getting an agent. I've discussed this before, so I won't bore anyone with the detail.

From there, I know the next step is to pursue publication through traditional publishing houses, then write a new book and repeat.

There are "big dream" types of goals I would LIKE to reach, but I see those as a possible result of doing the best work I possibly can and not the end to which I strive. Getting on a bestseller list would be great, and getting my book made into a movie would be awesome. Having people cosplay as my characters is fun to think about. But those are side effects of my actual goal.

And that's to build an audience. An audience who enjoys my stories enough to tell their friends to read them, too. And their parents. And teachers. And children. The desired result from that goal? Not fame or glory or riches. I simply want to replace my income. That's going to take a LOT of work, and I wouldn't be surprised if I end up having a part time job for a decade or more after I get my first contract. But writing full time is my "big dream." In the grand scheme of things, I'm not asking for much. I'm not a lawyer or doctor or engineer with a high income. I haven't "grown accustomed" to a "certain standard of living" (and I'm sorry that this turned into a Chris Farley sketch). In fact, after two years without a smart phone and five years without cable, I think there are many things in my life that I would gladly REMOVE from my budget. But that's a tangent I don't need to follow.

Anyway: I recognize that my goal is big. And it may take years and years to get there. For that matter, my kids, who haven't even been conceived yet, may be out of school by the time I reach that goal. And that's fine. Right now, I'm focussing on reaching the next step. And I'm not frustrated by constantly-moving goalposts. They may move when I get an agent. Heck, they may move by the end of this year. But I'll never know if I simply stop pursuing them.

So what are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish in your life? And what are you willing to give up to reach those goals. More importantly, which goals would you abandon to seek even better ones?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Cold Death

Cold wind rushed past the tall woman's ears, whipping silver hair about her face. She scowled and pulled up the hood of her cloak. "Three hours," she screamed. "That's what you told me."

The wind whistled in reply. Bare tree branches waved at a gray sky. She took a step forward and crunched last night's snow, caked and refreezing after the unseasonably warm morning. "Are you going to show yourself?" she snapped.

"Should I?" The voice slithered between the trees, gliding over the breeze like an oily serpent. "Seven years ago you said the very sight of me made you ill."

It did. That would never change. But the knife hidden in the palm of her hand cried for blood. She couldn't disappoint it. "Please," she said, trying to sound supplicant. Seductive.

Black mist swirled from behind the tree right in front of her. She held her breath, ready to throw the knife. The mist gathered, growing stronger. He would appear in seconds, a tall creature, black and oily, anxious to suck her soul away.

The mist solidified. One more heartbeat. Her arm tensed. She shifted her stance.

And then fire blossomed in her spine. The greasy voice whispered in her ear. "I know your heart, my pet. And it will never be free."

Darkness descended. And the knife fell to the earth.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Random Non-Update

I planned on putting together a coherent post that discussed something important or relevant. Instead, I spent my lunch working on my book. And that's what I'm doing with my free time this evening, too. So see you Friday, and we'll see if I get something up. Maybe a short story, or something.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Charity of the Month: Salvation Army Tornado Relief Fund

We've all heard of the disasters in Oklahoma over the past month. Relief is slow to come, and recovery is going to be a relative term. But I would like to ask everyone to stop by the Salvation Army page to donate a few bucks to help the victims.

As a reminder to anyone who may be new to this site, I never feature a charity without contributing myself, so rest assured that I'm not asking anything of anyone that I haven't already done.

Have a great week.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Little Rewards

This week I am rewarding myself for getting my contest entry submitted. I managed to put the entire thing together and send it in on Monday, so I'm going to take the rest of the week off from this project and focus on relaxing a bit.

I wrote a short story yesterday that I'll polish up and post soon, and I'm going to play some video games. Something I've forgone in large measure since I started this book. Yes, I have played a few hours now and then, but I spent weeks at a time either huddled over my computer writing when I wasn't working the Day Job, or making sure that I didn't neglect my wife. Something that is VERY important to me :).

So I'm going to reward myself with some breaks and a real shot at playing games I don't get to spend much time on.

Oh, yes. I'll be brewing a bit, too, in the next few weeks.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Don't Be Afraid

Life as an artist can be difficult. It's full of disappointment, failures both perceived and real, hard work, sleepless nights, worry over choices and the future, and endless negativity surrounding your work. But don't be afraid to put yourself out there. I'm not just talking about blogging or self-publishing, either. Those can be brutal and they have their own sets of challenges, highs and lows.

I'm talking about putting your work into the hands of people who may not like it and are going to tell you, either by way of rejection letters or published reviews. "Failing" to win the contest I'm entering would be disappointing. But it's not stopping me from entering.

To be fair, I am BLOODY terrified. This is a new experience for me. And I don't know how well I'm going to do. I don't know who I'm up against, how talented they are, or even how my book will measure up against theirs. I don't even know how my writing will measure up against the scoring system. And that's one of the biggest reasons I'm entering AND paying extra to get the writing critiqued.

Aside from sending my books out to beta readers and agents, this is the most real-world exposure my writing will have gotten. And, again, I am afraid. But I'm not, if that makes sense.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Writing in a Vacuum

First off, DON'T DO IT! Writing in a vacuum is always a bad idea. As writers, many of us tend to be solitary folk, and we fantasize about the "romance" of sitting in a secluded cabin in the woods, toiling away on a typewriter until our masterpiece is ready to send to some editor who still manages to accept manuscripts via "the post."

Over the last year and a half, I've REALLY learned the value of having other people read and critique my writing. My critique group showed me many faults in my book, which helped me stay excited about the story. Mostly because their perspectives helped me improve the book far more than I could have on my own.

And recently, another friend of mine looked over my synopsis (despite a very busy schedule) and gave me more invaluable feedback. While some of her comments required more work on my synopsis, it'll only help my writing.

And on a side note, getting trusted writers to tell you what's "wrong" with your writing will make the criticism of professional reviewers sting less when (and that is WHEN not IF) a periodical publishes a less-than-glowing review of your book.

Monday, May 13, 2013

While The Wife's Away...

The Wifey is out of town for a couple of nights for work. That means I'm all alone with the cat. I know it probably sounds lame, but I already miss her, and it's only been four hours. Still, I like having her around. Still! After five years!!

Now, I'm not going to mope around the house for the next three days. I do have work today and Wednesday. But I took tomorrow off. And I have big plans! Poker night with the guys is first on my "bachelor" docket, and then tomorrow I'm spending the entire day brewing beer and working on writing projects. I'm very excited.

Other than that, I have a few irons I'm about to stick in the fire, but we'll see how everything turns out before I mention what those might be. I don't want to get anyone's hopes up ;)

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Two Cents: Synopses

Take some time to research a good synopsis, how to write one, what agents are looking for, and how writers feel about them, and you'll find so many different, often contradictory opinions, that you might as well just figure out the best way for YOU to write your synopsis. In the past, I mentioned that there's no such thing as a "standard" synopsis. It's a total lie. Some places tell you the standard is one page, single-spaced, no paragraph indent. Others will say that it MUST be double-spaced, from 1-8 pages, following ALL of the plot points, side plots, main and ancillary characters. And pretty much anything in-between.

What is standard? There's a 90% chance you MUST have A synopsis in one form or another. Beyond your basic query letter. Why? Some agents still require them. Many editors require them. And it's hard to find a novel-writing contest that doesn't require at least a minimal synopsis.

"But," you say, "I'm self-publishing. Do I need a synopsis?"

Maybe. I don't know. I've never looked into self-publishing. But if I WERE to go that direction, I would write a synopsis. And it would be the best darn synopsis I'd ever written for that book. Why? Promotions! Whether or not I spoil the ending in the synopsis, it's a great tool, especially at a shorter length, to use for promotions.

And answer me this question: What's your book about? I'm a potential reader, you're a self-pubbed author drumming up sales. You caught me with the book's cover. Awesome! Now you have two minutes. TWO MINUTES to sell this book before I lose interest.

"That's not fair," you insist.

No, it's not. But that's life. The average American has a 30 second attention span. The average reader may stretch it out to two minutes, especially if they're properly hooked.

"But I spoke to readers for ten minutes or MORE!"

Doesn't matter. Polite people will hang out and talk for a long time, especially if you're friendly. But in sales, especially when browsing, will make up their mind VERY quickly about whether or not they'll make the purchase.

"Okay, Giles. What the eff does this have to do with a synopsis?"

What's your book about?!? Have you taken the time to lay it out from beginning to end, picked out the MOST IMPORTANT parts, and then crafted them into your pitch? Yes? Then you may be fine. If not, you need to figure that out, and one of the easiest ways to do so is to write a synopsis.

Of course, this is all highly biased opinion, but that's my two cents. For the record, writing my synopsis is by far the most painful part of the experience for me. But to move forward, it's absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger's first novel in the Finishing School series is absolutely wonderful! Her foray into the world of Young Adult is well executed, lively, and is a great intro to the Steampunk genre AND her concept of a supernatural Victorian England.

This story takes place several decades before the Parasol Protectorate and only features three crossover characters (who will remain nameless so that I don't spoil the book). It follows Sophronia Temminick through her first term at a very odd finishing school that teaches young ladies of quality the skill and social graces needed to survive in the upper classes of English society. And how to employ those skill as an effective spy and/or assassin.

As with Ms. Carriger's other works, this book is well written with engaging characters, brilliant dialogue, and edge-of-the-seat plot. It expands on the world in which we met Alexia Tarabotti, delves into some of the history of world without spoiling the other books, and develops new, exciting elements make the world feel so much more realistic!

My only complaint is that suspension of disbelief is difficult for me when it comes to the finishing school itself. I don't want to ruin the surprise for any potential readers, and I did find the school to be very clever and fascinating, just rather difficult to accept as "possible," even within the realm of this extremely fanciful universe.

Overall, I think this is another book by Ms. Carriger that deserves a place on your bookshelf. And if you have a teenager in the house who may not be "old enough" to read the Parasol Protectorate, give them this one as it's appropriate for pretty much any age.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Charity of the Month: Community

With all of the turmoil in this world, I want each of us to take the time to reach out to our communities. Whether that's the neighborhood in which you live, a city trying to recover from a disaster, or a local charity that's doing great things in your home town, find somewhere to give, volunteer, or just go out of your way to smile more.

While I try to cope the this May 1 snow, you all have a great week.

Monday, April 29, 2013

At Long Last

Big things are in store for me over the next month. Not necessarily the achievements of my ultimate goals, but tiny accomplishments that have helped me to grow over the last few months.

To begin with, I will finish this draft of my current book project. It'll go out to the beta readers, and I'll revise from their notes and continue to move forward with overall polish. I'm excited for how this book has turned out. It's something I love to work on, and I'm looking forward to the day I get to pitch it to agent, and then to editors.

And with that goal in mind, I've had to take a step back to remind myself that I still have work to do on this book. Just because I've finished a few drafts and made massive improvements, it doesn't mean this book is "ready." I'm not saying that's a distant goal, but too many authors (myself included) have rushed through projects that still need work. They've sent them out to people who might have accepted them if a little more effort had been put into editing.

I don't want to fall into that trap. It's why I'm so careful about listening to my critique group, picking beta readers who will give me insight into how my intended audience will perceive the novel. As an unpublished author, I know that I still have a lot to learn. And I'm open to learning those lessons.

But, at long last, I can look forward to the submission process. I'm not sure how soon that will be, but I'm hoping it comes in the next two or three months.

And then, while this book is flying out into the world, it will be time to begin the next project, using the lessons I learned this time around to improve my overall skill.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Whoops...

I meant to write three blog posts this week. Then the day job got really busy, and my free time got dedicated to writing.

See you Monday!

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Brew Day

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I'm going to walk all of you through my first all-grain brew day. I started out by cleaning and sanitizing everything. This is key! If you plan on making a traditional beer, you MUST sanitize your equipment or you'll get an infected beer. Infected beers have many bad flavors, and they're generally disgusting.

Some of the small stuff sanitizing in the sink.

The next step was to heat up water in which to steep the grains (this is called mashing). There's a complex formula to figure out what temperature the water needs to be heated to based on the temperature of the grains and the mash tun (where I mash the grain). In this case, I missed my target temperature by 2 degrees, which is actually very impressive considering I've NEVER brewed with this method before, and I knew almost NOTHING about my system. The remedy: add boiling water and stir.

Inside my mash tun. Lots of grain!
After the mash, it's time to sparge. That's where you drain the water out through the bottom of the mash/lauter tun, rinse, repeat. Literally. I did a batch sparge which meant I drained all of the water from my tun, filled up with a second batch of water, let it steep for fifteen minutes to extract more sugars, and then drained it again.

Wort draining into my kettle.
Followed by the boil! At my altitude, boiling temperature is 203 degrees F. That lower temperature will affect the flavor of the beer, but probably not enough for me to notice. One of the important pieces of information I needed to figure out in advance was how much liquid I boiled off every hour. This determined how much grain I needed, how much water, and what my pre-boil gravity (the saturation of sugars present in the liquid) would be in order to hit my Original Gravity at the end of my one hour boil. I boil off approximately 4/5 of a gallon per hour, and since I wanted 3 gallons to go into my fermentor, I needed just over 4 (to make up for loss in volume when the liquid cools and various materials that need to be strained out of the wort...more on that later).

My brew pot, on the stove as it warms up towards a boil. Minutes before the power died :P

So, once my power died and I cleaned out my mash tun (in the dark), I figured I should do some chores. But then the power came back on. To avoid long-term stability to the end-product and funky off-flavors, I started the boil. I let it boil for 50 minutes, and then, on the advice of a HIGHLY successful brewer in California, I waited until the last ten minutes to add my hops and Irish moss (used to clarify the wort).

I have .75oz of Fuggles, .75oz of East Kent Goldings, and beneath that, .75tsp. of Irish Moss

The hops went into the boil, along with the moss, and I let them run for ten more minutes.


I had such a strong boil that this happened to the INSIDE of my condo.

Then it was time to cool everything down. At the beginning of the boil, something called the Hot Break occurs, during which various proteins broken down in the mash all coagulate together. I scooped some of that stuff off when it showed up. Then at the end, I needed to cool everything down very quickly for the Cold Break where all of those proteins join together and fall to the bottom of the kettle. The Irish Moss helps with that, making sure that the wort is clearer, preventing protein haze in the finished beer. Those hop pellets also left a lot of matter behind in the wort, so while I cooled the wort, I also stirred it to create a whirlpool that gathered all of the matter in the center of my kettle. I then syphoned the chilled wort (cooled to 72 degrees F) into my 5 gallon glass carboy, making sure the syphon remained at the outer edge of the kettle to avoid all of the trub (all of the hot break, cold break, and hop matter).

After that, I shook up the wort to get oxygen into solution (not the most effective method, but the only one I can afford at the moment) and tossed in a vial of liquid beer yeast. It now sits in the bathtub in our guest bathroom with a stopper in the mouth and an airlock in the stopper to prevent airborne contaminates from getting in and spoiling it.

Almost 3 gallons of wort fermenting away. The bubbles on top contain yeast, CO2, and various other byproducts of the fermentation process.
After two weeks, when it's reached Terminal Gravity (the lowest amount of sugar left in solution that the yeast will convert), I'll syphon out of the carboy into a bucket with a spigot, add some sugar, and then toss it into bottles to condition/carbonate for two or more weeks.

And that's it. My brew day. Any questions?