Saturday, July 31, 2010

An author's public face

One of the things I struggle with as a new author just starting out and trying to establish a professional persona, if you will, is how much of myself to reveal. There's no shortage of opportunities for me to shoot my mouth off, thanks to social networks, my own blog, this blog. All of the advice says to be positive, upbeat, interesting, entertaining, blah blah blah. Most of all - inoffensive. Being inoffensive is something I have to work really hard at, and it usually leads to a great deal of self-censorship. While I understand the basic rationale behind the advice to be inoffensive and uncontroversial - you might run off a potential reader - I'm starting to doubt the wisdom of it.

I'm a fan of Anne Rice on Facebook and unlike some of the celebrity pages I've fanned, I haven't hidden her in my newsfeed. Ms. Rice is never boring. She will offer comment on just about everything under the sun, and a couple of recurring topics always catch my attention. One is her crush on actor Matt Bomer from a show called White Collar. I've never seen this show but I recognize the actor from being on a handful of episodes of a show I do watch, Chuck. She says Bomer would make a terrific Louis and I have to say, he does look very close to how I always pictured him. I find her mentions of him charming, plus it makes me feel a little less self-conscious about my adoration for Misha Collins. The other topic that always catches my eye is religion.

Several years ago Ms. Rice famously stopped writing her Vampire Chronicles, though she never renounced Lestat. She returned to the Catholicism of her youth and wrote about Jesus and angels. It  confused me because I always felt like many of her books, especially the ones with Lestat, were theological and existential exercises anyway. Why retire a character that gave such great voice to all of that, just because she decided to go back to church? Anyway, if you’ve been following her fan page for awhile you've probably noticed that it hasn't worked out. Earlier this week my jaw dropped when I read her status that she was quitting Christianity, though she still considered herself a follower of Jesus. But the more I thought about it, the less surprised I was. She gave a lot of reasons for her decision which I won't go into here, but none of them were out of the blue. She'd talked about all of them on her Facebook page, frequently. I know what you're thinking: it's Anne Rice, for pete's sake. She can say anything she wants, she's already had her best-sellers. But what I'm thinking is, all of these reasons she gave for leaving the church can also be found in her work.

I think it's pretty much impossible for a writer to keep their personality, their beliefs, their interests and obsessions, out of their fiction. We are hard-wired to follow the old rule, "write what you know." If we're going to have a public persona and engage with readers as all writers are told they have to do now, is it a form of false advertising if we keep all that potentially offensive stuff hidden from view? If our fiction runs to a darker tone, do we really have to pretend to be Mary Sunshine all the time, as if that darkness comes from nowhere? This is something I'll probably continue to struggle with but it's been fascinating to see Ms. Rice set a brave example in being true to oneself. She may lose some readers with this very public decision, but there are many already who are hoping this might mean the return of Lestat. (Let's face it - someone needs to show SparkleVamp how it's done.) 

What are your thoughts? As a writer, are you comfortable being honest enough about yourself that you might alienate a potential reader? As a reader, how much is too much? If you find out a writer's life or beliefs don't fit certain parameters, have they lost you as a reader?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Read, read, read…

If there’s one pitfall many first-time writers fall into, it’s that of not reading. Since I’ve started fiction editing professionally, I’ve seen it again and again. It’s admirable that people are inspired to write, especially in the wake of highly popular made-into-film novels such the Harry Potter and Twilight phenomena. Hell, I’m biased. Anything that gets people to give fiction writing a go is a great idea. The problem comes in that often people who start writing do so haven’t grown up in a culture for loving words, which suggests having read novels across more than one genre.

For me writing fiction is therapy. Sure, most of the time I admit I write fluff, be it purely commercial fantasy or erotic fiction. Hell, my husband despairs of me creating anything “literary” and, who knows, maybe one day I will write something a little more serious, but right now I’m having too much fun. I love the English language, I love telling stories. But that doesn’t mean I’m not averse to a bit of William Burroughs, John Fowles or Aldous Huxley when the mood fits, on top of reading popular contemporary offerings.

The problem comes in when first-time authors haven’t built an awareness of the other stories that are out there. I’ve lost count of how many Twilight and Underworld clones I’ve encountered during the submissions-reading process. While it’s all fun and games to play with an existing concept, many first-timers end up with a work that’s entirely derivative. My feeling: you may as well be writing fanfiction then, which is also fine, since websites such as cater for exactly that market. I understand the enthusiasm for timeless classics, such as werewolf vs. vampire conflict and the sheer joy of continuing the excitement of what you enjoyed about the book/movie in your own writing, but unless a writer puts a seriously original spin on the existing theme, it’s not going to pique the interest of editors who see this kind of writing daily.

Derivative works make slush-pile readers say “Meh” and move onto another manuscript that shows more potential, in the process dashing the hopes of hundreds of promising authors who may have stood a chance had they taken that idea one step further.

There’s a current underlying opinion that vampires in fiction are so passé it hurts. This is not the case. While the bigger publishers who have more of a capital outlay in the fiction they release may think twice about the horse they perceive to be flogged to death, there are scores of small presses willing to publish variations on popular themes. The trick is finding that X-factor in a classic scenario and putting a unique spin on it to make it your own, which means avoiding Edward-and-Bella clones, okay?

And to do that, my advice to first-time authors is to read, and read widely. Go read The Great Gatsby. Read Wuthering Heights. The Magus by John Fowles: yes, it’s a doorstopper but in my opinion it’s also one of the most important works of literary fiction to be published in the past century. Gorky, William Golding, Burroughs, the Brontë sisters… Go read them. Go visit the “classics” section at your local bookstore or library and read at least one of these titles a month.

There’s a reason these are considered timeless examples of fiction (and there’s a reason these books were foisted upon thousands of schoolchildren during their formative years at school).

If you, like me, can step back and say “This is why I don’t like Ernest Hemingway” then you’re on the right track. Learn to love words, to eat, sleep and breathe them. Then you’re already on the right path to being a fantastic author.

* * * *

Books one and two of my urban fantasy Khepera series are available at the following links:

Monday, July 26, 2010

Give your vote on past lives: yes or no?

Brynna asked an interesting question last week--do past lives really exist?

I will readily admit that I have no clue. A google search for "past lives" gives you more than 147,000,000 hits. That's 147 million.

There is the idea that a finite number of souls actually exist, so they have to be "recycled." There is the idea of Akashic Records, a place where all the lessons a person is to learn are held for examination before a soul comes to Earth. These are said to be similar to the "collective consciousness." There are belief systems which claim no one can be good enough to live in paradise on their first try.

Each of those "academic" arguments for or against past lives seem logical. I mean, other resources are finite, why shouldn't souls be? If birds "know" to migrate, why shouldn't humans "know" things? If you're completely honest with yourself, are you good enough for an eternity in paradise?

See, they all make sense, don't they?

Now let's look from a more "emotional" point of view. How do you explain a child's fascination with a certain period of time? It would be easy to say "oh, the parents push it." In some cases, I'm sure that's true. It wasn't in my child's, however.

When the kid was young (she's going to be a high school senior this year), she was homeschooled. In fact, she didn't "go" to school until the 9th grade. Because of that, we were able to focus on some of the things that interested her. Like ancient Egypt. For weeks at a time. And I'm not talking about the pharaohs. She wanted to learn about the "regular people." For weeks at a time. When she finally left Egypt (I used to joke that we spent more time there than the Israelites did), it was on to... the American Revolution. Do you think she wanted to learn about General Washington? Try again. She wanted to know what it was like to just be "home" at that time.

So, either I have an odd kid, or she felt some connection to the everyday people of those time periods. (To be truthful, there are days where it could go either way...) Makes ya think, though.

I don't know what the answer is. I think it's possible. Heck, just about anything is possible. On the other hand, would't more people have "memories" of the past? And most of the arguments "against" past lives are seeped in fundamental Christianity. Then again, how can you prove it when someone says "I was the Queen of Sheba" ? Really? How many Queens of Sheba where there?

There ya have it. Can you see why I'm completely stuck in the Land of Maybe? Do you believe? Convince me. I want to hear what you think... and WHY!


Saturday, July 24, 2010

On Writing: The Great Commandment

Here's another quote I have underlined in Stephen King's On Writing:

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.

He later refers to "read a lot, write a lot" as the Great Commandment, and I agree with him that it's one all writers should follow. My favorite genre to read is paranormal fiction, and that's also what I write. Reading outside your chosen genre is important, though, and there's a fair amount of diversity on my bookshelves. Mysteries and thrillers, a smattering of literary fiction, biographies and histories, an entire bookcase full of books I refer to as the "musicology section." I use research as an excuse to slowly expand the metaphysical section. I've got my favorite authors and favorite books, both in and out of my genre. There are plenty of books that turned-down page corners and underlined passages. Sometimes I'll pull a book from the shelf and just re-read a favorite marked passage. Whether I'm looking for inspiration or a visit with an old friend, it's always nice.

The "write a lot" portion of the Great Commandment is harder. Writing every day is a huge commitment. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes the voices are quiet and there's no story to tell, at least not with any great urgency. King says you should write two thousand words a day. I think that's a great goal to have, as long as I have two thousand words of something to say every day. Last year I made it to the goal line of fifty thousand words for National Novel Writing Month, but after three weeks of forced daily word counts I was churning out pure garbage. It felt like a hollow, empty accomplishment. My opinion on daily word count goals is, your mileage may vary. If you love writing, you will write a lot, but don't sweat it if you're not keeping up in the daily word count reports on Twitter. I think the main goal a writer should have is, don't let any story you want to tell slip away. Capture it, write it, make it the best you can, then capture another. Never stop writing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A dangerous question...

*peeks in the door* Hi, I'm sorry I've been MIA lately. It's been a rough month, but I missed you guys. I really needed to get Wait for the Wind finished and off to Piper (on time). I was almost done when a computer virus wiped out my computer and the backup I had on my flash drive and I had to rewrite half the book, then Jackie (for those of you out of the loop, that's the hubby) went back in the hospital. I took my vacation time from my day job to finish up the book and take care of some family stuff the first week of July. 

Somebody up there must have thought I really needed a vacation, because as soon as the book was sent, my cell phone and both laptop cords died. I finally found a replacement for the Acer on eBay, but it still hasn't arrived yet. My kids laughed at me when the cell died and I couldn't check my email. I felt blind and naked without my laptop and phone. Funny how you become so dependent on something. Got the phone working, but the laptop is still dead. *Sigh* Soon. Good thing I remembered to set my 'out of office' message before I left for vacation. 

Another trip to the ER and a hospital visit for Jackie last week and unfortunately a death in the family. Jackie's baby cousin passed away July 13 in a drowning accident. Just one of those horrible freak things that happen, but its so terribly sad. Jackie got out of the hospital three hours before her funeral. We went home, changed and drove to Tuscumbia to attend. It was indescribable in the worst way. Gracie would have been two July 26. She was such a sweet little angel, and I cry if I think about her and her mama. So, I work.

I've started Sea's Sorceress: Elemental Magic Book 4. I don't want to give away too much, but it picks up right where Wait for the Wind: Elemental Magic Book 3 leaves off with the birth of Liv and Jack's twins. I've been slowly creeping back into the manuscript with the spell that started the series, showing bits of Liv's legend (EM Book 1) here and there. I'm sort of out of my element again. This time with past lives.

I'm so on the fence about the topic, yet I chose a long time ago to use this scenario for book four. Why? Not sure except that Skye and Rhiannon demand it, so I must obey and let these characters tell me their story. I was raised in a true holy-roller Church of God. (I mean no offense by the term, it's just what we call them down here.) They believe in gifts of the spirit such as prophecy and the laying of hands (healing by prayer), but I'm pretty sure I've yet to see a church endorse past lives. Now I might be wrong, but the bible belt Alabama ones don't. So why continue on this path? Because I've seen enough weird things to believe there is so much more to the universe than any of our minds can comprehend.

I knew where the hidden staircase trigger was located in Arlington House long before the guide reached it or mentioned it. I knew where the old slave cabins and kitchens were at Belle Mont when I'd never been there before. I could have drawn a map of the entire house before I ever set foot inside it. Past life memories? Deva vu? Turned out the curator was related to the Pitts as well as some of the former owners (I think), maybe that explains it? Then there is my fascination with swords, particularly Japanese and the kind you'd imagine King Authur's knights would carry. So...what if?

Dangerous question. Here's another, just for fun. If there are past lives, who were you and when were you? I think I would have been a temple priestess in feudal Japan, or maybe a noble lady who desperately wanted to be a knight. Or maybe I was a writer...

Be blessed,

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Get into that writing routine.

People are often amazed when I tell them I’m able to write a 60 000- to 70 000-word novel in under two months. This is notwithstanding that I have a demanding day-job at a South African newspaper publisher and, on top of that, still have editing obligations for one of my publishers in the States.

Add to that that I’m often helping out behind the scenes on indie movie sets or photo shoots, and sometimes have a social life over the weekends. How is this possible?

First off, it’s not easy. Routine is everything. I try to squeeze in the writing and editing on the train in the mornings, during my lunch hour, then have to dedicate at least two or three hours in the evenings. There’s no getting away from that. I have to do this every day. And sleep is a valuable commodity. I’ve learnt to cope on five to six hours a night.

I divide my work into an editing, reading and writing cycle, giving my full attention to a scene or chapter at a time before moving onto another manuscript, working on up to five documents in a cycle. Why? I have a very short attention span. This means I usually work in bursts of about three quarters of an hour. Then I get up, stretch, maybe check email or make a cup of coffee, and start all over again.

But that’s me, and I’ve found that diversifying my activities helps me concentrate and be fresh when I return to a manuscript in the next cycle.

What you have to do is find a system that works for you but then be consistent in applying it. If you are easily distracted by the television or internet, set aside time every day, be it half an hour or an hour, every day, where these evils will not keep you from your work.

Because I can never guarantee where I’ll be at any given time, I’ve had to make my workspace mobile. Investing in a netbook has probably been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I honestly don’t know how I managed without, but I didn’t let that stop me. I used to write my earlier novels out longhand in notebooks before inputting them whenever I was near a computer.

The point I’m trying to make is if you really want to succeed at being an author, you’ll find creative ways in which to overcome your limitations. I’ve met so many people who’ve told me they’ve got this great idea for a novel. It’s all stored up in their grey matter. All they need to do is write it.

But they never do. They’re always making excuses.

“I’m waiting to buy a new computer.”

“I’m waiting for things to settle at home.”

“I need to pack out the boxes so I can use the study.”

You know what? There’s never a perfect time to write a novel. You just have to knuckle under and do it, even if you’re living in a trailer and don’t always have electricity. Otherwise you’ll always be talking about it.

* * * *

Books one and two of my urban fantasy Khepera series are available at the following links:

Lyrical Press:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Embrace the joy

Once again I didn't know what to write about when Monday morning rolled around.

So I procrastinated. I did my morning yoga. And the 3 mile walk. And then I decided to try the morning meditation. That's when inspiration hit.

Let me explain. I have a daily meditation book titled The Celtic Spirit. It has a meditation listed for every day -- often with a quote, some text, and a question or suggestion to ponder. This morning, as I was trying to find some inspiration for this post, the suggestion was to re-connect with the people, places or things which bring us joy.

That "assignment" struck a cord with me. Where do I find my joy? Spending time with my family, of course. And my hobbies -- knitting, sewing, painting. As much as I hate to do it, I do actually find joy in my morning walk. And in going for a hike just about anywhere in the Black Hills. I find joy in reading a good book. And in writing.

I don't do each of those things every day. There just aren't enough hours in the day. I try to get the yoga, meditation, and walk in before 10 a.m. The knitting, sewing, painting, and reading all have to wait until evening. Somewhere in the middle I make sure to do at least a little writing. Then there are all the "joy suckers" which need to be done . . . a house to clean, dishes to wash, bills to pay, laundry to fold. It's all important. But those things don't bring me joy.

I hope that my joy in my chosen profession relates on the page. My goal is for the reader to find some joy in my novel.

What about you? Where do you find your joy? And how do you re-kindle it when you feel like it's gone?


Saturday, July 17, 2010

On Writing: Your Darlings

Stephen King's On Writing references Strunk and White's Elements of Style a great deal. Probably every writing is familiar with the phrase "kill your darlings." Strunk and White sum up the idea with this concise rule: omit needless words. That, then, just, really - these are filler words you probably don't need. In fact, when I first typed the last sentence it was this: these are filler words that you probably don't need. Take that out and the meaning hasn't changed but the sentence flows better.

Imprecise words can clog up your prose. In my original submission of Mojo Queen I used the word "finally" 27 times (I went back and used find and highlight to count). I just got the second round of edits for MQ and I think my editor has found all 27 times between these two round of edits and, er, suggested I fix them. So I did, because she's right. Why be so vague when I can either give a more precise indication of time, or cut the word completely?

Crafting sentences that belong in the Department of Redundancy Department is also something to look out for. I have a problem with this, especially in first person POV as Mojo Queen is. Here's an example: I used the phrase "risky danger" in narrative. Have you seen A Few Good Men? Remember the "grave danger" exchange, with Jack Nicholson saying, "is there any other kind?" That's what went through my head upon seeing that phrase highlighted by my editor.  ;-)  I cut "risky." Keep in mind, this was in narrative. I would have kept it if it had been dialog, as long as it was true to the character's way of speaking.

Don't be afraid to alter your darlings, either. Sometimes you might need to rearrange a sentence for clarity. Other times you might find you've used the same word three times in a paragraph. Unless it's some kind of specialized word and there's no way around using it so many times, you'll want to look at alternatives.

 Sometimes you even have to trunk your darlings when a scene doesn't work out. But NEVER delete those trunked scenes or stories. Tuck them away in their own file and keep them, because you never know when you might want to cannibalize from them. I have a hard time with opening scenes, so I've scrapped five or six scenes in the last two weeks because they weren't strong enough. I have them saved and may be able to use parts of them later.

Killing, altering, and trunking your darlings is sometimes necessary, but I think you'll find that it will only serve to make your writing stronger.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Regression is the fourth collaboration between South African filmmakers Ronnie Belcher and Dr-Benway, founders of production company Black Milk, and is a frightening look at how obsessive love can spiral out of control, with an underlying theme of death and entrapment within a hell, of sorts. It is a short horror film Black Milk finished shooting this weekend, due for release during the SA HORRORFEST in October this year.

My involvement with Black Milk started out as a bit of a cheerleader act, since I’m married to the “infamous” Dr-Benway, who is well known in certain circles for his dark glam/fetish art photography and illustrations. Since he started collaborating with Ronnie Belcher, a talented up-and-coming filmmaker, the scale of each film they’ve produced has grown, and extra hands are always needed, be it dashing out to the shops to buy food or helping out on set.

In my case, my skills as a writer and editor have come into play, and I’ve employed my proof-reading skills, helped with dialogue development and even conducted interviews for “making of” documentaries. It’s not terribly glamorous but it’s been fabulous seeing how ideas thrown around a kitchen table eventually evolve into short independently produced art films with an underlying theme of horror.

More often than not, I end up mopping up fake blood, carrying boxes or sticking down props with super-adhesive gaffer tape, all in a day’s work for an author of urban and dark fantasy. Most of the folk getting involved in the assorted Black Milk productions are already involved full-time in Cape Town’s film industry, which has become a regular little Hollywood over the past decade.

With Regression, I’ve varied between proofing the script, writing promotional copy, running errands, conducting interviews and making sandwiches. Essentially, I’ve been on standby whenever the crew have needed someone to drive to the arse-end of the world to buy fake blood or collect a tripod... or even purchase linen for the set. Most of the time, however, is spent waiting around, which can get pretty boring. Luckily for me, I have my trusty netbook, so I’ve not been idle. In fact, I’ve finished most of my novels while waiting behind the scenes. And, of course, I’m the one who has to make sure Dr-Benway has clean clothes, food and a warm bed to keep him sane throughout the madness...

The highlight of the filming for me is always the sense of camaraderie going on between crew members. They’re all highly intelligent creative people, and sometimes it can be a bit explosive putting so many of them in one room, but what blows me away is how everyone focuses on their area of expertise, from cinematography to set design, and it all seems to fall into place without anyone getting his or her ego bruised. Some of the folk have been on board since the start, so we’re like a family that gets to hang out whenever the next film is in production.

Everyone involved in a Black Milk production is a volunteer. We don’t have much in the way of budget, and we all chip in where we can. Without the support of companies such as Visual Impact, which has given us the use of a lot of equipment, things wouldn’t have run nearly as smoothly as they have so far.

But the sense of purpose generated from the Black Milk Crew, as we collectively refer to ourselves, is worth more than money. Firm friendships have been forged and there’s an underlying sense that we’re onto something big, something very special, because each film completed carries with it that spirit of love for the unusual, the sometimes shocking and macabre. We’re making art.

None of this is easy. Movie-making is expensive, so we have to overcome our financial limitations creatively, which also has an impact on the locations chosen for filming. With previous films Emma-Õ and 23 Rue d’Amour, shooting schedules were quite hectic, so the directors overcame that particular challenge by assigning a much more relaxed schedule for Regression, which has made a world of difference. It was still pretty intense, however; being on set at 9am and leaving well after 11pm that night, especially after a busy work-week, can make you hanker after that appointment at Club Duvet.

I must make special mentions of some of the folk involved with Regression. Kirsten Holtshousen, who acted as producer; Este Kira for her fantastic set design and attention to detail; Leon Visser for the mind-blowing cinematography (and editing); actors Stephen Preston, Angie Kennedy and Georgia Brooker, who probably spent a fair amount of time freezing half to death; Henk (sound); Daniel (CGI); Stef (for the red dress); stills photographers Zoltan and Jim; Digital Brothers, who allowed Black Milk to use their studio for casting; but also Lohan; Leon Partridge for being the best evillist little brother; the make-up ladies; Donovan; and Pierre, whose antics “messing up” the primary location I’ll never forget. I’m almost scared I may have left someone off that list. Everyone has put so much effort into this film.

Everything considered, I wouldn’t trade the experience of being on set with Black Milk for anything in the world. It’s a lot of hard, dirty work at times but when I look at what has been achieved in less than three years, I’m blown away.

Join the Regression Facebook group at

Monday, July 12, 2010

Youth is wasted on the young...

I'm sitting in my office, trying desperately to think of something to blog about this morning, when my kid comes in. She spent the night at her best friend's house and obviously drove home in her PJs.

"Morning, Mom," says kid.

I glance at the clock on the computer to verify that it is before noon. "You're pretty chipper for it being morning. Have fun last night?"

Kid grins. "We didn't even sleep. We stayed up talking all night and saw the sun rise. It was a blast!"

All of a sudden I'm tired. I begin to think of the things I could have accomplished had I not wasted those eight hours last night sleeping. I could work on my current novel. I could clean the living room. I could organize my office. I could fold laundry... well, maybe not the laundry.

Of course, the kid did none of that. At 17, she did what most teenage girls do... she talked about boys. And high school. And college. She swore her allegiance to her BFF and (I'm sure) complained about her unfair, uncool parents.

Are you wondering how this relates to writing? We, as authors, need to live more like those 17 year old girls. We need to remember seeing the sun rise with our best friend. Talking about boys. The feeling of the future being whatever we want it to be. Those are powerful experiences, powerful emotions, powerful feelings. And the memories are never as vibrant as the actual event.

Authors, however, need to remember those feelings in order to describe them. I'm not sure that is something which can be taught. You either know how to use the language to convey a feeling or you don't.

Don't you agree????


Saturday, July 10, 2010

On Writing: Adverbs and Dialog Attribution

Stephen King's On Writing makes a very clear point about your -ly words: The adverb is not your friend. If you have a verb that you feel needs modifying, it's probably best to pick a stronger verb. New writers commit this crime most often with dialogue attribution. Some of King's examples: "shouted menacingly," "pleaded abjectly," "said contemptuously." I guarantee you, an editor will strike through all of those. The best form of dialogue attribution is said. It's a winner every time. Other words will get in the way of the dialogue flow and distract your reader. A character's words will tell the reader if they are menacing or pleading or feeling contempt. Another good choice is to use action tags. Here's an example, first with an adverb of death:

"I'm ready to leave," she said tiredly.

Or with an action tag instead:

"I'm ready to leave." She rubbed her temple and checked her watch.

The action at the end of the second sentence shows you how the characters feels, much preferable to the first sentence which tells you.

King uses a lot of examples and rules from a terrific little grammar text called Strunk and White's Elements of Style. It's a slim volume full of invaluable information. I bought my copy for $10 at the same time I bought On Writing for $8. That's a much better value than the $300 I spent on a college creative writing class years ago where all I learned was how much the professor hated the publishing industry because they wouldn't publish his literary masterpiece. While it's true that sometimes you get what you pay for, sometimes a good deal is far more valuable.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Research never ends...thankfully!

While some of us only have one book on writing, that's not me. I have a room FULL of books! I can't even pick my favorite, or most used.

It's not really my fault, however. I need all those books. I truly do. You see, I research. A lot.

Maybe it's from my days as a journalist, but I think research is incredibly important. And I have the material to back that up. I have books on poisons, some of police procedure, books on character development, and ones on punctuation.

If I'm not sure about something, I look it up until I am sure.

It's not just my writing where I'm the research fiend. I research just about everything I do. One of my more recent hobbies is genealogy. Talk about a need to research! Maybe that's why I enjoy it so much.

Not everything I write about can be easily researched, however. Sleeping Bears, the sequel to Ghost Mountain, has a scene with fairies. No, not the Tinkerbell type. Did I research the fae? Of course. It's what I do. Did I find all the answers? Nope. Didn't stop me from writing about them, though. I even think the descriptions are pretty dang realistic.

I guess that's the key. Whatever genre we write in, the story needs to be believable -- at least in the "world" we write in. We have to create a world where our stories could take place. To do that, we have to research.

At least a little bit.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

On Writing: Vocabulary

I own exactly one book on the craft of writing: a mass market paperback edition of Stephen King's On Writing. The first half of the book has some autobiographical stuff, which is interesting, but what you really want it for is the second half. King calls it the "Toolbox" and it is basically a course in creative writing. He uses the toolbox metaphor to describe what skills writers need. My copy is full of turned-down page corners and underlined passages, and I find it helpful to read through it from time to time.

The first section is about vocabulary. The sentence I have underlined here is this: Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. King includes several examples by different authors, some that used words most of us would have to look up in a dictionary, some that used more basic vocabulary. He's not advocating that you dumb down your work, but I do think he makes a very good point about clarity. Think for a moment about your own reading experience. How did you feel about a book if you had to constantly stop to look up a word, or figure out how to pronounce something, or read a sentence more than once to figure out what the author was trying to say? That kind of writing pulls me out of the story and makes me take note of the author, rather than stay engrossed in the story. I don't read a book looking to be impressed with an author's vocabulary, obscure metaphors, or purple prose. I want to get lost in a good story, and it's hard to do that if the author insists on getting in the way.

Word choice is incredibly important. If you have any doubt, pay attention to current events for about a week and see how many times a language-challenged politician has to walk back some dumb statement they made and issue a "clarification." Novelists don't get to issue clarifications, we have to get it right the first time. There's no telling how much time I've spent staring at the screen, practically begging the universe to send me the exact right word. And when your editor has pointed out you've used the same word three times in the same paragraph and need to come up with two substitutions it can be tricky. I've gotten help from using a thesaurus, had to completely re-write passages, and sometimes just had to beat my head against a wall for awhile until the words came to me. Struggling over word choice can be frustrating but often when you get it right, you'll know it. You'll be able to read over the sentence or paragraph you've been working on and know you got it right. No clarification needed.