Lessons from My Reading

M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thoughts on Things I Read

A question raised by Susan Adrian has popped up in several places I visit: What to do When You're Waiting? You know that time when you sell your book and it's going through the publishing process. [Self- Publishers don't have to worry. Their book's already e-available.  Usually, too soon.]

I saw Adrian's question, and my mind immediately jumped to the words: write something new. Adrian of course doesn't have such a simple answer. She even goes into what you shouldn't do while you are waiting. Take a look at her blog. I've been reading her for years, and Adrian offers lots of sensible advice.

That's the positive. On the negative side, what's with all these people putting "50 Shades ..." in their title. Yeah, I know the books are best sellers. I've even skimmed through some pages and thought it was boooorrrriiiinnnngg. -- Guess its my anthropological bias again. You know, "participant observation"? -- That's a joke people.

Felt good when I found Writer Beware riding one of my favorite hobby horses: learn your craft if you want to be a writer. The Watchdog blog had a guest posting by Marcia Yudkin, a major author with credentials even.  Yudkin takes on those "get rich quick" promoters of self-publishing in "In Praise of Ripening".

Also found myself in sympathy with Marcella Burnard over at Word Whores. She blogged about "Shouting in the Windstorm" on how the media awkward can be seen/heard in the babble. I'm as guilty as the next in creating babble in the social media as I try to promote on Twitter ... not very effectively. Guess, I spit into the windstorm.

 Finally, you might check the New York Times Book Review section for 28 July 2012. They have some good how-to articles on writing well. If I was dedicated, I'd go down and get the section ... but I don't want to make my hip whine more than it is. I still want to start revising my Pig Prequel tonight.

Oh. Cross your toes for me. I'm still waiting on the critique of  For the Price of a Pig -- my Half-Elven novella in progress -- so I can revise it. I hope to self-publish it before Christmas.

Think I'll be using Book Baby rather than chasing around on the web. 1) I have no idea for a cover. 2) I never seem to have enough time to do everything. ... Maybe when the family get together is over. ... Ha.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's the Flavor of Your Favorite Mystery

Noir or Cozy. Mysteries come in many forms. With my pessimistic nature -- "If something will go wrong or be done stupidly, it will." --, I gravitate towards the noir. Like, I found it very difficult not to go back and read O'Connell's  complete Mallory series from one to ? after reading The Chalk Girl. -- Yeah, I got them all on my overcrowded bookshelves. But, I read a cozy mystery next to cleanse my palate.

My anthropologist ears perk up when a cozy mystery creates a three-dimensional world. It may be medieval or contemporary or even futuristic, but the characters interact on some real plane that's fun to visit. Jenn McKinlay"s Due or Die doesn't disappoint.  In this second book in the series, Lindsay Norris, the new library director, must solve a mystery of the murder of an associate's abusive husband.

Yeah, be careful of your vices in cozy mysteries. They make your demise more likely. Cozy conventions don't usually allow for true, debased evil like paranormals ... but ... they still need a murder victim, red herrings, a dollop of intriguing information from the MC's "hobby", a precipitating event to send the characters into a higher level of action, and a hint of romance. Three dimensional characterization makes the mystery intriguing. Cozy mysteries also allow the reader to pat themselves on the head since they are also usually easy to solve.

If the conventions are so easy to identify, why don't I write cozy mysteries? Because, among other things, I think the genre is a hard write, especially since you need to create something new and interesting to get a major publishing deal. The writer has to juggle more than the average craft balls well.

Yeah, Jenn McKinlay does it well. She continues to expand on a well-rounded fishing community and group of friends she developed in the first novel ... without an info dump. More important she managed to nudge a little secondary character development while the MC was almost killed solving the crime.

Altogether, Due or Die was a pleasant read ... though it didn't lure me beyond my usual 11:30 bedtime.  Maybe ... three-and-a-half-stars?

###

Haven't mentioned Pat, the Pet, my vowel-controlled pre-primer that's under contract, recently.  Think it's stubbed it's toe against another writer convention: micro-publishers don't have the resources that major publishing houses do.

Pat is a reprint of a self-published project which my artist and I didn't have the knowledge/resources to promote back in the 1970's. We've got the contract ... but the book needs a cover. 

Yeah, covers can be a problem. In this case, what my artist lacked is craft skills she made up in charm and intuition. Unfortunately, craft skills are easier to come by than artistry.



Monday, July 23, 2012

Cliches or Conventions: How Does Your Story Unravel?

One convention for a successful story is to start with a prolog where your villain lurks in some hidden place plotting some nefarious deed ... or with the process of the villain performing the first of his nefarious deeds.

Before you wrinkled your nose and say, "Eeewww. A prolog." Prologues are a useful convention -- or a cliche -- where importantl information is given. No. Not an info dump, but a judicious clue as to what your protagonist faces in the book.

That said, I'd like to think out loud about how most mysteries are put together. Why? Because all good story lines have an element of mystery which the reader wants answered. If you don't have one, you decrease your odds the reader will keep reading. 

One of the current novel conventions is grabbed directly from the movies. You start in the middle of some action and give the reader only enough information to guess what might be going on. The reader is in the middle of the story line right from the beginning. 

Then, there's Carol O'Conner. She starts her books with an incident ... part of an ordinary day in the life of a homicide detective. That incident creates the thread that begins to unravel as soon and Mallory and her partner tug on it. Each tug leads to a new incident until, this time, they are chin-deep in a complicated tale of corruption worthy of Wall Street. 

Yeah, O'Connell has created one of the most noir heros going [IMHO] in the New York City detective, Kathy Mallory.

One of the things I like about O'Conner's novels ... are the multiple viewpoints. In The Chalk Girl one of the stars is a eight-year-old who stumbles into the middle of the plot when she's kidnapped by one of the victims. The writer's skill shines as she switches from the damaged child's viewpoint to the various adults involved in unraveling of this mystery. The child is key because she causes Mallory's friend Charles to stand up to the detective. Quite a different role from his usual limp dish-rag one.

If I gave stars, this would be a five.
Why? Because I just swatted the impulse to reread the book away.

###


Had a little shock when I looked at my stats other day. Discovered this will be the 300th blog I've written -- which make's me wonder. Is there anyone out there that started reading this blog in the Fall of 2009? Don't have any fabulous prize for you, but it would still be interesting to know.

Also, wanted to say that I'm not stopping my blog. I haven't been blogging because the stupid neck & hip decreased my sitting time. Also, I wanted to get the ending on "For the Price of a Pig". [The Half-Elven novella is currently fermenting.]  Also, there's the little deal of organizing the family reunion BBQ. Yeah. Details.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Writing Tips: The Bad, the Good, and the Ugly

Want  to read some fun writing tips. Take a little click over to the Stant Litori's Zombie Blog where he discusses the worst writing advice he's ever gotten.  If you like his comments, he offers some links to colleagues' similar blogs.

Many of my preliminary readers don't think my villains are very likeable. Jack X McCallum at the Dark Red Press blog agree with them. Your villain has to have some likable quirks. McCallum's got some interesting tips about Creating Characters and Why Your Bad Guy Needs to Be Liked. 

Now for the best advice I've read this week, ie. the most useful for me. It comes from Chris Robley at Book Baby [a commercial venture]. He gives some great tips on marketing your books without breaking you budget. -- Some people might fault me for including a commercial company, but the list is still a good one.

Now for the ugly advice ... from grumpy old me. Keep writing ... no matter what it looks like.  You can always go back and revise and edit and revise and edit, etc. If you get an idea either further ahead or behind in the plot, go back in your draft and write a note to yourself in a different colored ink. The important thing is
  1.  to dump your MC &/or friends in a difficult situation in the first act;
  2. make the situation worse for the MC in the second act;
  3.  and the come to a resolution through the MC's actions at the last chapter in the third act.
 My problem? I don't think I follow my own advice. Maybe I should outline.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pssst! Want the Secret to Writing Success?

Now that I have your attention, Chuck Sambuchino does indeed offer the four keys to the kingdom of writing success. There's one caveat, I think. You must have a finished story to work on. I think these tips will help you revise your stories structure. Of course he talks about middle grade fiction. But, a good story is a good story is a good story.

Of course, all this comes with a disclaimer. If you checked the link above, you'll note that he lists a number of craft skills a writer must master. That's why writing is hard, time consuming work ... once you want to be published ... even if you publish yourself. Go back to Mac's guest post and count how many ways/times he edits.

If you need more detailed instructions for getting your story going, Margo Berendsen has an awesome list on getting started and keeping a reader reading. A real nice compilation of 17 tips to check for your revision. Berendsen has some other useful lists in her archives if you want to hone your craft skills.

After you've revised your story into a galloping read, you have to draw a reader's attention to it. That means you need a good cover -- even for ebooks, maybe especially for ebooks. What's a good cover? Here's a link to Yasmine Galenorn's blog where she reveals the new cover of her latest Otherworld novel, Haunted Moon-- I dare you not to pick up this book and not read the blurb, if you're a fantasy reader. Note how easy it is to read the copy on the cover.

Last but not least, if your cover is attention getting, you have to publicize your book -- because chances are you won't have a publicity department with deep pockets behind you. Katie Salidas in her 4 July 2012 blog at Written in Blood, gives writers some criteria to judge blog tour services. You better believe I printed Let's Talk About Blog Tours out for future reference.

###

So, after I given all that advice, I can just hear you asking how my own writing's going. Slow but sure. I seem to be getting my grove back ... in that my to-do list gets crossed off into oblivion until the next day. The secret to that? 

I'm getting better at writing things before doing social media things.
Where are your priorities?

PS: Maybe some of you clicked an empty blog with a similar title. This blog gives you the content. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Now for Something Different: One Writer's Journey


We all generate affinities as we work our way around the social media. R. Mac Wheeler writes a blog I seldom miss. He's also made indie publishing the "cornerstone" of his career. Mac mirrors the attitude I seem to be developing ... except I do have a small indipendent publisher for at least one work -- provided they can find an artist for the cover. But, that's another writer's headache.

Enjoy Mac's story.

Mac & Pup, Molly

Who am I?
R. Mac Wheeler…an author of character-driven SF/F/paranormals and suspense filled with quirky sorts who lug a lot of baggage, in worlds that aren’t that far out.

My trek to publishing is typical. I've spent twenty years writing when I could. I set aside each novel and wrote another…returned to the earlier novels and edited. Queried. Edited. Wrote. Edited. Repeat.

I wanted to be traditionally published, of course. I studied and practiced my craft. I tried new genres. Grew. Still didn't capture the attention of an agent. I had the opportunity to write full time seven years ago, and jumped in with vim and vigor, and a lot of naiveté.
        
Nineteen novels backed up on the shelf. Last summer I decided there was no point letting them collect dust. I would self publish. No new writing since. Just edit…edit…edit… 
*he screams maniacally*

I'll soon have my sixteenth novel on Amazon and B&N. I have two novels outlined already. I'm very eager to write.

I've learned a lot. Indie publishing is like every other endeavor. Pages of minutia, each element if done well, improves the quality of the product. But having an asset is only one-third of the effort.

Building a Platform
I'm not going to kill myself creating a brand. There are companies that spend many thousands of hours doing this. I'm not naïve enough to believe I have the stamina, nor the capital to launch an identity.

I've embraced Facebook. I blog, mix my journey to publication with my joy of photography to entice folks to visit me…hopefully peek at the novels I brag about there. I've created a home page (not all that flashy…most you can say is, it's functional…but I like simple…I'm not a flashy person…I don't write flash either…my characters are malcontents…a little like me).

Marketing Myself
Selling at this point isn't my priority (Don't tell my wife…she wants to retire). I trust the industry. Maybe that's foolish…but I figure if I haven't enticed an agent to represent me yet…I haven't learned enough to merit a contract.

But, I snort. Ninety percent of those who get a contract, still can't support themselves with their writing.

I love to write. I'm never going to stop. I unabashedly anticipate living another two-hundred years. Writing isn't something I will EVER retire from. Think of the novels I can create in the next two centuries. It's mind boggling.

If one of my titles catches fire…fine. I might make a bunch of money. I don't think that will change my life. All I will want to do is stay home and write, with my pups laying all around me.

If I blaze no publishing glory, I can continue to earn thirty bucks a quarter from each of my titles, by the time I die I will have created a library that may help my grandkids' kids afford their first homes…or meet the mortgage…maybe.

When I have my current novels out there…and have let a little of my backed up energy escape with some new writing…I'll…eh…maybe consider some marketing.

In the Meantime
I write. Love my wife. Pet my pups. And post photographs every week capturing my marvelous hikes…my Sunday Safaris. Come for a visit. Drop me a, "Nice pix" comment. You'll warm my heart. I promise to send you a, "Well thanks for dropping by."

-R. Mac Wheeler
Home PageFacebookContact me On KindleOn Nook