Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tuesday Tips: Carving Out Writing Time

While many authors aspire to reach a point in their career where they can earn a living from their writing, most writers have to hold down a day job. Without delving too much into the indie versus legacy publishing routes (there are plenty of other blogs that tow the line for either path), there certainly is an opportunity for writers to earn something from their literary labor.  Labor is the operative word here, as trying to write a novel while working is not easy.  

Chances are that you've developed some time management skills during the course of your career or profession.  Half the battle is showing up on time.  By tapping into this skill set you should be able to take an objective look at your day to determine where you can carve out time to write.  This may mean determining whether you have the time to write either before and/or after work.  Likewise, you might have the ability to find time during your lunch hour, depending on your work situation.  The demands of every job are different and certainly there are those where the idea of the traditional "lunch hour" is elusive at best.  With that in mind, if you are going to try and write during your lunch hour, use your personal laptop or bring your own pen and paper.  

Ultimately, it comes down to when is the most productive time for you to write.  I'm a night owl, and need to write in a relatively quiet space.  So I tend to write in the evenings after my kids are in bed or winding down for the night.  You might be more of a morning person, so setting aside some time in the morning before work might work better for you.  Just as with exercise, it's good to start out small: set aside 30 minutes a day, every day, to work on your current project.  As busy as you may be, there's no reason why you can't find 30 minutes each day to write.  

There's a temptation to devote all of your writing time to the weekends because you're just too busy during the week.  The problem here is that if you are also leaving the weekend to take care of your personal errands, leisure activities and also work on the weekends, your writing time is still competing for time in your packed schedule.  Likewise, writing is work; when you realize that, you stop seeing it in terms of a hobby or leisure activity.  This makes it easier to carve out time, just like you would for work.

The point is to develop a schedule that incorporates your writing into your life.  Like getting ready for work or your nightly ritual for going to bed, the goal  is to make carving out writing time a routine habit.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Author Goals for 2015

To say that 2014 whipped by at a breakneck pace is probably a bit of an understatement.  Regardless, it's hard to believe that another year has almost gone by and a new one is right on the horizon.  It has definitely been a year of highs and lows, both inside and out of my "writing world."  So it's probably a good time to pause, reflect, toss out what isn't working and give something new a shot and see where everything lands.  More than just a New Year's resolution (because those "always" work out so well), this is probably the best time to plan some goals for 2015.  Granted, of course I'd like to lose a few pounds (don't judge), even so I'll keep the following short and on the point of writing and striking a writing/life balance:

R.Q. Garcia's Goals for 2015:

1.  Read more: Many authors suggest that the best way to sharpen your pen is to increase your own library and never stop reading.  There are plenty of lessons to be learned from other writers and it's a great way to help prevent yourself from re-plowing old fields.  

2. Ask more questions: Some truly great stories were born from asking "what if."  You'll likely recognize a few familiar examples here: what if dinosaurs could be brought back to life today; what if an artificially intelligent super computer became self-aware; what if a boy, made an orphan by raiders, was raised as a gladiator?  

3.  Ask for criticism before asking for praise: Some of my best revisions have come from some pretty scathing critiques.  Likewise, sometimes there can be hidden gems in what some might consider a snide remark.  It just makes sense to develop a thick hide during the drafting and beta reader stage to weather the highs and lows of feedback on the finished product.  

4.  Make the most of my writing time: Time is precious and there's never enough of it.  I've learned that what used to inspire me to write for hours at a time just doesn't work anymore and ends up wasting time I don't have.  New minimum and maximums: 30 to 90 minute intervals, as time permits.  It's not about word counts and quantity.  

5.  Make writing my passion, family my priority:  The quest for literary success is a slippery slope unless and until you define what "success" is to you.  Honestly, I am still unsure about how I define it for myself.  This leads to a lot of time chasing after one thing or another, usually with little to show for the effort.  Ultimately, this is time that is better spent (a) writing, or (b) with the people who mean everything to me.  That said, family should always come first.  Follow that concept and you'll be amazed at how much more supportive your significant other and/or children become when it comes to following your passion.  

6. Finalize the print version to "Of Murder and Monsters."

7.  Finish and publish the sequel and prequel to "Of Murder and Monsters."  Yeah, I might be biting off more than I can chew.  Better to try and fail than to have never tried at all.  

8.  Write the very best damn book(s) I possibly can, because that's what the readers deserve.  

Needless to say, I'm excited to see what 2015 will bring. What are your goals and how do you plan on reaching them in the New Year.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Archetypes vs. Stereotypes

Last week I was driving to a client meeting and was stuck in traffic.  There's nothing worse than dealing with traffic except the realization that you'll eventually have to leave the car and it's cold and wet outside.  Likewise, listening to rock music while bumper to bumper on the I-4 is counterproductive to one's stress relief efforts.  So I decided to switch the radio to NPR and caught part of a segment of the Diane Rehm Show on "The History and Modern Relevance of Fairy Tales."  The piece is interesting in its analysis of some of the messages and themes hidden in some of these old stories, as well as the various lesser known versions (i.e. the bloody glass slippers that appear in some incarnations of the Cinderella tale).  

One discussion point that really stood out to me as being particularly relevant today: archetypes and stereotypes.  As most readers and writers know, archetypes are characters, actions, or situations that represent universal aspects of human nature or shared common experiences.  From these "molds" come multiple incarnations, which likely reinforces the idea/maxim that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling them.  And this is a great thing because these stories and the messages behind them tend to strike familiar chords with readers that stretch all the way back to their childhood.  Blending the familiar with a new presentation of the tale can open up entire new worlds or directions.  What if Red Riding Hood was a little boy, instead of a girl?  What if the story took place in feudal Japan?  What if Red was a samurai being hunted by a ninja from the Wolf Clan?  Silly?  Perhaps?  Now was there a moment there where you could actually see Little Red Samurai Hood?

There is usually a sincere attempt, I find, to strive for plumbing the depths of an archetype, while trying to steer clear of stereotypes.  It's difficult work, to be fair, because we are constantly barraged with stereotypes through the different media we consume each day.  Worse, if left unchecked, a writer can run the risk of embracing a stereotype without evening realizing it due to the insidiously subtle ways that stereotypes of seeped into television, music, and other forms of multimedia.  One need only open a magazine or the "shopper" section of a newspaper to and look at the various clothing and commodity advertisements.  There, we often get treated to ideals of beauty and prosperity depending on whatever scene the advertising designer wanted to convey.  Turn on the Tv for the holiday ads depicting one spouse surprising the other with a luxury car; it's almost always the driveway of a large home, rarely the parking lot of an inner city apartment.  It's not the place, but the people we envision doing these things that is the issue.  Certainly, there are plenty of stereotypes that confront us on a daily basis, whether they are based on appearance, religion or ethnic/cultural backgrounds.  The point, from a writing perspective is that while archetypes lend a thematic or deeper representative aspect to a character, stereotypes keep characters from growing or taking on any significant meaning.  Picture perfect people living picture perfect lives are boring because they are perfect.  Perfection implies an utter lack of tension between needs, wants, desires and danger.  

How many of you have struggled with stereotypes, whether in works you've read or written?  What are your favorite archetypes and how have you found new meaning within them?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Adding Action Scenes

Back in July, I compared a book's pacing to a first kiss.  Pacing builds tension, but at some point that tension either needs to be eased or broken.  When writers set out to do either, it is usually to settle some sort of conflict and this could lead to a physical altercation between characters or groups within a story.  While there might be some ways to keep the kissing analogy to explain my thoughts on action scenes, I'm trying to keep it relatively clean here.  Yet, you may recall that I also explained that pacing serves as the fabric of the story that weaves characters and plot together.  Similarly, if pacing is the cloth of your tale's tapestry, then the action sequences are the highlight scenes that may mark the rise and fall of certain characters or subplots.  

Tension is important in almost all forms of storytelling.  It is what gets us cheering on the heroes and nervous about the machinations of the villains.  Again, at some point that tension has to get resolved.  If you consider the horror genre, the point of most horror movies and books is to get and keep the reader/watcher on the edge of their seat.  These books/films have to constantly stoke fear and nervousness in the reader/viewer as part of their hook.  Even so, even die hard fans of the genre don't want to be kept on pins and needles indefinitely.  Something has to happen: either the main character triumphs and gets away, or the monsters/murderer claims a new victim.  Either way, the audience is given that opportunity to release some sort of emotion that has been building up throughout the story.  

The action scene, then, has a lot of heavy lifting to do in order to give the reader some sort of satisfaction.  It can be difficult to properly tailor the action scene to fit with the book.  Wait?  What?  Stay with me for a moment, as I know what I just said sounds ridiculous.  The danger of adding an action scene, let alone multiple action scenes (as a sort of pressure valve),  is that there can be a disconnect between the pacing and the action itself.  Put another way, it's easy to get lost in the forest while crafting effective tension only to bolt from the path to get to the first clearing (i.e. the action sequence).  As exciting as writing action scenes are, writers have to be disciplined (easier said than done).  First, there needs to be some sort of logical connection between the pacing that immediately precedes the action/combat scene.  Second, the "laws" that the writer has established throughout the story must continue to be enforced during the action scene.  

Keeping a logical connection between the pacing and the action scene means avoiding the temptation of throwing some action for the sake of spicing up the story.  The effect of throwing in a fight scene or chase scene without giving it a logical connection to the story can seriously water down, or even derail, the overall plot.  Put another way, if the previous sections of your book have established good tension such that it causes your readers to willingly suspend their sense of disbelief, do you really want to ruin the spell you've woven by throwing in a fight scene just because you can?  It waters down your writing and, more importantly, it cheapens the experience for your readers.  With all of that said, random acts of violence or unexpected events do happen.  If you are intentionally trying to keep the reader guessing or simply don't want them to know what's coming, you may want to consider telling the entire story from the first person perspective of only one or two characters to control how much information the receive receives.  Even so, you'll either want to drop a hint before the action starts that the character misses, or work in an explanation as to why things went the way that they did that caused the action scene.  

Throughout the book, the writer ends up setting the table in terms of the "laws" that govern the world in which the story is set.  Tales taking place in space mean that oxygen and gravity are in scarce supply.  So a gun fight taking place on a star ship or space station can be catastrophic for all involved if a stray bullet results in explosive decompression.  Likewise, urban fantasy tales involving supernatural beings existing in the modern world will have to explain how such creatures manage to exist under humanity's very nose.  I call this the "Christopher Nolan approach" (due to the director's explanation as to how he set about creating his take on Gotham and characters of the recent Batman trilogy). This means grounding your world in some sense of reality that your readers either can, or are willing, to accept.  The same holds true for the combat/action sequences.  In the case of the gunfight in space that I mentioned, some writers have "developed" specialized weapons that damage tissue, however, it won't destroy/damage non-living matter.  Likewise, action scenes involving supernatural monsters may want to highlight the kind of camouflage ambush hunting styles of certain creatures in nature as an explanation on how such creatures can exist in the modern world.  In either example, the rules shape how the action plays out and, when done correctly, should flow seamlessly with the first rule mentioned above.  Sometimes the rules can, and even should, be broken.  Yet, as crazy as it sounds, there has to be some sort of logic (or even a rule) as to how and when the rules can be broken.  

Action scenes can help further the story and introduce memorable plot twists.  They shouldn't be used where they detract from or fail to advance the story.  Likewise, the action should make sense and be grounded in the same reality that the writer has developed in their story.  Any genre can benefit from an action scene, as there are multiple ways of introducing exciting sequences that aren't related to fights or car chases.  

For readers, what are your thoughts on what goes makes a good action scene in a novel?  To my fellow authors, what has been your biggest struggle with action/combat scenes?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Creating Believable Characters: Silence the Stereotypes

Stereotypes are everywhere.  No matter how well read, open minded or educated (street smarts included) an author may be, they are bound to encounter stereotypes.  They are everywhere: TV, radio, movies, and even literature.  Don't get me wrong, they actually do have their place (more on that later and for another post), yet to create a believable character, writers have to shrug off the temptation to resort to stereotypes.

Last week I spent the better part of four days in trial.  The reasons or facts behind the trial itself aren't important, the people who ultimately played a vital role in the process - the jury - were the ones who really mattered.  Some attorneys hate the jury selection process, whereas I find the whole thing very fascinating.  When it's done right, you transform thirty reluctant souls who would do anything to be anywhere else into more than two dozen people who end up sharing their life story in varying degrees of willingness.  The things you can learn from listening to the trials and triumphs of others not only puts life into perspective, it shaves away at the preconceived notions you may have had at the beginning of the conversation.  

As an example, we tend to look at older men and women as falling into one or two stereotypes: either kindly grandparents, or bitter grumps waiting for the grim reaper.  Certain these types of people exist; however, there are a number of folks that fit into the middle of the spectrum.  How much more interesting does that silver haired older man become when we find out that he goes surfing every chance he gets and has embraced a "beach" lifestyle?  This, naturally, raises questions about whether he's lived on or near the beach his whole life, or is he a retiree that's always dreamed of living near the water.  Also, just how far does this particular person take the lifestyle: is he conservative or a liberal; does he drive around in a scooter or a luxury SUV; and is he still married to his high school sweetheart, or dating a new and younger woman every month?  Regardless, from a writing perspective a character with this back story has now become more three dimensional, and possibly more interesting/memorable to readers.  

One of the other interesting takeaways from last week's trial was that appearances can be deceiving.  This is another reason to break stereotypes.  People who appear to be in their late thirties or early forties might be much older.  Hair coloring products aren't the only trick in the book, though some people eschew plastic surgery and seem to get amazing results with healthy eating and exercise.  Likewise, someone who seems young and inexperienced may have walked down different roads that we'd expect from someone ten years older.  This may come in the form of a young twenty-something woman who is struggling to keep a roof over her head, while caring for her mother after a debilitating stroke or injury.  Did she give up a better paying job in order to have flexible hours to take care of her mom?  Did her mother get sick or hurt early on such that her daughter never really had much of a chance to build up a career or income?  More importantly, how have these struggles affected the daughter and her outlook on life?  As I learned from last week's jury selection process, family member care giving seems to exact a heavy toll regardless of the care giver's age.  You may have noticed by now that I haven't mentioned race as a component for any of the above examples.  This is because none of the above are exclusive to any particular race or ethnic group.  The same can be said for gender, which tends to foster its own stereotypes to the detriment of both characters and readers.

When I wrote "Of Murder and Monsters," I wanted to throw out some of the stereotypes that are usually associated with Hispanic characters.  Sean Valdez doesn't speak with an accent, and doesn't have a perfect tan or dark features.  He's not living high on the hog, or getting by in a run down neighborhood.  While he's going through marital problems, infidelity, a wandering eye or machismo bordering on abuse are not the roots of his marriage woes.  While any of the above stereotypes could serve as subplot fodder, they also tend to have a watered down affect on the character.  Doing so makes your main and supporting characters predictable, flat and boring, which in turn will likely have a negative impact on your story.  By casting aside the stereotypes, you free your characters to do the heavy lifting that needed in order to move the plot and help you tell a believable tale.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Research Your Readers

Research is a vital part of the writing process.  Few writers have ever swung any battle axes in the middle of medieval melees, and even fewer have stowed away on an alien cruise ship.  Far fetched and silly examples aside, every writer has to do their research at some point during the writing process.  I've run countless hours of research over things like the design considerations for building a castle, to theoretical propulsion drives for space travel, to pondering why a sniper might favor a Dragunov SVD over a Barret XM500.  What some writers may overlook during the course of the creative aspect of their research is the need to delve into an even more critical and very practical topic: the reader.  

While some of the best writing may very well come from writing for its own sake, the chances for writer-reader disconnect abound if there's no understanding about the people who are most likely to read your book.  The key thing here is determining just who is most likely to read your book.  There's been some interesting research released from the Pew Research Center back in April 2012, as well as earlier this year.  When viewed in concert with each other, the data supports what we all already know: that e-readership is on the rise.  With that in mind, the 2012 report (a four part series) yields a lot of useful data that provides some very valuable insight on who is more likely to engage in e-reading (whether via e-reader, tablet, cell phone or computers).  Certainly, if e-reading is still going up in 2014, than there's a good chance that the other figures from Pew's study are on a similar upward trend.  This is vital information to an author when trying to determine the audience for their work.  

Another reason why it's worth researching who's reading what is to avoid stereotyping your audience.  For example, some outside of the video gaming world might not be aware nearly half of all gamers are female, based on a 2014 study by the Entertainment Software Association.  If the power houses behind the video game industry don't want to risk offending its half of it's consumer base, neither do you.  Besides, you might even be surprised at what you find the deeper you delve.  A 2013 report from Pew also sheds light on reader demographics by gender/age/race/education/income and provides figures for print, e-book and audio book reading habits.  Further internet research can even provide useful information on readers by genre.  While I'm not a romance writer, it's still useful for authors like myself to know that men make up a little less than twenty percent of the market for romance novels.  

The point is that the information is out there and it's worth reading to get a better sense of who may be interested in your work.  Having an understanding of this, and thereby a better understanding of your audience, may help forge better connections between you and your readers.   

Sunday, September 14, 2014

When Walking Away Is Good For You And Good For Your Book

It's been a while since my last post.  In that time, a lot has happened that's taken me away from my work on the next two books.  As the firm and its clients have been happy with my work, my level of responsibility has increased and to the point where I'm now training other attorneys.  On the homefront, I've got a tweenager turning into a teenager with all of the usual accompanying hormone fed angst that's juxtaposed next to a two year old who is eerily independent.  Back to school has been get the idea.  Fortunately, I'm not in this alone.  My wife has been an absolute rockstar on too many things to list here.  And besides, this is supposed to be a writing blog, right?  I figure that, by now, you're wondering where this is all going.  Fair enough.

The past thirty day break from writing has been agonizing and rewarding at the same time.  The agony part is obvious: I've been incredibly anxious, feeling as though my writing dreams/goals were falling by the wayside; there's been an emptiness like I had lost a piece of my soul; and there are moments where I was afraid that I was going to lose every single reader or fan forever.  Any one of these would be terrrible nightmares for a writer to endure.  I was constantly worried about all three.

Yet over the course of those same thirty days, some really great things have occurred.  I've gotten to experience the joys and frustrations of potty training a toddler.  It's a uniquely parental experience to feel pride over your child's first time being able to do something that we take for granted every day. Not to mention the fact that you save ridiculous amounts of money by not buying diapers.  I also got a raise.  I didn't even have to bring up the subject, let along negotiate the amount.  I got to watch my oldest try to surf and do reasonably well for her first time out.  I would have missed out on all of these things had I shut myself in the office, banging away on the keyboard and to the exclusion of everything else going on in my life.  

To be sure, the past thirty days weren't all rosy.  Some are a bit too personal to share here, others just can't be mentioned due to attorney-client.  Regardless, the good and bad end up becoming valuable lessons and experiences that continue to help shape me as a writer.  Being able to recall what it felt like to watch either of my girls accomplish something new/difficult for the first time is invaluable to my writing and the stories that I'm crafting.  Likewise, working hard and being rewarded helps to reinforce my beliefs that hard work does pay off, if you're patient.  My point is that all of these events, good and bad, have added something to my life that is important to all writers: experience. 

When we're telling a story, we are writing about the lives of other people.  We are sharing with the reader the emotional highs and lows of our characters.  Most of us will never live the kind of lives of our characters, yet that doesn't mean that we can't pull from our own experiences to describe what our heroes and villains are feeling.  

Additionally, the time away from Savannah Keller and Sean Valdes has given me the opportunity to take a more objective look at the story.  Like any writing project, sometimes you have to walk away and come back and look at it with fresh eyes.  Now it's time for me to get back to work on my current projects and put the lessons from the past thirty days to good use. 

How do your life experiences shape your stories and characters?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Flash Fiction: Excerpt from Harbinger of the Wrath

Whoever said that flash fiction was good for the soul was definitely on to something.  It's led me to look back at some older projects that I've shelved for various reasons.  What follows is from a science fiction novel that I've been tinkering since my junior year in college (circa 1999).  I've gone back, made a few adjustments and polished out a couple of rust stains.  I might just take this one off of the shelf and start playing around with it again.  

Excerpt from "Harbinger of the Wrath" (working title)

The priest stood in the doorway, framed by the blue-white light from the solitary light source in the corridor outside. He held the auto-pistol in his right hand, periodically flexing his last three fingers open and closed. The air continued to grow so thick that the priest inwardly swore that he saw the shadows inside the room flutter and move. 

“Forgive me my trespasses and those who trespass against me, Lord. They know not what they do. Grant me your strength to do what must be done and save this poor soul before you come claim her.” The priest whispered to himself and took a single step forward as he steeled himself for what was to come. He waited for her to stir or give some sign that she was still alive. Finally, the priest kneeled upon both knees, sitting forward to keep the ache from setting into his calves. He held the auto-pistol in his lap and braced himself with his free hand. 

“I know you’re awake, Janelle. Just because I’m a priest that doesn’t mean I can’t tell when someone’s trying to play me for a fool.” He said in a low, hoarse voice that did not startle the woman. When her eyes did flutter open, there was little more than bitterness and rage behind them. 

“Priest?” Janelle shot back. The unguarded quiver in the woman’s voice betrayed the rage that seethed within. 

“Nothing has changed Janelle. I am still the same Father…” The priest’s voice rose in volume and was still hoarse and dry, but now it was lined with a gentle edge that was almost pleading.

“No!” She interrupted, shouting at the top of her lungs. “No you’re not! You’re no priest. Priests don’t go murdering people!” 

“Sinners, Janelle. They were all sinners. There was no hope of salvation for them.” The priest shot back in frustration. “Worse, they dared to try and stand in the way of God’s plan. Hence, why he unleashed the plague on the colony and probably…” 

“It was a biological attack!” Janelle cut him off again. “No natural disease can kill someone in three hours. This isn’t God, it’s the Republic launching its counteroffensive to kick-start the Unification War all over again. Jesus Christ I can’t believe…” 

“Don’t! Don’t you dare, don’t you dare!” Spittle flew from his lips and coated the side of the woman’s face and the cold metal barrel of the auto-pistol which was now viciously pressed against the side of her head. “Never take His name in vain! Never, do you hear me! Never!” 

“Because once it starts, I can’t stop them,” his voice lowered to a whimper. “…I can’t stop them from coming for your soul. Once it starts…has started. Don’t you see?” He repeated more quietly as he panted and fought for breath. Eventually he became aware that he had grabbed hold of her hair with his other hand. As he slowed his breathing, the priest began to let go of her. He kept the auto-pistol pointed at her head as he backed away and stood up.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hitting the Rewind Button in Your Mind's Eye

There's an old story that's been told in various incarnations and media.  Generally, it involves a young, hard working employee at some company who passes by the desk/office of a more senior employee.  For the sake of this post, we'll call the young employee Bob and the more senior employee Joe.  Bob passes by Joe's office almost daily and notices that, each time, Joe is just sitting with his feet propped up on his desk.  It looks like Joe is staring out into space or even half-asleep.  Bob, meanwhile, puts in long hours and keeps his nose to the grindstone.  After a few weeks of watching Joe's apparent tireless slacking, Bob finally works up the courage to ask another employee why Joe hasn't been fired yet.  Bob's fellow worker then tells him that some time ago, Joe was sitting at his desk, with his feet propped up, and came up with an idea that saved the company millions of dollars.  I've likely butchered the story, though I think you get the point.

Daydreaming is the writer's best friend, just as in the example above.  It's an opportunity to let the creative side of your brain take over and just wander.  This leads to all sorts of ideas that you may not have considered while you were diligently tapping away at the keyboard to meet your daily/weekly word count goal.  This is because when we are in the trenches of actively writing we are either trying to capture that moment of inspiration and emotion, or trying to slog through a chapter that's become tedious for whatever reason.  Neither gives the writer much of an opportunity to sit back in the audience and watch what's playing on the screen.  That's what daydreaming becomes in the context of writing a book: it's like hitting the replay button for your favorite movie scene to make you didn't miss something. It leads to far more introspection that you might even find during the normal editing process.  

The kind of replay editing that I'm referring to is not so much to catch grammar and punctuation mistakes, as it's a sort of quality control device.  Ultimately, the writer has to ask herself/himself: does this scene play out on paper/ebook the same way that it does in my head?  If it doesn't, then it may be time to hit the replay button and fix what doesn't work.  Alternatively, if what you've written mirrors what's in your head, then you know that it's time to move on to the next scene.  

Another important aspect of daydreaming and its importance to writing - aside from the usual enjoyment of staring off into space - is the inspirational aspect.  Sometimes we dwell so much and for so long on a story that we lose sight of what ignited the creative spark in the first place.  Under those circumstances, daydreaming about your story can help rekindle that fire.  As I mentioned in a previous post that I tend to listen to music when I write.  I also play certain songs when I'm daydreaming and trying to work out a particular section before trying to write it down.  

What do you see when you write or read?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why a Book's Pacing is Like a First Kiss

So you've finished the first chapter of your book and made sure to open your story with either a bang or a captivating introduction to the tale.  You've given the reader something to be interested in; however, now it's your job to create some sort of investment.  If the reader isn't invested in the story, chances are they might not even finish reading your book.  This is where pacing comes in to play.  In many ways, it's analogous to both first time and subsequent kisses.

A story's pacing is the fabric that weaves together character and plot development.  Without pacing, heroes stagnate, villains become boring, and the entire story falls apart.  Why?  Because the reader will get bored wading through all of that exposition and meaningless dialogue that does nothing to advance the story.  It's no different than exchanging a first kiss with someone with whom you realize (perhaps even instantly) there is no chemistry.  The kiss is awkward, dull, and so painfully slow that you just can wait to disengage and find a polite way to say goodnight.  A proper first kiss is tantalizing and subtly implies that there are even more exciting things down the road.  The question then, of course, what is that road like?

There are many types of first kisses that fulfill the dual promises of excitement and foreshadowing, and the same is true of pacing.  Some stories require a hot and fast pace, while others demand a sort of slow burn. To some extent, your characters, and their impact on the plot, will affect your story's pace.  Additionally, you'll need to have a good sense of the type of person you believe will read your story.  Employing a slow burn style of pacing may work for some, but not all readers.  Alternatively, others may be turned off by a plot that moves at break neck speeds if the reader feels like character/story development was sacrificed.

As a writer, you have to remember that you are exchanging a very personal and intimate part of yourself with a total stranger.  Your book is the first date.  The pacing of your book is the first kiss that determines whether there will be another date (i.e. your readers pick up your sequel, series, etc.).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Flash Fiction: The Storm

This week I wanted to start incorporating a little flash fiction into the blog and take some of my own advice when it comes to dealing with Writer's Block.  Sometimes it's just impossible to work through it.  When that happens, the best solution is to work around it.  That means jumping ahead a chapter or two, fleshing out scenes that are still very much on the drawing board, or simply skipping to the climax of the story - just to get the creative juices flowing again.  The below flash fiction is from a later section of the sequel to "Of Murder and Monsters," and is set in Savannah, Georgia.


Nerika was focused on the serious business of redressing the Princess.  Her current gown was just not right for the informal get together with her friends.  Nerika did not bother to glance over at the dark clouds of the coastal storm, rushing towards her home.  Her mother would call her to come inside soon enough, she reasoned, so there was no sense is wasting precious playtime with her dolls. Stiff breezes washed up from the Riverfront and knifed through the city blocks an squares of Savannah, Georgia, and was reminder enough for Nerika that her outdoor fun would end at any moment.  She inhaled sharply and sighed heavily.  Nerika could always smell the rain in the air.  

A sudden bass drum beat reverberated through her small legs, arms and chest.  Nerika could hear the sound of music shaking plastic, steel, and glass.  She saw the white Cadillac drive by one wheels that were better suited for a pick up truck, capped with sparkling chrome hub caps.  Both of the men in the car were looking at Nerika as the gaudy car drove by her home.  Their skin was darker than hers and one wore his dreadlocked hair pulled back in a loose ponytail.  It was the second time she'd seen the Cadillac roll by her house since the storm clouds rolled over the horizon.  

"Nerika, honey.  Get in the house, girl.  Storm's coming."  Nerika heard her mother's voice call over her shoulder.  She looked back and saw her mother standing where the screened door of their home used once stood.  Despite her young age, the seven year old still remembered starting Kindergarten when her mother replaced the screen door with an iron security gate.  

Nerika gathered her dolls in both hands, as her mother kept a watchful eye on the Cadillac.  The car sped off after waiting uncomfortably long at the stop sign.  "I miss her, mommy.  When's my Auntie coming back?"  Nerika asked, as she walked up to the first sun bleached, worn wooden steps to the house.

"I told you, girl.  We on our own now."  Her mother snapped harshly.  The tone stung Nerika, as it always did whenever they talked about the last time she saw her aunt.  "Your Auntie had to go away."

"Will she come back for us?"  Nerika persisted with the same question she had asked her mother for the past two years.  She looked back over her shoulder at the stop sign at the end of their block.

Her mother shook her head as she always did.  "Come on inside, Nerika.  Storm's coming."  Was all her mother said as she turned and walked into the house.  Nerika watched her mother place the shotgun back in the corner behind door.    

Monday, July 7, 2014

Second and Whatever Comes After Foremost: What Keeps You Writing?

In last week's blog post, I discussed passion for the craft as the reason for writing in the first place.  Knowing why you've decided to write and/or pursue writing  as a main or secondary career is important towards keeping yourself grounded.  Passion, like fire, can be tempered or even burn out.  That likely sounds odd to most folks and leads to questions such as "so, putting words on paper/computer screen leads to burning out?"  Not quite, although there are some writers who leave the craft for various reasons that probably fall into burn out. What I'm talking about is separate from passion and goes beyond even inspiration: we're talking about motivation this week.

Whether it's a bout of Writer's Block, or losing interest while slogging through exposition or dialogue in order to get to the next big scene, maintaining motivation becomes one of the keys to finishing your book.  It means staying on track and on task, writing down one word and then another until you've got a full sentence.  It means keeping your focus so that you can tie those sentences together.  It means never losing sight of the big picture of your story as you round out the last section of a paragraph, and paint with letters the scene in your mind.  More importantly, maintaining your motivation means sticking with all of the above in order to see that kind of progress.  Of course, making progress helps to fuel/refuel one's motivation.

Another key part to staying motivated is to be fair (but honest) with yourself when you stumble.  We're only human and that means we are capable of failure through an infinite number of ways.  Procrastination.  Poor time management.  Perfectionism to the point of paralysis.  Everyone procrastinates at some point: writing is hard work and you deserve some time off, don't you?  Who doesn't have a hard time keeping track of time: between work, spouses/significant others and kids, when is there time to write?  And, of course, no one will want my book if it isn't the next Great [Insert Your Country of Choice] Novel: by editing on the front end, I'm saving myself work on the back end (Yup, I used to fool myself with that one too).  The sooner you can admit these things to yourself, the sooner you'll be able to come to grips that sometimes you have to take a break and recharge your batteries.   

Last month I started a 30 Day Challenge for myself by writing 1,000 words per day during the work week and 3,500 words on Saturdays and Sundays (i.e. 12,000 words a week).  I thought this would be a great way to: (A) stay motivated; (B) make a huge stride towards getting to the half-way mark of the sequel to "Of Murder and Monsters," and (C) would be lots of fun along the way.  I was way off base with A.  I was an idiot with C.  B was a good idea; however, I learned that I went about it all wrong.  In terms of motivation, anyone can put up 1,000 to 3,500 words in a sitting, but that doesn't necessarily translate to writing a good book. For the record, I'm not knocking on authors to set daily word count goals.  It that's what works for you, great! For me, it didn't work because I kept questioning the direction that Book Two was heading.  Granted, I'd come back the following day and do a clean up of the previous night's work; however, it was taking a toll on my motivation. In other words, I wasn't keeping my batteries charged.  Mind you, holding down a 60+ hour per week job is also a factor. 

While some would likely argue that my 30 Day Challenge was a failure, the important lesson I've taken away from the experience was a better understanding of what motivates me.  I've always known that I wanted to be a writer and it's part of the legacy I hope to leave for my children.  While I harbor no dreams of being the next Great American Writer (not sure I'd want the title anyways), writing gives me another piece of myself to leave for my kids when I'm gone.  Writing and storytelling is a core part of who I am.  Sharing that part of myself with my family, as well as the readers who've enjoyed my writing, today and years down the road is one of the factors that keeps me writing.

What keeps you motivated to write?

Monday, June 30, 2014

First and Foremost: Why Are You Writing?

The topic of audience selection comes up frequently enough that most writers likely have an idea or concept about whom they believe might decide to read their book.  It's an important topic, as every writer wants to feel a connection with their readers and, hopefully, the readers feel the same way.  With that in mind, it's easy to lose sight of why you started to write in the first place.  When that happens, there's a disconnect that takes place and something gets lost between the pages.  It's not so much a question of improperly gauging your audience.  It's something deeper and far more personal.

What went through your mind the first time you put pen to paper, or set the cursor on your screen dancing as the words flowed into your fingertips?  Did you feel the kind of nervous excitement after finishing a carefully crafted plot arc that could only be likened to your very first date?  Have you ever shed tears while daydreaming or plotting the scene where one of the characters you created dies?  These questions are all about an emotional response triggered from the act of writing.  What we're talking about here, then, is really passion for the craft.  Whether your passion for writing burns like a smoldering flame or like a bonfire, it's personal and unique to every writer.  Yet, fire can be contained, directed and re-directed, just like any tool.  So, if we aren't careful, we end up molding our passion to suit the needs/wants of our readers, our publishers (for those going the small publisher or legacy route), our time commitments (read: constraints), etc. 

None of this is to say that the writer shouldn't be mindful of his or her audience.  Quite the opposite.  Like stage directors running a full company of actors, orchestra, and stage hands, writers absolutely must play to the readers/audience.  That comes down to understanding their needs versus wants: give them what they need, but tease them with what they want.  Through it all, however, you have to let them see your passion for writing.  That's why they came in the first place to see the theater that is your book.  Whether the story is a critically acclaimed success, hardly noticed among the crowd, or belittled by the curmudgeons: there are bound to be those who are intrigued by the passion and fire you've injected into your tale. 

That's what writing is for me.  It's about following the desire to create something from nothing and then turning that into a tale that I hope entertains, educates, and engages the reader.  It's impossible to write something that will please every single reader in the exact same way.  Attempting to do so waters down the experience of whatever it is I'm trying to create.  Strangely enough, I actually do believe that constructive negative feedback, serves several purposes.  One, it reinforces my point above that you can't write something that will please everyone.  Two, it likely may give me food for thought on things I hadn't considered or another viewpoint for analyzing whatever the topic may be (i.e. story arc, character development, etc.).  And three, it just stokes my fire to get me back to brainstorming, outlining, planning and writing. 

What is writing for you?  Just as important, what does it do for you?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Storytelling: It's All About Perspective

There are plenty of tough choices that go into transforming an idea into an actual book.  Among those decisions is figuring out how you want to tell your story.  This means picking between either first person or third person perspective as the method for telling your tale.  Really, it comes down to presentation style.  Do you want the reader to see the world you've created through the eyes of one or more key characters, or are you looking to give them more of a bird's eye view?

In "Of Murder and Monsters," I decided to go with a first person perspective style of narration.  About 99% of the book is told from the perspective of Sean Valdez, the book's protagonist.  This means that readers not only sees what Sean sees, they get a front row seat to how he thinks and interprets the world around him.  As his life takes on more and more confusing twists and turns, some of that confusion translates into what the reader experiences along with Sean.  Then again, Sean's not a perfect person and, like all of us, he sometimes can't see the forest from the trees.

First person perspective, then, is also an excellent tool for creating tension and controlling the pace and distribution of information.  This makes sense since the character is limited on how much information he or she is aware of as the story progresses.  Likewise, they either aren't aware or aren't fully aware of the intentions or motivations of the other characters with whom they interact.  As in real life, sometimes we just don't know who we can really trust or when we're being led astray.  What makes writing in the first person difficult over the length of a novel is that the writer has to stay "in character" for the duration.  Even when you're introducing the narrating character to other characters and setting the scene to do so, it's important to remember that the non-narrating character is being introduced to the reader through the filter that is your narrating character.  In other words, the reader is getting someone else's interpretation of the characteristic's of the non-narrating character.  Confusing, yes.  Resolvable, absolutely.

If your readers feel like they can trust that the narrator is being honest and straightforward, then they're likely to accept what's being relayed to them by the narrator. This becomes important later on if your narrator suffers some sort of break with reality or is recovering some sort of psychological shock or assault.  At some point, the reader, in those scenarios, has to be able to believe that the narrator has worked through the issue/hallucination and is now interpreting things logically/accurately again.  Under some scenarios, you might intentionally want to have your reader question/doubt the narrator's veracity.  As with all things, however, too much of a good thing can go awry.

Third person perspective can be a much more liberating format for both the reader and the writer.  Granted, you can still limit the amount of information that the reader receives; however, they are usually still getting much more information than they would from the first person narrative form.  I like to think of either use of third person narration as an almost over-the-shoulder, documentary style, camera that follows the character or characters throughout the story.  Therefore, I've decided that both the prequel and sequel to "Of Murder and Monsters," will be told using the third person perspective to further reveal the dark world into which Sean Valdez has been thrown into.  As this narrative provides the reader with more information, it's far more useful when there are many more moving parts and character story lines.  

Which narrative style do you prefer to read?  For writers, which type of storytelling perspective do you enjoy working with more?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Hack: Character Continuity Shortcut

There's a lot to learn as you progress in writing a series.  More often than not, the lessons don't become very clear until you're well into the second book.  In my case, as the characters from "Of Murder and Monsters" are continuing to grow and develop, I found myself jumping back and forth between the current manuscript and my Kindle copy of Book One.  This wasn't terribly annoying until the sixth or seventh time I had to jump back into Book One.  The reason for all of the jumping back and forth was to make sure that not only was I staying consistent with the descriptions, but that character growth picked up where I left off.  Without keeping a certain level of familiarity, you'll lose that sense of continuity that gives your reader a platform from which they will accept the characters' development.  

As I've continued to make progress on Book Two, I've started creating character sheets.  These actually aren't that dissimilar from the kinds of character sheets you might find on a table top role playing game.  Role playing game character sheets can serve as a great template. Some are incredibly detailed and cover everything from physical descriptions to physical and mental attributes.  Of course, you'll want to input words and descriptions, rather than numbers - unless that's what works best for you.  I also created a "notes" section where I keep a bullet point running list of the major events of Book One that contributed to the character's growth, challenges they faced, or how they died.  Likewise, these bullet points also note the page where this happened on my final draft (just in case I still need to go back).  Not only did this put the information right at my fingertips, it also has saved me quite a bit of time.  Now, I no longer have to remember specific pages or chapters where something pivotal in the character's life happened.

The other helpful thing about putting together the character sheets is it has allowed me to make a better side-by-side comparison of multiple characters.  Most stories involve character interaction (i.e. dialogue).  It's one thing to have an idea of the personalities at play, it's another thing to be able to sit down and analytically look at your characters' quirks and traits in black and white.  The helpful thing about this is it forces me to see where a character might go against the grain of their personality - maybe they're not very confrontational, or perhaps they're giving something up to reach a much larger goal later in the story.  My point is, I've found this to be good for brainstorming when it comes to having the characters work with, or against, each other.  

Writers: what kinds of devices do you use to help maintain character continuity in your series?  Readers: how important is character continuity to you?

Friday, June 13, 2014

So You Published Your Book, Now What? (Part 2)

Earlier this week, I took an overview look at one of the more difficult phases to the self-publishing process: marketing.  As I said before, writing is the easy part.  It doesn't matter how good your material is, no one will buy your book if they don't even know it exists.  That's the real challenge of eBooks.  To put it in perspective, your book is a single stand/blade of hay that's in the middle of a much larger bale, in a field lined up of hundreds of other bales of hay.  Therefore, the goal should be to get to the top of your bale and worry about conquering the whole field once you get there.  

Farm analogies aside, the idea here is to just get the word out.  There are a ton of blogs and articles on the subject and a good number of them deal with SEO.  This post focuses on simple, no-budget, marketing that will help new indie published writers accomplish two important things: (A) get the word out about their book(s); and (B) make good contacts with other indie writers and readers along the way.  In order to accomplish A, let's start with B.

Long before you hit the "publish" button on whatever platform you are going to use to launch your eBook, you want to start marketing.  Wait, you're thinking, I thought we were starting with B.  We are, stay with me.  Making contact with other indie writers and readers IS marketing.  It's no different than going to a networking lunch, or taking the concepts of networking and using them more subtly.  Subtle is the key, because effective networking should never feel like networking.  More importantly, that's not what you're trying to do anyways.  What you want is to develop a give and take relationship with this other person.  Maybe you're looking for a beta reader and the other writer is looking for someone who knows a graphics designer who'll negotiate on prices for book covers.  If you're able to help each other out, it's a win-win for you both.  More importantly, this person will remember you weeks later when you're promoting your book.  Here's where the networking pays off: now you've got someone willing to help you spread the word about your eBook.  

Social media is the new word of mouth.  That indie author you made a connection with might have several hundred followers on Twitter.  In my case, indie author Seeley James, was kind enough to offer to tweet and re-tweet news about my free, three day promotion of "Of Murder and Monsters."  Not only did this help get the word out, it also led to others picking up James' tweets and re-tweeting the information.  This, combined with my efforts to get the news out via several + Google communities and websites advertising eBook giveaways, led to an amazing first day day of the promotion.  The last two days of the free promotion posted respectable numbers, and has already helped generate more sales.  

You'll want to make effective use of social media in order to get the word out about your book.  This means either creating an author Facebook Page, blog, Twitter account, or your own website, or all four.  Regardless of which format you go with, you want to make sure you are involved. It doesn't cost a thing to use these resources, yet they can help you rally friends and family to help tell others about your book.  Again, it's about generating as much word of mouth discussion about your book, while at the same time reinforcing existing relationships and building new ones.  Join a discussion group/community and participate.  Help other authors in the group and you just may get some unexpected help that aids your marketing efforts.  Just remember to pay it forward.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

So You Published Your Book, Now What? (Part 1)

EBooks are different. Every writer knows this when they make the decision to self-publish.  There are no pages to "flip through."  OK, that's fine because I like computers.  They are typically less expensive than print.  Great!  Often, you'll read work from a writer you might have never heard of before, as they decided to self-publish.  Wonderful: I don't like others telling me what I should and shouldn't like.  As a self-published writer, you're going to have to do your own marketing.  Say what?

Writing the book is the easy part.  Let me repeat that: writing the book is the easy part.  The next hardest bit is going through the editing process.  Tying for that spot, depending on your level of tech know-how, is formatting your ebook.  The hardest part of self-publishing is marketing (read: selling your book).  If you've got a business or marketing degree: then you've got a leg up.  If you're a "think outside of the box" sort of person, that's great too.  However, unless you've mastered how to both read and change people's minds: marketing can be a tough hill to climb.

The most important thing to keep in mind, especially for new writers, is that exposure is critically important.  It doesn't matter if you write the greatest book of your time if the general public (beyond friends and family) have never heard of you.  Even if your book is still in manuscript form, now is the time to get your name out there.  If your book is already published and available to readers, now is the time to get creative.  

There is no set path to building a base of readers; however, you can't lose site of what helps to attract interested readers in the first place.  Good writing.  How do you let your readers know that you're book is full of good writing?  Therein lies the rub of marketing: you have to tell them, without you telling them.  Put another way, you've got to get the word out.  This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone when it comes to using social media, or even considering the help of a smaller marketing/promotional company.  Regardless of which general direction you decide to go, remember that, even in today's tech-filled world, word-of-mouth counts.

This week, I'll be looking at some of the ways to increase visibility, using no-budget marketing.  As part of this experiment, "Of Murder and Monsters" will be available for FREE for three days, from June 10th to June 12th.  After the promotion ends, I'll be discussing what worked and what didn't, as well as what I've been doing to get my name out there before and after publishing.  Check back on Friday for the update.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Character Creation: Developing Strong Women When You Know Nothing About Them

Let's get something out of the way from the beginning: I am not an expert when it comes to women.  Stay with me for a moment, it's actually a good thing. It means I spend less time focusing on a concept or idea and more time writing about the character as a person.  With that in mind, I want to make sure to set the record straight that I do, in fact, know a few women: I am the son of one, have represented several in various legal dilemmas, am married to one and am currently raising two.  My point is that these are all people that I've gotten to know and/or who are a part of my life.  As a male writer, I believe that is the key when writing about women characters: you cannot lose sight of the fact that you are writing about a person.  More importantly, all writers should want a character to resonate with other people, not just with one gender or the other.  Again, focusing on the character as a person is what's critical. Otherwise, you may come across as reinforcing certain stereotypes and alienate your readers.

Next, you'll have to decide what are the strengths that define this woman character who you've created. Very few of us know a single human being that embodies all of the "strong" qualities that we like to see in leading literary characters.  Usually these heroes or heroines have a number of qualities that strike positive chords with the reader.  In real life, the friends and family members who we look up to might only embody one or two attributes that would brand them as being a "strong" person.  Like all of us, even a strong leading lady in your cast should have some sort of flaw, quirk or shortcoming.  Real people aren't perfect, and the ones that seem that way are just very good at hiding skeletons in the closet.  Your characters shouldn't be perfect either.  If they are, create a secret they are afraid that everyone will find out.  Now, you've humanized your super hero and given the reader something to invest in (i.e. watching the flaw get overcome or damage control when the secret is discovered).  

By way of example, in "Of Murder and Monsters," Savannah Keller definitely is hiding a secret and the lawyer defending her, Sean Valdez, tries to uncover the mystery.  As the story unfolds, it becomes questionable as to whether Savannah's reluctance to divulge her secret is as much to protect Sean as it is herself.  Is she doing this for selfish or selfless reasons?  That's for the reader to decide and, in doing so, determine in what kind of light do they see Savannah.  

What I'm getting at is that you don't have to be an expert to create a strong woman character, you just have to be an observer of your own life and the women in it.  You can pick and choose from the myriad of qualities from the women you know.  

What kinds of qualities do you feel embody a strong woman character?  

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Benefits of Hybridizing Genres: Bringing Something New to Old Tables

When I set out to write "Of Murder and Monsters," I didn't want to write a legal drama that most would assume was a thinly veiled memoirs.  Likewise, I wasn't convinced that I wanted to go in the direction of a pure thriller either.  For those that have already read the book, "Of Murder and Monsters" also is not a straight horror tale.  It's a mix of all three: blending a legal drama, thriller and elements of horror.  Could the book survive on it's own if it just focused on only one of these genres?  Maybe.  Does it add something by blurring the lines between the other forms of storytelling?  I'd like to think so.

The reality is that the age old adage that "there are no new stories" is a fairly accurate statement.  The other part of the adage, of course, is that there are only new ways of telling old stories.  So it stands to reason that by taking the familiar and throwing it into foreign territory, you may walk away with something unique.  Mixing romance stories with horror is nothing new, as there are plenty of supernatural love tales (i.e. vampire, werewolf and ghost related stories).  Likewise, sci-fi thrillers have be done to great effect.  So there are plenty of examples of books that have mixed different genres and it's a trend that should continue.  Not only does it help push and expand the types of books that are out there, it helps expose readers to other genres that they otherwise might not try.

The key, I think, is in creating something that has something for everyone surrounding the core aspect of the book.  Essentially, this means that if you're setting out to write a thriller, wrapping it with a morsel of science fiction may end up attracting new readers like foodies to a bacon wrapped pork chop.  What could be better than introducing someone to a new genre that, but for your book, they would have never otherwise discovered?  More importantly, you were their "first."  And let's face it, no one forgets their first.

Have you written or read something that mixed multiple genres together?  What was it and what did you like best about that?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Reader Invitational

Most of what I've blogged about so far has been either chronicling my thoughts and experiences on writing and self-publishing.  Hopefully, these posts have been either helpful or entertaining to other writers or readers who aspire to write and publish.  The greater question, however, is what about the pure reader - the ones who just want to enjoy good books?  What I mean is this: there are a lot of great blogs for writers by writers, or dedicated book review club blogs; but what about platforms for readers to share their advice to the writer?  Without the readers there would be no books, period.  The great thing about self-publishing and ebooks is the notion of being able to be more responsive to one's readers as a whole.  So why not acknowledge this advantage/freedom and embrace it?

So I thought to myself, why not create that platform for readers to share their thoughts on what THEY want from the types of books they read and authors they follow.  The goal is to share this information, on this blog and with fellow authors, to not only create a healthy dialogue between readers and writers, but also help writers deliver the kinds of stories our readers are seeking.  Literature is so subjective that two people reading the same book may walk away with differing opinions about the themes and key characters.  So, as a writer, it's helpful to get that kind of subjective feedback and see whether it meshes with the original intent behind the work.

Therefore, dear reader, the pleasure of your correspondence is hereby requested to share your thoughts and opinions for this Reader Invitational.  In short, I'm asking you to share your feedback on a variety of topics, including, but not limited to:

1. What draws you to an author's blog in the first place?  (i.e. Are you a writer, or aspiring writer, yourself?  Are you looking for tips and advice?)

2.  What are your thoughts on the indie author movement vs. traditional publishing?

3.  What areas do you wish writers would devote more time to: descriptive narrative; dialogue; plot development; or character development?

4.  What is your favorite genre and what types of innovations (i.e. new directions) do you wish authors would start taking?

5.  What is your favorite book?  If you could sit down with the author, what changes would you suggest to the author to make it an even better book?

6.  For those that enjoy horror books, what is it about the genre that attracts you to scary stories?  Which books have scared you the most?

7.  What do you think is lacking in villains of modern books?

These are just some topics.  The point is, writers want to hear from our readers.  So feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments section below.  I'll be sharing this information with other authors and, hopefully, they'll extend the Invitational to the fans of their blogs.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Covers and Interview with a Designer

Let's face it, there are a lot of decisions that indie authors are faced with that traditionally published authors might not need to grapple with as much.  Cover art or design is probably one of the must crucial decisions an indie author must take into consideration.  It's one of the first things your reader sees and it's likely what caught their eye or sparked their interest in the book in the first place.  We've all heard that you can't judge a book by it's cover, but the cover is exactly what leads a reader to pick up (or download) a book in the first place.  

There are plenty of self-published authors out there who've taken on the task of creating their own cover and found success.  Some are either very artistically inclined, while others have a solid grasp of computer-aided art design.  For those of us that don't fit into either category (read: yours truly), the next option is to seek professional help.  That's what I did  for "Of Murder and Monsters," and my designer, Mabel Iriberri of Nickel Design, was able to deliver exactly what I was looking for:

In working with Mabel, we opted to go with a stock photo and then got down to work fleshing out the specifics for the cover.  Here's what Mabel had to say about the design process and her background:

R.Q.G.:  How long have you been a graphic designer? 

M.I.: I’ve been a graphic designer since 1998.

R.Q.G.:  Did you pursue formal training/school or is has all of your training been on the job experience? 

M.I.: I do have a college degree in Graphic Design, however, that only helped from a creative standpoint. Everything else that I learned about the business came from on-the-job-experience. I graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a Bachelors in Fine Arts. However, in our very first year, we were not allowed to use computers to design. Everything was made by hand-drawing, tracing and pasting.

R.Q.G.: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a graphic designer? 

M.I.: I knew that I always wanted to do something artistic when I grew up. Graphic Design became my major when I looked through the school catalog and realized that it was one of the few majors that didn’t require me to take Speech classes. Ironically, every single class required me to present my work to the class on a daily basis and withstand critiques.

R.Q.G.: When taking on a project, where do you look for inspiration? 

M.I.: I’ve been subscribing to Print Magazine since 1996. It is a constant source of inspiration for creativity. It also keeps me up-to-date on what is current in the field. Another good graphic design magazine that I turn to is Communication Arts.

R.Q.G.:  Was that also helpful when you worked on the cover design for "Of Murder and Monsters"? 

M.I.: Absolutely, I always start a new project by brainstorming for new ideas. I then take on the task of research by going online and seeing what other authors have used for their book covers in that genre.

R.Q.G.: Other than working with the author, what was the hardest aspect of selecting and designing the cover art for "Of Murder and Monsters"? 

M.I.: First of all, working with the author was a breeze. Secondly, the hardest part is finding the right image. When you’re designing something within a budget, you’re very limited on photographic resources. The budget isn’t big enough to hire a photographer, models, makeup and hair stylists,… let alone scenery, props and costumes. Most stock photography consists of business images for brochures, not characters from a horror novel.

R.Q.G.: When it comes to designing a book cover, how much does the title of the book influence your design decisions? 

M.I.: I would approximate that the title influences about 25% of the design. The title is a very important design element. It has to not only grab the reader’s attention by working with the artwork, but it has to convey both what the book is about and the author’s vision of what they’d like the cover to look like. Also, the size and length of the title can make or break a design. 

R.Q.G.: Other than the client you're designing for, do you have anyone else critique your work before finalizing it? 

M.I.: I usually have a good idea of whether something works or not. Once in a while, I do run it by my husband, he has a marketing background and a keen eye for design. Plus, it always helps to have a second pair of eyes. If you’ve been staring at the same design all day, it’s difficult to look at it objectively.

R.Q.G.: What design projects, other than book cover art, have you created? 

M.I.: I specialize in print design – logos, brochures, stationary, invitations… However, my main focus lately has been invitations and party favors that I sell on my Etsy site. 

R.Q.G.: What types of books (genres) do you enjoy reading? 

M.I.: I love fiction about other people’s lives. For example, one of my favorites is “She’s Come Undone” by Wally Lamb. I also enjoy the classics – “Wuthering Heights” is my favorite book. Not to mention, biographies and autobiographies – I really enjoy those.

In summary, working with a professional designer can help give your book what it needs to stand out.  Working with a designer is a give and take and we went through several different design ideas.  What's been your experience, whether working with a designer or creating your own cover?