Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What writers know (or don't) about their own writing...

I love this from new writers who think they actually know what makes a good story or a bad one. Of course they don’t.
                                                                                                            Wesley Dean Smith*

This quote makes so much more sense to me now that my husband is a painter than it did when I was a beginning writer.

My husband began to paint three years ago. For years, nay decades, he’d been saying, “one of these days I’m going to learn how to paint.” I finally got tired of hearing him and bought him canvasses, paintbrushes and a gift certificate to the local Michaels for Christmas. I then told him, “Shut up and paint. If that’s what you want to do, stop talking about it and do it.”

Well, he did it and I’ve been blown away by his success. He’s come a long way in a very short time; he sold his first painting six months out and his work is now in several galleries throughout New York’s Southern Tier and Finger Lakes with, most recently, a few pieces placed in a shop in Rochester. Just last week he had his first international sale and one of his pieces is even now winging across the Atlantic to a collector in England.

What has amazed me most about all this? The paintings people choose to purchase.

Now I have a critical eye, especially towards composition and color. My husband, being a newbie at all this, plays around with both those concepts, sometimes to great effect, sometimes not so much. Sometimes the paintings are garish, or there’s too much foreground…a tree is out of place or colors clash within the painting.

Guess which ones sell?

You got it. Almost all the ones I don’t like.

Everyone has their own taste. There are times my husband will walk away from a painting saying, “I have no idea if that one’s good or not.” He’s too close to it. His sweat and energy and time are all bound up in that paint. He’s ceased to be objective.

We writers are in the same boat.

I know, I know. There’s an old trick many of us use (I still do) of putting away your manuscript for a few weeks and coming back to it with a fresh eye. That works. It really does and I see it as one of my necessary steps for editing. It helps me find the typos and the occasional continuity error and the (even rarer) gaping hole in the plot.

I also used to think I knew what was good writing and what wasn’t. Good writing was what I learned in school. It had rules to follow, although experienced writers were allowed to break them. But you had to know them in order to break them, so we dutifully learned the parts of a story, the various literary terms and techniques, good grammar and how to craft good sentences. Talent was needed, but raw talent wasn’t enough to make you good. Learning all of the above and applying it to your stories was what made you a good writer.

But whether readers will or won’t buy it? I have no idea. Some of my books fly into readers' hands, others sit there and go nowhere. And it doesn't matter what I, the author, think of the book. Shooting Star is one of my favorite books, yet the sales have been...disappointing. Is it a bad cover? Poor blurb? Poor writing? Without reviews, I have no idea.

So Dean Wesley Smith is correct: we writers are too close to our creation to know whether the book is a good one or not. The best thing we can do is put it out there and move on to the next. The second best thing we can do is beg for reviews so we can learn from our readers.

So picture me on my knees, begging for a review of my books. YOU tell ME what you liked (and disliked) about it. Let me see the book through YOUR eyes.

All my self-published books are listed here. Visit the site where you purchased the book and leave a review. Or leave a review at Goodreads, if you have an account there. And, if you want to make sure I see it, drop a comment below or send me an email with the link so I can find it.

*I've lost the post where he wrote this. If anyone happens on it, let me know?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Yes, on occasion I do read...

Okay, so I have been doing a few other things other than watching Chuck. I’ve also read two books this month – one that took me two weeks to read and one that I read in a day.

Mary Poppins, She Wrote; the Life of P.L.Travers by Valerie Lawson was the first book I read this year. I’d seen Saving Mr. Banks (twice!) and wanted to read the book behind it. Partly to see how much the movie got right and partly to know more about Mrs. Travers. With the Walt Disney Company as the money behind the movie, I was a little worried they’d slant it to their side. Let’s face it, in the movie she’s not a very pleasant person. Yes, she comes around at the end, but was that the truth?

Mostly, yes. Mrs. Travers wasn’t a very nice person. She was vain, self-centered and always demanding respect as if it were her right rather than earning it the old-fashioned way. Biography is hard to write: in this book it is sometimes hard to separate the author from the subject. Lawson does a good job of defending Mrs. Travers while at the same time including her warts.

Still, the book took me a while to read because I kept getting impatient with Pamela. I wanted to shake her, give her the scolding she needed but never got.

And she changed her mind – often. She told stories for a living…and for her own amusement, apparently. She did like the movie made from her books, then, with a different group of people, she didn’t. Her opinions depended on who she was with.

Okay, enough of P.L.Travers. It’s a good read of a very unpleasant person. ‘Nuff said.

The Snow Child I read in a day. Written by Eowyn Ivey (either her parents were Tolkien geeks or she is!), the story is part-fantasy, part Alaskan adventure. The early chapters reminded me of Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freeman. But then it takes a sharp right turn into mystery that borders on the fantastical and the story moves swiftly to its conclusion. In fact, I didn’t want to put it down (hence the devouring in a day).

So, one month almost over and I’ve binge-watched an entire TV series (all five seasons) and read two books.

Now to get back to writing…


PS. I usually link the author's names to their websites but I couldn't find a site for Ms. Lawson. But that, perhaps, is a post for a different day.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Solitaire is not a waste of time

Several years ago, my husband came into the study where I was writing and found me playing a game of Shanghai (a type of Majongg) on the computer instead of adding to my manuscript. He chuckled and made several "gotcha"-type comments. I tried to explain to him that I was still writing, even though it looked like I was playing a form of solitaire.

And I was writing. In my head. While the game kept one part of my brain busy, another part was thinking through my current plot line, trying to figure out how to get from where my characters were in the manuscript to where I needed my characters to be.

Scientific American has a great article on this, detailing a study done involving multitasking. And that's really what's going on when I play these simple "mindless" games on the computer. It's almost as if, by playing the game, I'm getting the boss out of the way so the workers can do the filing, swap stories with each other, and stand around the water cooler solving the problems of the world.

In other words, playing solitaire gives my subconscious time to clean up its act and get organized.

So the next time you're stuck in your manuscript, or when writer's block has you all in knots, play a game or two of solitaire. At first, don't try to listen in on the conversations those workers in your brain are having. Just let them do their thing. With practice, you'll get to the point where you can almost hear them as they rustle and file and buzz at the water cooler.

And when you open that manuscript again, the ideas will be there, as if by magic.

But it's really by solitaire.

Go write..or rather, go play a game of solitaire!

PS. Full disclosure: my favorite solitaire game is the Spider Solitaire that came with my computer. In the past two years I've played just over 4000 games, winning an even 1000 of them. And I've written several short stories and two full-length novels, too!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Open endings

Okay, have finished the five seasons of Chuck...the last episode made me cry! But I love the open-ended strings they left hanging for a future TV movie - or just for my own imagination - to continue their story, giving the characters new adventures. Even Jeffster has a great story arc my mind can play with!

And that, of course, got me to thinking about my own story craft. I was always taught that all plots need to be tied up in the story's resolution. No loose ends.

And Chuck did that. Each of the characters have their happily ever after ending. We know where Casey is going, even if we don't watch him go there. We understand Beckman will keep on keeping on and that the Buy More will always be the Buy More. The lead characters are together, just as they should be, and the secondary characters have pleasant paths for their lives to follow. No loose ends.


The writers of the show give us a bunch of new plot twists that invite speculation. Will Chuck and Sarah give up the spy life forever? Will Devon and Ellie like their new digs? Will Morgan and Alex get married? Viewers can make up their answers to this and dozens of other questions. This is the hallmark of a successful series.

So what does that teach me about storytelling? A great deal.

Leaving the characters in a good place gives closure for those readers who need a sense of finality when the last page is turned. Tie up all the plot lines that have run through the three, four, five (and more!) books. That's important.

But leave room for those readers who like to dream. What happens to Middle Earth now that Aragorn is king? What kind of a dad is Harry Potter? Will Jamie and Clare's grandchildren also be able to travel through time?* Readers who can't shake off the story at the end of the last book don't want to leave the world the author created. They've fallen in love with the people and the places and want more stories set in this world.

From such desires, fan fiction is born. Different authors have different views on fan fic, but the reality is, readers want more stories and, if the author won't (or can't) write them, they'll write their own. Heck, even I started that way. I have a Star Trek fan fic that was a ton of fun to write. The original series had been taken off the air and there were no plans for ever breathing life into it again. The animated series had come and gone but the movie was still years away. I wanted more stories with Kirk and Spock and Scotty and Bones so, since Paramount wouldn't do it...I wrote my own.

But I digress.


The desire to create more stories for characters after that last page is turned.

This is something I need to keep in mind in my own series. I have two of them; Journey to Submission series with Ellora's Cave (although their website doesn't have the books labeled yet**) and the Jack Kariola slaves series (Mystic Shade, author). Because I write BDSM stories, I don't think either of them will get much in the way of fan fiction. But, and this is the part I need to remember, both can let the imagination run wild and invite the readers to add new adventures, new predicaments, new experiences.

I could, however, do much more for each series. Drop little hints and throw down an outside plot line that may (or may not) become important to the characters. Tie up the big plots, yes. But leave some open-ended so the readers can take those tidbits of information and play with them.

I'm working on a new Jack Kariola book now. I will definitely have to keep this in mind!

Lesson learned, Chuck! Lesson learned. :)

*Lord of the Rings series by JRR. Tolkien, Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon

** Secret Submission, Submission Revealed, and Services Rendered. The upcoming release, Diamond Submission, is also part of that series

Play safe!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Did you ever...

...get so heavily into a story you forgot there was another entire world called Real Life?

That's been me the past few weeks. I wish I could say I've gotten into a new novel, writing my fingers to the bone. Or that I'm reading some great book and am so into it, the real world could fade away and I'd never notice.

But no.

That which has caught my attention the past two weeks has been a TV show. Yes, I hang my head in shame. I've been watching TV.

As a rule, I don't. Watch TV, that is. I have a few guilty pleasures that I watch each week, DVR'ing them for when I have the time. Castle, NCIS and Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. are the only ones I really watch, although Big Bang Theory has been a favorite for a while, even if I don't catch it every week.

But that's it. Three hours per week. The rest of my leisure time is spent writing, reading, daydreaming, scrapbooking, making a puzzle that I got for Christmas and yes, even doing some housekeeping (darn dust! Keeps coming back!).

No, the TV show that's caught my attention is one most of you have probably already seen in its entirety. It's no longer on the air but my son's been pestering my husband and I to watch it for a very long time. He bought all five seasons on DVD and they've been on the shelf for several months. At the beginning of this month we finally started binge-watching them and have been having a lot of fun. What series, you ask?


I love the campiness that's full of heart and earnestness. I love that the characters have all been allowed to grow, Morgan especially. I'm blown away by the guest stars...Richard Chamberlain? Be still my beating heart!!!!

Every night we watch two or three episodes; this past Sunday we stayed in, camped out in the living room and watched ten episodes in a row. We took breaks but we'd gone shopping and gotten snack foods and munchies and pretty much just grazed our way through the afternoon and into the evening. I haven't felt so relaxed in ages!

I am sorry I've neglected the blog and the writing workshops. Beside my computer are a bunch of notes for upcoming posts and I will get to them soon. For now....wait. General Beckman is calling.

Gotta go!

PS. Play safe!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A Happy New Year to A/all!

Last year I wrote about my writing resolutions for the year. Among them was to keep a word-count diary with the ultimate goal of hitting 250,000 words for the year across all platforms (short stories, long stories, the blog, novels...). How did I do?

Well, the diary lasted longer than most of my resolutions...right up through June. At that point my schedule changed and I never had the diary with me when I was writing. By the time I'd get to where the diary was, I'd forget to write down the number of words for the day and by September, I'd totally forgotten I was keeping track of my writing.

The total as of June? 85, 135 words.

Since then I've written 55 blog posts, some of them longer than others, a few only a sentence or two in length. Two hundred words is a good average, so 55 x 200 = 11,000 words we can add to that. I wrote a short story in August of approximately 20,000 words, so we can throw that in the pot (Diamond Submission. It will be out via EC before summer. I hope. More on that in a future post.)

In June, 12 Days of Christmas (Bondage) was only 1/4 written, so that means I wrote another 38,000 words for that. Give or take a word or two.

All together? 85, 135 + 11,000 + 20,000 + 38,000 = 165,135 words. Just a little short of my goal.

Okay, a lot short of my goal.

What does that mean? I'll just have to do better this year! And I think that'll be easier this time around. I lose the day job at the end of June (181 calendar days to go...but who's counting? ME!!!!). That means I'll be writing full-time after that. So I won't have any excuses this time next year.

So I'm keeping that as a goal for this year: write 250,000 new words in stories and blog posts. In addition, I will write a new Mystic Shade novel to be out before June. Diamond Submission will be published by EC (waiting on my edits). I will get back to the fantasy I've been trying to finish for years.

And, like last year, I'll learn something new (thinking of taking a course in small business administration), read a lot of books (maybe I'll keep track of them here again as I did one year. I liked doing that. Made me feel like I really read a lot!), and above all, I'll hug my family and tell them how much I love them over and over and over. This is a year of change for us and, while exciting, there's also some fear under the surface.

Here's to a great year for A/all!

Play safe,

PS. This post marks the first 475 words of the year!