Friday, May 28, 2010

A Kill in Time -A Jack the Ripper tale with a time traveling twist - Part 15

Dear, patient readers,

At long, long, last, I bring you the fifteenth installment of A Kill in Time. May I say I have a new-found, deep admiration for all those nineteenth century writers who made a living out of writing serials? Amazing! Coincidentally, it's also our 200th post on All The World's Our Page - double the cause to break out the champagne! :-)

So read on; and be sure to cast your vote for what happens next, for this is the penultimate chapter of our little tale, and your last chance to play God with Sam, Manish, Nemo et al ...


Laughter rumbled deep in Manish’s chest.

The torches on the subterranean walls guttered with the sound; then flared back to life as Manish's mirth echoed and finally died in the dark heights of the vaulted cavern ceiling. A scene was playing out in the swirling fog that roiled between his fingertips, one that gave him inordinate pleasure:

Don’t you dare pull that Star Wars bullshit on me. You are not my father!

The girl in the fog was exquisitely beautiful in her anger. Manish bared his teeth, smiling. She was, in fact, furious. Which made his task so much easier.

With a snap of his fingers the image vanished and again the torches blazed high, lighting the cavern like giant cathedral candles. Hmm. Manish eyed the columns of flame with wry amusement. He was rusty. He’d have to be careful, or he’d ruin all his fun before it even started.

Dressed only in black, form-fitting combat pants, Manish stretched to his full height and arched his back. Every joint in his newly restored body cracked. He rolled his shoulders, flexed his biceps, then splayed his hands across his bare torso, relishing the ridges of hard abdominal muscles beneath his fingers. Gone were the cloak and the enfeebled husk of a body he’d been forced to inhabit. Manish was restored - physically and elementally. If possible, he was even stronger than before. He could feel the power within him building, rising, ready to burst the dam wall.

It was time.

He closed his eyes, pulsed out into the ether. The air about him throbbed and a deafening roar filled the cavern, as if a steam engine was rushing through the walls, louder, faster …

A woman screamed.

Manish opened his eyes. The girl from the fog sprawled at his feet, his red-headed nemesis beside her. The pair pushed up blindly from the dank floor, reaching for each other. Manish’s lips thinned. How touching. The girl, Sam, was pale as chalk, and she sagged heavily against Nemo, who looked little better himself. His chest heaved as he tried to catch his breath, dark smudges of exhaustion underscoring his eyes as he glared at Manish over Sam’s head.

“You … you …” Nemo wheezed.

Manish grinned. “Apologies for the bumpy ride, old man. It’s a long way from 1888 to 2010, isn’t it?” He cracked his knuckles. “And I am still adjusting to being all powerful again.”

The girl staggered free of Nemo’s arms, her fists balled tight. “You fucking bastard!”

“Hold your tongue, girl!”

Frowning, Manish turned. Lipsenard. The doctor had watched as Manish, strong with the essence of death and terror, had vanquished Peter and Simon; had watched Manish’s transformation begin with wide eyes … and then Manish had become immersed in his metamorphosis and had forgotten his servant. Now, Lipsenard strode towards Sam, eyes blazing with a zealot’s fire as he swung a cat-o-nine-tails whip high above his head.

“Beg the Master’s forgiveness! Now!” Lipsenard brought down the whip, just as Nemo threw himself in front of Sam. Vicious strips of leather slashed Nemo’s back, his shirt flayed to ribbons. He screamed, fell to his knees

Lipsenard drew back his arm.

The fool! White hot rage speared through Manish and he thrust out his hand. Lipsenard gasped. The whip fell to the floor.

“No! Make it stop, make it stop!” Lipsenard drove his palms into his temples. Lightning flashed, a roar filled the cave … and then Lipsenard was gone, a flurry of grey ash pin-wheeling in the air where he had stood.

Manish’s nostrils flared in disgust. “That should not have happened. The man demeans me, and my purpose.”

Sam dropped beside Nemo. The single crack of the whip had opened up his back, and nine strips of raw meat glistened in the torchlight. “What fucking purpose?” she cried, cradling Nemo’s head in her lap. “How can this insanity have any purpose?”

She was beginning to lose her grip. Manish smiled. “Oh, it’s very simple, Sammy girl. Very soon, I will have the whole world at my feet. Money, power, a life of luxury. Anything and everything I’ve ever wanted. Nothing denied me, ever again. All I have to do is show the world what I’m capable of.”

Manish padded towards Sam, silent on his bare feet as he spoke.

“I’ve made a start. You were there in 1888; you saw the citizens of London running mad on the streets. I can make men and women do whatever vile acts I suggest to them. They’re nothing but mindless automatons, this species that you and your Others seem to love so much.” He halted just short of the girl and shrugged. “I suppose it must be like keeping goldfish as pets.”

She glared up at him, holding tight to that old fool Nemo, who seemed on the verge of unconsciousness. Tiberius, Tiberius. You have underestimated me for the very last time.

“But here, in 2010 …” Manish continued. “This is where I’ll make my first mark. With satellite television, the internet, this thing they call Twitter, what I do in one city will be known to the rest of the world within minutes. Seconds! The planet will be in terror of me, and their leaders will crumble like dust to my demands.” He arched an eyebrow. “Remember the Twin Towers? That little experiment of mine was merely a prelude. But that’s not even the best bit! " He cocked his head to one side."I think you’ll appreciate this, Sammy, with your little job at Chronos Enterprises. Trying to work out the secrets of time travel, weren’t you? Well, I’ve done it.” He held up a protest-stifling hand. “Yes, yes; of course, the Others and the Fellowship have time-travelled before. But we’ve only ever been able to jump ahead – or back – in increments of two years. The furthest we’d ever leap-frogged was to your time, Sammy. But that limit doesn’t apply any more.” Manish’s eyes glittered. “I nearly died when Peter stole my soul. But it was here, in my exile, that I made my discovery; that the human emotions of terror and fear have an essence - an essence that can be harvested, ingested … so powerful, so intoxicating …” Manish swallowed down the thick sweetness that flooded his mouth and narrowed his eyes at the girl.

“When I was sick, my demons harvested this essence for me - in Whitechapel, in Seattle, from 1888 to 1968, wherever they could cause mayhem and terror. Now I am restored; and Sammy, can you guess what I’ve discovered?” The girl turned her sullen face from him and clamped her lips. He grinned at her pointless defiance.

“Sammy, this essence is so powerful it can propel me through time – wherever, whenever, I wish to go. Five hundred years, a thousand years, ten million years, into the future or back to the past … it’s limits are endless. I can cause chaos, war, rape, murder, from the dawn of mankind to its very end.” He barked a laugh. “I might just BE its end! Ah, think of it, Sammy – with this essence, with my soul restored, I’ll change the course of history. Everyone who has ever lived will know my name.”

“You sick bastard.” Fire flashed in Sam’s eyes as she turned to face him. “Something must’ve fucked you up real bad when you were a kid. None of the other kids wanted to play with the little freak suffering from delusions of granduer, is that it? Or maybe Mom didn’t love you, let her boyfriends stub out their cigarettes on your forehead.” Nemo stirred in her lap; she glanced down, brushed a lock of red hair back from his forehead and her voice caught, cracked. “Why?” The look she turned upon Manish was so lost, so confused … so ready. “Why, in the name of God, would you want to do this?”

Manish tilted his head. This girl had powers she hadn’t even begun to fathom, yet she was still so curiously, refreshingly, na├»ve. “It’s very simple, darling. I do what I do because it amuses me; but mostly, I do it because I can.” He clapped his hands and a globe of the world appeared in the air, slowly turning on an invisible axis. “The only question left, is where to start.” He touched a finger to the globe. A shower of orange sparks flew from his fingernail. “London? New York? Paris? Or maybe something a little exotic – I hear Bangkok is gorgeous this time of the year.” The sparks danced about his head, a flaming halo. “What’s your preference, Sammy girl?”

Her throat rippled as she swallowed. “Where are they?”

He lifted his finger and the globe vanished. “They?” he asked, feigning innocence.

“Simon and Peter, damn you!” Her shout roused Nemo; he pushed up on his hands, wincing, shook his head slowly.

Manish laughed. “You are quite beautiful when you’re angry, my dear. Your friends … well, they were no match for me in the end. They’re enjoying my dungeons as we speak. In fact, I suspect Lipsenard and his whip had just come from a little flogging practice.”

The girl froze, white to the lips. Then her expression grew hard and she jumped up, hauling Nemo with her. Nemo swayed against the girl; she pushed him off, but lunged to take hold of his hand.

“Nemo!” she cried, raising their clasped hands to the roof. “Now!”

The air began to crackle and Manish whipped up his hand, energy balling on his fingertips. “Uh-uh, Sammy. Let him go. I have other, much more special treats in store for Peter and Simon if you do not behave.” He cocked his head. “Your two lovers, tortured, maimed beyond recognition, their minds reduced to pulp … do you really wish to be responsible for that?”

Sam stared at him with naked hate, the hand that gripped Nemo’s white at the knuckles. Oh, she was a tough one. Manish pulsed again, and the balls of energy became rushing flames.

“Last chance.”

Sam dropped Nemo’s hand. A sob wrenched from her lips, and Manish watched in glee as fear and despair and rage rippled across her face.

Nemo drew a shaky breath. “Sam, don’t listen to him,” he rasped. “Peter, Simon … for all we know he’s lying. They could have escaped. And if they did not …” He swayed gently on weakened legs. “Either way, it is too late for them. They knew what they faced, Sam. They knew the risks. They would give their lives to stop him and we must respect that.” He reached for her hand. “We must do what we came to do.”

Sam stared at Nemo, horrified. “I can’t,” she whispered.

Manish extinguished the flames on his fingertips and crossed his arms. “How can you be so cruel to your daughter, Nemo?” he tutted. “Behind that righteous veneer you really area a callous bastard. At least with me, Sammy girl, what you see is what you get.” With a snap of his fingers the spinning globe appeared once more. “You could be a part of what I am about to do, Sam. Think about that. The whole world at your disposal. Your lovers with you. Safe. Unharmed.”

The girl moaned. She’s nearly there. Time to cut to the chase. “Sam. I know this is difficult. But I have someone here who will convince you that my way is best.”

A set of huge wooden doors at the end of the cavern swung open and a woman, draped in a diaphanous silver gown, glided into the room, swaying to a gentle halt when she reached Manish’s side.

The heartbeat of silence that followed was broken by Nemo’s disbelieving whisper.

“Arabella?”

Sam gaped. “MOM?”

The woman laughed, silvery and light, and snaked an arm about Manish’s waist.

Manish felt victory rushing through his veins. “You choose Sam. Stay with your father - the man who abandoned you and your mother like trash, the man who would kill the men you love without turning a hair - or join me, and your mother, the one who loved and cared for you, alone, for all those years.” Manish extended his hand.

“Samantha. The choice is yours.”



Thursday, May 27, 2010

Building conflict

I've been tootling away for the last couple of months, working on the opening scenes of my story, as I've talked about before. I was delighted to solve the mystery of where to start the bastard when I realised that throwing together my four major characters in one opening scene of everyday conflict would serve multiple purposes- introducing those characters and their relationships, and setting the reader on the path to the bigger conflicts of the book.

But something still hasn't been clicking, and I've been struggling to figure out what. I have my whole first chapter finished now, and my second one, and every time I read them they both fall very flat.

What have I been doing wrong, I wonder? Everything I planned happens in these scenes, everyone says what they're supposed to, but they just don't work.

I had a little epiphany this week about it, and this is the problem: my two main characters, Bill and Kit, in these opening scenes, suck.

Yep, that's about it. They're both 17/18 years old, they're both lovely people- kind, thoughtful, generous, loyal, brave- and they're madly in love with one another. They've had a delightful little romance since they met at the age of 12, and they're just made for each other. In the first scene, they shrug off a minor annoyance from Bill's nasty older brother Lionel, and they get engaged. Oh happy day! Then they go and tell Bill's dad their good news, and they all celebrate, except Lionel who's mad, just because he's that kind of asshole. He and Kit have a spirited argument about the war which has just broken out, and she kicks his butt, verbally speaking.

And later that night, after too much to drink, Lionel goes to Kit's room, and attacks her.

So, I have a situation where I've got two lovely perfect people whose lives are marvellous until nasty Lionel shows up and ruins it all.

Which is fine as far as story goes- but by the time the reader reaches the point where Lionel commits his shocking crime against poor innocent Kit, they'll probably have put the book down already and they'll be reading something else.

Why? Because there's no spark and no conflict in Bill and Kit's relationship at the beginning. They're too perfect. Those people in our lives who have absolutely everything, who never have to struggle or fight? We don't like them! We bitch about them behind their backs! And we have no reason to root for them, because they already have everything they want.

So, realising this, I know I need to add something to the story- something that is at the core of every single piece of fiction out there, and that's more conflict. Bill and Kit need to be fighting for their relationship before anything external happens to them, and that's going to make the reader want to fight for them, too.

I thought long and hard about this on Monday and Tuesday, the days I get a half hour commute home from work to think about writing and various other things. I considered a whole stack of ways I could up the conflict, from minor to extreme. What they all have in common is the following:

1. These characters need flaws. The flaws can't be too huge, or they're not going to be likeable people.

2. There needs to be some threat to them based on their relationship. That is, they need to be in this relationship, and they need to be in it in defiance of some kind of consequence. The consequence and the reason for it are the keys to the conflict.

These two factors alone are enough. We open the story in the exact same way, except it doesn't look like an Australian Sound of Music anymore, with happy little farmers skipping about, kissing their chaste and lovely girlfriends. Instead we bring in reasons why they're choosing each other, reasons that should tear them apart- reasons they're defying just by being together. Their love is so great they can overcome anything. They're plucky, they're spirited- and they're not always right. Their actions and their reasons are not necessarily perfect. But they have each other as an excuse for that.

Let me get off the obtuse and onto the specific- here's what I'm gonna do to up the conflict:

It's all about context.

This story is set in 1914, at the beginning of WWI, in country Western Australia- a time of strong morals, in which bright young things in love got married if they wanted to get in bed. And if they got in bed before they got married, then they were defying social convention in a majorly scandalous way, and they were liable to bring down all kinds of hell.

Especially, let's say, if the girl is the daughter of the local minister (Kit's dad Arthur is now dead before the story begins, but his influence is going to remain)- and her beloved brother (who's also the best friend of the male MC) is in training to become a priest himself. And let's say the girl is about to become the district schoolmistress- a job that was very much reliant on good character.

So, teenaged Bill and Kit have given in to their hormones, and they've started rolling in the hay together before they're old enough to get married. What's not to love about this? These guys are so in love, so attracted to each other, that they're willing to go against a very strong social convention to get it on. This, by the way, is all the flaw we need (for now) to make them real people- they're doing the wrong thing according to their society, but they're doing it for love.

Kit's position as schoolmistress and her brother Tom's future position as minister (not to mention his good opinion of her) are reliant on their little secret remaining just that.

And here's where the conflict comes in, and it sets everything else in the story up perfectly:

Bill's brother Lionel, who's already jealous of what they have, catches them at it.

Now he has ammunition to use against them. He threatens them with exposure- but it's no skin off their noses, because they're in love anyway. They get engaged, and that almost quashes the potential scandal. At that point, Lionel, relatively defeated and humiliated by Kit's ability to stamp all over him intellectually, gets drunk and decides to knock her down a peg or two- and takes it way too far.

Now we have realistic characters we can support, a conflict within a conflict (Len's attack on Kit sets up the major conflict of the story, but it's preceded by the mini-conflict of him threatening them), relationships and tensions that make perfect sense, and issues of major guilt and self-doubt that will contribute to the way things break down for Bill and Kit and all the others.

Happy sigh. *This* feels right to me. Just the right amount of conflict to pull the reader in from the very first paragraph, and to keep them reading until the big shocks start coming, one after the other...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This road I'm travelling ...


I glanced at the calendar this morning and was more than a little shocked to see it’s nearly June. Where on earth does the time go??

Anyway, with the year nearly half done I decided to take stock of where I’m at with my revisions, and how I’m traveling on my writing journey.

Here’s a little of what I learned:

That I can kill my darlings. At the last count I’ve rubbed out five characters (well, one I’ve kept, but only for one scene), and many scenes have either been excised altogether or cut down in length, some down from pages and pages to just a few paragraphs. Who’d have thought I was such a cold-blooded killer? :-)

That there are several scenes I was sure I’d written, and it turns out I didn’t. They exist only in my mind and in a few, short, scrappy notes. Damn.

That I should listen to my gut. The niggling feeling that something is wrong usually means something is, even when I can’t pinpoint it.

That next book, I will PLOT like a madwoman before I write, to avoid the extensive, time-consuming rewrites of the first half of my story that I’m doing now, because I didn’t do exactly that in the first place … then write in the knowledge I’ll still end up deviating from my nicely sorted plot. But at least my first draft may stand a chance of looking like a book from the start, instead of the bunch of loosely connected scenes I’m working on now. Grumble.

That most days I still feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants. But slowly, surely, and to my great relief, the abovementioned bunch of loosely connected scenes are solidifying into something that resembles a proper book. Phew!

That I really do need to print out my manuscript once I’m done with this first go-over. I need to see - and feel - the beast in its entirety to get a good handle on the work that is still to be done.

That I still have days when writing is like trying to cut bread with a marble. And I always will.

That despite all its flaws - and even after four years of writing it - I still love my story.

That I need to flesh out my MC’s love interest. “Cardboard cut out man”, is how I refer to him, in the early scenes of my book at least. He gets better as the book goes on, though, so that’s something.

That I will always, always, adore Paris. I will get there some day, even if it’s only to have my ashes scattered on the Seine!

That not writing on the weekends is a good thing. I haven’t done so for a few months now, mainly due to not having the time, what with all the kids’ sporting commitments and general busyness, and because weekends are about the only time my husband and I get to see each other in daylight hours. And I’ve found that having a life means I fill my creative well, and I then have something to bring to my writing. Pretty cool deal, and a routine I aim to stick to (unless I’m on a deadline and my editor is emailing me every day begging me to finish the last chapters of my book so it can be sent off for its 50,000 copy print run … hey, a girl can dream!)

That making this book as shiny and bright as it can possibly be will take as long as it takes. Heck, it took six years of full time study for me to finish my law and arts degrees; I expect my writing apprenticeship will take just as long, if not longer …

So - what are the most important things you’ve learned on your own writing journey?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jen’s Seven Tips

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how I was taking up running. Well, that plan got a bit derailed as I became extremely sick after my birthday party. Some might say I imbibed a bit too much, but whatever. J It was me birthday and I was determined to have a good time. I did.

That said, I did have to postpone the start of my "run two miles in eight weeks" program that I handily picked up on the internet. I'm all about programs and this one seems fairly easy to follow. If anyone is interested, here's the link.

So, though I am a bit late, I did get started this week. The first couple of days should be fairly easy – walking. Who can't walk for thirty minutes? Granted, I decided to take my dogs on this first go round, which probably wasn't the wisest decision. Two terriers in search of various scents that jerk their owner this way and that isn't exactly the best way to raise the heart rate. Not when you're stopping every other minute so one can lift a leg to a tree or a particularly good patch of grass. But I digress.

On this runner's site, they had a link to a handy dandy list of "seven steps to successful weight loss." I've got a bit of insomnia this morning, so I was clicking around, reading this and that. This list really struck me for some reason. Oh, I've heard all these things before… but for some reason, it brought on a bit of inspiration for today's post. I've decided to do a writing version.

Therefore, may I present Jen's Seven Steps to A Successful Writing Career.

Ahem, I say this like I've reached some level of success. But notwithstanding my amateur ranking in this particular field, I do think these steps are great things to keep in mind.

  1. Be Accountable. Oh how this one hurts. It hurts because it hits right to the core of things. The truth is, if you haven't finished that book you've been meaning to write for the past 5 years… if you've been stuck at the same road block for however long… IT IS YOUR FAULT. Oh ouch. Yeah. Not pleasant, eh? But unfortunately, it's true. We can go on making excuses, but in the end, WE are the ones in control of our own lives. If we really want to write, by God we'll find a way to do it. Making excuses, blaming our busy lives for getting in the way… well, in the end, that's never going to get you to where you want to go. Stop making excuses and get the job done.
  2. Take Control. Be proactive rather than reactive. I think it's very easy to let a bad day convince us that we don't need to write. Heck, isn't it so much easier to go read a book written by someone else than it is to slave over our own writing? Especially when you're tired…you've had a bad day…you're maybe not feeling particularly enthusiastic over your chances of ever finishing…becoming published…getting that stellar agent you want. I mean, I know the last thing I want to do after receiving a particularly harsh rejection from someone I REALLY wanted, is to write. In fact, I usually feel like complete poo when that happens. But the reality is that we're all going to run up against stumbling blocks that life throws in our way. We can choose to wallow in self-doubt and inactivity…or we can get our butts in chair and make things happen.
  3. Be Flexible. Sometimes I think we get really caught up in the whole idea that we must write this many words/pages…whatever.. each day and that if we come up short, WE HAVE FAILED. Well, poo. I've been caught up in this cycle many a time…and I have to say that although I can stick to a strict regimen for a while, I usually burn out after a short period of time. In a way, writing starts to become more of a chore when I know I MUST sit down and produce X amount of words. Sometimes, it just ain't gonna happen, no matter what I do to coax myself. That's okay. Perhaps I would be better off spending time away from my writing…doing research…reading a good book that might light the creative fire again… Just because I take a day off, doesn't mean I can't work towards my goal in another way.
  4. Be Consistent. This follows straight from number three. While sometimes we must be flexible in our writing schedules, we must also TRY to be consistent in our work habits. Writing is like any other muscle. If we lay off exercise for a day or two, we're likely going to be able to get right back into our routine with relatively little trouble. Take a couple of weeks off, though, and I'm betting it's going to hurt a lot when you try to get back in the groove. You may not even be able to do it right off. Therefore, it's more important that you try to come to work every day…even if only for a short period of time. It keeps your writing muscles well maintained and ready for the long haul.
  5. Do It Now. Oh how this rule hits home with me. How many times have you told yourself: This week isn't really a good week to get back to my wip. I have so much going on… I won't be able to REALLY devote myself to it the way I want. Perhaps it would be better to start next week instead. *rolls eyes* I can't tell you the number of times I've been through this song and dance with myself. Well, folks. It's CRAP. All of it. There will never be a "good" time to squeeze in your writing – especially with the busy lives we all lead. Stop making excuses and realize that even small, baby steps are better than no steps at all. Stop putting things off. Get off your keister (or in this case…get your keister into a chair) and start writing now.
  6. Think Long Term. A book is not going to write itself overnight. There is the first draft…there is the second draft… there are numerous rounds of revisions. Then there's finding an agent and which means the whole process begins all over again. And then there's finding an editor which brings on another round of massive changes. Writing a book is not an overnight thing. Get out of that mind frame of "I have to get this done within the next year" and all that other BS we tell ourselves. Publishing is a SLOW industry… enjoy the ride. It's going to be a long one.
  7. Set Reasonable Goals. This again, follows from the above rule. Be honest with yourself about how much you can get done in any period of time. Perhaps you can spew out 5K of pure awesomeness every day. YAY for you. Most of us, however, can't do that. And pushing ourselves to match that kind of productivity just might burn us out or get us shipped off to the loony bin. Be reasonable when you set your goals. Maybe you can only manage a page or two a day. But if you're consistent with that page or two a day, just think how quickly you'll get to the end. It's okay to go at a slow and steady pace. Remember the turtle and the rabbit. J

Okay…that's what I've got for today. These running analogies just never get old with me. What other tips do you have?


 


 


 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cleanliness is Next to...

Before I begin anything, today I found a four leaf clover. The odds of finding a four leaf clover are 10,000 to 1. I looked it up. Pretty cool. The thing is, I’ve found eight four leaf clovers this year. And one five leaf. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a five leaf clover. What does it all mean? I don’t know. I just thought I’d share.


Anyway...

What is the deal with showering? Why is it that almost every contemporary book I’ve read has a shower scene in it? No, not A shower scene, but mention of multiple showers. The character showers here, he showers there…

I’m all for cleanliness. Heck, I this rant popping to mind while I was in the shower. But honestly, how much showering can one person do? I’ve read books where the heroine is hosing down morning and night. Does she not get dry skin with all that scrubbing?

This seems particularly common in romances. Perhaps it is to imply that when the couple gets down and dirty, they aren’t –you know- actually dirty. And please, let us not forget the good old, rinsing out of the bra and undies in the sink during those road stories. Yes, clean underwear is essential. But why do I have to read about it? And really? You need to clean your bra after one wear? But why? I mean if you’re showering twice daily, I’m going to assume you’re a pretty clean person. I think you’re safe wearing that bra a second day.

So can we please stop the insanity? Leave off with the non-randy thus boring shower scenes, grooming scenes, scenes were we are assured that the heroine eats right and saves fuzzy bunnies while feeding the homeless!

The endless shower scenes are the ultimate in Mary Sue behavior. They don’t forward the plot, they don’t tell me anything about the character. And I for one am all washed out by them.

End Rant.

So what about you? What drives you batty in stories?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Imagination by Osmosis

So Carrie made a comment on Jen’s post Fan This about how she “borrowed” from Lost by using a similar flashback set up in her story. Which got me thinking about the whole borrowing ideas thing.

I think it’s impossible for us not to borrow all the time. What we write, the stories that pop up in our heads are based on our life experiences. These experiences OF COURSE include the shows we’ve watched, and the books we’ve read. How can we not be influenced by what has come before us? Heck, even Diana readily admits getting the idea for her Jamie by watching an old episode of Dr. Who featuring a gallant young highlander named Jamie.

Experience sows the seeds of imagination. Stories influence other stories. Would there be a Harry Potter without drawing on other myths and legends?

As for myself, here is a snip from my WIP, Snow. After finishing this little snip, I realized that two movies had forged an image in my mind. Ones that I obviously borrowed from readily. :)

The Snip:

The best thing to be said about the Golden Triangle Tavern was that provided protection from the rain. Gwyn held tight to her thick cloak, now nearly damp through and through from the great sheets of rain that fell from the sky. The insidious scent male musk, fermenting grain, and unwashed bodies assaulted in a palpable wave of dank air.

I cannot, I cannot, I cannot. She took a slow breath. Pretend that you can. Perhaps a good bluster was all that was required. She would pretend. Like in a play. She thought of the times she put on one-girl theatricals for the staff on Boxing Day. She must have been awful but the staff would always clap and praise the abandoned little girl-child they thought of as their own, before taking her down to the local inn for a treat of warm cider and pudding. Buoyed by happier times, she moved forward. Her booted feet crunched over an uneven floor strewn with straw, discarded food, and God knew what. The room was so dark that the bodies within seemed shadow creatures laying in wait to swoop forth and carry a soul away.

At her side, Iona grumbled something that sounded vaguely prayerful before clamping her meaty hand down hard on Gwyn’s elbow. It did not matter that she was covered from nose to toes in a drab woolen cloak; the men in the room seemed to know that the cloak hid a prize –female, and undefended. Coarse faces peered at her, viewed from the fan of her lowered lashes. From the wavering blue light eking through the thick bottle glass windows, their eyes appeared no more than chips of glass. With her free hand, Gwyn touched the necklace hidden beneath her cloak. Nothing to see here. Nothing of interest. A pulse of warmth flowed through her and outward. It hit the men with visible force. They knew not what it was, but the attention on her suddenly ebbed as though she had become nothing more than a passing vision, a miscalculated thought. No, they’d been wrong. There was no maid within this room.

Iona leaned close. “I see a good candidate. Far corner, near the empty hearth, where the Mirror said he’d be.” Her warm breath puffed across the tip of Gwyn’s exposed nose. “Empty hearth. Cold as a witch’s teat in here. Think that they could spare a log for the fire.”

“I do not think it is fire that warms these men,” Gwyn murmured back. The sharp, almost flowery smell of gin, picked up by the open and closing of the tavern door, stirred across the damp wood bar and her eyes watered. She blinked rapidly and risked a look toward the back of the tavern. There, in a dark corner, sat a man, no more than large mass of black, another shadow, one that did not move. Every hair stood up on Gwyn’s body. She was being watched. By him. The one man in the room who will not look away. Aye, he was the one. The nameless man.

Her icy fingers clenched. Bluster. With a deep breath, and an unfortunate fill of foul air, she went to him. Her knees ached in protest, her limbs wanting to turn and run the other way. No longer of interest to the men, she cut through the crowded room like a sharp knife through suet. The shapeless shadow before her began to take form. Broad shoulders, long legs. He wore a long, thick cloak of some dark color, and not the typical tricorn of fashion but a high-crowned hat with a wide brim that shaded his face from view. A hunter’s hat; the thought leapt strangely into Gwyn’s mind as she stopped before him. The man in question took a moment to acknowledge the presence of two lone females before him, and when he did, it was with a slight lift of head.

An awkward silence descended. Awkward perhaps for Gwyn; she rather thought the man sitting in unmoving silence could not care less if she stood there for the rest of the day. Iona shifted, irritation mounting within her like a steaming kettle. Gwyn put a silencing hand on her when explosion appeared eminent then addressed the man.

“Are you…”Gwyn hesitated. “Ah, the man without a name?”

Silence.

“That is to say…I’ve heard you, that is, I understand that the man without a name could perhaps be of some service. That is, if you are in fact, he…” Gwyn’s cheeks flared hot. Never had she sounded more a babbling brook of nonsense.

Her words settled like dust in a tomb.

Iona huffed when the man did not speak. “Perhaps he is deaf. Or deaf and dumb, de ye think?”

“Iona,” Gwyn hissed in mortification.

She might have said more, but the sudden screech of the heavy chair being kicked out from the table made her jump within her skin. The two women stared in shock at the offered chair as though it had moved on it’s own, which it had not. The nameless man’s long leg curled back into place, the only indication that he had kicked the chair.

“Flapping tongues can be cut out,” came a soft rasp. “Sit.”

Gwyn found herself obeying the command with shocking swiftness. Iona followed, though inelegantly so. She muttered about coarse men and dark holes in walls as she folded her stout frame into the un-proffered chair. Gwyn gave her a speaking look, an action she rarely employed, yet the strong-boned woman immediately quelled. She’d speak no more unless asked.

The man before Gwyn sat forward, coming out of the shadows. He rested one large fist upon the table and the crisp scent of wood smoke and pine forests came from him. He cannot be so horrible if he smells thusly. It was weak reasoning to be sure, but her heart needed something to believe in just now.

They studied one another, the man and she. He was surprisingly attractive, she thought with a start. Fine bones, a strong sweeping jaw, hard chin, long, straight nose that fit the frame of his face nicely. There was an unfortunate abundance of scruffy dark facial hair as though he hadn’t seen the sharp end of a razor in days. The brim of the hat hid his eyes, which prickled her, for she’d like to see them. A person’s eyes told their own story. False natures could not be hidden there, as they could by autumnal scents or beautiful lips. She experienced another sharp start of her heart. Beautiful lips? Aye, the thought had popped into her mind without warning. Yet the man’s lips… she peered at them then quickly away. Wide, and firm and well-shaped, were his lips. Made pale by the dark smudge of stubble around them, those lips curled up very slightly as though smiling, which he was not. If anything, he was frowning in irritation. She wondered if it vexed him to have lips that defied his ornery nature.

“Will you help me?” she said into the silent void. Her heart thudded against her breast but she could not turn back now.

“What do want?”

He hadn’t moved.

“I need to get to Erwin, the lands of the Duke of White. Time is of the essence.”

He made a noise as though time being of the essence was always so for chits like her and did not concern him. Gwyn fancied she had never seen a man so eloquent in silence.

“I am…” Her fingers dug into the damp wool at her lap. “Please. It means my life.”

“I don’t save people.” The soft rasping voice came out as though the act of speaking were foreign to him.

Desperation corseted Gwyn’s throat. “What do you do?” Why has Lucien sent me to you?

“I hunt them.”

She tried not to flinch, but there was really no hope for it. And he noticed. His chin lifted a fraction and the light hit his eyes, setting them to flash like black fire. Gwyn started at those eyes as though the action might hold him still for inspection. Oddly, it did. A strange fluttering took hold of her insides as she gazed into them, not entirely a safe feeling, but one of being stalked. Hunted.

His nostrils flared as though taking in her scent, solidifying the image of a creature poised to attack and she swallowed, her mouth dry. But his beautiful eyes stayed on her. Deep and piercing eyes of some unknown dark color. Dark brows were positioned at a pleasing distance above them, slashes that curved only at the outermost corners and looked to have that unique ability to from a menacing straight line if angered. She was waxing poetic again. Woolgathering, as Iona would say. She took a deep breath, thus assaulted by the fresh scent of him once more, and spoke.

“I’ll pay you. Gold.”

His eyes stayed on hers. “I don’t want gold.”

Her lips parted and those eyes followed. “I…” What could tempt him?

Her hand strayed to her neck, her cold fingers tangling with the chain at her throat. Her heart squeezed in pain at the thought that occurred to her. But, really, what good were objects when one was dead? Her hands went to the clasp at her nape, fumbling a bit before she got the necklace free.

“My lady, no!”

She cut a warning glance to Iona as the woman gasped. Iona bit her dry lip hard, but her grey eyes pleaded just the same. Do not do this! Gwyn shook her head a fraction. We always knew there would be a time when I’d part with it.

With a trembling hand, she set the blood heart upon the table. Even in the dank blue light, the stone glittered with crimson fire. It was the only thing she had of her mother’s, the stone necklace placed around her neck the moment after birth. And the one thing even Morana dared not take from her.

“You may have this as payment.” She tried to connect with his eyes again, but he’d retreated beneath his brim again. “That stone...” Her voice quavered and she leaned in. “It is more than it seems, good sir. It will protect you when nothing else will.”

“Then you should be the one wearing it.”

“It is all that I have.” Her voice broke over the din of the tavern for one clear moment, before falling back to softness. “And it’s magic cannot protect me from what hunts me.”

It was a gamble, telling him that much. But Gwyn found herself at the edge of her tether. Even more than her life, she did not want Morana to win. If she could only get to Erwin, enlist her people to stand tall for once in their lives…

A voice like tree bark cut into her desperate musings. “I’ve no need for a ruby.”

“It is not a ruby, but a diamond. The only one of it’s kind.”

More silence. Gwyn’s eyes prickled. She would not cry. She refused. “Please, there must be something.”

“Come away, Mistress,” said Iona gruffly when he simply stared. “This man won’t be helping you. I doubt if he could anyway.”

The nameless man tilted his head, considering Gwyn as though she were a mouse in the field, and he the lion. “Put down your hood.”

Gwyn balked.

“Are you mad,” hissed Iona, mirroring Gwyn’s thoughts. “And have her become target to this foul rabble?”

He kept his eyes on Gwyn. “She is with me for the moment. No on will come near.”

Gwyn’s pulse thudded at her throat but she found her hands moving upward. The air kissed cold against her cheeks as the deep-set hood lowered. Would he do it for her body? For the use of it? She quailed with a shake. Would she agree to such a thing?

Slowly, his large be-gloved hand moved over the rough-hewed table to swallow up the Blood Heart, and Gwyn’s heart leapt. Her joy turned to horror when he shoved the necklace toward Iona, who snatched it up readily.

“But…”

“A lock of your hair,” he said softly. “Woven into the chain.”

When Gwyn gaped, he spoke again. “Your servant can do it.”

Her hair? Inky locks of it, undone by the rough journey, spilled over her shoulders. One curling strand trembled at her breast. A hazy feeling of dread pulled at her loins.

“Dark magic, that is,” said Iona. Her meaty fist struck the table. “A body can be enslaved that way, and he well knows it, I say.”

The man’s eyes glittered in the light as they held Gwyn’s.

She swallowed. “I’ve not a way to cut a lock.”

“Yes or no.”

Cold seeped into her bones and she shivered, might never stop. She’d been cold for a lifetime. Twenty years of imprisonment. Twenty years of cowering in fear. It ate at a person’s soul, chipped away pride and dreams. She slept in darkness, dreamt of nothing. Until threat of death gave her hope. There, in the picture of her own demise, was the seed of her salvation.

“All right.” She wished her voice were stronger. “But we must leave today and I cannot be seen on the main roads. Hiding is imparati—”

He moved like lightening, reaching out for her with such speed that she could not form the scream of horror that rose within. A knife flashed like a silver arch in the air, hurtling toward her. She could not even recoil. He was upon her. Her face tingled, her throat burning. A sharp pull at her head made her flinch. And then he was back in his seat, and her panting unsteadily. Iona ranted about, drawing curious looks, but Gwyn simply stared at the man now holding a long lock of raven-black hair. He smoothed it through his fingers, the blue light glinting over the length of it, before tossing the hair to Iona.

“Weave it in. We are going.” END

And, the influences… Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, was the fact that I didn’t realize I’d done it until it was done.

A. Strider lurking in the corner of the tavern in LOTR -This is the closest clip I could find. And, hey, it includes the infamous wearing o' the RING. Du, du, duahhh.. ahem. Anyway, embedding is disabled so here is a link.



B. The luscious Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing. Le rowl. No clip, just a nice picture. Van-Helsing-Hat.jpg

So how about the rest of you? Any influences lurking about in your work? Feel free to share a snip, pics or links.


Happy Friday!

French Taunter

Soooo ..... it's Friday, and as I feared, no AKIT installment from me. Time was not on my side this week. But! I've roughed out a bit of a plot, so I'm confident that next Friday I'll have something for you. Watch this space ...

In the meantime, I have some more Monty Python for you. During all the endless driving and errand running I did today, my mind was on a scene I'm revising for my WIP. It involves a heated, verbal stoush between my English heroine and my French hero, where the insults get pretty personal.... which put me in mind of the French taunter from The Holy Grail. It's one of my favourite scenes; so silly, you just have to laugh!

Have a great weekend! :-)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It takes a village

Oh hey, it's Thursday! The day I blog! Which... I kind of forgot about last week. You'll have to forgive me that; I was making this:


Phew! Let me tell you, it took some effort, and it used up so much of my creative energy (in a good way) that I'm now smack in the middle of a CompuServe writers' house party which I'm supposed to be hosting, and I can't come up with a single word to write. Brain= not cooperating. If I feed my neurons enough chocolate over the coming week, though, I feel sure of a quick recovery.

Anyway. Like Jen, I've still been thinking about Diana Gabaldon's fan-fiction controversy this week. The discussion is still carrying on in a number of places, though the original blog posts have now been removed from Diana's blog.

Leading on from the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to give my take on what makes the kind of story that people *want* to write fan-fiction about. Pay attention here, because I'm not telling you how to go about attracting fan-fic writers- I'm telling you how to pull in any and all readers, and to do it in such a way that your story will not let them go for a long time.

Here's my theory: I think the key to grabbing your reader and changing their lives with your words is all about the sense of community that you build in your story.

This applies to any kind of story, from crime fiction to literary saga. When I say "community" I don't necessarily mean that you have to introduce all the neighbours of your character, and their parents and their best friends. Not every story needs that. But it's that sense of connection, place, realism, that enables the reader to do the most important thing they can while reading: to feel as if they themselves were in the story. Not just reading about the events, but experiencing them.

I think that Diana's work is a particularly obvious example of successfully pulling the reader into a whole and complete world. But it's not just about the scenery being described in a realistic way- it's about feeling like you're part of the family. In the Outlander series, we see the main character Claire adopted into the clan and family of Jamie. Together, over more than thirty years, they build an even bigger family- not just their daughter and grandchildren, but through adopted family, lifelong friends and associates, and through their neighbours and allies. Even their enemies form a part of the community- and if you don't believe me when I say that, just take a look at the amazing number of discussions that have been had in the past about the redeeming features of rapists and murderers Black Jack Randall and Stephen Bonnet.

When readers enter Diana's world, they're not just processing words on the page. They're living along with Claire and Jamie and their family. The characters, major and minor and everything in between, are so real that they jump off the page. You read about characters like those, and you think, "Man, Dougal MacKenzie is just like that guy from ____". Or "Ned Gowan- ha! Typical lawyer." You identify with them. You get them. You root for them. And you become a part of the story by reading it.

It's not a long jump to feeling so involved that you want to write about it. You absorb that world by osmosis; no surprise that people feel they can sit down and write it. After all, you're part of the story, aren't you?

You are, but as we've seen, there are many arguments to say that it doesn't mean you'll write great fiction as a result. Regardless, that's not the point of this post.

The point is about developing that sense of community in your story to the point where your reader feels completely absorbed by your world. If you can do that, not only will people finish your book with a regretful sigh and recommend it to all their family and friends, but they'll be first in line to buy your next.

A couple more examples of authors who I feel have built community amazingly well (and I can bet for each example I give, there'll be other readers out there who disagree- but them's the breaks).

First up, the lovely Deanna Raybourn, who we interviewed a couple of months ago on this blog. I picked up her first novel, Silent in the Grave, around the time of our interview- and I couldn't put it down. Thank goodness for the Kindle, because I was able to nab the next two books immediately. I read all three in three days. They were so, so good.

A major reason, in my opinion, is that the sense of community in Deanna's books is brilliantly strong. Lady Julia Grey, the central character, has nine siblings, numerous servants to whom she's very close, her part-nemesis, part-love interest Nicholas Brisbane, and a whole host of other vivid characters. When I started reading and discovered that she had nine siblings, I thought there was NO WAY the author would be able to individualise them all enough that I would even know which was which. But I was absolutely wrong- all of Lady Julia's siblings are individuals, and all are fascinating. Her interactions with her big family are unique and amusing, and I tell you what- I'd defy anyone who has a sibling of their own to read the book without finding something they recognise of their own interactions.

With all those siblings, plus wonderful backstory for all the characters (I'm thinking especially of Brisbane's background), the reader is pulled immediately into a living, vibrant world, one that generates real feeling, too.

Another author who creates fantastic community is Janet Evanovich. Stephanie Plum's family mayhem is a huge part of the appeal of those books- but they're not about a New Jersey family. They're about a bounty hunter. It just happens that the character's life is so vivid that it's an integral part of the story, and one that draws you in. Whenever I read a Janet Evanovich book, I feel like I'm round at the Plum's house for dinner. I feel like Grandma Mazur is *my* grandma. Even Stephanie's interactions with the hard-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside employees of Rangeman Security have the ring of family to them- they all love her like she's a sister.

Stephanie's low-rent, often-blown-up apartment, her routinely self-destructing cars, her boyfriend Joe Morelli and his Aunt Rose's house, Bob the dog, Rex the Hamster, her high school arch-nemesis Joyce Barnhardt- all these characters and settings are so familiar that the reader becomes part of Stephanie's madcap life.

You can bet there's Evanovich fan fiction out there, too.

So, my thesis- if you want people to love your writing and your characters, build that sense of community. Make your characters realistic, vulnerable, interesting and individual. Make your settings sparkle with detail. Make your interactions recognisably real. And people will love you for it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Book me, Danno!

I’m feeling a little battered and scattered.

Battered, because I’ve been wide awake at 5am EVERY morning this week, and I’m crazy-ass tired. The husband has had to catch a few insanely early flights to Melbourne, and it is very apparent that the down side of sharing a connubial bed is that when one of us is up early, we’re *both* up early.

Scattered, because my eldest son - known here as our eleven year old guest blogger, Cheese Monkey - is on school camp, away from home for three nights for the first time ever.

I bet he’s having a ball – well, he should be, with canoeing and night-hikes and archery and abseiling on the schedule – and he’ll be learning a whole lot about being independent and looking after himself. All good.

But. I only have two lunches to pack, only two uniforms to wash, the house is quieter, his room is empty, and … well, I can’t wait for him to get back.

So, given my weakened state, today’s post is short and sweet – and a confession …

I just cannot, cannot, walk out of a book shop empty handed. It is flat out IMPOSSIBLE. And I also seem to have developed a nasty old Amazon habit, too. Here’s the evidence - these are the books I’ve added to my TBR mountain in the last four weeks alone:




Gulp. I really hope the husband isn’t reading this. But if he is (hello darling, please remember to put the bins out when you come home tomorrow night), I’m ready to justify my addiction.

See, I don’t spend money on fancy haircuts or colours; I don’t get my nails done or have massages or pedicures; most of my wardrobe is purchased from the “Red Spot Boutique”, as we Aussies have nicknamed Target; my cosmetics are few and mostly supermarket bought; I have three kids so I rarely go to the movies or eat out at restaurants … basically, I’m a pretty low maintenance girl. Books are my one indulgence (OK, OK, they’re my OXYGEN!) and I refuse to be rehabilitated.

So, here’s what I want to know … can YOU walk out of a bookstore without making a purchase? And what, if anything, do you give up in order to fund your book buying habit?

P.S. While Kristen deals with her re-writes, I’ve put up my hand to write the penultimate chapter of our serial, A Kill in Time. I’m re-reading the story right now, in the hope of posting on Friday. But that may be a stretch because man, have we written one helluva twisty, turny tale! It may take longer than usual to wrap my brain around what needs to be done … but stay tuned. The end is (almost) nigh!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fan THIS.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about Claire's post from last week – the one where she discussed writing X-Files fan fiction. As I said in the comments section, I never wrote any kind of fan fiction… but I did do my fair share of reading it. (Claire and Diana are both right, btw. Most of it is pretty bad.) I'll say it point blank – I don't think there's anything wrong with people who write it. Heck, I think it's a great way to share your love of certain characters and/or worlds. I say go for it if you have an inclination to do so. Just my humble opinion. I'm certainly not in Diana's position, so to say I would feel that way if I were is making a huge leap. She's certainly entitled to take the stand she has….not going to get an argument from me on that point. J

My topic today is sort of an off shoot of that discussion. This week I started thinking back to my first work in progress. I'll be frank about the whole thing. I read and loved Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series… I think at the time, five of the seven current books were out. I DEVOURED them, back to back…in a very short period of time. When I finished, I was sort of… well, ruined for all other books for a while. (I think a lot of you know exactly what I mean when I say this.) I can't recall what books I tried at the time, but nothing matched Diana's level of writing, storytelling, world-building… character development. Gah, I wanted MORE. MORE.. If I could've shot it straight into my veins, I would have.

Left with no other option…and with the knowledge that I had always wanted to write a book (the ups and downs of my forays into the writing world is something for another post)…I threw all caution, sanity, reason…heck you name it, I threw it…to the wind and decided I would write my own Gabaldon-esque story. I could do whatever the heck I wanted with it. It was MY story…MY characters…and I could stay in their world for as long as I wanted. If I grew bored, I could quit. No big deal. In the meantime, perhaps I could capture a little of Diana's lightning in a bottle and create something wonderful.

So, I began… and let me tell you, it was CRAP.

But by God, I loved that crap! And good or bad, I trudged along, churning out page after page. And you want to know something really crazy? Not only did I discover how much I truly loved to write, but it turned out that some of that crap wasn't half bad. Oh, it's obviously a first novel…there's no doubt about that…but there are some real gems in there that I'm still very proud of.

After about a year of keeping my book on the complete down low, I joined Compuserve's Books and Writers Forum. Yes, I discovered it through Diana's website – I went to see when her next book was coming out – and YES, I sometimes fantasized that I would post my writing and Diana would swoop in and say YOU'RE A GENIUS and I'd be "discovered." As you can probably guess, that didn't happen. J I did get noticed, however, but mostly because I was another "Diana wannabe."

Needless to say, I found a home at the forum. While I may have strayed in there as a bit of a fan, I stayed because more than anything else, I wanted to write and I had found a place that was chock full of people who could teach me. I posted like a mad woman. I spent so much time there that senior members started to worry. I soaked it All in. I eventually joined the crit section and started posting large chunks of my story. That's when we come full circle… someone up and told me that I was riding on Diana's coattails. In essence, I was writing barely disguised Fan Fiction.

*Very Loud Record Scratch!*

OH HELL'S NO.

This, folks, this is when Jen lost her lil' mind. I went BALLISTIC.

Okay, not really. I was extremely upset by the comments this person made. I felt insulted on just about every level. Not only because she had hurt my feelings and completely disregarded everything I had personally brought to the table – i.e. original characters, my writing style, voice – that certain unique spark that I have as a storyteller – but because, in a way, I saw her comments for what they were on a grander scale. I put myself back in the early days, when I had first read Diana's books and wanted nothing more than to write a story that would allow me to stay in a world I'd completely fallen in love with. What if someone had told me NOT to do it… that it would be lazy…that it would be "peering over the shoulder" of another writer and that it was just…well, wrong? Would I have taken that leap into writing?

I honestly don't know. All I know is that even though I recognized her words for what they were – i.e. total bullshit – I seriously felt about THIS small. Like the world would forever view me as a second rate copycat. In truth, I cried… a lot. I went into a final and flunked it. I was a mess.

But you know what I discovered through it all? By God, I had become a fucking writer. You can't get that upset over something you only have a passing fancy for. Writing was in my blood by that point – in the air I breathed. I woke up thinking about my story and went to bed dreaming of my characters. Whether or not I started with the most original idea, my story was real…it was good. And dammit, I deserved a little more respect for all of the hard work and passion I had put into it.

In a way, I guess that's why I don't have a problem with fan fiction writers. Even though they're piggy-backing on the work of another, they still have a passion for what they're writing. They have their own original voices and stories to tell. So what if they're told in someone else's world? Something really great might come out of it. Someone might discover that he/she is a writer. It shouldn't matter that she chose to cut her teeth on a story that wasn't 100% original. The important thing is that she DID IT.

I have to admit I never did finish that novel. And yes, this woman's comments had everything to do with it. I lost my confidence in the story and felt a very strong need to prove I could write something else. Anything else. Eventually I began FAKING IT…and have since moved on to other books…and then back to FI again. (heh) But yeah, I still have a soft spot in my heart for CHILD OF THE MIST. Oh yeah… Aidan…Morgan…anyone remember them? I certainly do.

My point in relating this all is that it Doesn't Matter what you write. Just write. The rest will work itself out. Perhaps you'll discover that writing is not your thing…perhaps you'll move on to other projects that are wholly unique to you. The important thing to remember is that each of has to plod along our own writing path. WE are the ones in charge of how fast we'll go, which forks in the path we'll take… and from my lips to your ears… NO ONE has the right to tell you how to get there. Capiche?

*Jen steps off her soapbox*

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rejection and Julia Child

So I watched Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep staring as Julia Child.

Okay, first off, can Meryl BE any better of an actress?? I swear that woman became Julia Child, and somehow managed to do it without being hella annoying. Quite the talent.

Anyway, Julie & Julia tells the tale of Julie, a writer who isn’t writing and finds herself drifting away from her dreams, and of Julia Child’s discovery of French cooking and how she came to publish her revolutionary cook book, Mastering The Art of French Cooking.

Julie’s story revolves around her quest to cook her way through Julia’s book and blog about the experience. Oddly, though she was my age and her situation in life closely resembled my own, I didn’t really connect with her story.

Julia’s, however… No, I’m not a chef, but the way she fell in utter love with her craft, and the struggles she went through to get published really hit me. At one point, Julia meets with publishers. This is after taking ten years to put her cookbook together, agonizing over ever page of it, and knowing that it was her best effort. Only to face a group of grim-faced editors who tell her that her book is “too long”, “seven hundred pages…” cough I FEEL YOUR PAIN, JULIA!!! And there is crushed but resilient Julia retorting, “well, divide it into seven volumes!” Erm…no. Damn.

But what really got me was the scene where after giving up, thinking that her baby would never come to print, she gets a letter. From a publisher. Ah, to see her run out to the porch so she can have a bit of privacy, her hands shaking as she opens the letter, and then that little breathless sob of joy as she reads that yes, she will be published… gave me the chills, it did. What writer doesn’t dream of that?

The thing is, we’ll all face rejection at some point. To make you all feel better about it, here is a list of 30 famous writers and the cruel rejections they weathered before they hit that one “yes”.

Some of my favorites include the one to Steven King who was told Carrie wouldn’t sell. Cough. Okay. Sadly, you know that the publisher was looking at numbers in this instant. Not the book. Which really burns.

Then there is the matter of taste, such as the publisher who thought Lolita should be “buried under a stone for a thousand years.” Ouch.

Reading through these rejections, it is easy to say that these publishers were fools. But is it really so simple? Hindsight is twenty-twenty. And while we can all feel justified in scoffing at their egregious errors in not published these famous books because we now KNOW that said books are successful, what about the 1001 books they rightfully threw out the door?

To the point, some books DON’T merit publication. Yet how do we know which is the poor misunderstood masterpiece, and which is not ready for prime time? And can we as writers be honest with ourselves when we’ve sweated and cried over our work only to produce something that isn’t very good? Will we know?

There are countless examples of writers behaving badly, in that they rage at agents or editors for rejecting them. But is a rejection ever justified?

I’m not saying there is one answer to this. I’m just putting it out there. Do you know when to say when, and when it is a matter of digging your heels in and gutting it out because you know you have a gem –despite what the critics say?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Life and Other Catastrophes

It's been a bit quiet round here the last few days ... with good reason.

Claire is recovering from a midnight birthday cake-making disaster (from which, I am glad to report, she eventually recovered with style and aplomb) and a child who thinks her poor mum doesn't need to sleep. Meanwhile, Kristen is wrestling like a champ with stomach flu and killer revisions.

So, to give the girls some support, I thought a little bit of Monty Python wouldn't go astray.

Hope next week is a better one, ladies!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to Write a Bestseller: Tips from the Professionals


I don’t watch a real lot of TV, but one show I always tune in to on Australian television is The First Tuesday Book Club, a monthly round-table discussion of selected books. The show is hosted by Jennifer Byrne, an Australian journalist, along with two regular panelists and two guests (usually authors). This week was a special edition of the show, billed as follows:

Jennifer Byrne is joined by the heavy artillery of the publishing world to discuss what it takes to be a bestselling author. Jennifer is joined by the man behind the enigmatic Jack Reacher Lee Child, author of Ice Station and The Five Greatest Warriors Matthew Reilly, author of 17 bestselling novels including The Silent Country Di Morrissey, as well as Australia's biggest selling author, Bryce Courtenay.

It was a very interesting discussion, to say the least. If you’re in Australia you can catch the repeat on Sunday 16th May at 6.30pm on ABC2; but for everyone else, I thought I’d report on a few of the main topics discussed by these bestselling authors when they considered the question of what it takes to write that elusive beast - the block-busting, bestseller.

What magic ingredient or formula will thrust a book into the bestselling stratosphere?

Of course, you need to write a damn good story and write it well. But Child, Courtenay, Reilly and Morrisey all agreed an extra ingredient is required - the “X-factor”, as Lee Child called it (for those of you who have heard Diana Gabaldon talk about this mystery ingredient, I think she calls it the “struck by lightning” phenomenon).

Child gave as an example, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Even Larsson’s publisher didn’t pick this book as a potential runaway success; according to Child, the publisher begged him to blurb it, hoping his name and quote on the cover would pump up sales. But as we know, it sold very well all on its own. Why?

In Child’s opinion, this book had that extra dimension, that X-factor, that made it stand out from other, equally well-written, Scandanavian crime novels, of which he is a fan. And what, in Child's view, was the X-factor that led to sales of over 27 million books?

The fact that by the time Larsson's books were published, he was dead.

Okaaaaay. Kinda creepy. But I think he’s right.

The tragic tale of the author dying before seeing his trilogy in print gave the books a human interest factor. The tale piqued people’s interest, their curiosity, and led to loads of talk and buzz about the books, which eventually translated into mega sales.

Though most authors wouldn’t want to go to the extreme of dying in order to see their works sell through the roof, many successful books have this human interest element that exists beyond the book itself. Stephanie Meyers comes to mind – the Mormon mother of three, first time author, writes her book in just three months after being inspired by a dream. What a story! JK Rowling’s tale of rags-to-riches is just as fascinating. And backstory like this leads to interest, which leads to sales.

Now, of course, the back stories to best-selling books would be useless if the books weren’t good to begin with … but Child, Courtenay, Morrisey and Reilly all agreed this extra element, this X-factor, gives the marketing boffins something interesting to use to differentiate books from all the others on the shelf, which heightens the general public’s awareness of them ... and makes those cash registers ring.

Publicity - or, market your butt off.

If, like me, your life is beyond ordinary and you have no hope of pulling off that X-factor, should you give up on writing a bestseller? Not necessarily. Because as Matthew Reilly pointed out (and the other panelists agreed), what will really make your book rocket up the lists is if you, the author, are highly visible to your reading public; and this means saying “yes” to every opportunity to flog your book.

How much you push yourself and your work is definitely something within your control, unlike that elusive X-factor. Bryce Courtenay is often stopped in the street and asked for his autograph, which he gives willingly … but he takes it one step further, asking these autograph hunters for their addresses so he can later send them signed copies of his books. He reckons he gives away 2500 books a year by doing this (!) and it means the story of his generosity, and therefore, his name, is on people’s lips, pumping up interest in his books.

Lee Child said writers have to be aware that everything they do can have an effect on whether or not people buy your books. At signings, he asks people how they came to buy his books, and is often told that something as simple as him being noticed opening a door for someone - and being assumed to be a "nice guy" - was enough to influence a purchase of one of his books.

I’d also say that running a good website, a regular blog, and involvement in discussion forums a la Diana Gabaldon is becoming necessary if a writer wants to move a significant number of books. As Matthew Reilly said, if you don’t jump on the publicity bandwagon, your book and your sales will simply be at the mercy of bookstore browsers.

Is this approach to selling books all too clinical, too cynical? Maybe … but whatever it is, it’s honest. People are nosy; people love finding out about the author behind the book. These bestselling authors have simply realised this, and are using it to maximum effect.


The Literary Fiction v Popular Fiction Debate

Discussion of this topic brought up some very interesting points.

All four authors agreed that if you write literary fiction you’re highly unlikely to have a bestseller on your hands, because literary novels just don’t sell like popular fiction does.

Ouch.

Lee Child and Bryce Courtenay were both quite firm on this point; I think, in part, due to the critical flak and turned-up noses they’ve endured over their ability to “churn out” (a phrase all these prolific authors hated, btw) bestsellers, the implication being that such books are inferior to literary fiction.

But setting aside their personal wounds, I do think they have a point.

Child pointed to the fact that apart from a handful of writers who can write bestselling literary fiction (he cited Ian McEwan as an example), it is a cold hard fact that literary novels rarely appear on bestseller lists. They just don’t sell in great enough numbers, and Child believes the reason for this lies in what it is that motivates the many people to buy books. He said – and I tend to agree – that the majority of readers buy books for relaxation and escapism - to sit back and enjoy the ride – and not for the beauty or complexity of the language, or to be dazzled by new literary heights. He believes that popular fiction demands much less work from its readers than literary fiction, which is exactly what readers are after. Interesting, indeed.

But I think a point made by Matthew Reilly is the most important – that no matter whether you aim to be number one on the New York Times list, or to carve a niche in the midlists, or write a soaring literary tome, you will never succeed unless you write what you are passionate about; unless you write the type of book you love to read.

So, lots of food for thought. What do you all think?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If You Wanna Run...

...first you have to learn to walk.

I'm running (pun totally intended) a bit behind today. Sorry for the late post! I'm still sick, which means I have about zero energy for much of anything. Of course, this doesn't explain why I felt the need to clean my bathroom at 11PM last night. Let me tell you, when you find yourself scrubbing your bathtub at midnight, it's time for a vacation.

Anyway, I wanted to talk a bit about where my writing is today. To be blunt, it's NOWHERE. I've been off track for so long, I'm not even sure I know how to find the track anymore, let alone run the dang thing. The very idea of sitting down and even reading through my manuscript is very scary at this point. I'm afraid of what I'll find. I'm afraid it will be utter and total crap. That it's completely unsalvagable.

Even worse, maybe it won't be that bad...but I won't know how to write anymore. Perhaps I'm too out of touch with Madison... perhaps I'll never be able to get into Gabe's or Drew's head again... perhaps It's just been TOO long.

Well, all this could be true. Or it could all be in my head. Only time will tell.

So, where does the running/walking analogy come in? Well, I have to tell ya...I'm a quandry to myself sometimes. I've decided to take up running. It's weird how your body works. Get diagnosed and treated for diabetes and WHAM you have all kinds o' energy to burn. Funny how that works, eh?

I love walking--I walk 2-3 miles a day, minimum, but I find it's never really enough anymore. My body wants speed...it wants to burn up the pavement. So yeah, I'm starting a running program that's meant to get you running at least 2 miles in 8 weeks. Slow and steady...and hopefully nowhere near the point I'll want to cough up a lung or keel over from lack of oxygen.

It's funny, though... I've never been a runner. In fact, I hated it back in junior high, when I was actually required to do exercise. And yes, it's been THAT long since I've done any distance kind of running. And even then, it was only about a mile. So, why in the world would I want to do it now? Why in the world would I think I could start this many years later...at my age (cough, 28)...when I've never really DONE it before?

That's one for the stars...but the thing is, it's not impossible. And with this slow and steady program, I'll build some endurance...ease into the whole distance thing at a reasonable pace. And heck, the program isn't set in stone. If I need to slow it down a bit, I can...if I find I'm way ahead of the running game, I can speed it up.

So, why, I'm asking myself...can't I look at writing like this? Why do I have to run a marathon my first week back on the track? Maybe instead, I can start with some warm-ups. Maybe a test lap to see how I do. If that's too much, I can drop down to a walk... Or maybe call it a day early and come back tomorrow.

The most important thing is that I show up and try each day.

It's always easy to say, isn't it? But yeah, I have to get back on the track. To be frank, I'm pretty tired of sitting on the sidelines.

Happy writing, everyone. I think I'll start off with a half hour tonight. See how it goes.