Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Hardest Part of The Writing Process

Someone once asked me what the hardest part of the writing process is for me.  It took me awhile to figure this out.  I don't like revising as much as I like writing the first draft so my initial reaction was:  revisions, of course!  But no, sometimes revisions are fun and in the end, they are quite gratifying so I can't say that revisions are the hardest part of the writing process for me. 

It's the second draft.

The dreaded second draft.  Here's why.  I write my first draft like a maniac.  It gushes out like water from a leaky roof in a hurricane and I don't have enough buckets to catch it all.  It's all over the place. 

I have a rule when I write a first draft which is that no matter what happens, I just keep going.  Kind of like when I was studying martial arts and we would have a belt test coming up.  My instructor used to say that no matter what happens, you don't stop.  You just keep going.  Even if you screw up.  Even if you screw up BIG.  Keep.  Going.  Get to the end of the test and worry about the results later.  You know, because if you were in a fight and you threw a punch that wasn't perfect, you wouldn't stop and tell your assailant, "Hey dude, time out, I think I messed up that punch.  Can we try that again?"  In fighting, as in the first draft, it gets messy.  You just keep going.

It was great advice and I use it in my writing.  If I get to a place in my first draft where I don't know what happens next, I simply skip ahead to the next part that I know.  Or I go backward to a scene I couldn't quite iron out earlier and skipped over.  But I do not stop.

So when I get to the end, my novel looks like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz after the flying monkeys have torn out his stuffing and thrown it all over the damn place.

Which means that in the next draft I have to gather up all that stuffing and try to make some sense of it.  I have to put everything in order so that if a human being were to read it, it would make sense.  It's like a giant puzzle.  I have to fit all the pieces together to form something coherent.

For me that is the hardest part.  Once all the puzzle pieces are in place, I've got something to work with so revisions after that are not that big a deal.  I mean they're hard, don't get me wrong but they are not as challenging as fitting all those pieces together.  That's where I am right now in the WIP and it's giving me a headache.  I wouldn't have it any other way but still, it's slow-going.

What's the hardest part for you? 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Brick & Mortar

Not sure I'll ever get used to bookstores--real, physical bookstores--being referred to as "Brick & Mortar" stores.  I have been a voracious reader since the age of 4.  Growing up, every single week I'd take my allowance and go to our local bookstore, Encore Books (where I later worked in college) and buy as many books as my allowance could get me. 

I am a lifelong book hoarder.  Somewhere in storage in upstate Pennsylvania I still have roughly 3,000 books which I will probably have to sell because now I live in a rowhome with the Sergeant and he doesn't really like the idea of using books for furniture.  So I never thought I would be one of these people who worshipped their e-readers and in fact I was resistant to the very idea of e-readers when the first generation Kindle came out. 

But my husband, who likes things to look "streamlined" at home (Thanks, Marine Corp) bought me a second generation Kindle all the way back in 2009 and now I can't live without it.  I love it.  I love it more than most things that I own.  It is sleek and light, fits right in my purse and I have access to thousands upon thousands of books any time, any place with just one click!  And I have to admit, it completely relieves me of the burden of trying to find places in my tiny home for all my new books.  This past Christmas, my boss bought me a Nook tablet which is also fabulous.  All the advantages of a Kindle and you can surf the internet as well!  I have some books on my Nook and some on my Kindle and I use each device interchangeably.  Although I have a very difficult time prying the Nook out of my four year old's hands since she loves playing Angry Birds on it.

Anyway, I almost never buy an actual book anymore.  Even if I see one in the grocery store or pharmacy that I like, I will whip out my Kindle and order the ebook version.  It is usually much cheaper anyway.

But I still love the bookstore.  I love being surrounded by all the books.  I love picking them up and flipping through them, feeling their weight in my hands.  I love seeing all the covers.  I love the way bookstores smell and the quiet that can still be found within their walls.  Also, I love going with my daughter to the actual, brick and mortar bookstore because she has so much fun.  Kids are way more visual than adults and so for her to be interested in a book, she really needs to see it and hold it in her hands.  Going to the bookstore now and then is the one of the only ways to keep her interested in books.  We always have a blast.  She pulls books off the shelves excitedly and asks me to read them to her.  After we've read 7 or 8 books, she gets to choose one that she wants to take home, where we'll read it a good twenty or thirty times before she tires of it.

We bought this one in January and she loves it!

So for this past mother's day when the hubs asked me what I wanted to do, it was a no-brainer. Take a family trip to the bookstore!  The hubs, in his infinite wisdom got me some gift cards.  Normally, I would spend them online to download books to my nook but since we were going to spend the day in the bookstore, I figured I'd go all old school and buy some real books!  And yes, I break my new-book-ban of 2012 if I get gift cards!

That is actually the one I go to!

Since the hubs was along, I got to very briefly browse the adult sections of the store and here's what's new.  First of all, the center of the store where they used to have current affairs, religion, astrology and such has been replaced with shelves and shelves of toys.  Apparently Toys R Us threw up in Barnes & Noble.  (Yes, we shop at B&N.  Although I've long been a fan of independent bookstores and worked at Gene's in the late 90s, they are few and far between now so we are forced to shop at the chain store.)

Second, I hadn't realized just how much more expensive real books are compared to e-books.  I mean I knew they were but I haven't bought an actual book in so long that it was quite jarring.  I got the same amount of gift cards for my birthday a couple of months ago and I used them to buy books for my Kindle.  For the same amount of money, I was able to get 7 e-books but only 3 regular, physical books.  I mean I know that the cost of producing an actual book is way higher than the cost of "producing" an e-book and honestly I'm not sure how I feel.  I love real books and as an author, I want real books to survive but as a reader, getting 7 books for the price of 3?  You can't beat it.  I'm conflicted.

Prepare for rant:  The only thing I really want to say about that is shame on publishers for charging between $12.99 and $14.99 for a book that costs $15.95 in paperback.  It's really not necessary to jack up your e-book prices that much.  $9.99 is where I draw the line for an e-book and quite frankly, even that is a bit high.  If you expect me to pay $14.99 for an e-book, well screw that, I might as well just buy the real book.

Finally, there was a totally new section of books in the bookstore called Paranormal.  So hats off, Paranormal writers.  I've been going to that store for years, been going to lots of bookstores for years and I've worked in bookstores for years and paranormal has never had its own section!  At least not in these parts!  Perhaps New Adult will be next . . .

So do you still go to brick & mortar book stores or are you an ebook convert?  Or a little bit of both?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


A very long time ago (or so it seems now!) I did a post celebrating my 100 followers in which I asked for suggestions for future blog posts.  Sometime after that, I prepared this post and somehow never actually posted it.  So I am posting it now.  It is in answer to the very original J.C. Martin's suggestion for a blog topic:

I'd like you to talk more about your process when writing a crime novel: research, plot, the lot! Do you have the bad guy decided from the start, or do you decide as you write who it will be?

(Also please check out her book coming out this year with J. Taylor Publishing, titled Oracle.  It comes out July 30th!  I had the privilege of reading it and it is quite fabulous.  Also her novel, The Doll is available now on Amazon so check that out too.)

I definitely know who the bad guy is right from the start.  Or at least I know who I have in mind.  Sometimes midway through the book I'll wonder if I shouldn't change it but I have someone in mind from the outset and I work toward the reveal, as it were.

In terms of research I use the internet a great deal.  It always amazes me just how much I can find out from a bunch of obscure Google searches.  I also read memoirs, biographies and non-fiction accounts depending on what kind of characters I have.  That's where I start anyway.  When I was writing Aberration, as I said, I had just read legendary FBI profiler, John Douglas' books.  I read a few more books by FBI profilers or as they say, "behavioral analysts".  When I started writing the Starting With a Sample book which has a neurosurgeon in it, I read a bunch of books by actual neurosurgeons which were actually very fascinating.  For my WIP, I read a few memoirs by police officers and detectives, specifically female officers.  I also check out textbooks whenever I can.  For example, there is at least one interrogation scene in my WIP and when I was ready to write it, I didn't yet have access to a real, live police source so I found a cheap, older edition of a textbook on Interrogation--the kind used to train police officers--and I read it.  Took notes.  It was fascinating and I learned a great deal. 

Finally, whenever I can, I try to talk to or exchange emails with real, live people who are working in the same fields as my characters.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, as it were) I had met a handful of police officers and detectives here in Philadelphia several years ago and took that opportunity to interview them for tidbits I might use in my book(s).  I even got some tours of various facilities.  Recently, I happened to run into someone I had been friendly with in my twenties who I hadn't been in touch with in well over ten years.  He is now on the police force, working in my neighborhood.  He graciously agreed to answer any questions I have (and I have many) so I have interviewed him several times.

I also recently read an online article about a Philadelphia detective where the article mentioned his Twitter username.  So I went on over there and contacted him and he was very happy to answer all my questions by email.  He's been incredibly gracious, patient, thorough and just downright wonderful in answering all my questions.  I find it easier to communicate via email whenever possible because when I'm actually talking to someone, I'm scribbling notes so quickly that later I have a hard time discerning what I've written.  If I have an email from someone, it's all right there and I can reference it at any time.

So basically, if I want to talk to a real live person, I just look for someone who has information I need and I say, "I'm a fiction writer.  The book I'm working on is about [insert description here].  Would you be willing to answer some questions about your field and/or possible scenarios in your work?  I'd like my book to be as authentic as possible." 

I've found that people have one of two reactions to me when I ask for help with research for a book--either they look at me like I've just asked them to set themselves on fire or they are incredibly happy to help.  I immediately disregard the snooty balkers.  Most people are the opposite:  they are very pleasant and helpful.

How do you do your research?  Do you use the internet?  Do you interview people?  Have any wild and whacky research stories to share?

Monday, May 7, 2012

H is for Hoopla and Other Cool Stuff

Are you having A to Z Challenge Flashbacks? 

FYI:  I'm still catching up on other writers' blog posts so please bear with me, people!

First, you'll note the blog's new look.  I'm still playing around with the color scheme but I'd like to thank the lovely, talented and amazing Carrie Butler for my blog header!  Also check out my website to see the photo/slogan she did for my header over there.  As congratulations for signing with my new publisher, Carrie graciously volunteered these and I have been in love with them ever since!  (Also check out Nancy Thompson's blog cause she helped over there too and it looks incredible!)  Thanks, Carrie.  You are the best!

There are a few things I wanted to talk about in this post.  First of all, last month I read the Hunger Games Trilogy. 

Not because I had any interest in it but just because I couldn't stand not being in the loop one second longer.  I had to see what all the hoopla was about.  I never read the Harry Potter books and I never read the Twilight books.  I did read the first few chapters of Twilight but never got much further than that.  This time I vowed that I would know what the hell everyone--and I do mean just about every single person I know, even people who don't usually read--was going on and on about so I read the first book, not even intending to read the others.  Well, if you've read them then you know that Collins has made it impossible not to read the other two books. 

In my estimation, the hoopla was right on the money:  the books were entertaining and provoking.  The writing was clean and smooth.  The characters were amazing and I was pretty instanteously attached to them.  Probably more than anything else, I dug the strong female protagonist.

The only real problem I had with these books is that I'm not sure I would let my young adult read them!  Their very premise is extremely violent and disturbing but then I figured, hey, we teach our kids about the holocaust while they are still in grade school so this isn't that bad comparatively.  Plus, Collins does a great job in the first two books making the violence impactful but not overly gratuitous.  The third book . . . well, that's a different story.  But my point is not to get into a discussion about what our kids should and should not be reading.  (I was reading V.C. Andrews when I was 13 so who am I to talk?)

My point is that I actually know more adults than kids who loved these books.  Just like I knew more adults than kids who liked Harry Potter and Twilight.  For a long time this has bothered me.  I mean what does that say about people who actually write for adults?  Are we doing something wrong?  Are we not fulfilling our writerly duties that adults would rather read YA fiction than adult fiction?  Are we not compelling enough?  Are our stories flat and uninteresting?

What if Twilight had been pitched and marketed as an adult series?  (Yes, I know, I know, there were teenaged characters in it, as there were in the Hunger Games, just suspend your disbelief for five seconds).  Where would it have ended up?  In the paranormal romance genre?  What about Hunger Games?  Fantasy?  Would either one of these series have gained such a massive following?  I doubt it.

I really think there is a market out there that publishers are not targeting directly.  Adult readers of YA fiction with adult themes.  There are a group of writers, however, who have their fingers on the pulse of this market.  They're calling the genre New Adult fiction (so yeah, we're talking college age protags really, not necessarily teenagers but you know, some of the most interesting stuff in my life happened to me at college-age.  Don't know why no one wants to read about characters in this age group!) and their new website and blog is NA Alley.

Anyway, the wonderful Carrie Butler is a part of this group and I urge you to get over there and check it out and to support these writers.  I, for one, have had the privilege of critiquing for Carrie and I can tell you that I would definitely camp out overnight wearing a tee-shirt with her male lead's likeness on it just for a signed copy of her book.  And I'm not typically that kind of reader.  It would be a shame for all this crazy talent to go to waste just because publishers think adults don't want to read about people who aren't 30 yet.

Finally, two more things:  another brilliant writer/blogger, The Doubting Writer (Jeff O) has a short story called The Prophet posted here which blew my mind.  Get over there and read it now!  You will not be sorry!

Last:  my fellow Sapphire Star Publishing author, Mandy Baggot released her novel last week, Taking Charge.  It's a romance novel that sounds like a really fun read!  I can't wait to read it myself.  You can check that out here

Happy Monday all!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When Critiques Go Wrong: Are We Talking About The Same Book?

So last year I was critiquing for someone and I gave her my usual disclaimer which goes a little something like this:

Please keep in mind that my suggestions are just that, suggestions.  I am only one reader and also, you are the writer and ultimately you have to make choices that YOU are comfortable with.  Nothing I say is gospel, it is just one reader's opinion designed to get your creative juices flowing. 

She said you know you should take all the stuff you've told me and do a blog post about it.  Well I won't go into all the things I told her but I am going to address the subjectivity topic.  The main thing I want to talk about is when someone is critiquing your work and you get their critique back and the critique itself seems like one or all of the following:

1.  Mean
2.  Condescending
3.  Off-the-wall
4.  Not easily understood
5.  Not even close to your authorial vision for your work
6.  As if the person didn't actually read your book
7.  As if the person is not even from this planet

In a word, discouraging.

So there you are, scratching your head and seriously considering pulling your hair out because you're wondering if this person is really that much of a jerk/idiot or if you're the idiot for writing such a shitty book. 

Here's what I say to that:  If you've gotten multiple critiques and all of them are like this, then it's you.  But if you've gotten 4 or more critiques and this is the only one that is like that then you probably have nothing to worry about.  Here's why.

Not everyone gets it.

It's like peoples' sense of humor.  People have different senses of humor.  Like those shows where they show people riding bikes and skateboards and getting into horrible mishaps (usually involving their crotches).  Some people find those rip-roaringly funny.  Me?  I can't even watch.  It starts to make me physically ill after awhile.  I do not find those funny nor will I ever find them funny.

People are different.  They have different tastes and different ideas about the world.  Not everyone is going to get your book.

It's like Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects.  I loved it so much I couldn't stop gushing over it and then I saw crappy reviews on Amazon and gave it to my mom and she hated it. 

Take movies for example:  years ago there was this movie out called Dazed and Confused.  Everyone I knew loved that movie passionately.  Passionately, I say.  I did not get it at all.  What a snoozefest.  I said to one friend, maybe you have to have done drugs to get it and he said, "No, not at all!  It's a hilarious movie!"  Well I never got it.  I never will.

Then there is the movie Signs.  I freaking love that movie.  It's one of my all-time favorite movies.  Ever.  I'm not even the biggest Mel Gibson fan but I love that movie.  I know plenty of people who hate this movie, think it's completely stupid and makes no sense.  One friend told me it was one of the dumbest alien invasion movies she had ever seen.  These people don't get it.  See, for me the point of that movie is that in life, everything means something and nothing is wasted.  All the good, all the bad and all the in-between.  It all means something.  Every little thing.  That's what I get from that movie.  It's not about aliens at all but if I have to explain that to someone then it's just pointless.  They didn't get the movie and they're not going to.  I actually know very few people who love this movie as much as I do.  When I met my husband, I found out this is one of his favorite movies.  Because he "gets" it.  Just like me. 

What does this have to do with critique partners?  Well sometimes you come across a person who just doesn't get it.  Plain and simple.  They don't get your book and no amount of revisions is going to make them get it or make them happy. 

Those are the critiques you simply must disregard.  Because let's face it:  when you're book is published and available to readers there are going to be readers who love it and readers who just don't get it.  That's just the way it is.  Not everything is for everyone.  I can never say that enough.  And you know what?  That's OKAY!  It's perfectly fine.  You just want to find enough people who do get your book to make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

And that is why I advocate getting more than one critique.  I'm not sure what the magic number is--I think somewhere between 5 and 10 is probably a pretty good gauge of whether your book is working or not.

So tell me, have you had any experience with this phenomenon?  Ever critted a book that you didn't get?  What is your magic number in terms of CPs?