I wrote a little guest post for our own frequent visitor, Rabia Gale. This post is on writing novella-length stories.
It even has a pie chart! Do visit, please!
I wrote a little guest post for our own frequent visitor, Rabia Gale. This post is on writing novella-length stories.
It even has a pie chart! Do visit, please!
Check out my post on writer geekiness over at Anna the Piper’s blog!
Kimber An is an old blog buddy of mine–you’ve seen her here before! She writes YA fantasy and science fiction. Her Ophelia Dawson novels are a blend of both, like many urban fantasies. Except, since these take place in the wilds of Alaska, they are decidedly not urban. The first book is Sugar Rush, the second (a novella) is Crushed Sugar, and the third, newly released, is Sweet Bytes. Here, she writes about the symbols in cover art.
Cover Art & Symbols
By Kimber An
Good morning! My new book, Sweet Bytes, was released by Noble YA last week and I’ve been seeking out cover contests. C.H. Scarlett did it and I was just stunned. I’m still rather stunned! Isn’t it gorgeous? So, I thought I’d post about the cover symbols.
I was a blogging book reviewer before publication, like Tia, and I’ve seen, I don’t know, thousands of book covers maybe. And I’ve read the woeful tales of authors who got stuck with cover art they hate. It seems like every author gets at least one book cover they can’t stand. A few get more than their fair share. Only rarely does an author score great cover art every single release, it seems. Lisa Shearin is one whom I think has been blessed by the cover art angels. I’ve loved all of hers.
I’ve loved all of mine too!
My latest completely stunned me. I think maybe it’s the bear and the ice coupled with the young woman obviously longing for her mate. I think in pictures. My stories create themselves in full color images like a movie on Blu-Ray. But, they’re all jumbled together. I have to work very hard to sort them out in a story.
Sorting out the images for a book cover is beyond me. I’m baffled how an artist can take all these images and come up with such beauty.
Okay, so here’s the symbols on the Sweet Bytes cover.
First, you have the heroine, Ophelia Dawson, long red hair and in a gorgeous formal dress. It’s her prom dress, in fact. The skirt was long, but it ripped half way off while fleeing and fighting the baddies.
Second, you see her spotting a young man in the distance. That’s Adrian, her soul-mate. She believed he was dead. Now, there he is, alive. How will she react?
Third, you see the ice and snow glistening under an enormous full moon. That symbolizes Alaska, my home state and where most of the series takes place.
Fourth, the bear is Shesh and she represents Alaska Native culture, which I’ve intertwined with the Scandinavian roots of Ophelia’s family. Shesh also represents the strong maternal instinct to protect, wisdom, and the wildness of Alaska.
Finally, you see the ravens flying. In Europe, the raven represents death, but in Alaska the raven is revered for its intelligence and ability to endure. In the Ophelia Dawson stories, the raven represents the Benevolent Oldbloods, the good vampires.
I love symbols. I guess because I’m such a visual thinker. You can convey so much meaning in one image. It’s powerful.
Thank you, Tia, for having me here today!
by Kimber An
Ophelia’s escape from Martin, an Addicted Newblood, came at a terrible sacrifice. Adrian, the boy she loves, is now infected and hunted like vermin.
As her new Protector, Tristan Li represents the Oldblood determination to destroy Adrian, along with all the Newbloods, addicted or not.
In her grief, Ophelia hates everything about Tristan, until his subtle strength empowers her to resist being turned into a vampire by the High Prefect.
As Tristan helps Ophelia harness her empathic ability, his need for redemption rings in her heart. Her own strength grows, along with her passion for freedom.
The veil of mourning lifts.
The evil of Martin returns.
Ophelia seizes ownership of her destiny.
It seems like so many people are taking unusual paths to publication these days. When I heard about Shawn Kupfer, I knew I had to have him as a guest, because I think you’ll get a kick out of his story. Shawn’s novel, 47 Echo, goes on sale at Carina Press next week.
There’s that old saying “Writers write.” And it’s true, for the most part — but it doesn’t say that they necessarily finish anything. Sure, we might sit there, scratching away into our Moleskines or pounding away at our keyboards, but there are times when you just can’t finish a story to save your life, try as you might.
That was the case with me almost two years ago. I’d started several projects — a follow-up to a novel I wrote in 2000, teleplays for a season of a sitcom, a feature film script, a couple of novels — but I just couldn’t manage to finish anything. I’d sit down at night with the full intention of writing the next great story, but. . . nothing.
I was way into Twitter at the time, as I recall. And I saw people using it for a variety of purposes that weren’t expressly instructed on the packaging, so I figured: why not a novel? I could sit down every night and put down another part, and maybe someone would read it, though probably not. And that, in February 2009, is how I started The Twitter Novel Project.
My first book was a crime thriller called White Male, 34, and something strange happened while I was writing it. I kept working on it every night. I’d set the goal of putting down at least 500 words a night, and I was sticking to it. Part of it was because people were watching, as I gained a handful of followers early on. Part of it was the challenge, as I’d told myself there was no way I’d be able to keep up that level of output.
I would have been happy just to finish that first novel, to get it to 50,000 words. It ended up at around 64,000, and I immediately began to think about the second one. It would have to be something completely different, something I’d never seen anyone do before.
That second novel was 47 Echo, which Carina Press will release in just a few days on January 17. I finished the first draft of the book, out in public with about 2,000 people watching, in October of 2009, and Carina acquired it about six months later. It’s a strange way to get a publishing deal, I suppose. . . but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I’d love for you to come by and visit me on any of the 47 Echo sites: the Web site, the blog, or the Facebook page. Oh, and in case you’re wondering: Yes, I’m still tweeting novels 140 characters at a time over at the @Tweet_Book Twitter page, and backing the story up nightly at the Twitter Novel Project blog.
Thanks so much to Tia Nevitt for asking me to come by and tell the story on her blog. Make sure to read Tia’s own fabulous work The Sevenfold Spell from Carina Press!
Keven Breaux is a short fiction author and an artist who recently released his first novel, Soul Born, through a small press called Dark Quest Books. Now you guys know I’m picky about small presses, but these guys have published novels by Andy Remic, Jack McDevitt and David B. Coe. Kevin has a site for his book at www.soulborn.net and his twitter account is @kevinbreaux. Here are links for Soul Born through the publisher, and through Amazon.
Kevin Breaux’s Long and Squirrelly Road
High School, a time of your life when people ask you the same set of questions over and over and over… “How do you like your classes?” “How are your grades?” “What do you want to do with your life?”
When I went to high school the most appropriate answer to all three of those questions was a grumpy monosyllabic grunt, “Ehh.” (this was before “meh”, was invented) I hated most of my classes, got poor grades and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
If future Kevin traveled back in time and told past Kevin he was going to write a book some day, and it would be published. Past Kevin would have reacted something like this.
“Really? Who will do the cover art? Wait… do I have to spell all the words correctly and get all my grammar right?”
When I was in high school some of the worst grades on my report card came from English classes. I know you’re all shocked, right? Well my bad grades were not in the ones that studied literature, I kinda liked those. My C’s D’s and F’s appeared in the English classes that did book reports and speeches. Grammar was not a friend of mine, and mandatory summer reading assignments totally took the FUN out of reading being fundamental.
What did I want to do with my life? I wanted to be a comic book artist, yeah me, Kevin Breaux the next Jim Lee! The good old days, 1991-1993, and comics were at an all time high. Remember DEATHMATE, when Image and Valiant comics crossed over? I do, and looking back now I should have seen it as one of the seventh signs of the pen and ink apocalypse. I should have taken my comic art dream and headed for ze hills! (note to future Kevin, when you travel back in time warn me on this one okay? Thanks!)
I started off my college career in a community college and majored in graphic art. It was not long before I switched to fine art, so I could focus more on drawing and less on typography. By the time I got my associates degree the comic book industry was amidst a major decline and so was my desire to be a comic artist.
When I transferred to a full college I had to start back at the beginning, sadly I was misled that the community college and the four year college were connected, and as a result most of my classes did not transfer. This time around I studied photography and graphic design. When I graduated I took a job as a graphic artist and guess what? Within months of starting that job I began taking web design classes at night, at my former community college and slowly became more focused on web design and internet operations.
One dot com bubble burst later and I was back out of work. I supported myself as an artist for about a year doing comic book art commissions on eBay. While painting and drawing I decided to start studying IT and over the course of another year I got my A+ and MCSE certifications.
I took a job doing IT work and kept my shoulder to the wheel for over seven years. (Ok, start swirling the camera until the viewer gets dizzy and play the echoing sound effect now… seven years….seven…seven…seven….)
Huh? Where am I? What happened?
The economy shifted and I decided to move out west, so I could grow up with the country. To my surprise all the gold was mined already and I was stuck being an unemployed comic book artist wannabe, graphic designer, web designer and IT professional rolled up in one. After a bunch of interviews, where I always seemed to come in second place, I did what came naturally and grew a beard. No really, I finally focused on my true love, something I had discovered a long long time ago, but could never quite give the effort needed to, ice fishing! No, I’m kidding, I focused my energy on writing!
And yes, I did grow a beard.
From early childhood I always seemed to suffer with my art, never totally happy with it. Throughout art school I never could get what I saw in my head down on paper properly. I tried drawing, painting, sculpting and even photography. I was so frustrated, and often felt like a failure. I just wanted to be able to express the beauty I was seeing, and it was during all that artistic angst that I discovered writing. I had liked to write from time to time when I was in middle school and high school. Normally I just penned short stories about my friends, putting them in tales of space travel and epic games of billiards. Nothing serious, but I clearly remembered writing being fun.
When I was in my final years of college I started writing again. Maybe ten to fifteen pages a weekend, maybe less. Over the span of a few years I realized, I had a book. Fast forward to 2007 and a few dozen drafts later and I did it; I finally fully expressed myself as an artist. What I saw in the cinema of my mind was down on paper, Soul Born was… well… born. I quickly started the sequel and a year later I had two books completed. After that I challenged myself to a new genre and a new writing pace. How fast could I write a new book? Less than nine months later I was on the third or fourth draft of an Urban Fantasy novel and could state, with a strong sense of accomplishment, that I had written three books.
By 2009 I was feeling pretty good about myself as a creative being. I had sold some short stories and was about to ink a deal with my first publisher. This was it, I finally found my calling.
So what have I learned after this very long and squirrelly road? A bunch of things! After all those changes in my life, I can now look back and see that my constant was creating. Like most people I have heard my share of the lines, “you are not good enough” and “what makes you think you can do that?” But I did never gave up, I kept pushing forward and now I am finally seeing the realization of a dream.
Most importantly I learned that you may need to travel down many side streets in order to get yourself back on the highway.
Maria Zannini is a science fiction romance author, published by Sanhaim and Carina Press. Touch of Fire is available in print and as ebook, and True Believers just came available at Carina Press last week. Maria has also been following my blog since way back in my Fantasy Debut days, and we both got our Calls from Carina Press during the same week! Here is an unlikely story of how Maria’s early days with computers inspired her AI characters.
These are the infamous words stamped into the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, set, as Douglas Adams told us, in large, friendly letters on the cover.
I found out the hard way that geeks and computer designers take these things way too seriously.
The year was 1987 and after much soul-searching decided that graphic design would one day be done entirely on computer. Was I prophetic or what?
I dug deep into my nearly empty pockets and paid a hefty amount for what was then a state of the art computer, considered best suited for artists and designers.
The Mac SE.
I’ll wait while you take a collective gasp.
For three days, I didn’t leave my chair except to sleep and go to the bathroom. I ate at my desk, my nose buried in the computer manual as I memorized every key stroke and tool on that keyboard. This was my first computer—my first REAL computer.
Along with my computer, I also bought a printer that printed in COLOR. This was cutting edge, people!
And yet the computer itself couldn’t display color. I had to hope each gray area on the monitor would come out with the selected color on paper.
Those early days were rough. There was no doubt I was in way over my head. I am the most non-techy person you’ll ever meet. Want proof?
The first day I opened a document on that computer, I kept trying to change the font on a word I had typed. Nothing happened.
What was I doing wrong? I followed the directions exactly, my cursor on the word, while I went up to the menu and selected Times Roman.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch. The stupid machine was worthless!
Exasperated, I called the salesperson who sold me the computer. “It doesn’t work!” My voice sizzled with accusation. I was ready to roast her on the coals.
She went through all the steps with me—yes, all two of them, and finally said, “Did you select the word?”
Of course I selected it. My cursor is right on top of it.
“No,” she said gently. “Did you select the entire word?”
I cringed silently. I had to be the DUMBEST person in the world. Sufficiently mortified, I selected the entire word and voila, changed the font.
Okay, so I’m a slow learner. Did I mention it was my very first computer?
Over the next few months I vindicated myself, my fingers blurring across that keyboard like a machine. I got so fast, sometimes the computer struggled to keep up and there would be a delay before it could process my instructions.
One day, I went too far. After burning up the keyboard with finger taps, my monitor burst into an explosion of white dots, a digital fireworks display dancing across my screen.
In big, bold (yet friendly) letters it displayed, DON’T PANIC, before flashing into a million starry dots then snapping to black.
I had killed it! I had killed my very expensive, still-not-paid-for computer. How was I ever going to explain this to my husband?
I stared at the monitor, disbelieving what I had just seen. I shut it off and waited.
DON’T PANIC it said. Were they kidding me? Of course I panicked! I waited for slow, agonizing minutes and let the hard drive cool off.
With trembling fingers, I turned the computer on again. Now I know there is a God in heaven because the darn thing came back to life.
Huzzah! My husband would not have to execute me after all.
Steve Jobs scared the hell out of me in 1987, but I have to thank him for giving me my jumping off point for two computers that grew into real characters.
Bubba and FAIA are AIs (artificial intelligence) and they just gave the world a whole new reason to worry.
DON’T PANIC. It’s too late for that anyway.
Maria Zannini’s latest release is a science fiction romance called TRUE BELIEVERS.
Mix one cynical immortal and one true believer and throw them into the biggest alien-hunt the world has never known. Rachel Cruz is a Nephilim masquerading as an archeologist and she’s stuck with an alien who believes she can lead him to his ancestral gods. Black Ops wants to find these gods too. They want them dead.
Follow Maria here:
Contest time! Every time you leave a comment, tweet or mention “Maria Zannini” anywhere with a link to my blog, your name goes in the hat for a chance to win a Texas sized prize. Go here for more information.
I’m taking a break from my hiatus (does that make any sense at all?) to assemble this guest post. Meet Marcelle Dubé, a debut author who writes from a truly exotic place–the Yukon. Here in the Southern United States, we like to compare the Yukon to impossibly faraway places, like Siberia or Timbuktu. But Marcelle actually lives there! We wonder if we seem so far away to her. Here she is, writing about how important setting is to in the fiction she reads–and writes.
A rose is still a rose, but there’s only one Yukon
by Marcelle Dubé
Hi everyone and thanks, Tia, for inviting me to your blog!
For those of you who don’t know me – which would be most of you, I suspect – my name is Marcelle Dubé and I write mystery/suspense and fantasy. Carina Press just published my first novella, On Her Trail, a romantic suspense with ghosts.
I set On Her Trail in the Yukon, where I live. I wonder if that’s the norm, if most writers, especially at the beginning of their careers, choose to write about where they live. After all, it’s the place they know and love best. And, let’s face it, there’s a certain comfort level in knowing the place you’re writing about!
I always notice setting in stories. Or rather, I notice its absence. I like to feel grounded in the story, to be able to “see” where all the action takes place. That doesn’t mean I need gobs of description – a few well-chosen words will bring me right into the room, the city, or the country. And setting, when done well, becomes an integral part of the story – “place” becomes “character.”
Take Dave Robicheaux, James Lee Burke’s detective. Dave lives in New Iberia, Louisiana and his love for his home is as much a part of the story as are the murders he investigates. Burke’s books wouldn’t be as wonderful without the humidity and heat that roll off each page. Louise Penny’s Three Pines, in rural Quebec, is so well imagined that I want to move there, or at least visit the book store and enjoy a café au lait with Inspector Gamache in the café next door. Ken Bruen’s mean and gritty Galway helps make Jack Taylor the man he is in The Guards (the only one of Bruen’s novels I’ve read to date, but it won’t be the last!).
Setting matters to me and I believe it matters to most readers, even if only subconsciously. It’s the foundation of the story; it grounds the reader and lets her concentrate on the story.
So it’s no surprise that I find myself using the Yukon – or at least, the North – as setting for a few of my stories. It’s a pretty fabulous place. In case you’re as geographically-challenged as I am, the Yukon is in northern Canada, north of British Columbia and right next door to Alaska.
Still can’t place it?
Yeah. I know. Most people have a nebulous idea at best about northern Canada.
To be honest, I worried that setting On Her Trail in the Yukon might limit its chances at publication. Nobody seems to know where it is and much as I love the place, it doesn’t feel exotic to me. Home is never exotic, right?
But for me, the Yukon setting was as important as Fay or Lauren, the mother and daughter in my story. These two women belonged on the cliffs above the Yukon River.
What I’ve learned, however, is that readers are curious. They love to find out about a new place and the people who live there. And to them, the Yukon is exotic!
What about you? Does setting matter in the fiction you read? In the stories you write? Do you always set your stories in familiar places or do you do a lot of research? How important is setting in your choice of which book to buy?
I’d love to hear about the books you would recommend for their strong settings (and good stories, of course!). I’ll be around all day, if anyone wants to chat. Looking forward to what you have to say.
What’s with the camel? We have an adventurous Kiwi here here today. Shelley Munro is an established epublished author who shares some of the secrets of her success. Who’s Shelley? Here’s her bio:
Shelley Munro lives in New Zealand and writes romance in various genres for Carina Press, Samhain Publishing and Ellora’s Cave. She enjoys cooking and experimenting with new recipes, suffers from a bad case of wanderlust and loves to read. Her recent release, The Spurned Viscountess is currently available at Carina Press. You can visit Shelley’s website at www.shelleymunro.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter. To keep up with all Shelley’s current news and to enter subscriber only contests subscribe to Shelley’s newsletter.
Recharging the Batteries
by Shelley Munro
The world we live in these days is a busy one. It’s full of stress and pressure to perform. We rush from our homes to work, deal with children and the hundred and one things that keep a household running. Some of you, like me, add writing to the equation.
I sold my first book in 2004 (check out Talking Dogs, Aliens and Purple People Eaters at Ellora’s Cave) and now, in 2010, I have a backlist of well over thirty books. I write quickly and admit to pushing myself. During 2010 I’ve added another seven books to my backlist, eight if I can get my butt in gear to finish the Christmas story I’m currently thinking about. That’s an incredible pace, but in the e-publishing world, I’m not unusual. I push myself to produce because I love writing, because having a backlist helps me earn a decent income and because I need to keep my name in front of readers. There is a load of competition out there! There’s a subtle pressure to perform because writing is my sole income. I complete a book and usually start another straight away. There’s one problem with the frantic pace though.
Burnout affects writers in different ways. We run out of ideas, lack focus and concentration or write a subpar book and collect a rejection. We writers aren’t alone with burnout. It happens in the business world and in the home as well, showing up as stress.
In order to cope with our busy lives we need to take time to recharge the batteries. So how do I recharge my batteries?
I swap hats and become a reader. I read books in lots of different romance genres. I read mysteries and the occasional thriller. I read non-fiction books on English history, self-help and recipe books.
Most days I try to step away from the computer and get some exercise. My husband and I go for a walk after dinner. I enjoy cycling and go for a bike ride whenever possible. On wet days I’ll turn on the Wii Fit. Anything to halt the dreaded “bottom spread”, which is something all writers need to watch out for.
Cooking and testing new recipes always relaxes me. I take photos of my finished products and post the recipes, photo and my experience with the recipe at my blog. Chocolate cake, Black Forest Muffins or Coconut Ice anyone? Recently I’ve been making my own bath bombs, which are perfect for a relaxing bath and an aromatherapy treatment all at once.
My husband enjoys watching television. Often we’ll watch movies, documentaries and TV shows together. My favorites at present are True Blood, Castle and Human Target. I’ve also been watching an amazing documentary on Yellowstone National Park.
This year we’ve started fostering dogs for the SPCA. So far we’ve fostered one puppy and playing with him was lots of fun – definitely a break from writing. I think we’re getting our second foster dog next month, and I’m looking forward to his or her arrival.
And finally, I’m a travel nut. I love to explore new places, either in New Zealand or elsewhere in the world. Armed with my camera and my sense of adventure, I indulge my yen to explore as often as possible. You can check out some of my photos at my website photo album.
The above things help me recharge. They definitely provide me with inspiration for new stories, even though I’m relaxing and chilling out at the time.
What are your favorite ways to recharge your batteries and boost inspiration for your writing?
Tia here–don’t forget, everyone who comments is automatically entered in my Amazon Review Drive Giveaway. My own response is in the comments.
Today and tomorrow, I’m doing a blog swap with Kathy Ivan, my release day buddy at Carina Press. Today, she’ll be blogging here while I’m at Carina Press. And tomorrow, I’ll be blogging at her blog while she is at Carina Press. Kathy is a lifelong bookworm who, like me, is now seeing her first work of fiction published. Here is her number one writing rule.
Thanks so much, Tia, for having me today. Tia and I are release day buddies at Carina. J Her novella, The Sevenfold Spell, and my romantic suspense with paranormal elements, Desperate Choices, both released on September 27, 2010. I’m so excited to share this special day with you and with your blog followers. Show the love by going and buying her novella.
I’ve always loved reading and tried my hand at writing short stories while in high school, but nothing serious. Back then I think I enjoyed the reading of the books more than the writing of the stories. That’s not to say I haven’t always had characters and stories dancing around in my head; I have. But they were only for me. I didn’t share them with anybody else.
Several years ago I reconnected with author Jane Graves (we worked for the same company doing medical transcription—her in the office and me from home). She’d published a few books with Harlequin and I dropped her an e-mail congratulating her on her sales. She responded and invited me to a book signing at Dreamin’ in Dallas which was happening a few days later. I went to the book signing and was thoroughly impressed by the entire event. So I decided to come to a DARA (Dallas Area Romance Authors) meeting. From the very first meeting, I was hooked. I had come strictly as a reader, but once the creative juices got flowing again, I dove in with a purpose. I had to get that first book written.
I tend to have very eclectic tastes in reading. I’ll go through spurts where I’ll read a specific genre, everything I can find until I’m glutted on it. Then I’ll switch to a new genre and start the process all over again. Right now I’m going through a paranormal/urban fantasy phase. Recommendations anybody? Some of my favorites include Janet Evanovich, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle, Karen Marie Moning, Laurell K. Hamilton, Shayla Black, Jo Davis, Jane Graves . . . the list goes on forever.
I’m also a “who did it” kind of gal. I don’t know why but I always tend to look for the why of a story. Why did a character do something? What made the hero or heroine or the villain do whatever they did. Because of that, romantic suspense just seemed to work well for my style of writing. My ideas can come from anywhere and anything. I love to play the “what if” game. Or I can be watching a program on TV like 20/20 or 48 hours describing a crime that’s been committed, and bang, a kernel of an idea pops into my head and I’ll start seeing the characters and how it fits around their lives, going in a totally different direction than the story I’ve just watched. Or I’ll get a flash of a character or a location and start working from that. Sometimes it’s even the end of the dark moment that will pop into my head and I’ll work backwards from there, and the story line evolves as I deconstruct the big black moment. Plus, I’ll bounce story ideas to my sister, who is a fantastic sounding board. She can usually spot a plot hole a mile away and gives me great ideas on how to fix my screw ups. Ideas and motivation are everywhere. The trick is finding the time to get them all down on paper.
That’s my writing process, as best I can describe it. I love writing and storytelling. I hope you enjoy reading Desperate Choices as much as I did writing it.
Love what you write and write what you love.
Tia here. We always hear, “write but you know,” but I think I like this advice better. You really do have to love what you are writing. Who are some of the writers you have read that have really let their love of writing shine through their work? My own choices will be in the comments!
Today, Liz Fichera rejoins us with a post about breaking the rules when writing. Liz, as you may recall, wrote Captive Spirit, an American Indian historical novel. Captive Spirit has received a lot of good reviews, including 4 stars from Romantic Times. Liz’s website is http://www.lizfichera.com/ and her blog is http://lizficherablog.blogspot.com/.
I generally hate rules. But I’m not a law breaker. Usually.
Today I’m talking about the often conflicting rules of writing advice. I remember learning lots of writing do’s and don’ts before I made the switch from hobby writer to published author. And if you’re a writer, I bet you have to.
When I first began my writing career, I was like a sponge—reading, studying, and listening intently to all the writing do’s and don’ts from respected agents, editors, teachers, bestselling authors, and fellow struggling writers, while still trying to find my “voice” and wrestling with what, exactly, I wanted to pound into my laptop each day. My head spun for a couple of years as I tried to make sense of everything.
The struggle was trying to decipher from all the good and well-intentioned advice and what worked best for me. From queries to genres to book promotion, I heard everything from:
1) Never write a query longer than five sentences.
2) Always write a query that’s at least three paragraphs.
3) Don’t worry about synopses.
4) Worry about synopses.
5) Never combine genres.
6) It’s okay to combine genres.
7) Literary fiction is plot based.
8) Literary fiction is character-based.
9) Editors aren’t really interested in male protagonists.
10) Editors are screaming for books that appeal to men and boys. To young adults. To baby boomers.
11) Write what you know.
12) Don’t be afraid to write what you don’t know, as long as you do the research.
Many times, I remember thinking, Calgon, take me away!
The helpful advice was (and is, still) never-ending. But of all the rules and writing advice that I heard, there were two that always stuck out in my mind, probably because I struggled with accepting them the most. Part of me wanted to blow these two rules out of the water:
13) Never write a novel in first person.
14) Never write a novel in present tense.
“Well, that’s a bummer,” I remember saying to myself when I learned these two gems.
For starters, I like to write in first person—not always, not for every story—but first person is usually my preferred style. I always feel that my writing “voice” resonates more in first person, although I recognize the drawbacks of only relating one character’s perspective. So when writing in first person, I have to work doubly hard to tell a story. But for some of my novels, like CAPTIVE SPIRIT, first person simply worked.
Verb tense was the other sticky wicket rule that I remember hearing several years ago from an agent. “Novels should always be in past tense. I usually don’t represent novels written in present tense,” she told me. Humph, I thought. But I like writing in present tense, particularly with young adult novels and even some literary fiction. For me, present tense can make a story more exciting, more immediate. It’s what’s happening in the here and now. While it certainly doesn’t work for every short story and novel that I write, sometimes, dang it all, present tense just feels right.
Rules are important, there’s no doubt about it. They provide a starting point and some structure. But I think the trick is applying what works best for you and your writing style. Above all else, regardless of the rules, there has to be a compelling story. If a story hooks and keeps me turning the pages, I don’t care whether it’s written in first person, second person, present tense, future tense, crayon, pink magic marker, English or Pig Latin. I’ll read it anyway.
What’s the best/worst writing advice you’ve been given? Are there any rules that you’ve bended or flatly refused to accept?