Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Great Expectations? Yeah, Not So Much

            This morning I tuned into Jessica Faust’s BookEnds LLC blog, as is my usual routine when I first wake up.  Before my eyes are even clear, I grab my iPhone off the nightstand and open to her blog.  Her posts are usually quite brief and include some bit of advice, whether it be about writing a book, or querying, or the publishing business in general.  All the stuff I want to know more about. 
I love her blog, especially Critique Wednesdays where she puts up someone’s query for the benefit of others so that we may see what is good or bad, ineffective or inappropriate.  Fridays are for Author Speed Dates where we get to better know one of her clients. 
Today was similar to that, but the author who participated, Ellery Adams, answered questions regarding cold hard facts, especially about the numbers:  How many books she’s written, under what names, what genre, word count and whatnot.  I found the most interesting facts pertained to money, that is, the average advance she received from her publishers, how much they give her for promotion, and how much she makes in income off of her writing.
While I know writers, in general, do not make much off their writing, I was rather shocked by the dismal numbers from such a prolific writer.  I do realize that the Stephen Kings, J.K. Rowlings and Stephanie Meyers of this world are rare, but I found the actual statistics quite sobering.  Now, I certainly didn’t get into writing novels for the money, but I did think the financial payoff would, on average, be a little higher.  Perhaps it’s the author’s genre, God knows I don’t read cozy mysteries, but I think it is likely indicative of the industry overall, especially with the tremendous changes it’s undergoing in today’s market. 
Then I thought, does this really make a difference to me?  Will I stop writing because— even if I did manage to land an agent then a publishing contract—the money’s just not there?  Nah, I don’t think so.  I write because I enjoy it, because I love meeting new characters and delving into their world.  I’m not sure what my other motivations are other than I’ve found a hobby I really love and which brings me great joy, along with frustration.  But I do get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of it.  So even if my story lives on only in my computer and I make nothing for all my efforts, I will still write.

What about you?       


Monday, June 27, 2011

Introducing Lisa!

            Just a brief note today.  I’ll get back to my regular post in a day or so.  First, I’d like to introduce you all to someone very special to me.  If you’ve read many of my older posts, you’d know I have a terrific critique partner and friend who has become indispensible to me.  Her name is Lisa Regan, and while I have often linked back to her main website here, I am pleased to announce that she has also joined our ranks right here on Blogger.
Lisa is an agented writer with two crime thrillers out on submission with various publishers.  Please run over to her blog at http://lisalregan.blogspot.com/ and take a peek at posts she’s pulled from her website.  And follow her, if you like what you see.    

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Themes, Symbols and Motifs

            When I was in high school and college, I took courses in which I analyzed books, plays and poems for hidden meaning, themes, symbols and motifs.  The instructors wanted to teach me to write with meaning in mind and not necessarily for the purpose of the story.  It kind of ruined the experience for me.  I hated doing that and was never very good at it.  I just soaked in the obvious and went on my way or wrote about how the message of the story related to my personal experiences.  I found it difficult to pull out anything that wasn’t totally apparent.  Perhaps that’s because I’m a WYSIWYG, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of girl.  No smoke and mirrors here.  
When I started writing my novel, I never intended or even imagined there was any kind of theme or repetitive symbol or motif that held special meaning.  I wasn’t looking to leave behind a message or an impression of artistic rectitude or morality.   I just had a story to tell and I told it.  It started with a premise, a question I wanted to answer:  Could a genuinely good man be driven to do something truly evil and somehow find his way back to the man he used to be?   I even wrote a post about how I analyzed my own work for a theme.  (You can read it here, if you’d like.)
While this post has become one of my most popular and widely read, I think I might have been a little premature.  Yes, my book does deal with issues of forgiveness, or how the inability to do so turns the protagonist’s life upside down.  But because I’ve had to read through it so many times while editing and revising, I found themes and symbols I never really intended. 
Primarily, my novel deals with how the protagonist, Skylar Karras, deals with his inability to change.  He believes himself to be genuinely good, a moral man who follows every rule.  He doesn’t bend and his relationships with his brother and wife suffer when he won’t accept how they’ve changed even though they’ve done so because of decisions he’s made.  They are forced to work around the law instead of within it.  Then something earth shattering happens. 
When his wife’s life is disrupted by the crimes a stranger, she asks for Sky’s assistance, but he refuses to help and begs her to be patient while the authorities handle her case.  But she ignores his plea, takes matters into her own hands and winds up dead.  Sky can’t accept his role in her death and falls into a tailspin of depression, macerating his grief in alcohol instead of dealing with it.  His grief turns to rage and from there he follows a path of vengeance.  When Sky drunkenly mistakes the wrong woman for the stranger who’s responsible for his wife’s death, his eyes are finally made clear and he sees just how far he has fallen from the man he used to be.
The rest of the novel is the journey he takes to save his victim, to protect her and keep her out of the hands of those he’s negotiated a vindictive deal with.  In order to save his own soul, he must save the woman whose life he has derailed, as well as his brother, who’s used as leverage to force Skylar’s hand into completing their deal.  But he can’t save them all.  So how does he choose between the life of his brother, the woman he has condemned, and his own salvation?   That’s the crux of the story.  How does this man, who has always believed himself to be inherently good, make this decision?
Early on in my writing and later in my revisions, I inadvertently used two symbols or motifs: The San Francisco fog and a mirror.  Both represent Sky’s inability to see the man he was and the one he has become.  When he’s in jail near the end and looks into a mirror, he says he can no longer recognize the man he has become and that he can’t afford to lose one more part of who he used to be.  I also used the mirror in a very brief prologue, kind of bookending the story.  I had no idea I was playing with symbolism.  It just sort of happened.  And I think that’s how it should be.  Accidental.  Unintentional.
Don’t get me wrong.  Every writer writes a story to show how the main character has learned and evolved, but it shouldn’t be overt in its machinations.  One of my earliest critique partners was a college student, an English and creative writing major.  I remember her telling me how she tried to use flowers and the color yellow as symbols throughout her story.  I didn’t even remember either one so it didn’t make an impression on me at all.  Perhaps that’s because she was trying instead of just letting it happen of its own volition.  I think themes and symbols should attach themselves to a character in a tangible way, not to the story in a vague manner.  If you fully flesh out your characters and how their individual stories thread together into the plot, themes and symbols will organically appear, almost like magic. 
So have you ever written something and had a theme reveal itself instead of writing around one?  Or have motifs suddenly appeared where you never intended?                           

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pour Some Sugar On Me

            Imagine my surprise this morning when I logged onto Blogger and saw a new comment on my latest post, a comment from someone who had already commented, and very kindly I might add, a comment asking me to come on over to his blog because he’s “got something” for me.  Ooooh, how cryptic, how intriguing, how…odd!  Well, I ran on over to his place and saw something I’d been seeing around for the last couple of weeks on other blogs:


(Hey lookie, I actually figured out how to insert a photo!)

            Yes, folks, Bryce Daniels of the now quite famous Bryce Daniel’s Preservation Society has nominated me for The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award.  Imagine that!  (I think he might feel sorry for me.  Shhh…)  Now, Bryce and I haven’t known each other all that long and we have a bit of, ahem…history…together (nothing salacious, I assure you,) but he’s proven to be a stand-up guy, willing to let our difference of opinion strengthen rather than hamper our friendship and I have grown both as a human being and as a writer because of him.  He’s shown me that there are still honorable gentlemen in this world and I am honored to not only count him as a good writer-friend, but also to accept his favor and pay it forward.   Thank you, Grand Pseudonym, for teaching this old broad a thing or two about class.    

So here are the rules, as I understand them:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them. (Check)
2. Include 7 random tidbits about yourself.  (YIKES! - see below)
3. Pass award on to 5 others and link to their blogs.  (Where the fun really starts)
4. Let the people know you've given them the award.  (Will do)

Hmm, the hard part.  Okay, ready or not, seven random tidbits about me:

1.)    I’ve been wandering around this country all my life and have settled (for the moment) just outside of Seattle, WA, a lovely gem whose gloomy sky has finally gotten to me.  I aspire to return back to my beloved San Francisco Bay Area to once again enjoy the sun.

2.)    I’m brand new at this writing thing, but jumped full-force into tackling a novel without any knowledge of exactly how one is supposed to do that.

3.)    Though I am eternally optimistic, I love listening to hard, darkly introspective music (think Three Days Grace) and you simply cannot shut me up when singing along.

4.)    I love, love, love my car, a fine German convertible of remarkable engineering which I consider my “happy place” and where you’ll find me on the few sunny, warm days here in Seattle, cruising around with the top down and my music blaring.

5.)    I recently gave up a life long addiction to Pepsi.

6.)    I taught myself to play the piano by ear.  And I’m not too bad either. 

7.)    My son is my greatest achievement in life, but my most ardent desire is to someday reunite with the daughter I gave up nearly 27 years ago.

And now for really easy part, though I must admit, a few I would have nominated (the ever-witty Bryce, of course, Laila Knight at the Untroubled Kingdom of Laila Knight, Donna K.Weaver of Weaving a Tale or Two and L.G. Smith of Bards and Prophets) have already been awarded. 

So here are my nominations for The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award:

Lisa L. Regan at Lisa L. Regan.com is my best and closest friend.  We met last fall via Nathan Bransford’s Forums.  She is an outstanding agented novelist with two books, Findling Claire Fletcher and Aberration, currently under submission with several big league publishers.  Lisa is the best critique partner I could ever ask for and has helped me become a much better writer.  Her blog is filled with interesting bits of her long journey toward publication.  She is on the cusp of finally being discovered.

Kittie Howard at Kittie Howard has been very supportive of my blog.  Hers is rich and inspiring and shows the tremendous joy she receives from writing.  She is a great resource for new writers like me.

Julie Musil at Julie Musil blogs about the craft of writing, which I so adore and respect.  Her blog is filled with fantastic advise and amazing insight.  I tend to copy her posts and email them to myself to keep in my Great Writing Advice folder.  She is truly wonderful and you would be doing yourself a great favor in checking her out.

Lastly, there are two women I’d like to nominate because, as a fellow writer of the adult thriller, I aspire to be like them.  I don’t know if they will participate, but their blogs—chock full of valuable information, great links, guest posts, reviews and gritty flash fiction—are each worth a nomination, as well a long looky-over.  They are:    

Whew!  That was a bit of work I hadn’t planned on doing today, but it was worth it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ghost in the Machine

I usually have a difficult time coming up with a new blog topic.  Not so this week.  I’ve had one thing—writing related, of course—that’s been bothering me:  My blog.  Now, some of you may already know this, but I have a few new followers who may not:  I do not particularly like blogging.  It just seems to get in the way of what I really want to do and that is write, and by that, I mean my novel.  But blogging is part of that whole building a platform thing that agents seem to rag on about, and maintaining an Internet presence is one way in which to do so.  I also use Facebook and LinkedIn, and though I have a Twitter account, I’ve never used it and don’t even remember what my Twitter name is.  So blogging is just another method to build a platform on which writers can put their words out there for whomever to see.  And this is where the whole bothering thing comes in.
First off, the idea of building a platform means you have to try to gain readership and in the case of Blogger (or Blogspot,) those readers are tracked and presented to the blogger as stats.  I try hard not to pay too much attention to my stats.  I try even harder not to check them too often.  It tends to make me feel kind of high school-ish, like how popular am I today?  Or how many followers do I have this week?  And it never fails to disappoint because, just like in high school, I don’t seem to be all that popular.  I do hate that feeling, that there’s something lacking in me somehow, but I’ve never been one to dwell on that sort of thing.  I mean, I may not be popular, but I get all the attention I need and I’m happy with that.  Then something weird happened:    My stats took a flying leap skyward, at least by my standards.  (Most of you would probably laugh at my low standards.)
This started a week ago when I first heard of Alex J Cavanaugh’s It’s All Fun & Games Blogfest via fellow blogger and follower Bryce Daniels.  I chose not to participate because I’m not much of a game player, but through Alex I met Kittie Howard and my blogging life changed considerably.  I know this platform building thing takes time.  It requires effort and patience to garner an audience and even longer to gain followers, those interested enough in what you have to say to hit that little button and paste their face on your page.
I don’t post to my blog very often, only once a week, and I certainly don’t say anything that hasn’t already been said, so I knew I wouldn’t be a loud voice in the large crowd.  But every once in a while someone would come along and give me a tiny piece of advice and another follower would pop up.  Boy, how excited would I get when that happened?  It’s kind of like that whole Sally Fields "You Like Me, You Really Like Me" scene at the Oscars.  Not a pretty sight.  But it told me that my blog was becoming more important to me and that I really did like it when someone actually paid attention. 
I know I have a few non-writer friends who pop in and read my posts and even a few writer friends who do the same, but none of them are actual followers.  And that’s fine.  I never want to pressure anyone to follow me, after all, I mostly do this to connect with other writers.  Then I heard that following those blogs you like most and commenting on their posts can provide enough interest to possibly make someone tune in and maybe even follow you right back.  But how do you choose?  There are thousands among thousands of writer blogs out there.  How do you find the ones that appeal to you? 
Well, I’ve been sifting through the follower armies of those who have chosen to follow me, as well as the thirty or so I had been following for the last six months or so.  And I have found quite a few that appeal to me and I’ve chosen to follow them.  Sometimes those bloggers will just automatically follow you right back, kind of like a professional courtesy or something.  That’s so sweet!  I guess time will tell if they are really interested in what I have to say, but a couple of them went through the trouble of searching for me through my email account since, for reasons I can’t figure out, my blog was not linked to my Blogger profile.  That’s some kind of dedication, if you ask me.  All those extra steps just to find and follow someone.  (You know who you and I thank you profusely.) 
Anyway, my new follower, Kittie Howard, was kind enough to list my blog on her blog roll.  (Thanks, Kittie!)  And BAM!  All of a sudden, my stats went freakin’ crazy.  I thought it might just be a one time thing, but it hasn’t slowed down one bit in the last week.  Very strange.  At least half my hits were coming directly from her site.  I went from a measly average of 4 or 5 hits a day (please, I beg you, do NOT laugh) to 50 or more (okay, you can snicker.)  So…what the hell is going on here?  This can’t possibly be right. 
I had my first inkling of unease when I tuned into follower L.G. Smith’s Bards and Prophets blog last Saturday and found out that I was not the only one to suddenly enjoy an incredible surge in popularity.  I checked all the stats and while I am getting hits on many different posts and not just my last one, and I have had more comments than usual, I have not gained the number of followers  one might expect with such a high volume of readers.  Now, I have doubled my numbers in the last week (thanks Barb, Jennifer, Joylene, Norma, Lindsay, Julie, Magpie, Donna, Alex, L.G. and Kittie,) but I think this is more from my own cultivation, by connecting through their blogs and leaving comments on their wonderful posts. 
So what’s up, Blogger?  How am I supposed to know how effective (or ineffective, it would seem) I am if you are not providing the proper feedback?  I choose to gauge my success by the number of followers I have and it would seem that I’m not all that successful.  Some bloggers do not like to show who follows them.  I considered this, knowing it would keep secret how unpopular I truly am, but I decided against it, thinking it would somehow motivate me to cultivate more relationships with other writers.  I’m trying not to feel like that high school girl everyone knew and liked yet was still not considered, by definition, to be popular. 
Maybe this is Bloggers way of making everyone feel more popular, like we’re somehow making progress.  But all I want is the truth, good or bad.  Used to be I would cringe every time I checked my stats.  A few days ago I exalted.  But now I’m just deflated.  ‘Cause it’s likely just some ghost in the machine.  I don’t know what to believe.  Anyone else out there experiencing this?                            

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To Prologue or Not

            Well, Monday was an interesting day in the blogosphere, what with everyone participating in writer Alex J. Cavanaugh’s It’s All Fun & Games Blogfest.  I thought about it and decided not to participate myself because, for one, I don’t like to post about anything that is not directly related to writing, and second, I really didn’t have a good answer.  I mean, I like Pictionary, Texas Hold ‘em and basketball, but besides Pictionary, they didn’t seem to fit into the genre everybody else was blogging about.  But I did find some really great blogs to follow and I even managed to snag a couple new followers myself, fellow writers Kittie Howard and M. Pax.  Thanks to both of you and welcome aboard!
Yeah, so I try to stick with only those topics related to writing, but I sometimes find it difficult to come up with new subject matter.  Such was the case this week.  Then I thought I’d write about what’s been consuming me lately in regards to my book.  For months now, I’ve been pretty content with my novel overall, except for the opening chapters.  First, I have a slight problem with the fact that agents and their assistants need immediate action within the first 250 words.  It seems to be a national thing that Americans need instant gratification.  No one seems to be able to wait in anticipation any more, even for just a page or two.  But that’s okay, I do have an opening chapter with tension, conflict and action. 
The thing is, I want to open up with something else.  Some might call it a prologue, and while it does read somewhat like a prologue, it’s actually a brief foreshadowing, only 261 words, where the protagonist ponders how he missed the moment he changed from the good man he once was into the villain he’s become.  I thought it appropriate since it bookends the overall theme running through my novel, complementing how he sees himself in the end.  But how do you query with submitted pages with this?  Agents don’t seem to want to see this sort of thing.
Well, I’ve waffled back and forth on this.  My heart tells me to keep it in, but something in my head is telling me to chuck it.  Nathan Bransford had a good post on this a couple of years ago which you can read here, but what he essentially says, or asks rather, is that if you were to take it out, could your book stand on its own?  My answer would be a resounding yes.  It’s not vital to the overall story, but it makes an impactful statement and I really like that. 
At first, I thought I could get around this by simply calling it chapter one, but it just doesn’t feel right.  And if I were to submit it as the first chapter with a query, the agent’s assistant would likely just toss it out, proclaiming it didn’t have enough action.  So last week, when writer Adam Heine wrote a post on When & When Not To Prologue, I commented, asking his advice.  He made a suggestion and I thought it a pretty good idea.  He said the chapter sounds like it's internal, as opposed to the protagonist being active, and while it totally might work, in general that's a red flag.  He suggested I remove the chapter heading, (which up to that point had been chapter one though it should have been a prologue,) because I probably wouldn’t want the first word the agent reads to be “prologue.”  He’s right.  I don’t.
So I have removed the chapter heading and I won’t be including it in pages submitted with my query.  I will start with the action, just like they want.  But now I’m worried about another item agents frequently complain about and want to know within the first 250 words:  What is the story about?  Well, you see, if I were to leave that darn prologue in, it would tell exactly what the story is about.  But I don’t seem to be able to have both. 
I kind of have a problem with the fact that agents want to know what the story is about in the first 250 words.  I mean, how do you even do that?  My friend, Lisa Regan, did this perfectly in her novel, Finding Claire Fletcher, a fantastic book being pitched to publishers as we speak, but then again, it was quite introspective, as well, yet it did not read as a prologue.  I still have a lot to learn from her.  She wants me to keep that foreshadowing chapter up front, but advises I do what makes me comfortable.  Having finally decided, I’m feeling more at peace. 
During the last week, I pumped up my new first chapter and, per Rachelle Gardner’s advice via her blog post What’s the Story on Backstory?, I’ve rewritten the backstory to be part of the action and dialogue.  I’m feeling pretty good about it all right now.  I think, after taking the last three months off, I am finally ready to start querying again. 
I’ve learned a lot since I first started querying and I won’t be going about it like I’ve done in the past.  I’ll be like the turtle, slow and steady.  I’m kind of used to the rejection by now, so I’m not too concerned with that.  I’m striving for more requests for partials and fulls.  And this time, with all the changes I’ve made, I hope someone sees something good in it, something worth offering representation. 
It’s been about ten months or so since I finished my first draft.  A lot of pain and heartache, joy and accomplishment, a lot of learning what the industry is all about and making of new friends within it.  I know I will never stop learning new things about writing and publishing, but I think I’ve finally reached that point where I’m comfortable with what I know, and even with what I don’t. 
            So, I’m curious, where do you stand on brief prologues or an opening chapter that doesn’t start out with a blockbuster explosion?  Is intrigue enough for you or do you want to be slapped in the face with action?