Saturday, April 28, 2012

What Do I Know?

Over my ten years in the business, I have discovered the writing field is filled with little sayings. While, at first, they sound very insightful and inspiring, most are, at best, vague. One saying I reencountered this week is the ever-prevalent, “write what you know.” I love this quote because it says everything and yet nothing all in a little four-word sentence. I remember hearing this for the first time at a Society of Southwestern Authors convention. Those were fun times being underage and having my mother escort me. I was a shaky teenager, whose only audience belonged to my mother and a few trusted friends (high school is cruel, after all!). I had no confidence in my ability and no idea what kind of world the book industry really was.

I was at a seminar by Eva Shaw, a friend of a friend who helped encourage me into mingling with other authors. I am forever indebted to her for that.  I remember asking her, “Does that mean I shouldn’t write fantasy?” I guess that line of thinking would have kept me writing solely in the high school genre, but—as an introverted writer—most of that was foreign to me as well. I recall her laugh and my puzzlement. Over the years, I have come to understand the two main points in this statement.

First, a writer must research. I must admit that I don’t research a whole lot. Let’s face it. I write fantasy. Most of it is completely unrealistic. But for both The Curse of Atlantis and the sequel, I researched both Plato’s accounting of the mythical city as well as Mayan history, rumored to be descendants. Could I have done more? Oh, yes. I didn’t learn that until doing book signings for The Curse of Atlantis and finding there was sooo much more to know about beliefs and such (alien civilization is my favorite).

Second, a writer must experience life. Writer David Morrell comments about spending time in survival training as well as spending time in the same camp in which diplomatic security service agents train. While part of me thinks he gets to experience such valuable assets because he’s a NY Times Bestseller, the argument has merit. What a fantastic excuse to experience life! Most of what he talks about is not applicable for the fantasy writer. It’s also not like I can experience fighting dragons and living in castles with wizards (although that would be awesome!!). But I think the writer who is secluded at the computer is limited in so much. Know what it feels to ride a horse. Know what it feels like to have adrenaline pump through your veins, tour a few castles, and maybe sail a little. What about learning to sword fight a little?? Put them all on my bucket list, and it won’t be just for fun. After all, it’s for business.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"What sets you apart?"

Every day, as I check my email, my hosting site bombards me with news stories they think I'll like. This week, there was one of an older woman and the caption said, "Is she too ugly to love?" The caption caught my attention because the woman was by no definition "ugly," maybe "normal" or "not surgically altered." I didn’t read the article because I was so disgusted by the promo. It was about a woman who had never had a boyfriend, a date, etc and she is in her forties. So she is somehow a failure—ugly beyond hope even—as a result? Coincidentally, this week BillO'Rielly did a segment on Glee. He claims more and more they are covering controversial topics like gay relations, teen pregnancy, and transvestite teens. He questioned if such exposure was good or if it promotes these things as common. The topic didn't strike me too much except the next day a young teenager wrote in and said she is saving herself for marriage and yet there are no characters on television designed to represent her. I’d have to say, when looking at the shows today, she’s right.  
Why do I bring this up? Because as a writer, I am asked a certain question constantly—whether it is from an agent, publisher, or marketing expert. What sets your work apart? Why should someone pick up your book and not another? I actually didn’t come up with my platform on my own. I sort of stumbled into the role. Having my mother as an only reader in high school, I couldn’t write about topics I’d be embarrassed for her to read. When interviewed by Pat Wick from The Sierra Vista Herald, she said it was refreshing not to have a compelling story without all the sex, drugs, violence, language, etc.

While I used to do so by chance, I believe now I compel myself to be different. I want to write pieces that go deeper than the glamour of Hollywood. While I’m in the “young adult” market, I want to be the author even adults can escape to when they don’t want all the other stuff. The more books I read driven for the adult market and the racier the storyline on television, the more I value having such a platform.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why Write??

I am currently reading Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing A Novelist Looks at His Craft, a book by the man who came up with the character Rambo. Chapter two devotes itself to asking the question, why do you write? He goes through numerous answers ranging from "to be famous" to "I have a story to tell" to "It'd be cool to be on the Today Show.” The writing world is brutal. Rejection is around every corner, and, according to Morrell, not many can make a living from being a novelist. So, why bother? The simple answer he gives is "because you have to be."

This resonates with me. I have been fighting for ten years to play the publishing game. I have begun to understand that I am only involved in a piece of what is to come if I continue. It is a game where people change to rules constantly. What is the best advice ever according to one person is the way to kill a career according to another. I have thought about giving up on countless occasions.

But I always come back to that simple fact. If I were to sit down and ask that philosophical question "who are you?" then the answer is, without hesitation, a writer. It's been like that for a long time now. I can't quit. To quit means to give up a piece of myself. My occupation may be a teacher, but my identity is a writer. While I can now understand the persona of writers being haunted drunks ;), I also understand that, while battling the world takes a toll on the ego, it is a small price to be who I am.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Show, Don't Tell...whatever that means

Ever since I began writing, I’ve been plagued with the critique “show don’t tell.” As I attend conferences, I realized this seems to be a curse upon many writers as well. I accepted it as just a part of my original “voice,” and something I needn’t change. Supporting this belief was my lack of understanding the advice, believing it was something people said when they had nothing else better. People were buying and loving my books, after all. However, when I received a letter from a publisher stating I needed to address this hiccup before they’d publish my newest novel, I rethought my decision to ignore the phrase. Then, in January, I was accepted into a “Show Don’t Tell” course through Odyssey. The instruction helped me realize that, while I excelled in plot, my attention to description could improve. For example, I had written The Curse of Atlantis without ever describing the king's palace.

With this new knowledge, I have been editing the sequel to The Curse of Atlantis. What I’ve found is that writing no longer feels “easy,” but the results are exciting. I have watched a stagnant writing style foster and grow at a rapid pace. Just like when exercising or practicing a sport, sometimes we have to push ourselves beyond our boundaries just to see how far we can go.

I guess the moral to this story is to be open to criticism. If I had continued to discount the advice because I didn’t understand it, then my writing would never have improved. I think we get this way in life. It’s easy to fall into the routine, accepting it because everything feels easy. We become stagnant and believe this is good because, after all, we aren’t deteriorating. But maybe we should ask ourselves, can I push myself further? Can I go beyond my comfort zone, push myself into the grey areas that may feel uncomfortable? What would happen? Whether it be writing or teaching or whatever, I think we should all strive to improve. We should never settle for something that might be good according to societal standards. Reach for the stars and see what growth may come as a result.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Anything of Value

Someone once told me, anything of value is always worth the wait. I feel this way about my writing career. I have been writing since the sixth grade, which makes it about seventeen years. I’ve dabbled in the published world of writers for about ten years now, making mistakes along the way but growing tremendously. Yet, with my successes, I still am not where I want to be. I haven’t “made it”…whatever that means. Perhaps I will never be satisfied, but I know have been playing the game for a while. To self publish…to go through an independent…to get an agent or not…to go straight to smaller presses…what do publishers/agents want from an author…what will kill a career before it begins? All of these questions circle with one constant—rejection. But anything of value is worth the wait.

I think I can add to this that anything of value always comes at a price. Not necessarily money. Maybe the cost is time, or tears, or even blood (paper cuts are brutal!). I say time and time again, I would not be writing if it weren’t for my family. I have an awesome mother and supportive dad who drive me to continue this journey. They push me toward excellence, assuring me with every step that I will “make it” some day. Through their insistence, I am starting to believe the cost is worth it.

In January, I was accepted into an online writing class by Odyssey...a first major success. As I progressed these past months, I find my writing improving and hints that perhaps everything is starting to fall into place. When we encounter obstacles in our lives, I think we have to remember that anything of value is worth the wait and the cost. I think we also have to rest on faith that things will work out, that this road is just preparation and that our journey is only beginning.