Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My Books

It's getting close to a few important dates for me, so I thought I'd take some time to give the three descriptions of my books with their anticipated release dates. I hope you enjoy!

Atlantis Cursed (re-release June 2014):
Nicias was well on the way to making a name for himself; he was gifted with telekinesis, part of the Immortals, and one of the top soldiers in the Atlantis Fighting Forces. In a world where Atlantis thrives under a second chance at life, his only care was for his own survival. But, when the leaders of the Immortals asks him to look after a small child—to raise her and protect her abilities from the war-driven army—he had to overcome his own haunting past and focus on an innocent life. He hesitantly takes the assignment and soon learns there are deep mysteries surrounding her forgotten past. Many condemn her as a curse plaguing their community. Nicias finds himself questioning if this sweet child could possibly be the murderer everyone believes. Atlantis Cursed is a story about love and loss, hate and corruption. But, most of all, it is a story about betrayal.

Lord of Nightmares (re-release June 2014):
Madison loved her life. She went to school, hung out with friends, and planned her future with her best friend, David. That is, until David unexpectedly commits suicide. His death opens up a new world for Madison, one where the evil events in life can be explained by a society of supernatural beings. This underground society of Nightmares thrives on competing with human pawns, craving the power of corrupting innocent life. After a brief encounter, Madison is selected to compete with the Lord of these Nightmares in a game of wit. The rules are simple. Solve a riddle and go home. Fail and lose her soul.

Zeus Defended (New release July 2014):
As a newly appointed ambassador to Atlantis, Pandora is assigned a routine mission: negotiate a peace treaty between conflicting countries Zeus and Persephone. As the head of the Imperial Guard—an elite Zeus army of Immortals—Jocasta is assigned to defend the Zeus president at all costs. But, both women discover their missions are never as simple as they first appeared. The two soon find their objectives clash as corruption runs rampant throughout the government. They must learn to overcome their differences because eventually the only mission that really matters will be to escape with their lives.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday's Quote: Neil Gaiman

"Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent." ~ Neil Gaiman

I have come to learn that Neil Gaiman has some great things to say. This one was by far the most liked on my Facebook page. But it think it was also my favorite quote from last week. The main reason is that it is based largely on reality. People try to "make it big" in the writing field without knowing how difficult this endeavor really is. So, I like that he says "sometimes" here.

But the other thing that appealed to me is the idea that stories are false and fantasy, but that there is truth behind what they say. Did the world actually have a park where dinosaurs actually roamed the land? No, but that book really had some true morality issues discussed. Books have the benefit of diving into difficult subjects under the cover of fiction. I think that's why I love them so much.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

What Makes Something a Good Quote?

Part of what I love about Goodreads is their bank of quotations. Some are what authors have said and others are actual novel lines. What I find amazing is that most of these quotes are pretty good, even though they are taken out of context. I didn’t really understand how difficult this is until I tried to find good quotes to pull from my own books. 

It’s hard to grab a line or two from a book with over 300 pages and make it stand on its own. When I first tried to pull quotes, I thought about how great they were. So emotional. Such impact. Then, a few hours later, I re-read the quotes and wondered why I pulled them in the first place. Then I remembered. It wasn’t the quote. It was the set up. I think books are like that. I don’t fall in love with a character/story because of one thing. I fall in love because of the entire picture.  For a quote to be good, it not only has to be insightful and eloquent, but it also has to be so without any background from the novel. That seems like a tough task considering I lived and breathed my novels for a few years at a time. 

Another thing that makes pulling quotes difficult is that what speaks to one person may not speak to another. I actually find this a challenge when selecting my daily quotes for my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Sometimes I find very few “likes” on quotes that I thought were brilliant. It all depends on the background we bring to the quote. On that same note, I think it also depends on our mood at the time of reading it. We might be going through something at that moment that appeals to us more than if we read it at another time. 

I was trying to think of the things that make a quote good. I came up with three characteristics that I need.

1. It needs to stand on its own. Some of the best quotes I have tweeted are from novels I have never read. Yet, even without knowing the context, I still loved the idea behind it. However, if a quote does speak to the novel, it has to directly correspond to a well-known scene: an example being, “Frankly, my dear. I don’t give a damn.”

2. It needs to speak to something outside of the novel. I typically don’t highlight things in novels. But, the ones that catch me are lines that are insightful. They tell me something philosophical about the world or human nature. I love those quotes. Although, I have been known to love quotes that describe common things in a different way.

3. It needs to be short. Sometimes I’ll find paragraphs upon paragraphs in Goodreads. My attention span continues to get shorter and shorter. I don’t want a whole book or a whole scene. I want a line, at most three. 

I am curious. What attributes do you look for? What characteristics cause you to highlight lines in the novels you read?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Pharrell William's song "Happy" Can Teach About Marketing

I was watching the CBS broadcast Sunday Morning a few weeks ago. They were discussing Pharrell Williams and his new hit song Happy. The conversation was how he had actually released the song with the movie Despicable Me 2 in July of 2013. Now, almost a year later, it is finally making its way onto the radio. What’s funny is I hadn’t heard this song until about three weeks ago. Now I’m hearing it almost every day. The broadcast said it has actually gone number 1 in multiple countries and they contributed it to the music video he recently created. 
This got me to thinking about the publishing world. I know a lot of independently published authors who claim success stories on novels they published ten years prior. This would never happen in traditional publishing houses for the mere fact that the book would have been abandoned a long time ago. However, I do remember an English teacher saying Charles Dickens was not held to such high esteem while he was around to enjoy his following.

The question becomes, how does something go from being a dud to being a trendy success? I think the first ingredient is someone who believes in the work. The scariest thing I ever heard was that Harry Potter almost wasn’t published. In fact, the publisher didn’t want to print it until his little daughter begged him to. Someone obviously believed in Pharrell’s song if they put out a music video months after it didn’t take off in a movie. Most of the time, the person who has to believe in the work is the author. I keep reading and hearing this point recently. That seems scary since I’m so critical of my work, but I get their point. 

The second ingredient is patience. With more and more technology emerging, we are becoming a “right now” society. We want to see immediate results. I am an impatient person, so this really appeals to my nature, but there is a reason why they say “patience is a virtue.” Some things just have to grow. It takes time, especially in books, for things to catch on. People have to read a book. They have to tell their friends. Those friends have to read the book. So on and so forth. I once read that a traditional publisher takes a book out of print in less than 2 years. That’s scary to me. Authors need time to work, especially when technology has made it easier for everyone to speak.

Lastly, I think the timing is key. Pharrell contributes the lack of attention for his song in Despicable Me 2 because it was unlike most songs out at the time. I know I have heard this idea of timing before, another reason why waiting may be important. What interests me is that for whatever reason Pharrell wasn’t noticed in a movie that hit pretty big, but he was noticed in a music video, which many say is obsolete. Maybe the video hit more to his market. I think we can all learn from his story. Don’t be rash…have patience.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday's Quote: Marcus Zusak

"You do not have to feel truer than others in order to be different and keep aspiring to be a better you." ~Toba Beta

There is a lot of talk in the writing world about writing for a market and finding trends. Competition is great and people are trying to belong and yet trying to stand out. I like this quote because it touches on the idea that maybe this is the wrong approach. Being original doesn’t mean writing the same stuff better. In fact, if we look at the top books from last year, we’ll find they stand out because they are different

I’m thinking of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I had to laugh when I began this book because in the first page he breaks all “conventional” rules. He writes a prologue that is kind of “telly” from the omniscient point of view. But, the reader soon discovers his mastery of the craft of writing. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel from death’s point of view set in Nazi Germany. Death’s point of view? Sure. Nazi Germany? Sure. But mix them, and what a story. He stood out for me as the best book I read in 2013 because he was so different than everything else. So, be different and better, but don’t worry what others are doing. That’s what we should strive for.

Friday, April 18, 2014

I Need to Embody The Little Engine that Could

When I look back on my writing career, I laugh at the misconceptions I had. I also laugh at how little I thought of my abilities, and not as a writer. I didn’t believe I was capable of marketing myself, or interacting with readers, or even networking with other writers. The number one thing I did “wrong” in this path of writing so far is to sell myself short. I can see why I did. When I first began I believed my role as a writer was to stay locked in my room and write. This was certainly what I felt the most comfortable with. Then, when I learned what “being an author” meant, I began to second guess my ability to perform. How could I possibly sell my work when I didn’t believe in myself? I love watching the Voice. Last week, Usher asked a contestant how he felt he did. The man replied “Pretty good.” Usher was astounded at his modesty. He said if the guy didn’t believe in himself, then who would. That stuck with me as being true on so many levels. 

We have to believe in our abilities. We have to believe that we write awesome work…or at least work worth reading. But, more importantly, we have to push for our own success. If we don’t, who will? To push for our success means that we must believe we are capable. I am capable of setting up a marketing campaign, even though I got a D in college in my marketing class. I am capable of speaking in front of groups of people even though I have to fight my knees from knocking each time. I am capable of learning and growing, because that is the price for what I want. And, you know what, I am not as horrible as I think.

My mom taught second grade and always made them read “The Little Engine that Could.” Then, whenever they doubted themselves, she made them chant “I think I can, I think I can.” I need that to hang on my wall. I can do this. Yet, I feel like I am lacking if I seek outside help. It’s a lot like the students I taught. “It’s okay to ask for help,” I constantly said. So, I need to believe, but I also need to be motivated to learn. Okay, so I obviously need help in marketing. Let’s grab as many books and listen to as many people as I can on the topic. Stage fright? Practice makes perfect. I am capable of so much more than I give myself credit for. I suspect I am not quite as bad as I project.

So, as I head into this week, I want to remember to believe in myself a lot more and doubt a lot less. I want to recognize my weaknesses and set forth learning and overcoming. I feel this is easier said than done….

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Is Killing Off Characters Becoming Too Predictable?

Over the past few months, I’ve found myself almost conditioned to characters dying within the novels I read. It seems like every single one of them for about six months now has killed off at least one character. I think part of this observation is my fault. I seem to be on a dystopia fix. The nature of that genre leads to the necessity of killing off characters—it’s dealing with revolting, after all. But, I have also read urban fantasy and “drama” in the mix of that. 

Most who have read my novels know that I am not against killing off characters. In fact, I love to do so when the opportunity of greatest impact presents itself. Although I grew up reading Greek tragedy, so I think my writing has a flare in that direction. I don’t have this “I love them” connection with my characters. Again, I think most of my readers would agree. Someone who loves their characters would never put them through the horrific things I come up with. My focus is not on the characters, but the experience their story creates. So, I’m all for going after the kill if it suits a purpose—even if that purpose is shock value. I remember reading Hunger Games and started hating to meet new characters because Suzanne Collins somehow knew when I would grow to love them and then kill them off in the next page. As a writer, I loved the engagement that ability created in me as a reader. 

My problem is this: if it happens too often, it loses its appeal. I hate being predictable—probably because I hate a predictable book. Actually, it really is a love/hate relationship. If a book is complex, I love predicting things. But, if the path of a plot is blatant, then the fun is completely gone. In the book I just finished, the character makes this great connection with one person. As they began a battle, I knew the only friend had to die. It was a given. I don’t think I would have even gone here if I hadn’t read so many other authors who had crossed this bridge. If too many authors kill off characters, than the impact is no longer the same. Readers will expect it. Of course, having everyone live seems to be just too much “happily ever after” for this reading climate. 

What’s changed that even YA literature is dealing with death more? It saddens me to think that this might be a sign of real situations teenagers face in their real lives. I would hope not. Regardless, I think the point is that everything needs to be done in moderation. Don’t go for the easy emotional appeal. As authors, we need to strive to be different and unpredictable. That’s the only way to truly capture a reader and impact them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday's Quote: Edmund Burke

"Our patience will achieve more than our force."~ Edmund Burke

I am not a patient person. Yet, I find in any area of my life that patience is a requirement. Applied for a job? You must wait to see. Sent a query to an agent? Wait. Everything in life is about waiting, typically for other people. It kills me every time. I hate waiting.

And yet, I was thinking back on the "mistakes" of my life and most of them resulted from not having patience. For instance, I could have expanded my degree in college, but that would have increased my time for another year. I wanted out. I wanted to be in the "real" world. I wanted to be an adult (not sure now why I was so eager). So many doors would be open to me now if I had waited and been patient.

I think that's true in my writing as well. I read novels where the author has taken their time. I would have skipped scenes, but they chose to develop their world. This can be overdone, but it is a good reminder that patience in storytelling is important.

Forcing things to happen will never work. So, I just need to breathe and accept that things will happen in their own time.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

The New Dystopia Novel

2013 and 2014 seem to be defined as the time of the dystopia novel. New authors are rocketing to the top of the charts with new novels and “classics” are emerging onto the big screen. In many other areas of my life, I have learned trends do cycle. Yet, I have also noticed that when they come back, they are never quite the same as before. Books are no different.
My first experience with the dystopia concept was Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I read it as an early teen, but still love that book and can’t wait to see the movie adaptation this year. In high school, I was required to read A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Anthem by Ayn Rand, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. All of them were published before the millennium and all of them had a common theme: a lack of individuality. Society was controlled by government, yes. But, so was the individual. Government decided people’s jobs, their marriages, what they could read. In The Giver, even the color of the world was taken away. There were no choices, there was no uniqueness. Government was always watching, controlling. People appeared happy at the beginning, but the reader soon learned that even this was “bred” into them. They were not truly happy, they were just conditioned to believe what they experienced was fulfilling. And, ultimately, the main character knew there was something wrong without knowing what. 

What I find interesting is that this is different than the novels out today. The ones in particular are Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Divergent by Veronica Roth and the Maze Runner by James Dashner. They are still headed by a controlling government, but not to the point of taking away identities. Instead, most of them are a post-apocalyptic society where civilization has broken down, often due to some war. The characters are still allowed to be their own individuals—within reason. In Divergent, they are even allowed to choose which faction best represents them. The Maze Runner has a little less choice involved, but in all three books society appears to “work.” In fact, Divergent left me with the distinct impression that if there wasn’t corruption in one of the factions, then that society would have continued. They are not “happy” in a joyous sort of way, but everything appears to work. There is love present, not manufactured by any controlling government.

I haven’t finished the Maze Runner yet, but in the other two, the focus in not on individuality but a fight for survival and order. The examination isn’t on government control, but on the nature of human behavior. Even still, the result is the same. Any “utopian” type of government structure eventually rots and falls apart.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Modern Language Equals Good Writing?

I saw a sign driving into work this morning “Littering Highway Unlawful.” I must be in the academic English world too much because my first thought was “that is not a sentence.” I know. I’m a nerd. But, there is something to be said for the “norm” of speech. If I think about British literature—or, as I thought of it as a student, the old literature—the style of writing is much different than today. In fact, I used to think that people walked around talking Shakespearean, or at the very least in long fluffy sentences. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started to learn the style of writing then did not match their spoken language.

It makes sense. In dialogue, we can write the way we speak to be “realistic,” although if an author goes too far then the “dialect” writing becomes frowned upon. For instance, I know Huckleberry Finn is highly proclaimed, but if he tried to publish that book today I think the editors/agents would reject it as being too hard to read. I even remember an English teacher saying Charles Dickens was not revered in his day because his prose was geared too much toward the population.

What does this have to do with the sign? I started to think about a major complaint starting about five years ago from English teachers I knew. Students were beginning to write essays using “text” language. OMG, etc. They weren’t capitalizing “I” anymore and there were no periods. When students didn’t understand a problem, they would write “IDK” (I don’t know). One teacher asked if that meant “I don’t care.” We told her maybe, but that would probably be IDC. I thought about the sign. It dropped one word for space. Although, does “is” really take a lot of space? We drop words for space in texting, which is becoming a larger form of communication. I even find myself dropping words on occasion for this blog. What’s worse is I don’t notice until I edit before posting.

So, I started wonder when/if the written word will “weaken” just as it did before. Another sign I passed said “Wrong way.” Do we really need the subject there? Or, does it work in context? In other words if you see it posted in front of a door, then the subject is implied? Maybe I’m the only one to wonder, but as authors push for authenticity, I am curious how much of our “modern” speech will ease into our novels.

Here’s one more thing to consider. Most authors are told to write to an 8th grade reading level because that is the average. I even read an article a few years ago that suggested it should now be the 5th grade reading level. If we are trying to capture more and more readers to gain a following, should we start writing the way they speak? I’m not sure how that would look in a novel, but it kind of frightens me to think about it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday's Quote: Maya Angelou

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." Maya Angelou

I absolutely love this quote. There are so many implications, but, as always, I think of writing. We always see the books that are published. We see the greatness of the authors who are successful. We rarely see where they have been leading up to that point. I don’t know if I consciously thought about it, but, in  a way, I believed authors sprung out of the womb composing brilliant sentences. Sure, they were above the rest. But, they still had to be developed.

I think this also can be taken on a personal level. I always look at who I am currently, but I don’t acknowledge what it took to get me here. I have gone through a lot of changes. While going through the transformations, I would complain and whine. But, I have enjoyed the changes I have made and would never go back. Change is good…or so they say.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Rejection: not just a writer thing

When people ask me about the writing process, it seems most know one fact without having to be told: there is a lot of rejection. In fact, I read a lot of blogs and words of encouragement related to this topic. It used to be rejections specifically from agents and editors. Then it became rejections from small publishing houses that didn’t require an agent. Now, with independent authors, rejection can come straight from the readers in the form of one or two stars. I would caution anyone reviewing works online. I always think before giving even a two star. Authors are still people and still tried their best work. I’m not saying two stars are not valid at times, but explanations would help.

Anyway, when I first entered adulthood, I thought that rejection was exclusively a “writer” thing. It’s true writer’s tend to put themselves out more than others. In fact, at times I question why I write. I am literally volunteering to put myself on a shelf to be criticized. Some of the criticism is practical. Others simply amount to it wasn’t that person’s interest, which isn’t really something I can control. However, I have started to realize that rejection really isn’t a “writer” thing. I have been rejected for jobs, scholarships and competitions. Granted, most of those were writing related, but I know many kids leaving high school who have been rejected for things related to their field of study. I was trying to get into a “writing workshop” when I was younger. It was a camp, so-to-speak, for writers. I started wondering if others try to compete for similar types of “camps.” We can even be rejected by people on a personal level. Rejection is, in many ways, a part of everyone’s life.

Regardless of the type of rejection, I immediately think about what decisions need to be made. I think the first thing I had to learn is that I was rejected for a reason. Is it because I didn’t have the right timing or right person (in writing especially)? Or was I rejected for something I should fix? This second question is harder to answer because, unfortunately, people don’t typically define why a rejection came. I would say if there are a lot, you might want to seek outside advice to make sure there is not something to improve. I also find myself asking if this is the path I want to pursue. Is it the best option? Or would a different path be better?

I have come to learn that the world constantly asks how much I want something. Am I willing to fight? Am I willing to do everything right and still not succeed? I know they define insanity by doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. In some cases, this is true (which is why we should evaluate the situation). But, the world is competitive. Sometimes it takes beating our heads against a wall until that wall finally breaks.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My 3 Reasons for Dropping a Book

I hate to “drop” a book. My mother would say it is because I am a little OCD. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I admit I like to finish what I start. Part of that is an obsession, but part of it is a curiosity. It’s like watching a bad movie. Through the first half, I think “it has to get better.” Then, through the second half, I think “well, I’ve come this far.” There’s another dimension to my reading now, which is that I have set a goal of how many books to read in a year through Goodreads. Dropping a book means I wasted that time. 

But, despite all of this, I dropped on book last year and now have dropped one this year. Both were books that friends recommended…however most of what I read is recommended by someone. That’s how I find new authors. I partly feel like a failure because I couldn’t finish. There’s another part of me that feels bad because I know what it’s like to write a story. The author wasn’t being lazy. They just didn’t capture me. But both books I dropped are fairly popular, which means they were liked by many others.

Yet, I started wondering what makes me drop a book. I came across three top reasons. 

1. Writing style: it’s interesting to me, but if an author has a similar writing style to my own, then I typically don’t like it. I’m not sure why this is exactly, but I think it boils down to I am my own worst critic. I am constantly editing my work, striving to make it better. You’d think if I saw a writing style like mine, then this would be justification that it works. But…I guess I’m a little too critical for my own good.

2. Characters: I have to like the characters I’m reading about. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have to relate to them (although I recognize some of my favorite novels have characters who are very similar to me). But, they can’t annoy me. They also can’t act stupid. In the book I just dropped, she was chasing after someone who had made it clear he didn’t like her. No outside sources were driving them together but she was “pulled toward him.” She started doing things I thought were silly and then I found myself rolling my eyes at her. I can’t be irritated.

3. Plot development: my number one reason for dropping a book is plot development. It has to make sense. It can’t have holes and, to a certain extent, it has to be realistic. I can’t find myself saying “that would never happen” or “that character would never act that way.” I know this is weird because I read fantasy, but people should still behave like humans and events should still fit in the laws that are defined for the world.

What are killers of books you read?