Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Pleasure is Ours

"What can I do ya for?"  It was the voice of heaven.  She smiled and the world melted. Her teeth were the brightest thing in the room. Damian felt as though he'd been painted by a spotlight.

Free, he thought.  Or was that Inigo again?  His mind stumbled all over itself.

There had been a lilt in her voice, hadn't there?  Surely there had been a lilt.  And there had been words, but what were they?  Don't fail me, brain!

She continued to smile, but one booted foot begin to tap.  Even her impatience was sexy.  Damian felt jealous of the grimy laminate floor.

She spoke again.  "You were the one hollerin' for a barkeep, weren't you?" 

It was a light lilt, just enough to make Damian think of her tongue.  He tried his best not to drool.  Dark chocolate eyes swept from side to side as if one of the other patrons might lay claim to the summons.   

Ha, Inigo laughed.  It worked, did it not?

A group of men to his right looked as if they just might seize the opening.  Panic gripped Damian as he realized his chance might be slipping by.  Thinking quickly, he formulated a proper reply.

"Uh," he said. 

He immediately regretted it.

Her renewed smile was salve to the burn on Damian's face.  "C'mon, darlin'.  Did you want something to drink or not?"  It was the third time she'd spoken to him.

Quickly, Inigo whispered, repeat after me:  I apologize, but your beauty has momentarily disarmed me.  What would the lady suggest?

Damian parroted, his mind still mostly blank.  To his surprise, the boot stopped.  The bartender giggled; Damian's heart bubbled. 

Her amused eyes pinned him down.  "I'll give you points for originality.  How about the seasonal ale?"

Damian nodded.

His eyes followed her as she bounced away.  With casual familiarity, the young woman flipped a glass up, caught it, and then slid it under the tap.  Beer frothed forth, golden and inviting.  She tipped the foam from the top and then danced back.  When the beer was beneath his nose, Damian looked up to find her sizing him up.

"Was that a Spanish accent I detected?" she asked.

Crap.  "That depends," he said.  Inigo was nowhere to be heard, now.

She raised a dark eyebrow.  "On?"

"Have you ever been to Spain?"

She shook her head, setting her curls a-flutter.  "No, but I think I'd like to."

"Me too," Damian admitted.

It is not all that and a plate of patatas fritas, Inigo grumbled.

She giggled again, genuinely pleased.  The corners of Damian's mouth soared.  He took a sip of ale to calm himself and hide his idiot grin.  When he set the beer back on the counter, he was wearing what he hoped was simply a friendly and inviting smile.  Smooth would be too much to ask. 

"I'm Damian," he named himself, extending a tentative hand.

She took it.  Her skin was silk.  Damian held it expectantly. 

She cocked her head over her shoulder.  "Genny."

Her name was displayed on a hanging placard above a half filled tip jar.  It had been handwritten.  Both the leading and trailing letters were embellished with swirls.  Damian felt his stomaching mimicking them.

With a quick squeeze, she broke contact, heading to the other end of the bar.  Her departure was like ripping off a bandage.  Suddenly, the pain that had brought him in came crashing back.  Damian sipped his beer.  He watched as Genny served the group of boisterous men.  He couldn't help but notice that she wasn't shaking any of their hands. 

His satisfied smirk warred with the recently ripped hole inside of him.  Was he here to bury an old love or chase fruitlessly after a new one?  Seemed like there were some decisions to be made, despite his intentions.

You can guess at my vote, no?  Inigo chimed in.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Revision Gauntlet

Got all my edits back on Monday. That places me squarely in the revision gauntlet. Last night, I intended to get a few chapters done... barely finished with the Prologue.  I was able to get all of Chapter One and the first scene of Chapter two done last night, but it was still pretty slow.  I'm afraid this is going to take me longer than intended.  Also, time is not cooperating this week; I've only had an hour to work each night.

Like most writers, I'm probably never going to be satisfied with my work.  I feel like I could edit until my fingers bleed, and even then it would still suck.  The writing, not the story.  I think that's a key distinction.  Maybe I'm mental, but the two are compartmentalized for me.  I can completely hate my writing and yet love the story.  I would guess this is common among a lot of writers.  As a group, we tend to be overly critical of our work, yet something drives us to continue, to follow through.  For many, it's likely a love of the story and the characters.

The Binder's Daughter may not be done this week, but I'm going to try really hard.  I love this story and I really want to share it.  I think it's a lot of fun and well worth the $2.99 I'm planning on charging.  We have another wedding this weekend and it's also my wife's birthday, so we're going to see her family.  Thus, I don't really get to lock myself in and focus on the edits.  If they spill over into next week, then they spill over.  I'd rather do it right and a wee bit late than rush it.  The story deserves it.

I am extremely pleased with the quality (and quantity) of edits I got back from my various critical eyes.  Some good plot suggestions, story suggestions, and, of course, grammatical and spelling issues.  Now, I just have to endeavor to stay in the creative side of my mind.  I don't want make it this perfect literary accomplishment at the expense of fun and creativity.  More accurately, I just want to polish it enough that the story takes over and my writing stays out of the way.  Maybe that sounds odd or overly critical.  See above.

It's not that there aren't times when I'm really proud of the writing.  There are a lot of great passages that, even though I wrote them, I return to and smile.  It's just a struggle for me to trust and believe in the process.  We're doing this right.  From all I've read, rookie mistakes are most common when you try to be too analytical.  The goal is to turn out a polished book that retains the spark of life that set me to writing it in the first place. 

I make no pretenses at being a professional... yet.  But I do think we're taking a very professional approach.  The revision gauntlet is just my last step.  My wife's got the cover under control and almost finished.  We have our marketing plan.  It's exciting and scary.  Here's hoping that I make it through these next few weeks without succumbing to myself.  And here's hoping you love the story as much as I do.
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quick Update

Surprisingly, I was able to write a good smattering of words on our recent trip out west. I'm not the best traveler ever, so the fact that I got anything down at all is probably a moral victory.  Thus, I need to add to the word count of Fates' Motif above.  I'm pretty excited about this book.  Writing concurrent series in two similar but different genres suits me.  I was worried at first, but really they're serving to fuel one another.  Even as I hit the home stretch for Fates' Motif, I find my brain blossoming with ideas for the second installment of The Spirit Binder Series. 

Speaking of, I gave my angelic editors another week to work.  With the trip, I was a little behind anyway.  That means I'm going to hit the revision gauntlet hard next week.  I still hope to have the book ready to go by the end of next week, but I'll be just barely squeaking in at the finish line.  Even so, the various distributors I'm using may take a few days to get the files actually up and for sale.  Thus, June 2011 is probably morphing into July 2011, but I'm pretty close.  Considering this isn't my day job, I think missing my target month by maybe a few days is completely acceptable.  I'm really proud and excited about how the project is coming together and want to say thanks to everyone who's helped along the way. 

I think I'll try and post an excerpt up here sometime next week as well.  In addition, for anyone wandering by, I plan to make healthy use of the sample features on all the websites we're selling from.  I want y'all to know what you're getting into.

I'm hoping to have my first draft of Fates' Motif done by the end of the summer as well.  Hopefully before football season slows me down.  I think it will end up being about the same length as Binder's Daughter, but may wax a bit longer.  Then, I feel like I'm ready to dive right into the next book, tentatively titled The Binder's Husband.

Unfortunately, it takes me about a year to write a book (I started Fates' Motif last fall I believe), so The Binder's Husband probably won't be done until fall of next year.  Unless I become magically and wildly successful with one book overnight, of course.  I would love to be able to at least go part time, but who wouldn't?  Until then, this is me, writing stories because it's fun as hell and sharing them. 

My grandfather used to do a lot of woodworking.  If you've ever been to a small county fair, you've probably seen the booths these crazy old guys run.  Small wooden rocking chairs, crazy wooden wind chimes, weird scarecrows for the yard, the ubiquitous naked butt lawn ornament complete with child-sized jeans nailed into the knees... you name it.  That's where I feel like I'm shooting for right now: county fair stall.  Ambitious?  Probably not, but it's the first step in this journey (emphasis on the butt ornaments, which may be my specialty).  If it's the only step I ever take, then I'll be happier for having tried.  For sure.
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Friday, June 17, 2011

Memories and Melodies

The bar was a dive. They tried to hide it with minimal lighting, but Damian thought the effort was in vain. Light didn't hide the fact that the tile floor felt coated in grime underfoot. Neither could it help the awful crooning that played on the jukebox.

At least the music is good, Inigo said.  He was still in control, and had Damian bobbing his head in time to the dreadful beat.

Ugh, Damian replied, I hate country.

It is not so bad, Inigo replied.  Besides, your women appear to enjoy it.

Damian's head swiveled toward the dance floor.  Even calling it a dance floor was generous.  It was simply a space where they hadn't set up tables.  Several scantily clad older women gyrated in the middle.  The clothes they wore might have looked at home on a girl half their age, but they obviously took pride in the fact that they could still rock a mini-dress.  Damian supposed they had a right to that opinion, since they were very obviously in good shape.  He was probably being unfair.

Cougars, he sighed.

What do felines have to do with anything? Inigo asked.

Damian chuckled.  His mind companion sometimes had difficulty with colloquialisms.  Then, he realized that they were just standing halfway from the entrance to the bar counter, grinning like a pair of idiots at the women.  One had already begun to smile back.

Just take us to the bar, Damian requested.  We're supposed to be destroying memories tonight, not creating more I'll wish to forget.

Inigo acquiesced and they glided across the room with far more grace than Damian thought he could manage had he been in control.  Not for the first time, he puzzled at why this was.  How would a fragment of his mind be able to coordinate his muscles better than he?  Why should it make a difference?  Nothing he'd studied about schizophrenia had shed any light on this.  In fact, most of it suggested that he shouldn't even be aware of his other consciousnesses.

Easing onto the wobbly wooden stool, Damian-Inigo turned to look at the row of gleaming taps.  If there was one good thing that could be said about the place: it carried a good variety of beer.  At the current point in time, though, there was no bar tender to be seen.

Just my luck, Damian whined.

Let me deal with this, Inigo said.

"Barkeep!" Damian-Inigo hollered.  "I desire ale!"

Several of the patrons turned to glare at the strange newcomer who was obviously already drunk.  Most, though, simply didn't hear.  Damian snickered at Inigo.  In previous centuries, maybe yelling for the barkeep would have worked.

Then, she appeared.  Spilling from beneath her classic stetson were dark ringlets of perfectly shiny hair.  Her skin was sun-darkened with an olive cast to it and her red lips shone like sin.  She wore an understated tank-top that bulged in all the right places, though only a modest amount of cleavage was exposed to the - though it was a smoke-free establishment - smoke-laden air.  Her jeans appeared to have been painted on, though most of the fun views were obscured by the half-apron she wore with the implements of her trade stuck in it: straws, napkins, a bottle opener, among other things.

Damian was willing to forgive her the cowboy hat.  Hell, he was willing to forgive her anything.  Quickly, he snatched back control.

Hey, Inigo whined.

Shut up, Damian replied.  Suddenly, I feel the urge to keep my memory.
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Prologues

Sarah LaPolla is a literary agent that runs a helpful blog called Glass Cases. She tends to give a lot of solid advice revolving around story elements without getting preachy, which I appreciate. She clearly states her opinions, tells you why, and leaves you to make your own decision. 

A little over a month ago now, she wrote about prologues.  Apparently the rant started on twitter and spilled over into the blog.  Calling it a rant does it disservice however.  The reasons behind her hatred of a the prologue are well reasoned. 

That isn't to say I agree with them all.  While I may see her point, there is one driving fact that I cannot get over: Readers like prologues. 

The more I learn about writing, the more I am seeing that there are really two camps literary consumers.  The first, and smallest, is those people who are very serious about the craft and minutia of writing.  A vast majority of these people make up the traditional "gatekeepers" in the publishing industry.  They are generally very knowledgeable when it comes to literature, and have writing almost down to a science.  Publishers, agents, and professional critics are probably a part of this circle.

The other camp, the larger of the two, is comprised of the lay readers.  The people who simply love a good story.  They generally know what works when they see it (and, conversely, know a stinker when they see it), but it is unlikely they give a whole lot of thought to the craft of writing. 

On the issue or prologues, the opinions seem divided by camp.  The gatekeepers generally dislike prologues.  They are not efficient.  They could be more creatively applied.  They are, on average, superfluous and droll.

The readers generally like prologues.  Not all prologues, but prologues as an idea.  Epilogues too, while we're at it.  Sure it may dull the "art" aspect, but it seems that, in general, the casual readers appreciates these additions, even if they aren't strictly necessary. 

This isn't to say that they can't be done well or poorly in the absolute as either side is concerned.  We're talking more about generalities here.  Perhaps my own viewpoint is a bit biased though.  After all, I am a heavy fantasy consumer.  And in fantasies, prologues seem ubiquitous.  They serve very well as a way of drawing you into a world.  Wheel of Time, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings... they all have prologues.  And none of them are particularly "artsy" prologues.  That is, they probably break many of the rules that Sarah cites.  Yet, they succeed with readers.

Now, nothing against Sarah (based on what I've read at her blog, she would be a wonderful agent), but this is the problem I see with the "gatekeepers."  They sometimes get too focused on the art and craft side of publishing and forget that we're selling to readers.  The poor agents that have to stab at submissions on a daily basis have narrowed down their judgement protocol to certain "craft" criteria.  If you do this or don't do that, your manuscript will get tossed.  That simple.  That's the only way they can survive.

Yet, even the gatekeepers admit to being baffled often by what actually sells.  There just aren't any solid predictors.  Prologues exemplify this.  While having a prologue may make your agent cringe, it might also make your reader smile.  This is the paradox.  Incidentally, it's also an issue I largely avoid by being independent.  To detriment or boon?  Your call, dear reader.  How do you feel about prologues?

In my writing, I have always started with Chapter One, assuming the book is going to start there until a prologue asserts itself in my process.  Prologues have never come until later.  Generally, they happen organically for me.  I hit a point where I wish I'd let the reader in on something, usually back story.  Usually a scene that I think is cool and can draw a reader in.  A scene that I would like to read.  Maybe it's lazy though.  Maybe I'm still just too new at this, and there are much better ways to integrate that information.  I guess we'll just have to see.   
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Designated Driver

She's gone.  The thought gusted through Damian's brain, spreading like wildfire on dry brush, igniting an inferno in his breast.  It was the mug that paid the ultimate price.  With a wordless cry of rage, Damian wound up and threw a strike directly into the waiting mitt of the plaster catcher that masqueraded as an apartment wall.

Unfortunately, the mitt wasn't ready.  It cracked under pressure.  Literally.  Though it did succeed in catching the mug, sans handle, which ripped free and went cartwheeling through the air.  The newly liberated piece of plastic came to rest inside of the dusty rectangle that indicated the former location of an end table.

Ha ha! Inigo exulted.

Damian sighed.  He didn't like letting his temper get the best of him.  In high school, he'd been known to punch things.  Not people, mind you, but things.  Like lockers.  Or cinder-block walls.  It wasn't uncommon for him to return home from school with ripped knuckles.  He'd probably even broken them on ocassion, though he would never have admitted that.  The pain was refreshing.  It cleared his cloudy mind.

Shoulders slumped, the young man crossed the room as if approaching a funeral pyre.  His steps were a dirge.  His downcast eyes, a requiem.  Defeat donned a finer cloak than this poor soul.  Yet, beneath it all, the rage smoldered.

The mug came free of the wall with a puff of plaster.  Damian ignore the mess.  He crossed the room, entering the kitchen, and rinsed out the drinking implement.  Cold coffee mingled with water in the drain.  The white dust was still on the side of the mug when he set it aside for tomorrow.

He marched back across the floor and sank into the lone recliner.  The footrest would no longer retract, so Damian had no choice but to prop his feet up.  His scuffed loafers stared at the lone bulb burning above as Damian's green eyes found the spot where the TV had been.  He stared at the wall.

This is quite the melancholy, Inigo noted.  I believe you are even making me sad.

She's gone, Damian repeated.

Of course she is.  That is the way of women, my friend.  They come and they go, eh?  Might as well get used to it.

But I loved her.

Inigo chuckled.  Perhaps.  However, I believe she did not share in your feelings.

Damian wanted to cry, but the tears would not come.  He simply felt hollow. 

Trust me when I say it is for the best, friend, Inigo said.  She was not right for you.

Damian wanted to argue, but couldn't.  The relationship had been rocky at best.  He had seen this end coming from miles away.  It had always only been a matter of when.  Even now, he found himself forgetting her name.  It wasn't important.  Just another in a long line of failed relationships.  Why did he always let himself fall so easily? 

I say we find a tavern and drink her away, Inigo suggested.

Solitude seemed dangerous right now.  Damian stood up and walked to the front door.  It was still open to the night.  The keys were on the floor.  He scooped them up.

I'll drive, Inigo offered.

Damian nodded.  He let the voice take over.
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Wherein I Ruminate On Chapter Headings

Not too long ago over on the Behler Blog (which I have linked over on the left there as one of my Muses), Lynn wrote about Chapter Headings.  Similar to Dialog Tags last week, I took the post to heart and went about dissecting the lesson and how it applied to my own writing.  Just to be clear, we're talking about whether or not to add clever titles to each chapter.  That is, do you simply go with the generic "Chapter Blah" heading, or do you shoot perhaps for something a bit more poetic in "Chapter Blah: Wherein We Travel The Road Less Traveled?"  Or some variation thereof.

I've seen it both ways, and as a reader, I can't say that I have a strong opinion either way.  Lynn seems to promote, in general, a healthy respect for "the rules" without being a stickler.  To me, this is a good thing.  If there's one thing we should have all learned about the English language by now, it's that the only hard-and-fast rule is that there pretty much are no hard-and-fast rules.  To be a good writer is to know when to break the rules.

The guideline in this case is best explained as erring on the side of caution.  Chapter headings can add to a story when done well.  They can also be a vehicle for lazy writing.  My though is that writers should endeavor to avoid "lazy" at all costs and approach rule breaking with moderate trepidation.  There is such a thing as being "too clever."  Also, being a writer who is trying hard to learn all that I can, it fits that I should tread lightly in unfamiliar waters. 

Fortunately, in my writing so far, I've already done this.  I can't say that the thought of chapter titles hadn't crossed my mind, but I always dismissed it.  Putting on my reader shoes, I didn't feel that chapter titles, even when done well, add a whole lot.  They can be nice, but never have I seen them be completely crucial for the story.  Part of my engineer's approach to writing is to really master the essential things first before I add complications.  It didn't seem like there was a reason to muck around with titles when chances were that I would fall prey to young writer traps.  Thus, you will find only the generic titles in my early writing.  I'm not sure when I may cross that bridge into Titleville (if ever), but there would have to be a pretty sweet Starbucks waiting on the other side to entice me I suppose.  I've resolved to try and not simply do things for the sake of doing things.  I want everything to add to the story.  I want my writing to be efficient.

I think readers are often willing to forgive missteps on an author's part so long as they don't get in the way of a good story.  The fewer hurdles I throw up in my early ineptitude, the more likely I will be able to get out of my own way and let the stories I have in mind shine through.  That's the goal here.  I believe in the stories; I don't always believe in my writing.  (An affliction I believe is common to writers).

In any case, it was nice to see this topic dissected a bit, and if you're an aspiring writer or just a curious reader, the article is definitely worth a quick stop over there.  Lynn runs a great, helpful blog that I try to keep on my radar.  It also doesn't hurt that she often references Beagles and margaritas... things dear to my own heart.
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

On Dialog Tags

Nathan Bransford is an agent turned author that runs a pretty helpful little blog that I have linked over there on the left. He touches on a lot of things, and his weekly roundups of the popular topics in the writing/publishing world are great. Just about a month ago he weighed in on the issue of dialog tags. 

The debate strikes home for me and my mantra of "learning on the job."  My admittedly limited training revolved around the well known advice to avoid mirroring.  That is, try not to repeat the same word because when you repeat a word often it looks funky to the reader because you repeated it.  Also, repeated usage can cause a word to lose a bit of its pizzazz.  Repetition is both annoying and snore-inducing.  Just to repeat, mirroring is bad juju.  (I know, I'm being a bit silly here).

Point being, I always simply thought that dialog tags followed this same rule.  That is, I don't really want to be repeating the basics such as "said" or "asked" over and over and over again.  It's boring.  It's uninventive.  Or so I thought.

Nathan brought up something interesting that I'd not considered.  Having studied a bit of psychology, I already know that the human brain can do some really crazy things when it comes to words and reading.  If you've ever seen that chain email where the mdidle of wrods are miexd up and yet you can sitll read the story easily, you know what I'm talking about.  (Boy, that's cumbersome to type.  And if you didn't notice I just jumbled those words... well, point proven.).  It seems that the brain does something similar when confronted with "bland" dialog tags.  Namely, we skip over them.  We note the speaker, but we focus more on the dialog and ignore the tag.

The argument, then, can be divided into two basic camps.  The first camp (we'll call them Camp A) believes that you should basically only use simple tags like "said" and "asked." Exclusively. This means you could get something like:

"Where are we going?" Bill asked.
"I know not," said Ted.
"Perhaps we shall have an excellent adventure," Bill said.
"But how will we know if it is truly excellent?" Bill asked.
Ted said, "We'll know when we know."

The theory of Camp A is that since said and asked are basically "invisible," it forces the reader to focus on the dialog instead of a variety of tags which can be distracting. The argument is also made that if you have to say someone "shouted" or "whispered," that you haven't written the dialog well enough, since this should be readily apparent.

Camp B believes in the use of a variety of tags, believing that solely relying on basics bores the reader. Thus you would get the above more like:

"Where are we going?" Bill queried.
"I know not," answered Ted.
"Perhaps we shall have an excellent adventure," Bill suggested.
"Quite," replied Ted noncommittally.
"But how will we know if it is truly excellent?" Bill inquired.
Ted responded calmly, "We'll know when we know."

Dear readers, I ask you: which camp do you fall in?

As a reader, I think I prefer what I shall call Camp AB+.  That is, a hybridization of the two that adds flavor to the dialog but is not overly constrictive.  I like being able to vary it up a bit, but I feel like I should certainly endeavor to keep the tags from being cumbersome.  Very simply: try not to use awkward tags, but otherwise spice it up a bit.  That's a personal opinion though and something I'm still learning to do in my writing.  I think I tend to be a bit too heavy on the Camp B end of things, but hopefully not to the extent that it ruins the story.  I suppose we shall see once I get this book out there.
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