Archive | June 2013

The Creation Process – How does your muse like to work?

writingI am the type of author who craves utter silence when I write. That includes interruptions at any time, including quietly slinking into the room to simply “get something” even though no one actually speaks to me. I find that just as distracting as if I’d stopped to have a conversation. I’ve tried to explain that “when a writer is on a roll and stops writing for any reason that means THAT particular train of thought is GONE forever.” Yes, I know we can start again, but it will never be what it was and that makes me a little crazy. The frustrating part is, the people around me really and truly don’t understand this and they think I’m being unreasonable.

Ideally, I like to sit on my bed with my laptop on my lap, fan or A/C going and just have a block of an hour to let the words come. There are days I need more time. Much more time, but I have kids, a life, a husband, a job, and those get in the way. Other days I get a little stuck or bored and just have to take a break, but I like the control of my own muse, without interruptions. I’ve tried going to a coffee shop or the library, but those little whispered conversations around me, crinkling of a candy wrapper, the tinny sound of someone’s music leaking from their ear buds – they bother me. I must have some sort of sensory issue. In school during testing “I” was the one “shushing” the teachers who were quietly chatting at the front of the room. Come on! We’re working here!

I wondered if I was alone in how we create, so I asked two writers, Mitchel Whitington and Gwen Choate this very question. I also wanted to find out their most gratifying moments. Writing takes so much time out of our lives, there has to be something gratifying in it for all of us, right?

Question #1) What is your writing set-up and what do you need to write?

Mitchel Whitington: It all depends on my mood. If I’m really in the zone, I like it quiet and dark. My office has black-out curtains to help me create this environment. There are other times when I put on instrumental music (one of my favorites is Cirque du Soleil’s soundtrack “Mystere”) and light incense. Darkness is still important, though.

Gwen Choate: I prefer to work at my computer, which sits in the corner of a small room, surrounded by my dictionary and thesaurus, research material, and the copy in progress. I have a laptop, but I get a backache trying to position myself when I use it very long at a time. I, too, like solitude.

Question #2) Can you share some gratifying moments?

Mitchel: My biggest one came from a book that I wrote a long time ago. It was humor fiction, and I had a lot of fun with it. At a book signing, a lady asked me to sign her dad’s book. He had just died, and his sunday school class had purchased it for him to read in the hospital. The lady told me that he’d read it and laughed throughout, even toward the end when she was having to hold the book for him and turn the pages, because her dad was too weak to do it himself. There were tears in her eyes when she told me that my book was the last thing that her dad laughed at in his life. I still get tears in my eyes when I think of that.

Gwen: There are so many. When I sold BUFFALO GOLD, the Abilene Reporter-News did a two-page spread about how I, as a woman, broke the taboo against female authors of westerns. SACK has had wonderful publicity in the Nacogdoches newspaper, and I was given a book signing which was attended by sixty-five people and generously covered by publicity. Then more recently I was privileged to join a friend at a Kroger’s Supermarket and sell copies of THE SACK, which were charged to the customers’ Kroger cards . . . followed by the wonderful KTRE-TV interview.

So there you have it. I personally know people who can exercise and write at the same time on some contraption they set up on their treadmill (I can’t drink and walk at the same time, so I’m continually stumped how they do this). I know others who prefer blaring music, but most seem to love the solitude that allows their muse to truly come forward.

And then there are the gratifying moments we all love. For me, the most gratifying moment came when I had a library chat. A sixteen year old boy came with his dad, armed with three pages of questions. He stayed until the end of my talk, waited to speak to me, told me how much he loved my book, asked me to sign it and then asked if he could ask me some questions. You see, he wanted to become a writer and wanted to get “a real writer’s” perspective on some things. A real writer? Me?! Wow. For me, that was my first time hearing from someone I didn’t know how they felt about the book, validating my hard work and wanting MY advice. It felt great.

To find out more about the authors above, they can be reached here:

Gwen Choate’s YA novel, THE SACK, was nominated by Texas Librarians for the Star of Texas Award as a best Middle School book. It is available on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/The-Sack-ebook/dp/B00CD5VBTO/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1371494846&sr=8-1&keywords=the+sack+gwen+choate She can also be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gwenchoate

Mitchel Whitington is an author and speaker from the piney woods of East Texas. Over a dozen of his books have been published over the last decade, and he has contributed to as many anthologies. You’ll find Mitchel speaking around the country at workshops and conferences. Mitchel lives in a historic 1861 home in Jefferson, Texas, where he lives with his wife Tami, two basset hounds, and several resident spirits. You can contact him at: mitchel@whitington.com.

THE WORLD OF KAROV is FREE today and tomorrow, 6/28 & 6/29

karov10.25Hi everyone! While I anxiously wait for my young adult novels to be shopped around by my agent to publishers, I’ve got a very dark fantasy tale I self published that is up on Amazon. I’m doing a freebie on Kindle today and tomorrow if you’d like to grab it. Word of warning: This is not a princess fairy tale story – my family believes I opted out of therapy and took out my demons in this book. (no, serioulsy) Here’s is the cover blurb:

Adam and Alec look like identical twins, but their personalities are as different as possible. Adam is gentle and kind, whereas Alec is the essence of nightmares. Always jealous of his twin, Alec does everything he can to destroy his brother’s happiness, including kidnapping Adam’s fiancée on their wedding day and disappearing with her deep into the Canadian mountains. Adam searches for them for months, but he never finds them. Just when Adam is at his most grief-stricken point, a stranger appears and offers him a chance for a new life in a land filled with magic, gems, and powers unimaginable; a world mysteriously led by a special tribe of children who have hidden themselves away from a great evil that is seeking to destroy them. Adam takes the chance and goes with the stranger, but his past is never far from his mind. Eventually, reality comes back to haunt Adam, resulting in a final showdown with his brother…. and this time, only one will win.

If you’d like to grab your copy, here they are on various Amazon Sites:

US: http://www.amazon.com/World-Karov-Children-Demilee-ebook/dp/B00APJ6Z6Y/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1372426850&sr=8-1&keywords=the+world+of+karov

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/World-Karov-Children-Demilee-ebook/dp/B00APJ6Z6Y/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1372427069&sr=8-1&keywords=the+world+of+karov

CA: http://www.amazon.ca/World-Karov-Children-Demilee-ebook/dp/B00APJ6Z6Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372427121&sr=8-1&keywords=the+world+of+karov

If you do download it, I’d adore a review if possible. It would be much appreciated. Enjoy!

Dealing with Frustration – The Ups and Downs of Writing

frustrationI liken being a writer to being on a see-saw. One moment you’re at the top of the world and the next you’re crawling in the dirt. What do I mean by this? If an agent requests a partial read of my novel, I’m ecstatic. If I get a rejection letter, I’m crushed. If I get a great review, I’m over the moon. If I get a bad review, I’m back in the dirt, devastated.

Being a writer is a life of ups and downs. The trick with most people seems to be trying to find a way to manage the frustrations that come along with it. For me, when I get a rejection letter from an agent, I try to answer it with TWO new queries. If I get a bad review, well, I usually email all my tight writing friends and whine and they make me feel better. I’ve also found a boatload of sushi and some dark chocolate seems to help when things are very bleak.

But frustration doesn’t always come from reviews and query replies. It can also come from within ourselves. For me it’s the moment where I’m staring at the screen, 250+ pages into a book, at the climatic ending and I’m like a deer in the headlights. “OMG, WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN NEXT?” or “OMG, WHAT I WROTE IS SO BORING!” It’s those moments where you wonder, “what in the world am I going to do?” I usually close the novel at that point, feeling like I’m the worst writer in the world (man, we are so hard on ourselves, aren’t we?) But then, that’s when my “aha” moments happen. I tend to dwell on the book for awhile (maybe a day, a week). I think about it when I’m commuting, when I’m in the shower, when I’m about to fall asleep… and then WHAM! You get that moment when you suddenly see your story go on a tangent you never thought possible and you give yourself “permission” to go there.

So I asked some other writers what they do to deal with frustration.  Then I asked them about their own “aha” moments. First I spoke with author Gwen Choate who has been writing for 70 years (yes, I said 70) – she is my idol, 90 years “young” and just published her YA Novel, THE SACK (although she’s been writing successfully since her 20’s – I should have used her for my persistence blog last week). I also asked author Frank Tuttle whose YA book ALL THE PATHS OF SHADOW consumed my 11 year old Aspie son who was so compelled by the ideas in this book enough to make drawings for the novel and begged me to send them  to Frank. (who by the way, graciously put them on his book’s FB page)

Question #1) Do you ever get frustrated?

Gwen Choate: All the time. For most of us, the writer’s life is a mix of joys and disappointments. The thing that is most helpful for me is my morning “quiet time,” when I journal and meditate.

Q #2) Have you ever had an “aha” moment?

Gwen: Yes, often.  For example, if I’m blocked by a problem, I like to say before I go to sleep at night, “Please tell me what to do about this.” It’s amazing how often my subconscious comes through and I get an “Aha” the next morning.

Q #1) Do you ever get frustrated?

Frank Tuttle: Frustrated is my default ground state. Why am I not rich? Why am I not famous? Why am I not appearing on late night talk shows? As to how I handle this frustration, see also grain alcohol, consumption of. (very funny, Frank)

Q #2) Have you ever had an “aha” moment?

Frank: Yes. They usually involve the Mississippi Highway Patrol and radar-assisted speed traps. But you wanted writing related discussion, so I’ll say this: All good narratives can be boiled down to a simple formula. A character, in a setting, facing a problem. It’s really that simple. It’s not *easy* but it is simple.

Well said, Frank. I believe our own frustrations can also be boiled down to a simple formula. “Our book”, “other’s perceptions of our books”, and “our reactions.” Well, maybe it’s not that simple. But I believe as writers we need to realize there will be ups and downs, difficulties, good times and bad, but at the end of the day we do this because we love it. We must always remember that. Frustration is just a state of mind – one that we have control over, though at times we may not realize it.

Thank you to Gwen Choate and Frank Tuttle for their time. To learn more about them, please check them out here:

Frank Tuttle writes fantasy to escape his real life exploits as a jet-setting international superspy. You can visit Frank’s webpage at http://www.franktuttle.com/ where you will find links to Frank’s blog, his books, and first-aid tips for exotic pet owners. You can also follow Frank on Twitter www.twitter.com/frank_tuttle

Gwen Choate’s YA novel, THE SACK, was nominated by Texas Librarians for the Star of Texas Award as a best Middle School book. It is available on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/The-Sack-ebook/dp/B00CD5VBTO/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1371494846&sr=8-1&keywords=the+sack+gwen+choate She can also be reached on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gwenchoate

Perseverance – How Long is “Too Long” to Keep Reaching For Your Dream?

perseveranceI sometimes wonder if I’m just a glutton for punishment. My auspicious start to writing wasn’t good. After a very difficult 9th grade honors English teacher, who shall remain forever nameless, insulted me and my skills in a deplorably embarrassing and public manner, I stopped writing until my second year of college. At that point, something happened. Maybe I finally matured or got guts, but I remember the moment I said “I don’t care what that horrible lady thinks” and I wrote my first fantasy novel.

When it was complete, I was so proud of myself. Was it good? Um… no. Was it a little good? Well, probably not. It was my first novel, the first draft, and I really didn’t know a thing about POV, structure, grammar, character development, or well, anything. But, I had the ideas in my head and just decided to get them out. I grabbed onto a great editor and latched myself tight to a wonderful group of writing friends and started to learn the craft. The fact is, it’s been twenty long years learning the craft and trying to get published. But, I persevered and now I can say I just signed my first literary agent. My YA books, FLYING TO THE LIGHT and FLYING TO THE FIRE (which had been with a small pub company first and who folded) are now being represented by Pete Riva from International Transactions.

So, what makes us persevere? What makes us keep putting ourselves out there? What motivates you day in and day out to keep pushing? I’m self motivated to achieve – some compulsive goal oriented personality disorder I’m sure, but what do other authors think? So I asked Bob Nailor and Kevin Rau this very question. (you might find the answers alternately frank and surprisingly funny)

Question #1) WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO KEEP WRITING?

Kevin Rau: An obsessive personality! I’m fortunate that I didn’t also gain a quirk of being compulsive, but my obsessive nature has allowed me to lock onto my H.E.R.O. series and really grow it into something far beyond what even I imagined years ago.

Q #2) What have you learned over the years?

Kevin: That it takes a lot of effort to write, it isn’t fun and games. Giving up so many hours every week to write is hard at times as well, and often we have to choose to sacrifice time with friends and family (or from watching TV, etc.) and it can be rough. Advertising/promotion is just plain not enjoyable for me, and it takes away from the time writing/editing. Overall, though, I’ve learned that if we put in the time (and a lot of it), we can accomplish things.

Q #1) What Motivates You to Keep Writing?

Bob Nailor: Back in college Psych class we were taught about strokes. Good stroke aka praise.
Bad stroke aka punishment. We learned that everyone wants to receive a stroke, whether it be good or bad. No stroke was equivalent to being ignored and not acceptable. We are humans and we want acceptance. So, we would rather receive a bad stroke in place of no stroke. For me, motivation is reaching that next goal whether it be through praise – good stroking, or via criticism – bad stroking. If I am praised, I am ramped and ready to move forward. If I am criticized, I know I must work harder and better. Without either, I struggle, lost with no goal. So, I must reach that next step, that goal, no matter what stroke.

Q #2) What have you learned over the years?

Bob: Blame the publisher for any punctuation, grammatical, fact, spelling etc. errors found in your work after it is published. No matter how hard you try, there will be flaws in the story.  Get over yourself and get writing the next project. Oh! And no matter what you do — submit! Repeatedly.

So there you have it. A writer is at their core goal-oriented and self motivated. You have to be or why would you take the sheer amount of hours out of your day to do this, or the risk of negative criticism, if you didn’t love it?

I want to thank Bob and Kevin for sharing some of their thoughts and experiences with me. To learn more about them (whose books I have read and are amazing) please check them out here:

Kevin Rau is the author of the massive 13-book (1.2 million word) H.E.R.O. series of superhero novels. The first ebook in the series is provided free at most major ebook vendors. Links can be found at http://www.kevinrau.com/books.asp. You can also reach him at his author page at http://www.facebook.com/herobooks

Bob Nailor is an author of several books. His writing genre is somewhat non-specific with science fiction, fantasy, and horror but he also delves into romance, adventure, thriller, action, mystery and now Christian. He loves to write, cook, travel and enjoys the opportunities of doing conference and workshop sessions where he can interact with other writers. Visit him at http://www.bobnailor.com or follow him on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/bobnailor

Let’s Talk Character Names – “I like Mike.”

ilikemikeI’ll admit it right off the bat. I’m one of those readers who gets confused with complicated character names. If an author presents too many people, too soon, with foreign sounding or “made-up” names or where both the first and last name have three or more syllables each, I get lost. I’m one of those readers who keeps turning the pages back and forth to figure out “who is whom” in a book. This is one of the reasons I still like paper books over electronic. It allows me quickly to flip pages and chapters back and forth, so that I can keep up.

I think as authors we try to be too cute, or ingenious, and forget there are people who need to follow what we’re writing. Maybe I’m too cautious, though. In my novels, I like easy names. In my books, I’ve used Mike, John, Steve and Josh. Sometimes I get a little “crazy” and use Patricia, Kira or Kelsey. But they’re still not too complicated. Some people have skeptically asked me how I choose my names and frankly, it’s not a very in-depth process for me. I think of a name and use it. Pretty simple.

The problem with simple is that sometimes I’ll give folks similar names and my editor, Denise Vitola, calls me on it. I have a Desmond and Dave in my recent WIP and she said, “You need to change their names.” I couldn’t understand why. She said “When a reader is dealing with a number of characters, names that begin with the same letter, or that sound similar, tend to be confusing. Keep them separated in the reader’s mind by giving them unique names.” Problem is, to me they sounded unique and different, but I bowed to her. Dave became Logan… (though poor Logan was in the chapters that were all the back story flashbacks in the book and got relegated to the cutting room floor in the edits)

I read a great article by Brian Klems from Writer’s Digest on The 7 Rules for Picking Character names for Fictional Characters. Of course, I found this after I wrote my books, but I’m going to save it and go back to it because I think it’s really helpful. Here’s the link if you’re interested. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-7-rules-of-picking-names-for-fictional-characters

Time to reread the novel and get rid of some of those easy names… I always wanted to use the name Harry. Too easy? Nah….

Stop Making Your Characters So Perfect – no one is that nice…

perfectI have a problem with character development at times. I think up a story, have this idea for my main protagonist and I run with it. In the first draft of my novels, these people are simply “perfect.” They are beautiful and kind. They don’t curse, drink or steal. They’re amazing athletes and intellectually brilliant. They can sing, dance and play musical instruments. And not just one of the abilities above, but ALL OF THEM. It’s as if I’m trying to make a superhero version of “me” that is just so perfect all I want to do is live in their amazing little world for the entirety of the story.

But, that’s not real life. Twenty-two year olds don’t say “gosh, darn and shucks.” People have problems and they’re vulnerable. There are things they can’t do. No one is as flawless as I make my characters in the first draft of any of my novels.

And that’s where my editor, Denise Vitola, came in again on my most recent work. My beautiful and faultless female protagonist is human and there’s no way in this first draft she coming off as believable. Denise said, “You know, she could have problems in her relationships with her friends and her brother, you know.” I was like, “Why? Why can’t they all just get along?” She said, “Because that’s not real life. You don’t have to make your characters so perfect.”

Her final thought on this conversation stuck with me greatly. “Lyse, we don’t have to like your main character, but we DO have to empathize with them.” I can’t stop thinking about that comment and it’s now shaping my perception of every character I’ve ever written.

The word, “empathize.” What a great word. I need to add empathy and depth to my characters. I need to give them real life problems. I have to make my readers care about them. My main protagonist now fights with her brother like cats and dogs, she is emotional, she misses her target when she shoots someone. She has piercings, wears too much make-up and is a bit of a tease. In the first draft she was so pristine she could have floated. She’s finally “real.”

So, beware of making your characters too perfect. If they’re human, and this isn’t a sci-fi book about aliens, we must remember to keep them humanly real so they are believable for our readers.

Time to go give my character a few tattoos. :)

For anyone interested, my editor Denise is doing a special until Labor Day. Normally she charges $4 a page, but she’s only charging $2 a page, double-spaced, for your manuscript. Here’s her website: http://www.thomas-talks-to-me.com/editing/index.html