Tuesday, August 31, 2010

As Serious As I Get...

As most of you are well aware of, I write GLBT romance with elements of humor and suspense, and do so with pride and confidence. My concentration lies among the premises of M/M and f2M stories, though I have been known to weave a few bi and F/F tales as well. With that being said, there is nothing in the world I love more than writing in my preferred genre.

There isn’t much I would change within the writing world of GLBT itself. A damn good book is a damn good book, regardless of who, what, when, or why it was written. But, not everyone holds with that philosophy. Especially the judgmental and the bigoted.

Instead of finding five things I wish more of in GLBT romance, I find myself focused on the five things I wish reflected on GLBT in all its different genres.

In other words, I wish all the editors, writers, publishers, booksellers, contests throwers, literature award givers and anyone else related to the book industry would get an attitude adjustment and stop treating the GLBT (on the whole) like a redheaded step-child. These so called professionals need to buck-up and get a healthy dose of diversified reality.

We are here.
Some writers are NOT queer.
The closets are empty or at least organized.
Our stories are ready to be put on the shelves in public libraries, mall bookstores and in the homes of readers.

Yes, that means not every damn GLBT fictional story (romantic or not) is gonna be classified as erotica. We have queer young adults, children who live with transgendered parents and great homosexual historical figures no matter how much society has tried to change the fact.

Before I go off on a different tangent, here are my top 5 things I wish GLBT romance (and GLBT writing on the whole) had more of.

1. The recognition it deserves:
With the onslaught of e-publishing, books once considered too risky to be caught purchasing at the local GLBT bookstore or the nearest Barnes and Nobles can now be discreetly ordered as an e-book and read by a plethora of electronic gadgets.

With that being said, the doors have opened wide, introducing straight readers and closeted queers to some prime GLBT fiction. These stories are using major gay characters anyone can identify/sympathize with in a variety of plots rivaling anything remotely heterosexual.

So, why is it so damn hard to find mortar bookstores who will actually have more than a shelf of nothing but non-fiction gender studies that are such dry reading you need eye drops? Why do sales managers (or print publishers at conventions) snicker behind your back when you walk away after requesting them to ‘beef up’ the GLBT fiction section? Why are NYC old school boys not taking GLBT fiction seriously? Why isn’t there more exposure in magazines such as Romantic Times? Why aren’t there more agents getting the word out there that they handle GLBT fiction?

GLBT fiction has come a long way. It is powerful, strong and here to stay. Get with the program, people.

2. More honest ‘stereotypes:
Yes. You read that right. All this ‘political correct’ crap has this writer’s balls in a vice. And I don’t like it.

It is a fact of life. There are fags. There are fairies. There are limp-wristed and lisping flamers, as well as all the images one associates with the butch-dykes, femmies, leather daddies, Teddy Bears, Cubs, Twinks, and a multitude of other stereotypes. Just as there are the same who profess to be these labels, yet look like Mr. Wall Street or Ms. Universe.

The thing is, we all need to grow up here. Remember sticks and stones will break one’s bones, but names will never hurt you? Yeah, names hurt, but I wear big boy pants now. I would rather be called a fag lover than to get queer bashed outside the football stadium because I don’t meet the status quo of the politically correct image of a GLBT person.

Stereotypes will never go away, because they are a part of real life. It is up to us, as writers, to help show the diversity of these people - and how can we if we get nailed every time we pen a typical stereotype? I mean, it’s crazy. They exist whether or not they are written or talked about. Lighten up, people!

3. A diversity of employment opportunities among the characters:
Okay, I don’t know about you, but with my taste of reality in the world, not only is there a multicultural exchange, but the employment opportunities for GLBT folks are unlimited. Unfortunately, in GLBT fiction it seems to be stuck in the same circles. Lawyers. Doctors. Police. Cowboys. Military. Porn stars. Rent Boys.

Hmmm. Nice. However, what about the mailman? The oil change guy? The clerk at 7-11? The librarian? The Geek Squad? The janitor? The sales rep? The Department of Motor Vehicles employee? The waitress down at Granny’s home cooking? As a matter of fact, what about Granny herself?

I know, someone will post and say, “Well, I just read a story about a queer video store clerk last week, so phffft on you.” Okay. That’s one ringie-dingie. But, in the overall range of GLBT fiction, you have to admit the majority of the stories center around the same boring careers.

Let’s allow some alternative career opportunities for our GLBT characters, shall we?  Consider it personal growth and job security in these economically, depressing times.

4. A visable presence in the public libraries:
I guess this beef could go along with the complaint of the lack of GLBT fiction in brick and mortar stores. Yet, I do feel this is on a different playing field. The lack of GLBT fiction in our public libraries.

Get this. I recently go into a small town library. It’s nice, in a well kept building, up-to-date computer system, many new books, community rooms, money for summer reading programs, etc. I check out the GLBT non-fiction. One book. There is nothing for GLBT fiction.

I speak to the director of the library. I offered to donate $3,000 to the library to start a GLBT fiction section. I even promise to supply them with a list of the top 50 GLBT best selling fiction as a starting point. She said no - they couldn’t accept a donation like that because any and all money would be put in an account and dispersed among the regularly needed programs in the library.

Not to be undermined, I offered to take that same $3,000 and BUY the GLBT fiction books myself, then donate the collection to the library just so they could have some works for the GLBT community in and out of the closet.

Do you know what she said?

They would gladly take the books, and turn around to sell them for a dollar at the ‘friends of the library’ book sale - so they can use the money to get what the public ‘really wants.’

I can’t see, how a library, which is funded by the state and the government, can operate with a clear prejudice towards the GLBT community and get away with it.  If this were the African-American studies, or the Christianity section, they would not take this lying down. A ruckus would be heard for sure!

Yet, our libraries, here in the USA are getting away with legalized GLBT banishment, in the name of 'budgeting programs. Once again some super GLBT fiction of all genres is being tossed aside, and great GLBT authors go unrecognized.

5. More opportunities for contests:
LISTEN UP  ~ RWA and other contest officials! GLBT romances (or other fictional works) do NOT have to be erotic! STOP lumping us under this heading. If you want to categorize us, place us under GLBT and go onward.

I am so tired of reading through the contest rules and regulations, sending in my masterworks only to find I’ve been disqualified because it was a GLBT story. “BUT, it wasn’t erotic.” No matter. If it has two of the same sex hugging and kissing or even batting eyes at each other, it is lumped as erotic.

The erotic contest folks will look at a ‘sweet’ or plain vanilla, fade-to-dark bedroom door closed scene - and laugh their butts off.

And if you are a straight person writing GLBT fiction, Lambda will totally dismiss you as an annoying fruit fly.

It’s a no win situation.

I would like to suggest, in all fairness, those associated with the Lambda (the organization who recognizes gay writers and gay publishing) after all the years they allowed straight people to receive awards only to pull that plug out two years ago, stating "Our award celebrates GLBT people, not writing" perhaps this backwards way of thinking is walking a tight rope named reverse prejudice? Maybe they should think about adding a catagory that looks at the writing of the book and not what the author does in bed?

And what about the people who run story contests make it CLEAR if they will accept GLBT/alternative lifestyle stories. In this day and age, it is ridiculous to find out your story has been rejected because someone is too prudish to admit GLBT fiction (romantic and otherwise) does exists and, no matter how much one tries to ignore it, it will not go away.  Just like me.

Five Fantasy Faux-Pas

Okay, maybe not "faux-pas" but it started with an 'f' so I went with it!

This week we are blogging about what five things we would like to see in the genre we write in. So with that in mind, I have a confession to make. I don’t read books in the same genre that I write. Now before you start throwing things at my head, I do read Epic Fantasy, just not anything released in the last five years. I prefer to watch fantasy movies rather than read the books. Why? Well, that is what I’m going to blog about today. I quit reading Epic Fantasy because of these things.

 1. Voice and Style – I find sometimes that Epic Fantasy novels are written in such a way that I have to make myself smarter in order to read the book. I don’t feel the need to have my old English dictionary handy in order to understand the story. If I can’t understand the story without a dictionary, I lose interest in reading it. Usually if I don’t know a word in a story, I can at least understand the meaning based on context – what else is going on before and after the word was used. However, in some fantasy that I have read, I can read a page two or three times and still have no clue what is going on. This isn’t the most important thing that this genre needs, but it is the main reason why I prefer movies over books. It might not happen as often as I think, but it did in the books that I happened to pick up. And it's not just actual word definitions - it's merely the style the story was written in. I'd like to see Fantasy stories that aren't -- well I guess the word would be 'poetic'. A more relaxed style would be nice to see, I think.

 2. Dragons – This has two points really. I hate stories where dragons are portrayed as the evil ones or the villains. They eat people and destroy villages. I also don’t like dragons that have this obsession with becoming human. This goes along with originality I guess as it seems that many stories I read about dragons have one of these elements in it. I prefer stories where dragons have a more positive influence. I see dragons as guardians and protectors not out right killers.

 3. Faeries – (Yes, with an ‘e’ not an ‘i’) Besides my spelling pet peeve over this word, I also find two things missing with faeries here. 1 -  Lack of faeries in stories geared for adults. Elves usually seem to take the spotlight here. 2 – When there are faeries they follow the same pattern of being tiny creatures that help things grow and the seasons change. While that’s cute, I would like to see more faeries that do NOT do these things. In my novel I purposely avoided the faery stereotypes in order to have this in my genre. I’d also like to see a more adult type of story with faeries in it as main characters. (Oh and as far as artwork is concerned, there is a lack of male faeries depicted. I'd like to see more male faeries become great heroes in stories and art.)

 4. Character Development – Movies even lack this point to me. The stories focus on the magic and the world and the epic adventure the characters are on but it seems to lack deep character development. Now, this is merely my opinion. I’m sure others out there will disagree with me on this point. However, this is just what I see in what I’ve read and in movies. However, given the amount of fantasy I used to read, I can honestly say I don’t remember a single character out of any of those stories. But I remember the plot and the world they were in. Tolkien did a FANTASTIC job with his characters. Perhaps he just spoiled me and I subconsciously compare other books to his. Do I hate plot driven stories? No, of course not. I would just like to see more memorable characters come from this genre. This relates to numbers two and three really. I want characters that stand out, that make me love and hate them, that make me laugh and cry. I want to feel like I made a new friend.

 5. And this last point might be more of a technical thing rather than an actual story thing. I want to see Epic Fantasy (or all Fantasy for that matter) to separate itself from Sci-fi. Sci-fi is great, I’m not knocking it. However, I have searched for magazines and groups to join, but pretty much every time it’s a combined thing. I have also seen Horror grouped together with these two! It would be nice to see the genre itself be able to be on its own. Is there a Sci-fi Fantasy combo? Yes. I’m not talking about things like Avatar. But in my head, I don’t see how Lord of the Rings relates to Star Wars. (Okay that was a huge leap, but you get my point.) Sure, they are both epic stories of adventure and the battle between good and evil. But look at the differences. Steel swords vs light sabers. Elves vs Wookies. So, I’d just like to see Epic Fantasy (and Sci-Fi) branch out to stand on their own in groups and magazines. (Which most likely means a demand for more people to write in these genres, especially Epic Fantasy. There are a lot of Fantasy stories out there and authors too. However, it seems the authors I actually meet nowadays are Urban Fantasy writers.)

 And on the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars analogy, the more I think about it now, the more I realize how much in common they do have. So, it might be a bad analogy but still. One is clearly Sci-fi and the other clearly Fantasy. Hopefully you got my point anyway!

Monday, August 30, 2010

5 Gold Nuggets

The topic this week is “Five things you wish you would see more of in the genre you write in.”

Let me just say, whoever’s idea this was is awesome. I write Urban Fantasy. I read Urban Fantasy. I breathe it. And I swear sometimes I live it too. Er … don’t ask.

Urban Fantasy is quite controversial these days. It’s currently the number one subgenera of Fantasy and is so huge, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was promoted to its own genera anytime soon.

If you write UF, you’ve most likely noticed the conflicting advice from agents and publishers. For example, are vampires still in? The entire world seems to be split right down the middle when it comes to pro or con vampire characters. FYI I happen to know a number of agents that said “Yes, we still take vampires, but please, no more angels!” When I saw this, I was like “What? How did angels come up?”

Anyway, as an avid reader/writer of the genera, I’m very excited to present what I think Urban Fantasy needs more of (in no specific order):

1. Male main characters. While I have absolutely nothing against female main characters, it would be nice to get a guy’s perspective once in a while. I know the majority of UF readers are female, but come on. Men can make good mc’s too. They can be emotional and fall in love. They can grow into a hero. Actually, I rather prefer male mc’s because men have a very real and witty sense of humor. They’re often stubborn and take a while to change for the better. When they fall in love, they fall hard and become super protective of their loved ones. Aren’t those the perfect features for an exciting main character? I think so.

2. Kick-ass female leads. I am sick and tired of all the “Bella’s” out there. All the whiny, delicate, damsels in distress that you can take out of the story and the novel would be that much better for it. I hate it when a female main character says anything along the lines of “please don’t fight for me, you might get hurt. I’m not worth it.” UGH. I have no problem with the girl starting out weak – but she had better develop into a toughie by the end of the book/series. For once I would like to see a female mc say “I’m going to kick some serious butt with you.”

3. Uniqueness. I don’t care if your novel is about vampires or werewolves (or angels! Haha). But it had better be unlike anything else I’ve already read. I do not want to see a vampire version of Harry Potter or an angel/demon version of Twilight. I want something entirely new.

4. Following the actual definition of the genera. I’m not quite sure when everyone started confusing Urban Fantasy with Paranormal Romance and Horror. The three genres are completely different form each other. In case you’re wondering:

  • Paranormal Romance = Romance with one or more paranormal main character (think Twilight or The Black Dagger Brotherhood.)

  • Horror = Monsters trying to kill you (not love you).

  • Urban Fantasy = When the main plot is centered on the troubles of living in an urban society (crime, pollution, racism, etc) and contains fantasy elements such as magic or creatures of myth (such as the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris).

Do any of these definitions reflect the current market trends? Nope. Can one mix romance and horror into an Urban Fantasy? Absolutely. But it would be nice to see a successful UF that is true to the original definition of the genera once in a while.

5. Plot. This ties in with #3 a little bit, but is more specific. I noticed that most UF is very character driven, and that’s fine. Heck, I’ll be the first to admit that I am very character driven myself. But I often feel like too many UF novels lack enough plot depth. I seriously believe that if an author took a little more time to develop the plot arc of an urban fantasy, it would push the genera from “short commercial fiction” into a more classic, more successful, well-written piece that will out-live the current fads. For sure, it would set the author apart from the countless cookie-cutter pieces out there.

6. Word Count. Okay, so the title of the post says FIVE, but I just had to touch on this. Before I begin my rant about word count, though, let me warn you: Do Not take this one to heart. Word count is extremely important, and I’ve had to learn that the hard way (imagine a rejection letter that says “we were truly excited about your manuscript and wanted to sign you, but we decided not to because your word count is too high. Yup).

However, I’m often disappointed by the low average word count in Urban Fantasy, and I say this strictly as a reader. Why can’t there be long drawn out plots in the genera I love? Why can’t there be Epic Urban Fantasy? After all, UF is a subgenera of Fantasy; a genera that is often written in ‘epic proportions’.

My love for a longer story actually extends to all genres, as it seems that agents, publishers, and the general market is set on forcing writers to write shorter stories with shorter chapters. Long, drawn out descriptions, character background, novels spanning the life of the main character, are all things of the past that somehow died in the 90’s and I think it’s a shame. I remember reading paperbacks that were a few inches think in my childhood. Now most fiction – short of literary fiction -  comes to a stretching halt at a mere 300 pages. Tsk tsk.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the necessity of mastering the craft. Knowing how to write concise sentences, grab the reader with compelling action, and submerge them in tightly woven subplot is very important. But what about the art and delight of getting lost in a story that makes you use your brain? I feel it is lost, replaced by books written for a society that doesn’t really like to read.

Sorry for ending this on a depressing note. When I’m published and a tad more popular, I will have to write an ‘Epic Urban Fantasy’ for you all. *Wink*

What about other readers out there? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have something you’d like to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I’m sure there is no shortage of opinions.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let the fruit throwing begin!

A great title... it bears so little resemblence to my post this week, but it is a colourful idea... (thanks C.J.) Watermellon is big here in Greece and it is such a bright colour!

Well, what would the alternative have been?

A more mundane "FIVE THINGS" I suspect! Anyway, I shall continue!

I can announce that Greece does have the internet... but, after 10 days of burning my fingers out on the keyboard of my laptop, working on the sequel to River of Judgement, I have not been checking my emails as diligently as I should (it is also supposed to be a family holiday!) Quelle suprise! When I came on line this evening, to post the blog I had written poolside this morning, after checking the schedule at the weekend, I had to do a double take! But it is too late now to find a new horse, let alone write a new post, so here goes...

FIVE THINGS (no, not five items of fruit, C.J.!)

Expresso, chilled water, ouzo, good wine and good food…


Company of course, to share all the above!

[caption id="attachment_3284" align="alignright" width="224" caption="Such a hard life, writing!"][/caption]

But, as I sit here at the poolside bar in the Eagles Palace Hotel on the Athos peninsular in Greece, on what is the last full day of my summer holiday, I believe I may have that angle covered!

“Five things” the program said… (momentarily in Greece, anyway :) ), more specifically list five things I would wish to see more of, in the genre I write in. I do so love these challenges!

I think I might have mentioned, in a previous post, how I am not a good reader (I read very little, for a writer) and how I tend not to stick to a genre label. I am writing a story about a number of characters in a certain situation. It just so happens that the situation – and its consequences – gives rise to some fundamental characteristics. These characteristics may be shared by others stories and, low and behold, a collection of stories that share enough such characteristics becomes labelled a genre.

My own view is that we are conditioned too much by the process of publishing that, for marketing considerations, is driven by the requirement to segment audiences. Publishing is just like any other industry. It has to follow rules of supply and demand. Market research and segmentation is just another facet of commercialisation that removes the need for people to really think about things! OK… So, we live in the real world, I concede this fact… but where is the art in that?

(As an aside, I feel I may be digressing a little here. Perhaps it is the effect of all the ouzo I have drunk in the last ten days? But, no excuses, I shall return to the focus shortly!)

[caption id="attachment_3283" align="alignright" width="224" caption="Which one, Dad?"][/caption]

I asked my young son, Finlay, what he enjoys in the stories he reads… he likes mysteries, and action adventures. He is nine (going on 59) and his reading age is such that the books he has started to read contain profanity, which we have been telling him is wrong! But that is another issue… (Had this post been about five things I would like to see less of in the genre I write in, then I could happily expand this point!)

Finlay’s wish is to see more series. He likes to get to know his characters, and this makes him want to read his books faster so he can find out what the hero is up to in the next one! Maybe this is genetic. His mother (she declined to appear in a photo) gave a similar response when I asked her what she likes in stories – and she reads across multiple genres. Although the series angle was played down, the idea of getting to know the character was certainly important.

Where does that leave me? I used to read, and read a lot. I, too, loved series. (There you go! It is genetic!) Westerns, Sci-fi, James Bond. I loved complicated multi-faceted plot lines. Could I possibly cast my mind back and come up with areas that influence my own writing. Well, for the purposes of brevity, and avoiding further procrastination and digression, here goes, in no particular order of importance…

1) More life in some of the characters.  I am not quite talking of writing that brings characters to life here, though that is also important. (As I said, I would prefer the “less of” rather “more of” approach.) How about more life as in less death? OK, so I am crossing borders between crime, thrillers and such, but, really, do we need quite so many deaths to make a good story? High body counts to me smacks a little of sensationalisation.

2) More mundane events. Mundane? Yes, but I thought thrillers and suspense and crime are all supposed to be the antithesis of the mundane. True, but, again, the less is more approach. Why do the high body counts in many “in-genre” thrillers and crime novels also feature such horrific, mutilations of the victims? Do they all die such horrible deaths? Is every criminal also a sadist? I think not! People do die in crimes; sometimes passion leads to excess, but not all crimes are passionate. Many crimes occur as a consequence of circumstance.

3) More suspense. Most definitely! Especially if I have just reduced the excesses of criminal intent. I want the words on the paper to be put there with a purpose – I want the author to “play” with my mind, to “caress” my thoughts, to enlighten my senses. I want the words to act with subtlety, not shock. Like the chords and melody of music come together to build tension then release, I want the words of the story to do the same. I want each section and chapter and sub-plot to be put together with the same thought… to build tension then release. All the while contributing to a whole, in which the intensity of suspense builds through to the very end.

4) More story telling. OK, someone told me some days ago (and I apologise that I cannot remember who) but the Titanic was built by professionals and the Ark was built by amateurs (oops… wrong “arc” still, it gives me an excuse for a brief diversion). But, please, do give me a meaningful story arc to follow. As with suspense, I believe the concept of a story arc should apply at a levels of good fictional narrative construction. The beginning, the middle, and the end. Like a good rainbow, the story arc should climb (suspensefully, in my case) out of the beginning, and lead my eyes on a journey of wonder through clouds of inspiration, before dropping down to its root in that pot of promised gold! And I do so wish not to be disappointed when I get to the end of the rainbow!

[caption id="attachment_3286" align="alignright" width="150" caption="And one for C.J. (smiling, here!)"][/caption]

5) Finally, more plausibility. Unless I am blessed with a visit from the author’s very own muse, to sit on my shoulder and help me translate some of the implausibility gaps, the seemingly impossible transcendences, the missing or unbelievable contexts in which some writing seems to be set in, then the story must lead me, effortlessly from my current place of very real, plausible, existence, into one where I can see all the story elements working together to show my a new reality. Even gothic horror and spiritualism can be handled within a plausible reality. All it requires is a measure of sensitivity on the part of the writer. Good writing will always attract cross-over readers – broadening the audience for readership. And how good will that make you feel?

When someone tells you that they don’t read your genre, but that they couldn’t put your book down, how high will you be flying? And I am not refering to my flight back to London tomorrow morning!

Happy writing and reading :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Like "Duh!" Without the Plot, Where Would We Be?

On The Hills, of course, but that's a story for another time.

Okay folks, this week we’re talking about the five things we’d like to see more of in our genre. Well, for one I’d…what was that?

Oh, we’re actually talking about the other topic. Hmm, this is awkward. Everyone knows how hard it is for me to write things on the fly.

So, now the topic is what comes to mind first when I have a story idea?

I’d like to say character, but, many of you who have read my stuff are saying: “What characters?”

Well then, how about plot?

That sounds good.

Truthfully, that really is how my story ideas come about. Usually, I have this weird dream where I won’t remember people’s names and I’ll just have to write down what I remember. I can always create characters and settings later. Surely you don't think I just instantly thought of characters like Mariah Abernathy, Jesse Campbell, Cantrell Ryker and Devereaux Marshall Fox. Despite what you all have thought for years, they took a long time to develop...after I did the plot or main story line.

For me, the plot must come first. And, unlike most of the crap on SyFy, it has to make sense to ordinary people (normally it should make sense to me, but I'm a strange bird altogether; Hunter S. Thompson without the "medicines").

For example, a few months ago, I was at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I was hiking the Cherokee Trail when this fabulously fit woman jogs past me. Imagine Michelle Rodriguez mixed with bodybuilder Jodi Leigh Miller (see photo), with a touch of Angela Bassett and Rachel  McLish.

Anyway, I immediately began to visualize. Okay, I immediately began to fantasize, whereupon I walked into a tree and nearly slid down a rock face.

I’d already been envisioning a story about the dark woods earlier because it was almost dusk. Now, with my head on straight and my vision single rather than double, I furthered the plot. The woman had suddenly started sprinting, as if she were being chased by someone, only to slow down soon after. She was doing wind sprints – jogging, sprinting and then jogging again.

Hmm. Jogger sprinting frantically through darkened woods. Why or from whom or…from what? I didn’t need the character yet, but I used her anyway because of her fantastic…assets. Yeah, I can be a dog sometimes, but a creative one.

The plot became a chapter in Red Herring.

For the sake of those who haven’t eaten, I won’t explain where I got the idea for the prologue to Red Herring.

As you can see, once you have the plot or idea in your head, you can fill out the rest. Say you want to take a rocket to the moon. You can think of NASA and create characters like real astronauts. Or maybe you  make it a private concept and then imagine someone like  Andy Griffith becoming a space salvage expert in Salvage 1 (wow, how old am I?).

That’s not to say that thinking of the character first doesn’t  work. Ian Fleming was literally one of the men who helped  build Britain’s famous MI-5 and MI-6 intelligence agencies  (and had an indirect hand in building the OSS, predecessor to the CIA). So, it was easy for him to think of a character first and then fill in the plot as he just scratched together amalgams of cases he worked on in World War II and the Cold War.

[caption id="attachment_3265" align="alignright" width="94" caption="Ian Fleming"][/caption]

Still, for me, plotting first works best. I went through 20 years worth of plots with what eventually became Land of the Blind. I kept trying to create characters first and they ended up moronic and silly (Star Lobster, Plutonians, Skyler Wilkins, etc). Only after I serious began plotting did I have the ability to make characters who could fit the scenarios I’d envisioned.

Or take Crawl (more on this in a minute), my first novella. I dreamed up a plot about spiders battling. Once I got the plot done up, I decided on the setting and, from there, the characters I wanted. All that, though, needed a viable plot first.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Black Empire, Starship Troopers,20000 Leagues Under the Sea, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Frankenstein, Necroscope, Mists of Avalon, Lord of the Rings and many more great novels all needed and had their plots thought out first. Settings and characters came later.

So, don’t take it from me. Take it from centuries of great writers.

Plot some soil in the creative regions of your mind.

Note: After years of watching C.J., Wendy and David offer up their books for contests, I finally get to add one of my own to the pile. It seems that the other guys have finally forgiven me for that other...uhm, thing, so let’s just say that to any newcomers who sign up for Wicked Writers and leave a comment (a real comment, not one of those writing.com “I just want the 500 gift points” kind of comments) will get a first-run edition of my very first novella Crawl.

Also, any current member who leaves detailed comments on my blog and my alter-ego Anastasia Pergakis' blog next week can get in on the contest. And the prize is certainly worth it.

Everybody who has read this first edition by Lulu.com has liked it so much they tell me they can’t give it away for free. Well, it’s good that people want to pay for it, but you can get yours for free.

Don't wait. This contest only runs for the next two weeks.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vampires in Alaska! Dark All the Time, So...

I can't give reams of advice on writing, or share inspirational advice on how my muse and creative genius overflow with ideas and I'm a walking miracle. No. But, I can tell the truth. First and foremost, I'm a reader. I've been reading this genre before it even had a name (urban fantasy), when I used to have to dig through the sci-fi/fantasy racks to find kick-butt heroines and take the right-hand turn into the romance isle when the book mavens told me "There's this really great one you'll love, but for some reason it's over here next to..."

I could care less where the book was shelved, but if the jacket cover (a.k.a. wrongly called back-cover blurb) didn't grab me or sounded too romancey, then the book stayed wherever it was shelved. All my reading did me a world of good. It gave me a in depth education of what some authors adapted from folklore (burn in sunlight, aversion to garlic and holy objects) for their vampires and what some authors made up (sparkle in the sunlight, vamps who feed only on animals, instant Big O with their bite).

It's been hugely entertaining for over fifteen years for me. The flip side is it has also made me a bit of a critic/cynic. I had an idea ping-ponging around in my head for years. I was waiting for it to appear from another author. Why didn't anyone (who wrote that their vamps were impervious/indifferent to the cold) base a story where there was no pesky sunshine problem? North Pole, Russia, Alaska, the far reaches of Greenland and Canada all came to me... ultimately, the perfect spot screamed out as Alaska.

Dark only half the year posed a problem - a vampire couldn't live there in the summertime. So what would bring a vampire there? The population in the darkest places of our world isn't prolific and the inhabitants would stay indoors most of the season, which would equal a problem with how a vampire would feed. How about a vacation spot? A place they could stay indoors, with lots of humans, and venture out when they wanted.

Why would vamps vacation there? It would have to be because they got something there they couldn't get at home. How about a chance to be themselves? Assuming their world was hidden from ours they would have to walk a careful line between hiding their true nature and blending in with society. I never understood the tales that had a creepy gothic castle with vamps running around, orgies of blood with missing young people, or a rash of drained bodies in any urban setting. Hello? Wouldn't the police notice this?

I love the dark stories with a sharp edge of sex in them. They scare and entice all at once. They take you to the edge of your seat and arouse the most important sexual organ in your body at the same time -- your brain. But I wanted some sense of believability (read Greg's old post on that one, he explained it very well).

I loved the idea of Fantasy Island. A far-away location a troubled soul journeyed to and came away, hopefully, a better person. The all-powerful, sexy Mr. Roarke with his funny sidekick, Tattoo. Just Brilliant. I'm surprised there hasn't been a successful remake done.

What if my vamps came to a place like that? What if the whole place revolved around their fantasies coming true? With such a decadent, sexual creature, how could I not have an erotic overtone in the book? Or lets' be more honest - why would I want to write a book that did not have an explicitly erotic theme?

I easily could have made my book one sexual romp after another. I didn't realize I had a talent for writing a sex scene until I sat down to write my first one. Chapter four in Vampire Vacation was a pivotal point in my writing. I had a vague idea I'd throw a dead body into the carefully constructed world of the all-powerful innkeeper and see how she'd react. But what would be the point if there wasn't some hot sex too - after all, isn't vacation designed for hot sex?

We have some friends who only have great sex when they are away on vacation. Something about how she can't really let go of the pressure of the family, house...whatever... unless she is not there.  Ummm...okay... I feel for her, but damn that's funny. Oh - and her husband makes sure they go on frequent, expensive, trips with lavish hotel accommodations every other month or so. Poor guy. Good thing she moved away and doesn't read my blog or she'd be pissed at me.

Fantasy - it fuels many people in many ways. Incorporating that into a world of my making with ever-changing guests to spice it up seemed like a perfect idea. That first sex scene I wrote exploded off the page and went on for over a thousand words. When you consider the sex in most mainstream books happens off the page, I knew my book was crossing major boundaries. Mystery, action, suspense, fantasy and explicit sex? Where would it go on the shelf? I read erotica as well and it did not have enough sex to qualify (yes, I swear I'm telling the truth, four or five sex scenes out of 90,000-words does not make a book erotica, it makes it erotic).

Knowing nothing about writing, having never taken a class or a workshop, and with only my own tastes to follow - I did what other experienced writers preach to newbies-- I wrote the book I wanted to read. I wrote what was inside me exactly the way I wanted it. Hot sweaty sex and all.

The topic today made me stop and think about how my idea came to me. Which came first the chicken or the egg? In my case, clearly I thought up the setting and let my imagination flow from there. To be inspired by a place, even a place solely in my mind, allowed me the freedom to tell a tale I hadn't even been aware was brewing inside me waiting to be told.

My most sincere hope is that readers will enjoy what I have created as much as I do.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Top Shelf

Were you expecting Long Island Iced Teas? Sadly, so was I.

     Our prompt this week was to answer the following question: “Who are the great authors writing today?” Thankfully, there was a second prompt. 

     What I mean by this is the fact that I don’t necessarily feel as if I read enough to be able to answer that kind of question. When I was a teenager I used to read all of the time. Even in the early years of my marriage, when the plant used to shut down for a week here or there during the slow season, I was able to lie around the apartment, reading to my heart’s content. Eventually, as life became more hectic, I was only able to read my favorite authors' new releases. Now, I am attempting to read more, but it is a discipline that I am having to master. If I had the time I would read so much more.

     Our secondary prompt was: “Who are your favorite authors writing today?”

     Now we’re talking…

[caption id="attachment_3245" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="A view of one shelf"][/caption]

As I mentioned there was a time when I was only able to follow my favorites. Over the years that list has included: Stephen King, the late Michael Crichton, Patricia Cornwell, Michael Slade, Clive Barker and Pat Conroy. 

     Citing Stephen King as a favorite author is like rock bands citing The Beatles or Led Zeppelin as influences, but in my case it is still a fact. I must say that I do not read everything that Uncle Stevie puts out. As prolific and as varied as he is, I tend to examine each novel and see whether it strikes my fancy before putting it into my cart or e-cart. I love when people tell me that they refuse to read his work because it is too creepy, frightening, etc. Of course, that’s when I ask them whether they liked The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me or The Green Mile. When they answer that they loved those films, that is when I rock their world.

     My favorites in the cannon that is Mr. King would be The Stand, Pet Sematary, Misery, The Dark Half, Gerald’s Game, Bag of Bones and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. The latter is a particular favorite of mine, and not because of the baseball references. I like it because of the young girl's strength and determination as she deals with finding herself lost in the deep woods.

     Michael Crichton was brilliant at filling his fiction with so much science that by the time he was done, none would question whether it might be possible for dinosaurs to roam the earth. Some might suggest that it was too much, but I think it gave his work so much believability. I thought Congo and Sphere were good books, but the terrible films really put a bad taste in my mouth. Uncle Stevie's fans can say the same about some of his as well. I was fairly dedicated between those two and Airframe, although it and Disclosure were very similar. I did not read again until Prey and State of Fear.

[caption id="attachment_3246" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Some Slade for your day."][/caption]

Patricia Cornwell hooked me with her Doctor Kay Scarpetta Series. My wife and I have followed religiously since Postmortem. We have followed her, FBI Profiler Benton Wesley, Detective Pete Marino and Scarpetta's niece Lucy, through the highs and lows of their lives as well as the peaks and valleys that is Ms. Cornwell’s creativity. There have been some great ones, a couple of lackluster ones, but for the most part she keeps us coming back for more.

     Which brings us to Michael Slade. I did a guest post on this subject just recently (http://wickedwriters.com/2010/06/16/special-x-thrillers/), so I will not bore the Wicked Readers with a rehash; however, I will say that he should be given a chance, especially if one likes their horror on the cutting edge. Why he remains largely undiscovered after all of these years, I still cannot figure out. Those of us who do know Slade enthusiastically consider ourselves “Sladists”.

     “Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” So began my interest in Clive Barker. You may recall Pinhead from the Hellraiser series of films. That’s him. I started with his collection of shorts, Books of Blood. Eventually I followed him along from The Damnation Game, The Great and Secret Show, Imajica, Everville and The Thief of Always. I highly recommend that last one. It is a fable and suitable for children. I read that one to my two boys while they were growing up.

     Lastly, I will leave you with Pat Conroy. Writers of every flavor very often like to show off their mastery of the English Language. As a reader, we can easily find ourselves tripping up and losing interest in the characters, plot and ultimately in the book itself. Pat Conroy is not one of those. His prose simply must be some of the most beautiful ever published; reading his sentences just has to be like fine dining at it's finest. I have an image in my head of a non-wine drinker, tasting the bouquet that are his sentences and falling in love immediately with the vintage.

     This past year I did a book review over on my blog on Mr. Conroy’s latest release, South of Broad (http://jamesgarciajr.blogspot.com/2010/05/sunday-morning-musings_15.html). In it, I answered the following: “How did a horror enthusiast end up reading Pat Conroy?” I explained that a sister-in-law highly recommended what I would call his masterpiece, Beach Music. I had proclaimed that I never read anything unless someone died in the first chapter. As it turned out, the first page recounted the story of how Shyla McCall leapt from the Silas Pearlman Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, setting off an amazing and unforgettable chain of events. Encompassing many years, multiple characters and almost too many subplots to count, it is simply the finest piece of fiction that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I have read it many times and sometimes pick it up not necessarily intending to finish. I’ll grab it off of my bookshelf as if the intent is to give myself a delightful snack. It’s that good. How he tied every loose end into perfect and beautiful little bows, I’ll never know, and could only hope to be able to emulate.

     It is so good that I refused to read any of his other works, fearing that they would be such a colossal let down. In the end, I finally buckled and have read a few more, though I have yet to work my way through his bibliography. I have also read The Prince of Tides, and Conroy’s memoir, My Losing Season. I have not been disappointed as of yet. He is a fantastic writer.

     We read different things and we read them for different reasons. This was not an exhaustive list, but a list. What might be on your list? What might you recommend? I'd love to hear what others think. Hopefully, you can leave me with something new to discover as I hope I have left you.

[caption id="attachment_3247" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Thorn Birds? How the hell did that get there?"][/caption]

I would like to thank Julie Musil for commenting two weeks ago during our contest then about being interested in reading my e-book, Dance on Fire. You, my dear, are getting that chance. Thank you for participating. I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

...And the winner of who my favorite author is..., ME!

Yes, you read that right.

I, George Allwynn, aspiring author, oddity at large, and all around charming person - claim myself as my favorite author. I believe in my magic to tell an interesting yarn, and I recommend myself to anyone, anywhere, who wants to read a damn good story.

I just have to get a book published!

This isn't a case of swaggering egotism. Nor am I passing it off as my sore attempt at humor. I truly love what I write, not because I am a great writer, but because I am passionate about writing. And when I am passionate about the subject I am writing about, the story radiates with a life force of it's own!

My characters react with vitality, my scenes have spirit, and my plots entice readers..., "Come! Experience a story I wrote especially for you."

Or so I would hope that is how my stories are perceived. Especially for anyone who craves a GLBT romantic suspense with an element of humor.

Seriously, growing up in a world where good, GLBT fiction was scarce on any level, I was left to read books about other people. You know, people, different from me, leaving me feel as if me and 'my kind' weren't good enough to have stories or televison programs or songs written about.

In my naive state of mind, I decided to write what I wanted to read. What I wish I could find to read or to watch on TV or hear on the radio. Then, I could share these with people like me. I mean, there had to be others out there like me, right? Because God didn't make mistakes - that is what my Sunday School teacher told me

If I took up a pencil and paper, what I knew to be true in my heart would, somehow, translate to be true on the page as well as true in life.

So, I wrote.

I wrote the stories I wanted to read. I wrote stories for what I wanted to see on television (which was later termed fan-fic.) I re-wrote the words I wanted to hear to the popular songs played on the radio.

And, when I courageously handed my beautiful stories over...

I got laughed at.



Abused emotionally by peers, teachers, relatives...

And, at some point, physically hurt by those who swore it was their duty to 'straighten' me out

Yet, my veins don't run with mere blood. It's a mixture of ink, insanity, stubborness and determination (shaken, not stirred.) Whether penned in secret or disguised by using unisexed names and other cues (taught to me by my lesbian high school Art/World History teacher), I kept writing the stories I wanted to read. Why? Because someone had to.

I was bored and in desparate need to read - to entertain myself in a fictional world where I could escape modern day cruelity and bask in the fantasy that, one day, people like me would have their own books - written with pride, with zeal, and with an ardor no longer tethered to heterosexual mandates or secret coding.

Thirty years later, I gathered my courage and decided to take my little hobby over the rainbow. I am still aspiring - a work in progress. I know my stories aren't for everyone. My grammer and sentence structure (among a few other things) go against the grain of 'Acceptable Publishing Rules.'

By secular terms, I'll never be a popular, celebrated author. I will never be a New York published author, because I refuse to sell out my life-blood to become another cookie cutter factory voice, force-fed to a population of readers who hunger for originality, flavor and variety.

I won't rank among Ernest Hemingway, Sir Arthur Canon Doyle or Harper Lee. I can't claim to be a Truman Captoe, a Victor J Banis or a J.L. Langly. Heck, I can't even hold a candle next to my friend D.C. Juris - at least he has some publishing bragging rights to stuff down his trousers.

However, through my own blood, sweat and tears, my stories have earned the right to be loved, appreciated and read several times over. I deserve to be somebody's favorite author.

Even if that somebody is me.

Remember the authors motto:  You gotta love what you write.

Giants and Underdogs

This week we are blogging about the great authors of our time or our favorite authors. I fought with myself for days for what to write about, but finally in the wee hours of Monday morning, the spark of inspiration hit me.

 I always root for the underdog - in any arena. I prefer reading books by not so well known authors. Don’t get me wrong, I read anything that looks good. But in a book store, I try to find the books by authors I haven’t heard of or books with new authors. (You can tell these by opening the covers and not seeing the page with lists of other books they have written, of course.)

 Even with that thought in mind, I still don’t really pay attention to who the author is when I’m reading the book. If it looks like something I want to read, then I buy it. I’ve read so many books and I promise you I can’t tell you the authors to any one of them without looking it up.

 I have favorite books but not favorite authors.

 Well, I take that back. There is one author I love so much that I’ll read anything she writes, just because she wrote it. And that is Mary Higgins Clark. The first book I ever read by her was A Cry in the Night. I was browsing through my local used book store and asked the clerk to recommend me something. (It was a shameful tactic just to talk to the good looking guy, but…) I told him I liked mysteries and suspense thrillers and he didn’t hesitate to point me toward Mary Higgins Clark’s stories.

 I was hooked! Her ability to grab readers and make them literally sweat from the suspense is magical. I now have a small collection of her books on my shelf and I read them over and over again! I long to have more but it’s not feasible at the moment to go diving into dusty used book stores any more. (An active toddler really takes the joy out of shopping for anything.)

 Are there other authors that top my list? Of course. None of them are published yet though! I would read any story written by Greg, C.J. or J.D. here. Why? They take a hint of mystery, a dash of magic, a dose of technology, a spoonful of sex, and a heap of imagination to craft worlds that are just so REAL. Their characters jump off the pages and laugh, cry, and gasp right along with me. I love it!

 That is what makes an author great in my opinion. If I can read the story and cry actual tears, laugh out loud, and feel like I just lost a friend when the story ends? I’ll be a die hard fan for life.

 I had the privilege to read their WIPs (Greg’s Land of the Blind, CJ’s Vampire Vacation, and JD’s Dark Heirloom) and I can’t wait to see the official copies in the stores.  All three of them have inspired me and my own writing is all the better because I met them.

 What do you think makes a great author? What authors grab your attention and keep you up late at night to read just one more chapter?

In the spirit of great authors, you have the chance to win a copy of A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clark! Leave a comment on this post and subscribe to this blog to enter. This contest will run for two weeks and I'll announce the winner on my next post!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Honoring Great Authors of Today

This week’s topic is about our favorite authors and who we think are the great authors of today. To be honest, I’ve been dreading this post all week. I don’t have a favorite author. At least not in the sense that I visit the person’s website once a day and stalk them on Twitter. Heck, I don’t even have a favorite book. I read a lot. I read often. My “favorite” book is whichever one I’m currently carrying around and obsessively reading (which happens to be Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward).

As for “great authors of today”? Please. That’s too subjective. One would first have to determine the criteria for a great author. Success in the writing industry means different things for different people. Sure, most of us aim to write a best seller and make a nice chunk of change. But I do know of one author who told me they don’t want their book to be popular, they want it to get banned! Of course in my opinion, all press is good press.

But what, then, makes a great author?  Their skill in the craft? Writing a classic literary piece that children study in their English Comp. classes for decades to come? Is it an author that challenges society and forces them to look at the flaws of the word, like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Or is it the sales that make an author great? Is it the ability to write an entertaining piece that captures the attention of many, in a world where reading is a fading past-time replaced by television, video games, and the internet?

Who knows.

The problem is that “successful” authors are the exception, and they are too often contradictory to what a successful author is supposed to be like. Ahem. I don’t think I need to mention Stephenie Meyer, but there are others too. In my opinion, Laurell K. Hamilton and L.A. Banks can join Stephanie Meyer in the “bad, yet successful” pile.

I think what makes a truly great author is one who has proven his skill to be worthy  AND has topped the Best Sellers charts. I can think of only one such person. Someone who crafts flawless, breathtaking, mind-blowing, works of art. Someone whose novels I’ve read and would recommend to everyone.

This man is Sci-Fi writer Orson Scott Card, author of the famous Ender’s Game series, and countless other Fantasy novels, including one of my favorites, Enchantment.

[caption id="attachment_3194" align="alignleft" width="106" caption="Orson Scott Card"][/caption]

Ender’s Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, both won Hugo and Nebula Awards. Card has also written multiple screenplays, biblical novels, American frontier novels, poetry, “How to” books for writers, and teaches writing workshops and seminars.

Yes, I do believe Card has gone above and beyond Great Author status and is a truly rare genius of the craft. Tell me, readers, are you a Card fan? An Ender's Game fan? Who do you believe is the greatest author of our times, or, who are your favorite authors?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Mandarin Segment...

Something completely different?

OK, so, out of all the elements that make up a good story – which would I tell a novice they should take the time to study up on? You’re asking me? Really?

English usage? Strike one – C.J. gone done that one – fair‘n’square…

Plausibility, or, if your name is Greg: Keeping it real… damn it, Greg! Strike two!

No, please… Sharon, must you? Strike three… Out? Failed on account of characters?

But, in (my) reality all of the above and more ARE required. Now that really IS a problem for the novice writer.  So let me cast my mind back to when I had a story idea for a novel. What pragmatic advice would have helped me with the daunting task ahead of me? In fact, what was the first thing I wanted to find out about that ACTUALLY got me through the process of getting the idea down on paper?

Well, if you will bear with me – perhaps even read a little “flash” of inspiration… then maybe, just maybe, I’ll tell you…

The Mandarin Segment...

“Bye, honey,” she said “...don’t forget to eat something. It’s breakfast time! There’s a bowl of fruit on the table.”

With that his wife disappeared from view, on her way to the beach – his young son skipping gaily in-hand.

The writer sat at the small desk of the hotel they had checked into early that morning. It was the start of his holiday, but he had made a commitment. This last project, then he would relax. He had promised. He’d promised himself, promised his wife and child. He was an honourable man; promises were that: responsibilities to be met.

Sweat poured from his brow as the heat of the rising tropic sun screamed in through the open window. The gentle sea-breeze offered no respite. The effects of a sleepless early morning flight crowded his thoughts. Inspiration, that ghost of fancy, slipped from his grasp – that drowning muse parted his metaphoric grip as he, the sole survivor in his boat of life, looked helplessly, listlessly on.

Where to start?  It was his first novel... the commitment made to himself...  an outline of the story! A plan! Yes, damn it, he’d already qualified himself as a writer – but this was different... a novel? Eighty thousand words, he told himself... over three hundred pages. The thought scared him. Where to start?

He stood; he sat; he fidgeted.

The mid-day sun rose to its zenith... then fell.

Hunger avoided him as a plague.

The disappearance of his muse had long ceased to be that faded ripple on the outgoing tide of his consciousness. Oh yes! ...he still had the idea ...that glimmer of story hope that teased him into continuing his purgatory existence. But ...eighty thousand words?

The deadline, the end of this day, loomed ominously. Soon, they would return: promises to fulfil.

He paced the room. Desperation rose as a geyser from the bottom of his soul. Bile kissed the back of his throat. Panic began to consume him.

His eyes, heavy in desperation, rolled downward. His glance set upon the bowl of fruit. Atop the bananas, apples and grapes stood a single mandarin. The small orange fruit melded with the colour of the now setting sun. The mandarin became one with nature, growing in stature as his vision occluded all else before him.

He stood, mesmerised by the immense vision of the mandarin that became the world before him.

He stooped forward. Reaching down with his left hand he picked the fruit from the bowl, surprised at its lightness, given the sense that it seemed, at that moment, to hold the source of all energy. The fruit became all.

Involuntarily, his right hand met his left, trapping the soft fruit between them. It radiated inspiration. It controlled his movements. He knew not why his thumb pierced the orange skin at that precise time. He knew not why the skin fell cleanly away as, caressed by his touch, the fruit rotated against the sharpness of his nail. He knew none of these things. He knew only that he now held the mandarin, its fleshy nakedness exposed. Its pithy segmentation beckoned him.

The fruit was whole, it invited him to enter... to consume, not be consumed, but where? Where to begin?

And then he knew. ...A plan!

He smiled. He would break his story into segments. Each segment would begin as almost uniform, manageable scenes. Pithy links would bring the segments together, to realise the whole – an arc of enlightenment; from beginning to end.

He slid his finger into the mandarin... and breathed life, wishing he’d been hungrier, earlier.


And my point?


The challenge, should you accept it, is to pace the story idea across something like 300 pages without letting the reader down. The writer must carry the reader on a journey through place, time and characterization, using effective language, well written and grounded in a reality that allows the reader to relax when the going gets tough. To my mind this takes a plan. It is a big challenge and, for the novice, breaking the story into manageable scenes is a great place to start.

Happy writing, mon braves! (...with no apologies to Richard Condon) :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Keeping It Real

I was actually going to talk about the basics of writing, but C.J. beat me to it. So, I must tackle a subject I feel is just as important. And, once again, I received my inspiration from the crappy “original” movies on SyFy.

What I’m going to talk about is something that doesn’t exist on that channel – believability.

Even though science fiction requires readers to suspend belief, we writers  must still have credibility so people will accept them as truth or explain them sufficiently to make the accept what they read or see like the world of the  Martin Caidin’s Cyborg or just about anything by Michael Crichton.

That said, let’s look at believable characters.

Sounds simple enough, except when life imitates art. Let’s face it. A lot of us are inspired to write books not from other books, but because of movies. Movie characters, as a whole, are either larger than life or amalgams (combinations of people). This is often done for time or to allow movie-goers to only have to follow a few characters.

You should not try this formula to make book characters.

Case in point: Quicksilver (2000) by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens. This wife and husband are best known for the Star Trek collaborations, mostly with William Shatner (which should set off alarms bells instantly). But,     they also jumped into the techno thriller genre dominated by Tom Clancy, Dale Brown and Stephen Coonts. Unfortunately, reality didn’t jump in with their lead characters.

Amy Bethune is a second-year midshipman who, via a couple of hand-to-hand combat classes, becomes a female Rambo, dispatching terrorists like Steven Seagal. Major Sinclair is an ex-Delta Force commando (sorry, but females aren’t allowed in Delta Force) with enough skill to persuade the President to allow her to go in alone to save the Pentagon.

Or, to balance the gender scale, clink on the link to Wikipedia to see how impossibly manly Henry Ralston’s Doc Savage was made to be.

Compare all of them to Tom Clancy’s hero, Jack Ryan, who doesn’t shoot a single bad guy while trying to escape that deadly ambush in Bogota in Clear and Present Danger. Why? Because he’s not a trained agent nor does he carry a gun. Still, no one would say that Ryan isn’t heroic.

But, let’s say you want to keep the two-dimensional beefcake hero and the “beautiful scientist.” If you can’t make the characters halfway believable, then you need to really emphasize the next point -- believable plot.

This includes settings like time and place, like Harry Turtledove’s alternate history science fiction novels. Sure, time may pass your technology by, like it did with Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, but if you base it on real-time, fans will forgive you if NASA goes astray with its exploration timeline like it did in 1974.

By definition, a “plot” is the main story or plan of a novel or book or story.

“Sub-plots” are stories within the story. They are often essential to explain characters’ backgrounds or back stories for the main plot. In the story line for Godzilla (1954), the main plot was a prehistoric monster attacking Tokyo and man’s effort to stop it. The subplot involved Emiko Yemane’s love affair with Ogata while being engaged to Dr. Serizawa, accidental creator of the Oxygen Destroyer. As Raymond Burr intoned, it was “the usual triangle but one that would play a part in the lives of millions.”

Compare that to the far-fatched back story of Joanna Dark in Perfect Dark: Initial Vector. that sounded as far-fetched as the X-Box 360 video game it was based on. Or compare it to just about romantic sub-plot in an action/adventure, horror or science fiction novel. They always seem forced (except for Vampire Vacation).

Also, make sure your plot fits the story. Don’t make the story fit the plot. For example, think of any slasher flick where horny teens accidentally or purposely find themselves at abandoned, creepy places, like a house of wax, a summer camp where teens have been slaughtered for years, abandoned factories, abandoned secret underground government labs.

In real life, we’d have a hard time believing people would go there. We would question people who enter dark rooms without turning on the lights. We would wonder how an entire town could be wiped out and the government could keep it quiet in the age of the Internet and cell phones. We’d roll our eyes if seed pods took over the entire city overnight instead of gradually and stealthily (pardon my adverbs, please).

Keep it real or real enough to fool the reader.

We need the firm ground of reality for our feet to rest on. We can’t change things to the absurd so that they fit what we had in mind. If you want a bunch of people to be locked together in an isolated place facing an unseen horror, then make it plausible. Like the scientists in the Arctic who find a UFO in the middle of a normal blizzard in John W. Campbell’s classic Who Goes There?

And please don’t introduce stock characters just so you have someone to kill off or some way to add sex to the story. I tried it. It doesn't work.

How do you know when you’ve achieved this believability?

When you reread the story to yourself after putting it away for a while and it doesn’t sound cheesy. If it does, rewrite it.

Trust me. I’ve been writing for 30 years and I can honestly say that I’ve cut a lot of cheese.

Believe me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Let the Story Speak

What advice would I give a newbie writer? What elements would I tell them to focus on to deliver a good story? Me giving writing advice is kind of a joke. I can tell you how to sell, I can give marketing tips, I can tell you how to keep your "voice" online true to your real voice in person -- but what I can share with a new writer about character development, getting "deep" into your POV, or layering plot lines would fit into a few short paragraphs.

I make this stuff up as I go. I stand by something I read from another writer-- "anyone can write". But what elements will truly make your work stand out and get noticed? I think every writer - or everyone who dreams of writing and has attempted it -- will tell you what their weak points are when asked to give advice. Wouldn't our advice for improvement be to focus on what we struggle with the most?

If you want anyone to read your work - whether it's a friend, family member, a reader, potential agent or an editor, you need to remember one thing: Make it shine. If you choose weak verbs, use lots of passives, tell your story rather than show as much as you can, or repeat phrases and words throughout the piece it will ultimately be a work someone walks away from. But before you get to even judging those things you need to have a firm grasp on format, grammar and punctuation.

Those were my weakest points and have been were I have made the most improvement over the past year. I still don't understand all the nuances of comma usage and when it's okay to "break the rules", so I wing most of it and hope my crit partners catch the worst.

I've had a lot of people ask me to read their work - and I don't mean writers. I mean people who dream of writing and who have a story to tell. Readers who have been inspired by my story and decide to follow their dream to write as well. The hardest part for me has been to get past the poor formating and polish-- lack of paragraph breaks, incorrect formatting with dialogue, no dialogue attribution, run on sentences, inner thoughts expressed as dialogue, confusing fragments, typos, incorrect word usage (your, you're, their, there and they're), and their ability to pick a tense and sticking with it.

These mistakes are not limited to the aspiring writers who send me their work. I've judged contest entries that made a lot of these same errors as well. It pulls the reader out of the story and makes them look at the writing itself. The writing should fade into the background and the story should leap to the forefront. Perfection (or as close as you can) in the basic grasp of format, punctuation and grammar will be key in getting your story to speak for itself.

It will also be what makes your work stand out to an editor. They can help with parts of your story that are inconsistent (like timeline or conflicting facts in your world), a weakness in a character, or a plot with holes in it, but they will never take on your story if they see errors strewn across the first chapter. It's a red flag showing your writing will require more work on their part. It's a cold hard fact that they have a writer who doesn't seem to have a grasp on the craft of writing. They'll pass on your manuscript before they even find out if your story was worth reading in the first place.

It's also what will make a pro pass on your query or your synopsis as well. Learn to perfect the basics as best as you can to in order to become a true storyteller. The story will be prominent and the words will fade into the background. Allow the images you paint to color the imagination of your reader and transport them to the world in your mind.

In all good writing, isn't it the story that speaks to you? Not the writer's poor crafting?

[caption id="attachment_3135" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Stole this from Ana's site because I have no pictures on my computer!"][/caption]

And to show that I can and do learn from my own mistakes, I'm hosting a contest today where I will giveaway a printed bound copy of my first manuscript, Vampire Vacation. As a bonus, it will be signed and numbered. These are copies I was originally going to send to book reviewers, but I found so many typos and areas that needed tightening I couldn't bring myself to do it. It is currently going through its fourth edit since it was printed back in late December, but I sincerely hope you can enjoy the story despite the many flaws.

An entry consists of subscribing to our blog (RSS link over on the right hand side bar) AND commenting on this post. Winner announced in two weeks. Sorry, no international entries at this time.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Future of Books and a Contest

When I realized that our subject this week was the future of books and e-books in the next five years, it gave me pause. It wasn't as if I was completely clueless with regard to the task at hand; I have had the good fortune of having my debut novel published as an e-book. The issue for me was not the meat and potatoes of the dish, but rather the art of preparing the meal. I wrote the novel, but my wonderful publisher Gaynor was the one who handled all of the details.

The e-book: By this time, most people are aware of just exactly what this is. "What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet" (My thanks to Mr. Shakespeare). It's just a book. It won't bite you! Although, a good one will leave a mark. One can download an e-book to their computer, iPhone, e-reader, etc. Most of us not only have personal computers, Laptops and gadgets galore, but have multiples of each! 

The e-future: Imagine if you will that you have just finished reading a very good book. Are you ready to put it down? What if there was more content? Books often carry advertisements for past works by the author or for a forthcoming title, other times the book might include a sample of what's coming. What if the e-book was something called an enhanced e-book? Not only could it carry the usual, but so much more. Picture if you will the ordinary Facebook wall. Most of us have a Facebook account or at least have seen one. Can you see the video links and photos there? Instead of snippets of what the individual has been up to or what their friends have posted on their wall, I want you to envision the pages of a book. Are you reading The Lord of the Rings? Off to the right there is a series of photos. Are you reading Stephen King? Between paragraph one and two is a photo of Bangor, Maine. Better yet, how about a short video walk-thru of the town. Pat Conroy? Now you do not have to imagine what his south looks like, you could simply click the link. 

I know what you are going to say. It's the same argument against music video. Now that I have seen the stupid video, it has robbed my imaginative mind of being able to simply take the lyrics and create my own visual in my head. Okay, forget the photos and links. What if the start of the enhanced e-book contained a brief author's note, where a film began upon your choosing and the author herself thanked you, her faithful reader, for purchasing her work and gave the simplest of introductions. What if the end of the e-book contained an interview session where the author explained the muse for his story or offered other tidbits. Wouldn't that be something? Who knows exactly what the future might bring, but folks, it is coming

The Real topic: That was what I was hoping to write about this week. Unfortunately, thanks to all of the comments that I have seen recently from readers claiming that you can take their books from them when you pry them from their cold, dead fingers - we have to talk about something else. Has everybody seen Moonstruck? I hadn't until recently. I love romantic comedies, but must have had some sort of bias against this one for some crazy reason. In any event, I finally saw it, and liked it. So, with regard to the bias that many continue to cling to in terms of being unwilling to embrace e-books: I say, (borrowing Cher's famous line) "Snap out of it!" 
[caption id="attachment_3123" align="alignleft" width="160" caption="Cher and Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck"][/caption]

Forgive me, I'm not writing of those who have said that they cannot yet afford a Kindle or one of the other e-readers out there. It was easy for me. My wife has money! Just kidding. I'm speaking to those who get all nostalgic for paper, curling up in bed with their favorite book or simply their love of  bookstores. This is not the first time that this kind of thing has happened. We have gone through this before.  

This past spring the Blockbuster in my small town of 12,000 or so souls closed. It's a Real Estate now. When I was a teenager we went through periods where we had between two and five video rental stores. Then everyone decided that they should abandon the mom and pop places for the big sexy chain, thus forcing the mom and pops out of business. Now that we can order movies through cable, our computers, our Wii's, etc., we don't necessarily need Blockbuster anymore. And so it goes...  

Quick, somebody hand me a cassette. A what? Yeah, that's what I thought. I might still have a few cassettes lying around the house, probably stored in the garage. If so, they won't work now. Not that I have anything to play them on anymore! Not only that, I've long-since replaced those with CD. While we're on the subject, all of those CD's have been digitally transferred to my pc. They are available for me to listen to when I'm on my pc (like now - I'm listening to Asia), or my iPod (I'm pushing 7000 songs there) or my iPhone. My dad still has an old reel to reel. I haven't seen it in a while, but I'm certain that it is there since my parents don't believe in tossing anything out! Soon, we might not even need to store music. Our devices will simply access "the cloud" where our account is recognized and our purchased/stored music content simply streamed to our device. I don't know a lot about it just yet, but guess what: it's coming, too!  

Back to my wife. When the Kindle showed up magically at our doorstep a few months ago, she gave me that frown. "What did you do?" the frown asked. Yet, guess who uses it more than I do? And so will you. Trust me.  

The Contest: If you are still speaking to me after all of that, we have a contest for you. Wicked Writers is giving away a copy of my e-book, Dance on Fire. Ha! What else could it have been? The contest will run for two weeks. To be eligible, please leave a comment, along with your e-mail address in case you are declared the winner. We also would love it if you signed up for the e-mail delivery option, but will not make it mandatory. I would like to leave you with a note about my book. It is a horror/Christian crossover about vampires. It is a PG-13 story, so don't let the horror label scare you away. It is Christian, but contains some blood and guts and does not get too preachy. There's a bit of romance, too! See, it has everything. How could one possibly lose? Okay, don't answer that.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ebooks..., The Musical

E-books…, The Musical.

(with apologies to Gene Roddenberry, Don McLean, David Lee Roth, The Beatles, R.E.M., and Elvis Costello)

“…E-books. The final publishing frontier. These are my thoughts of the dying throws of print books. In five years, the E-book’s mission will be closer to completion. To save trees and land refuge from toxic inks and chemicals. To encourage local print book recycling. To boldly go forth, replacing as many paperbacks and hard covers in family homes across this world as possible…”

Yes. It’s kinda melodramatic for a beginning. But it hooked your attention, didn’t it?

Seriously though, there should be no doubt in your mind. I freakin’ love and embrace the whole wondrous world of e-books, e-publishers, e-readers and e-prices.

Maybe it’s the Star Trek geek in me. After all, anyone who grew up idolizing the crew of the Starship Enterprise knew without a doubt print books would be replaced by a computer-like hand held device. Look at the stats today – since the late 60’s television show, many of today’s computerized medical gadgets and other devices give their homage to the great vision Star Trek created within a generation of self-proclaimed geeks.

But, I digress. And I know you are all aquiver with anticipation over the E-book musical.

Yet, before I break into song, I need to say: E-books are a reality. They are here to stay. They are so convenient – I have over 3,000 e-books in my library right now, and can store 350 on my e-reader device. And who says you can’t cuddle with them? I do, in a fuzzy blanket with hot cocoa next to me. I even take them in the bath tub, to the beach, standing in line in the grocery story, sitting on the toilet – you name it, my e-reader has been there, and cuddled with.

As for smelling? Ummm, some of us are allergic to the dust and musty smell that comes from older tomes. If I really want my e-readers to smell, I won’t wash my hands after handling garlic. Oh, joy!

In five years, where do I see e-books? Growing stronger, increasing in numbers and on the virtual horizon, in an amazing explosion of unique, spirited reads, bringing back the joy of the reading experience and breathing a fresh breath of life into the bland, cookie cutter voice of the current New York old school published books.

This generation will never give up their paper books entirely. But, a future generation probably won't care.

And now, my musical tribute to e-books and the bright future they bring:

(To the tune of American Pie by Don McLean)

…So goodbye to paper and hard cover prints,
E-books have arrived, they’re alive, time to split.
Them old pub houses are crying in their fancy beers,
Sayin’ “The coming of the future is here; book publishing is changing, we fear…”

(To the tune of California Girls by David Lee Roth)

“…Well, the mystery books are cool – I’m into the crimes they solve.
And historical tales with their ‘action’ facts – make me feel like I’m involved.
The urban fantasy novel – with that ‘paranormal’ bite.
And the romance story with such sensual scenes – keeps me cozy and warm at night.
(I dig them reads!)
I wish they all could be awesome E-books for me! I wish they all could be uber E-books for me….”

(To the tune of Paperback Writer by the Beatles)

“…Dear E-pub owner will you read my work?
It took me months to type will you take a look?
It’s based on my life of fantasy and need,
I’m wild and free cuz’ I was born to be
An E-book author…, E-book author!”

(To the tune of ‘It’s The End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M)

“…It’s the end of the pub world as we know it, and I feel fine….”

(To the tune of “Give Peace a Chance” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono)

“…all I am saying, give E-books a chance…”

So, do you have a song you would like to tribute to “E-book – the Musical?” I tell ya, if I can’t take the writing world by storm, I’m heading to Broadway for a musical. Either way, New York City will never be the same again!