Friday, July 31, 2015

Why Typos Lose You the Most Sales

Hemingway once had a manuscript his editor sent back to him. It asked that he put in commas and periods before the editor would even look at it. Hemingway sent back a letter with

“…………………………………………………………………. …………………………………………………………………..…………………………………………………………………..…………………………………………………………………..…………………………………………………………………..…………………………………………………………………..………………………………………………………………….…………………………………………………………………..,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????.

“I think that will be all the punctuation you need. Please feel free to put them in where you see fit.”

Or so the story goes.

Many artists—and rightfully so—believe that the punctuation, grammar, and spelling, do not state their ability to create ambiance, pacing, and characterization. Sure, it is important to the flow of a story to get these things right, but isn’t that the job of your editor?

Especially when submitting to a traditional publisher (versus self-publishing), many writers will not focus on the typos. Artistically, big picture-wise, they’re easy to fix and it’s not the hardest part of creating a good story. So, it makes sense why people don’t always prioritize fixing them.

But you should.

-It directly affects the enjoyment of reading it.

Let’s work with the most valid reason readers don’t want to purchase a book filled with typos—typos are jarring.

Everything else aside, they immediately ripped the reader out of the story to pay attention to this trivial issue that is actually easy to fix. I mean, typos happen, and it’s reasonable not to catch everyone especially in the first few drafts, but when an author is trying to sell his manuscript based on the merits of immersion and entertainment—whether that be directly to a reader or agent—he is shooting  himself in the foot by not prioritizing having a clean manuscript.

And sometimes spelling errors, misplaced words, and the like can obviously confuse what the author is trying to say. In many cases people will know what you really mean—you meant “their” not “there”—but it’s just as common for typos to change the entire meaning of the sentence.

An author who cares about his reader will take care of them, realizing that even if they should forgive a typo here and there, it makes the reading experience less.

-It’s a sign of inexperience.

The more you write, the more you learn grammar rules, the more you teach your hands to type in the correct form of “your,” and the more you precise and experimental you get. You can’t start toying with the effects of punctuation if you don’t understand punctuation.

The more experienced a writer is, often the less grammatical mistakes they make. There are those authors who never bother to learn and yet have written thousands and thousands of pages, but it still makes sense to determine a writer’s experience level by their ability to write correct sentences.

When readers pick up a book or agents pick up a manuscript and they see it typo ridden, it says, “I am a beginning author.”

And it really doesn’t matter if you are or aren’t.

While a lack of understanding or interest in grammar doesn’t actually mean that you don’t know how to satisfy a reader, people think, when seeing these mistakes, that if you can’t fix the obvious black and white rules of writing, how can you have the skills and knowledge to keep up the continuity, character arcs, or a great ending?

It’s not unreasonable for people to assume that a book filled with typos is going to be terrible. They are, in many, many cases. Not only because typos hurt the experience, but if the author doesn’t understand how important they are to a reader, if he didn’t edit for grammar, he probably didn’t edit at all.

While it might not be true, it probably is, and readers would be stupid to ignore it when there’s so many books out there that are just as likely to be well written and are easier to read.

-It suggests you don’t care.

More accurately, when books or manuscripts have obvious mistakes, it has to be either the author didn’t know the rules or just didn’t care to enforce them. So, if it’s not inexperience, it’s apathy.

When hiring artists, the first thing I recommend you look for is how excited they are to do their job. If they’re specifically excited for your project, even better. You want people who want to be there, those who love doing their work. Even if a person is a master at their skillset, if they don’t enjoy doing it, or consider your commission beneath them, they will be difficult to work with, and will often do a half-assed job.

Imagine you’re an agent with hundreds of manuscript submissions on your email. You have all these potential clients to work with and someone sends you a work that needs… a lot of work. There’s bound to be another few stories on there that interest you, and this person not only will require a great deal more of your time as you try to fix all of them, but in all honesty, they’re likely to be a pain in the ass to work with.

When someone sends an agent or publisher a typo-ridden manuscript, it could mean the inexperience thing—which means the professional will have to take the time to teach them—it could mean that they don’t care about the reader’s experience, they don’t care about looking good, or they don’t believe it’s their job to fix grammar errors. It’s possible they think their story is so great that it doesn’t need that extra polishing push to get picked up.

Why would they pick up someone who is going to be more work, who doesn’t care about making themselves presentable, and probably has a pretty big ego? The story would have to be killer.

And it’s even worse for those going into self-publishing. At least with an agent it’s somewhat understandable for a writer to believe the problem will be fixed before it hits readers, but when a book actually goes live and is still filled with easy mistakes, it screams apathy for the readers’ experience.

If the author didn’t care enough about the book to make sure it was a clean, legible draft, why should the reader invest their emotions or time in it either?

-It’s an easy means to judge an author by.

This is the unfortunate truth all authors have to accept: People cannot judge your book until after they’ve read it, so they have no appropriate means to judge if they should read your book.

Basically, they’ll only know for sure they’ll enjoy it after they’ve read it, so they have to use somewhat superficial means to determine if they should choose this book versus thousands of others. We have the cover, the summary, the first few pages, and some reviews. But the cover isn’t really an example of quality of story, the summary can tell you plot and a little characterization, but it doesn’t give you voice, pacing, or the depth of the people you’ll be reading about. The first page gives you a decent idea of the writer’s style or ability, but most of us will always be bored with a book until we get invested—I’ve hated every single one of my favorite books, T.V. shows, and movies until I got a decent way in—so determining the writer’s ability from just a few words isn’t always successful. As for reviews… well, they tend to suck, ranging from, “I loved it! I would recommend more books from this author!” to “There were swear words!” Rarely do reviews give you a good look into what your experience will actually be.

The only valid place to determine if you’ll like the book is from the sample chapters. Yet, it’s hard to assess the quality of story and writer with that little amount. I am rarely, rarely hooked by a first page, most readers say they have to give a story about 30 pages before they can determine that they don’t want to read it. In many cases, I see can argue merit or flaws in any piece of work; it’s unlikely that I’ll have a clear understanding of the writer’s ability unless there are some obvious mistakes.

And typos are obvious.

Because they could symbolize inexperience and/or apathy, because they can directly screw your reading experience, because they stand right out, are black and white and have no artistic merit or controversy, typos are the easiest and most accurate method of determining whether or not this book will be enjoyable—other than actually reading it.


People rarely buy books with obvious typos. And for good reason.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Author Interviews: Reily Garrett


Carnal Beginnings is a romance novel featuring BDSM and some fairly traumatic experiences for the protagonist. What do you believe people think of when they see “romance novels?” How about BDSM novels? How do those perceptions benefit or hurt your book?

I’m probably approaching this from a naïve standpoint as I am new to the publishing world. But from my point of view-

I think when people see “romance novel,” they basically think of “fluff” unless it’s also labeled suspense, mystery, thriller, etc. When I write, I try to blend suspense, mystery, and humor. People are a complex fusion of multiple traits, books should be, too.

As far as BDSM, I believe some expect a certain level (lots) of poorly written sex scenes strung together with a small semblance of a plot. There might be enough of that out there to substantiate their claim.

Though Carnal Beginnings does contain a few dark and sexual scenes, the story is not driven by sex. There is a plot (and sub plots), that move the characters forward.

I strived to write a tastefully written book with characters that felt real, with real problems.

How much unpublished work do you have lying around?

I have two novels, one on its third “layer” and almost ready to send. The other started as a short story which I believe I’ll remake into a novel (I’m fickle), but I really love how it’s shaping up.

I have two other stories that are in the first layer (sh*tty first draft). I generally finish a layer, move to another book, write a layer, then move to the next book. That way, I don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Each time I approach a book, it’s fresh.

How long have you been writing, and what is one opinion about the craft you’ve had changed over your career?

I’ve been writing for little more than a year. My fifth book (Carnal Innocence) will be released Sept. 1, 2015.

When I started writing, I believed if one learned their craft and wrote well, they’d be successful.  Now, I realize it takes much more than good writing. You have to learn how and where to promote, not to mention be persistent.

I also used to believe that all writers had terribly high IQ’s. I found this idea disturbing and self-limiting. Rubbish. A willingness to understand your craft and work you butt off goes a long way. Take the time to understand your character’s incentives and motivations. Stop and think, what is this person seeing, feeling, influenced by.

It’s a learning process. Enjoy it.

Is there any terrible advice you’ve received for your book or career? Bad advice you’ve overheard someone else be told?

Unfortunately, yes. I was told I’d never get a contract from a publisher; I should enjoy this as a wonderful hobby that occupied my time. That was five books and a little over a year ago. LOL.
I think folks are pretty much the same across the board. There’s those that, for whatever reasons (jealousy, greed), would lead you down a road you wouldn’t normally travel. Like any other endeavor, you have to keep your eye on your goals and research, research, research. Find what works for and fits you. Don’t follow, find your own path.
 
What are your biggest concerns about the current literary world?

That we, as a society, just don’t read near as much as we used to. It doesn’t matter what type of material you read. Just read.

Have you read any literary statistics recently? Incredible! I’ve come across research stats declaring that 2/3 of the students who can’t read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail on or welfare. This statistic is from multiple sources. I don’t understand how this can be—really.

As far as the type of reading material… It doesn’t matter.

My kids collected Goose Bumps books for years. I made a grievous error in trying to get my son to read anything else. When I took him into the bookstore and told him to pick out anything (nonsexual) and by any other author, (I thought he’d go for comic books), he brought up Stephen King novels. Love his writing but my boy was a bit too young for that. The next week we went back to—whatever he wanted. Thank God for Goose Bumps.


What trends, tactics, styles, or genres would you like to see become popular in modern writing?

I like diversity in reading, all genres, as long as they are well written and edited. This comes back around to learning your craft and not relying on editors to polish our work. I’d hate to see this trend of the market being flooded with poorly edited manuscripts rise—or lose the diversity we now enjoy. 

What do you think signs of a successful author are?

Hard work, willingness to learn from constructive criticism, and most of all—persistence.
Obviously you need to know your craft.
 
Where do you find yourself getting stuck most often—beginning, middle, or end?

Anytime my dogs want to play…lol. I’m a sucker for my furbabies.
 Seriously, maybe I’m a bit different since I write in layers. First layer is structure and major plot points. Second is more like—adding the emotional layer and light editing. The third is strictly editing and checking for those da**ed dangling modifiers. I haven’t gotten stuck yet. I take frequent breaks and play with my furbabies during which, I work out certain details in my mind.

If you could hire someone to do any of the writing work for you, what jobs would you assign to them?

Promotion. I dislike that part and would prefer to spend all my time writing and editing. On the other hand, I’ve met some incredible folks through the final aspect so I won’t complain.
 
What is an assumption people make about writing that bothers you?

The most common question I receive when someone finds out I’m a published writer—how successful are you? (Translated—how much money have you made?) I find this extremely frustrating as money is not my end goal.

I think a lot of folks reach a point in their life when they say – hey, I want to do this or that and do it well. To turn out a book that is well written and well liked, (you can’t please everybody), means more to me than you could imagine.

Tell us a little about Carnal Beginnings:

This is actually kind of hilarious. My first book, (written under another penname), was in the hands of a private editor. As I waited for its return, I was given periodic updates. One basically consisted of “get over your squeamishness of writing romantic scenes.” (My first book included one kiss.)

Well, being the sarcastic wench that I am, I decided to go whole hog and write what I considered a scorcher. (As a lark). Understand where I was coming from, first book contained a kiss.
Again while I waited for my first written book to come back – I submitted Carnal Beginnings to an absolutely wonderful publisher (while collecting rejection slips for my other books).  Less than forty-eight hours after submission, they offered me a contract. I think I laughed for a week. And so it began.

My publisher and their staff are incredible folks in that they help me learn and grow as a writer. Since then, my other books have been published.

The plot/subplots in Carnal Beginnings were pretty much drawn from my experiences in police work, private investigations, military, and ICU nursing. Man’s penchant for abuse and society’s tolerance for such behavior have never ceased to amaze me. The BDSM part was the wildcard – had to do a lot of research for that.

When I went through and edited Carnal Beginnings, I wanted a story that was highly emotional, well written, but tastefully done. I believe there is a balance, an edge that you have to walk to make this happen.

How fast do you tend to write? How long is your editing process?

I tend to write fairly quickly, but because of the way I write, it seems to take longer. I find that in writing in tiers, I can achieve a more complete picture than if I just worked on one book at a time.

When it comes to editing and fixing conflicts, I seem to come up with ideas/solutions to problems, etc. at the oddest times, (hence I always keep my iPod near to take verbal notes). When you wake up at two a.m. and realize – hey, all I have to do is… The recorder is at my bedside. You’d be surprised how frequently this happens. I think the mind is an incredible biological machine.
 
Do you prefer writing from a female character’s perspective or a male’s?

Now that I’m gaining experience, I prefer to write a scene from whichever character has the most emotional involvement or has the most to gain/lose.

If you met people like your characters, would you get along?

I believe I would. Most of them share a precision I respect and would love to emulate. lol
 
What was the hardest part in writing or publishing your first book?

In writing my first book, (under a different penname), it went through SO many rewrites. Each time I’d learn a bit more of the craft, I’d go back and apply it to the entire novel. After it was published, I learned still more. Then, come to find out – there’s ten times that much in front of me—waiting…

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005398668399&fref=ts
Twitter: @reily_garrett

Goodreads: Carnal beginnings

Buy Carnal Beginnings



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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Author Interview: Francis H. Powell




1. You have published several short stories, including an entire anthology. What do you think people expect when they hear the phrase “short story,” and how does that perception affect the way you write?

For me a short story needs to have a powerful introductory first sentence and the first paragraph has to ignite the reader’s interest. A short story writer has to establish strong characters, immediately.  An idea for a short story can develop very quickly. I wonder if people rather think of a short story, as the younger, lesser sibling to a novel. Maybe some people think you graduate from short stories into novels. I wonder if short stories are a little devalued. You can pack so much into a short story, create a singular strong mood, which pervades throughout the story.  Some of my stories are almost out of the limits of “short stories” they can be quite long, in some cases and have a lot of depth.
Sometimes short stories can appear like written “doodles” leaving you wanting more, as if they are incomplete, preludes to longer works.  Hopefully my stories don’t have this effect.

2. You have written a prolific number of works, twenty-two of them showcased in your book, The Flight of Destiny. How much unpublished work do you have lying around, and how did you determine which to put in the collection?

Quite a lot.  I suppose you have to think about having variety in an anthology, but at the same time some kind of continuity and themes that run through the stories.  You have to determine which stories are the strongest, will have the biggest impact. Maybe I have about another three book’s worth of short stories. Sometimes I go back to stories and revamp them.

3. How long have you been writing, and what is one opinion about the craft you’ve had changed over your career?

I moved to a remote village in Austria. It was not far from Vienna, but a very oppressive and strange environment. I thought I should try writing a book. I launched into it… nothing came of it. I do many creative activities, painting as well as writing music. Writing lay dormant, put to one side. Then later, living in Paris at this point in time, via an advert, I made contact with a man called Alan Clark, who had a literary magazine called Rat Mort (dead rat).  I submitted four short stories for this magazine. Encouraged by Alan, I began to write more and more short stories, and developed a style… I guess if I compare these stories to earlier efforts at writing… there has been a huge development…I am sure my early attempts were imaginative but raw. I don’t know if it is a new aspect, due to the importance of the social media, but I never knew (up to April) that a writer also had to be a book promoter and spend hours on social media, trying to get a book noticed.
  
4. What are your biggest concerns about the current literary world?

Too many E.L. James clones.

5. What trends, tactics, styles, or genres would you like to see become popular in modern writing?

A fusion of well-produced written books with brilliant illustrations. I come from an arts background. My book has twenty-two illustrations.

6. What trends would you like to see disappear?

Any trends that appear tasteless, writers out to make a quick buck, with titillating factory produced stories, and a steamy cover with naked figures strewn with bondage writhing together in a tight clench.  

7. Where do you find yourself getting stuck most often—planning? Beginning, middle, or end?

With my style of writing, I am always moving the story along to the end, thinking about the where the direction of the story is going.  As I said before the first sentence is paramount, for example my story “Bugeyes” begins with… Bug-eyes was due a life of toil. “Seed” begins with Captain Spender’s wife was ovulating. “Cast from Hell” begins with There it was: I was to be banished from hell. The ends have to have a dramatic twist, with events leading up to this.

8. If you could hire someone to do any of the writing work for you, what jobs would you assign to them?

A proof-reader with sharp eyes, to thoroughly scan each story.

9. Tell us a little about The Flight of Destiny:

Flight of destiny is a collection of short stories about misfortune. They are characterized by unexpected final twists that come at the end of each tale. They are dark and surreal and quirky tales, set around the world, at different time periods. They show a world in which anything can happen. It is hard to determine reality and what is going on a disturbed mind. People's conceptions about morality are turned upside down. A good person can be transformed by an unexpected event into a bad person and then back again to their former state. The high and mighty often deliver flawed arguments, those considered wicked make good representations of themselves. Revenge is often a subject explored.

10. How fast do you tend to write? How long is your editing process?

I think this can really depend. The editing took a long time, because I live in France and the editors in the U.S. I use British English, the publishers wanted American English. My stories are often very “British” in character.  There was quite a lot of negotiating. I think I have a very clear notion of what my stories should be like. At the same time I am sure my writing developed because of the editing process.

11. You are originally from England, but currently live in Paris. Do you write stories in French? How does living in Paris affect your career?

I wouldn’t say in a big dramatic way.  I have a few stories in which Paris features, there’s a Parisian waiter who preys on vulnerable women tourists. There is a Parisian writing community, who I gradually hope to make contact with. I recently did a writer’s event, a “writer’s panel” in which I presented my book along with two other writers. I am going to do a reading in November and maybe some events before.  Maybe if I was living in London, things might be easier.

12. If you met people like your characters, would you get along?

Maybe, a lot of my characters are outsiders and for long periods in my life, I have felt like an outsider. I also have a lot of despicable characters in my story, the hunting, shooting fishing aristocracy, who I portray in a negative light and would surely not get along with…

13. What feeling or thoughts do you want your readers to be left with after finishing one of your stories?

I would hope that they have been entertained, right up to the final sentence.  I hope they appreciate the wit and humour. I hope some of the characters in my story stick in their minds. As the title of the book, Flight of Destiny, suggests I hope they will have been taken on an unusual journey.



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Monday, July 20, 2015

How I Write

People are always curious about the writer’s process. It can be terrifying for some because many will use how we choose to write as evidence that we don’t deserve to write. It is also common to just not know. For people like me, however, who know everything, and more importantly, think about ourselves all the time, it’s not all that hard to parse it out.

Concept

First it starts with an inane idea:

A boy is secretly in love with a girl. When they find themselves in pitch black darkness, he kisses her, knowing she would reject him if she knew who he was.

It could be an event, like above. It could be a line of dialogue. At lot of times it’ll be me taking my fantasies way too seriously, asking, “Okay, so I fight off all the ninjas who attacked my office, but how the hell was I able to do that? I don’t know how to fight ninjas. I just got winded from standing too long in high heels. Well, I could have been possessed by a ghost who was a warrior in his life and he can fight in heels just fine.”

The ideas generate from two places: One, personal daydreams, or two, what ifs. Technical, curious questions. Would it be easier to jump off a moving motorcycle or out of a moving car? Could Pride and Prejudice be romantic if the characters’ genders were reversed?

This leads to the next most common question an author will get. So, if the fantasies can start from a personal daydream, are the characters me?

Not really.

Characters

There a scene in When Harry Met Sally in which she is talking about her sexual fantasy. She describes a man coming up to her and ripping all her clothes off. Harry asks what he looks like, and Sally says, “He’s just kind of faceless.”

Yep. That’s pretty accurate. See daydreams and fantasies, perverse or not, are vague, undetailed, and ungrounded. The characters aren’t real to me, the situation not well defined, and the moment I decide I might want to write about something, the scene actually shifts in my mind’s-eye to third person. The image is different. It stops being a fantasy and starts being a story. Adding in details ruins the ethereal effect. And I know myself pretty well, so often I can’t motivate myself to do the required actions. A guy grabs me and kisses me in the dark? I’ll probably be incredibly awkward about it. Because I’m incredibly awkward. Or I might be pissed, because, honestly, I don’t like being touched. Also, why am I there? How do I know him? Why the hell would he like me of all people? The answers to these questions would change continuity with my own life. I’d have to change reality, and, for whatever reason, that doesn’t work for me. When I decide it’s going to be a story, the rules immediately have altered. The world inherently becomes more developed, and everything changes. I insert my stock characters, which are generic, faceless, white people, thin, scrawny, with brown hair. The men are beardless, the women have long ponytails. I have no idea what they’re wearing. These details can change immediately by any little decision I make, and the following process can happen so quickly, that I’ll never officially picture them as these “typical” people.

In the case of the “dark kiss” (also my working title—I have so many projects on my computer that I always need a working title, long before I have any idea of what I’m actually going to call it. I generally name it the first thing that comes into my head, so when I look at the document on my desktop, I’ll immediately remember what it is) the character who-will-later-be-known-as-Faldor is white man, tall, with black hair down to his shoulders. The character later-known-as-Jocelyn is still generic brown haired girl, but I picture her as shorter than average.

Setting and Images

After I have this idea of what is going to happen, there are some obvious questions that come along with it.

Where are they?
Why are they there?
Why would she not think it was him?
Why would she let someone kiss her?
Why would he kiss her? What does he hope to gain, what does he think would happen?

Usually, I vaguely define the location in my mind. I see a giant tunnel, an underground cavern. Maybe an underground tomb like they have in Europe.

A basis of the fantasy is that he can see her perfectly in the dark and she can’t. She is dependent on him because of her blindness, making her grab onto him to lead the way. She’s vulnerable, which is, for whatever reason, always sexy to me. And this encourages him, which gives him more motivation to think that it might actually be okay to kiss her. She’s hanging on him after all. So another question is why can he see in the dark?

Originally, I was planning on a non-descript demon. Demons are the race that I use whenever there are non-specific powers for a supernatural human. But I’d already done that in a previous novel, and I was looking to be more interesting. So what races can see in the dark? Well, luckily, I was looking through my Dungeons and Dragons models and realizing just how many drow figurines I had. And then I thought, Oh, duh.

Poof. Faldor is now black.

Controversial Decision Making

Drow are, for those of you who don’t speak geek, dark elves. They generally have dark skin, white hair, and red eyes. They live, according to the Wizards of the Coast (the company that produced Dungeons and Dragons and its based-literature, who have also copyrighted the term “Drow”), in what is called the Underdark, living beneath the surface in a violent and matriarchal society.

This decision made me happy for several reasons. I’ll painfully start with the obvious; I’d be a liar if I denied wanting to look like I’m not racist. I won’t pretend that I immaculately open-minded or colorblind, but I will say that I think of myself as a high-minded individual, and I want others to think that of me. Because of course I do. That being said, I legitimately want there to be more diversity in books, and having a non-white love interest should be way more common. Having a non-white anything should be way more common. Also, by this one decision, Faldor got about ten times sexier to me. Not because black men are inherently more sexy than white men, but because he started to be real. Generic looking characters inspire generic personalities. So he has black hair. That’s all I know. He is—having not taken any actions yet—interchangeable with all the other black haired white guys I’ve written about. Which is the other thing. After around five books, I really got sick of just writing pretty white characters. You get to change hair colors. Woo. Can’t even really go into facial features all that much because beautiful is kind of limited. The obvious solution was to stop limiting myself.

Still, I need to have inspiration to change their skin color, which is upsetting. I hope one day my impulse will lead me to a more open-minded decision, but I think in order to get there, writers today need to establish a more congruent normalcy in having diversity. Then, honestly, I think the next generation will naturally be inclined to do it.

World

Not only did I have a much better defined image of who Faldor was (still unnamed at this point), but because of the actual drow culture, I knew a few things about him and the world. I knew that I wasn’t going to follow the typical rules of the dark elves. For one thing, I couldn’t actually use the word drow, and probably not the word Underdark without their permission. Secondly, I didn’t want to be writing a Dungeons and Dragons book and be limited by the world. For one thing would require a lot of research through a bunch of books that can contradict each other, being written by thousands of different writers. The rules in Dungeons and Dragons handbooks are deliberately made for gameplay, and if I were to abide by their restrictions, it would be obvious that I was making a Dungeons and Dragons world. Which would mean that I would have to either get Forgotten Realms to publish the book, or be sneaky about what I was doing. For another thing the Forgotten Realms books are typically a boys’ club where I just don't see a romance selling very well.

I wanted to maintain the idea that they lived underground. Because it’s cool. I wasn’t so sure about the matriarchy thing. I’m currently reading the Drizzt book, Homeland—bought after my decision to change Faldor’s race—about a dark elf. While I am enjoying the world R.A. Salvatore created, I don’t like the thought of Faldor living there, I don’t like the idea of writing about it myself. Violence is fine, but unmotivated sadism is hard for me to do well, or be interested in talking about. I have a hard time deviating from lore; I’m a huge continuity whore, and I’m exactly the sort of person who screams at a movie, “His tie was red in the book!” So I don’t want to be too much like the lore, but I don’t really want to change it either.

Right now, I’m about 20,000 words in, and Faldor has obviously left that world behind. Why and what his experiences there were doesn’t entirely need to be discussed yet. I am exactly the sort of writer who will avoid answering a question until I have to, and then figure it out, which sometimes shows a lot in the actual writing. I like to know these things out as early as possible, but it’s more important to me to keep writing and then get discouraged by answering a question I don’t want to. Usually, in fact, they smooth themselves out over time, and it’s just up to editing to go back and make sure it’s consistent throughout the story.

All I know is that there is an Underdark-like place where Faldor came from. I also know a little about his past, because he clearly left his home behind, and whatever that reason is says something about him.

Character (again)

I know that he’s probably a good warrior, because dark elves are known for their fighting skills. Which I am keeping. Because it’s cool. Also because I have the propensity to make weak Everymen, which is something I’m trying to get away from, so I’ll say that Faldor is a damn good swordsman. And, hell, that elves in general are stronger than humans. That’s correct with some lore, and I see it as benefiting me in the future. He, however, is not a strong, dumb brute, because I hate that.

Faldor, in my mind’s eye, has become more developed. He’s taller, broader shouldered, his hair is longer.  His eyes are more narrowed. Still have no idea what he’s wearing.

As for the girl, who I still know nothing about, I need to figure out why she would let Faldor kiss her, why she wouldn’t know who he was, and why Faldor believed she hated him.

Scene

There has to be more people in the tunnels. She doesn’t know who she’s grabbing on to. Whatever they’re doing, they brought a large group down there.

This book I wrote some of the scenes out of order. I love writing out of order, but I have a hell of a time of it. I struggle with knowing what the audience has already figured out, and I’ll be revealing information that seems, to me, will probably be revealed a lot earlier. For this book, because I was in the middle of another novel when I got the idea, I wrote what I was inspired to, what images I had in my head, so that I would remember them when I finally got back to actually work on it.

The first scene I wrote was the actual kissing scene. The process of actually making the story concrete is where I best figure out what I don’t know and what’s going to work or not.

So the scene begins with a lot of people searching for something in a dark tunnel. (What are they searching for?) This, however, makes it even less likely Jocelyn would kiss Faldor back though. If he could anyone of those men, the less romantic it would be for her and the more likely it was that someone was just trying to cop a feel.

She would obviously speculate on who it was, so the clear answer is that there is someone in the group she would want it to be. The wishful thinking would lend to her risk taking and kissing the stranger back.

Enter Golden.

Names

At this point, Golden’s name was Will, and he was just some standard hero figure. He had blonde hair, because a Will I know in real life has blonde hair, even though I’m pretty sure the name popped into my head because I was reading Clockwork Angel; it is definitely not the Will I know. That’s all I know about him at this point.

I hate naming characters. Labels are extremely influential, and I can’t settle until I get them right. I usually end up trying not to name side-characters (mistake), and only giving names when they actually need to be said. I tend to just jam in a name to sit there until I want to take the time and find a better one. Usually, I’ll be testing them out, because maybe I’ll grow to love them.

My favorite site is BabyNames.com. I’ll just keep looking until I find one that doesn’t sound made up, but isn’t all that common either. I believe I found Jocelyn there. Will was a name I pulled out of my ass. Faldor, I think I made up.

Jocelyn I’m still not sure if I’m going to stick with. It sounds like a pretty, graceful name, which isn’t how I identify Jocelyn of my story. Also, I’m not sure it fits with her heritage. Clearly the story is an alternative universe, and so the evolution of a name within a culture is different than it would be in ours, but I still am thinking about changing it. As of yet, I’ve just had a few characters comment on how the name doesn’t really fit her.

I also realized immediately that Will’s name needed to be changed for several reasons. One, it wasn’t inspiring any sort of personality. Two, Jocelyn and Will are the names of the protagonist and the love interest in A Knight’s Tale (unintentional… I think). Jocelyn, I believe, is also the name of the mother character in City of Bones, written by the same author as Clockwork Angel (though I did not know this at the time.) I know you’re thinking this doesn’t matter, but it’s one of those things that if a reader catches wind of it, he may very well jump to all sorts of conclusions. (I read a lot of bad reviews at GoodReads, and this happens a lot.)

I don’t like actual, real life names all that much, but after coming up with Faldor, I realized that I could really play with the naming process and all the different races. Faldor is given a typical elf name. Jocelyn and Will, who were both human at the time, are given a typical human name. Golden was the name I came to when I realized that Will wasn’t human anymore…

Merging ideas

 “        The dark elf watched her flail her hands out in the dark, frozen to not strike something. Feet planted, shoulders rigid, she groped the air. Faldor moved silently across the room as Will headed forward. Though he could not see in the pitch black, he marched ahead with confidence. The other two men stumbled about noiselessly as Will disappeared into the dark. Faldor, instead, waited behind with Jocelyn.
            She moved forward to where Will had been, feeling for him. The girl turned before her hands collided into Faldor’s chest. Still, he did not move.
            She planted them firmly on his shirt, one sliding up to his shoulder, the other then patting his collarbone.
            “Will?” she asked.
            He said nothing.
            Instead Faldor reached up and held grabbed her hand. He led her down along the tunnel.

And…  now what?

In order for me to write on, I have to figure out what they’re looking for, and I have no freaking clue. I start questioning who Will is. He clearly cares more than everyone else about what they’re trying to find, so what does he want? Why do these two faceless other men care? Why are Faldor and Jocelyn joined up with him? Obviously it’s important. Probably something to “save the universe,” but if I don’t want to be typical, I’m going to need to dig more into Will’s past.

So I asked the question, how do Will and Jocelyn know each other?

I go back to my stash of ideas.

Many times the “inane ideas” that start the concept aren’t enough to illicit a full story. I have so many concepts that I can’t possibly write them all. The way I solve this problem is that I’ll save them for later. I have a lot of “how they meet,” ideas stored up, so I just look to them to see which one would fit.

I have this image in my head that I find hilarious. Know up until this point that I had no problem revealing events in this story, spoiling the plot because this book is what I call my “Chill out” story. I don’t take it as seriously and just have more fun with it then the ones I am attempting to get published. That being said, if this story is published at one point in the future, and you are from the future (Hi! Who’s president?), and you haven’t read the story, but are planning to, STOP READING THIS PART. It will ruin the joke.

Anyway, the image is based around the idea of the fearless adventurer going to the mouth of the dragon’s cave, prepared to face a beast of epic proportions, and walking in to see the dragon in human form, sitting there, reading a book.

That’s the perfect way for Jocelyn and Will to meet. So, Will the human hero becomes Golden the dragon. I decide that elves have fantasy names, humans have human names, and dragons have “descriptor” names, like Ruby, Sky, Golden, etc. (This might, of course, change at any time.)

Characters (and again)

Why is Jocelyn at the cave in the first place? Treasure, probably. I like that, but then I think back all kind of princess jokes I have about being sacrificed. Considering we already have a dark elf and a dragon, it’s clear this is heading into satire territory, so I have the ability to take it in that direction. Why not use all my saved up jokes?

I don’t see Jocelyn as being a princess. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t fit for me. But I could see a king sending someone else in his daughter’s place. The “greedy” thing still lingering from her wanting treasure, Jocelyn becomes a thief, imprisoned, and let out only to sacrifice herself in the princess’s place.

Here’s the thing. I’m starting to get a good grip on who she is. I don’t want her to be stupid, or typically vulnerable. What makes the moment between her and Faldor most romantic is that it’s unusual. Why else wouldn’t he have tried it before? Secondly, if she is a doormat, Faldor’s actions could be construed as predatory. If the readers perceive her as being able to take care of herself, as being able to stand up for herself, then her choosing not to is more about her allowing herself to take a romantic risk and less about her being a weak idiot.

She has started to develop as an image for me. I already decided she was short, but because she was in the dungeon for a few months, she’d also be sickly looking. She’s malnourished—was before the imprisonment—so eyes look bigger, has a small bust, small waist, and higher cheekbones. She looks younger to me, which means that, despite no baby fat, there is some roundness to her face. Her eyes are sharper, expression harsher. Her hair is now a lighter shade of brown.

I mix who I want her to be with who she has to be, keeping in mind that I’m in risky territory. I am the first person to hate female characters in movies, annoyed by the current trend of “MILF with a bazooka.” (i.e. Strong women who are always responsible, always have the answers, are smart, beautiful, and powerful, always cleaning up after the men’s messes, taking care of them, rarely shown at their worst.) Freakin’ Freudian, if you ask me.

After writing for so much time and considering the characters that I really can’t stand (Black Widow, Pepper Potts, the recent movie version of Irene Adler) and the ones I love (Buffy Summers, Xena, Hermione), I am conscientious about the conclusions I came to: She can’t get away with being an asshole, and she can’t think she can get away with being an asshole.

Immediately I had a good idea how the story was supposed to start. It began where she was being told she would pretend to be the princess, and her reaction—or lack thereof—was imperative.

“        The bag ripped off her head with a douse of cold air. Jocelyn was impatient, but her expression came from a mouse dropping of sincerity and a shit storm of exaggeration.
            She didn’t dare speak, insanely hoping the ropes cutting her wrists and the oversized burlap hat was a way of saying, ‘We were wrong. Out you go.’
            When she saw those staring at her, she was glad she kept her mouth shut; she stood face to face with not only the king, his knights, and his courtiers, but the lovely princess as well. It was the one group she’d consider cramming it for had she known. It was a miracle.
            Jocelyn paused and blinked. She bowed, the restraints of the warrior’s strong hands making it barely more than a nod.
            ‘Do you know why you are here, criminal?’
            She bit her tongue, mostly because nothing coming to her mind was worth it.

From that point on, the story came clearly and easily. I knew what the main objective was—to get Jocelyn to pretend to be the princess—and the obvious conflict—She didn’t want to, and she wasn’t going to let it happen.

Conflict

Most of my story comes from me trying to convince the characters to do something. Often times, it’s just about helping them realize they could do it, but just as often it’s about making them do it when they really don’t want to.

I need to motivate Faldor to fall in love with Jocelyn. I need to motivate Jocelyn to have the behavior that would make Faldor think she hates him. (While I like the love-hate relationship thing, I do think it’s a cliché, so I used Jocelyn’s obsession with Golden to pull Faldor and her apart.) I need to motivate Golden into joining their group, and give the whole group and external motivation to keep them from focusing on the obvious in front of them (and keep the reader interested.) In the beginning scenes, Jocelyn doesn’t really know what will happen to her, but the Ardenians (a group of barbarians who are gathering girls for the sacrifice), have a horrible reputation, and she knows it won’t be good. She’s a survivalist first. She can let horrible things happen to her, but when she doesn’t see an escape, she panics, does the first impulse that comes to her mind. I knew this about her early on, and I knew the moment the king told her, “It is your honor, Jocelyn of the West-Winds, to serve your lordship on this day,” that I had pissed her off, and she wasn’t going to come easily.

Which is a good thing, because, she’s much more interesting angry.

But it did lead to several questions. How can I convince her to go? What can she do to stop them? The honest answer was they could physically force her easily. She knew that. If she fought, she’d lose. But there was nothing to stop her from telling the Ardenians that she wasn’t really royalty, and while that would probably have led to them trying to kill her, both she and I saw her being able to escape more easily in the battle than at any other time. Most members of the court were worried about it too, especially because, whether she lived or died, it would bring an attack by the barbaric warriors, and everyone was deathly afraid of them. Why else would they agree to giving up their daughters?

So how could I stop her from talking and possibly getting herself killed? Well, it’s a world with dragons and elves, so why not a little magic?

          ‘The spell,’ the wizard said, waving for the guards to follow, ‘cannot prevent you from being a horrible little girl. But it will make you do so intelligently, as though you weren’t raised with cattle.’
            A hand locking hard on her arm, a guard pulled her along. She went, though slower than they would have liked.
            ‘And the previous purpose of this spell?!’ she shouted, trying to force hysterics even through the dehumanizing gloss of words. ‘For what reason could it exist other than this foolishness?!’
            He knocked on the large doors. They opened, and he smirked back at her. ‘It was originally a language spell… meant to help dignitaries translate between foreign nations. I just tweaked it. Heightening a person’s native vocabulary is much easier.’
            Jocelyn glowered at him as she was dragged past and through the exit.
            He brightened with another thought. ‘And the great thing is the spell was deliberately made to prevent the speaker from accidentally cursing, which means that you are now limited to ‘oh my goodness,’ and—’
            “Prostrate yourself!”
            ‘Exactly.’
            The door slammed shut.

And the good thing is I get to be as ridiculous as I want with vocabulary without people saying, “No one actually says that word.”

Figuring out conflict is relatively easy if you know what your characters want. If they want for nothing, then it’s damn hard to prevent them from getting it.

Plot

Plot is one of the things that doesn’t just come naturally by flushing details out for me. While the next few scenes came easily—I clearly knew what needed to happen next all the way up until the moment in Golden’s cave, I still wasn’t sure about the big picture. Whatever the characters were searching for in the tunnels is clearly what’s important. It should tie in with the Ardenians and why they are making sacrifices to the dragons. Good news is, whatever that reason is, would clearly bring Golden into it.

I figured that the Ardenians themselves were probably the “group” I was imagining, so whatever happens after she reaches the cave means they would have to become less of the enemy and more of allies. Whatever Jocelyn wants—really what Golden wants—is the same as what the Ardenians want. Golden’s ignorance of the sacrifices (otherwise I couldn’t legitimize him being a good person very easily, and as the point of the story is turning out to be about Jocelyn’s irrational hero worship over true love, he does need to be less complex, more straightforward in his goodness than Faldor) means that someone is trying to get the dragons involved. Who is that person and why is he doing it?

The sooner I figure this out, the sooner I can start revealing information to the audience. This makes it less likely I’ll have an info dump, and make them feel like they’re moving forward. As I said, I procrastinate on finding the answers to questions, and most of my second and third drafts are about taking the answers I eventually found, and putting pieces of them in earlier on. Actually, no, I’m pretty much doing that up until the end.

So I have some vague notion: Someone somewhere wants to destroyed the world—or something. Somehow by convincing the Ardenians to sacrifice the region’s princesses (I’m picturing this as a fairy tale-esque Germany-like, pre-middle ages). How does that work? Well, the Ardenians are from the north, so it helped to lure them down into the area. The dragons are appeased, and probably on the Ardenians side now, so the villain(s), are probably trying to create an army. The royal lines are also, allegedly, messed up, though I suppose the ones with sons aren’t.

And that’s all I got.

While it’s beneficial to figure out these things early on, some answers will reveal themselves if I don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Either by means of writing it out, or when I’m in the shower, thinking about something totally different.

All I know right now is that the whole “attack on the world,” thing doesn’t interest me, and I need to come up with something more unique to what I care about.

Outlining and Logistics
                                                                                                              
So, last but not least, it comes to the question on how I organize all of these thoughts. I rarely do. I have outlined books, and I have appreciated the results of outlining. But in the same vein that trying to force plot doesn’t work as well as just contemplating it, and knowing what I need to figure out does, trying to sit down and say, “Ideas, come!” doesn’t work for me. I usually end up doing bullet points towards the end of the story when I have so many ideas that I need to remember to conclude.

The ideas themselves can come all at once, or over a period of time. Most of them show up when I’m already elbow deep in a scene and realizing what needs to happen and what isn’t working. So, I rarely am able to plan a good portion of the book in advance. When I have to do so, I usually grab another person and we brainstorm together. Talking about it out loud tends to induce inspiration for me.

I do write every day. My target is five-pages a day, though for the last three years, I’ll do National Novel Writing Month in November, which, for the month, switches over to word count. For Writing Month, it’s 1,666, but I usually try to do 2,500.

I do count my blogs as part of my page count. They are much more fun. I love ranting about writing. The thoughts are already there, I just need to put them down.


When editing, I prefer to have one day off to sit there and do it. I tend to do 100 pages a day on these occasions. Sometimes I’ll try to do 30 pages a day, and sometimes I’ll count that as my writing. Sometimes not.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Are Butt Munches Self-Aware?

Butt munch, of course, being the PG version of asshole.

According to my theatre professors, the answer is no. Characters never do something that they think is wrong and they always believe they are good.

This is, like many things they have said, simplified bullshit.

Self-awareness is definitely a spectrum issue, especially when you consider that the asshole can be in the eye of the beholder. (Take in that visual for a moment.) You have the dickish behavior which may or may not actually be dickish, depending on whose perspective we’re considering. Person A sends a message that says, “Hi,” to Person B. Person B, who has gotten many messages that say, “Hi,” which usually end in a penis picture, doesn’t respond. Person A, finding Person B incredibly rude, bluntly informs Person B of his feelings, which makes Person B pissed because not responding was the politest way to say, “Not interested.”

Who’s the asshole there? Whose feelings are legitimate?

But even in circumstances where true intent is not concealed, misunderstanding from tone does not occur, and a person does something that the majority of onlookers would determine to be assholish, (Spelling?) does that person recognize the wrongness of what he is doing, or is it valid in his head?

And, of course, it could be either.

When my acting professors would argue with students about their characters’ self-loathing and disgust at their choices, what they really meant was we, the creators, can’t judge the characters on our own morals or the characters’ decisions will never seem genuine. But we all know we can make bad decisions and hate ourselves, so to say we are never aware of when we are being cruel is ridiculous.

There are actually several levels of self-awareness when it becomes to dickish behavior.

The first is action before thought, in which we do something that later we will not approve of, but in the moment it either feels right or we’re prioritizing something over kindness.

In the heat of the moment, consumed with rage and the desire to punish someone who has wronged us, we’ll say something that only is meant to hurt them and nothing else. Later we’ll look back on it and realize how unhelpful or cruel that was. So, at the time we might have determined it to be the best decision, but afterwards we realized it was not.

It also includes unintentional dickishness where we don’t realize how something will sound until after we have said it. Prior to speaking it, we are unaware of the cruelty. Afterwards, we still didn’t mean the hostility, but it came out wrong.

The other is legitimization. We are aware that what we’ve done is “bad,” but we form arguments to suggest that it wasn’t. Things like, “Well, I wasn’t really being rude because he deserved it. I was standing up for myself,” or, “Well, I was being an asshole, but it’s for his own good. Now he knows his story sucks and he can move on.”

Legitimization is one of the more common occurrences, in which the character is somewhat aware he is doing something wrong, but is in denial about it being inappropriate.

Next you have the oblivious member who truly does not comprehend how his words or actions affect other people. He thinks he’s being funny. He doesn’t even consider if everyone else has gotten a cookie before he takes the last one. He just knows that he wants it. This person tends to live in the present and lack empathy. He is often the least dickish, however, because he has no malicious intent. Unlike the person who behaves in a way she doesn’t think she should—and then makes arguments to allow her to do that without guilt—he seriously just lacks any sort of moral questioning.

And then you have the last category, one very similar to the legitimization category, but much worse because there’s not that sneaking suspicion at the back of his head which may allow the “victim” to argue her point; the asshole truly believes whatever lies he tells himself. This is where the asshole isn’t just oblivious, isn’t coming up with arguments to defend her behavior, he is just deluded. Pure and simple delusion. Unlike the oblivious person—who doesn’t stop to think, “Does someone else want this cookie?”—the deluded person knows someone else might want it, but truly believes that he deserves it.

In summation, you could have the person who is at a party, drunk, who engages in a conversation with a beautiful woman which leads to a kiss. That person, fueled by lust in the heat of the moment, later acknowledges the selfish act as being the poor choice. Yes, he is very much aware he is an asshole, but, in the moment, prioritized the good feeling over considering the morality of it.

Then you have the person who, like the above, cheated, and now is trying to make excuses why it’s okay, still feeling guilty for his actions. “I’ve been neglected,” “It’s natural to be attracted to others,” “Sex doesn’t really mean anything…” Perhaps he hasn’t even actually cheated yet, but is attempting to find reasons why it’s okay for him to do so in the future.

Sometimes you have the person who really just doesn’t think; the boyfriend who decides to spend his day off with his ex-girlfriend without even a thought that it might bother his current. When confronted, he legitimately does not empathize (either lacking the capacity or the desire) with why she’s upset. He honestly does not see why she might think he’s being an ass.

Or, there’s the last category, the person who is completely convinced he did nothing wrong.

Recently, I bared witness to a “not” love triangle. A girlfriend was upset that the boyfriend was talking to another woman so much. He claimed she was just a friend. This “gal pal’s” argument? It included how she, personally, “was not even a girl.”

I have to say, from my perspective, I agree with the girlfriend.

Sure. You’re not really a girl. You’re one of the guys. Harmless and cool. Just a pal. Which is why your conversations and texts are so typically masculine like…

“I’m so ugly.”

“No, you’re not. Stop it. I hate when you do that.”

“I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

“Sometimes I don’t feel you do.”

And…

“Do you ever consider cheating?”

I believe she believes this. I believe the boyfriend believes they’re just friends. It has to do with the tone, the facial expressions, but also because I see  no legitimization like, “We’re clearly just friends because…” no arguments adding to her belief, “I’m one of the boys, you know?” She just says it and expects it to be obvious.

You keep telling yourself that. You keep believing that he’d still be talking to you if you were a guy, that he’d let your banal self-deprecation fly if he didn’t want to screw you.

This woman enraged me more so than any aware asshole could. At least there would be some dignity in recognizing that the girlfriend had valid reason to want you out of his life and then choosing to continue the emotional affair. But this read as deliberate stupidity, a moment in which the woman refused to acknowledge her actions, but then judged those who do as being deluded themselves.

When it comes to my forgiveness, I never want an apology. Either you were unaware of how your actions would affect me, in which case an apology is not necessary, or you did it intentionally, in which case an apology isn’t enough. All that I need to make amends with someone is for them to understand where I am coming from, to recognize the validity in my perspective.


This is why I think the deluded villain is the worst of them all, and the question of whether or not your characters are aware of their actions affect others, but how much of their excuses they’re willing to believe. Are assholes self-aware? I’d argue the worst ones aren’t.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Author Interviews: Alexander Mori


Alexander Mori is an American author living with his rat dog and two cats deep in the heart of North Texas.  He writes novels for a living, plays music for fun, and can beat most fifth graders at chess just because.  Tyrion is his favorite Game of Thrones character, though Arya is a very close second.  Soccer is his sport of choice, but Dirk is his favorite athlete on the planet.  He's never met a pizza he couldn't eat and is not afraid of really bad 80s movies.  I mean, really, who could be afraid of Bill and Ted?  Check out his blog (www.alexandermori.com) if you want to know more about what makes him tick. And definitely check out his novels, available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and most other e-reading platforms out there!

1. You have published three books, each of which seem to play with our notions of genre. Exchange Day, where the characters attend a school on the ocean floor, providing protection from the war that rages above. In your stand-alone work, The Elephant Keyhole, the contemporary characters explore a jungle where something, or someone, lurks in the dark.  How do you categorize your stories, and does the question and perception of genres help or hurt the marketing of your books?

Assigning a work to a particular genre can be as beneficial to an author as it can be detrimental.  Labeling Exchange Day as a dystopian, apocalyptic fantasy, which it is on some level, instantly attracts an audience who loves those types of books.  However, as the author, I feel Exchange Day is more than that, and I worry labeling it as dystopian may turn readers off before they’ve even explored the blurb.  In the end, identifying genre is important and is a key first step for readers (especially of those who read digital books) to filter through the eventual millions of titles that will become available for e-readers.

2. What's the spectrum of your writing style? Do you stick to specific genres or mediums? (Novels, short stories, screenplays...) How much unpublished work do you have lying around?

I explore multiple styles and genres with my current work.  Exchange Day is written in third person and follows a dozen characters, each story interweaving with the others (much like Game of Thrones) to tell a much larger story.  The Elephant Keyhole is a love story told in first person, and the story is confined to a few days in Thailand.  An upcoming project, called Kasper Spat, is also told in first person, spans twenty years of a boy’s life, and stylistically is much more poetic than anything else I’ve ever written.  As for mediums, I’ve written a dozen or so short stories and three feature-length screenplays.  Of all the mediums, I prefer writing novels.  I enjoy the freedom and voice of a novel, and generally when I immerse myself into a particular story, I like to hang around longer than a short story.  I have six or seven unfinished works.  Sometimes I return to them with a bottle of wine and wonder if I should revisit old projects.  So far, I’ve decided to move on to something new.

3. How long have you been writing, and what is one opinion about the craft you’ve had changed over your career?

I’ve been writing off and on for the last fifteen years.  Only the last two years have I devoted my full attention to writing as my career.  I think the most important opinion that has changed for me over the years is the importance of reading.  And not just reading books similar to what I wish to write.  I am a TRUE believer that writers NEED to read all the time.  Everyday.  Everything.  If you want to write vampire novels, I think you should still read memoirs, young adult novels, and sci-fi novels.  The more diverse your reading, the stronger your writing will become.  I used to coast through a book over the course of a month or two, and now, I finish a book a week.  Sometimes more.

4. Is there any terrible advice you’ve received for your book or career? Bad advice you’ve overheard someone else be told?

I’ve received lots of advice over the years.  I’ve followed some and ignored others.  I think all writers should approach any advice with an open mind, but they shouldn’t be afraid to understand that all writers work differently, and so what works for Stephen King may not work for you.  And just because it’s Stephen King doesn’t mean he’s right.  The one writing rule that I’ve seen and probably agree with, but I still break it regularly, is “Don’t use adverbs.”  I try not to overuse them, but there are points in my story where I want an adverb, so I get an adverb!

5. What are your biggest concerns about the current literary world?

Ooh.  This is a good question.  I am an advocate of Indie Writers and proud to call myself one.  I hope my stories find readers without the aid of the large publishing houses.  My biggest concern revolves around the balance of power between publishing houses and Amazon/Barnes and Noble.  Currently, Amazon/Barnes and Noble have given Indie Writers a way to publish their work, market it, and hope to make a living off of it.  I worry Indie Writers, while currently free to publish work they see fit to represent themselves, may not have that same options in the future.  In the current environment, publishing houses seem to be fighting with Amazon/Barnes and Noble instead of working together to benefit both readers and writers.  Right now, an aspiring writer must choose between being represented by a publishing house that will take considerable royalties for the writer’s work, or she must choose self-publication and be completely on her own as far as marketing is concerned.  Writers need choices, and they need help.

6. What trends, tactics, styles, or genres would you like to see become popular in modern writing?

I want to see the rise of Indie Writing.  And for this to succeed, we need good writers putting out good work to strengthen the reputations of all Indie Writers.  For me personally, a work only needs 1 of 3 things for me to gladly finish reading it: a good story, characters I care about, or beautifully exquisite writing.  If a work has all three, then it should be considered a masterpiece.  As far as specific styles and genres, I truly believe that all stories have readers.  I don’t care for comic books or comic book movies.  But I know there are many who love them, study them, and care for them in ways I will always struggle to understand.  I am happy we live in a time and place where these stories can be released and can find readers.

7. What trends would you like to see disappear?

I’d like to see comic books and comic book movies be stricken from the literary world.  Just kidding!  I don’t see any current trends that bother me.  I want writers to keep writing and readers to keep reading.  It’s a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties.  As long as we keep writing worthy books, readers will keep reading.

8. Where do you find yourself getting stuck most often—beginning, middle, or end?

I find myself getting stuck most often in the outlining process.  I suppose that would be the beginning, though this often happens before the writing even begins.  For each project, I write a loose outline, a basic map of the story, so I can keep the important plot points in mind while crafting the way in which the story is told.  Once my outline is fixed, the writing happens smoothly enough (knock on wood.)

9. If you could hire someone to do any of the writing work for you, what jobs would you assign to them?

I’m probably too much of a control freak to share writing duties with another person.  A long time ago, a friend of mine and I considered writing a novel together.  He’d write the first chapter and then I’d write the second.  We wouldn’t outline at all, wouldn’t discuss our visions.  The exercise gave us each creative license for our own chapters, and in the end we would see where the story went.  After I wrote my first chapter, I did NOT like where he took the story with the next chapter and thus lost interest in the project.

In the future, I would not be against collaborating.  I can imagine a scenario where another writer and I lock ourselves in a room for a couple of weeks and collaborate over a story.  And once the story was charted, the characters decided, the climax worked out, then one of us would handle the actual writing of the story.  I could see something like that working and being extremely fun.

I do have to admit, though, that I LOATHE the editing process, so I’d gladly assign that job!

10. What is an assumption people make about your career that bothers you?

The assumption that bothers me most comes from my friends and family who assume my time isn’t important because I don’t have a “real job.”  I know they don’t mean any harm, but I’ve had family members ask me to spend a week in a different city to help or spend time with them, and when I tell them I have writing to do, they roll their eyes.  Some are much more direct by asking when will I be done with this fairy-tale writer nonsense and get a real job.  I’ve written three good books and will have three more good ones out by March of next year.  I’m in this for real, and will be excited when readers give my work a chance.

11. Tell us a little about Exchange Day:

Exchange Day has been a passion of mine for nearly a decade.  Ever since I read The Stand in high school, I’ve always wanted to write a post-apocalyptic novel with intermingling stories that build to an epic and possibly unexpected ending.  The story follows a group of teenagers who graduate from a school built on the ocean floor.  They take an elevator to the surface where they will be trained for the war that caused the school to be built in the first place.  But the world on the surface is different than what they were taught in school, and they must relearn how to survive.

12. How fast do you tend to write? How long is your editing process?

I write between 8000 and 10,000 words a week.  My novels average around 90,000 words, so my first drafts take usually 9-12 weeks to complete.  After I complete a draft (and after I celebrate with much wine and music) I let a work sit for 3-4 weeks before I even look at it again.  That’s when the editing/revising process begins for me.  I re-read the work one chapter at a time, paying careful attention to pacing, flow, and characterization.  After 2 weeks, usually, the second draft is ready for my first editor.  I work in this manner with two editors and will end with the final draft, Draft 5, about three months after the first draft was completed.  Revising is stressful, but it is essential for a succinct and well-written novel.

13. You are from Texas, but both books feature unique and uncommon settings. Have you been to the jungle? How has your setting choices affected your writing?

Inspiration for The Elephant Keyhole came from a two-week long trip I took to Thailand a couple of years ago.  I carried a journal with me and catalogued most places I visited.  I took tons of pictures.  TONS.  I try to set my novels in places that I’ve been, places I can sit and reflect over the sights, sounds, and smells of that environment.  Having been to a place elevates to a dramatic degree my ability to describe it, and ultimately the story rises because of that.  I try not to over-describe in my work, as I like writing stories that keep moving forward.  But it’s still important as a writer to sit down and relax, pen in hand, watching and listening to an environment so that when it is time, the writer can bring that setting alive.

14. If you met people like your characters, would you get along?

Many of my characters, both good and bad, are fashioned after people in my life or people I’ve met.  Shh.  Don’t tell anyone, otherwise, no one will want to be my friend…

Depth in characterization is important to me.  I want my characters to be rounded individuals, with good and bad traits mixing together like a swirled margarita.  I want sweet and sour working together to portray a realism readers can relate to.  There are characters in my novels, that if I met in real life, I would fall in love with them.  There are others that I might fight.  But what’s important to me is that these characters are motivated by their own feelings and desires, that there are reasons why they do what they do.  Understanding why a character does something is to understand what makes that character tick.  And when a reader understands a character, they can begin to care for him or her.

15. What was the hardest part in writing or publishing your first book?

Exchange Day was my first book.  I remember the first day I started writing it.  I woke up the same time as I did when I had a day job, which I’d quit the Friday before.  I grabbed my computer and drove around my neighborhood looking for a place to write.  The library was closed.  The bookstores were closed.  The coffee shops were filled with people sipping complicated lattes and surfing the internet on their computers.  Finally, I found myself at the mall at a table tucked away at the back of the food court behind a large fake tree.  Several youngsters scrambled around in the bowels of a Taco Bell, preparing for the day’s rush of shoppers.  I opened my computer and had the hardest time writing my first sentence.  I was nervous.  I felt alone.  I felt like my friends and family were laughing at me, waiting for me to fail.  I, in no way, felt like Vonnegut, Tim O’Brien, or Hugh Howey, three of the more influential writers who inspired me to pursue this crazy dream.  I felt like a high school kid skipping school.  That was the toughest moment for me.


The second toughest moment was when I uploaded Exchange Day onto Amazon and sent an email to my friends and family.  I told them my first novel was available for purchase, and then I had to lie down because I was too scared to do anything else.

Buy his books:

The Elephant Keyhole




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