Saturday, December 21, 2013
Monday, December 16, 2013
(1) Authors Pay To Get Published
This one makes me want to hurt people. Readers pay publishers and publishers pay authors. If the author pays the publisher, nobody needs readers, so they don't get them. If some jerkwad wants you to pay to be published, go to any library or bookstore and try to find any of their books. You won't. Not even one. They can piss off.
(2) The Time You Spend On Facebook Makes You Write Better
No, you're not getting inspiration from Facebook and Twitter. You're goofing off. Acceptable and even recommended in small doses. It's a marathon not a sprint, and you need short breaks. I find Solitaire more relaxing - only one game, win or lose, then get back to work.
(3) You Too Can Be A Happy Member of the "Writing Culture"
Oh yeah, read all the books and magazines and spend hours getting drunk with your fellow authors in restaurants. That's not writing, folks. Writing is something you do alone. If that's a problem, you're not a writer, no matter how black your beret and cigarettes.
(4) Novelists Are Rich
Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.
(5) Novelists Can Sleep As Late As They Want
Not entirely mythical, but the whole "lazy undisciplined lifestyle" is mythical. If you're sleeping late, you'd better be working late. While you are free to make your own schedule, it must consist largely of parking your butt in a chair and writing. However, the full-time author with no other source of income is rarer than you think, so you've probably got to get up early anyway, to go to your paying job. Writing novels is how you stop the pressures of that paying job from making you kill yourself.
(6) Just Steal From Your Friends' Lives and Your Novels Will All But Write Themselves
Well, the truth is you can steal from anybody. If you find it interesting, steal it and rework it and make it your own. Family, friends, your inner self, strangers on the bus, movies, TV, magazines, newspapers, other novels, whatever. But that freedom to steal doesn't mean you're not doing about 95% of the work.
(7) Drugs and Alcohol Make You Write Better
They don't make you a better plumber, engineer, teacher, juggler, or bus driver. What counter-intuitive self-deception makes you think they improve your writing? You know that's not right, even if you're telling yourself it is. Listen to your gut on this one, just like you listen to your gut about what is and isn't good writing.
If I feel the need to go find some of that magic mythical magic that some call inspiration, I get it from a bike ride. Notepad and pen in pocket, always. You might find it somewhere else. But I can guarantee you it won't be from the needle, the pipe, the spoon, the bottle, or the tinny. Sorry to bear the bad tidings.
(8) You Don't Need Pants
That one's true. Yay!
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Friday, December 13, 2013
For the remainder of December, anyone who purchases one of the two books below has the opportunity to get a free book. That's right - totally free! By purchasing one of our Mocha Memoirs holiday titles (they're both cheap! $2.99 or less!) you become eligible for a free copy of our little self-published project. It's a little book (at something like 300 pages!) Selah and I co-authored, and we call it Lost in the Shadows. It's a collection of over 40 short stories that span the speculative fiction spectrum, from fantasy to urban fantasy to horror and back.
STEP 1. Purchase at least one of these two books:
Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation. In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways. Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.
Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Friday, December 6, 2013
I've only had time to read the first story in the collection so far: Kierce Sevren's deliciously spooky short "The Skin Thief." Without giving away too much, it's the story of a single mom and her two kids on a dark night in a typical suburban home. There may or may not be someone or something lurking in the front yard. The little girl may or may not be imagining things when she thinks she sees a face at the window. Good, suspenseful moments in the dark, with which we can all identify. It reminded me a lot of the "Paranormal" movie series. The best kind of horror is the kind that starts in a familiar setting with ominous calm and builds. What's hiding in the familiar darkness of your quiet house at night? (You're home; no place to retreat to. It's coming for you as you sleep.)
The monster Kierce uses is one that's becoming increasingly visible and popular in horror tales and monster lore: the skin-walker. In native American (particularly Navaho) folklore, skin-walkers were powerful and evil witches who had the power to take animal forms. Most cultures have their own version of the concept. Werewolves, shape-shifters. Based on what little research I've done on the subject, skin-walkers are supposed to have started out as the most powerful and holy of witches, like high priests, or whatever the correct term is. But, they turn to the evil path by killing, eating human flesh or doing something equally horrible. Basically, they're people who want to do evil.
All similar human-like mythological monsters, skin-walkers, shifters, ghouls, vampires, etc. are, I guess, just splinters of the same primal fear: Fear of the evil within all of us. A hunger to do evil, or at least an animal hunger for something more natural, absent any barrier of empathy or civilization to hold it in check. People in every culture, from the aboriginal camp 'round the fire to medieval Christendom sheltering behind its slightly safer castle walls, through the centuries have feared that hungry howl in the night by the chill light of the moon. Even we, who (God knows) have plenty to fear from tangible enemies both foreign and domestic, continue to feel the nagging fear of the unseen thing lurking in that dark, cluttered closet or in the cellar, or on the lower floor, or rustling in the trees at the edge of the yard. The ancient fears show no sign of abating. Quite the opposite. Maybe that's why our entertainment-- books, movies and TV-- seems to turn increasingly to stories of witches, monsters and demons.
Maybe because deep down, we know we can't lock out all the evil. Some of it is always there, inside us.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
This is a vital part of the process of being a writer. Never stop researching--and seeking out inspirational media, reading in your genre, and learning more about some aspect of your world are all research. Pay attention to everything, because you never know what will become important later on. Some examples: there was a train explosion and derailment in an episode of Hell on Wheels. Since a great deal of the travel in my Steampunk world is by steam train, now I know where to go if I want to see how it is done and use some of that detail. I recently took my first train ride. If I had taken it before I wrote the book, I would have been able to add more verisimilitude. It isn't easy to walk on a train...
Reading what other people are writing in your genre can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you get a feel for what is out there...on the other, you can feel way out of your league. I am reading two books I highly recommend: A Midsummer Night's Steampunk by Scott Tarbet, and Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, an anthology set in the world of Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine's Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. These books have both shown me how much I have to learn about Steampunk while at the same time, giving me fresh inspiration.
Anything can turn out to be inspirational or research. Keep your eyes and ears open and paying attention to the world around you. A bit of overheard cell conversation the other day became the basis for my latest short story. Carry your notebook everywhere. Jot down anything that tweaks your imagination.
And if anyone chides you for wasting time you could be working...tell them it's research. ;)
Thursday, November 28, 2013
A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick.
Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn’t step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn’t satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can’t do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.
Some people edit that way. Read a book, learn three tricks, and beat you over the head with them over and over and over again.
Their stage tricks include “never write a prologue,” “never say ‘thought to himself’ because there’s nobody else to think to,” and “no head hopping.”
The prologue as a way to make you swallow lame back story now for the vain hope of a reward later is an overworked device and a symptom of starting a manuscript way before when the story really gets started. Skip to the good stuff, son. If your book makes sense without the prologue, kill that bad boy, just as you would an epilogue or those lame chapters in the middle. But that doesn’t make all prologues verboten.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. True, there is nobody else to think to unless you’ve got telepaths, but not worth a verboten. Sometimes it’s cool to think to yourself. Just not all the time.
Head hopping. In the hands of an amateur, it’s horrible. I’m looking at the world through this character’s eyes, then I go over there and switch to that person’s thoughts, then I move over to the other place and look at the world through somebody’s else’s eyes, then... The poor reader’s getting whiplash.
Plus, there’s no story without character, since everything that happens must happen to somebody, so why make it impossible for the reader to identify with your somebodies?
One point of view per chapter is fine. More than one per chapter, but no more than one per scene, is fine. Just be sure that every transition tells the reader right away that you’ve shifted perspectives. But you always want the reader to care about your new POV character, and certainly to be aware there is one. Confusion is bad. Enjoyment is good.
And, of all the rules to possibly harp on, why those three? Or two, or seven, or whatever? Why those and not these?
Breaking rules out of ignorance is inexcusable. Breaking rules because you have a reason is fine. Breaking rules in such a way as to lose, confuse, or abuse a reader is not a good thing to do. Breaking rules because it makes your story better is probably mandatory. Pretending that rules must never be broken makes a so-called editor a hack and a butcher.
I tell you what’s verboten. Boring me. And this post is starting to do that, so buh-bye.
No, wait, something else is verboten. For me to edit something that you wrote so that it looks like I wrote it. That’s not my job. Editors are not meant to strip their manuscripts of all individuality. We’re just supposed to make the author’s voice come out clearly. Not my voice, not James Patterson’s voice. The author’s voice. And we’re supposed to make the reader’s life as easy as possible. Remember the reader? He’s our friend. You’ll edit, and write, much better if you walk a mile in his moccasins.
Monday, November 25, 2013
The Lazarus Effect sees the return of Gary Drake, detective we first met a decade earlier in Vigilante Justice. Ten years haven’t been good to Drake–he’s in prison, his family is dead, he is HIV-positive, and when other inmates discover he’s a cop, they beat him to death.
But like the book’s Biblical namesake, Gary Drake returns. “After his death, Gary Drake’s life became more interesting.”
A cynical prison doc makes a last-ditch effort to save Drake’s life by administering an unauthorized injection of a secret, experimental drug code named “Lazarus.” After the injection, Drake’s fatal wounds mysteriously and rapidly heal and his AIDS goes into remission. Drake then awakens from his beating-induced coma with with no memory of the beating or last ten years behind bars.
Taking up Drake’s cause, the prison doc contacts Drake’s old friend and almost love interest, police Captain Marjorie Brooks. Brooks, it seems, has found out about the Lazarus drug the hard way. A cop killer she has in custody should be dead from the bullets her police squad put into him, but instead is fit as a fiddle.
Now Drake and Brooks have to find the source of the Lazarus drug and get and keep it out of the wrong hands. Their quest leads them into the shadowy and very dangerous world of undercover operatives, and Drake once again finds his life on the line, but this time even a wonder drug may not save him.
There’s real excitement and action in The Lazarus Effect, as well as fine writing. The Lazarus Effect moves, and LaRocca’s “take” on the classic police mystery means The Lazarus Effect is one part mystery, one part thriller, and the rest pure engagement. Moreover, LaRocca doesn’t let either Drake or the reader off the hook with a simplistic ending. LaRocca’s work puts some tough questions in front of the reader: is defacto immortality really a good thing when evil doers can live forever as well? What if ten years’ worth of guilt could be lifted from you, but only at the cost of shattering your dreams about someone you loved? Who deserves a second chance, or maybe a third?
The Lazarus Effect is an interesting tale from an interesting author. Let’s hope we see more Gary Drake stories from Michael LaRocca soon.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Whatever it is, I'm going to coast this feeling for a bit. Give myself a breather, because when it passes I'm coming out strong and ready to DO THIS....pa-pa-pa-POW!
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
But that doesn't mean you can ignore your plot completely, the way I do descriptions of scenery. Plotwise, something has to happen. It doesn't have to be a whole lot, but it does have to be something.
Forty years ago, I'd read 100 pages waiting to get to "the good part." But people just don't do that anymore. I sure don't. There's a reason that Elmore Leonard told us to leave out the parts people skip.
So plotting, the good kind as opposed to the bad kind, means you can get to the good part before your reader quits reading.
Here's an example.
SANDLOT is, on its surface, a light easy read. It's the result of my lovely darling saying "you should write a football novel."
SANDLOT begins with a dead body. After twelve years in China, the not-quite-me main character returns to North Carolina because the not-quite-Daddy dies.
Why China? The answer to that question involves plotting, and thus the point of this rambling diatribe.
In real life, I spent six years in China, five years in Thailand, and one year in Hanoi. But in the novel, this is all back story, so I wanted to make it as brief and simple as possible. In real life, it was not. So let's prevent the truth from getting in the way of a good story.
Of the three countries, I'd much rather write about China. Plus, China does in fact have American-rules flag football. I never played it, but it exists. Part of the novel's plot is that the main character played football and honed all his coaching and quarterbacking skills "over there."
My story is about finding meaning in one's life, wondering why we're here, being 48 years old and still not knowing what you want to be when you grow up. This guy's answer, obviously, involved playing football.
So with just a wee bit of good plotting, I was able to write two pages of back story that set the dead father plot in motion, the football plot in motion, and the overseas plot in motion, while establishing the guy's character and rather quickly moving on to getting his nuts busted in a football game behind the barn in Burgaw. And thus begins the good stuff.
I usually spend more time creating my characters and my conflict, and writing the first chapter, than I do writing the rest of the first draft. If I've done the first part right, my characters tell me what they're going to do after I get the thing started.
So plotting is never the first tool you bring out of your writing toolbox. But do keep it in there. It's an option. And once in a great while, it can get you out of a rough spot.
If you're getting frustrated and/or bored, odds are you're going to write something that your reader would just as soon skip. With a bit of plotting, you can skip it too, and move on to what you really wanted to write all along.
(Oh, and if you read VIGILANTE JUSTICE and knew it was impossible for me to write a sequel, that was my intent, but wouldn't you know it? Ten years later, THE LAZARUS EFFECT, published by the fine folks here at Mocha Memoirs Press. I didn't "plot" it, but I did write the first draft in a single evening, so it's by far my "tightest" manuscript. Enjoy.)