Saturday, December 17, 2011

Writing the other gender

At Oak Knoll Middle School outside of Richmond, VA they have a wonderful reading program. In it, students and their parents choose a book to read together and then they meet weekly to discuss it. I was fortunate enough to have both the boy and girls pick my book, The Hidden Sun. It was the first time both genders had picked the same book. After they completed it, I visited the school and gave a presentation. It was a blast.
The experience brought me to ponder on why The Hidden Sun appeals to boys and girls. It wasn’t really my intention when the book was written. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a combination of things.
First, the story is written from several different points of view. In each “scene”, we are in the head of someone. Sometimes it is a male character, sometimes it is a female character. In that regard, I believe both genders who read it had someone to relate to.
Second, there are elements in the book that appeal to both genders. There are action sequences and competitions that the boys enjoyed. Then there are the romantic elements that the girls liked.
I’m currently writing my fourth book. It’s the third book in the Bariwon series. The main character is female. While I’ve been writing it, I’ve read several books from other authors. Often, they are written from one person’s point of view.
In one particular book I read, the main character was a teenage young woman. I’ll admit I struggled a little through the book because I had a hard time relating to her. Being the father of four daughters, as well as being married for twenty years, I’ve learned that men and women simply do not think the same way.
If that’s the case, how does a male writer create a believable female character and vice-versa? I’ve come to only one conclusion: through observation. The female characters I create are composites of various people I’ve known over the years. Even then, I’m sure there is a lot I’m missing.
I once attended a bachelor party (it was an LDS party, so it was very clean) and one of the gifts given to the groom-to-be was a fairly thick book called Everything Men Know About Women. When the receiver of the gift flipped through the book, we saw that all the pages were blank.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

And the winner is........

A random winner has been selected for the Man Cave Pick Your Present Christmas Contest!







And the winner is.....



(Are you in suspense?)




 



Angie Lofthouse!


Congratulations, Angie! Please let us know what book you'd like and the appropriate author will send it your way.  

Thank you, everyone, for taking part in the Pick Your Present Christmas Contest!


As far as the double dog dare question poll, I think Frank is officially voted the craziest dude in the cave. Go Frank!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pick your present!

The Christmas season is upon us, and us fellas at the Man Cave want to help you celebrate!



Now let's be honest.  We don't always get what we want at Christmas--socks from Aunt Rita, undies from Mom, that fruitcake that nobody I know likes.

So we want you to pick your own present. That way, you're sure to get something you'll enjoy.

Pick any book from any Man Cave author as your prize!

Choose from The Hidden Sun, The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter, any Hashbrown Winters adventure, The Canticle Kingdom, The Last Archangel, Heroes of the Fallen or Who's at the Door?

To win a signed copy of a book of your choice, leave a comment in this post and answer the following question:  



Which Man Cave Author do you think is most likely to act on a double dog dare? 
(Don't worry.  There aren't any wrong answers. It's just for fun!)

A random drawing will be held December 3.  Win a signed copy of a book of your choice!


Merry Christmas from Man Cave Authors!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tengu Equal Blog Hits

My weird oriental fantasy story "Fistful of Tengu" from the MONK PUNK anthology is posted over at D. Harlan Wilsons The Dream People online journal, current issue #36.

I've been rather pleased that overall, my tale which opens the antho, seems to have been received rather well from most of the reviews I've read. (one didn't mention it-the rest sang the stories praises)

That and my original blog post about the story, something about tengu, the mythological Japanese crow-like creature, is still one of my most visited posts. Seems google must direct a lot of people here who ask what a tengu is.

Good. Kind if like how Marion Jensen still gets lots of the hits on his blog about 'exploding coconuts'.

So lesson for the day-want a  recurring blog post that gets a lot of hits? Post about something rather obscure so that your blog is high on the search list.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our little escapes

Many readers tell me that a good book should help them escape. They're usually pretty vague after that, as if the word "escape" covers it.

It's up to our imagination to guess what so many people want to escape from: their troubles, their cares, monotony itself.

But then I realize that for the writer, it doesn't matter what each person wants to leave behind, only that they want to leave something behind. It's my job to make whatever is on the page more introspective and interesting than the personal problems a reader may have at the moment.



This, I think, is also the essence of Halloween. It's a night to throw-off the mundane, to be less serious, to discard the ordinary.

It seems a little morbid that so many of us want to enter another person's reality in order to gain respite from our own. Whenever we pick up a book, it offers the chance to trade our problems for another person's.

Fortunately for writers most people are willing to make this bargain.

Why spend time on taxes, bills, the dishes, or taking out the trash? No. People would much rather run from Michael Meyers, hunt vampires, or try to survive a zombie apocalypse. Scary stories can make hearts race and palms sweat. When was the last time household chores ignited our need to survive?

So to the goal of escapism, I raise a toast of Halloween cider. For if a good story helps us escape, then what is an author but an escape artist?






Unlike Harry Houdini, us authors don't have to chain ourselves up and get in our underpants to do our job. We can do it from the safety of our keyboard.

For the writer, then, there's a little escapism too.

You didn't think the readers had all the fun, did you?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What if?

I had the chance to be a visiting author at a middle school recently. To prepare for the visit, I asked the teachers what things they would like me to cover. Basically, it was the writing process, the importance of edits and rewrites, and what else authors have to do.

I put together a PowerPoint presentation that addressed all sorts of different elements. One question I covered was "where do authors get their ideas from?"

Here is what I did to help the students understand one way I get my ideas. Actually, it’s the main way I get them. It is: "what if?"

I told them, for example, "What if the sky was purple?" or "What if the school was attacked by zombie bunnies? (Sounds like something David J. West could turn into quite the amazing book, eh?) From there, I had them write their own "what if" statement. I was quite impressed on the different ideas students came up with. I joked that if any of them wrote a best seller based on their "what if" statement, I wanted a mention in their book.

I explained there are many different ways of writing. I used the example of "pantser" (writing on the seat of your pants) vs. plotter (doing an outline). I, personally, am a combo of both. When asked how I write, this is the best way I could describe it: The first thing I do is create the characters in my head. I use personality traits of different people I know (even myself) and try to create a unique individual. From there, I create a basic outline of a story—the major plot points and such. Then, when I write, I put these characters into the setting and see what happens. Often they don't do what I expect, based on their character, . . .but somehow, it works.

When it came to demonstrate the importance of edits and rewrites, I showed them several pictures and had them write down the issue.

Here they are:






As you can see, some are fairly obvious, and some are a little more hard to explain. The picture of Pizza Hut, for example, got a few of the students hung up. They didn't see anything wrong with it. For me, I explained the concept of redundancy. As a reader, I get frustrated with an author who beats me over the head with the same thing throughout the book.


Lastly, I left time for questions and answers. Any ideas what the number one question I was asked?


It was: "How old are you?"

Monday, September 26, 2011

To thine own self be true

One thing I've battled as a writer is staying true to my spiritual beliefs while writing about things that may not be spiritual in nature. Well, check that. I guess I could argue that everything has a spiritual side to it--every decision we make is influenced by our core beliefs.

My Bariwon series has priests in it, and there is a prevailing religion, but I don't dig very deep into that. Instead, I focus more on human nature and how different types of people react when they are faced with difficult choices. And for complete disclosure, the decision to leave out bad language, explicit sex scenes and graphic violence is based on my personal core beliefs.

However, I was faced with a completely different challenge during the writing of my third book--one that is not in the Bariwon series.  I just completed the edits on it. It's called The Mirror of the Soul.

What makes this book unique is that it is based on the works of musician Chris de Burgh. The main story is driven from the song of the same name, however, I used dozens of his songs as inspiration for the book. I'm proud to say, I feel I've written a pretty darn compelling story using all these elements.

But, back to the challenge. This book takes place just after the Hundred's Year War in France around the mid-1400's. The primary focus of the book is about religion and those that would use it to further their own gain.

One of my biggest fears is that people would perceive this book as an attack on a certain religion--which it isn't. It is the story of one abbot and his monks and the actions they take. At the same time, I wanted to stay true to my core beliefs while telling this tale. I can say that I feel like I was successful, and least in my mind. I've no doubt there are those who can and will find fault.

But that's the point of this blog. I think each writer is trying to express something of their beliefs when they write. I dare say it can be a form of therapy. Yet, as an author, you also want your readers to become emotionally invested in the characters and story--without them feeling like they are being preached to.

It's something I think about each time I write: telling a good story while staying true to myself.   

Monday, August 22, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

I have noticed that you can make things clear in your own head if you try and explain something to someone else i.e. teaching them = teaching yourself.

I was pondering why do I love books, I'm talking physical hard cover, paperbacks and trade softcover books while I still have yet to embrace e-books. I'll come out and say it, I have almost (not completely, but almost) no interest in e-books.

Why?

Because I'm some kind of Luddite?

I sure don't think so.

A huge portion of what I enjoy about books is the discovery.

I am sitting in my office, same one I have used for almost the last five years and the very office where everything I have had published (or to be published) was written. Forever remembering a Ray Bradbury quote, that I am sure I won't get quite right, he said something to the effect of having his office full of curios and inspiration for his writing. That has always stuck with me, so I fill my office with swords, models, music, art, tokens and fetishes of far away lands and...books.

I have not counted in a year or two but I should have around 2,500 books just in my office. There's plenty more around the rest of the house too. At any given time I 'll have several open for research and interest in whatever subject I want to think about - currently its Celt's.
Maybe you can do something similar with multiple open windows on a kindle, I don't know, but I doubt the musty soul is there. (Tell me if I am wrong kids)

This post wasn't meant so much as my rant against e-books as it was on why I have a guilty pleasure in bookstores (which can't exist without books).

I like to peruse bookstores (or librarys) for hours, picking through whatever strikes me fancy. I may be captured by a cover or eclectic font, a name that sounds interesting or a subject matter that moves me-but it is all about discovery and taking my time and letting myself be guided by the dead tree's ink stained soul.

I have discovered a lot of very fine books that were not on anyones review list or recommendation. Even some of my favorite books were chance discoveries. This would not have happened even close to the same with e-books. You can't look over amazon's pages like you can a multi stacked book shelf. The experience is not the same and I am boiling it all down to my own personal guilty pleasure, perusing and discovering books.

I've heard rumors that with the demise of Borders and B&N scaling back, that perhaps the independentts will return.

I pray they do.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Breaking Through Without Breaking Yourself



Another author once told me something to the effect “Publishing is like a wall that you just have to hit yourself against until it breaks.”  I think that’s true. I can take considerable time and effort to get something published, and many attempts to break through the publishing wall, even once you’ve got a finished project. 
The problem I see with some people is that they either get tired of going up against that wall, or the walls breaks them instead of them breaking the wall.  It is easy to get discouraged and let every rejection you get irreversibly wound your self-esteem.

When dealing with rejection, remember that you are not alone.  Rejection is not unique to new authors either.  I recently read that Kathryn Stockett, author of “The Help” (which was recently adapted as a movie), was rejected 60 times before she founds someone to pick up her novel.  Now I’m betting that those other 60 agents/publishers regret turning her down! Just think is she had stopped after rejection 2, or even rejection 22.  She had to run up against the publishing wall 61 times before she finally broke though. 

Sure, each of those rejections must have hurt.  It is okay to be sad about a rejection.  My policy however, is that I can’t dwell on them for more than 24 hours.  Once that time has passed, I promise myself to start looking for the next place to submit my work. 

What do you do to overcome discouragement in writing? Do you have any methods that you think you should avoid?  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Hidden Sun's release is announced

Sorry for the shameless plug here, ah heck, no I'm not sorry--I'm very excited!

My book, The Hidden Sun, is being released by Walnut Springs Press on August 13th, 2011.

Here is the cover:


Here is the blurb on the back cover:

A faraway kingdom.

A beautiful princess.

A courageous hero.

A ruthless villain.

An impossible choice.

Eliana and Rinan are in love. However, she is destined to become queen of Bariwon, obligated to marry the victor of a competition called the Shoginoc, while Rinan, her royal guardian, is forbidden to marry. Normally they could renounce their titles to be together, but these are not normal times. Abrecan, the malevolent governor of Erd, is determined to win the Shoginoc, thereby placing his easily manipulated son Daimh on Bariwon’s throne. Can Eliana and Rinan find a way to be together without jeopardizing the peace they are so desperately trying to protect?

I'll be launching the book as part of the August Authorama on August 13th at Pioneer Book in Orem.

Here is a nifty flyer with the information:



I'll also be signing books at "Handcarts in the Valley" bookstore on Monday, August 15th from 4 until 6 pm. It's located at 32 S Main St in Heber, Utah.


I'd love to see at either (or both) events!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where do you draw the line?

I was once asked, "How long did it take you to write your first book?" That's a loaded question. Is it measured in the actual amount of time writing, meaning the hours spent pounding on the keys? Or is it measured by the date you started until the date you ended?

Frankly, I don't have a clue how many hours it took. But when it came to writing The Hidden Sun, it was a good five years from when I started to when it hit the shelves for the first time. Granted, I have a full time job, plus a wife and four kids and I'm active in my church. In addition, there were times I had set aside for writing, and the inspiration just wasn't there.


And then came the question of "what is your story about?" What's been interesting is that I've asked that question to people who have read it--and I've gotten all sorts of different answers. It doesn't fit into a particular genre. It takes place in medieval times in a fictional land. But there isn't magic and the only monsters are the human antagonists. For that reason, it isn't fantasy. Is it a romance? Well, there are romantic parts of the book, but that isn't the focus. Is it a coming of age story? Well, yes and no. To explain this would ruin some of the surprises in the book. Is it young adult? Here, the answer is "yes--sort of". Meaning, there isn't any bad language nor sex scenes and while there is some violence, it isn't graphic. BUT (and that's a big but) the book isn't targeted for only young adults. It's written for adults as well, just without the typical elements that would make it be considered an "adult" book.


So. . .what is it? Well, I would describe it this way: It has action. It has adventure. It has romance. It has political intrigue. It has heroes. It has villains. It has many twists and turns. It has interweaving subplots that come together in the end. But overall, it's a book I wrote to convey a message.


Having said that, when different agents and publishers were reviewing the work, I'd get suggestions like "add some sex and violence, and we'll be interested." Or, "get rid of this or that and we'll be interested." In those cases, they wanted me to change things to make it fit into a more particular mold.


That is where I had to ask myself, where do I draw the line? Keep in mind, I had a lot of good suggestions on ways to improve the book that I did incorporate. Which suggestions did I choose to ignore and which did I keep? It boiled down to this simple question, "Does it change what I'm trying to say by writing this book?"


In everything I write, I have two things in mind when I start. First: What is the basic story? and Second: What is the theme or message behind this story?


For me, a story without a theme or message doesn’t hold the same impact as one that does. If I may be so bold as to offer suggestions to other authors, it would be this: If the changes you are asked to make to your work alters what you as a writer are trying to express, then they aren't good changes. Draw a line in the proverbial sand and don't cross it. In the end, your book is your work. You are writing for a reason. Don't lose sight of that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Comes First?

What comes first in this field that we are all a part of?

Story.

I am answering this from a fiction writers perspective, but it has to be story-ultimately that's why we all write, we have a story to tell. Anything else comes later and that includes marketing, promotion, finding an agent/publisher, and even doing favors for other people that are tacitly related to all of the above.

I mention this because I have felt a little overwhelmed as of late and my wife gave me a dressing down for being too nice to people. "Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that?"

My answer was always-"Well, its for promotion, to get my name out there, to support someone else, give out some reviews my readers might like, etc, etc, etc."

Not that there is anything wrong with any of those things--But what comes first? What is the most important thing to Your career as a writer?

Telling your story and writing your books.

So I am not against any of the above, I have expanded on some social networking lately Google+ for one, but I do need to find a better balance of my time because of what is more important in the big picture for my career-Yes, I am working toward it being THE career.

When I told Dan this would be my post for July (sorry about nothing for June) he thought it might be controversial-I don't see how.
Anyone who I told I would read their book, or give them a blurb or review etc is still going to get one-I'm just probably not going to volunteer so much once I get through this current batch.
And
as is stated in the heading of the Man Cave -"Writing can be solitary, but success isn't." is true, I'm not advocating an every man for himself policy, just a reminder like my wife had to give me...of what comes first?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mothers and Angels

Last year, I entered my short story into the Cedar Fort Mother's Day contest.  To my delight, "Portrait of a Mother" was selected for publication as a Mother's Day pamphlet and turned out great!

Now they are calling for submissions again.  You can find all of the details on this blog post:

http://www.cedarfortbooks.com/call-for-manuscripts-mothers-day/
Go ahead and try it! You may find yourself in print sooner than you think! And if you submission gets published, you'll already have the perfect Mother's Day present.



In other news, my new release "The Last Archangel" is on a blog tour right now and getting great reviews.  You can also win a copy of the book just by stopping by and filling out a form.  Come check it out at http://www.writermike.com.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From the Department of Redundancy Department

One thing I've noticed as I review my writing is all the extra words I include that aren't needed. That's part of the fun (and I'm being sarcastic) of editing.

When I wrote The Hidden Sun, I would fret over sentences and paragraphs as I wrote. I remember there was one line that I just couldn't get to sound good. I got so hung up on it, I started to lose focus on the story. I finally threw my hands up in the air and moved on. When Tristi Pinkston edited the book for its re-release, she masterfully fixed it. Sadly, I don't recall the details aside from just taking out a few words here and there and tada! It flowed very nicely.

The subject this month is really about editing, though I'm taking a bit of a different approach. I've heard from other authors that they suggest to just write the story and then come back to edit it. Some people write and re-write the first chapter over and over and then get frustrated about how slow it is going.

The Hidden Sun was my first book. It took me roughly 5 years from the time I started writing it until the day the first copy was sold. Granted, I was working full time and yadda, yadda, yadda, but still, that's a long time to hold on to a dream.

My second book, The Waxing Moon, came from an idea I got while editing The Hidden Sun. It's done and will hopefully see the light of day within a year's time. The trippy part about The Waxing Moon is that the final version is actually quite a bit different from the first draft. I was shooting for about 100,00 words. When I got to about 65,000, the story was over. So. . .I wrote another 35,000 words and tacked it on the end. My beta readers noticed what I had done right away. The end result? I went back into the original 65,000 words and added some interweaving subplots that enhanced the book--and I think it's much better because of it.

And about those 35,000 at the end that were cut? Let's just say I have a good head start on the third book of the Bariwon series.

In my current work in progress, The Mirror of the Soul, I'm just plowing through the story full steam ahead with the knowledge that I'll be going back to edit, fix, adjust, add, and rewrite what I've done. And isn't it wonderful that writers can do that.

As for the subject of editing and use of redundant phrases, let me end with a few examples:

Advance preview. I guess this means you get to see a preview of something yet to come before someone else?

Over exaggerate. I've used this phrase at least a million times.

Kneel down. Along the same lines of Stand up.

True facts. Very important to use these when writing non-fiction.

Pair of twins. I actually had this on an earlier version of The Hidden Sun.   

So, my final conclusion is that it's absolutely necessary that writers plan ahead to avoid using redundancies.  And when editing, scrutinize in detail the sum total of your redundant words, with your ultimate goal to completely eliminate them from your writing. If you need help, you can always ask a knowledgeable expert.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

After Patting Yourself On the Back...

So you finished your project, a novel, a short story, a play, whatever it is.  Take a minute and pat yourself on the back.  Now remove that hand from your back and put it back on the keyboard.  You’re not done yet.

Hashing out a first draft is only phrase in the life cycle of your work, and also vital is polishing up your work so that it will shine as brightly as possible.  Competition for publication can be fierce, and you cannot afford to put anything less than your best work out there. 

Revision ,  like writing the first draft, is a highly personal process.  Everyone does it a little differently and whatever works best for you is how you should do it.  Here are a few things I’ve found helpful.  

1.     Read for one element: There are so many things to look for, including grammar and spelling, pacing, style, etc, that you might be overwhelmed if you look for it all at once.  You might find it better to give the work multiple readings, focusing on a single aspect.

2.    If in doubt, read aloud:  If you stumble when you read, your reader might as well. If you are not sure, read the passage aloud and see how it flows.  This helps in a way that cannot be duplicated by reading silently.

3.     Your manuscript is not “for your eyes only.”: After spending so much time with your work, you are too close to it to see it completely objectively.  Though you need to go over it yourself, it is best to seek the help of others, at best, those who can give you their genuine opinion.  It’s a good idea to give the manuscript not only to those who know something about writing, but also to someone in your target audience.

No matter how you do it, remember that there is a time to revise and a time to refrain from revising. You cannot revise forever, or you’ll never see print.  Revise until you feel good about your work and then send it out into the world.  It sometimes feels like letting out a child out into the world to fend for themselves, but as long as you have taken the proper time to revise, you have nothing to worry about. 


The blog tour and launch party for my next book approach.  Come get the details at 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

From a spark to a flame


I'm sure Freud would have something to say about this. Or perhaps there is a dream weaver out there who could shed some light on the subject. Or maybe, just maybe, a dream is just a dream.

(Quick trivia: was the movie Inception inspired by The Princess Bride? Answer below.)

I have this reoccurring nightmare where I'm about to finish school and there is a class I need to complete to graduate, but I haven't been there all semester--in fact, I'm not even sure when and where it meets. But, I have hope that if I find it, I can take the final and perhaps pass. Most often than not, it's an English class.

Quick side note: being dyslexic, I was always a terrible speller growing up. English classes often have spelling as part of their curriculum, so rarely did I get a good grade. I never thought I'd get my minor in English, let alone become a published author. However, as I got older, I came to realize something: there are these wonderful people called "editors" (shout out to Tristi and Kayla!) who let my imagination run wild without having to stop every two minutes to wonder if I typed something else that sounds like the word in my head. Example: my first drafts almost always have "has" in place of "as" and vice-versa--and bless my dyslexic mind, I just don't see them.

But back to dreams. There is also the reoccurring one where I can float just about an inch or so off the ground. And if I concentrate hard enough, I can actually get myself to rise higher--sometimes so high I can levitate over large objects, like walls or buildings.

What does this have to do with getting ideas for writing? The Hidden Sun was based on a very vivid dream I had one night. I woke up and remembered it well enough that I could share it with my wife. In doing so, I remembered it even more. She said, "That's interesting. You should write that down."

So, I did.

Then I got thinking about what happened to the characters before and after the dream. And, tada! I had my first idea for a book.

For me, I often get ideas for books or storylines or blogs from dreams--of the day or night variety. I have an app on my smartphone where I can jot down little snippets. Most of the time, these ideas are "sparks" that get fanned and have fuel added to become a flame.


What's been a lot of fun for the current book I'm writing is that it's based on a song from Chris de Burgh called The Mirror Of The Soul. While the story in the song itself is compelling, I needed to add things to it in order to flush it out into a full blown book. In this case, I'll listen to random songs by Mr. de Burgh and use the stories or even a line here or there for inspiration. (And yes, I got permission from his manager, publisher and even Mr. de Burgh himself before I proceeded)

As for the other dreams? To psychoanalyze myself, I'd say my dream of failing a class is tied to something I've forgotten to do, either in real life, or in my writing, that is very important. And for the levitating? Well, perhaps in a world where many people are trying to push you down, and tell you that you can't do things, it's my mind telling me that I can if I just try.

Trivia Answer:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Counterpoint on King's Advice

I read recently that Stephen King said (and I'm seriously paraphrasin') Don't write down idea's because IF they are good idea's you will remember them anyway-and if you don't remember them-they weren't good idea's.

BULL CRAP

And here's why.

YOU as the writer won't/don't/can't know what is going to resonate with the reader and move them.

Sure, sometimes you'll think, hey this will work or that will work--but other times a little aside that has little conscious meaning to you as the writer will strike a nerve and move someone-it will resonate and rock their perception and the readers perception of your story is the readers reality.

I know because I have done it. Small tweaks in stories have changed characters into some readers favorites-and that would not have happened if I wasn't taking notes and later perusing them and putting that stuff into the book. I call it Tetrising things in.

It's all well and good for King to throw out that particular advice but the reality is we all forget things and will continue to forget things and at King's age - How many things has he already forgotten? How many sparkling gems has he potentially trod over? I suggest it isn't even a potential-its absolutely already happened countless times.

So I advise, in contrast to a million dollar writer (because he is wrong), take notes because YOU will forget.

The Muse can be fickle, don't ignore her, don't think she'll call back later with the same message, and don't forget to map the journey she is asking you to travel on.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deadline: how an old enemy became a good friend

Deadline.

I've always hated that word.  It reminds me too much of words like "homework" and "chore."  You know, those really nasty concepts that could ruin entire weekends.

It took a long time for me to realize how important deadlines are.

Before I was published, back when I wrote only fiction, deadlines were a rather aloof topic.  People would ask when I would write a book or get a story out.  The truth was that I didn't know.  I always answered in vague timetables like "later" or "this year."

Finally, I got tired of my own procrastination and started working for a local newspaper.  That's where I learned how to write and how to write fast.

No longer could I tell someone "I'll write it later" or "this year."  Stories were due often a few hours after I interviewed someone.

At first, this terrified me.  I had always told myself that I could write a really good story if I were given more time.  I'll admit that sometimes that's true, but procrastination is never the answer.

In 2010, I pushed myself to the limit by signing up for what became a 22 part series for my newspaper.  I had always wanted to do a series, and I was thinking big--something that would really make me stick out.  I wanted to profile prominent Mainers for their success across the state.

This meant I would have to snag interviews with busy hard-to-reach people, write stories and turn them in well before my usual deadline.  My editor wanted it to be a front-page series, so there was no fudging the dates.  I agreed, and to this day, I surprised myself.



I took this picture in 2010 when I interviewed author and actress Victoria Rowell. It made the front page along with my story.  Everyone I knew was shocked that I got to meet her. In Maine, she's known from her roles in prime-time series like "Diagnosis Murder" and "Dumb and Dumber" with Jim Carey.



During that time, I interviewed people like Victoria Rowell from "The Young and the Restless,"  former Maine governor Angus King, UFC Fighters Marcus Davis and Tim Boetsch, and New York Times Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen, among many others.

I churned the stories out as fast as I could because half my time was spent scheduling interviews, some of which never worked out.
  



But more importantly, I learned more about myself and what I could accomplish.  I just needed a deadline to do it.


Here's a pic of UFC fighter Tim "The Barbarian" Boetsch (right) in action.  Due to his training schedule, I wasn't able to meet Tim, but he spoke to me over an hour on the phone.   His UFC record is an impressive 16-4.  He knocked this opponent, Mike Patt, out in the first round at UFC 88.


I learned that there are too many stories that need attention.  As a writer, each one is a step in improving your craft.

Writing is a lot like lifting weights.  If you want to see results, you don't start working out the night before your big date.  You have to do it consistently over time.

Sometimes you won't lift that much.  Sometimes you might drop the weights.  But what matters is that you're doing it.  Only by lifting weights do you see results, and only by writing do you finish a story.

The thing I hated most--the deadline--helped me finally become a writer.  Now with more than 200 articles published in various newspapers and magazines, I've come to recognize the deadline as an ally in the continuous battle against procrastination.

If you need to organize your ideas, make a deadline. Nothing will light a fire like that.

If you want to write fiction every week, create a writers group.  Nothing will make you write more than sharing your work with others on a regular basis.

Only writing will make you a writer, and if you're anything like me, you need a deadline to make you write.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Don't Expect Lightning to Strike Twice




People often ask me "Where do you get your ideas?"

I'm sure most authors get that on a pretty regular basis.  I sometimes tell them "Ideas R Us."

Honestly, I'm not sure where ideas come.  The idea for "The Canticle Kingdom", when working at Target arranging stuff on the shelves. I didn't have on my thinking cap, and I wasn't even thinking about writing.  The brain is strange in that any little thing, a snatch of conversation, a strange image, even a song can spark an idea.  You can't really predict when these ideas are going to hit, but you can be prepared for them.

The know the old saying that "lightning never strikes the same place twice"? That's often true for ideas too.  And just like lightning, they can come quickly and powerfully and then be gone just as quickly.  If you are serious about writing, make a plan of where you are going to keep your ideas.  Always carry something around with you that you can write on, or can store your ideas in.  When one strikes, capture it as soon as you can. The shortest pencil really is longer than the longest memory.

Once you have that idea captured, make sure that you put it some place safe where you can easily get at it later.  I have a file which I back up on my computer that has all of my snatches of ideas so that I can visit them later when I'm looking for a new project.

You may never know how much an idea could be worth.  Just think it J.K. Rowling had failed to act on the idea for Harry Potter.  That idea was literally worth millions of dollars.  I'm not saying that all ideas are equally valuable, but if you don't preserve them, you'll never know.

This week on my personal blog, I outline a few important lessons learned at a book signing and reveal the cover for my upcoming release "The Last Archangel."  Stop on by!

Monday, April 25, 2011

MAKE versus FIND

I've neglecting posting earlier-why? Because like the subject of this month-Time to Write-I didn't follow my own cardinal rule in that regard.
And it is thus...

You DO NOT find the time to write-you have to MAKE the time to write.

I used to write for my own enjoyment (still do) but I put no effort into finishing anything on schedule for anyone else to read and enjoy. If I happened to show a friend something it was just the luck of the draw-I had something nearby. I also only wrote when I felt like it-it was not a MAKE situation it was a WHATEVER situation.

But a WHATEVER situation will not get you published.

You have to MAKE the time and MAKE it happen. When I decided that I wanted to be published, I made the choice to make the time.

NOW as a published author, I am painfully aware of deadlines I must meet. I can't tell you how many projects I have turned in at minutes to midnight-OR even cut back door deals with editors to give me a couple extra days-my upcoming short "The Dig" in the IN SITU anthology for instance.  http://daganbooks.com/2011/01/15/announcement-in-situ-table-of-contents/

But my point still stands-the time isn't just going to magically appear-something is always gonna come up-you have to make it happen-even if it is asking an editor to give you a little more time.

And by the by-that doesn't always work either-maybe 50% so far. And I suspect I have been blessed in that department.

How else do you make the time? Everyone is different-but I suggest cutting out whatever is less important to you-crap TV is a good place to star.

So in conclusion-MAKE quality time to write-because that is the only way you are ever gonna get it done.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The write time


I've never one to pass up a good pun. . . or a bad one for that matter. Sometimes they're actually pretty funny. Most of the time, I just embarrass my kids. It's what Dad's do best.

However, that isn't the subject of this blog. It's about finding time to write.

On the subject of time, my wife once made the observation that as kids, like when you are 4, it seems  like it takes forever for Christmas to come. And when you are older, it seems like you just took down the decorations when it's time to put them back up again.

Why?

Well, it's simple math, really.  When you're 4, a year is 1/4th of your life. When you are 40, a year is a much smaller fraction (do I really have to type 1/40th? Well, I guess I did). The point being, the older you get, the more time seems to speed by.

It took me a good five years to write The Hidden Sun. It took about four years for me to write The Waxing Moon. My goal for my third book? One year. Like anything, you get better at it. But that's not enough.

You need to make it a priority.

There are any number of things fighting for your time. Work, kids, spouse, church, sleep (what's that?) school, friends, entertainment, girlfriend or boyfriend (hopefully not if you have a spouse) and so on.

So, what do I do? Granted, this is what works for me. It may or may not work for you. After I get the original spark for an idea for a story (which is a whole other blog), I'll daydream about it. During lunch, as I'm falling asleep, while I'm taking a shower, or when my wife is talking to me (I'm kidding about the last one. . . or am I?) Quick side note: there is a great book about a father who had triplets. It's called, "I sleep at red lights". It's basically the same concept.

Before I even start to put words to paper, I'll have a general idea of the characters, the scene and what is going to happen.

And then the magic begins.

As I'm writing, the characters and setting help the story come alive. Things generally follow what I thought about, but I leave enough wiggle room that things can unfold as they saw fit. It's hard to describe it more than that.

In order to let this magic happen, I go to my man cave (hence why I'm proud to be part of this blog) where I can work in the quiet without distractions. To get in the mood, I'll often listen to music before I write that helps set the tone. Example: Mont St. Michel by Mike Oldfield is great music to set the mood to write about medieval times.


This usually happens after the kids go to bed, or on a day off from work when the kids are in school. (See a trend here? Family first! It's about priorities!)

In the end, it is really finding a time when you can write and not be disturbed. Sometimes the magic isn't there when I've set time to write. Sometimes the magic is there, but I have too many hands on my time. Regardless, as with anything in life, when you make it a priority, amazing things can, and do, happen.  

Monday, April 4, 2011

Finding the Right Time to Write


I can’t keep track of how many times people have said to me “I would love to write, but I just don’t have the time” or tell me that they’ve been working on their work in progress for the better part of the last decade.
It’s true.  Life is busy.  I’m busy and I’m sure most published authors are.  I also wrote my first published book while going to school full time and working full time.  I think people would be better to say that “they don’t have a lot of time to write.” It’s really matter of making the best of the time that you have.  Here’s what I can say: 

1.       Set an optimal time to write: choose a time to write that best reflects your best time of day so that you can get the most out of your limited time.  If you are a morning person, this can mean getting up just a little earlier to make your goal.  If you’re an evening person, instead of watching a TV show, write a few hundred words. 

2.       Set achievable goals and keep track of them: I find that a word count goal can be a lot of fun.  Set a big one for your project (60K, 80K, 100K…) and then figure out home many you want to shoot for in an average day.  I personally like to shoot for 1,000, but that doesn’t always happen.  Don’t get discouraged if you get behind.  Just pick yourself up and shoot for the current day’s goal. 

3.       Always had something to write with:  I always have paper and pencil.  Barring that, I can write things on my iPod.  When you are waiting for a few moments in line somewhere, jot down a paragraph.  I have frequent choir practices and once I’m all settled in, if I have a few minutes, I take a second to write something.  I’ve written entire stories this way. 

The biggest thing to remember is that a slow, but steady effort can be much more effective that infrequent bouts of zealous writing.  If you are serious about writing, you need to make it a habit, something you just do every day. 

What sorts of things do you do to make time for writing? 

Also this week:
Win some great books, including “The Canticle Kingdom”: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=35901&id=151385984908782&l=484889d2f7
Preorder my next novel “The Last Archangel” for a great price: