Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review of Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold

In Worlds of Wonder, Hugo-winner David Gerrold presents a snappy, entertaining, and insightful view of fiction, as seen through the focused lens of a speculative writer. He covers the expected basics, while also managing to throw in some inspiring originalities. The short (sometimes no more than a page) chapters create an inviting, fast read packed with info.

Gerrold begins by exploring the vast galaxy of possibilities available to the speculative writer. He encourages his readers to “invent wonder” and dive into the deep pool of the “what if” question. He distinguishes between science fiction and fantasy and explains the finer points of both genres. Much of the book is devoted to subjects that apply to all of fiction writing (character, setting, theme, style, dialogue), but Gerrold puts a definitive speculative slant on them. He discusses the necessary qualities of a speculative hero, explains the basics of world-building, and suggests stylistic choices appropriate to the genre.

His witty style (complete with snarky footnotes) and sometimes laugh-out-loud, made-up-on-the-spot examples are a fun read in themselves (although I would caution that a few of his entries make the book regrettably inappropriate for younger audiences). But his insight into the inner workings of an often tricky genre are invaluable.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Monday, June 27, 2011

Resource Roundup

Not long ago, I needed to know when the sun set in September in Texas for my WIP. Even though I live in Texas, for some reason, I just couldn't come up with the answer on my own. That's when I found Time and Date dot com. This site is a time zone calculator, sun and moon calculator, date calculator. We used it recently to help DH figure some dates in years passed for business purposes. It's a helpful site.

The Bookshelf Muse was a terrific find. This site provides a thesaurus for emotions, colors/textures/shapes, weather patterns and more. It's a great tool for describing even those difficult facial expressions you're trying to capture. It even has a symbolism thesaurus. If you really into self-torture, poke "Bakery" under Settings on the sidebar.

Another terrific tool is Plaxo, used for maintaining control over your contacts. Plaxo allows you to import names and information from several sources including LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo, etc. and organizes them in one location. You also can keep your info updated and available for those wishing to keep up with you.

These are the sites I've found since the last time I had a "Resource Roundup" post, but now, I'm hoping someone will explain a resource to me: What is Facebook's new rave, "BranchOut"?
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Friday, June 24, 2011

Say what?

Some of you may (or may not) know that our oldest son Mike, his wife Julie, and their boys Caleb and Noah recently returned from a long stint in India as missionaries. It was a joyous reunion, and while they were at our house we got to reminiscing about the struggles they went through finding funding for their trip.

One night, early in the process, they held a meeting in the fellowship hall at their church, where they told the members of their vision, that talk to be followed by a question and answer session. During this time my wife and I held our grandsons Caleb and Noah, who were then five and three respectively, on our laps. Not surprisingly the boys were a bit antsy during Mike and Julie’s talk, but in general were well-behaved.

Then came the end, and Mike asked if anyone had any questions. Several hands went up … including little Noah’s. Mike took the questions from the adults one at a time, but kept shaking his head at Noah, silently telling him to put his hand down. To no avail. During the next fifteen minutes Noah patiently kept his hand up, all the while getting the hairy eyeball from his parents.

Finally the last question was answered, and Mike scanned the audience. “Anybody else?” he enquired. At this Noah started waving his arm, getting some chuckles from the group.

Mike sighed and smiled at his son. “Yes, Noah, what’s your question?”

To which our little grandson, in dead earnestness came back, “How come when I go swimming I have to wear a life jacket?”

The room exploded in laughter.

I guess kids really do say the darndest things … or at least the most surreal!

So what's the craziest thing you ever heard a child say?
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interview with Joseph Finder

In 2010, my New Year's Resolution was to read every book Donald Maass used in his The Fire in Fiction, a premium how-to manual for writers. I wanted to see what caught Maass's attention, to read the authors he believed had "it"--whatever "it" is that makes an excellent writer. Among the books Maass used was Company Man, a New York Times Best Seller.

Maass used Company Man to illustrate how to make an unsympathetic character palatable to the readers. I used it to illustrate how to pace emotions. But neither one of us tapped into all the lessons an author could learn from Joseph Finder's masterful ability to weave a tale.

Joe writes thrillers--the kind that take you beyond gnawing your nails all the way to chompin' on your knuckles. This ability is what makes him a New York Times best selling author and a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Novel for Killer Instinct (2006). Company Man was a winner of the Barry and Gumshoe Awards for Best Thriller in 2005--and I could go on about his credentials, but I want to jump right to my favorite: High Crimes was made into a movie, starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd (Joe even had a part in the film!).

So, not to stretch this intro too long, let's jump in:

AC: It was mighty generous of you to allow us voyeurs a virtual peek at your desk, and, having done so, I’m honored to meet someone who has his own bobble-head. But the fact that you have a bat-phone fascinated me. I have to ask: How much did the Batman series influence your life’s choices?

JF: Wow — we’re starting with a question I can honestly say no one has asked me before. But you’d have a hard time finding any American male within my age range who didn’t want to be Batman or Superman. Batman is the obvious choice, because of all the gadgets. Most of us weren’t born on Krypton, but we can all drive a Batmobile (and doesn’t every guy really want to?). And I’m still waiting for that bat phone to ring. Yep, I read all the Batman comic books and watched the TV show, loved the groovy camera angles, the Bat Cave, and that bust of William Shakespeare in Millionaire Bruce Wayne’s library that had the button inside that opened the bookcase. Though I always wondered why he had to slide down a firepole. Rich guy like that, why didn’t he have some supersonic elevator?

AC: If I understand correctly, you turned down the CIA to return to writing. After reading your thrillers, I wonder: Was being a spy not exciting enough for ya?

JF: It would be more accurate to say I was recruited to the CIA — which had been my goal, because I wanted to be Jason Bourne. I wanted to be that guy, jumping between train cars and handing off secret messages in cafes. Instead, I discovered I’d be working at a cubicle, reading stacks of Soviet industrial production reports and economic analyses. That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. My fictional spy world is far more exciting.

AC: You belong to many of the same online social sites that I do, which blows a strongly-held belief of mine out of the water: Best selling authors don’t have to spend time leaping from site to site to garner readers. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am to learn there’s no end-of-the-tunnel for self-promotion. How much time do you spend online promoting yourself and your novels?

JF: It’s a tricky issue. Time management is the most important skill for anyone who’s trying to write, and the online networking and promotion can take as much time as you want to give it. Frankly, it’s more fun to chat online than it is to crank out a couple of thousand words. So I’ve had to ration myself. I’m generally on for an hour at the beginning of my workday, and an hour at the end of it. Sometimes I’ll check in for a few minutes in the middle of the day. But I’ve had to develop strategies that amount to games with myself to keep myself offline when I should be working. I talk about one of my time-management tools, an antique hourglass, in a video I made for YouTube. But I also use more high-tech tools, like Mac Freedom. Truth is, I don’t think a bestselling writer has to spend time on the social networks. But they’re hard to resist. And they really do present a remarkable new way of connecting with readers. Before that, we’d only meet our readers at book signings.

AC: On your blog, you posted a review of Lisa Gardner’s recent release, Love You More. You’re both best-selling authors, but do you learn from her and her techniques?

JF: I hope I learn from everything I read. I think most good authors do, consciously or unconsciously. When I set out to write thrillers, I did this in a very systematic way: I read a selection of what I considered the best books in the genre, and I dissected them. I made lists, I outlined, I identified elements of structure and pacing and character development, and I set out to imitate them. That’s how writers learn: from imitating the work they admire. At least, that’s what I used to tell my writing classes. There’s no shame in imitating someone’s style while you develop your own. And in the case of Lisa’s books, I pay close attention to the way she develops her characters, the emotionality, the family dynamics, and how she integrates them into a supercharged, highly suspenseful plot.

AC: Putting the question a different way–do you still study the craft? Still pick up new ideas and tips about writing?

Absolutely, and not just in the genre. That Lisa Gardner novel, LOVE YOU MORE, is a good example. That book is a model of some really sophisticated writing techniques: it shifts between first person and limited third person narration, and it tells parallel stories about two protagonists who get equal time on the page, only one of whom is a series character. For someone like me, who’s only two books into a series, it’s fascinating to see how Lisa uses this technique to keep her series fresh for loyal readers and accessible to new readers. Reading Lee Child is a great lesson (and reminder) of how spare prose can be while at the same time being elegant. I reread John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee’s novels from time to time to absorb pointers about character, and sometimes I re-read James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler to remind myself how sharp the point of view can be and how you can get across the essence of a character in one pithy line.

AC: To settle the outline/non-outline question right now–you’re an outliner. Some outliners know what’s going to happen on page 272 before they’ve written page 1. Others hit the highlights, and fill in the blanks as they go. How extensive is your outline?

Yes, I’m an outliner, although “outline” suggests something a little more formal than what I do. After writing POWER PLAY without an outline, I realized that I need a map that tells me where I’m going, with a few major plot developments along the way. I know where I’m starting; I know where I’m going to end up; I know a few of the major reversals and surprises along the way. (The motto “Surprise, Reverse, Reveal” is posted on my computer monitor.) I like to compare it to taking a drive, say from Boston to Albany. I have a map, but as long as I know the stops I need to make, I’ll let myself wander a little along the way. Whereas if you outline too comprehensively, it’s like driving across country with your navigation system on. You hear that damned voice telling you every single turn to make, and after a while it can make you crazy.

AC: You recently wrote: “Alfred Hitchcock was wrong. Writing about your fears doesn’t always make them go away. Sometimes it just makes them worse.” What prompted this revelation was your experience being closed up in a casket as research for your new release, Buried Secrets. (Yowzah! Even your post on the research was a nail-biter!) Is this the most extreme research you’ve ever done? If not, what is?

No, the most extreme research I ever did was going to Moscow to penetrate an organized crime ring as research for a novel. I had a source who was an undercover agent there and agreed to bring me to a meeting. A few hours before I was supposed to show up, at a midnight gathering, my source called me and said, “Leave Moscow as soon as you can. They think you’re CIA, and they’re planning on killing you.” No joke. I left the country real fast.

Compared to that, being locked up in a steel casket was tame. At first it seemed restful — I felt like I could almost take a nap — and then it hit me where I was, and I began to hyperventilate, and I yelled to be let out, but they couldn’t hear me. Then the panic set in . . . Eventually they heard me pounding. That rush of fresh air was cool and sweet.

AC: What draws an author to write thrillers? To imagine the horrid things human beings can do to each other, and put them on paper?

We write what we like to read. And it’s not about horrid things — it’s about mastering suspense and fear. Why do we like ghost stories, or scary stories in general? Because it gives us a vicarious sense of adventure that helps relieve the dullness of our conventional lives, and it also gives us a feeling of control, of mastery, of having gone through something frightening and having reached the other side. Those of us who write thrillers are storytellers in exactly the same way as primitive hunters sat around the flickering fire in their dark caves and told each other tales, tens of thousands of years ago, if not longer. Stories unite us. Stories are what make us human. And way back in prehistoric times, the storyteller was considered to have a magical gift. They were even feared. And here we are on Twitter.

AC: Is there a point where you’d draw the line and say, “I’m not going to depict that, even in fiction”? What is that point for you?

Sure. Having had a daughter, I’m unable to write any scene involving the death of a child. I can’t read about the death of a child. I made the mistake of watching the movie “Rabbit Hole,” which was beautifully acted and written, and simply unbearable. That was a nightmare for me. I won’t write rape scenes. And even if there are scenes in which violence happens, I tend to pull the camera back and away, as it were. I think that violence can be more powerful if it’s rendered subtly. I have made the mistake of having a family pet — a Golden Retriever — killed in Company Man, and I still get emails and letters complaining about that. I felt bad about it, but I also felt it was necessary to show exactly how dangerous and scary my protagonist’s stalker was.

AC: Where do you get your ideas for your stories? For your characters?

JF: Ideas for stories come from everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. A female friend tells me she discovered her husband’s driver’s license in the back of a drawer, and it has a different name on it . . . and that led to HIGH CRIMES. I hear stories from people, I read articles and think, huh, what if . . . Truth is, I’ll never have enough time to write all the stories I have ideas for.

All my characters come from real life, although the Jungian principle applies: every character is probably some version of myself, because I’m the one making them up. But Nick Heller, for example, came from a conversation I had with an old friend who used to be CIA, and now does what Nick does — he’s a “private spy.” Nick shares some attributes with him, but I think he’s also got a lot in common with Adam Cassidy, the protagonist of PARANOIA, and Jake Landry, the hero of POWER PLAY. Nick is a wish-fulfillment version of myself.

AC: What do you think of the changes in the publishing industry? Your opinion of electronic publishing? And, your opinion of self-publishing?

JF: Anything that puts books in readers’ hands is good for writers. Readers have more choices than they’ve ever had, and I think the advent of electronic publishing means that people are reading more, in more formats, than at any time in our history. Statistics back me up on this: add up all the different media, and people are simply buying more books.

That said, I think that both readers and publishers are struggling to adjust to this new world. It’s very hard for a reader to choose among all these different options, which is why I think the gatekeeper roles are going to become even more important as these changes work their way through the market. People can’t read everything, so they’re going to look to authorities they respect to guide them. This is a real opportunity for independent bookstores, for publishers, for book review blogs, and other organizations that point readers toward quality entertainment. The one thing I worry most about is bookstores disappearing because everyone’s buying online. Without bookstores, without handselling, without browsing, I think all writers are in trouble — and so are readers.

AC: What would you consider the high point of your career?

JF: Oh, tough one. I hope the high point of my career hasn’t happened yet. But up until now, I’d have to say winning the Thriller Award for KILLER INSTINCT in 2007. A tremendous honor, especially coming from my peers. Then there was going to the Hollywood premiere of “High Crimes” — that was pretty cool. And that call from my editor, Keith Kahla, telling me that Paranoia had hit the New York Times bestsellers list – my first hardcover bestseller.

AC: Anything else you’d like to add?

JF: Just that you should keep in mind that storytellers have magical powers. I hope your readers buy BURIED SECRETS as soon as it’s out. I’d hate to imagine what might happen if they don’t . . . Seriously, thanks for helping spread the word. This is a word-of-mouth business, and I’m grateful for all the support I get.

Linda here~~~

Joe was amazingly gracious about doing this interview with us, and for answering a few questions not included here.

A personal note to my Christian writer friends: Joe has a great take on using profanity in our work. You can read his entire article, but here's the quick answer he sent me:

What it boils down to, though, is 1) I want everyone to be able to read my books, including my teenaged daughter and her friends; and 2) I want to depict the worlds I'm writing about accurately, and sometimes that includes bad language. Criminals who murder, rob and terrorize aren't going to watch their language. It's a balance, and I'm constantly evaluating it, as I think most authors do.
Joe doesn't use the most offensive of offensive language, and his novels contain less than most of his colleagues in this genre, but they're not completely devoid of expletives. Although I'm still a fan of the "it's not necessary" argument, Joe's reason for using the language is the most logical I've seen.

Buried Secrets released yesterday, June 21, 2011. I was one of the lucky ones who got to read an advance copy. Joe took me by surprise. He drove me down a predictable road, even verifying my suspicions so often I wondered what he was up to. Then, without warning, he stomped on the gas and whipped around a hairpin turn so fast I left my stomach behind and didn’t find it again until we reached the end of the trail.

Great book!

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Monday, June 20, 2011

Interview: Author / Blogger Mike Duran

Hey, everyone. Johne, here. Mike Duran is fast becoming one of the leading voices in what Frank Creed refers to as the Lost Genre, that gap between speculative fiction fans and belief / religion. Mike's pedigree is as colorful as he is. Mike writes a thought-provoking and controversial blog called deCOMPOSE, where he asks seemingly innocent questions that provoke spirited debate from all corners. He's a human touchstone who seems incapable of straying far from where all the lightning is striking. Mike's been running a series of articles about editors of indie presses, and subjected me to a long interview in two parts on his blog. In retaliation, I asked him to answer some questions for our readers here at AuthorCulture, and, in a fit of moxy, he rose to the challenge. Without further ado, I present Mike Duran.

AuthorCulture (AC): Hi, Mike. We meet again. Thanks for talking to our readers! Mike, what are literary missionaries, and are you one?

MIKE: The first thing I envision when you use the term “missionary” is a guy boiling in a pot of stew surrounded by salivating natives. If that’s what you mean Johne then, definitely, I am one. Seriously, I have never considered myself a “literary missionary,” although I know what you’re getting at. I’m not sure if that term has been officially coined, but I use it to describe “crossover” Christian writers, those believers who do not write exclusively for the Christian market. They are missionaries in the sense that they use their talent to get them into new, often “hostile” terrain. While I hope that my books will get into the hands of seekers and non-believers, I don’t consider myself exclusively aimed there.

AC: Who are your inspirations? Who made you want to read, and to write?

MIKE: Reading was a means of survival for me. I was the outcast, the awkward loser kid who couldn’t seem to be at ease among the crowd. Raised in a dysfunctional home, I often withdrew into an artistic cocoon. Drawing, painting, reading, and writing—this is where I found solace. It’s here that I immersed myself in the fantastical: Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Marvel Comics, and Weird Tales. In a way, I still derive inspiration from writers of speculative fiction. Dean Koontz, Tosca Lee, Neal Gaiman, and Robert McCammon are some of my recent faves.

AC: How did you find your way into your writer's wilderness? (By that, I mean, when did you decide to seriously start writing, and how long was it before you realized you were in over your head?)

MIKE: It’s been such a long process. I hear a lot of authors say they knew they wanted to be a writer from childhood. Well, I’m not one of those people. I had no idea what I wanted to be, and in a way, my writing career is still a bit of a journey into the unknown. Perhaps the biggest “nudge” came when I was once on staff at a church that was assembling some discipleship curricula. I assumed the lead over the project, wrote, researched, and designed the material. And I had a blast! It really rekindled some of my creative spark. From there, I purchased some books on the craft of writing, began some short stories, and became familiar with the publishing industry. It was a very slow process of personal discovery, risk, and hard work. Even now, as I’m looking forward to the publication of my second novel, I still feel like I’m on the front end of a huge learning curve.

Being under contract for that second book was probably when everything hit the fan. Creativity is not something that can be rushed and genuine inspiration is usually not scripted. Brilliance has a timetable all its own. Nevertheless, the contracted writer doesn’t have the luxury to sit around and wait for lightning to strike. All that to say, I knew I was in over my head as the deadline for my second novel barreled down on me. Fear, inadequacy, failure, incompetence—all of these emotions battered me. I was absolutely convinced I would be a one-hit wonder.

AC: Once there, how did you find your way out of your writer's wilderness again?

MIKE: I wouldn’t say I am out of my writer’s wilderness, but that I have kept hacking, found a path, and am starting to see daylight through the tangle of trees. In a way, it’s been a simple issue of perseverance. Even when I didn’t feel inspired, I wrote. Even when my schedule seemed impassable, I made time for writing. Even when the demon of perfectionism said the book would stink, I spit in his eye.

One thing I constantly reminded myself was that I had done this before, I had written a novel. (Note: This is one of the reasons why aspiring authors need to FINISH their book—it will be a spike in the mountain that they can always tether to.) I drew inspiration from the fact that I’d done it once and could do it again. Another help was my writers group. Rachel Marks, Becky Miller, and Merrie Destefano, were a huge encouragement through the emotional morass. Which is why I’m convinced writers need to have other writers in their lives. And finally, I submitted to the realization that it’s okay to suck. Even if my second novel is universally panned and I am banished from the writing community forever, I have been blessed. My wife, my kids, my own faith journey—I am a lucky man. This admission really helped me to fight through the malaise and keep writing.

AC: You recently wrote a post called Why Christians Can’t Agree About Christian Fiction and received a huge response, 153 comments as of this post. Can you give us a thumbnail of your thoughts and some of the most compelling rebuttals?

MIKE: There are many compelling rebuttals. Despite what some might think, I am not resolved as to the state of Christian fiction. Several years ago, Ted Dekker posted about what he considered overly-strict guidelines from a publisher of Christian romance. I recall watching with interest as this huge flame war began, which ended rather benignly with the differing parties cordially agreeing to call a truce. And apparently conceding to refrain from discussing the issue publicly ever again. I wondered to myself if Christians would ever be able to openly air their disagreements about the Christian fiction industry ever again, as if this is our own sacred cow.

In the post you mentioned, I proffered an opinion about why there is so much disagreement among Christians about Christian art. As I see it, there are two paradigms that believers view the arts through. One sees art as a means to engage the world, the other sees art as a means to disengage from the world. One believes in separatism, the other believes immersion. These differing views have created a polarity among Christian authors and readers. Of course, some will object to me asserting there are different camps and that by doing so, I am creating dissension. This is absolutely NOT my intention. In fact, I think we should be more concerned by our hesitancy to discuss the issue, than the potential difficulty we face in bringing up the subject.

AC: As a fellow speculative fiction fan, you know as well as any how marginal speculative fiction has been for those who have a Christian worldview. Have you observed any thawing in the markets for spec fic fans?

MIKE: Thawing? Yeah. But do you realize how long it takes an iceberg to thaw? I’m probably more pessimistic than some regarding Christian spec-fic. Some of my writer friends believe I actually may be hurting our cause by not acknowledging the real advances the industry has made. They might be right. Nevertheless, to answer your question, I doubt whether spec-fic will ever thrive in the current Christian market.

Perhaps it’s more of a generational thing. The first generation of Christian fiction was Little House on the Prairie type stuff and Romance. I have nothing against either. It is also not insignificant that the largest organization of Christian writers (the ACFW, American Christian Fiction Writers) was founded in 2000 as the American Christian Romance Writers (ACRW). Their name was changed in 2004 to better reflect their members’ scope of writing. Either way, it’s been less than ten years since the main body of Christian fiction writers has actively included genres other than romance. And in all honesty, speculative fiction is probably way down their list. So it’s a lot like turning the Titanic. It requires a slow, wide arc. All that to say, maybe there is a thaw. But if it doesn’t hurry up, that iceberg will definitely do some damage.

AC: How did the deal with Strang Communications / Realms come about? (I can't help grinning here as they publish "supernatural thrillers and prairie romances". That strikes me like the sort of joke God would enjoy.)

MIKE: Once again, quite a long story. My first agent had shopped my book through the Christian market with moderate interest. Of those who liked it but passed, some said it was too edgy and weird. We decided to begin looking to the general market and, almost immediately, a large New York house took interest. As you can imagine, we were elated. It was the beginning of our current recession and the process just seemed to drag on. The acquisitions editor loved the story, but couldn’t seem to get her team on board. After about 3-4 months, they finally passed on the project. We sunk. Shortly thereafter, my agent and I cordially agreed to part ways. It was a very difficult time.

After a brief bout of depression, I vowed to continue pursuing my writing career. I started some other writing projects and began gathering agent recommendations again. Meanwhile, I’d had an eye on Realms. They published the type of stuff I wrote, my agent had never pitched to them, and I knew they accepted un-agented manuscripts. Mike Dellosso was (and remains) their premier spec author, so I emailed him. He was extremely gracious and put me in touch with Debbie Marrie, Strang’s fiction acquisition editor. So I submitted the story, fully prepared to receive another rejection, and continued shopping for agents. Within about four months, I had signed a two-book contract and was being represented by Rachelle Gardner, one of the best agents in the business. In summation, the process has been long, winding, taxing, exhilarating, and utterly confounding.

AC: If you could go back and give your younger self any one piece of writing advice, what would you tell yourself to give yourself the best bang-for-the-buck advice to kick-start your writing career? What advice would you give a young black sheep Christian writer wannabe with a healthy interest in genre literature?

MIKE: Probably, “Avoid anyone who says they can give you one piece of definitive writing advice.” Seriously, the writer’s life is so solitary and so very personal; our words are displayed for others, our characters are trotted across numerous literary runways and scrutinized, our plots are splayed on digital gurneys and dissected before gawking wannabes. We are public figures with tender psyches and complex emotional make-ups. Writing is such a unique career. So my advice to aspiring authors would be: Find your own center. You will be assailed, critiqued, hailed, and then panned. Some will love your writing. Some will lie to you, and say they love it. Others will flat-out tell you it reeks. It’s quite a balance of learning when to (1) Listen to critics and (2) Ignore the critics. That’s why I say, Find your own center. Find peace and consolation in something other than critics, royalty statements, and five-star Amazon reviews. You must find validation apart from publication. You must find your own inner bearing, your own fount of inspiration, and your own reason to keep on writing. You must find a creative center that no one else can touch.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Friday, June 17, 2011

What it was really like to face the Balrog...

When Sir Ian McKellen attended the Savannah Film Festival, he gave the audience a behind-the-scenes taste of what it had REALLY been like to film the famous Bridge of Khazad-dum sequence from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lessons From the Pros: Does Your Story’s Climax Pack a Punch?

The best part of the Fourth of July (other than the fried chicken and potato salad, of course) is the fireworks at the end of the day. Everyone looks forward to sundown and the explosions of color that light up the darkness. The climax of your novel is like that. Readers will enjoy the preceding chapters (just like I enjoy my fried chicken), but what they’re really looking forward to are the fireworks at the end of the book. As authors, we need to make sure we put on a show worth remembering all year long. But just how do we do that?

Gardens of the Moon, the first book in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series, is a complicated (if sometimes convoluted) and exquisitely detailed fantasy that artfully leads readers up to a whale of a fireworks show. Let’s take a look at how Erikson accomplishes this:

1. He utilizes foreshadowing throughout the book to heighten the tension and give readers an idea of the insurmountable odds piling up against the protagonists.

2. As the climax approaches, he starts choreographing his huge cast of characters to allow them all to appear together in the climactic setting.

3. He steadily increases the pacing, via short scenes that jump from character to character, to ramp up the adrenaline.

4. He holds nothing back. When the climax finally arrives, Erikson pulls no punches. He gives readers everything he’s got by incorporating every element he’s introduced so far in the story (and a few he hadn’t).

No matter how good the preceding chapters may be, if your story doesn’t pay off in the climax, readers will be disappointed. So take a page from Erikson’s book and let the fireworks light up your story’s sky.

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Monday, June 13, 2011

Let the Rules be a Gentle Guide

One of my pet peeves is the fact that people have to come up with rules for EVERYTHING! This is especially true in the writing arena. We have rules about showing vs. telling (show don't tell), rules about adverbs (never use adverbs), rules about punctuation (never use exclamation marks), rules about cliches (never use a cliche on pain of death) and even rules about voice (use active voice, never passive).

Listen, rules exist for a reason. Over the years those who study good literature have discerned some things that make one work stronger than another, and voila! we get rules. However, "good" writing is so subjective to both personality and generation that I think we as authors do ourselves a disservice when we chain ourselves to the rules. What one person absolutely loves in a story might just drive another person absolutely batty. That, however, does not mean we should make a new rule about ignoring all the previous rules - just set them aside for a bit until we get our story down on paper.

So here, on this AuthorCulture post on June 13th, 2011, I hereby give you permission to IGNORE the rules (gasp!) for your first draft. Sit down and simply write your story, let it flow, use as many perfect-as-a-peach cliches as you wish. Your character can run quickly, or jump joyfully, or glower menacingly. You can tell the reader that Molly didn't like Peter, just like that. "Molly didn't like Peter." Use as many exclamation points as you jolly well please!!!! And then walk away from the story for at least a month. Let the story simmer in your mind, mull it over and play with ideas that will make it stronger.

Then come back to it. Get out your list of rules and carefully consider each and every place where you broke them. Would changing that area to bring it into line with "the rules" make the story stronger? In many cases it will, and I recommend that you make a lot of changes. (After all, it gives a much better picture of what Molly is actually feeling about Peter to say, "Peter stepped through the door and the familiar churning began in Molly's stomach even before her eyes narrowed. She clenched her teeth and pawed through her purse. How was it that the man could send her in search of her Rolaids simply by walking into the room?" Do you see how much stronger that is than simply saying, "Molly didn't like Peter?") 

But the reason I want you to ignore the rules for the first draft is because I think we often choke the story that wants to be told when we are so concerned about the rules.

So, now that you have permission, what rule(s) will you totally ignore on your next first draft? 
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fabulously Fun Friday: Are You Misappropriating Malapropisms?

A malapropism is the use of an incorrect word in place of a similarly sounding correct word. The name comes from the character Mrs. Malaprop, from The Rivals, a comedic play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The character has numerous lines that illustrate the blunder that would become her namesake. Here is some of her dialogue:

  • “She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.”
  • “He is the very pineapple of politeness.”
  • “Illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.”
  • “If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!"
  • “She would have a supercilious knowledge in accounts, and, as she grew up, I would have her instructed in geometry, that she might know something of the contagious countries. This… is what I would have a woman know; and I don’t think there is a superstitious article in it.”
The above malapropisms, of course, were engineered for comic effect, but inadvertent malapropisms can be just as humorous. These were taken from college essays:

  • “Parents try to install these virtues in their children.”
  • “He became affluent in French, Italian, Latin, and Greek.”
  • “My parents are alike and indifferent to each other.”
(A la Rinkworks)
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


When I was a kid I loved going to carnivals and fairs. Everything about those places was magic, from the gut-thumping rides to the slick games to the flashy shows. One year at the Kentucky State Fair, a sideshow exhibit that caught my eye was called, rather luridly, “The Pygmy King and the Deadly Serpents.” The poster outside the tent promised … well, you can imagine. As I recall it was probably done by the same Fletcher Hanks-style artist (look him up; you’ll be stunned at his story) who did most such garish displays found on the midways. Anyway I begged, wheedled, and relentlessly pestered my folks all afternoon until they finally capitulated and we went in.

Once inside the tent, however, rather than spooky lights and distant drums and slithering danger a-plenty, what we found was a bored African-American midget perched on a wooden stool, puffing away on a foul brown stogie and surrounded by what appeared to be a dozen non-venomous black and king snakes drooping on top of each in such mid-day summer torpor it was like they’d been shot. The deadliest thing there was the rancid gray smoke curling up from the man’s cigar.

I felt rooked, conned, taken, and generally bamboozled, and I believe that’s when I first realized the first of life’s hard lessons: many (if not most) things are not what they’re advertised to be.

So it is with marketing, whether it’s shoes or cars or weight-loss products. There are firms out there who’ll promise you the moon and the asteroid belt … for a small fee, of course; what you’ll usually get is only a handful of dust, and not the lunar kind. But since this concerns writing, let’s zero in on what publishers do and don’t do, and how present-day marketing comes into play.

Some of us need to jettison the old view of the author/publishing house relationship. There’s a story (probably apocryphal) concerning legendary editor Max Perkins. One day Max received a steamer trunk from writer Thomas Wolfe. Being a curious sort, and having worked with Wolfe before, he opened it. What he found when he lifted the lid rocked him back.

Inside were a thousand handwritten pages, the massively embryonic version of Wolfe’s iconic masterpiece, Look Homeward Angel. According to legend, over the next few months Perkins managed to not only edit the beast into the pristine form we know today, but once it was in print he also pulled strings and called in favors with reviewers to get it into bookstores across the nation.

That time—if it ever existed at all—is gone. Nowadays unless your name begins with Stephen, Stephanie, or J.K., any marketing you get from your publisher will be minimal. So what can you, the new or midlist author expect?

First, here’s what not to expect: end-cap or cover-out store displays, appearances on Dateline, a physical book tour, limo rides, steak dinners at Morton’s, or inside the front cover magazine ads (all of that costs, and costs big). What you may get, and again, this depends on the size of the house, are press releases to your local newspaper, bookmarks, postcards, and some media coverage. If the house is larger, they may augment that with radio or TV interviews, public appearances, publicist-arranged signings, and so on. If they’re very small, you may get nothing at all.

This isn’t meant as a downer, but simply a reality check. And since knowledge is power, it’s best to go into this crazy writing venture tanned, rested, and ready, eyes wide open, the scales fully gone. Of course, if your agent manages to land you a deal with Simon and Schuster, I'll gladly eat these words. With A-1 sauce, please. *G*

By the way, if any of this was useful to you, just let me know in the comments box, and in the future I'll be happy to share more. Thanks!

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Monday, June 6, 2011

Introducing John Robinson!

Today, AC is thrilled to introduce our new partner in crime: mystery author John Robinson. We’re excited about having John on board and look forward to seeing the further evolution of the blog thanks to his contributions. We’ll let him introduce himself in his own words. But, first, we’re excited to announce Angela Ackerman is the winner of our Second Anniversary drawing. Angela has won copies of John’s thriller Heading Home, Linda’s romantic comedy Give the Lady a Ride, Lynnette’s historical romance Rocky Mountain Oasis, and Katie’s CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. Enjoy, Angela—and our thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate AC’s second year! And, now, we present John Robinson:

I’ve been married for thirty-eight years to my lovely wife Barb. We have two grown sons (one of them married, with a family of his own), and a little daughter waiting for us in heaven. Presently I’m director of business development with a company that does contracting work with the military and the federal government.

I’d always liked to write, even from my early teen years, and when I was in college I was student affairs editor for the school paper. Years passed though, and that love seemed to fade. But a little over a decade ago it came roaring back, and in an unexpected way. It was New Years Day, 1999, and I was watching one of the bowl games on TV, when, suddenly, I started seeing something different on the screen. Don’t laugh, but it was almost like watching a movie. When I roused myself I found only a few minutes had passed, but amazingly I had the entire plot of Heading Home lined up in my head; it was then just a matter of writing it down and editing it. That process took about a year. Finding a house that would take such a controversial novel proved to be a challenge, though, and it wasn’t until 2008 that it was finally sold. During those intervening years I wrote and sold the Joe Box novels, and began the Mac Ryan series.

Because of its theme and unconventional main character, the first Joe Box novel, Until the Last Dog Dies was a booger to get published. My agent shopped it tirelessly, but kept coming to me back with stuff like “they love your writing, John, but the character of Joe scares them to death; they’re afraid women won’t buy it.” To which I responded, “Jeeze Louise, it’s not written for women!” Months passed, and my agent finally said they’ve done all they could, but couldn’t place it with anybody. That was in December of 2002. Flash forward to July of 2003. The Christian Book Association trade show was in Orlando that that year, and my agent was attending. As the story was told to me, the head buyer of one of the largest Christian bookstore chains was speaking with one of the marketing directors for Cook Communications, which owns RiverOak Publishing. They were talking about this and that, and the buyer said in an off-hand way, “I heard you’ve bought a novel featuring a Christian private investigator.” The Cook guy said no, he’d heard wrong, they took a pass on it. To which the buyer replied, “That’s funny; we could probably move a lot of units of that.” The Cook guy took that info to his people, and they told him, “See if it’s still available.” The Cook guy found my agent and asked if Until the Last Dog Dies was still on the table. Stunned, my agent said yes, and they proceeded to verbally cut the deal on the floor of the CBA. True story!

Somebody once asked me what would be my advice to someone just trying to break into publishing in this day; in reply, I’d tell them a story I once heard about Winston Churchill. The time was either the late fifties or early sixties, and by then Churchill was quite elderly when he was asked to give the commencement address for a large university.

The day came, and the auditorium was packed with students and alumni wanting to hear strong words of wisdom from the man who’d basically saved Britain during the darkest days the country had ever known. Slowly Sir Winston took the platform. Standing behind the podium, he gazed out at the sea of faces.

Then setting his famous bulldog jaw, he ground out these words: “Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up.” He fixed them with a gaze of iron. “Never.

And then he sat down.

And the place erupted in praise.

That’s what I’d tell people: “never give up.”

Just that.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Friday, June 3, 2011

For the Logophiles Among Us

I don't know where this list originated, but whoever came up with these is very clever. Enjoy!

You can tune a piano...but you can't tuna fish

I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger...then it hit me

To write with a broken pencil is . . . pointless.

When fish are in schools they sometimes . . . take debate.

A thief who stole a calendar . . . got twelve months.

When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, . . . U.C.L.A.

The professor discovered that her theory of earthquakes . . . was on shaky ground.

The batteries were given out . . . free of charge.

A dentist and a manicurist married. . . . They fought tooth and nail.

A will is a . .. . dead giveaway.

If you don't pay your exorcist . . . you can get repossessed.

With her marriage, she got a new name . . . and a dress.

You are stuck with your debt if . . . you can't budge it.

Local Area Network in Australia: . . . The LAN down under.

A boiled egg is . . . hard to beat.

When you've seen one shopping center . . . you've seen a mall.

Police were called to a day care where a three-year-old was ....resisting a rest.

Did you hear about the fellow whose whole left side was cut off? He's all right now.

If you take a laptop computer for a run you could . . . jog your memory.

A bicycle can't stand alone; . . . it is two-tired.

In a democracy it's your vote that counts; in feudalism, . . . it's your Count that votes.

When a clock is hungry . . . it goes back four seconds

The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine . . . was fully recovered.

He had a photographic memory . . . which was never developed.

Those who get too big for their britches will be . . . exposed in the end.

When she saw her first strands of gray hair . . . she thought she'd dye.

Acupuncture: . . . a jab well done.
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Romance Novel Reviewers Speak Out

I interviewed a few romance book reviewers to get a reader’s take on what she expects out of the genre. Some of the responses are expected: Romance readers want romance! Sizzle! Sparks! But some of the answers may surprise you.

Let me introduce you to some connoisseurs of romance: Joy Tamsin David of Edgy Inspirational Romance, Renee Chaw of Black 'n Gold Girl's Book Spot and Amber Stokes, of The Borrowed Book.

AC: What are the general ingredients of a love story?

Joy: A hero, a heroine, and a happily ever after. Everything else is negotiable.

Renee: A great hero and heroine, and, of course, chemistry! Without that sizzle it just fizzles!

Amber: Attraction, conflict, and hope. It has to end on a hopeful note. This can either be as obvious as a wedding and the beginning of a marriage, or as vague as a recognition of mutual affection and the possibility of more to come.

AC: What makes a great romance? What is the special ingredient that makes you want to keep the book instead of put it up as the next give-away?

Joy: Emotion, emotion, emotion. I need it to run off the pages and pour into my lap. When the emotion is done well, at some point I stop reading about the characters and become the characters. (And I give away all of my books- even my favorites. Especially my favorites).

Renee: I love a great romance but if there is no storyline to back it up I don't want to read it. If it's all romance and nothing else, no conflict, problems between characters it's not real to me and I just won't read it.

Amber: A combination of elements, including authentic emotions, a strong but caring hero, and an inspiring purpose. If the characters’ emotions are authentic, then I can relate to them better and become more invested in the story. If the hero is strong (someone who rescues the heroine, etc.) but also has an understanding heart, and reading about his interactions with the heroine causes tingles in my belly, then I’ll be more likely to fall in love with the hero and the book in general. And if the book overall is inspiring and points to an important theme/truth that is above just the one example of a literary couple, then the book will have a better chance of ending up as a “keeper.”

AC: How much does writing style/ability affect your decision?

Joy: Less than you'd think. I've absolutely loved some books panned by critics (cough-Twilight-cough). For most readers, I think story trumps craft. That's not to say we won't find the spelling mistakes in a novel you're selling from the trunk of your car. But if I get wrapped up in the story, I'm unlikely to notice stylistic faults in a professionally edited novel. And if I do notice them, I'm apt to forgive and forget.

Renee: It's a big time issue for me. If a writer changes POV ten times in the book I can get frustrated. If I have to keep flipping back to see who's talking I lose interest pretty fast. Also if I catch a lot of grammatical errors it irks me. I am by no means a grammar expert so if I catch a lot of errors it's a turnoff.

Amber: You know, I think writing style/ability can often be a deal-maker or a deal-breaker. If the book doesn’t invite me to join the characters’ journey through the writing style, I probably won’t love it. And I think writing style/ability really affects the author’s likelihood of creating authentic emotions, a lovable hero, and/or a powerful theme.

AC: What three things would make a book stand out among the crowd?

Joy: This is definitely a question of taste. For me, books that stand out contain one or more of these elements:

1. Lots of emotion/passion.
2. Humor
3. Relationship angst


1. The cover
2. Relatable characters
3. Originality: if an author can surprise me with a twist, I LOVE IT!


1. Powerful and authentic emotions
2. Beautiful descriptions
3. Accurate and interesting details

AC: And, on the flip-side, name three things that could make you put a book down and never touch it again.


1. Bad theology in Christian fiction
2. Spelling/punctuation errors- poor editing
3. Magic sex- I can't take credit for this term, I read it on someone else's blog and can't remember whose. It refers to when characters have sex and realize afterward that they're madly in love with each other. It's one of the reasons I don't read general market romance.


1. Language: I don't mind reading a book with an occasional swear word (which isn't usually a problem in CF) but if every other word coming out of a characters mouth is vulgar I don't want to read it. I usually want to relax and enjoy a story and for me cursing just takes away from the romance of it all!

2. Pacing: I prefer stories that move along at a normal or bit faster than normal pace. If I'm sitting there reading and wondering if the story is going somewhere or the hero and heroine are EVER going to come to the point where they realize they like/love each other it gets frustrating. On the other hand if the hero and heroine get together to fast it can be frustrating too. It's like, "Whoa, where did that come from?"


1. Fake characters/emotions
2. Too much “telling”
3. No purpose/moral

Romance is one of the hottest genres on the market. If you're trying to break into it, you can't do much better than to heed the advice and opinions of our panel of romance reading experts!
Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share