Sunday, November 28, 2010

An Indie Author’s Asset: The Writing Group

Being an author is a challenging job. Even well established, published authors have days where they stare at their computer screens (or composition notebooks) and doubt their own abilities. Writing means being able to tap into your creative side and create a worthwhile project, even when your day has been lousy or you have a headache. Independent authors have additional challenges to tackle: sticking to their own deadlines, finding willing participants to critique their work, and determining how to get their stories known. Additionally, writing is a solitary profession and one could easily find themselves feeling discouraged and isolated.

Many authors would be amazed by the power of joining a writer’s (or critique) group. In her book, Pen on Fire, Barabara DeMarco-Barrett notes that finding a writer’s group has the benefit of being able to share your ideas with people who likely see the world in a similar way. Independent authors stand to benefit incredibly from a serious writer’s group. Some examples of these benefits include:

1)Free editing: Let’s face it, no matter how many times we review books like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, or how often we scrutinize our work, we will always make mistakes. There are many errors to be made: spelling and grammar errors, plot holes, and vocabulary screw-ups to name a few. If you engage yourself in a serious writer’s group where everyone does their part, your material will be critiqued for free. Your counterparts may not be editors by trade; however, they have more knowledge on the subject than the lay person. In my writer’s group, we meet bi-monthly and bring corrections of one another’s work to discuss in each meeting. This keeps us accountable to each other and improves the quality of our work.
2)Ensuring timely completion of work: As noted above, involvement in a writer’s group brings accountability. Even on my busiest weeks, as the date of our next group nears, I find myself using my time more efficiently. I know my friends are expecting me to hand over a portion of my own project as well as provide feedback on theirs. My writer’s group has likely pushed my productivity forward two fold.
3)Hearing hard news from a soft place: Not one writer wants to hear that their work stinks. Even the most seasoned among us has failed to dazzle their audience with a scene or completely confused even their sharpest readers. Sometimes, we know something needs help, other times, we hand over a part of our work that we are sure will win awards only to hear the painful news that it needs help-and lots of it. Criticism hurts, but it’s less excruciating to hear from someone who cares about you and knows your potential than from a complete stranger who has no investment in your success as a writer.
4)Sounding board for frustrations: As a new writer, I often feel overwhelmed. Attempting to write my first novel, working full-time, and trying to have a social life has been a difficult endeavor. My writer’s group buddies truly understand the fears of failure, exhaustion, and continual roadblocks I face.
5)Learning from one another: We could spend every hour of every day for years studying the craft of writing and never exhaust all there is to learn. Spending time with other writers to share knowledge can ease this burden. For example, I learned about the opportunity to blog on this site from one of my writer’s group buddies.

I would encourage every writer to establish a group by identifying a few people that can meet regularly and appear serious about their goals. Word of caution: Keep the group small and establish some general rules (e.g. expectations of each member). My writer’s group consists of 3 people. I read and write fantasy, they are science fiction writers. All 3 of us write differently, and enjoy diverse types of stories. This is not a barrier, but adds interest and brings varying view points into our meetings. Not only have these writers helped to propel my writing goals, but they have become friends of immeasurable worth.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Toast to The Copious Cornucopia of Ancient and Modern Folktales

Before giving thanks this year, think on this: Words are an endlessly renewable resource.

Imagine: If an infinite number of turkeys pecked at an infinite number of computers for an infinite length of time, they would eventually type all our favorite novels, exactly word for word.  An even more exciting prospect is that they would type a great number of new novels that the world has never before seen.  The nightmare of sorting through all the random rubbish to find such gems would take an infinite number of pilgrims, and being Puritans, they may simply throw out all the best stuff for containing gratuitous witchcraft and hot inter-species sex scenes.

Obviously there is a better way.  Instead of implementing this absurd system of random word generation with a Thanksgiving-motif, society employs the humble writer, who types non-random words wracking their brains to find a combination that pleases everyone.  Everyone except the Puritans.

Word combinations are free and infinite.  Other harvests require real-world resources, such as lumber, steel, plastics, fuel, factories, fertile ground and seeds.  The harvest of Thanksgiving requires agricultural infrastructure and assembly lines to fill the cornucopia with plentiful food.  But to fill the mind with ideas and images, this takes only time.  Time, an imagination, a bit of electricity, and fast-moving fingers.  The cornucopia of fiction overflows, and will always overflow, until the sun itself stops shining, the oceans dry up, and the last human is no more.

It is a human trait, to pass on these stories, since ancient times.  One of these stories, imagined by myth-makers long ago, told of the god Zeus who grew up in a cave.  Some of our favorite urban fantasy protagonists were raised by wolves, but this one was raised by a goat.  Now there's an old twist on a new trope!  The goat's name was Amalthea.  One day, while tussling playfully with Amalthea, Zeus underestimated his strength, and broke off one of her horns.  Regretting this accident greatly, he made amends by blessing the horn with the power to grant all wishes.  Any material riches a person could want would be granted to anyone who possessed this horn of plenty.

I'm not sure how this helped Amalthea, since everyone would covet such a treasure and try to steal her horn away, but old myths often have a lot of plot holes.  Regardless, a lot of people really liked this story, and it lives on to this day.  It is where we get the cornucopia symbol, overflowing with the bounty of harvest, every Thanksgiving.  This is also where the unicorn myths originated, so it would not be too outrageous to create a new holiday mascot: The Thanksgiving Unicorn.

So here's to a wonderful holiday to you all.  May your cup overflow with books, words, beautiful ideas, far away places or strange creatures in familiar places nearby.  May your plot be twisted, your mind expanded, and may your protagonist always win in the end.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Luna Lindsey

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tainted blood preview continues

OMG. I can not believe I have been so busy I for got this. Sorry everyone, NanoWrimo is upon us this month, and I’ve been busy writing. All my non novel writing has fallen to the way side these days. I think I'm going to have to start writing these ahead of time, just so if I forget I still have something done. With that little excuse, here is a little more preview of my up coming novel Tainted Blood. Next week I will have something more original done.
“Where does she think she is going?” he mumbled as he brushed the hair from his face again. A nearby sound caught his attention as he studied the ground again. This time the prints were much fresher, the imprints from the soles of her shoes were still noticeable in these ones. They were a good sign that he was gaining on her. The sound of something moving in the nearby bushes caused him to pause and stare in their direction.

“What now?” There was no way the wolves could have already caught up to him, they weren't even on his path. They seemed to be making their own trail to hunt by. Whatever it was, Brain could make out a small shadowy figure moving about in trees to his right. It wasn't large enough to be a man, so it had to be an animal of some sort. Then again, anything was possible in this place: one had to be careful at all times. The last thing he needed was to be taken by surprise. That just wouldn't do, not to mention the delay that could cause. Day time had to be approaching soon, so that meant his time was severely limited.

“Fine, I can't take the chance.”

Launching himself as fast as he could into the nearby bush, Brian pulled out a large knife from his belt. He wasn't sure when he had put it there, but right now wasn't the time to be asking these types of questions. Right now he needed all of his senses alert and ready. A dark owl like shadow leaped into the sky just as he broke through the foliage. It's large wings flapping in the air above him as it paused and looked down at him with it's large unblinking red eyes. The entire scene was surreal and caused Brian to give pause. Had it not been so other worldly, he might have thought to leap up and try to grab the thing. As it was, he found himself staring into the things unblinking eyes as it rose up higher into the air. The last thing he noticed as it finally turned and flapped off out of view was the fact that its rather large wingspan never seemed to affect the nearby tree branches, almost as if it wasn’t really here.

The sound of wolves howling jerked him out of his trance like state.

“What the hell was that?” He wondered aloud. The sound of the wolves now came from in front of him rather than behind him. Somehow in the short time he had spent investigating the dark shape, the damned wolves had caught up and already passed him.

“I really hate that when it happens.” He shook his head as he dashed off in the direction of the sound of the pack. From the commotion that they were making, it sounded as if they had found their quarry. He couldn't help but wonder what the appearance of the dark owl like thing could mean. Its absence from his life was a happy thing. That had meant that he could live his life as if he were actually normal, well at least somewhat normal. Now however, its presence here complicated things. It was a bad omen.

A small clearing opened up as he came upon the pack. Several gray and black wolves circled two people in the center of the clearing. A blond young woman dressed in flowing almost transparent white dress that reached to the ground and would have made it almost impossible to run let alone walk in stood cringing behind a young strapping man who held a ridiculously long sword out before him. The two of them spun about in place in an attempt to keep the entire pack at bay. The young man’s shiny armor somehow looking more like metal jeans and a red letterman's coat.

“Chuck? What the hell is he doing here?”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interview with a NaNoWriPire

Hi, this is Luna. I've got too many words to write this week for my NaNoWriMo novel, a dark fantasy about an Empire ruled by vampires. (I'm at 27,460 words!) So instead of writing a post, I'll just paste this lost transcript from the Belle Art: Ghost to Ghost podcast.

As you all know, Belle Art ran a popular late-night paranormal podcast. She disappeared last June under mysterious circumstances, along with every copy of every podcast she ever recorded. These transcripts survive. They were of a show taken exactly one year ago, today.

BELLE: Hello world! Welcome to late-night Ghost-to-Ghost with Belle Art. That's me. Tonight we have a special show. In studio with me, I have Vlad the Improbable, a vampire from our sinister city, New York. I have a ghost, Henever Mones, from his old haunts here in Seattle. We have Gary Plotter, a self-proclaimed White Warlock who flew all this way from London.
GARY: On a broom.
BELLE: Yes, purportedly on a broom.
GARY: Why won't you believe me?
BELLE: I'm skeptical about such things.
GARY: Sigh.
BELLE: And lastly, I have a werewolf on the line, calling in from Nevada, who refuses to give his name. And what do these fiends have in common? They are all participating in an annual competition called NaNoWriMo. Vlad, would you care to explain?
VLAD: Yes, and may I add that your skin is so, very... very... succulent.
BELLE: That's enough, Vlad. I'm wearing garlic, so just answer the question.
VLAD: But of course. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands of people... and unpeople... sit down to write a novel in just thirty days.
BELLE: And what constitutes a novel? How do you "win" NaNoWriMo?
VLAD: Why, you must write 50,000 words between midnight November 1st and November 30th, of course!
BELLE: That seems impossible. How do you do it?
WEREWOLF: Eeennnnnnnngrrrrowww!
BELLE: Interesting, werewolf. But I'm afraid I can't understand you.
VLAD: It is a simple matter of patience, something my kind has aplenty. It is a mere 1,667 words per day.
BELLE: Yes, but if you have other things going on in your life.. or... ahem... death... like jobs, families, hobbies... Isn't it hard to write that much?
HENEVER: It is impossible to write that much, when you cannot hold a pen.
BELLE: Fascinating. Vlad, what do you do for a living?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Location, Location, Location!

In real estate the three most important things are: location, location, location. So what's real estate got to do with books?

Well, even for books location is important. Anne Rice set her vampires in New Orleans, True Blood takes place in Bon Temps, Louisiana. Gothic locations are in: Victorian London is a favorite for Gothic literature. They provide a perfect backdrop for vampires and other nocturnal creatures. The right setting creates the right mood for your book.

Paris lends itself for romance. The deep South can inspire lust and passion. New York is a favorite backdrop for gritty urban fantasy. How do other cities affect you? Would you rather read a vampire romance that takes place in a small town in the Midwest, or would a locale like Venice excite you more as a reader? Those are all questions, an author will ask herself when choosing where to set her next book.

Do you think Anne Rice's vampires would have had the same effect on the reader if the location had been a little beach town in Florida or a cold place like Alaska? Scouting out a location is paramount for movies, and it should be so for books as well. The right location can inspire a story and add nuances that would otherwise not have been possible.

My Scanguards Vampires series takes place in San Francisco: there's plenty of fog to set the right mood. But for my Out of Olympus (Greek God) series which is much more humorous, I decided on a town that for me has a much lighter feel, even though there's still something paranormal going on: Charleston, SC. We all have our favorites. Next time you read a book, look at the setting and ask yourself whether it could have been better or worse had the author chosen a different location.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fallen Blood...The sequel

Well I've gone and done it. I'm working hard on the next installment of Fallen Blood, tentatively titled Tainted Blood. It's actually shaping up pretty well. I'm surprised at how easy it's coming out so far. I'm thinking maybe I should have started this one earlier rather than the couple I'm having trouble with. Either way, this one is working out well, and I hope I'm not jinxing myself by saying how easy it is.

So for those who are looking for the next in the series, fear not, it's being worked on as we speak. I'm going to be releasing sample chapters as the days progress. I hope you enjoy them. For those who have not read the first one, I suggest you check it out before trying to read the new one.

Here's a quick clip from chapter one.

The sky was still overcast and the forest seemed to go on forever. Brian absently brushed back the errant black hair that dropped down over his right eye as he knelt down to examine the fading tracks. Birds squawked and screeched all around him, making it hard to hear anything in the distance. The prints were old, but still fresh enough for him to follow. They had to, otherwise this entire trip would be for nothing. He wasn't too sure how far ahead she was, or for that matter, how long ago it had been since she passed by this place. Tracking was something new for him, something he hadn't thought he would ever be able to learn. This place was full of surprises however, least of all the fact that he could track.

Twigs showed the path she had taken. The sheer number of them that were snapped and hanging indicated how quickly she'd been moving as she passed by this place. He was going to have to move faster if he hoped to catch up to her. That shouldn't be a problem. This place lent itself to his unnatural strength and speed. With just a little exertion he would be able to catch up to his prey before she got too much further ahead. He had to admit, however, part of the fun of doing it was never knowing what could happen or what was around the next bend in the trail. The adventure was always new, and he had to admit, it would always bring him back for more.

The forest around him passed quickly by him as he picked up the pace and ran as fast as he dared to. He barely felt the broken twigs and branches as they tried to grab and hold onto him or his clothes. His outfit of choice for tonight seemed to be a green leather woodsman's outfit. It was something he was sure he once saw on some old classic movie somewhere. If he had a bow and some arrows on his back he was sure someone would take him for Robin Hood, if they could actually see him blurring by. The sound of dogs, no, wolves yapping made him pause for a moment to get his bearings.

“Figures,” he said under his breath. “It's never easy is it?”

The fact that they were heading in the same direction he was, albeit a bit further off to the north, made it a good bet they were hunting the same quarry he was. Very little in this forest seemed to happen by coincidence. Most of it was under the control of one consciousness; he was the sole exception to that. He was free to make his own decisions, and to play whatever part he chose. Whatever forces that were at work here, he was not a part of it, and yet he did shape and mold the events by his own actions as well.

“I suppose I need to try and head them off first.”

The thought was an irritant. All he really wanted to do was catch up to his quarry. He hadn't seen her at all tonight. Everything seemed to be working against him catching her, and yet there were obvious signs like the trial he was following that said she wanted to be found. Perhaps she was toying with him. It was always possible that she knew he was out here, stalking her, and she was baiting him, maybe even daring him to continue. Maybe he should just leave the wolves. They couldn’t be faster than him, and after all, wasn't she already so far ahead of him that the wolves didn't stand a chance of catching up to her?

He wasn't entirely sure if that was true. Things changed without warning in here. He had to be on his toes at all times, otherwise he could be taken unawares, and that wouldn't do. After a quick decision, Brian decided to move on and trust his own speed. He was sure he could easily outdistance the hunting pack. If he couldn't, then he would just have to deal with it when the time arrived. Miles passed beneath his feet over the next few minutes, yet strangely the forest seemed to continue without pause. The wolves had definitely been left behind. He could still hear them, but now only as a faint annoyance.