Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Next Big Thing

When I first received an invitation to participate in The Next Big Thing blog chain from Alverdine Farley, my first reaction was to jump up and down, yelling at my computer screen: "Someone finally noticed me!" No joke!  Then, she told me what it was all about:  Answer questions on your novel, then pass along the baton to five other writers to keep the chain going.  What a cool idea for aspiring authors trying to reach a bigger audience!  So, I jumped at the chance to participate.

1. What is the working title of your next book?
The working title is 'Chasing Ghosts'.  At first, it just looks like a play on the fact that all of my characters are ghosts.  As the book progresses, the title becomes representative of what Michael, the protagonist, is doing.  He's chasing an ideal, something that doesn't quite exist anymore.  

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
My writing group decided midway through the year that we wanted to participate in the August Camp NaNo, but that we wanted to throw a twist on it and give ourselves a challenge.  We took Jim Butcher's 'Bad Idea Bet' and ran with it.  For those that need a little background, Jim Butcher took a bet, wherein the other party did not believe that a good story could come from a bad idea.  He raised that bet, took two bad ideas (Pokémon and the Lost Roman Legion), mashed them together, and created the Codex Alera series. 

We put 50 random, cliché, bad ideas into a hat and drew, intending to mix up the ideas and run with them for August Camp NaNo.  I pulled: 'The protagonist is already dead' and 'French Foreign Legion', then added 'Police Procedural' to give myself a challenge. 

When I pulled those ideas out of the hat, there was no immediate light from the sky filling my brain with a story.  In fact, I was at a loss.  What was I going to do with those bad ideas?  They didn't fall into place perfectly, and I had no idea what I was going to do with 'French Foreign Legion'. A few days later, my protagonist walked into my head, said, "I'm a ghost, he's a wraith, he's a psychic, and we're all at war.  Oh, by the way, my name is Michael – don't call me Mike."  And then story happened.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
It falls somewhere between Urban Fantasy and Supernatural, but it definitely isn't Horror.  It's set in the afterlife, which in my universe, is sort of like another dimension.  What can I say; the book defies the boundaries of convention.  Though, most people would probably just call it Urban Fantasy.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I struggled with this question for days.  Honestly, I would be happy with mostly anyone, provided they had the chops for the part.

My protagonist Michael would be played by Ben Whishaw.  Now, Ben Whishaw is just too damn attractive to be Michael, but he does have the right bearing that I picture Michael having.  The key thing here would be that Michael is very emotionally conflicted about things in the afterlife, and Ben would have to be able to switch gears in an instant.  From what I've seen of him on screen, he can easily switch between lighthearted and happy to a darker and more serious personality.

Next is my antagonist, Parker. Parker is an extremely complex individual whose motivations aren't quite what the other characters believe.  I have to stress that Parker is the antagonist but that he is no way, shape, or form the villain.  For days, I toyed with the idea of James McAvoy playing the role, but I couldn't really decide.  Part of me would say, "He just doesn't have the look, not quite" and another part would say, "But he has the talent".  Then, I saw this picture:

And decided in that instant, James McAvoy is Parker.  He's got the look, he's got the chops.  And pulling a British accent for Parker is cake for him.  

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A ghost tries to solve his own murder as reality and truth crumble under a war brewing in the afterlife.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I would like it to be represented by an agency first.  Though self-publishing isn't completely out of the picture, my heart really loves the traditional publishing route.  Besides, I think that the story is right for representation by an agency.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took me – hang on, maths – 76 days.  I began the draft on August 1st, 2012 and didn't finish until October 15th, 2012.  At first, it was a trial to write.  Every word was painful.  And then, somewhere in those weeks, I fell in love with the story like I had never fallen in love with my writing before.  After the first of the year, I'm going to pick this one back up and start editing and getting ready for submission. 

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
You know, I really hesitate to compare my story to any other.  Not because I believe it is different – and it is – but because all stories are unique.  Why on earth would I want to compare it to something that is already out there? 

That's a clever way of me saying that I don't actually read much in the Urban Fantasy or Supernatural genre, so I don't have any valid comparisons.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Beside my computer, right next to my mailbox full of pens and my basket filled with writing books and journals, I have a stack of novels.  Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and C.S. Friedman watch me write, and encourage me to be the best that I can be.  They tell me that someday, if I try hard enough, I can stack my book with theirs.  For me, that's all the inspiration I need. 

10. What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
There's a lot of afterlife urban fantasy out there.  There are a lot of stories about monsters and ghosts and big cities.  Most of them are dark comedy, with protagonists that are snarky and clever.  My story is much darker in tone, and is much closer to being a tragedy than anything else. 

Another thing that might pique the reader's interest is that it's a story about the afterlife, but not a traditional Judeo-Christian afterlife.  The characters struggle with their beliefs and come to terms (or not) with the fact that everything they believed in life is a lie, and that the afterlife is essentially their second chance. 

There you have it!  The Next Big Thing!  Next week, keep an eye on the blogs of my brilliant writer friends in the next round: Wasteland Nomad of his self named blog Wasteland NomadWestern Wizard of Thoughts on WritingAngela Goff, creator of the Visual Dare over at Anonymous Legacy, and Eddie Louise over on her webpage.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Crunchtober: The Ultimate NaNoWriMo Prep

Here we are again, at the start of a new NaNoWriMo noveling season!  Already, I can feel the buzz of wordflies in the air and the quiet growth of plot bunny families.

Last year, my writing group embarked on a 'NaNoWriMo Preparation Quest'.  We were going to be ready, we were going to write those novels.  We weren't just going to meet the 50k and stop, we were going to take it and Hulk SMASH that 50k all over the ground.  So, Crunchtober happened.

Crunchtober is pre-writing writing.  From October 1st to October 31st, you write 500 words a day based off a prompt that I provide.  Crunchtober serves many purposes:

Writing Daily
Not writing daily, or not being prepared to write daily is what does in a lot of people for NaNoWriMo.  If you have a month's head start on daily writing, jumping into NaNoWriMo in November shouldn't be as difficult.

Word Count Goal
Sure, 500 words isn't as much as 1,667, but it's a start.  With a specific goal in mind, and the aim to achieve it, sliding into a routine is less stressful.

Familiarity with Characters and Story 
One option for Crunchtober is to write the prompts from your characters' perspectives in your NaNoWriMo novel.  Last year, I knew my characters pretty well before NaNo started, and it really allowed me to deepen their relationships and motivations, because I already knew who they were.

Comfort Zone
Some of the prompts are designed to be funny.  Some of them are geared towards action.  Others are meant to inspire sadness.  With a wide variety of subjects to write about, you're flexing all of your mental muscles, some of which may need the exercise.  Step out of that comfort zone and tackle the issue.

Part of the purpose of Crunchtober is to get your brain into the right gear.  With one writing prompt a day, thinking about the long term goal - writing a novel - is inevitable, especially if you're using the characters from your upcoming novel.  Crunchtober raises the excitement in your brain as the prompts tick up to Halloween.  Plus, they're fun.  Who doesn't want to have writing fun?

I'll be providing one prompt daily on Twitter under the hashtag #Crunchtober, so search for it!  And remember, the more the merrier!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Camp NaNo: Failure or Learning Experience?

I've been gone for a while, I know.  And I'm going to jump right into this blog like I haven't been missing.  That's what life is all about, right?  Jumping into things without a plan?

Sometime in May, I decided that I wanted to attempt the June Camp NaNo.  I was going to rock it, I was going to hit that word wall like a rocket and blast it apart.  Even better, I was going to take a story idea that was not my own and pants it like a fourth grade bully.  It was going to be epic.

And then life happened.

I wrote twelve thousand words and just...stopped.  I didn't have a good reason for it.  I certainly didn't have any excuses.  One day, I just didn't sit down to write and the motivation died.  It wasn't even so much that I lost my motivation, it was...something else.  There was no love.  There was no passion, no desire to sit down and write.  It wasn't my story and I didn't want to do it.

Don't get me wrong, I learned something. I learned a lot of somethings. I learned that I, the machine, have limits to how much and what I'm willing to do. I learned that I am not a pantser.  I need an outline, I need history and background and a big world to work with.  I learned that occasionally, life gets in the way and that GASP! sometimes there is something more important than shooting down wild words and fitting them together. 

I also learned something else, something more important than all the other things combined.  Don't start something you have no intention of finishing.  I've committed the worst authorial crime ever: I've left a story half-written and unfinished.  And that's bad. 

So, I learned something.  About myself, my habits as a writer, my future in the literary business (oh, it's there, I know it).  I failed the goal of Camp NaNo, but it wasn't a total waste.  And someday, I'm going to go back and finish that story.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Something about Limits

See what he's doing?
That's what you should do.

As machines, we all have our limits.  We all have that sign that plainly says, "Stop, Cliff Ahead."  Everyone is different.  We all go to different distances, have different things that make us break.  The important thing is that we know our limits.  To not know where your limit lies is to not know how much you are able to accomplish.  If you never know what you're capable of, how will you ever push yourself to the edge?

Writers need goals. How hard we push ourselves is what drives us to reach those goals and body slam them into a barbed wire fence.  

In my experience, there are three basic types of person.  We all have different ways of dealing with stress, with pushing ourselves, with setting goals.  Everyone does.  Generally, everyone also fits into some sort of category (and don't tell me you don't, because that's its own category).  There's nothing wrong with any of these people.  (Also, I like both lists and labels.)

The Walker
These people work slowly.  Any disruption of their routine and the plan and motivation is gone.  Their limits are very close to home.  Often, they work for short amounts of time while taking frequent breaks.  There's nothing wrong with this, in fact, it might be the most healthy type.  Walkers have a hard time pushing themselves, however, because they're unaccustomed to it, but they almost never need long term breaks.  Slow and steady wins the race.

The Masses
This is probably most of everyone.  You have a limit.  You know where it is.  You don't go over it.  Nothing wrong with that.  As long as you know where it is, the Masses can keep themselves happy and healthy relatively easily.  The Masses know when and where to go over the limit and push themselves, but it isn't a common occurrence.  These are the people who 'bring out the big guns' to get things done, and then quietly store that gun back in the closet until the next time.

Limits, what limits? a.k.a. The Machine
This is me.  Walkers and the Masses call these people machines.  They work tirelessly.  They work until their eyes are bleeding.  They dance on the limit line, then take a jackhammer to it.  Capable of achieving vast amounts of work in a very short amount of time, we're your standard Kamikaze.  We're perfectly willing to break ourselves to accomplish our goals, and will if we believe it necessary.  While it sounds all well and good, this is unhealthy!  Some Machines are capable of keeping up the pace for weeks or months at a time...until we break and have to recover. 

Find your limit, no matter what sort of person you are.  Find it.  Know it.  Respect it, unless you're a Machine, in which case, respect is a nonissue.  And cross that line.  Know what it's like to push yourself, and if you're uncomfortable there, that's fine!  Everyone has their own pace, methods, and general idea of how they do business, but every once in a while, we have to challenge our routine or risk stagnation. 

How's your work ethic?  Where are your limits and how do you know you've crossed them?  Do my questions sound like standard essay questions for a college exam?  

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Importance of Relaxing

See this? This is what I want to be doing.

Relaxation.  The most wonderful R word ever.  Except for maybe reading.  Or racecar.  Just how important is relaxation anyway?

It is the difference between life and death.  Really.  

The human brain and body are extraordinary machines that every science fiction writer tries to make of cyborgs.  There will never be a more complex, efficient machine than the human system.  Our brains are capable of more processes a second than whatever fancy piece of technology you're reading this on.  Our bodies are capable of movement so fine that our brains still haven't found a way to replicated it in a robotic being.  Everything is connected by weird organic wires and filaments so tiny that the smallest gust of wind could break them.  And yet, in this chaos, everything works in perfect tandem.  Most of the time, every separate component is working so well that we don't even know it's working until it stops.  We're that amazing. 

Unfortunately, like 'real' machines, we do break.  Whether by doing battle with words on a screen, or just plain working too hard, we eventually wear down and demand maintenance.  Just like a car needs oil every few thousand miles, we humans and our brains need relaxation every few days (or hours).  And generally, when one things goes, it quickly feels like everything else is, too.  It begins in the brain.

Our brains, amazing computers that they are, need...stupid time.  Yeah, I said it.  Stupid time.  Put down that manuscript, hang up the phone, turn off the computer.  Get away from technology.  It's like the Jedi mantra, Technology leads to stress, stress leads to frustration, frustration leads to anger, and anger leads to the dark side.  Don't get caught in the dark side.  When you relax, technology is the last thing you should be thinking about.

If, by some weird, infinitessimal chance you don't let your brain rest for a little while, your body will break.  No joke.  The brain, clever cat that it is, starts sending messages to your heart, to your kidneys, to your freaking immune system command center (whatever that is).  And your brain will force you to relax.  Don't let things get to this point.  

As creative people, we're often too busy being creative, that we don't know how to stop being creative.  So find something relaxing and creative to do (or, you know, pop in a movie and relax on that La-Z-Boy, you dog you). Whatever it is, take the time and enjoy what you're doing without worrying about the result.  Our novels tear holes in our hearts and heads.  Find something to do that won't.

And, like writing, if you don't have time to relax...make time.  Your art will love you for it, and I can guarantee that you'll have a greater love and appreciation for your art when you're rested and ready to come back to it.

So, tell me.  How do you relax?  How does your quality of work differ when you're stressed and when you're rested?  you're rested?  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Motivation Part Two: The Hunt

Yesterday, we talked about our excuses for why we don't write.  Believe me, I've been there.  I know what it's like to feel down because it just isn't coming out the way you want it to.  We've all been there.  And when that motivation seems like it just won't come in the door and stay for tea and Stargate, I've been there, too.

The Hunt for motivation is something that I'm not sure many people think about.  A lot of writers think that motivation comes to them, that it knocks on the door and asks you to buy.  That's not the way it is.  Motivation is the great white whale ghosting through the sea, driving sailors and storytellers mad.  It is elusive and slippery and harder to catch than a buttered cat.

But fear not, noble story-spinners.  There is a way.  That cat can be captured.  In fact, there are many ways and methods, and each person has a different way of sorting things out.  Here are four things that help me:

1. Go for a Run
And if you don't run, do something else to get the blood flowing.  Hell, do jumping jacks, sing at the top of your lungs while shadowboxing bad actors on TV, I don't care.  Blood circulation stimulates every feel good sensor that exists in your body.  The better you feel, the more likely you'll want to work on something creative.

2. Dream a Little
Not too much, though.  Staying grounded (a post for another day) is an important part of being a writer.  But if we don't dream, then we don't create.  Imagine the end product: Your novel on a freaking shelf in Barnes & Noble.  Your screenplay sitting on Spielberg's desk.  Then, understand that it won't get there by itself, and that you're the only pen-wielder who can carve that hunk of story into shape.  If you have the end goal in mind, it can make the journey there a little bit easier.

3. Set Goals and Consequences
THIS.  If you ignore everything else I say, don't ignore this!  Set reasonable, yet challenging goals and create consequences if you don't meet your goals.  With a good goal in mind, it's easier to focus and easier to let the motivation and will flow freely.  And listen to this, the consequences you set actually have to be really unappealing.  Something that you absolutely do not want to do.  Otherwise, what's the point?  Be responsible and hold yourself accountable.  I guarantee that you'll be feeling a lot more motivated than you were before.

4. Sit Down and Write
Honestly, this is my modus operandi.  Don't want to write? DO IT ANYWAY.  Don't want to edit? DO IT ANYWAY.  Don't have time?  MAKE TIME.  This is the simplest rule.  I often hear people say, "It isn't that easy." That's a lie.  It is that easy.  Find the will, find the drive, put away the controller or cookbook or action figures and sit your ass down and write!  And then think about Rule #2.  No one is going to achieve that dream but you.  Hop to it.

These are just a few things that I've found help me to get motivated, or to help me sit down and write every single day.  There are some days when I really just don't feel like it.  And you know what?  I sit down and do it anyway, even if it's for ten minutes.  But I'm not everyone.  As my writing group lovingly calls me, I'm a machine.  Jamie the Machine.  I like it.

What helps you get motivated?  How you do battle the days that motivation just can't be found?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Motivation Part One: The Excuse

Welcome all, to my multi-part extravaganza about that dreaded thing called 'Motivation'. We've all heard and said it so many times.  Say it with me right now: "Mo-tiv-ay-shun".  Sort of an abstract concept, isn't it?

Motivation is what makes us go, and often we either have it or we don't.  There isn't really a middle ground.  You never hear people saying, "Oh, I'm only partly motivated today."  That's sort of like saying, "Oh, I'm only partly alive today, but don't worry about me, I'll be fine."  Yeah, sure.  And I'll only partly breathe today, but don't worry, I'll be fine.

Often, writers talk about motivation like it's something physical, something you can hold and touch and keep in a little cage by your computer.  Wrong.  Motivation doesn't come from any external sources; it isn't air, and it sure as hell isn't cheesecake. 

Here are some excuses that I commonly hear from writers claiming that their motivation has been lost in the winds of time or some other excuse.  Actually, these pretty much double for excuses of why people don't write.

1. "I'm just not motivated."
What does this even mean?  This spells defeat.  If you're not motivated to create a story, to polish and shine that manuscript, to torture your characters until they're screaming UNCLE! back through the computer screen, then what drives you to create?  How strong is your desire?  If the will is strong enough, the motivation will come on its own.

2. "I have homework/babies/lives to save, and I'm too busy."
While all of that may be true, it's still an excuse.  Sure, you're busy.  I'm busy.  We're all busy with this grand thing that most of us call life, or unlife if you're undead.  Take that motivation and store it away for the next day.  Jot down your ideas in a book, the notepad on your phone, a freaking napkin at a greasy diner, I DON'T CARE.  Just make sure that you cage that desire for tomorrow.

3. "I need inspiration before I can get motivated."
Ah ha, the famous 'muse' argument.  This is a particular breed of artist that pops up every now and then and gives the rest of us a bad name.  Inspiration surrounds us.  Everything is a miracle, and if you're waiting for the angels to come from their heavenly home to give you that motivation, you'll be waiting forever.

4. "After I catch up on all of my shows, then I'll be free to get motivated."
This is not lack of motivation.  This is lack of will.  But it still applies.  Don't use your entertainment as an excuse not to write.  Use it as a reward for when your motivation takes hold of your story and makes it change.    

5. "The story is really dragging and I don't like it anymore."
Another common excuse for lack of motivation.  It may be true.  Maybe your novel is falling apart beneath your fingertips, the characters are flat, the world is gray with a touch of gray, and the plot is a tangled string that a kitten has lost down the gutter of your mind.  Whatever the case may be, that mess isn't going to fix itself.  Either you gear up and beat some sense into that story, or you quit writing.  Personally, I don't really see how that's even a choice.

We all have excuses.  Many of us have real, valid ones.  That's fine.  No one is going to tell you to sit your ass down at that computer and write after your sharks have escaped from the tank in your basement, grown legs, and suddenly started eating people.  It's when we don't have a valid excuse that things get messy.  No more excuses!  Tomorrow, we'll talk about finding motivation.  Since it is this great beast which no one can catch, surely there must be a way to find it?

I am guilty of numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 as well as the unlisted 6-13.  What are your excuses?  What stops you from sitting down and creating?