Monday, February 25, 2013

You Are a Writer

By Dan Haring

Raise your hand if you're an aspiring writer.

I'm sorry, but you're wrong. You're not an aspiring writer. You are a writer.

What does aspire mean? "To seek to attain or accomplish a particular goal. From Latin aspirare, literally, to breathe upon."

I see you over there, in the corner, breathing onto your laptop.

"Shhh...I'm aspiring over here."

No you're not. You're writing. 

If you have, at one point, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and written something - a poem, a short story, a screenplay, the first chapter to the next great American novel, you are, in fact, a writer.

Now, if you haven't, if you're still just breathing on the paper, but not putting anything on it, then, I guess, technically you're an aspiring writer. But that's okay. The great thing about writing is all you need is that pen and paper or that keyboard. There should be very little, if anything, physically holding you back.

Now, you might say that I'm stupid for that whole breathing thing. You might be thinking "I really AM an aspiring writer. I want to write the next Harry Potter or Twilight or On the Road or Catcher in the Rye."

And that's great. It's great to have those goals. But let's go back to the definition of aspire. To seek to accomplish a particular goal. You are an aspiring best-selling author, which is something altogether different.

It means you're serious about this whole writing thing. It means that you're not just going to mess around, but that you're going to take your craft and make it into something people will pay you money to read.

And that's awesome. You need to have goals, whatever they may be. But that's just it, The goals are the finish line, and you're never going to reach them if you don't pick up that pen.

So just write.

Some of you might be rolling your eyes and saying "Ok, we get it, can you move on to the next visual?"

The answer is yes.

This is me and my two sons at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con. The lady we're with is comic book writer Gail Simone, who has written tons of comics, including characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Deadpool, etc. (My kids are obviously impressed) And this is right before I turned to her and asked if she had any advice for an aspiring comic book writer.

I'm pretty sure I even used those exact words.

I'm not even going to make an excuse for myself. The point is, the second you make that effort and start writing, You've changed into a writer, so don't sell yourself short.

The reason I'm spending so much time on this is I've heard so many times from friends. "Oh, that's cool you wrote a book. I wish I could." Like it's some magical fairytale thing that I somehow managed to do and that they'd never be able to.

But it's not magic, it's just a matter of working hard.

So stop aspiring. Start writing. And if you've already started, keep writing.

I promise it's not as scary as it sounds. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

5 Keys Ways to Add Depth to Your Fictional Relationships

Jordan Dane

In Indigo Awakening (Book #1 in my “The Hunted” series for Harlequin Teen)—there is a love triangle that is layers deep. I’m a sucker for love triangles, but I wanted the one in Indigo Awakening to be a little more than a girl’s attraction to two very different boys. At the apex of this triangle is a very strong girl, Kendra Walker, the leader of an underground movement of Indigo children and feelings run high when beliefs and ideologies are tested.
Lucas Darby is psychic and becomes mentally linked to a girl he hears in his head after he escapes from a mental hospital. Kendra thinks she has made contact with another lost Indigo, but after she realizes that Lucas is a powerful Crystal child, she sees the future she always dreamed would be possible. And for Lucas to connect with the “hive mind” for the first time, the link is intoxicating and seductive. Kendra is older than Lucas, but for him their connection is as intimate as making love for the first time. It changes everything for both of them. Since Lucas is evolving into a Crystal child, the next evolution of mankind, Kendra is motivated to be with him so she can be a part of a new, more powerful movement. She is a modern day Joan of Arc on a mission to save the Indigos, but someone else is her rock when it comes to protecting her Indigo children.
Another boy, Rafael Santana, has helped Kendra build a safe underground oasis for the homeless Indigos. Rafe has feelings for Kendra that he’s never shared with her, but he’s also driven to protect Benny, a 10-year old boy he loves like a little brother. This conflict will drive how he reacts when Kendra’s Indigo revolution threatens the home he wants for Benny. After she focuses her attention on Lucas, Rafe becomes jealous, but in his quiet way he deals with it until the conflict between the Indigos and the Believers blows up, the fanatical church zealots who hunt Indigo kids to stop the next evolution of man. Rafael’s love for Benny collides with his loyalty for Kendra and changes everything.
Kendra must choose how far she is willing to go to save her Indigo family—the one she has and the one she’s dreamed about. Lucas, the powerful Crystal child, represents the future she had always hoped for, but Rafael is the heart and soul of the past she started with him—the boy who made her dream possible.
Key steps to adding depth to your fictional relationships:
1.) Give a strong character vulnerabilities that conflict with what they might want and force them to choose. There are consequences to actions. Someone’s gotta lose, even in love.

2.) Give them choices that test their emotions. Their choices shouldn’t be easy. For example, make them choose between their personal happiness or the greater good. This is classic and always relatable.

3.) Pair them with opposite types of characters to enhance the conflict potential. Opposites attract for a reason. Fireworks, baby.

4.) Create internal conflicts or flaws that make them struggle with their external goals and the goals of the character(s) you’ve paired them with. Conflict is key to any great story. But add depth to your character by layering the conflict inside them first.

5.) Give them a noble cause that is a roadblock to their personal happiness. What would they do? Not every character would make the same decision.

Discussion Questions:

1.) What would you add to this list?

2.) What are some of your favorite literary or film love triangles? Please share your thoughts on why they resonated with you.

"Dane's first offering in her new series, The Hunted, is sensational. Indigo Awakening has strong characters and a wild and intense story, matched only by the emotions it will generate within you. Readers will love this book and eagerly await the next adventure. Fantastic! A keeper."
4.5 Stars (out of 5)
—Romantic Times Book Review Magazine

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Armchair Audie Nomination

by Amanda Stevens

I have to confess, I was unaware of the Armchair Audies until Khristine Hvam Kies, the narrator for The Graveyard Queen series, posted on my Faceback wall that we had been nominated.  Now that I've done a little research, I realize what a very cool thing this is!  And I also recognize that much of the credit belongs to Khristine for her amazing interpretation of my story. Yay, us!

You can see a complete list of the nominations at AudioFile Magazine.

Another confession, the first time I listened to one of my books on audio--hearing my words spoken by someone besides the voices in my head--kind of freaked me out and made me super critical of what I'd written.  It was also strange to hear the differences in cadence, pauses, emphasis and so forth from what I had originally intended.  Not better or worse, just different. 

Anyone else listen to their own audiobooks?  I can't do it.  Like reviews and mirrors, I tend to shy away from them.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Permission to Play

So I got the sweetest emails this past week from a couple kids.  These were a little different from the very nice letters I normally get because the kids asked more or less the same question, and one I'd never have expected: was it okay if they wrote stories set in the ASHES universe?  More to the point, could they write about a particular character they really liked?  Could they make up new characters and run with them?  (One kid even said she'd modeled her Minecraft world on ASHES.)

In other words . . . these guys wanted permission to write fan fic. 

Well, knock me over with a feather.

As an unabashed but recovering Trekker, I'm no stranger to fan fic.  Heck, "A Ribbon for Rosie," my first published story--and a prize-winner, to boot--was fan fiction set in the Voyager universe.  I've done a ton of work for hire, and I count many tie-in writers as friends and colleagues.  A couple, I recently tagged for the Next Big Thing Blog Hop because, in my experience, tie-in and wfh writers get too little respect and recognition for a lot of very hard work.  (And I know the work's hard because I've been there, done that--and anyone who thinks it's easy doesn't know apples from their . . . well, use your imagination.)  What people forget: sure, the universe may already exist, but for a wfh-writer, every word is original.  Every plot is theirs, even if they must get a certain character from A to B by the end of the book.  They just don't own the copyright.

No, this isn't going to be a diatribe on a variant of wfh writers don't get no (or enough) respect, even though they don't and most especially not from big-name publishers.  All of us who've done wfh and tie-ins know that.  <shrug>  You learn to live with and come to a state of grace about that, while at the same time realizing that, to the fans of those universes, your books are a big deal.  Having gone to GenCon and a bunch of ST conventions, let me tell you: these fans are loyal; they'll stand in line for hours; they're dying for you to write that next book.

But I digress.  What I thought about when these kids popped into my inbox was the fun I had, as a kid myself, making up my own stories about, oh, Batman, Star Trek, Lost in Space . . . even My Favorite Martian.  At a certain level, every child who's ever opened a book or become a fan of a show or movie inserts herself into the narrative.  It's inevitable; this is what it's like to be lost in a book.  There's a fancy name for it in media studies: textual poaching.  While the French critic, de Certeau, wrote about this first, I'm a bit more familiar with Henry Jenkins's work that focused on the Trek universe (and, at the time, while I didn't find all his points that convincing, the theory's right on--and, oh, I do love that cover).

  While I agree that this kind of appropriation is all about power and resistance--think, for example, of all that good, homoerotic Trek slash fiction out there--the reality is this: when people find a world compelling, they want to be a part of it any way they can.  The psychology that drives this is no more mysterious or different than the desire to dress up on Halloween or cut loose at Mardi Gras, both socially sanctioned opportunities to act out fantasies.  That this acting-out is limited; that there are boundaries you can't cross . . . this is where the power inequities come in that Certeau and Jenkins are talking about.  You can create on paper what you can't do for real.  You can enter a universe you desperately want to be a part of on your own terms.  It's what drives the desire to write and the fun of reading fan fiction.  

So, is fan fiction wrong or bad?  Well, it depends, doesn't it?  Copyright protections exist for a reason.  Can you write fan fiction?  Sure, without question.  What you can't do is write and then show what you've written to your friends, or post it on the web, etc., for money.  But what if you share your story with only one friend?  Or two?  Or ten?  When does this sharing, this more-than-one-person experience, become a violation?  Is it a violation only when you do it for money? 

As you might expect, there are authors who fall on both sides of the fence about this.  I'll tell you what I told those kids: I used to do the same thing when I was your age; I'm thrilled you love my stories; I'm tickled my work inspires you to try your hand.  

Now, did I encourage them to write their own original stuff instead?  Of course.  But do I understand the impulse?  Sure.  Can they sell what they write?  No.  Can they show it around?

Gosh . . . I'm divided about that because then you're getting into the tricky slippery slope part.  On the one hand, all they're doing is spreading the love, and that makes me feel good.  Honestly, if there's enough love and drive out there, this kind of thing becomes unstoppable.  I know; I'm a Trekker; grabbing that narrative and continuing those stories was half the fun, and what eventually got me writing.  If fan fiction encourages kids to read and write, I'm all for that, too.  You can argue that fan fiction has a lot going for it and benefits you might not have imagined.

But . . . here's the bugaboo: what about the people who may, eventually, charge a couple nickels for a story?  Who give folks a taste, and then tell them that if they want more, they have to pay?  See what I'm saying?  Now they're making money off something that I-- some other writer/actor/painter--own.  

So, yeah, the potential for abuse is there.  My gut is that most fans are polite; they're enthusiastic; they understand that the sand has to remain in the box.  To be honest, I see more good coming of this than bad. 

Granted, I really don't have to worry about this.  Stephen King has these problems, not me.  For the moment, I'm just tickled a couple kids out there like the series and want to play in that sandbox.  So long as they behave--now, Joey . . . no, honey, you really can't throw sand in Jessie's eyes--it's all good, and maybe a lot more because what they build, they build from the ground up with passion and love for what I've given them.

Go for it, kids.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

SIGN UP NOW! The groundhog says Spring is coming early and I believe it.

HarlequinTEEN and KismetBT are putting on a major event in March 2013 - Spring Reading into Romance. You want to be a part of it? NINE YA authors in NINE days & daily giveaways!

For deets, click HERE and see who will be part of the tour.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Debunking Literary Love

 Hi, P. J. Hoover here, and today I'm talking about Literary Love. Specifically. I want to debunk it, just a little :) Because we've all read those stories where a guy and a girl meet. And sure, maybe there is some tension going on. Maybe they don't agree on everything right away. But then, by the end of the novel, everything has worked out.

Imagine you're one of these characters in a book. Just to make it easy, let's say you're the girl. You've met the perfect guy. All sorts of crazy plot things have happened, and now it's the end of the story, and you guys are a couple. And the best part? You're not just any couple. You're the perfect couple. No one will ever keep you apart. You are like Prince Charming and Snow White. Life is good. And it will be always. 

Together. Forever.

Step back away from yourself and your perfect relationship for just a second. What are the odds that this guy is the one? Like he's the one you're destined to be with until you are old and gray?

You think the odds are pretty good? Okay, fine. I dunno. Maybe. Maybe you are "that couple." The one that sticks together through it all. High school sweethearts. Whatever. I wish you the best of luck.

But maybe, just maybe, you are not "that couple." Maybe you'll be together for a month. Or a year. And then you'll break up. He will be so yesterday. Bye bye, perfect guy.

 Here's the other thing. You know how your guy has been kind of perfect through the story. Sure, maybe there is one slip up. One little thing he does to show his anger, his dark side, the demons he has inside. It shows us he's imperfect. This is good.

Let's take a closer look at this. See, an author wrote your story. That author designed both you and your perfect match. She (or he) came up with the words that came out of your mouths, planned out the things you did. And she (or he) made sure that, for the most part, those things were likeable. And relate-able. And she (or he, whatever) made sure your guy didn't do too many things that might make him appear to be a jerk. Because if she (he) did, then readers wold complain.

For the record, in no way am I saying that guys (or girls) are jerks. I'm saying that people are human. And as such, they have up days and down days and sometimes they say or do things they regret...for no real reason except that they're having a bad day. But as an author, trying to capture this type of situation for a character becomes difficult. And is thus sometimes avoided.

Still, we don't want any Mary Jane's, and that's why often times you'll see these totally planned, individual scenes to show our characters' imperfections. Something to bring them into the realm of "human." But still they do not cross the line. They are sort of like demigods compared to us. We flaw all the time. Their flaws are numbered like the natural satellites surrounding Earth.

There is only one moon going around Earth

It's true that desperate situations make people grow closer, and books are often filled with just these kind of desperate situations. These situations bind characters in ways no one else can understand. Yet, after I finish a book, I can't help but playing the "then what" game. So write your romantic stories. Seal the ending with a kiss. But then what?


P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What's in a name?

by A.G. Howard (originally posted on ModgePodge Bookshelf)

Sometimes writers take great pains to match their character names with something symbolic in the broader scope of story.  Other times, names don’t always have a meaning. The author just knows their characters—who they are, the role they’ll play, maybe even a head shot of what they look like—and they hop onto Internet databases and skim through baby names. The right ones will simply jump out. Hard to explain, but a writer's gut just knows what name is right.

In the case of SPLINTERED, I used a few names that actually had meaning and served a purpose. A couple belong to less traditional "characters" without whom there would be no book to begin with.

First, the name of the book itself. Once I sold my book, I went in knowing I might have to forfeit their original title for one that the publisher deemed more fitting or hook-ish. I felt very blessed that didn't happen. Although it might have if I’d gone with some of my original ideas:
  1. Through the Splintered Glass
  2.  All Things Dark and Dismal
  3.  Malice in Wonderland

Upon googling the titles to make sure they’d never been used, I realized the third one was out of the question. It was a movie with a small but faithful following.   Out of the two remaining titles, the first one kept calling to me.
After brainstorming with my crit partners, I settled on shortening that one to simply “SPLINTERED” for the following reasons:
  • It’s Hook-ish.

  • Alyssa (my MC) thinks she's going crazy like all of the women in her family in the beginning. She refers to it as her sanity being splintered.

  • The looking glass she steps through is cracked and splintered.

  • The Wonderland "fairytale" that she finds waiting for her is a splintered and warped version of the Lewis Carroll tale.
SPLINTERED was the natural choice, and to my relief, my publishers thought so, too. :)
Next, the name of the town in which the story is set (before Wonderland makes an appearance, that is).  The real Alice Liddell’s middle name was Pleasance. So for a spin on that, I decided to set the story in the made up town of Pleasance, Texas (because I’m a TX girl). So, the kids attend Pleasance High School.
Alyssa’s name is of course a variation of Alice, as is her mother Alison’s, and her grandmother, Alicia’s.
Jebediah "Jeb" Holt, Alyssa’s secret crush / best friend, came about his name the way most of my character’s do. It just seemed to fit him. The name felt strong, but at the same time approachable and trustworthy. The characteristics any best pal or boyfriend should have.
And last, but certainly not least, Morpheus, the enigmatic bad boy from Wonderland.
Fan Art Depiction by Riley R.
His name was chosen for three reasons:
1. In Greek mythology, Morpheus is the god of dreams with the ability to take any human form and appear in other people’s dreams. This is fitting for my Morpheus since he shares that magic.

2. The morpho butterfly has brilliantly blue wings, and Morpheus's hair is blue.

3. The final contributing factor is a bit of a spoiler, so you'll have to read the book to discover it. ;)


Friday, February 8, 2013

10 Life Lessons I Learned from my Dog(s)

Jordan Dane

Dogs know stuff. Sometimes I believe they carry souls who are on a higher level of existence than we are because they have the secret to being happy. Here are 10 things I learned from my dog(s).


1.)Wake up every morning as if each day is an adventure – I am reminded of this every morning times TWO. My dogs love their rituals and seeing me is top of their list, it would seem. At least they make me feel special. And isn’t that important for everyone?

2.)Carrying grudges is for cats – Dogs might get scolded for something, but two seconds later they are back with enthusiasm. A short term memory and a brain the size of a walnut helps, but I believe dogs know that carrying around negative thoughts weighs down your heart and life is too short for that.

3.)All you need is the fur on your back – Dogs can pick up and go without taking a toothbrush. Yeah, they may have their toys, but they are perfectly able to share them with others. They are self-sufficient and know what’s truly important. Material possessions take a backseat to the people they love.

4.)Be loyal and love unconditionally – If you ever have a bad day, go play with your dog. They always know when you need a little love, because they dispense it all the time and in every way. They never hold back their affection. Even if you feel you might not deserve it, they will always love you with sloppy wet kisses.

5.)Make friends – My dogs are ALWAYS ready to make new friends. They see a dog walking down the street and they are pulling at their leash to say HELLO. For this to apply to humans, I would dispense with the butt sniff, but that’s just me. Maybe your neighborhood is different.

6.)Having a little discipline gets you stuff – Dogs may not feel the need for discipline, but they know it gets them stuff. Think of your daily word count as something worthy of a treat. The sooner you get it done, the quicker you’ll get that sweet morsel of accomplishment and know that you’ve earned it.

7.)When loved ones come home, greet them with a grin and a butt wag – Dogs don’t take ANYONE for granted. Anyone walking through their door is someone to play with and love. There is nothing wrong with that.

8.)Let people touch you – Who doesn’t need a good head pat or butt scratch? Enough said.

9.)Run, romp, and play daily – My dogs NEVER have a bad day. Ever. When was the last time you truly had a BANG ON splendid day from start to finish? Well multiply that by 24/7/365 and you’ve really got something.

10.)If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it – Dogs have single-minded persistence when it comes to the things they truly want. They focus and they dig until they score. They trust their instincts to know it’s there and a little hard work is nothing when it comes to something that makes you happy.

IMAG0233 (2)

There are many more things I could write. I have two rescue dogs and they both teach me different things, but I’d like to hear from you. What has your dog taught you?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stranger Than Fiction

by Amanda Stevens

As some of you may know, I write a paranormal series about a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts.  I love writing these books because I've had a passion for old graveyards since childhood.  The house I grew up in was situated between two old cemeteries, one of which had been abandoned for decades.  That place was very creepy, with sunken graves, toppled statues and the occasional rattlesnake crawling over a headstone. 

Anyway, my husband travels a lot for work so now and then, when he comes across an interesting cemetery, he'll stop and take pictures for me.  He shot the following photograph at an old graveyard in Texarkana, Texas, on his way back to Houston from Arkansas just after Christmas.  He doesn't remember the name of the place, but I looked it up and, fittingly, I believe this photo is from Rose Hill Cemetery (a prominent graveyard in my series).

Notice the tiny form lurking beneath that large hanging branch and behind the wrought iron fence (to the far right in the first photo).  For obvious reasons, we've titled this one, "What is that?"

 Has life ever mirrored your art? 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Story of Your Life

DROWNING INSTINCT is set to come out on March 1 in the UK, and as part of the launch, I've been asked to do a couple of blogs, etc.  You know, it's the whole marketing thing, and I'm fine with that, really.  I'm thrilled that the good folks at Quercus UK have chosen to put my work out there.

Right around the same time, THE SIN-EATER'S CONFESSION also makes its official U.S. debut, although it's already available through Lernerbooks, Amazon, B&N, etc., and I'll likely write an entry or two about it as well.

Both these launches got me thinking, not only about the books but blogging, in general, and my blogging, in particular.  I mean, seriously, come on: why blog?  Really.  There are a gazillion blogs out there, ten trillion of which--a trillion's less than a gazillion, right?--are devoted to writing, the writing life, publishing, marketing, blah, blah.  Some are by writers who know so much more than I do, and yes, I'll say it right now: if Stephen King chose to blog, which he doesn't, I'd be reading what he has to say.  I might even print out and eat the paper.  But when you consider the people I think of as, like, these writing GODS . . . you have to look in the mirror and say--bear with me: as a shrink, I can safely say that I see a shrink on a daily basis--"Ilsa, sweetheart, just WTF can you possibly add to that conversation?"

And you know what that shrink has the GALL to reply?

Nothing.  That's what she says: Ilsa, honey, you got nothing more important to say than any other writer, so shut your pie-hole.

I know: I have a very nasty shrink.  If I could afford it, I'd fire the old bat.

But, really, I'm completely serious here.  All I can offer is what has worked for me.  You know?  It's not magic; it's hard work; it's the screw-your-butt-to-the-chair work ethic that got me through med school and then writing and now to the point of dithering about blogs.  Whether it works for anyone else . . . who knows?  I think the principle's a little like the old joke about the cabbie and Carnegie Hall:

Passenger: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"
Cabbie: "Practice, practice, practice."

And that's it, the sum total of my knowledge about writing.  Practice.  Read a lot.  Write some more.  Then do it again.  And again.  And again.

So . . . blogging is stupid, right?  What goes on in my addled brain . . . who gives a rat's ass, am I right?  If my blog falls in the forest, does it make a sound?  Is anyone out there to hear what amounts to a mosquito's fart in a tornado?

To be fair, I'm also kind of a private person.  Blame all those years of training, when it was hammered into me that how and what I felt/feel is best left unsaid.  A therapy session isn't about me.  Oh, it's true that I used what I felt.  Any therapist worth her salt does that.  But the idea of a shrink sharing personal stuff . . . you do it very rarely and only if that might help the patient.  (And even then, a therapist in the grip of what happens in the space between her and a patient--that good old countertransference--you'd be surprised what some therapists can justify.)  The best therapists are welcoming but disciplined, and know when to keep their mouths shut.

So, I don't know who cares about what I have to say in a blog; I really don't.  What I can say is this: I seriously doubt that anything I've ever written ABOUT writing can even come close to moving a reader as much as WHAT I've written in a novel.  

Which brings me around to DROWNING INSTINCT, a book I've not blogged much about because, to be frank, I know the characters, in the very broadest sense, all too well.  I used to sit with them.  I watched them try to destroy themselves.  I watched them drown, quietly, all the time--and these are stories, confidences, secrets, dreams, and confessions that I, as a shrink, will not talk all that much about.  I just can't.

I'm not being melodramatic here, either.  Writing about those who suffer--even if none of my characters is a real person-person--isn't a joke.  I don't do it for kicks.  I tell stories, and whenever I do write about pain and suffering and sacrifice and triumph, whether it's for DROWNING INSTINCT or the ASHES trilogy or THE SIN-EATER'S CONFESSION or the forthcoming WHITE SPACE . . . here's what I'll tell all those people who think that these things don't happen; that people don't behave like this; that no one, no one, could be that stupid/self-destructive/gullible/bone-headed/blind; that shit like this can't happen: get real.  


Get.  Real.

Now, I receive a lot of fan mail.  (And I love it, guys, really; keep those emails and tweets and all that coming; it lets me know that all those hours hunched over a hot keyboard have been worth it.)  I know I don't get a ten trillionth as much as Suzanne Collins or Maggie Stiefvater or Cassandra Clare or the gazillion more talented, better-selling authors out there.  I know that; I'm okay with it.  My needs are small.  All I care about is a) getting my work out there and b) yeah, okay, hearing that people have enjoyed a book. 

(And, yes, yes, uncle: I would like to be a New York Times bestseller; shoot me, already.  There.  Happy?)

The most touching are those emails I get from fans who've read a book that describes their lives, and DROWNING has provoked quite a few.  I've heard from some very sad and lonely people; I've heard from some very brave souls; I've heard from folks who tell me that I've written the book about their lives.

I take this all very seriously, too, and probably would even if I weren't a shrink.  But I am, and I really have to work, very hard, not to become a shrink when I reply (and I reply to each and every email).  As much as I want to help, I know that it's better for me not to.  Yes, there are all these ethical reasons to refrain--it would be flat-out wrong for me to engage in therapy, however well-intentioned--but I also know that it is far easier to confide in someone when there's no blowback or repercussions (hello, can you spell t-h-e-r-a-p-i-s-t?).  It is easy to fall into the fantasy--the trap, really--of believing you are saving someone when, in fact, you have become merely a bit player in a movie being directed by someone else, mouthing lines written by a script-writer you've never met.

But I hope that I am always open; I trust that I am always welcoming.  If blogging and a web presence have accomplished anything, they give those who find themselves in my books a way of telling me so.  When they do--when I get those emails--trust me, the urge to ease your pain and suffering is very strong.  

So, no, I have nothing new or novel to say about writing.  I have nothing amazing to say in a blog that's worth a millisecond of your time.  I don't claim that my books are all that fabulous either.

But--if you read one of my books and find yourself in the pages and wonder how it is that I know what you're going through, that I understand; that I won't give you any bullshit about how it'll all get better because, sometimes, we know--and we do, don't we?--that it doesn't unless you make some really tough, hard choices; are willing to take a risk, go outside your comfort zone and get help and really change . . .

I know.  I understand.  

And one more thing: I will not forget the picture you posted of your arm after you'd gotten done hacking at yourself, and for which you referenced DROWNING.  I get that, for you, this book was the story of your life.  

Now, listen to what I'm saying.  Read this into the story of your life.

Please, don't do that again.  You really are more valuable than you allow yourself to believe and know.  Really.

Yes, you.  I'm talking to you.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Don't Read Your Reviews

by Michelle Gagnon

As part of Thrillerfest one year, they gave a special award (if a piece of fossilized poop can be considered an award) to our very own John Gilstrap (even though he's no longer officially part of this blog, he'll always be the Friday guy to me). The award was for the Worst Amazon Review, and he won for this little nugget (no pun intended): "The glue boogers in the binding were more captivating than Gilstrap's torpid prose."

I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, and for many authors, nearly impossible, but here's my advice: don't read your reviews, ever. Turn off that Google alert. Skip the Amazon reviews section. Ignore your GoodReads ratings. And if you must know what a blogger or traditional media reviewer is saying about your book, enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.

This applies not only to negative reviews, but positive ones. Because here's the thing. As we all know, a reader's opinion of a book is enormously subjective. The way they approach a story can vary at different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things into it that you might never have intended--and they're all going to have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn't. I'm always startled when I get feedback from beta readers--everyone always manages to come up with different favorite sections, and least favorites. So when taking their advice, I usually try to find the commonalities, the issues everyone zeroed in on. In the end, much of what they say is taken with a serious grain of salt.

The same applies to reviewers, naturally. Maybe Marilyn Stasio ate a bad oyster before reading your book, and the nausea she felt skewed her experience. Maybe the Kirkus reviewer was going through a divorce, so the way that you depicted a couple falling apart resonated too strongly with him (or not strongly enough). I know that for my last book, several reviewers felt the plot was tremendous, but the character development was weak. Others loved the characters, but the story left them cold. When writing a review, even when you loved the book, there's an irresistible inclination to find something to pick at. That's what many of us were taught to do in school; otherwise it doesn't feel like we've done the review justice.

As writers, we already have enough voices in our heads. Resist the temptation to let new ones in. This is particularly critical if you're writing a series; if one reader hated your protagonist, do you really want that small seed of doubt planted in your head? Do you want to be swayed by Merlin57 if he declares that you should be the next winner of the fossilized poop award? 

Even when a review is entirely positive, there are drawbacks. Say a particular reader took a shine to a relatively minor character, and hopes to see more of her in the next installment. Should that be factored into your writing process? I say no, not if that wasn't part of your initial vision for the narrative.

It's a challenge not to dive into the fray--especially since, with all the blogs out there, there are potentially dozens of opinions on your prose just waiting to be perused. But avoid the temptation; don't dive into the rabbit hole. If your book is amassing lots of great reviews and accolades, you'll hear about it from your editor, agent, and friends. But knowing precisely what's being said can be detrimental.

*side note: I'd also advise against doing a Google Search for fossilized poop. Trust me on this one.