12/29/10

Happy New Year!

As my Nana used to say, have a healthy and a happy! And now, a 2010 video.


12/21/10

Rethinking Voice and Style

The one on the left is voice. The other guy is style.
I wrote the first two chapters of Ghost Fishing, my middle grade boy adventure, a couple of months back then got sidetracked with some other projects. When I returned to it a few weeks ago, I decided I needed to put together a somewhat coherent outline for the events that were to play out in the novel. Each chapter was to be almost its own mini adventure. At the same time, I wanted to ensure my characters were well fleshed out, unique, interesting, and had clear motivations.

While this was going on, I also decided I needed to take a fresh look at the style and voice with which I was going to write the novel. So what if I'd written a couple of chapters I might throw away. I reasoned that these were exploratory in nature. When I began conceptualizing Ghost Fishing, I'd just finished reading the first two novels in The Looking Glass Wars, Frank Beddor's series inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. The fairy-tale voice and style in these novels really struck and inspired me, and that's the direction in which I wanted to take Ghost Fishing. 

But as I began to fill in the details behind my new novel, I began to pay attention to other middle grade fiction. Some of this I read, some of this I listened to in the car. There's really nothing like listening to a good book read by a talented actor or actress. It's a lot of fun. Anyway, it was in these novels that I found other styles that equally inspired me.

Rick Riordan's, The Lost Hero reminded me of what fun I had reading the Percy Jackson novels, and although this novel isn't written in first person POV like the Percy novels, the voice and humor are all there. Eoin Colfer's, The Eternity Code, and Artemis Fowl novel, dished out the joy, cleverness, outlandishness and laughs, while sticking to third person, omniscient. Both novels share pacing, humor and heart, even though their voices are entirely different.

I dug into Will Hobbs' Ghost Canoe because, well, my novel is entitled Ghost Fishing, so I had to see what this was all about. It shares nothing with my novel or the two above. It's historical middle grade, has quite a lot of fishing, and the tone is pretty much straight forward boy adventure that reminds me of some of the novels of my very early youth. I gave Michael Spradlin's, The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail a shot. This is middle grade adventure set in the middle ages, but told in first person POV, which seemed kind of unique for something set so long ago.

Having read each of the above, I began to lean back toward what I enjoy reading most -- a fast-paced story laced with humor, told in perhaps first person POV or third person limited. The third person limited buys me the ability to get a bit deeper in other characters' heads, and there is one character in Ghost Fishing -- the impact character -- into whose head I wouldn't mind dipping. On the other hand, the benefit of staying in first person with my main character is that I can keep the impact character's story a bit more mysterious for a while.

As for the fairy tale style, I'm somewhat afraid I won't be able to carry off the style with as much humor and snappy pacing as I'd like. However, I've returned to the third book in The Looking Glass Wars series, ArchEnemy to see what inspired me to go with the fairy tale approach in the first place. Maybe I'll change my mind back again. I plan on wrapping up my initial outlining this week and jump back to the writing next week.

Oh, and for those organic writers out there -- you know who you are -- I'm not outlining the entire novel from front to back. Yes, I've done a fair bit of work on characters, overarching plot, and motivations, but my chapter outline only goes about five or six out. I like to map out where I'm going for a period of time so I can simply drive without worrying if I'm headed in the right direction. Then I'll reach a rest stop, where I'll map out the next part of the journey before I get back behind the wheel.

12/14/10

My Nook and I

See that device over there on the left of the page? That's a Nook Color from Barnes & Noble. It's based on the Android O/S. I got me one of those the day it came out. This is a big deal for me because I am most definitely NOT on the bleeding edge on technology purchases.

Witness this conversation between my older brother Lee and yours truly more than fifteen years ago.

Lee - "This is my computer."
Me - "I've heard Intel is coming out with a 386 chip, but you'll never need anything more advanced than the 286 you have there."

I wound up with the Nook for two reasons. One - While I purchase loads of book, I also am a huge user of the public library. The Kindle doesn't do that. Two - it's got a color touch screen (Did I mention Android O/S?) which makes it like a mini poor-man's iPad without any of the caché. I fiddled with the Nook as soon as it arrived at my house on 11/19 (was that Fedex or UPS? Can't remember.) from B&N dot com. It's slick. Pages do, in fact, turn quickly. The print is easily read. The wireless connectivity is flawless. I was enjoying it.

And then?

It sat for a couple of weeks because I was in the middle of another book - Rick Riordan's, The Lost Hero, which was for some reason taking me a long time to read, despite how much I liked it.

Now, however, I've loaded a couple of books on my Nook: Frankenstein, which I downloaded for free from Google Books - it's in the public domain; Alan Furst's Dark Star, which was one of the very few interesting e-books available for download from the virtual public library that did not have a massive waiting list. Yes - downloading e-books from your public library is NOT a gimme. There is this whole digital rights management deal. If the library purchased one e-copy of the book, then only one person at a time may download the e-book for a given loan period. This seems to result in long wait times. Also, my local public library is part of a county library system that is networked with a third party that actually offers the e-books. This means there's that many more people from all over waiting on virtual line to download an e-book.

I imagine this whole process will improve over time as more and more folks go the e-book route, and libraries stock their own e-copies of books. I'm hoping to join the NYC Public Library in a couple of weeks -- they let us New Jersey folk do so if you show up in person. They've got a massive e-book catalog. I've got a few books on my list I'll be purchasing for my Nook as well.

My new toy and me.

12/9/10

I'm feeling a little verklempt

One of the toughest challenges we face as writers is rejection. Rejection by our peers, both published and otherwise. Rejection by publishing professionals - agents & editors. When you write a book, unless you plan on never showing it to anyone, you run this risk. Somebody is going to read it, and either they will tell you how they feel about it or you will nag them until they ultimately do. Good or bad.

Positive feedback is always welcome and quite the ego boost. Unless it's tempered with constructive criticism, however, it won't help you improve. So when you put your novel out there for everyone to see, for everybody to critique, well, it takes a badge of courage.

Earlier this year, I submitted the first 250 words of Urban Mythos to Authoress's awesome Secret Agent Contest - July Edition. I got plenty of feedback from my peers, mostly good, some bad, but almost all of them had an element of constructive criticism. I came in runner up and won a partial submission to a fabulous agent, who later rejected the partial but offered to have another look should I revise. (I did, and I did.)

This month, Authoress sponsored an absolutely unbelievable contest called the Baker's Dozen Agent Auction. First, you had to be among the first 100+ to get your logline and first 250 words emailed. After that, your logline and first 250 words had to pass muster and make the final cut of 40 total entrants. Then, and this is where it went from fantastic to other-worldly, thirteen agents bid on the entries they liked. Bidding ranged from a five page submission to a full. Not every entry would necessarily receive a bid. In addition to that, one of three published authors provides a critique for each entry as does editor Stacy Whitman.

This was a big big big contest with lots of people watching. The feedback was, shall we say, illuminating. Some of the same folks who read my excerpt before commented again, but there were many others. The critiques were more wide ranging, anywhere from "love this" to "hate this". Generally, it was quite positive, with bits of advice here and there that I take to heart. Whether I agreed with some of the more brusque comments was immaterial - I most definitely took something constructive out of each and every word people wrote and I sincerely appreciate it.

The hardest part this time was sitting by during the day of the bidding and not receiving one nibble. The Patriots had slaughtered my Jets the night before on Monday Night Football, and the day of the auction was my birthday. Alas, there were no agent birthday gifts. I got to feeling a bit melancholy about things. I must admit that three of the thirteen agents in the auction either already have my novel or have rejected it. And these same agents might have been the only three in the auction who would have bid in the first place.

I'll never forget two things that occurred during this contest, though. First, toward the end of the bidding, someone posted... and I quote, "Okay, I just have to say I can't believe no one has bid on this entry yet. It's so original and funny. Hang in there, author!!!" I still didn't receive a bid, but that made me feel pretty darned good.

The second item of note was that many of my writing.com buddies provided their comments as well. I thus name them here:

Louisa
Dawne
Kurt
Annie
Kate
Rachel

What I will most remember is that some of these fine folks took umbrage at one or two negative comments and posted their well conceived and incredibly well crafted rebuttals. I never asked for it and their efforts really weren't necessary - as writers, we all have thick skins.



But it's just the best knowing these great folks have my back. They should know I read their comments with a smile plastered on my face, and as my family would say, I got a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic. Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island. Discuss.