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Are You Published?

April 26, 2012 Leave a comment

The simple answer is no. When I’m asked this question I wonder what the person knows about the art and process of storytelling. As with any type of excellence in art, overnight success is not the norm. Could I be published? I’m 100% certain. It’s easy nowadays via Vanity press or ePublishing. Nothing stands in the way. So being published is not necessarily a sign of success or quality. It’s basically like a General Admission ticket. Anyone can get in. Almost like buying a degree. There’s a universe of white noise out there now.

I began writing the saga Creed of Kings, which has sprawled into a 300,000 word epic, right before the eBook revolution started to crank up. I made a decision to never publish through Vanity press. Why? Because if I ended up self-publishing it meant—not in all cases of course—that I sucked. Sorry for the technical language.  Vanity means what it means. Gratifying myself is not my aim, which is to rock the reader’s world. Vanity costs dearly and you end up with a bunch of books in your garage. My goal is for Creed of Kings to be published traditionally, in hardcover, on the shelf at Barnes & Noble and others. on black Friday. Even though I’ve tweaked it a bit due to the eBook revolution, the spirit of the goal has not changed, but that does not matter either.

What matters most is quality. One has to spin a yarn better than the people in one’s creative writing class do. College football is planet away from high school football, and pro football is a galaxy from college. You must never rest when it comes to creating the best characters, plot points, dialogue, set up, mood, structure etc. I must see myself joining the league of David Gemmell , George R. R. Martin, Terry Goodkind , Steven Pressfield  now, not someday. What I create must stand the light of day with no prequalification. I have to write at that level of quality. I have to stretch myself, sacrifice.

I’m not new to writing. I’ve always had the bug. I had an active blog life that started in 2004 on Xanga . Before that, I was a regular contributor to a message board started by the rock band Creed—where I relearned the importance of spelling! I’ve written a oodles of terrible poems and kept angst ridden journals. Before that, I wrote a short story in college for a humanities project. The professor thought I should try to publish it. I did not think it was good enough. It was not about self-image, it was about objectivity.

People have told me all my life that I have the gift. It’s rarely flying in formation though. Life’s storms and obligations must be handled and I have discovered it takes a lot of effort for me to keep that flame lit. Furthermore, I am human and I suffer those outrageous idiocies of us artsy fartsy types, such as bored easily, moodiness, brooding, attention whore, borderline ADD, impatience, and perfectionism.

I feel strongly that my day is coming. The agonizing work has come up front. At the start it would have been arrogant to just whip out a manuscript, send it in, and wait for the book tour to begin. I never believed that. Therefore, I’ve clawed through 2 million raw words to eke out a few gold moments.

Nope, not published, yet. But, I have loved every second of this challenge. I will deliver a gift from my soul to many strangers in name but kindred in soul. If you don’t love the process, the nail biting, the blood sweating, fuggedaboutit. You’ll end up admiring your words in the vanity mirror.

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The Hunger Games: A Quick Commentary on Cliché and Story Structure.

March 24, 2012 Leave a comment

 

The movie was full of cheesy teenager moments, but I loved it. The world creation had a bit of the Star Trek (The James T. Kirk Generation) papier-mâché look, too clean, too slick in some places. I think they tried to create the look of an authentic world, but the attire looked like something the people stepped into just before the camera rolled.

Even so, I did enjoy the movie. The female lead was a realistic protagonist. She wasn’t some bimbo hottie chick that stuns muscle bound men with a single karate chop of her petite hand (i.e. Angelina Jolie in SALT).

There was, however, a small dose of political correctness. I can usually tell you right away, who the bad guy is going to be in teenager movies. He will be tall, blond, and handsome…the ideal member of the Hitler youth. Remember, Hollywooders exchanged the Muslim terrorist for Neo-Nazis in Clancy’s Sum of All Fears? Hollywood and artsy fartsy types just can’t seem to rid themselves of this worn out stereotypical antagonist. It’s as common as the evil catholic priest. This is a cookie cutter bad guy that I’ve seen since Biff , in Back to the Future.  This antagonist has a rival cliché; it’s the tough hottie chick. So, I got one cliché character.

I try to look beyond all this. I go to movies first to enjoy. A close second is to analyze and see what I can learn. As a storyteller, I like to get under the hood of a movie and see why it runs so well. This movie ran well, which makes its clichés and cheese somewhat bearable.

The structure is perfect. Understanding story structure was the game-changer for me as a writer. At my core, I am an outliner – plan ahead, but I started my first book as a panster – just type by the seat of your pants and see what happens. Pantsing was out of character for me but I had believed all my life that stories were pure inspiration and a little perspiration. Imagine how I felt after two years of writing. Finally, I watched an interview with Larry Brooks . He wrote a book called, Story Engineering. He asserted that there are four distinct parts to a good story: Setup (25% of the story), Response (25%), Attack (25%), and Resolution (25%). If a movie doesn’t succeed at the box office, it’s usually because it lacks a pole that’s supposed to uphold the tent of story structure. The first tent pole comes between Setup up and Response – 1st Plot Point (A life altering decision). The second tent pole comes between Response and Attack – Mid Point / Context Shift (the bigger picture and commitment). The third tent pole is found between Attack and Resolution – The 2nd Plot Point (After the “all hope is lost moment” the protagonist is willing to die to achieve the goal).

I bought Story Engineering and studied it. It has made all the difference. Now I have six books outlined. The first is nearing completion. It’s not quite like coloring by numbers, but akin to it.

Structure provides focus, to not only the writer but also the audience, even if the audience has no idea about structure. The Hunger Games has this core requirement. If you see the movie take note, what I say here will prove to be true. Look for it.

When Procrastination Pays Off

March 15, 2012 2 comments

I was at my hangout working on the book. There’s no WIFI at the diner. So, I don’t dally on facebook. The drawback is I can’t save to my dropbox. I’ve stopped relying on a flashdrive. I had just finished making huge changes to the fifth rough draft. Driving home, I tell myself I need save to dropbox and my external hard drive. Don’t procrastinate!

At home, laptop plugged in, I go get a drink. Nagging thoughts of my adapter’s suspicious behavior bug me. ADD kicks in. I return. Laptop’s dead. The adapter went legs up. It hadn’t been charging the battery at the diner. All changes locked up on a powerless laptop.

So, gas is $35,000 a gallon and Best Buy is 20 miles away. Furthermore, I’m in a financial crunch (Did I say gas is $35K a gallon?). Best Buy has an adapter at $59. Amazon has it for $25.01. Need I explain? It’s headed to me overnight for $29 total.

That was yesterday. There I was with time and a fist-clinching drive to do more. I’m close to the end of writing the book. I’ve been putting off brainstorming about the next book. But, I was so angry with the situation I gave up and worked email, facebook, and twitter. Meanwhile the goal to have three books finished this year is slipping away.

I launched myself out of bed this morning, grabbed blank paper and pencil. Daddy O’s diner here I come.  Sipping coffee in back, breakfast ordered, I started scribbling a rough outline of the beginning of the next book. I summarized the prologue. I kept going until all the crucial events for story structure were present. The epic story was succinctly put before my eyes, front and back of formally blank piece of paper. I tucked it in my folder and left for my walk, where listen to soundtracks and brainstorm over the children of my mind.

While walking I check my email after I’ve started the tunes. Amazon notified me that UPS had some shipping issues. My adapter won’t be in today. Grrr! But wait! I’ve just outlined my next book. Rejoice! My luck has been great. I roll the dice again. With Hans Zimmer playing, I constructed the next book in my head while I walked. All the plot points in place!

Now, I have a solid outline for the next book on paper and a soon-to-be-written-down outline in my head of the one after that.

Procrastination can pay off.

2012 Publishing Goals

January 2, 2012 2 comments

A young woman ordered to kill stares in shock. If she does not execute the man accused of crimes against the empire, her mother will suffer death at the hands of the emperor’s vicious torturer. The accused, tied up before her, waits for death, his head hanging down exhausted. Trembling, she draws her bow. The emperor relishes the young woman’s anguish for he knows she loves the accused.  What will she do?

I’ve had friends, net-friends, and acquaintances asking what’s up with the book. I got the vision above in07. I began serious work on it in March ‘09, after several derails. I have with held the names of characters and places for a reason. So forgive me. Now, let’s do an extremely skinny stick man recap.

As this vision unfurled in the theater of my mind through the years, I sensed this was near the end of an epic. The imagery was akin to Gladiator, Troy, 300, and Lord of the Rings. Accompanying this scene were overwhelming emotions; my job was to understand them, give them underpinning. Where was she from? How did she get in this terrible dilemma?

I discovered her story after many false trails. The scope spanned twenty years of her life through a world lit only by the sun, moon, and fire, a world of beauty and brutality, exotic creatures, vast wildernesses, the hordes of warring empires and realms, sorcerers, a pantheon of gods and goddess. I found her in a temple of religious prostitutes. She was a little girl, being raised by her mother. As it was with all these little girls in the temple of this goddess of love, peace, and fertility, her father was a mystery.

At sixteen, she became the oracle of the goddess. People from across the empire bowed at her feet to hear the fortunes only she could know, but she felt no special powers, save that of the hallucinogenic herbs given to her to summon terrible visions. She manipulated the visions into nicer versions for the people that quaked in awe at the base of the altar. The zealots scolded her. She must make the visions worse so the people would go to the Chamber of Atonement.

One day a distraught soldier came. She sat high on her pedestal. She was drenched in the visions of the herb, her thoughts aloof as he groveled. She felt like the goddess herself. The soldier left his weapons at the base of pedestal and ran to the Chamber of Atonement.

That night, she dug his bow and quiver out of the refuse pile before it burned. The goddess of peace did not allow the girls to have weapons of violence. She took it to the only man allowed to live on the temple grounds, the mute eunuch who tended the stable. He was a former warrior. After she begged, he showed her how to use it. He taught her in secret. That is when she first thought of escaping the temple life.

During the writing of this first book, other characters came to the forefront of importance, needing their own stories and motivations. I “completed” the first book last year. It needs a lot of work. Other compelling characters came to the forefront. I developed one character’s story. I traced back and found him as a bastard son of a weakening king. His story will comprise one, possibly two epics until I reach the girl. I call all of this the Creed of Kings Saga. The working title of the first book is Blood & Soul.

In the future, this is the order of books I have in the waiting. This is the sequential order of the Creed of Kings Saga.

Book One: Blood & Soul (working on now.) *Plan to publish this year. (I realize “Plan to publish” is a loaded statement. That’s another blog entry.)

Book Two: Title Unknown (brainstorming.) *Plan to publish this year.

Book Two and a half: Title Unknown. It is possible another book could fit between Books Two and Three.

Book Three: Creed of Kings was the original title of this book. It is the most complete work I have. It is readable. There is a story with character transformation and all. It is epic. This book was the original one I started with the lead character being the young woman in the original vision. It was going to be a trilogy. This is the one many of my family, net-friends, and friends know about. Some have read the first part. *Plan to publish this year.

Book Four: Title Unknown. This books is basically outlined and ready to start.

Book Five: Title Unknown. This book is basically outlined and ready to start.

I now sense the antagonists lining up to attack my plans!

My First Visit to a Writer’s Group

December 11, 2011 Leave a comment

It was awesome!

I wasn’t awesome. I was on my heels the whole time. It was the good kind of “on my heels”, like a Disney World ride. Writings were read aloud. I only wanted to test the waters so I didn’t bring anything to be read. Comments after each piece was read were insightful. My comments were riveting, words like, um, wull, I, ya know, basically. Dull is not the word. Sharp as a balloon would be somewhere in the galaxy. There is a reason for it. Being that it was my first visit I wanted to explain my Forrest Gump-ness, but I didn’t. Figured I’d be back and they’d understand later.

But now that I have your attention; critiquing grammar is not my deal…at the moment. I know, I know. That sounds bad to some writers, who love them there perty sentences. If you tell me I have a dangling participle I would check my zipper. A few years ago I figured out I’m a storyteller, not a grammar-Nazi. Trust me. I hold an editor’s skills up there with quantum physicists. When I first started my epic I slaved over every sentence. It took me three years. That book is still, in what I consider, rough draft form. I nearly killed my creative flame slaving over every word before I had the structure of the story in blueprint. I was pantsing (God made google so you can look up that word), searching for the expressions of theme and concept. I was trying to brainstorm with perfection. It’s impossible! I fixed it and started re-writing it. Then as noted here in , I had a revelation.

At the meeting, my mind was on, and had been on, for a long time…Story Structure. When they started talking about writer’s voice, and grammar, being drawn into the character, I was as dusty as a Palm Pilot. I groped for words. I wasn’t thinking about that, I was thinking about the hook, set-up, inciting incident, first plot point, the midpoint context shift, pinch points. The big picture.

I’m still in the big picture mode. I’ve written two rough drafts, multiple outlines, and three notebooks for my latest book, a prequel the epic mentioned above. So, if I go back to the particulars, work on five pages to be read at the meeting, it will be from material that may never be seen by the light of a Kindle.

I may share some other stuff instead, like poems or creative flash fiction. I don’t know. No matter what, I’ll go again. It was a wonderful experience. I enjoyed being around weird people like me.

WHAMMO Moments

September 18, 2011 5 comments

I suspect no one who is reading my blog thinks writing a book is easy, much less an epic heroic fantasy. I remember thinking I would write Creed of Kings in 6 months while having a full-time job! Can you believe that? I assumed it would be difficult, like running a marathon. Confident in my creativity and inspiration I fiddled around with an idea and started.  Some 300,000 words later…well, you get the idea.

If I wasn’t such a perfectionist, I’d have a pile of rejection letters. I fear failure so much that I never surrendered to the common naiveté of so many wannabe writers. Learning the art is a continuing process. I didn’t slap things together and mail it off to an agent/publisher and cross my fingers. My tombstone will say, “Here lies a writer, whose manuscript just kept getting better, and better, and better…”

I’ve had many breakthroughs. I’ve shed a lot of skin, dropped many illusions, lost and gained confidence. I’ve charged the hill more times than I care to remember. One truly has to love this to bloody ones head tirelessly against the wall. I don’t want to settle out of court. I want to win under the harsh blazing sun. I want what I write to stand in that glare and not only survive but thrive in your heart!

I have 9 followers on this blog now and many who travel in from twitter, Facebook, and various other avenues. I owe to you and all the potential readers to deliver the absolute best that I can. But, before you, there is me. It has to rock my own world. If it’s not obvious, I am a harsh critic of my own work. There are many moments that make me smile in the saga I’m writing. I imagine those moments like Christmas gifts under your tree waiting and waiting for the opening. Until I see you smiling in my dream I will keep up the mission.

I know that I have lots of good parts, but I had not made the plot points and paradigms shifts as stark as they needed to be when I got to the end of the Creed of Kings in May of this year. I started revising. I thought I was on the final lap, but in an epic this huge there is necessary back story. One character had an odyssey in his past. As I revised, his back story grew and got better. It was too big and weighing down the story much like the student pictured.

The story has to be told. I’m the only one who can tell it. Given the nature of today’s e-publishing revolution it is highly advantages to have multiple (well done!) books available online.  That was the WHAMMO moment.

WHAMMO moments happen in books, movies, life, and the evolution of a striving writer. I realized I had two books on the verge of completion. I unraveled the back story from the main character in Creed and brought it out as its own unique stand alone story. Now, I basically have one book done that needs revisions and I have another book nearing first draft status. Furthermore, looking at things this way, I see a potential for one or two other books (these books are in my head now) prior to the trilogy Creed of Kings, which is already highly realized.

However, I still need to finish…something! I’ve put so much on the line. Walking away from a successful sales career, and I have a lot less than I’m used to now, for about 4 years now, all so I can pursue this life long dream. But, it’s now or never. Come hell or high water I will have a first draft complete within the next 100 days of my current unnamed project. 2012 will be the year! I’m aiming to release two major works within 6 months.

 

Writing a Novel

May 10, 2011 Leave a comment

A co-worker wants to write a book. This is the advice I gave her.

Writing a Novel

Remember the feelings and thoughts that you had when you read a good book or saw a good movie? Those are the feelings and thoughts you want to give your readers. Learning the skills to give that to readers is not a small matter. It is the most important thing you must do in the beginning that eventually achieves excellence in your presentation of the story. Keep in mind that people are going to pay for your book with their hard-earned money. Eventually, if you succeed, an agent or a publisher is going to pay you money for the product (your manuscript) and they don’t want to waste their money nor do they want to waste their time with amateur writing/storytelling. They’re busy critiquing a mountain of manuscripts already and if yours slips up in the first five pages, they chunk it. It’s a business decision. So, excellence and professionalism from you must be at the forefront of your efforts. If you are not prepared for great sacrifice and tremendous effort, then walk away now. The Karate Kid was told, “The man who can catch a fly with chopsticks can do anything.” Well, writing a good book is like catching a gnat with pool cues. It is extremely difficult and requires talent, skill, and a burning desire to shoulder through many challenges you can’t even imagine yet. And, If you are not going through tough challenges, you’re book will probably be awful not matter how great you think the story is.

Don’t even think about publishing at first. It is naïve. Thinking about publishing is like saying you are going to try out for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and expect to be accepted by simply showing up. Put it out of your mind! Focus on the fundamentals of storytelling and writing. That’s it!

When you look at a house or a car, you can’t see all the hard work that went into it, you just see the finished product. It’s the same when you hold a book in your hand. You don’t see all the years of effort the author put into it. What you hold in your hand is concept, character, theme, and story structure (plot points, milestones etc.) Years have gone into the author finding his or her writing voice and learning how to write a scene properly using dialog and narrative. You can’t slack off in any of these areas. If you do, you will flounder and/or give up like a two-wheel drive car when you needed a four-wheel drive monster truck.

Books I highly recommend to start you off are “The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman and “How to Write the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. Google the titles if I’ve got a word or two off. If you read these books, I have more to recommend.

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