Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mission: Improbable?

Last week I mentioned I landed an agent. Tomorrow I'll meet her for lunch. After that, I'm heading downtown with two friends to watch the Kentucky Wildcats in open practice. (I've got a basketball-themed mystery idea but I need to research the sport more before I write it.)

Anyway, I sent my agent the first three chapters of a book I'm working on, and also pitched another story I'd finished. Unfortunately, both are too short and I need to double their lengths. I'm working on one, and finding I hate my beginning. Openings are my bete noire, and I often end up writing different scenarios before finding one I like.

I'm debating putting this one story aside and working on revisions of the other one. Or maybe plotting a new book. But part of me doesn't like to give up on what I consider a challenge to my imagination.

Maybe a day away from the book will give me a new perspective. Maybe talking with my agent will give me some ideas.

Now if I could write faster.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Writing #2: Thou Shalt Avoid Conversations Starting With "As You Know"

For the next few weeks in this series of posts, I will be focusing on things that you should not do in your writing. As a disclaimer I will add that you will always find examples of these in published work. Thus proving that if you bring in a huge profit for your publisher, you can pretty much get away with anything you want. But for unknown writers, trying to get a contract, there are just some things that will put an editor off. And these are the things that I want to share with you. The things that I have learned - generally the hard way - not to do.

The trope we are dealing with today is the situation of having two characters discuss something they both already know for the sole purpose of telling the reader about it. In my writing group we tend to refer to it as "As You Know Bob" syndrome or a case of "So tell me again, Professor, how your time machine works."

Imagine, if you will, a novel that begins with the sentence:

"As you know, Prince Edward, your father, King Henry, has been at war with the neighbouring kingdom of Ilyria for nearly twenty years," the prince's aide said.
There is a lot of information here, but since it is all detail that Prince Edward (presumably a major character) already knows, this is a clumsy way of relaying it to the reader. If I were to read a novel starting with this sentence, I doubt I'd get beyond that first line.
The 'TV Tropes' website goes into more detail about this particular literary tool, giving examples from film, TV and literature that are guilty of it. Sometimes it can work, but generally it doesn't, and it is one of those tired old tropes that has been used so often it would put a lot of editors off if they picked up something from the slush pile that uses this. There are generally better ways to get vital information across to the reader. Perhaps one of the easiest examples to pull from popular contemporary TV is Dr Who, where the Doctor's companion generally plays the role of the 'Watson' - the character who is assumed to be less knowledgeable than the audience, and therefore is the mechanism used to allow the main character (ie the Doctor) to explain things, to both the other character and the audience.

To go back to the 'Time Machine' example, let's think about one of Hollywood's more famous time machines, Doc Brown's DeLorean in "Back to the Future". Imagine if the conversation went like this:

MARTY: So tell me again, Doc, how your time machine works.

DOC BROWN: Well, as you know Marty, it is the flux capacitor that makes time travel possible.
Let's go over once more how it works....

In the film, this is not at all how it goes. An ordinary teenage boy plays the perfect 'Watson' to Doc Brown's intellectual 'Sherlock', giving him someone to explain everything to. The audience learn about the time machine at the same time Marty does, when he is summoned to the Twin Pines Shopping Mall one October night in 1985. We never find out exactly how the flux capacitor works, but we don't really need to know - it's enough to know that it is the magical gadget that makes time travel possible. And it works.

And so there it is, the second commandment of writing - Thou shalt avoid conversations starting with "As You Know". Join me next week when we explore the third commandment, which is all to do with how not to end your story.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I Got an Agent! Now What?

2015 started out on a rather momentous note. In January, I had shoulder surgery, from which I'm still recovering. (The entire healing process will take about a year, including physical therapy.)

I also landed an agent in January. The agency is small and new, but my agent has fourteen years of experience in the publishing world. Turns out she'd read a collection of my short stories and liked them well enough to ask me to submit something to her.

Now I'll be the first to tell you I never thought I'd get an agent. I figured my writing career would consist of submitting to small pubs and self-publishing. But that was until my small press publisher became an imprint of a New York publisher. So that adage about "never say never"? Yeah, I need to remember that.

What does getting an agent mean for me? First, I'll still submit to small presses and self-publish. But I will also be working on selling my writing to traditional publishers. (Or, more appropriately, I should say my agent will work on selling while I work on the writing part.) This means I have to do things that I hadn't had to do before, such as write longer books. It's funny, I can write short stories, and I've had fellow authors tell me they can't write short because they find it too difficult to distill a story down to its essentials. Me? I'm the opposite, and I've had to work hard to make my stories longer. But if I want to advance my writing career, I need to push the idea I can't do it out of my mind. Before, I never thought I could write a 100,000-word novel. Well, I did. Once. Granted it ended up being 35,000 words after all was said and done, but the point is, I did it. The third book in my Angels of Death series, Devil Inside, is 68,000 words and my 2014 NaNoWriMo political thriller clocked in at 65,000 words.

I can do this. That's what I have to keep telling myself. Because rehearsals are over and it's time for the main show.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Monthly Round-Up: February 2015

As we reach the end of February, we see signs of the end of winter. Or at least we do here in the UK. I believe over the pond they are still up to their ears in snow and temperatures way too low for any civilised society. Have I mentioned how much I don't miss those Canadian winters?

Anyway, in my world this month has seen builders and other tradespeople come and go as we get some improvement work done to our house. I'm sure the end result will be worth it, but as a creature of habit I hate the disruption, and having everything in the wrong place for several weeks has put me in altogether the wrong frame of mind to do anything writing-related. However, there is some news to report this month, so I move on to my update for the end of February.

COMING SOON

I do have some news in this category. I have just signed a contract with MuseItUp Publishing to republish my horror novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN. Those who have been with me a while will know that this was my first published novel, released by Lyrical Press in 2010 on a three-year contract. I have always had a special fondness for this novel, seeing as how it was my 'firstborn', as it were, and I am pleased that Muse are able to offer it a new home, and give it the promotion that it deserves.

'Coming soon' is a tad misleading, though, since the release is tentatively scheduled for Spring 2016, and that feels like some time away.

PROMOTIONAL STUFF

There are a couple of new online appearances to report for February.

8 February - I was interviewed by Robbi Perna
15 February - I talked about how to beat writer's block on Iona Brodie's blog.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Work continues, slowly but surely, on the third Shara Summers novel, SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH.

As for the new horror novel, well it's sort of finished. I've started querying it again. Whether or not it is definitively finished rather depends on what kind of feedback I get on it. I will be sure to keep you posted.
That's it for now. See you next month!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Writing #1: Thou Shalt Make Time To Write

Just about all writers have that encounter, sooner or later, at a party or some other social event where they get chatting to someone who asks that stock question, "what do you do?". When they discover the answer is "writer", the person says airily, "oh, I always wanted to write a book. If I could ever find the time."

I've always believed that being a writer is not something anyone chooses to be, any more than we choose the colour of our eyes, or our skin, or whether we are left or right-handed. What we do choose, however, is whether or not to be a successful writer. And the first step in being a successful writer is finding time to write.

It's the stock excuse for many aspiring writers: I could finish my book if only I had more time to write. I used it myself for quite a long time. My first published novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, took me ten years to write. I used a variety of excuses to try to explain this, but really they were just excuses. Fledgling writers find excuses not to write for many reasons. The most common, if we're honest with ourselves I think, is lack of confidence. But taking ten years to write a book is a luxury only afforded to the unpublished writer, or ironically, the very successful. If you're Stephen King or JK Rowling, your loyal fans will probably wait ten years for the next book, if they had to, and still be there to buy the book at the end of it. For the rest of us, it's worth bearing in mind that there are many writers out there to attract your potential readers when they get bored of waiting for you.

The stark reality is that writers have no more hours in the day than anyone else. Finding time to write is simply a matter of ensuring you block off some of those hours for writing. Many writers, like me, have full time day jobs. Some have kids and school and hockey runs to deal with, elderly relatives to care for, yoga lessons, football practice, swimming lessons, or even a combination of all of the above. Modern life is extremely busy. But amongst all this, the writer must carve out time to write.

What works for me is getting up at a stupidly early hour and getting the early train into London. I sit in Starbucks round the corner from work, and have a soya latte and a muffin for breakfast while I wait for the NetBook to boot up. I try to get an hour of writing in before I head for the office to start my working day. I find this hour very productive, and in truth I get more done in that hour than I do if I take a day off work and write at home.

I appreciate not everyone can face getting up at 5:30am. Fifteen years ago I wouldn't have thought I could have done it, either. But I have discovered that this is the best time for me for writing. It may have something to do with tapping into the muse before my internal editor wakes up, but I find the words flow first thing in the morning when I am not properly awake. Some writers I know carve out an hour of writing time when the kids are in bed. Some find that writing late at night works for them. The key is to find what works for you and schedule it into your routine. Block off the time in your diary. Make sure that your family members also know that this particular time is Writing Time, and you are not to be disturbed.

Making time to write in a packed life generally means sacrificing something. For me, it's sleep. Other writers I know have stopped watching TV, opting instead to use that time as writing time. If your schedule is absolutely rammed, have a look at what you can change to fit in some writing time. If you get a lunch hour at work, can you leave your workplace and set up in a nearby café or some such to use that time for writing? If you regularly meet friends at the pub twice a week, can you cut down to one a week and use the other evening as writing time? If necessary, try experimenting until you find a routine that works for you. As I mentioned, it never occurred to me once upon a time that I could get out of bed so early. But once I got in the routine of doing so, I found it not so bad, and the thought of a nice sugary treat when I get to the coffee shop does sometimes inspire me out of bed at that unseemly hour in the morning.

But the most important thing, in order to be a successful writer, is to write, and so this is my First Commandment of Writing: Writer, Thou Shalt Make Time To Write.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Writing: Introduction

Those of you who have been following this blog a while will know that I have been at this writing game for quite a while. In fact, I've been at it most of my life. I've been writing novels since I was 11 years old. I've been submitting my work since I was 17. I am now 45. I will leave you to work out for yourself just how many rejections that equates to, with the added note that just because I have stuff published DOES NOT mean I don't get rejected any more. Nor does it mean those acceptances are any less sweet.

Anyway, when I got to thinking about just how long I've been at this game, it made me realise just how much I've learned along the way. And maybe I can pass on some of those things I have learned over the years to others, who may be just starting out on the whole writing/submitting/rejection carousel.

I will emphasise that I don't have all the answers. The thing about writing is that you never stop learning about your craft. And the publishing world is a whole lot different than it was when I started out, when there was no internet and no email, and submissions had to be sent by post, with a stamped self addressed envelope, and markets had to be researched and the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook was the must-have publication for getting hold of publishers' details.

No, I am by no means claiming to know everything about writing. If I did, I'd be making a great deal more money from it, and would be getting a lot more acceptances than rejections. But there are things I've learned along the way. Things that I wish I'd have known when I was starting. Things that might have led to that novel contract arriving a bit sooner than it did.

For the next few weeks, I am going to run a regular feature on this blog, featuring my version of the Ten Commandments of Writing. I am not claiming to be Moses, and unlike his mine are not written in stone. These will just be things I've learned along the way, that might help someone else as they try to negotiate the thorny path to publication.  These will otherwise be known as the "Writer, Thou Shalt Not" rules.

Join me here at the same time next week for more information about the first commandment:  "Writer, Thou Shalt Make Time to Write."