Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Horror" Writer? Get Thee Behind Me

I told this story on my blog about three weeks ago, but it was received well and it seems relevant to this blog about the hardships of genre writers.

About twenty years ago, I was seeking a writing group and was encouraged to go along to my local writers' circle by an acquaintance of mine who was a member. She was a lady in her 60s. I, at the time, was in my early 20s. That should have given me a clue, in hindsight, but I was yearning to belong to a writing group so I thought I would give it a go.

I tagged along to their meeting, in the local library. The first thing that struck me was that I was the youngest person there. By about thirty years.

The meeting got underway, and it became evident to me that everyone else in the group wrote radio plays, historical romance, and the kind of twee short stories that are published in certain women’s magazines. Some of the writers had forged quite successful careers for themselves, but I hadn’t heard of any of them. That should have been my second clue.

Everyone was initially terribly enthusiastic and very friendly, all saying how nice it was to see a young person in their midst, and they were in need of new blood, and so on. Then they asked me what I wrote.

“Horror”, I said cheerfully.

The room went silent. Noticeably. Then someone piped up nervously, “oh dear. We’ve never had one of THOSE before.”

Everyone gave me a wide berth for the rest of the evening, casting nervous glances in my direction and pointedly avoiding my eye. I began to think that perhaps everyone in the room was suffering from a collective deafness. Had they misheard me? When I said I was a horror writer, had they perhaps heard “I have leprosy” instead?

Suffice to say that was the one and only meeting I attended. Granted, I was into fairly sick horror in those days (I have mellowed somewhat with age). It didn’t take me long to work out that it would be a mistake to show this group any of my writing. I did not want to be responsible for the death by heart failure of the entire membership of the writing circle.

But I did learn that day that genre writers are often considered the social outcasts of the writing world. Now, at least, I know others. We weirdos need to stick together.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Characters Welcome

Part of the fun of being a writer is collecting characters. Everyday I pick up one or two more to add to my menagerie, filing them deep in the recesses of my imagination.

One of my favorite past times is people watching (a hobbie I'm sure I share wth many other people). I love to watch the mannerisms, listen to the voices, and find the interesting quirks that people have. They end up being fodder for various characters in my novel. Even my own quirks end up in my work.

So imagine what a collection I managed to obtain at the fair on Saturday. In between gorging myself on fried delicacies and taking in various farm animals (brought back fond childhood memories of growing up on a farm), I people watched.And found some interesting characters in the process.

For example, there was a woman there who drank nothing but beer with no food, but seemingly did not get drunk--she probably was, but hid it well.

Then there was the girl who loved her lamb so much, she had conversations with it. Maybe instead of a diary, she just told her secret hopes and dreams to the lamb.

There were college students admiring Harley's and farmers examining John Deere tractors.

Root beer brewers that served their carefully crafted brews in stands--each one tasted a little different.

There were even radio djs and announcers who, with great enthusiasm, tried to elicit crowd participation.

I not only left the fair full of food (if I don't see another fried dish, it will be too soon), but full of characters and brimming with ideas. Which is good for me, especially since my character's voices are what drives the stories I tell.

With that said, I'm off to my lair to craft tales of wonder and amazement.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Greetings from Tennessee

Since I sort of introduced the blog itself last week, I thought this week I would introduce myself.

I'm Sonya, and I write urban fantasy and am interested in branching out to other genres eventually. I've been writing and telling stories for as long as I can remember but it wasn't until three years ago that I made a serious effort to write a novel. A year later I finished it, and within a few months had to face the reality that it would never see the light of day. So I put it away - I have a folder on my laptop labeled "trunk" - and moved on. Trunking that first novel didn't discourage me. Just the fact that I finished the thing was enough of a triumph to get me through. By this time I'd been reading a lot of urban fantasy, a genre that seemed tailor-made to suit me. For 2008's National Novel Writing Month I set out to try my hand at it. The story didn't make it to the fifty thousand word goal of NaNo, and it didn't get done in November, but it did get done. I called it Bring On The Night.

In late October 2009 I submitted my novella to Lyrical Press and it was accepted in November. I had no idea what I was getting into, and it's been a fantastic learning experience. Going through the editing process taught me more than any class or workshop or how-to book ever could. In April of this year I got proof that my first acceptance wasn't a fluke or an accident in the form of a second acceptance, this time for a full-length urban fantasy novel titled Mojo Queen. With Bring On The Night's release in May, I went from writer to author, though I'm still more comfortable with storyteller.

As for personal stuff, I grew up in various military installations all over the world and now live in Tennessee. I'm married to an amazing man and we have the World's Cutest Smartest Cuddliest Yorkie ™,  Captain Jack. Some of my favorite books are Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice, Death Is A Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury, the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, and the music histories and biographies by Peter Guralnick . I miss Buffy, am addicted to Supernatural, and think The Princess Bride is the most perfect movie ever made. My greatest passion besides writing is music. For example, I've been to all three of Robert Johnson's gravesites.

I love to talk about books and writing and publishing, so that's what I'll be doing here on Fridays.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Greetings From London

I thought my first post here should be an introduction.

My name is Sara, and I am a British writer of horror and crime and a combination of the two.

A popular question, to writers posed by non-writers, is "when did you become a writer?" For me it's hard to answer because I've never not been a writer. Even before I knew how to write, I was making up stories. I was always very fond of dolls and soft toys (I still am, if the truth be told). To me, they were characters. All of my toys in childhood had names and personalities and family histories. In childhood I wrote adventure stories, sometimes about my dolls, sometimes about myself and my friends - something akin to "The Famous Five" in most cases.

WWhen I was young, if ever a grown-up asked me what I wanted to be when I left school, I would reply, "a writer". The grown-up would then say, "you can't make a living doing that. You'll have to do something else." But there was never anything else I wanted to do.

It turned out the grown-ups were right, though, and I have not yet managed to make a living writing. When I left school I looked around vaguely for some way of earning a living. Somehow I came to a profession as a secretary, something I never imagined doing but it seems to suit me. My anally retentive personality makes me a meticulous organiser, and my writing has turned me into a fast, accurate typist who's a stickler for complete sentences and correct grammar. All of which are useful skills for a secretary. Thus I hold down a day job, and try to fit the writing around it, at least for the time being.

My first published novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, was released as an e-book by Lyrical Press in April of this year. So I achieved, at age 40, a dream that first took root in my brain 30 years ago.

A second novel, DEATH SCENE, has also been accepted by Lyrical Press and will hopefully be published next year. DEATH SCENE is the first of a planned series about amateur sleuth Shara Summers, and something of a departure from SUFFER THE CHILDREN which is a supernatural horror story.

I shall be hanging out here on Wednesdays, talking about writing and publishing and other such things, so do drop in again soon.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Writer, the Lone Wolf

Writing is very much a solitary sport. Its an exercise of the mind and a practice in endurance. The writer's world is a lonely one. It has to be. To quote Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, writers live in a "world of pure imagination". The countless hours we spend playing with imaginary friends in imaginary worlds make us awkward in reality (there are exceptions, of course).

So when people ask us to describe our process or how we come up with ideas, it's very hard to explain. Sometimes the answers we give sound cliche, but in reality, it's hard to describe what goes on in our heads. A friend of mine once told me that if he didn't know me and what I do, he'd think I was bat-shit crazy.

Its hard sometimes to identify with people who aren't in the creative line of business. My brain never turns off and when I'm working on something, I spend 90% of my time thinking of plots, characters, scenes, etc. This makes regular conversation hard. It may seem like I'm not paying attention or I may come off as aloof.

Throw in the fact that I am rather shy, especially with new people, it makes it hard to socialize.

To some extent, the creative process is a harsh mistress. You give up a normal life, at the request of your muse, all in pursuit of your craft.

And the people in our lives, the people we ignore or have to remember to schedule in, are incredibly forgiving and understanding. New people may not be.

While we, as writer, try to forge some semblance of a social life, its difficult for us. So please, in dealing with your new writer acquaintance, be patient. And remember, we're not crazy (most of the time).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Write Club

Writers are introverts by nature. We live in our heads so much, with all these imaginary characters and situations, that conversations with non-writers don't always come easy. We tend to collect stories from non-writers, but we get lost when we try to talk about telling stories. But the need is still there, the need for community, for communion and conversation with people who share our peculiar eccentricities and obsessions.

I live in a small town. The only other authors here are retirees who've written either memoirs or children's books. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I didn't think I'd have much success if I tried to start a local writer's group. I figured they'd get a whiff of my urban fantasy and assail me with a double chorus of "get behind thee Satan" and "get off my lawn." So I decided to try forming an online group. It's starting out slow, with a couple of chapters up for critique. So far, so good. I also wanted to try a group blog for anyone that was interested. It's kind of a long story why but here goes:

Years ago I took a creative writing class at a nearby university. Most of the class were regular college students, I was just past college age, and there were a couple of much older ladies. One of those ladies quit because the professor was such an ass to her. I paid my $300 or whatever it was expecting to learn about characterization, plot, theme, dialog - you know, the stuff you need to know to write a story. The professor only wanted to talk about how terrible the publishing industry is because they wouldn't take his literary fiction coming of age tale. The publishing industry wasn't interested in literary fiction, they were only interested in "genre garbage". And if you want to turn that C into an A, well, let's just say the professor had a fondness for stories with what might be called girls flying solo. If there was no place for that in your story, well, make one. I didn't make an A, and the class was so depressing and so utterly useless, I almost gave up writing. I can laugh about it now, but it was pretty difficult at the time. It took a long time to start finding the tools I needed to learn to write.

Most of those tools, I eventually found on the internet. For free, even. Blogs and websites devoted to the craft of writing and the business of publishing have helped me immeasurably. I'm still learning, every single day. Class is in session, every time I open up my Google reader and check my blog subscriptions. Every time I do another round of edits, every time I sit down to write, the bell rings for my own little home school for writers.

Which is not to say that I really know what I'm doing, but if I can encourage just one person to stop listening to the angry snobs and the doubters who think you're getting above yourself and the disbelievers who think you're a crazy idiot - just shut all that noise out and write the story you know you were meant to tell. And tell it the best way you can, to the absolute best of your ability. I wish I'd had that kind of encouragement when I was younger, and an atlas full of road maps that might help me get to where I wanted to be, instead of just a dark hazy cloud to wander through alone.

So I guess you'd say my main goal here is to help writers, one way or another.

Maybe I should delete this and write something a little more generic. Anyway, welcome to Write Club. No Swedish furniture will be harmed in the making of this blog. And we won't try to sell you soap, I promise.