Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Un-Grinching Giveaway

I am normally not Grinchy at all, but this year...
I am normally one of those crazy people who actually doesn't get at all annoyed when stores start putting out Christmas stuff before Halloween. Despite my penchant for horror writing, Halloween is a holiday I can do without. No, it has nothing to do with me not liking its evil roots--that's not an issue with me--it's just the idea of spending $30 on a costume for each kid so they can wear it for about two hours, griping the whole time about how this is too loose and that is too tight, so they can collect a pile of candy, more than half of which will go in the trash. So, fine by me to skip right on past Halloween straight to Christmas. I love the decorations, the music...the movies!

Most years, the inside of my house is decorated all but the tree itself a week or so before Thanksgiving. I try to hold out, I really do, but always give in. I start with multiple Nativity scenes, one of which is hand-painted by me, then go on to my nutcracker collection. A smattering of miscellaneous figurines and wreaths get spread around. Then the very day after Thanksgiving, the tree and outside lights go up.

My daughter IS this cute, or the decorations might still not be up!
But this year I've had an oddly hard time getting into the Christmas spirit. Not a single decoration went up before Thanksgiving. Actually, it took my daughter begging me to put the tree up all day--aaaallll daaaay--on Monday to get me to start pulling out boxes. I didn't put up everything, either. Yep, even half my nutcrackers went back into the box and into the closet.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, I need to do something to get me feeling Christmas-y. I thought maybe giving some books away might help.

So, I am going to run a contest for one copy each of four books. As in, if you win, you get all four.

They are as follows:

A signed copy of my novel, MG fantasy Finding Angel.

Angel doesn't remember her magical heritage...but it remembers her.
Magic and science collide when she embarks on a journey to her true home, and to herself.
Angel lives with a loving foster family, but dreams of a land that exists only in the pages of a fantasy novel. Until she meets Gregor, whose magic Talent saves her life and revives lost memories.

A signed-by-me copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens, which contains my story "Armored and Dangerous" (a tale about the time I found strength in a very odd place when faced by a bully).

A signed-by-me copy of Aquasynthesis, the anthology featuring short stories by all the Splashdown Books authors. Three of my stories are found inside.

A not-signed-by-anyone-because-I-ordered-it-from-Amazon-and-the-author-lives-in-Kansas-but-I-live-in-Florida copy of Odd Little Miracles by Fred Warren. It is a collection of his short stories, which are what made me buy his book, The Muse, which is what got me interested in Splashdown Books as a potential publisher because I *adore* his writing.

These are all brand-new, unread copies, that I bought to sell. So, if you enter but happen to have one of the titles already, think "gift." :D

Now, how to enter.

I hate trying to track these things, to be honest. I want to make it easy on you, and on me. Each of the following gives you one entry:

  • Leave a comment here, on THIS POST. (If you comment any-ole-where on the blog it makes it very hard for me to track it down.)
  • Friend me and/or become a "fan" on Goodreads and send me a message.

*Make sure your comment or message states that you are interested in the giveaway, please!*

I will contact the winner on December 13th, so if you are giving one or more titles away they'll reach you before Christmas. (I hope.) (I really should have thought of this earlier...)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Back to the Future "Huh?" Moments

I bought the complete Back to the Future trilogy on DVD for my husband's birthday. We've had a blast watching them the last couple of nights.

I LOVE these movies. They are fabulous fun, and of course totally nostalgic for me :). But watching them this time, I couldn't help picking up stuff I've never noticed before. Stuff that made me think, "Did the writers check facts at all?" and "Why did they choose that?"

The time machine / DeLorean left trails of fire...in the part of the road *past* the point at which it disappeared, but not where the tires actually touched the pavement.

In the scene at the end of the first movie, when Doc is at the top of the clock tower, he tells Marty they only have four minutes left. Marty takes two minutes to get in the car, drive it to the starting point, turn around, stall the car, and struggle to get the car started again. Then it takes him two minutes to drive the *same distance* at top speed, barely making it to the wire in time.

After that, Doc uses the street in front of Marty's house to take off in the DeLorean, hitting 88 miles/hour with no problem within the length of the street. But after Doc comes back moments later to get Marty, Marty points out that the street isn't long enough, and they have to fly the now-converted DeLorean.

In Part 2, they go into the future:

TVs are now wall-size, but the resolution is still crappy. Same for printers. The whole house is computerized, with pizza re-hydrators, yet the printer is this dot-matrix dinosaur.

There are no cell phones--but there are hover-boards and flying cars.

Books have dust-resistant paper. This cracks me up. They didn't even conceive of the idea of electronic books! I'm not dissin' 'em. I just think it is funny how our thoughts of what would be don't line up with where technology actually leads.

And finally, two things that just popped out at me and made me go, "Hey, cool! I didn't remember that!"

George McFly ends up a sci-fi author and gets a box filled with copies of his first book :). I wanted to high-five him!

The guy that played Needles is FLEA from Red Hot Chili Peppers.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the cool, weird, and messed up stuff in Back to the Future. Just a few things that popped out at me this time around. And there will be many more times around watching these movies.

So...what's the most memorable odd, cool, or "what were they thinking?" thing you've noticed in a movie?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Interview With Caprice Hokstad

I have two main types of writer friends. Those whose writing is outside my preferred genre / personal taste, but I happen to find them to be really cool people. The other group includes those whose writing I fell in love with first, and that led me to respect them as writers. That respect eventually grew into genuine friendship--because they're really cool people. The latter is the case with Caprice Hokstad.

Caprice and I are both published by Splashdown Books. I was honored to originally do artwork for her first novel, The Duke's Handmaid (the key on the cover is mine). After reading the novel, I was doubly honored. Her books are original, heady, and left me contemplating. They read smoothly, and her characterization is one of her (many) strong points.

Today, I'm jumping inside her head a bit. I find some of the concepts in her book fascinating--and controversial. This is not the standard, "So, when did you start writing?" kind of interview....

The key on the cover is my artwork.
K: Caprice, Your books take place in a kingdom where slavery is the norm. It's not in general depicted as a "good" thing, but it is depicted as completely acceptable. And your main character actually *chooses* to become a slave in order to "better" her life. This is a very unusual idea, especially these days, and could be considered pretty controversial. Can you explain why you chose to write about a society with slavery? And why make Kee *want* such a life?

C: Most of us ARE enslaved to one degree or another. We just don't use that term. Example: How many people can just walk into their place of employment and tell the boss he is an A.H. (and I mean saying the actual words)? We can't. Why? Because we NEED that job. Without income, we lose our house, our car, our means to buy food. Okay, so we could get a different job (good luck on a character reference if you actually DID call the boss an A.H.). But we can't just decide not to work at all. (Let's not cloud the issue with welfare bums). You have to trade your nice warm bed and sleep every morning for a paycheck. You have to hold your tongue and adopt certain attitudes and habits. You may have to follow a dress code or wear a uniform. That's just reality.

People in our world are trapped in less-than-ideal circumstances by lack of education, poverty, place of birth, skin color, and the list goes on and on. Very few people are truly free to do only what they want all the time.

So my Kingdom of Latoph is not as different as it may seem. Let's look at Kee's options: when her mother dies, she leaves her daughter a henhouse and some chickens. That's it. No home to live in, because it was burned by marauders. Kee tricked an Elva farmhand to teach her to read, but if she stays a chicken farmer, she'll have almost zero opportunity to read. She doesn't like chickens. She gets scared thinking about having to protect them from wolves. Just getting water to them every day is a huge pain in the butt because she has to haul it up from the stream in buckets. By herself.

She can sell the chickens and move into town and hire herself out as a seamstress. She has no shop or start-up money to buy fabric, so she has to work for someone. Ooops, there it is. Working for someone. She actually plans to do this during her mourning period, using sale of her chickens to pay rent. But then she has to react to another event and that puts her on a different path.

When the duke put her up in his guest house during his "posse", she saw more luxury than she's ever seen in her life: running water inside the house, a flushing toilet, tasty and plentiful food, beds with feather mattresses, glass windows, carpets, and books. The duke's slaves wear clean, new-looking clothes and they eat well and they're very kindly treated. Yes, to us, the treatment looks more like how someone should treat pets, but to Kee, it looks like affection and with her entire family gone, that's appealing. And of course, she's got a crush on Duke Vahn.

Maybe I should answer your question with another question. Why do people in our country join the military? Voluntarily even! They have to give up lots of personal freedom and even some of their rights. And the pay is terrible. Why would anyone do that? I'm sure the answers vary. Some do it for love of country. Some for promise of an education. Some just love the job and can't find anything comparable in the private sector. (How many other employers will pay you to drive a tank or pilot a fighter jet?) Yet we respect those who join the military, those who set aside their freedom to don a uniform and serve something bigger than themselves. Why is it any less virtuous to give up some rights and devote oneself to serving an important governing figure in my fantasy setting? Oh yeah. Because she's scrubbing floors and bowing instead of shooting guns and saluting.

K: That makes sense. Kee's life doesn't offer her much and I can see why she would see that slavery in the Duke's house would appeal to her. Instead of tromping through chicken crap and bathing in the stream (where she is likely to get attacked anyway) she can scrub the floors of a mansion and *live* in that mansion. 

What things did you struggle with in trying to make Kee's life choice seem like an honorable one? Have you gotten opposition from readers? Maybe grief for presenting a female MC who isn't all female warrior and secret ninja like so many female leads today? (Did your inner editor scream at my use of the word "female" three times in that last sentence?)

C: My inner editor has the day off. I don't think I've gotten "opposition" as much as just indifference. I think the subject matter does bother people and rather than start a controversy or question it, they just decline to read. And that's their right. I, myself, am a very picky reader. I don't like the majority of fantasy out there because of those very things you mention. Why must a female pick up a sword and act like a man to be worthy of interest? I don't relate to that. Women are strong all the time without becoming warriors or sex objects or damsels in distress. Why can't fiction show women like that?

I don't know if I succeeded in making Kee's life choice seem honorable to readers. I think she's brave and selfless. I find that honorable, but I'm sure others would disagree with me.

As for opposition... would someone PLEASE ban my book? Hold a burning? Denounce it? I could use the publicity.

K: Hah! That would be great publicity, wouldn't it? 

You've answered in other interviews (such as the one at NAF) about the lack of overt Christianity in your novel. I know the whole thing is kind of a thorn in your side. You are a Christian, but your book was never intended to be labeled as "Christian fiction." You were writing a story that appealed to you. I've read both The Duke's Handmaid and Nor Iron Bars a Cage. I haven't seen anything in there that would keep it out of the general market. Maybe not "mainstream" since it's technically genre writing, but definitely not pigeonholed as "Christian." BUT, Grace Bridges, who happens to own a Christian spec-fic publishing house, is the brave soul who took a chance on your novels, and I know you are happy with her and her publishing. So...what has been the biggest obstacle presented by this relabeling of your novels as "Christian" (or at least seemingly directed at the Christian market)?

C: The biggest obstacle is explaining. Whenever I see it labeled "Christian Fiction" I try to clarify because there are way too many definitions out there and my fiction doesn't fit a lot of them. In my books, there's violence. (YOU write a society that uses swords for defense and keep the blood out!) There's seduction of an underage slavegirl. There's raping and pillaging. There's cursing. It's NOT sanitized to CBA norms. It's not meant for a YA audience, like the vast majority of fantasy available in Christian Bookstores is. It's allegorical. It's set in a different reality where they call God "The Nymphs" or "The Heavenlies" which sounds polytheistic, but think about it, we call God "The Trinity". Genesis 1:26 says "And God said, Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness..." [emphasis mine] Hmm. Plurals. Yet, we consider ourselves monotheistic. Imagine that.

I don't label my work "Christian Fiction" and I discourage others from doing so without a CLEAR definition of what they mean. But so far, my work has been so obscure and ignored, that I haven't really had to do much defending. My biggest problem is finding the readers that might be interested in my book and coaxing them to try it. I've had fans who are Wiccan, Mormon, and atheist. I'm not trying to preach to them or to anyone else. I'm not a preacher. I'm just a storyteller.

And the shackles on this one, too.
K: I mentioned in the last question that your book is "genre"--falling into the category of fantasy. Yet, your books are not traditional fantasy. There is a pointy-eared race, but they are not "elves" in the traditional sense. You have no other races or creatures commonly found in most fantasy novels. (No dwarves, orcs, unicorns, dragons, etc.) The books actually, in many ways, to me at least, seem rather literary. They certainly are heavy on characterization and social issues. How exactly do you personally classify your novels? Are there specific genre labels you would place on them--either already existing or terms you have made up? What other books/authors do you most associate your "genre" with? (And just to be difficult, I'm going to make the rule that you must leave out Lewis and Tolkien, since you mentioned those in the NAF interview. Mwoohoohahahahaha.)

C: I call my books Sword Opera. I made up that Fantasy sub-genre to differentiate from "Sword and Sorcery" since I have no sorcery and "High Fantasy" which is usually about a quest. It is meant to be analogous to "Space Opera", which is commonly applied to Star Wars to differentiate it from "Hard" Science Fiction. I have never tried to lump any other author into my self-applied label. I'm not sure anyone else would want to be there.

I do use a few science fiction-y elements. Byntar (the name of my world) is not just an alternate Earth. It has two suns and two moons. It has some "fantastic" creatures, but they aren't mystical or magic. Koopchucks are strong draft animals that look like shaggy hippos and have especially smelly dung. Zupwolves are like miniature wolves. Think of being attacked by shelties instead of German shepherds. Still not fun, but conceivably survivable. I kind of regret not putting in dragons, because that might have helped me market the book, but then the dragon-crazy would probably complain that I cheated them. I don't dislike dragons, but I don't understand the whole ga-ga over them either. I'd probably only be putting them there to unfairly lure readers who would cry bait-and-switch when the story isn't about dragons at all.

Literary, huh? No one else has ever told me that. I'd never intended it to be anything but fantasy-adventure, but I suppose as a catch-all, it could apply.

K: I like that term: Sword Opera. I think it fits well. And I tend to think of "literary" books as those that have me pondering when I put them down, and yours did so for me.

What books are you drawn toward reading? What is it about a book that grabs your attention and/or makes you fall in love with the story and/or characters? And if you were the reader of your own books, what would those things be in them?

C: First off, I read to escape reality. A writer must give me a better reality to escape to. This is why dystopias don't generally interest me much. However, I have been known to find plot devices within certain dystopias that offset the bleak setting. For example, in Frank Creed's Flashpoint, I dislike the state of the world, BUT when he gives the Christian "Underground" what amounts to spiritual superpowers via "re-forming", then I can set aside the bleakness of the rest of the world. I could enjoy living there if I could also get re-formed.

Of course, in my own books, I made Latoph a place I'd love to visit or live in. Authors  spend MUCH more time imagining themselves in their settings than the readers probably ever will.

It also helps to give me characters I love or love-to-hate. Please do NOT make the main protagonist someone I'd avoid in real life if we met. Please do NOT make the protagonist someone I want to slap upside the head either because they're monumentally stupid or whiney. I have children. I get quite enough of whiney in the real world, thanks.

And most of all, do not depress me. I want to feel BETTER after reading fiction, not worse. I'm not saying there can't be sad events, although keep the gut-wrenching, bawl-my-eyes-out scenes to a minimum, please.

Beyond that, I gravitate towards science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and suspense. I don't typically read the romance genre, but I don't mind romance as part of a plot that includes other things. I think I already covered how my books have lots of elements in them from romance to adventure to mystery.

K: Who is your favorite side character (as in not Kee, not Vahn) and why? (You know my answer on this! Blackthorn!)

C: Well, if I can't choose Vahn, then it would probably have to be Blackthorn. Blackthorn is sort of a Vahn-surrogate in the first book. In the second book, he has to train the duke as a slave and that made for a very interesting situation. By the third book, I have him really reaching outside the box and becoming a "landlubber admiral". He's the guy whose path to knighthood got cut short, who had to figure out another way to make something of himself. He's the "everyman" who can achieve great things by working hard.

K: Maybe that is why I like him so much, too. I felt I could really relate to him--he seemed very real, genuine.

Let's jump ship now (pun intended--read on, readers). Besides your Latoph novels, you also write fan fiction. Sea Quest fan-fic, to be specific. (Get the pun now, readers? Yes you may roll your eyes.) I'm not going to ask you to recap all your reasons for writing fan-fic. You've posted about it on your blog in detail, and anyone who is truly interested can read about it there. But the whole fan-fic thing to me is interesting. I've never personally been drawn to it. I suppose it is because I consider it sort of treading on sacred ground. If I adore Harry Potter, I don't want to muck around with the story and characters. I love it because of how the author wrote it and don't feel comfortable stepping into her shoes. But I *can* see how one would want to be a participant in the world, and how that would lead to writing fan-fic. Or, as in your case, a writer for the show disappointed you and you felt compelled to "fix" the episode. So, let's ask some questions. 

C: Wait. Before you ask, let me touch on one of your points. I don't see what I do as quite the same as Harry Potter fanfiction would be. I'll tell you why. Harry Potter was ALL J.K. Rowling. She didn't collaborate with anyone else. It was all her baby. SeaQuest is NOT any one person's "baby". Yes, it was created by Rockne S. O'Bannon. But after he created it, he did NOT write all the episodes or even most of them. Spielberg had a LOT of writers contributing to the show. Three authorized novels were published and even the first one (which is basically just the novelization of the pilot) is listed as authored by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood, just "based on" O'Bannon's TV script. The other two published books are by David Bischoff and Matthew Costello. So if to use Mr. O'Bannon's created universe is "stepping into his shoes" then lots of others did it long before I did, and they got PAID to do it.

Another point would be that, unlike the continuing franchise of Harry Potter (Rowling still sells a LOT of books, plus DVDs, merchandise, not to mention a theme park), there is NO continuing franchise for SeaQuest. All the books are out of print. I had to get them used. They had a teeny bit of merchandising back in the 90s, but nothing new is being produced. Only the first two seasons are available on DVD. I also seem to remember that Spielberg once said he considered the show a failure and an embarrassment. I have a hard time seeing my writing as "treading on sacred ground" when the creators have dissed it and abandoned it. I'm giving the poor, unwanted orphans a new lease on life.

K: I definitely see the distinction there.  

Have the unique challenges of writing fan-fic--such as trying to stay consistent to an existing story world that you did not create--helped you with your writing outside of fan-fic? In what other ways has it either benefited or hurt your writing? And by that I mean craft, not success of.

C: Fanfiction brought back the joy that had been missing for a long time. I go into the particulars of that in the blog, but suffice it to say that it has helped all my writing to have that back. It also helped me see that my natural writing speed was not so bad. Just because I cannot write 50,000 words in the month of November does NOT mean I'm a failure or "slow".

I'm not saying my fanfiction couldn't benefit from a round of critique and editing, but you know what? The chapters I have posted without it (because it was for FUN, not for publication to be sold) are not that bad at all. In fact, some of it is my very best writing EVER. I constantly self-edit. I get it closer to right the first time because I feel more experienced and my confidence has soared because of fanfiction and the readers there.

My third original book, God willing, will be written, critiqued, edited, revised and polished to publication-ready status in under eight months, start-to-finish. Maybe others can get a book out faster than that, and if you can, more power to ya. I may not be the fastest writer around, but I no longer feel inferior with regards to speed.

K: For a while, you tried to keep your novel writing and fan-fic separate, even using a pen name for your Sea Quest writing. What was your reasoning behind separating like that? I'm curious because my writing spans a rather odd gamut between inspirational nonfiction, fantasy, and horror. I also thought of using separate names but chose to write everything under my real name because I like the idea of being seen as, well, odd in that I write so diversely. Did you find the separation to be help, hindrance, or neutral? Would you change it if you could go back and do so?

C: Fanfiction.net (the site where I posted my stories first) requires people to make up a "handle" to sign in there, like most places on the internet do. I used CF Vici because I know it's generally not taken by someone else and I didn't know what kind of weirdoes might stalk around the place. I did eventually share my real name on my profile, but after building a "following", I certainly didn't want to confuse anyone by changing the name they were used to seeing. If I ever got permission to publish the fanfiction as authorized (and yes, this is one of my far-fetched goals) I would probably use CF Vici, but I'd also be open to using my own name if anyone thought it would be useful or advantageous. I've heard good and bad for both sides of the argument. It does help with reader expectations if you've previously been writing fantasy to give you room to write science fiction in a different style. I'm not sure I have much value in "crossover". Most people who like my fantasy aren't interested in the sci-fi and vice-versa. But I don't have a big fanbase to really worry about. I don't think the name matters much, to tell the truth.

K: Thanks, Caprice, for letting us tromp around inside your head a bit. I know as a fellow small press author, getting people to consider your books is a difficult task. I, for one, am truly glad I found them! And I hope everyone here sees that they are *not* typical, in a good way. 

So, dear readers, if you want to read something that's adventurous, with rich characters and a well thought-out story world...

The Duke's Handmaid: available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords

Nor Iron Bars a Cage: available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords

Caprice's blog: http://caprice.splashdownbooks.com/

Caprice's SeaQuest novels (read for free): http://underseaadventure.net/

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Author Mistake #1

I discovered a new blog review of Finding Angel today. It was written in honesty, with both positives and negatives. The reviewer backed up their opinion with specifics, so whether things were personal opinion/taste or not, they were not arbitrary.


Upon first read, the only words that stuck out were the not-so-positives. The logical side of me truly appreciated that. I don't give glowing reviews generally and don't expect them in return. But the new-author-with-great-hopes in me felt a little kick, and inadvertently kicked back. I left a comment on the reviewer's blog thanking them--sincerely--but when I reread my comment (after submitting it, of course, because I am a total dork sometimes) I realized there was an edge of snark in one sentence that was not intended.

I've seen authors completely blow their stack over a negative review. I hope I never go to that extreme. This review, while not glowing, was not negative. It was more "not the best book ever but pretty good"-ish. And there was a lot of positive in it that on first read sank into the shadows because we new authors tend to get our hopes up. We put so much of ourselves into our novels, and if something comes across as even remotely close to "meh" in a review it can feel like a whip sting.

Skin needs a little time to toughen. Next time, I will remember that fact. And will likely move on to New Author Mistake #2.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Winterland by Mike Duran

Here we go, folks. Winterland, the newest, and very surreal, novella release by Mike Duran.

I reviewed Mike Duran's first novel, The Resurrection, and you can see here how I felt about it. One thing I didn't say in that review is that it wasn't entirely what I expected from Mike. Yes it was dark, and creepy (Mr. Cellophane....*shiver*) and definitely a supernatural thriller, but I expected the style of writing to be a little different. I don't know how to explain it. The Resurrection read like something written by Frank Peretti or Dean Koontz. Scary, but, um, normal?

Winterland is more like what I expected from him. Surreal. Mike describes it as "The Wizard of Oz meets Dante's Inferno." It also made me think a little bit of Alice in Wonderland with Stephen King a la Duma Key hiding in the corner. 

I know, you are shaking your head right now, aren't you?

OK, let's start with a summary. I'm taking this right off Mike's site:

Summoned into her dying mother’s coma, recovering addict Eunice Ames must traverse a surreal, apocalyptic dreamscape in search of three generational spirits who have imprisoned her mother’s soul.

Together with Joseph, a crippled drifter who serves as her guide, Eunice treks an abandoned highway strewn with debris from her mother’s “emotional” wars. 

(The rest of his synopsis, which goes into much more detail, can be found here.)

My take on it? The characterization was very strong. I got a real sense of Eunice and what she'd been through, even without having "met" her mother in the story. The other characters that accompany Eunice on her journey were vivid. I agree with reviewer Tim George that Mordant was annoying, but I believe that was Mike's intent. I mean--how do you get across that someone annoys another character to that degree without making that someone annoying to the reader? 

The descriptive language was fantastic. I could see every contour of the landscape, but Mike didn't go overboard with detail. The words he chose were just right, many of them poetic, dark, and lovely. I think this was my favorite element of the book.

Although there were a couple of small moments where I wish the corner-hiding Stephen King would have stepped out a little more. One spot in particular where I thought, "Mr. King would have my skin crawling here, and Mike should have." But it was isolated. For the most part he really got the feel of each scene and each character to a satisfying level.

And finally, the surreal nature of the story totally appealed to me. I'm not sure where I got the idea that this is what Mike's writing is like. I mean, before The Resurrection I'd read all of one short story by him. It probably fell somewhere between these two in feel, but I guess I assumed a novel by Mike would be even more outlandish. 

All in all, a very good read. Thinky and surreal. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Story Template by Amy Deardon

The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story is a new book by author Amy Deardon (A Lever Long Enough) who looks at story structure from a unique angle. Basically, Deardon watched a dozen or so movies and read a good number of books, all of which drew huge audiences, and analyzed them. She noted common elements of the stories that fall at very specific places in the time line, and used her findings to create a template on which to build a story.

Deardon also discusses the four "pillars" of story (character, plot, story world, and moral) and what encompasses each. There are exercises throughout that will help you through each portion of the template. And she touches on some basic principles of writing as well as gives a smattering of advice about editing and manuscript submission. Those last areas are by no means comprehensive, but  Deardon includes a great listing of resources for delving into them.

I don't want to give detail about the template itself or the pillars--well, because, I want you to go buy this book. I loved the concept Deardon has come up with. It's very scientific, but at the same time it allows for complete creativity. It's technical, but at the same time she gives so many examples and lists questions in each section of exercise that will easily guide you. There's a great summary of the template in the book, too, that makes for a great quick-reference once you've already read through and completed the exercises.

At first glance, you may think the book is strictly for those who love to outline their novels. And I definitely think it would be a huge benefit for that kind of writer. It lays out all the elements and helps you get everything in order, in the right proportion, and the various "pillars" interconnected. She recommends the use of note cards and story boards--things that make pantsers cringe.

BUT, I think all writers--outliners, pantsers, and hybrids--would benefit from this book, just in different ways. As I read through, I was mentally checking my already written and published novel, Finding Angel, against her recommendations. First, it was lovely to see that I apparently grasped a lot of this intuitively, as I was able to pretty much check off everything Deardon discussed. And as I did so, I couldn't help thinking what a great tool for someone who has finished a manuscript to go through and find if and where anything isn't right with their story! I believe wholeheartedly that if your manuscript seems "off" in any way, The Story Template will help you pinpoint why.

Deardon takes you through creating a one-sentence description of your story concept, to a larger description, to a full synopsis. If you've already written your manuscript, follow her techniques backwards to narrow down your story to a synopsis and then a one-line pitch. I wish I'd had this book when I was trying to do that for Finding Angel--I really think it would have made the process much less painful!

All in all, I highly recommend this book. More experienced writers may find the later writing, editing, and submission basics chapters something they can skim past, but they are great chapters for newer writers who need to know "what's the next step." And as I said, it makes for a excellent reference for all writers when either planning out their story before writing and/or evaluating it once the first draft is complete.

For more info, visit Amy Deardon's blog: The Story Template
And find the book on Amazon and B&N.com.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Magical Discussion at "deCompose"

I'm the guest blogger today over at Mike Duran's blog, deCompose. Please come visit me, and feel free to comment with your thoughts on "Magic in Christian Fiction."

What is the difference between the "evil" magic the Bible warns us against and fairy tale magic? Why did I choose to write a book with magic if I'm a Christian? I talk about those things and welcome your questions.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blog Guilt

Mike Duran's blog post from a couple days ago, in which he talks about the importance of keeping a blog schedule, included the following symptoms of something he calls "shizo-blog":

--You feel guilty for blogging because you should be writing your novel
--You feel guilty for writing because you haven’t updated your blog in two weeks
--You feel guilty prioritizing one over the other because with some creative management or self-discipline, you should be able to do both
--You feel guilty about feeling guilty because you expected this writer’s gig would be a lot more fun.

After reading that list (all of which I've experienced), and then the following description of the blog schedule Mike keeps and his massive database of blog topic ideas, I felt...you guessed it...guilty. 

Of course  my brain had to twist the issue even further.  

Hang on--let me back up.

Way back when I started blogging, I thought it was putting the cart before the horse. I mean, why have a blog in place for readers when I had no readers? But I figured the practice would be good for me. Get me out of my shell. And it gave me a place to chronicle my journey to publication, vent the frustrations related to said journey, and just kinda share about little ole me. 

So blogging became a thing in and of itself. Until now. Because now I've got that book published, and the horse is in front of the cart. 

And it still feels backwards.

Now I feel pressure to use the blog to gather minions...er, I mean, readers. Like a marketing tool. You know--make the blog so cool and interesting that people will flock to it and ultimately want to read my book. Completely opposite of my original thinking in which readers would read my blog because they found and loved my book first.

Which brings us back to the guilt I felt after reading Mike's blog. That twisted feeling of worrying that I'm not making my blog cool and interesting enough to attract minions--I mean readers--yet feeling guilty that I'm worrying about such a thing when deep inside I believe the blog should be here for an expressly different purpose.

Now, I'm sure Mike's intention was not to guilt his readers. And he in turn should not feel guilty about making me feel guilty--I promise I could have taken any post down that road on my own. But from now on, I think I'll ignore any posts on proper blogging. And hope my minions (oh, forget it) will join me here because they want to, and because they know that what they see here is what they get. Guilt and all.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Sad Day With a Bit of Happy

First, I need to get this part over with, and then we can move on to happier things. Yesterday one of the loves of my life left this world. Rocky joined our family at the age of seven and was nearly thirteen when he died. I honestly didn't expect almost whole six years with him, and I feel blessed beyond reason to have had him that long. He spent five years before that with a loving family who adopted him from the Boxer Rescue. He went in peace, after a long life of love and adventure. He will be missed so, so very much.

Ironically, bad news is often paired with good, and yesterday that was true. Another of my short stories was published, in a magazine I am thoroughly impressed with. Underneath the Juniper Tree is a horror magazine for kids. Yep--they print creepy, spooky, bloody weirdness...and pair it with some of the most fantastic artwork I have seen anywhere. Think The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. Wicked, lovely. I'm honored to have my story "Frog Face" featured in here. The only thing that doesn't make me happy is that they are online only right now. The layout, writing, and artwork in this magazine doesn't just deserve print--it's the kind of thing I'd love to see sitting on my shelf in hard cover! Click HERE and "turn" to page 19 to find my story. Thanks to Jason James for the awesome illustration that goes with "Frog Face."