Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest post: Success is a multi-faceted word

A guest post from Kathy Bennett, who recently self-published her first book. I think everybody, non-writers included, can gain some inspiration from this tenacious lady :) Her post is a bit long, but it's worth the read. Those of us who think 'Oh my life is so busy, I'll never be able to get anything published, I don't have time to put into writing' will learn a thing or two.

I'm excited to help get the word out about her book. You can see the trailer for her novel on Youtube:  A Dozen Deadly Roses .
Kathy's blog is at Pay her a visit!

From LAPD Cop to Author

I was a police officer for the City of Los Angeles for twenty-one years.  The road to becoming a cop wasn’t easy.  I’m not a large person; I’m not very athletic, and not particularly intimidating.  I also had the disadvantage of starting my career at an ‘older’ age – my mid-thirties. 

But what I had going for me, was a strong determination and desire to make my dream of being an LAPD officer a reality.  After achieving that goal, and being named Officer of the Year in 1997, I needed a new challenge.  That’s how I became a writer.

I didn’t seriously start writing until 1998 – and then, I wasn’t very good.  I hadn’t learned my craft.  I attended writer’s conferences, took classes, entered writing contests, and used all those experiences to hone my skills.  I became a better writer, but still I floundered. 

Also in this time period, in addition to working 40-60 hours a week, I was the primary caregiver for my brother who’d suffered a major stroke and was left partially paralyzed.  While his care side-tracked my writing, I have never regretted the time I spent helping him to live out his life with dignity and as independently as possible.

In 2008, at the RWA National Conference, I met a writer who invited me to join her critique group.  This is where my writing career took a huge turn.  The critique group was invaluable in forcing me to write regularly.  They showed me my strengths and weaknesses, helping me fix wrong things while enhancing the right things in my writing.

I’d written a good story, and with the help of my critique group, A Dozen Deadly Roses started to garner attention on the contest circuit and from agents.  But I started hearing a lot about self-publishing.  I did some research, and the more I heard, the more I liked.  Two or three years ago, self-publishing your own book labeled a writer as someone who ‘couldn’t make it’, or as a ‘loser’.   The new e-readers allowed some authors to become successful and make good money. 

But, for me, there’s a bigger draw to self-publishing besides the possibility of making a lot of money.  The lure is the ability to control my own destiny.  I liked the idea if my book was a hit, it was due to my hard work.  If the book flopped, that was my responsibility too.

In June of this year, I self-published my debut novel, a romantic suspense, titled, A Dozen Deadly Roses.  The book’s been out about two weeks.  I’m pleased with the results.  I’ve received some marvelous reviews and made moderate sales.

But it wasn’t a solitary effort to provide my book to readers.  I hired a book editor, a book cover designer, and also someone to help format the book to e-reader standards.  This was money I shelled out prior to earning a dime.  But there’ve been many others who’ve helped make my writing dream a reality too.

I’m sure I’ll leave someone out, but they include my critique group, several beta readers, contest judges, writers, friends but most importantly, my family.  My daughter has been instrumental in listening, but mostly being a cheerleader – when I needed cheering the most.

Then there’s my husband.  The support from him is extraordinary.  I’ve spent a lot of money over the past thirteen years pursuing my dream of being a published author.  I’ve attended dozens of conferences, purchased numerous computers, writing classes, and countless supplies.  Through it all, he never flinches when I say I’m going to do A,B, or C or I’m going to buy X,Y, or Z.  He just smiles and asks when I’m going to make my first million.

I retired earlier this year from the LAPD to help take care of my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.  But I’m also spending time these days promoting myself via social networking, blogging, teaching classes, and speaking at conferences.  I’m getting some writing done too.  I’m happy.  

While writing is not an easy career, I can do it because I’ve brought along a skill-set I used when becoming a cop – determination and desire.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Robert Kernen’s “Building Better Plots”, part 19

Exposition—that age-old demon who afflicts experienced writers as well as new ones. It’s like the stick that you realized was no good after all, so you threw it away. But look out! It’s a boomerang, and it whacked you in the noggin!

I see writers who haven’t shown their work to strangers much shovel in so much backstory and explanation that it reads more like stream of consciousness. I did it too, so I understand the impulse. Inexperienced writers seem convinced that readers need to know a whole bunch of stuff before they can fully appreciate the story. They don’t realize that when readers get caught up in a story, it’s because the plot—yes, this again—steadily moves forward. It doesn’t stop in the middle of running for your life, and say, “Well, pull up a chair, I want to tell you about the childhood of the guy who’s trying to kill you. And, well, about his parents’ upbringing too, because you can’t understand him without that.”

How about right now we run, and you talk later?

The idea of not dropping in chunks of backstory has been talked about in other places, so I won’t belabor it here. But I do like the way Kernen discusses it, so if you read his book, you won’t waste your time with this section. His main point, perhaps, is that in real life we get to know people gradually, often over a period of years. In fiction, you can mimic that by disclosing things about major characters a little at a time.

I am not fond of one thing he does: using “relevant revelations”.  Mentally I tripped over that a few times, and that interrupted the flow!

I do want to mention something else that Kernen touches on. Writing is not a straightforward depiction of reality. Even in a memoir, when you expect more realism than in fiction, you have to tweak *how* and *what* you say to fit the medium. Ever listen to somebody relating information in such a boring way that you covered up yawns as they droned on? You don’t want to make readers feel that way, because they’ll simply put your book down and leave it there.

My friend Ray writes plays. He doesn’t do comedies, but he is the funniest man east of the Mississippi. He can tell a story about the most dull and mundane thing, but spin it so you laugh so hard you literally can’t breathe. You have to make reality more interesting than it is. You have to compress some things, draw out others, talk about things from a different perspective.

What I like to say when I critique is, We write for readers, not other characters.

When I write a scene for the sheer fun of it, I let characters play freely off each other. I can follow the reasoning of their conversations, but people reading it would get lost in places. Every few days I work on the scene of Sandy’s wedding. It starts with him and Neal bouncing their particular quirks off each other. It helps me understand how both characters feel that day, but a lot of it wouldn’t go into a manuscript draft. Long sections *are only interesting to me*.

You gotta face it, champs. A story idea grabbed you, the characters burned themselves into your soul, and the whole thing won’t let you go. This is *good*, but nobody can feel it the way you do. So please, don’t drive potential readers crazy by telling them long paragraphs of stuff they really don’t care about.

It’s hard. I know. I am so in love with my characters that I could write hundreds of scenes without any plot at all and I’d still love it. But I won’t subject readers to that. Slowly, slowly, I’m learning to condense and delete. I don’t have to throw away that stuff because I do find it helpful, but look at it this way.

If you cut some stuff *from the manuscript* that helps you learn about your characters, the end product will look smooth as glass. Readers will think you were born with such an intuitive understanding of your characters and the writing process that writing well is easy for you.

Fiction writers are, after all, liars ;)

Next week: Another guest post, this time by retired Los Angeles police officer Kathy Bennett, who is anticipating the upcoming release of her first novel, "A Dozen Deadly Roses". You can read about it here: I think a lot of writers are interested in the backstory of other writers who have made the enviable transformation to author, and Kathy will tell us a bit about what it took for her to reach that goal.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

shout out

A stuffed smiling virtual penguin to Lindsey for following my blog J

I'm thinking "cool" things cuz it's pretty warm here today, for a change!

Lindsey, it's blingy of you to come along for the ride!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Scenes added to blog

I've included three scenes, each on a separate page. The title of each begins with "Scene" and adds a phrase descriptive of that particular scene. I have Neal and Lola, Sophie's Christmas Tree and Sandy and Neal Before The Wedding.

Each scene was started to help me get a clearer picture of the characters and how they relate to each other. I stuck them in my blog to give readers a feel for my writing and for the characters. As of now, only the first scene "Neal and Lola" is planned for inclusion in a manuscript. It needs additional work but you can get a sense of the personalities of both characters.

I love exploring character interaction. Most of the first scenes I ever wrote with these people were just to see what would happen when they met up. Over the years, they've surprised me and pissed me off, made me laugh and taught me things about human nature. It's addicting to throw characters together and watch the fireworks. I'm sure Freud would have something to say about it!

I think Sandy and Neal are my favorite characters, but the rest of the band and a few others come in as close seconds. Which of your characters motivate you the most?

And a big "hiya" to Lindsey! Thanks for joining my blog. J

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Part 18 of "Building Better Plots" and, well, a rant

In discussing the timing of major plot points, Kernen says that many of today’s movies are “like high-speed freight trains, careening violently from one explosive plot point to another, never giving the audience a chance to relax, reflect or recover”. He describes that as a “sledgehammer approach to storytelling”. I’m guessing producers use it to hide weak plots. I suppose that if all you want in a movie or novel is non-stop flash and bang, you won’t mind that approach. Personally, I prefer the books I read and most of the movies I see to offer insights as well. If you’ve read this far along my series on Kernen’s book, I bet you feel the same.

While plot points should continually move readers toward the climax of the tale, it’s okay to have some slower moments. That lets readers catch their breath and have events sink in, just like the characters. When readers can think about what happened, they can see how characters’ reactions make sense, adding to a feeling of realism. Of course, for that to work, your characters’ reactions actually have to make sense!

I have to laugh at how Kernen says to make sure each plot point keeps the story moving, doesn’t drop the tension altogether, yet sometimes gives everybody breathing space. Again, you want me to juggle 20 eggs while moving along a tightrope??

I seriously wonder how many published authors sit down with a half-formed outline and ask themselves if they have the right number of points that increase tension, the right amount of points that show characterization and just a bit of backstory, the right number of points that pull together subplots with the main plot, all while keeping most readers interested and never bored or feeling assaulted by things happening too fast.

This seems like a fair amount of subjectivism, to me. I’ve read many times how a manuscript was repeatedly passed up, only to be read by somebody at the office who doesn’t normally read manuscripts, who then brought it to the boss’ attention, who then bought the darn thing. Is it really worth spending so much of my time on something, when the people whose attention I try to catch may not feel like giving my work a second glance because they’re running late to meet their friend for lunch?

“Ahhh, this one’s in Courier New, I’m tired of looking at that font today. Toss that one out.”

“Damn, I couldn’t sleep last night. Toss this whole batch of submissions out.”

J.K. Rowling, as I understand it, got a lucky break. Somebody else in the office read her manuscript and said to the boss, “Hey, this is good, you need to read it.”

I bet J.K. didn’t sit at her computer and say, “Now do I have the plot points spaced properly?”  Sure, she had editorial help, but that was after the MS got accepted. Something about that first manuscript caught somebody’s attention.

I’d be happy with a fraction of Rowling’s readership. I’ve still got the “geis” feeling about my work in progress. Things need to be said, people need to be encouraged to think about a whole slew of stuff. It feels less like something I want to do than something that needs doing.

What about you? Do you think your project is worth slaving over a hot computer and braving the subjective weather in the publishing industry? What is that drives you to work it every chance you get, week after week? Is your WIP mainly to entertain people, or do you have a higher purpose? Or are you just doing it because it’s fun?

When we meet again, I’ll offer a perfectly acceptable reason for lying.