Monday, October 29, 2012

The (Vanishing) Art of Conversation

Nothing profound today, just an observation.

Now, I love serendipity.  Right before I headed on my way to the Chippewa Valley Book Festival, I realized that my husband had taken my little iPod pluggie thingie . . . you know, that doohickey that allows you to plug your iPod into your radio?  Now, this had me seriously PO'ed because I was about to take a VERY long drive with a very SHORT turnaround: 5 hours each way in a 36-hour period.  When you factor in things like sleep and all the activities I had planned for the next day (three school visits) before I had to head back and then get into the car again the very next day for yet another appearance (a 3-hour drive one way) . . . that's a heck of a lot of time in the car that I was planning to put to good use listening to an audiobook that I'd downloaded especially for this trip now wasted.

So, instead, I punched in the local NPR affiliate and let public radio keep me company on that very long drive.  Now the lovely thing about Wisconsin is we've got coverage pretty much all over the state, and most of it effortlessly bleeds into the other, so you really don't miss much.  Of course, when you listen to the same news once over (because All Things Considered repeats), that's a drag.

Anyway, I'm driving along; it's a pretty day, nice autumn colors, good weather, that kind of thing.  Spotted a ginormous bald eagle on my way up, too, maybe twenty miles outside of Wausau.  As amazing as the eagle was, that wasn't the interesting part of the trip, though.  Instead, what REALLY held my interest was a fabulous Fresh Air, a program I rarely listen to not only because I'm not all that interested in most of the guests (sorry, but it's true), but it's on at the wrong time of day where I live.  This time, though, because I was trapped in the car, I heard a fabulous interview with Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist, who's the founder of MIT's Initiative on Technology and the Self.  Her main focus is studying the ways technology has changed the way we interact with one another.  Her newest book, Alone Together: How We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, addresses something I've written about before: how ironic it is that, in this age of increased connectivity, our interpersonal connectedness--our ability to meaningfully communicate with one another--has suffered.  What I found especially intriguing were her research findings on the huge impact adults' anxieties over not in being in touch with their kids 24/7 has; how these anxieties are enormously detrimental to emotional development, particularly in the arenas of privacy, the capacity to be alone, and to disengage from one's parents (a pivotal milestone in adolescent development).  I'm not going to recapitulate the entire interview; if you're interested, take a listen. (Well worth it, I promise, and food for thought--really.)

Now, as a shrink, I didn't find any of Turkle's concerns alarmist in the slightest.  But, frankly, one thing I hadn't paid much attention to was kids' preferred modes of engagement.  That is, we kind of all expect adolescents to hesitate to be outwardly engaged, know what I'm saying?  They're the ones who'll slouch in their chairs, kind of dare you to impress or excite them, and heaven forbid, they ask the first question.  (Once a couple kids get the ball rolling, though, then it's like the group has received permission to become involved and excited.  Like Kohler High School where I spoke the week before . . . wow, those kids really got into it and we could've kept going.  But you got to hope for those two or three brave souls to start things off.)  

During the festival--but particularly after--I was reminded of Turkle's work when it came to engaging kids.  I spoke at two middle schools and one high school, and while I enjoyed each venue, the difference between the willingness of the younger kids to allow themselves to be engaged and talkative and excited versus the older kids was obvious.  The last middle school, Northstar, we talked for a good ninety minutes and were still going strong when the asst. principal had to intervene and send the kids off to resource.  This is no surprise, mind you; if you know adolescents, then you can look at the high school kids and shrug and understand this comes with the territory.  

But what did make me think about Turkle's work was when a) the high school librarian emailed to say that the kids were so excited by my presentation that they'd descended in droves to find my books and b) a couple of the high school kids got in touch to ask questions and tell me how much they liked the presentation . . . but through Facebook and Twitter

Which was kind of interesting.  

Now, I get a lot of emails, tweets, and FB messages; most authors do.  The middle grade kids from two of the Dublin schools I toured last year still stay in touch, but they were the most involved at the time, too.  Here, though, clearly those high school students were plenty interested, but expressing that, out loud and at the time, wasn't cool (for whatever reason).  Maybe this is why I always make sure to tell kids they can contact me through the usual social media or my website, and that I will always answer (so long as they're polite).

I think what I've observed is a microcosm of what Turkle's seen.  Since I am a shrink, I have noticed that so many older kids, those raised with cells, have a lot of trouble both making eye contact during and flat-out having a sustained--and uncontrolled--conversation.  Do I wonder what this means for kids' development in particular and notions of privacy more generally?  You bet.   

I waffle about whether it's better to meet with large groups or small; I've had great experiences with each.  Smaller groups imply conversation as a given while large groups foster anonymity.   But, on the other hand, the dynamics of a group are quite powerful, and once you can engage a couple kids, then it's like a row of dominoes: the questions keep coming and the conversation flows.

What I don't doubt is this: it is important for us, as authors, to actively engage kids in the ways our books invite.  That means, I think, that we have to model how to have conversations with kids who may not know how to do this very well.  To that end, the more directly we can connect--eye contact, face to face--the greater our ability to touch kids. Yes, by all means, keep in touch after the fact.  Be available.  But a text is not a person; a Skype visit is not a flesh and blood person; a blog can not engage the way you--your presence--can.  In a way, our books open the door to a conversation.  The least we can do is actually have one.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Join us for FRIGHTFUL Halloween fun!

If you're into free books, Halloween festivities, and hanging out with readers and authors galore, be sure to stop over at WinterHaven Books' *Authors Fright Festival* on October 31st.

There's an awesome line up of over 40 authors (including several of ADR3NALIN3's contributors), a huge giveaway, and creepy fun to be had by all!!!

Hope to see you there, ghouls and guys. ;)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Is Cutting More Important than Adding?

By Jordan Dane

Today I have a guest post from Sechin Tower, author of Mad Science Institute (MSI), a highly unusual yet thoroughly entertaining young adult suspense novel. I met Sechin on Twitter. Once I saw that he was a game developer, I asked for his help to develop my next proposal, a near future YA techno thriller that involves gaming and he helped me fine tune my game world. I also downloaded his book and found a real gem. Since he’s a teacher, he incorporates science into the plot to make learning fun for young readers. I absolutely fell in love with his YA voice and his characters and am looking forward to his next book. Below is a summary of Mad Science Institute.

Sophia "Soap" Lazarcheck is a girl genius with a knack for making robots-and for making robots explode. After her talents earn her admission into a secretive university institute, she is swiftly drawn into a conspiracy more than a century in the making. Soap is pitted against murderous thugs, experimental weaponry, lizard monsters, and a nefarious doomsday device that can bring civilization to a sudden and very messy end.   

Welcome, Sechin!  

I had a professor who insisted that the best way to write a two-page paper was to write a 10 page paper, throw it all away, and then hand in pages 11 and 12. When I tell the same thing to my students, they don’t buy it. I can’t blame them: I didn’t really buy it either, not until I started writing novels.  

My professor’s point was that not all pages are created equal. Of course it takes more effort to write 10 or 12 bad pages than two bad pages, and maybe even more than two mediocre pages. But good pages require time and effort, as well as research, experimentation, structuring, restructuring, and a nearly endless amount of general fussing. At the very least, good pages require two steps: adding and cutting.  

I teach two discrete groups of students and I’ve found that each needs this advice for different reasons. One of my student groups consists of the crème-de-la-crème of our school’s scholars, students who take the most challenging courses, maintain the highest GPAs, and participate in every extracurricular activity that might sparkle on their college applications. My other group consists of at-risk kids in an alternative school program. Many of these students are extremely intelligent, but for a dizzying array of reasons none of them has had much success in school.  

The advanced students always want to build up their writing until it overflows. They do the research, they know the issues, they have the facts, and they want to pile it all in without any thought to purpose or readability. The bigger the better: if the assignment calls for two pages, then they assume 10 ought to get a better grade. If they run out of things to say, they resort to inflated words and ponderous sentences. Their writing often becomes a cluttered, colorless hallway that never leads anywhere.  

My alternative high-schoolers, on the other hand, bring a great deal of passion about anything they see as relevant to their lives. They are lively, colorful, and outspoken, but even on their favorite topics their writing is terse. For them, it’s about getting to the point. Why wade through the muck of evidence and logic when you can gallop right to the exciting conclusion? Why bother explaining anything if you feel like you already understand it?  

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I built a composite of these two groups when I wrote Mad Science Institute. I started by combining all the drive and technical know-how of the advanced students with the vitality and quirkiness of the alternative school kids. I crammed a lot into each character and just as much into the plot and setting, but in the cutting phase I eliminated everything that failed to accelerate the story or develop the characters. It meant cutting some perfectly good ideas, but that was okay: true to the mad science theme, I knew I could stitch them together and give them a new life whenever I was ready. Right then, all that mattered was pruning back and boiling down until the book became balanced and lean.  

Being a teacher helped me write a better novel, and writing a novel helped me become a better teacher. I’m not trying to teach my students to become novelists—I wouldn’t push it on them any more than a P.E. teacher would urge all of his students to aim for NFL careers—but what works for crafting a novel applies to essays, letters, and other forms of writing as well. By the end of each year, I’m gratified to see that those students who tended to add too much have learned to accomplish more with fewer words, and the ones who want to start too small learn that they need to build up before they can trim down.  

Despite what some students claim, the art of writing is nothing that can be mastered with a mere 16 or 17 years of practice. If I’m any better at it than a student, it isn’t because of what I’ve written but because of what I’ve un-written. Deleting the thousands of pages of rough drafts and practice novels was the only way I could learn what should stay and what just gets in the way, and by the time my students delete that many pages they’ll be better writers than I am.  

It seems to me that what you cut is as important as what you add, but maybe that’s just my process. I’d love to hear your opinions on the matter 

What is your process? Are you a cutter or adder when it comes to editing?

Sechin’s website & twitter

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jump Around! Jump, Jump, Jump Around!

We've all heard it. We've all done it. That House of Pain hit "Jump Around" might have ridiculous lyrics, but it also has one of those beats that you just can't help but, well, jump around to.

And though most of us most likely would never admit to doing so, when we blare this song and actually "Jump Around," we have fun. 

Well, I've given in to that "Jump Around" philosophy where my writing is concerned, and I must admit that, though it's against my nature (I'm typically a "start at the beginning and write till the end" type guy), I'm having fun with it.

My current contracted WIP (notice I said "contracted." Yeah, that means I have more than one going right now. But, don't we all? lol) has been giving me a bit of grief as of late, and I'm falling behind on my deadline for that dreaded first draft. note: It's due by the end of the year. Yeah. No matter how hard I've tried, I just haven't been able to eke out more than a few words at a time--which really stinks, am I right?

But the other day, a great scene popped into my head, complete with dialogue and clear setting, and I had to snag a scrap piece of paper and jot down the basics of it before I forgot it. When I got home, I quickly opened said WIP and fleshed out the scene, which ultimately led to another scene and another scene. Score! But, I never would've gotten those three (yes, I said THREE) scenes down had I not been open to letting a scene farther into the book out of my head. If I had done what is typical of me and ignored it until I got to the point where it was needed, I would still be sitting here wishing for inspiration.

So the moral of today's post is this: Regardless of your norm when it comes to your writing, loosen the straps a bit and be willing to "Jump Around." 

You may just find that it's a lot more fun than you thought!

Oh, and just in case you wanna give it a listen (don't lie, you know you do), here's "Jump Around." Enjoy!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Contest with tons of giveaways!

By Dan Haring

With my debut novel coming out this year, I was lucky enough to join a group of folks known as the Apocalypsies. We're all authors whose first YA or MG book came out in 2012. As part of that group, we've had two big contests, called the YAmazing Race with MGnificent Prizes, and they've been awesome. Basically it's like a scavenger hunt, where you go from blog to blog answering (easy) questions about each book. Once you finish, you're put in a drawing for a huge amount of free books and swag. But not only that...

That's right. In addition to the big grand prizes, most of the authors are having their own individual contests with more books and swag to give away. For instance, I'm giving away a copy of my book OLDSOUL as part of the grand prize, but I'm also giving away a copy to those who visit my blog.

It's time for the third YAmazing Race with MGnificent Prizes, and it actually starts today at 12 noon EST. So head on over to The Apocalypsies blog to get started, and have fun! (or head to my blog to catch that section first.) A ton of really good books came out this year that you may not have heard of, so this is a great way to catch up on them. And you just might win some free stuff in the meantime.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Book That Changed My Life

by Amanda Stevens

Your weekend warrior reporting for duty at long last.

Recently I was asked to do an essay on the book that changed my life.  That took a great deal of pondering because so many books and authors have impacted my writing at various stages of my career.  But when I look back...way back...there is one book that started me down my love-of-everything-Gothic path.  Here, then, is my essay:

I grew up in the country, miles from the nearest neighbor so most of my childhood companions were imaginary or literary.  I loved books from an early age.  The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder became my first obsession.  We lived in the rural south and my father was a farmer so it wasn’t hard to cast myself as the young, precocious Laura and my older, quieter sister as the stoic Mary.

Like most girls of my generation, I went through a Nancy Drew phase and devoured every Amelia Earhart biography I could lay hands on.  Those stories fueled my imagination and instilled in me a love of mystery and adventure, but the very first book that made me want to become a writer—a book that changed my life, in fact—was The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton.

 The tale of lost children, hidden rooms and enchanted dream riddles was so hauntingly beautiful and so profoundly different from anything I’d read before that the lingering imagery became almost mystical to me over the years.  A few Christmases ago, my daughter presented me with a new copy, and I was delighted to learn that the story is as spellbinding now as it was then.  It has everything that I’ve always adored in a book: insightful characterization, compelling plot and a strong sense of time and place all tied up with a transcendental bow.  And the story has purpose and soul.  Life lessons learned through an ethereal filter.

It’s interesting to look back and track my writing path over these past twenty-five years or so.  I’ve devoured many kinds of stories from many different authors, but it’s easy to spot the lasting influences.  From Mary Stewart, I learned the art of visual storytelling.  From Pat Conroy, I learned to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly of my southern heritage.  From Charlene Harris, I learned the importance of unfurling my freak flag and finding my own niche.

But without a doubt, my deepest writing roots can be traced all the way back to the magical realism of The Diamond in the Window and to those captivating dream riddles of the Hall children.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Et Tu, Amazon?

by Michelle Gagnon

So I just emerged from my editing cave (my second draft of book 2 for the PERSEF0NE trilogy is done- whew) to some disturbing news. Digging through a backlog of emails, I came across a few from fans that were extremely troubling. Apparently these fans tried to submit reviews of my book on Amazon, and their reviews either a) never appeared, or b) were abruptly taken down.

Two of the fans send transcripts of the reviews, and they were standard (and positive, thankfully): nothing offensive at all in terms of content.

One of the fans took the time and trouble to write to Amazon, asking why his review was removed. He received this form letter reply:
I'm sorry for any previous concerns regarding your reviews on our site. We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product.

We have removed your reviews as they are in violation of our guidelines.  We will not be able to go into further detail about our research.

I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter.

Now, I've known this fan for years--he's read (and reviewed!) all of my other books. And he has no financial stake in my work. He also doesn't sell anything on Amazon, ever--never mind competing products (which would be what, exactly? Other books? Does this mean that I'm no longer allowed to review thrillers by my contemporaries?)

From there, it became even more disturbing. When the fan wrote back and pointed out that he's never sold anything on Amazon, and doesn't have any financial interest in my books, they sent another letter--and in this one, the powers that be declared that if he tried to contact them again about reposting, they would REMOVE MY BOOK FROM THE SITE.

That's right, remove my book. Even though, had he not written, I wouldn't have a clue that any of this was transpiring.

Hello, Big Brother.

Needless to say, I found this very disturbing, particularly since it doesn't appear to be an isolated case. After all, two other fans sent similar messages; and I can only wonder how many others had the same experience, but didn't write to let me know.

All I can think is that this is some sort of misguided attempt by Amazon to try and remedy some of the abuses that came to light in the recent sock puppet debacle (and if you missed all that drama, here's a link to catch you up). But if so, it's woefully overkill. These days, with fewer review outlets available to writers, those Amazon reviews can be worth their weight in gold. And on what basis is Amazon is deciding that some posts should be barred? It's very disturbing.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

To re-read or not to re-read

Back in May I did this whole month of school visits, mostly for the elementary and middle school crowd. There's nothing better than showing up to a school to talk to the kids about books and them having read my trilogy already and be dying to ask all sorts of great questions about it. This gives a school visit such energy and makes it more fun for EVERYONE.

But the thing about my trilogy is this. The first book, THE EMERALD TABLET, came out in 2008. The second, THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD, in 2009. And the third, THE NECROPOLIS, in 2010. And given how publishing deadlines and the sort work, it had been about four years since I read THE EMERALD TABLET. I'm not sure how you guys all revise, but with me (and especially with this trilogy), I end up cutting characters, changing backstory, moving settings, and removing all sorts of extraneous stuff. And yeah, the kids would ask questions about the books, and I couldn't remember what had been removed, what was the same, or what all actually happened in the books.

So back in August, I did the great re-read of my trilogy. I have to say what a completely fun thing this was to do. The re-read went something like this...

Hey, this book is awesome! And really funny, too.
It's like someone with my exact same sense of humor took all my favorite things and put them in a book. Like it was custom written just for me.
Okay, once I stepped back and realized I was the author and that's why I liked it so much, it was also highly entertaining. Like even with all the darlings I killed, there were still plenty more that could have been whacked.
And sure, the writing is not perfect, but it's aimed at kids who are completely awesome and forgiving.

Look at that. The more I write, the better my writing becomes.
The words are flowing more smoothly.
There are way fewer darlings still running around.
Hmmm...I wonder if I cut that part...oh, yes, I guess I did. Good, it didn't really need to be here at all.
Did I really leave that in? With all the other things I cut, why did this stay?
Ah, clever time travel.
Hey, I love time travel. 

I'm getting better! Yay!
Wait, that happens in Egypt, not in Rome? When did I change that?
You know what would be really cool to have happen...oh, look at that. That is what happens.
There is an awful lot of kissing in this book. Is that going to bother 3rd graders?
Oooh, I can't wait to find out what happens in the end. I am hooked on this series.

And really, it's true. It was like reading a brand new series all over again, and so totally worth it. I always said I was one of those people who would read their own book once it got published, but with so much else to read, I never had the time.

So I'm going to encourage anyone out there with a book that came out a while ago to dig it out and give it a read. Don't be too hard on yourself. Don't get caught up in every little extra word or every time a character rolls their eyes. Enjoy it. It's all a part of your journey!


P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Unlock the Secrets to Splintered

This is a crazy month for me, writing to a deadline and also working up posts and interviews for my upcoming Splintered virtual tour. So I'm making it easy on myself and reposting the details of the contest going on at my personal blog, in case any of you haven't seen it yet. ^.^
Here's a quick rundown for my Unlock the Secrets to Splintered Giveaway (and yes, it's International!):

What inspired this contest, you ask? Well, as of September, readers could visit this link to see Amulet's official landing page for our Unlock the Secrets to Splintered campaign.

Here are the five steps to unlocking Splintered:

  • September: Unlock the Music...
  • October: Unlock the Madness Within...
  • November: Unlock Creativity...
  • December: Unlock Chrismakkuh...
  • January: Unlock Alyssa's Wonderland...

At the first of each month, a virtual key will be provided on the landing page, opening up one secret. September and October are already opened, so stop by and check out those mysteries.

Also, be sure to visit the landing page often and pay close attention, because there will be some big giveaways in the upcoming months, along with some frabjous interactive activities.

Here's just a sample of what's up for grabs in the not-so-distant future:

10 SIGNED Splintered advanced reading copies, an abundance of Splintered and Alice swaggery (including jewelry, posters, playing cards, assorted Alice books, and the list goes on...), 10 SIGNED Splintered hardbacks.

BUT, let's talk about what's up for grabs today in my present giveaway.

1. First Place: 5-first place winners will receive a SIGNED Splintered ARC.

2. Second Place: 1-second place winner will receive: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "Open Me for Curiouser and Curiouser Surprises" with illustrations by Harriet Castor.

This book is gorgeous! And here are just a few of the extra features that set it apart from the pack:

  • A pull-tab that makes Alice grow and grow
  • A pop-up courtroom scene
  • Doors on flaps that open to show an assortment of curious objects
  • A special tab that makes the Cheshire Cat magically disappear
  • An attached Mushroom Booklet that helps Alice return to normal size
3. Third Place: 1-third place winner gets to choose one of these pictures from my fan art page, printed with a matching excerpt from the book. (No worries, each of the pictures were given to me by the artists to use as I please--thank you lovelies!). Click on the pictures to enlarge.

By Riley Redgate

By Amy Hitt

4. Fourth Place: 3-fourth place winners will receieve assorted Splintered swag including: Signed bookmarks, funky and colorful Alice gift tags, and signed bookplates.

5. Fifth Place: 5-fifth place winners will receive a Splintered secret key necklace.

That's a grand total of FIFTEEN winners! I hope you'll be one!
The giveaway will last for the entire month of October, all the way through Halloween.

**WANT TO ENTER? Hop over to my Contests and Giveaways page. There's a rafflecopter that will lead you through the steps to get entered.**
Good luck, and have a fun October!

Monday, October 15, 2012

When Story Comes Together

This will be short and sweet, just a nice little bon mot I want to share.  This may not seem like much either, but trust me: the moment itself was huge.  

Earlier this week, my Egmont USA editor, Greg Ferguson, and I were going over his comments on MONSTERS, the last book in the ASHES trilogy, and we'd been on the phone a good hour and a half before finally getting around to talking about the last scene and sequence.  Greg asked a great question about how I wanted people to feel when all was said and done; I told him; and then he mentioned that, well, he thought that was true and the tone was nearly there, but he really suggested that we needed to look at this one sentence about three, four paragraphs from the very end.  I was a little puzzled because it seemed like a perfectly fine line to me.  But then he read the line out loud a couple times, and it was very strange . . . but hearing it come out of someone else's mouth really was a lightbulb moment.  I realized then that he was onto something; there was something not quite right about the sentence, although I was darned if I knew what it was.

So we played around with the sentence, pulling it apart, looking at all the words.  I wish I could say that  I figured it out first, but it was Greg who said, "Well, what if we get rid of the word but?  Change it from a conditional to an affirmation, something positive."  So he did just that, read the sentence back--and damn, if that one little word wasn't the make-or-break moment.  Simply brilliant.

Why do I even dwell on this?  Why is it worth tucking away as one of those fabulously collaborative moments that, all too often, we don't let ourselves experience?  Because: sometimes I think writers can get proprietary, losing sight of the huge contribution a very good editor can make toward shaping a manuscript.  I know a ton of writers who get all torqued when editors come at them with revisions or comments.  I've already admitted that, yes, the first edit letter I ever got from Greg made me collapse into a weeping puddle of goo because it was so detailed, I thought the guy truly hated what I'd written.  It took my husband to observe that, you know, the guy loved the series or he wouldn't have bought it; and another pro writer friend to point out that an editor who invested this much into producing such detailed notes and questions was a) rare and b) someone from whom I could learn a great deal.

If there's one thing I've repeated over and over again and in many different venues, it's this: not every word deserves to live.  A writer has to be ruthless when it comes to editing out extraneous stuff, and I'm pretty good when it come to throttling up my weed-whacker.  Normally, I'll kill about 15-20% of a final manuscript.  I'd like to think that I catch every errant word, but of course, I don't.  No one does.  But I guess I'm fixated on that single moment as a terrific example of what working with a gifted editor can be: not dictatorial but collaborative.  An editor like Greg is not only going through a manuscript with a flea comb; he's not only interested in pacing.  He's interested in how a book will make people feel.  He's invested in clarity.  We agonized over one bloody line because we both wanted the message to come across in a very particular way.  This wasn't about killing a word; it was about reinforcing an emotion.  

Now, am I saying that we let editors rewrite our work?  No.  Do we always agree?  Of course not.  Yes, we spin the stories.  Yes, sometimes it can feel as if the comments are nits and silly; I can always tell when Greg's getting punchy from the tone of a question, and we're comfortable enough with one another now that I can kid him about it, too.  

So, yeah, stick to your guns; defend your work because, when push comes to shove, no one cares as much about your book as you.  But always remember, guys: The best editors are, first and foremost, tremendous readers, people who want to be swept away into that perfect moment when story comes together and language does not fail.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Absolute Truth about My Muse—as Far as You Know

by Jordan Dane

Every time someone asks me about my muse, I lie. (If you write fiction for a living, is it really lying?) I tell some people it is my two rescue dogs Taco and Sancho or I blame my weirdness on my peculiar rescue cats. There are days these aren’t lies exactly, but they’re not entirely the truth. Today I’m finally coming out with the truth, as best I can figure this out. My muse is a seven headed hydra with a flying horse body. There, I said it. And it looks something like this.

The flying horse comes from my love of anything HORSE. That love turned me onto reading as a kid in elementary school. I read every book in my school library that had a horse in it. I love westerns, but my favorite horse book was a fantasy with a flying one. I actually worked to buy my first horse and ended up with my family owning several. Noble creatures.

The first good-looking hunk (head) on the left is actor Eric Etebari who played the dark assassin, Ian Nottingham, in the short run TV show on TNT, Witchblade. I became so enthralled with his character of a noble assassin that I wrote fanfiction on the show for six months. When the show got cancelled, I could have shriveled up and forgotten about my writing, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me, as I look back. I made up my mind to write original stories after that.

Next to Ian Nottingham is Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker who flipped a light bulb over my head when he said that he wrote his non-fiction book doing it a page a day. I thought, “Hell, I could do that” and made up my mind to try. Zig isn’t a motivational speaker for nothing.

Next to Zig is Robert Ludlum (RIP), the master of espionage thrillers who wrote the Jason Bourne series and many other great spy novels. He amazed me with his style and pace. Even as a reader, he struck me with his amazing talent and still does when I replenish my writer’s soul by rereading books of his from my personal library. He made me a crime fiction author for life.

The Cyclops dude represents my crazy family. It takes a village to raise a writer and I was no exception. I still call my mom everyday and read her what I write in its raw form. My siblings are all very supportive. And my husband is my number one fan, but not in a creepy way like Kathy Bates and he axe. (In the book Misery by Stephen King, she used a turkey carving knife. Read it and you will never see Thanksgiving the same way again.) My husband clears the way so I can focus on my work every day and is my brainstorming partner when I need a level head.

The Grizzly bear is my memory of Alaska where I lived for ten years. My heart is still there. Whenever I get lonely for it, I contact friends I have who still live there, but I can also write about it. My books EVIL WITHOUT A FACE and ON A DARK WING are set in Alaska.

The dangerous looking woman on the right is my love for strong empowered women in the books I write. Even when these women have incredible emotional baggage, like my bounty hunter Jessica Beckett in my Sweet Justice series, they find a way to survive and thrive. Creating the right man to deserve them is a bonus.

But perhaps the most important muse is the one who reminds me why I started writing in the first place. The central woman with a book in her hand is YOU. With every book I write, I start a circle (my journey), but that journey is only half complete. It takes a reader to take that trip with me and complete the circle. Hearing from my readers, especially in the wee hours of the morning via email, can absolutely lift me to a higher place. No lie.

So as you can see, I am surrounded by my muse every day and it’s a seven-headed winged horse Hydra. Did you really think my muse was a puppy? Pffftt. Wiggly puppy tails and the smiley faces of my rescue dogs feed another (no less important) part of my soul, but my writing muse is a beautiful magnificent beast.

What about you? Do you have a hydra of influences in your closet…maybe wearing a jet pack?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reconnect to Your Creativity by Creating Firsts

In my non-fiction book Happiness Rehab: 8 Creative Steps to a More Joyful Life, my co-author Mary Schramski and I talk about the fact that far too many people live their lives in a state of semi-hypnosis. Often we take for granted all the simple wonders in our world such as shadows and light, colors, shapes and angles. As people "grow up" and have more responsibilities, creative observation and insight tend to decrease, and because of that so does a measure of our happiness.  
            It's a shame for this to happen to anyone, but if your work requires innovation -- for instance, if you're a writer or in some other type of artistic or creative field -- you cannot just sit back and do nothing. But what can help you if you've lost touch with your creative side or you're in a creative slump and you no longer notice the miraculous in everyday life? What if it seems impossible to you that you'll ever recapture that sense of fascination with the world?
            It just so happens, I have a few solutions! I talked about a few of them in a previous post. But right now I want to discuss another one that I call the "magic of firsts." The following paragraphs from Happiness Rehab explain how it works:    
      In order to recapture the magic, it helps to remember a time when creativity was at work in your life and how it felt.
Try to recall the first time you met someone to whom you felt a strong attraction and write about it . . . What physical thing about this person stood out to you most at first sight? Where were you when you first saw this person? Were you at a party? At school? Standing on a street corner? How did you feel? Your heart might have raced at the sight of this person, and you knew you were experiencing something phenomenal. When remembering, most people think first of a romantic encounter, but parents can also describe the intense magnetism of seeing their child for the first time. As a parent, you probably focused completely on the new addition to your life, and the awe, love and sense of protectiveness that swept through you was so immediate and intense it felt all-consuming. Everything about that new being amazed you: tiny fingers and toes, downy skin, the tilt or curve of your baby’s nose.
Recall another time in your life when you were amazed at something, as if you were seeing or experiencing it for the first time. It may be something as simple as your first airline flight, or as glorious as your child’s first steps . . . . Now answer the following questions about this child-like fascination experience you had:
            1. What was it?
2. Where were you?
3. What was the object or event?
            4. How did you feel?
            When I did the above exercise for the first time, I thought of my first trip to New York City when I was in my thirties. I had flown there for a conference, but what stands out in my mind the most is the cab ride from the airport to the hotel in Times Square. I felt excited and energized. I was tuned in completely to each scent and sight and sound. I was fascinated by everything and filled with enthusiastic anticipation for whatever experience was waiting for me around the next corner.
            That particular memory has remained very vivid to me over the years because when I was in that cab, I was completely engrossed with the world around me and the event taking place. I was experiencing a "first" with child-like fascination. Although I was unaware of the fact, I was primed for creativity during that time, because child-like fascination is one of the keys to engaging imagination and releasing creative flow. And within that realm we experience a sense of happiness that seeps into our everyday life.
            Creating new "firsts" in your life helps you to stay engaged and aware of the simple wonders around you that can, otherwise, be too easy to take for granted and miss.  How can you "create" a first? Try the following, also from Happiness Rehab:
            Start off by challenging yourself to try one new thing per month. Soon, you’ll discover you want to do more. Up the challenge to one new thing per week, then one per day. Don’t panic. These can be small, easy things:
  • Drive a different route to work.
  • Take your daily walk in a different neighborhood each day.           
  • Try a restaurant you’ve never gone to.
  • Sample a food you’ve never tasted.

Once you’re comfortable, try more involved firsts:
  • Attempt to start a new friendship by calling up an acquaintance and asking him or her to meet you for coffee.
  • Sign up to take a class in a subject that interests you.
  • Rearrange the furniture in your house in an unexpected way.
Of course, you can also attempt the bigger firsts, too:
  • Plan a trip to someplace you’ve never been.
  • Face a fear by doing something that frightens you – like public speaking or applying for a new job.
            For more ideas to help you reconnect or stay connected to your creativity, check out the new Happiness Rehab website or download Happiness Rehab: 8 Creative Steps to a More Joyful Life free of charge to your Kindle this coming Saturday, Sunday and Monday (October 13, 14,15).