Monday, April 29, 2013

Not All About You

This past week, I had the great good fortune to be part of the TLA.  Meeting librarians (some of my favorite people), other authors whom I admire, and fans aside, I also got to sit on a sf/fantasy panel with some fabulous writers, all of whom give me the green envies: like . . . why didn't I think of that? (And, crap, they dress well.)   In hindsight, there were also several questions where, after I'd heard a response, I thought, <DOH!> I wish I'd said . . . x, y, z.

One question, though--really, two questions bundled into one--got me to thinking.  Specifically, how much does a dystopian or apocalyptic scenario reflect the writer's personal vision, and why is it that adolescents seem to groove on these books so much?  I'm perfectly happy with the answers I gave--which, yeah, I'll partially recap here but have written quite a bit about in other venues--but I was struck by how different my personal vision is/was from my fellow panelists.

Look, here's the skinny on the personal vision stuff: the reality is that if a book didn't reflect a fairly substantial chunk of what a writer believes, the book wouldn't work.  Period.  You just can't fake this stuff.  You have to truly believe what you're writing; the book must reflect your personal vision, regardless of genre or circumstance.  Readers can spot a faker a mile off.  So if you don't invest your narrative with every drop of conviction, you might as well hang it up.

What I found pretty interesting was that of my fellow panelists, I seemed to be the only pessimist in the bunch.  (Maybe the others were lying; beats me.)  Now this might be what comes of being a Freudian or from personal history . . . probably there's some truth to that . . . but it was striking and, honestly, a little troubling, mainly because I think that if anyone has paid any attention to history, you realize that people are really a) quite savage, b) selfish, and c) not all that nice when the chips are down.  I mean, God, turn on the news; go read about how many elephants were slaughtered last year just for their tusks, if you don't believe me, or which species is teetering on the brink of extinction this week.

Now, it's also true that people like reading stories (and seeing movies) where things work out, or there's some semblance of hope.  No one likes an eternal downer as entertainment (which, you have to remember, is what we writers are doing: providing entertainment).  It's the reason I like going to the occasional chick-flick; I couldn't live on the stuff, but I do love that little break and a good cry.  It is just as true that teens love dystopias and apocalyptic books because they provide a vicarious avenue for grappling with seemingly insurmountable odds--and winning.  Surviving.  And not only winning or surviving: doing the right and noble thing.

I recognize this; I truly believe that there are a few good and noble people.  But I guess I'm still quite pessimistic, and most especially about the idea that, no matter how bad things might get here on Earth, we humans will adapt, somehow.

Now, the reason I find that a little disconcerting is that while it might be correct--and I think the jury's still out on that; there are plenty of civilizations that have come and gone before us, and species, too--it reflects a vision of the Earth as something that matters only to humans.  It is an anthrocentric point of view.  Sure, okay: maybe we'll adapt and discover new tech and wander around breathing with special filters and living under domes, but I don't think anyone would much enjoy the world as, say, imagined by Phillip K. Dick, or one where the only forests exist on space ships (as in 1972's Silent Running).  It is, in fact, a view that ignores the reality that while we might adapt--and that's a big might because if we don't curb population growth and stop outstripping the carrying capacity of the planet, we will drain our aquifers, period, and there are huge regions of the planet without enough water right this very second--this isn't only about us, about people. It's about all the organisms with which we share this planet: living beings that will not adapt because the changes are too rapid and the alternatives, too few.  They will die, as they are dying now; as we destroy and decimate their habitats, species will continue to vanish at an alarming rate, as they are vanishing now.  That is reality.

Let me give you a disheartening example of just this kind of antrocentric thinking: if you've been following me on Twitter or Facebook, then you know that I've been watching a mother fox and her litter of five kits for the past couple of weeks.  The mom just happened to make her den under a neighbor's deck, and watching this little family was so special I can't tell you.  It was a true gift and opportunity not many people have, and I know that several neighbors felt the same way.  Yeah, fine, so my cats couldn't go out; BFD.  A couple neighbors even thought that, cool, the rabbits won't eat their lettuce.

Unfortunately, the guy whose deck it was . . . he was pissed.  And, no, before you ask: no chickens, no pets, no kids.  In fact, the guy and his wife are rarely home.  The foxes weren't in his house.  They were under the bloody deck.  The mom chased my cats twice (the first indication I had that she was around), but that was it, and she really only barked at them.  (Winslow, that stinker, was much more interested in being friends, I think.)  When I wandered outside, that mom just sat down and we had a good long look at each other, and we did that several times.  She watched me every morning at the bird feeder; our coversation was a bit one-sided, but she was polite about it.  She brought some of the kits over to our yard to hang out.  It was lovely.

Anyway, the neighbor guy wanted to get rid of the fox and her kits.  I have to say that I was floored; we live in a rural area; the woods are literally across the street and all around; there are coyotes and raccoons and opossums and foxes and deer and . . . you get the picture.  So this guy called the DNR (they wisely said forget it); called a pest control guy (ditto). Then he decided, fine, he'd scare the hell out of the animals: blasted rock music all day and put on big bright spots at night.

And, yes, before you ask: I went over to talk to him.  Nicely. Just to feel him out.  His primary thing was it was his land, his property, and he wanted those animals gone.

So . . . sad to say, he succeeded.  The foxes cleared out.  I spotted mom a couple times after I got back from Texas, but only one kit, curled up next to the shed maybe thirty feet from my back door.  Sweetest little guy.  He was there last night but gone this morning, and my guess is mom-fox told him to stay put until she got back, and then they went off together.  (I've found out from a wildlife rehab person that this kind of thing--planting the kids and telling them to wait here--frequently happens.)

But when you have a reality like that--this sense of entitlement that man has about what is his versus what he shares--it's hard not to get, well, a little discouraged.  To be a little ├╝ber-sensitive when you hear that we humans will "adapt."  Yes, perhaps: but at what price?

Someone once asked if I didn't think my fiction was too "graphic," the violence too "real" for kids.  Uhm . . . well . . . no, I don't.  Nothing I include is gratuitous.  Everything I write, and this pertains to the violence, too, is no more graphic than a video game, a graphic novel, or the latest episode of The Walking Dead.  When I include a traumatic or horrible detail, it is to reinforce that, yes, actions have consequences.  Pull a trigger, someone may die, and it may be, in fact, a horrible thing to see.  It may, in fact, be more horrible to do.

But I do not believe that a writer has a duty to teach moral lessons or find "truth," because truth depends on who you are and what you believe, and we all have parents.  Sorry: I'm a writer; I'm an entertainer; it's not in my job description. Yet, at times, I do struggle with balancing out the reality that I see and know with the hope that, maybe, something will change.  Perhaps this is why I focus so much in my fiction on both the bad choices people make and their repercussions: because I do want kids (and adults) to stop a moment and consider before they act.  I especially want kids to understand that nearly every action has a consequence; every decision an effect; that we truly are connected to one another and this Earth, for better or worse, and you are not necessarily more important than anyone or anything else.  In the end, I want them to see: really, this isn't all about you. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring Cleaning your Manuscript: Part 1

Hi, P. J. Hoover here, and today I’m talking about Spring Cleaning! There’s nothing quite like a little change in the weather to motivate me to clean around the house. But it doesn’t stop with the house. Why not take this wonderful time to spring clean your current manuscript?


Here are 5 ways to Spring Clean your Manuscript…

1) The darlings

They must be killed. Yes, I know they are special to you, but that’s where it stops. Those jokes that seem so funny in your mind might actually not be very funny to anyone else. So identify as many darlings are you can, call them out for what they are, and destroy them.


2) The cliches

Yes, every single one. The road to hell isn’t paved with good intentions. It’s paved with cliches. The time for cliched writing is gone with the wind. So if your kid comes home and mentions a great cliche they learned in class today and you have that cliche in your manuscript, take that as a sign from the universe and give it the ax.


3) The title

Are you sure your title works? Is this perhaps the perfect time to take a look at it and really consider if it is going to capture the attention your wonderful darling-free and cliche-free manuscript deserves? Did another book just come out with the same title? Take a step back and at least consider some other options. You may surprise yourself with what you come up with.


4) The adverbs

Yes, these are the words we all love that end in “ly.” Cut. Them. All. And then, only if you desperately feel like you need one badly, put it back in sparingly. They don’t have a place. And I’m talking about after dialogue tags, too. People may say things gruffly, but I don’t want to be told that. I want to be shown that.


5) The backstory

Sure, you care about what happened to your characters before. You’ve mapped out their lives. Their parents have jobs. Their siblings have best friends. You know all the places they frequent. But that doesn’t mean your reader needs to know or will care one hoot about any of this stuff. Drop us in the action and then dribble in ONLY THE IMPORTANT DETAILS later on.


Happy Spring! And Happy Writing and Revising!


*****




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.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What Advice Would You Give to Young Writers?

By Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




Today I am presenting a workshop to the Creative Writing students at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). This is a free offering of like-minded authors getting together to share their thoughts on the publishing industry and the craft of writing. I plan on sharing my thoughts on the latest trends in publishing with a focus on the Young Adult and New Adult markets. I will also spend more time talking about author craft and the epiphanies I have learned through the books I've written. Each book teaches you something different, right? Writing is the best way to learn those things, mostly through trial and error when you learn best from your mistakes.
 
I also want to spend time talking about the writer’s life and the discipline to accomplish daily goals. Usually life, the day job, and other obligations can force you to set aside your passion to write, but if it’s important to you, I say make time for it, even if that’s only a page a day.
 
The hardest thing I will broach is the crazy things happening in the publishing industry with regard to the changing contractual terms and what it means to self-publish or navigate the ebook services being offered by large publishers and agents, etc. But I find it hard to stop the long list of warnings that I would want them to be aware of so they don’t sign their copyrights away for the life of their book, simply to get published. It’s a scary world out there in this interim phase while the industry is sorting things out. But I don’t want to scare them off either. So I am limiting my warnings to only the most treacherous ones that dangle like gems stones and look all polished and pretty, but have complications. Things like royalty value for digital books, the ala carte subrights menu, rights reversions, and what agents and publishers are offering that could be troublesome. When the goal is to get them to incorporate writing into their daily life, or to nurture something that could become a passion later in life, I don't want to discourage them from the start.
 
When I talk to young writers, I want to simply encourage them to write and recognize that if they have the drive and passion for writing, they should write whether they get published or not. I remember how important reading and writing was for me in school and how it stayed with me for my whole life. But first comes the desire and getting hooked on it. It’s a quality of life thing. I usually encourage them to keep a journal of their thoughts or characters they want to develop, or keep a file of ideas for future books. I will share James Scott Bell’s wonderful post at The Kill Zone (TKZ) on how to write a short story or share one of my favorite Joe Moore TKZ posts on editing your work in Writing is Rewriting. There are so many posts that I’ve found useful at TKZ that I’m still pinching myself that I am a contributing member at a group blog that just received an award from Writer's Digest, naming The Kill Zone as ranked in the top 101 blogs for writers. So cool!
 
But my question to all of you is – what advice would you give to a young writer? Someone who is in college or high school and has the writing bug? What would you tell them?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Girls & Monsters don't always play nice...

Luckily, today they're being downright SWEET!

I'm honored to welcome the ever lovely, ever dark Anne Michaud to ADR3NALIN3 today! I met Anne via blogger and fell in love with her delectable, seductive, and morbid prose while reading the short stories and poems she would post on her blog. Now at last she has a book coming out and the whole world can savor her terrifyingly twisted tales! Her new YA horror novel is launching in just a few days, so she has stopped by to tell us a little about it.

Anne, you have the spotlight!

***

They hide under the bed, in the closet or in a dark corner of your mind; they want to scare, play with or eat you. Monsters are everywhere, feeding off your screams, waiting for the perfect moment to attack - and sometimes, only girls can kick their butts. A killer mermaid, suburbia, hallucinations, one huge spider and zombies all face their match in this dark horror collection of 5 novellas for young adult. Annoyed by weak and fragile protagonists waiting for boys to save the day? Here's GIRLS & MONSTERS! Death Song, an excerpt:

girls&monsters
Something catches in the back of my throat. I hide my face in my hands to quiet the sobs. But then, something ain’t right. Air moves around me and I stop. I look between my fingers, but the blur of my tears thickens everything: the bathtub, the towels, and someone on the floor. A woman’s in here with me, door still closed and locked. An exhale, like after a deep swim, and a smell, like the swamp close to my empty home. A chill runs down my back, I wipe my eyes, rub and scratch them to see more clearly. And I do. Two gray hands scratch the floor tiles, nails green with algae, putrid flesh sagging on her legs, arms and torso, hair so long and wet and heavy, it drags her down. Diluted, impossible to focus on, like little waves rippling over her body from head to foot, seaweed in the water. Scales and fins, mermaidlike, little knives, those are. And they scrape the floor, like a fork on a plate. It’s her—Limnade. She opens her mouth of scissor-teeth and the rotten smell of fish wraps around my throat like two hands trying to choke me. "You can’t be…” I don’t finish my breathless thought and jump backward, knocking over the dish of decorative soaps. Blurry waves, vision impaired, out of focus, unreal. She crawls toward me, eyes unblinking, lethal, hands inches from me: my legs refuse to move, as my body feels like stone. Frozen, hypnotized, a statue. Then I hear something coming from within her…A melody, reminding me of something lost, tickles my ears. It drags on until the sweetness turns sickly, vibrating into a full-on super-scream, hyenalike, enough to pop my ears and make them bleed. Her large mouth deforms her face into one gap of black, the cry so high and strident, I scream from the pain. Limnade stares at me, everything but her fades away—Jo’s nice bathroom, Jo’s new life, Jo himself, none of it matters anymore. Her fingers brush my forehead, they’re cold and sticky like clams. And I let the darkness take me away.
***
The Monster Collection Skellies
To celebrate the release of Girls & Monsters on April 30th, the author has handcrafted Skellies, The Monster Collection, each representing a monster of the 5 stories. The giveaway also includes a softcover of the collection, autographed if requested. The grand prize winner will be announced during the book launch's LIVE CHAT with Anne Michaud on April 30th at 9PM (east)! Girls & Monsters will be available at Darkfuse and other retailers from that date on. ♥
***
HS-Anne_Michaud
Anne Michaud
She who likes dark things never grew up. She never stopped listening to gothic, industrial and alternative bands like when she was fifteen. She always loved to read horror and dystopia and fantasy, where doom and gloom drip from the pages. She, who was supposed to make films, decided to write short stories, novelettes and novels instead. She, who’s had her films listed on festival programs, has been printed in a dozen anthologies and magazines since. She who likes dark things prefers night to day, rain to sun, and reading to anything else.

She tweets
She blogs
She facebooks

And don't forget to add Girls & Monsters to your goodread list

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Keep Chuggin' Along...


My second novel comes out in one week, and though most would be ecstatic about that milestone, I must say I'm a bit perplexed.

Last week, I received a critique from a well-known editor on a 50-page submission I won at auction. Overall, the critique was a positive one, ending with a "I would love to read more of this!" that lifted my spirits. The editor pointed out how great my MC's voice is, how great the overall writing is, even how fun the humor woven into the work is. Sounds great, right?

Alas, we writers (and most non-writers, I'd presume) don't like to focus on the countless good praise we get, do we? Nope, we like to dwell on that one teeny, tiny, insignificant-when-looking-at-the-bigger-picture piece of negative dropped into the middle of an otherwise happy-filled response. Like the Bat Signal in a blackened sky, that one line of "you should
really work on..." or "your problem seems to be..." is lit up for our minds to obsess over. We easily dismiss the good parts, writing them off as simple kindness to hide the truth--like the editor really hated the submission, but didn't wanna just come right out and say that, so she hid what she felt behind line after line of kudos. Yes, that has to be it. She really thought it was drivel, superflous, sub-par. Basically, I should quit while I'm ahead.

But... I have a book coming out in a week. A second one. So that means...someone out there thinks I have talent. So maybe said editor didn't hate it. Maybe, just maybe, she was being... oh, what's the word... CONSTRUCTIVE. Man, that one's tough to swallow, huh? When I hear it, it's like a foreign language to me. And when I look up the definition, all I see is, "No-talent Hack." It takes a self-inflicted swift kick in the tuckus most times for me to realize that yes, what people say is true: You can please some of the people some of the time, and most of the people most of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time. 

Simply put, don't stop moving forward. When you get those emails filled with praise and your brain wants to focus on that one piece of negative, nay constructive criticism, don't let it. Force it to take said criticism and weave it in among your own thoughts on what you can do to improve your craft. Take it and make it work for you, rather than against you.

And just like The Little Engine That Could...keep chuggin' along until you get where you wanna be.



Monday, April 15, 2013

That Blast From the Past

So I had one of those moments, both nostalgic and bittersweet, this past week when my author copies for WEIRD DETECTIVES: RECENT INVESTIGATIONS arrived. 


I knew the anthology was floating around because I'd gotten an email from someone who'd read my story, "The Key" (the first story in the anthology and something I didn't know but which I'll tell you why I'm tickled about that in a second) and wanted to let me know how much he loved it.  So that was nice.

When the books arrived, I flipped to the story and was sort of . . . Wow, long time no see, how you been doing?  The story is one I'd written back in 2004 and was a bit of a departure for me because I chose to write about a detective who was the partner of another detective I'd introduced in a story I'd done the year before, "Sarah's Heart."    That story made it into an e-anthology (Hauntings; L. Marie Wood, Ed.; Houston, TX: Cyber-Pulp Publishing; 2003) but not print.  I found that after writing SH, I was very. . . well, fond of the Jason Saunders character, the partner.  So I thought, I'd really like to see who this Jason-guy is, you know?  Who are his friends; what does he like; that kind of stuff.  I also think that the reason I chose Jason to spin off was because the story in which he was introduced was both finished and not; I don't want to give away what happens in SH in case I ever decide to finally dredge it up and put it out there for folks to read. (HAH! In my copious free time.)  But, suffice to say, there are some MAJOR loose ends.

In retrospect, maybe I wrote Adam's story (the POV detective in SH) so I could do Jason's, I don't know.  But I do remember writing "The Key" and then trying to figure out where to send it.  I tried all the regular mystery venues and have some very nice rejection letters from Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen. (And, yes, guys, some rejections letter are okay to get because the editors have written something really NICE, like, essentially, God, this is great, but we can't publish this kind of story.  Gotten more than a few, and while rejection is never pleasant, seeing an editor's personal note . . . you know, they're busy people. So you appreciate the time they took to tell you how bad they felt about having to pass, and why.) 

So I was sitting there, scratching my head, and then thought, Whoa, wait.  There's SciFiction.COM.  <DOH!> 

Let me explain: back in the Dark Ages of 2004, the SciFi channel (which was, yes, properly science fiction and fantasy then and DON'T GET ME STARTED) maintained a FANTASTIC website for original sf and fantasy.  (As of this moment, it's been resurrected into something completely different, and if you go to the site, you won't find my story or anyone else's.)  The editor was Ellen Datlow, fabulous at her job, already famous by the time she was there, and--in person--an all-around really nice and fun lady, who shares my obsession for cats and also surprised the heck out of me by appearing in my signing line for DRAW THE DARK at the BEA.  (A confession: the first time I met her, at a Westercon back in . . . gosh . . . '99?  2000? . . . she said my name was "familiar" and why was that?  Well, I'd only sent her like ten trillion stories she kept rejecting.  But I chickened out and just said something dumb, like, oh, I'm presenting a lot at the con.  I know: stupid.  I'm much better now.)

Anyhoo--I'd already sold Ellen a couple of stories, and I thought, Okay, why not?  The worst thing she could tell me was to get lost.  One thing I can tell you is this: when you make a sale to an editor you really admire and respect, it means the world.  There are some editors I would kill to sell to; a few I've managed; and most I've not--and it's no slam-dunk either.  It's not like you sell once, and yay, you're set for life.  No, no: every story or book is a new hurdle, another chance for someone to say, Eehhh . . . no.  You've never really arrived unless you're . . . well, I won't name names, but I'll bet you can fill in your own blanks with authors you think pretty much sell everything they write simply on the basis of name recognition, whether it's "better" than the rest or not.  I'm not being catty or nasty; I'm just saying: they've produced to a high enough level for a long enough period of time that an editor would have to be INSANE to pass them by (and knows the author would probably find another venue in a heartbeat anyway).

Now I remember my very first sale of a short story.  I remember my first book sale.  I remember my first sale to different editors, and I very definitely recall what it was like to get an email from Ellen for the first story of mine that she took, "In the Blood"  (which, yeah, I really am in the process of dredging up and getting together, but other work keeps getting in the way).    So I knew that Ellen was a) an editor I respected and admired and b) someone open enough to look at something . . . well, kind of quirky.

So I shot off "The Key," my weird little story about infanticide and soul murder and Jewish mysticism and guilt and redemption; and worried for weeks.  Tried not to think about it. Moved on with other work.  Had the nagging suspicion that, you know, regardless of what happens, I was really starting to like this Jason Saunders guy. I started having these . . . thoughts.  Like, hunh, what if I did a novel with him as a character?  Or another short story? Or a series of short stories?  (GAWD, so Holmes.  So Dresden.)  It was weird; I'd never had a character get under my skin like that before.

Long story short: Ellen took the story, which is why it shows up reprinted in this new anthology.  Now, have I re-read it?  No.  I know how the story ends.  But did seeing it in print revive a whole lot of memories and half-formed ideas?  Oh, you bet.  Specifically: I did do another Jason Saunders story, "Second Sight" for the anthology, CRIME SPELLS .  That story was published five years after "The Key," but the character still felt immediate, fresh, alive.  By the time I was done with SS, which is pretty lonnng short story, I had populated Jason's world with characters he cared about.  I had a introduced a recurring partner; a new and very mysterious woman-shrink with interesting, well, powers of her own and her enigmatic FBI dad; the shrink's sister, a medical student;  a rabbi, who'd appeared in all three Jason Saunders stories . . . this guy, Jason, was getting a real life.

And I have to admit: I had plans.  I'd tried using Jason as a support character in another adult mystery, but it just didn't work.  I know why now.  Jason was crying out to be his own guy and go back to the nebulous and fantastical territory into which I'd originally given him a voice.  He was never meant to be a bit character.

So seeing this story . . . well, I think my husband saw it before I did: that, admit it, Ils, you'd like to do some stuff with Jason.  And, sure, I would.  It's funny, but I've not forgotten a thing about the guy; I know what the women look like; I understand what kind of music this guy likes and what beer he'll drink , what he likes to eat, nd even where he lives and why. 

Will I do another Jason Saunders story?  I don't know.  I do know that I had another idea for the very next story that ought to follow SS.  I still think it would work.  A short story  is a very different animal from a novel, and I would ultimately have to decide if Jason belongs in a short story format, or something longer.  I just don't know.  Right now, because he was born in a short story, I feel like that's where he belongs.  So, maybe . . . someday.

Oh, yeah, I know what I forgot: to tell you why it's so great my story's the first one you see (and, no, it's not alphabetical).  Having been to a couple workshops where the task is to take stories and put together an anthology, I can tell you that story placement is important.  Specifically, you want to start off an anthology very strongly, right out of the gate.  It's why, for example, stories by Stephen King are often the very first: they grab the reader and set the tone for the anthology while hopefully leaving you, the reader, wanting more.  (This is also why the middle's important and why you find some very fabulous stories right smack-dab in the center: you want your reader, who may be getting a little tired by then, to get that little jolt, a KERPOW moment.  That middle story is a reward for sticking it out and the pivot point for the rest of the anthology.)  Ditto the last two stories of an anthology: you want something that eases the reader into the last story which should provide closure and satisfaction, a bit like a novel (well, except mine, I guess; if you know my work, you know I thrive on ambiguity).

It was a thrill to be contacted at all for this anthology; I was blown away that someone had read and remembered that story after all these years and liked it enough to want to reprint it.  But for "The Key" to be the first thing you see, for the editor to put that kind of faith in my work . . . guys, in my book, that's an honor. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye...

by Michelle Gagnon

Hi everyone-

When Jordan Dane first approached me about starting up a YA blog, I was ecstatic. First of all, I love partnering with Jordan; she's been my counterpart on another blog, The Kill Zone, for a few years now, and she's a consummate pro whose posts on the craft of writing have always inspired me.  Plus she was assembling a group of terrific YA authors, and I got the chance to discover them and their work. Being part of Adrenaline has been such a great experience.

Unfortunately, this will be my final post. Over the past five years, I've gone through a series of personal struggles that have changed my life irrevocably (mostly for the better, but it was a long and winding road getting there!) My career has undergone tremendous turmoil. I went from fearing that I would never get another book contract, to suddenly finding myself committed to writing three books in a year (a good problem to have, but still--overwhelming). I'm the single parent of a young child, which is immensely rewarding, but also time consuming. My daily obligations are such that something invariably always seems to fall by the wayside; too many plates spinning simultaneously, as the saying goes. In order to stay true to the spirit of this blog, I want to make sure that Adrenaline does not become the plate that I drop. Which means that it's time for me to step aside.
I'll miss you all--but will be stopping by regularly, as a commenter this time. 
Side note: I released a Young Adult standalone thriller this past Tuesday with SoHo Press. It's called STRANGELETS, and marks a departure for me. I credit both of my blogs with pushing me out of my comfort zone--so many of the posts here have expanded my horizons as a writer, and convinced me to challenge myself. So this is my first attempt at true world building, in a dystopian alternate universe. I hope you'll consider giving it a read.
And I do hope to stop in occasionally with guest posts, if they'll still have me! 
Best,
Michelle

Friday, April 5, 2013

Podcast Interview & Self-Pubished Audio Book Release!



Allison and Michelle the Authors Are Rockstars! site recently did a special edition to feature a cool podcast interview for the release of IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS audio book with Audible. This is the finished digital audio book product of the process I went through on Audiobook Creation Exchange or ACX where I self-published my own audio book.

You can listen to the podcast HERE and learn more about the book, and hear from the amazing voice actor, Michelle Ann Dunphy on how she approached this project and got into character. Yes, she is THE Michelle mentioned at the start of this post. Check her out. She brought my character, Brenna Nash, to life. I love how the audio book turned out.

For anyone interested in reading more about the process of self-publishing your own audio book, you can visit my group blog THE KILL ZONE and link to that post.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Those Ideas and Where They Come From




In a TED talk on creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert told the story of how poet Ruth Stone gets her ideas for poems. She can feel a poem coming at her through the air, rushing towards her, like a charging animal. Her job is to hurry home and capture that poem in writing before it gets away. Sometimes she gets there late and she has to grab on to the tail of the idea and pull it back in.

Sometimes stories are like that. They thunder at us and demand to be written. Sometimes they sneak in quietly when we least expect it. One question non-writer friends always ask is where ideas come from.  And I’m preparing for that question this week when I go to speak with a group of elementary school kids about imagination and ideas.

My writing friends have their own answers. Some like Stone are conduits and ideas flow through them. Others have characters that whisper in their ears or who demand attention. My friend, SciFi guy, got the idea for his novel in a dream. For me, stories often begin with questions that are haunting me. I write to figure out the answers. If I already know the answer, there’s no point in writing the story. For example, I just finished a new manuscript. It’s different than anything I’ve written before.  It’s Sci-Fi. But it began with a question that was dogging me. What does it mean to be deeply understood by someone else and what are we willing to risk for that experience? My characters are forced into a connection through an experiment of direct neural communication. Their brains are infected with paired nano clusters and well, you’ll have to read the book to see what happens.

Ideas come from connections a writer sees between two dissimilar things, and then she asks “what if.” What if there really were goblins at one time, and a girl was born with very large feet and hands and there were rumors her father had goblin blood? And what if she was born in Victorian times into a society when anything abnormal was suspicious? What would that do to her? 

To my friends who say they can’t write fiction because they can’t think of a plot, I say create a character and give that character a problem. Watch how she solves it. The plot will come. E.L. Doctorow says that he only sees as far as the headlights of a car in the dark when he’s writing.

I will tell the elementary kids this week that ideas are as slippery as new Teflon. We think we’ll remember them but we don’t. They need idea folders, idea boards, or a scrap of paper in their back pocket to write them down. Maybe an iphone that records. The important thing to know is that ideas come when we least expect it and it’s up to us to run fast and write them down.
 


Monday, April 1, 2013

Writing May Be Hazardous to Your Health

If you've ever read one of my novels, you know that I tend to put my characters through a lot.  To put it bluntly, their life expectancy isn't the greatest, and finding yourself in an Ilsa J. Bick novel may be quite hazardous to your health.

Well, it turns out that my characters might be returning the favor because here's a news flash for you: Writing is hazardous to your health. 

Let me rephrase.  It's not that writing per se is bad; it's the sitting all day that will kill you.  No joke.  NPR did a piece on this a couple years ago that's worth reading and/or listening to.  According to numerous studies (including a relatively recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise), excessive sitting--say, up to 23 hours a week--increases the risk of heart disease in young men by as much as 64%.  I'm sure it's comparable for women.  The kicker is that all those guys?  A lot of them routinely exercised. 

So what the heck is a writer supposed to do?  From personal experience, I can tell you that I'm easily sitting 9+ hours a day, and I do that every day.  I also exercise 90-120 minutes a day, every day.  I'm not overweight, although--you know--once you're past a certain age, things that used to defy gravity don't. 

But I'm a doc.  So I know.  The less you engage major muscle groups, the lower your metabolic rate.  It's one of the reasons why people can become quite obese even if their total intake is low.  Their metabolic rates slow to a crawl.  A slug is faster.  It's one of the truisms of weight loss, too.  If you want a kid or adult to lose weight, you have to kick up the metabolic rate first by getting moving--and then you zip your pie-hole.

So if I believe the stats, and I do, then all this work?  All these stories?  These characters?  There are a lot of days when I think a story's going to kill me, but the reality is that they really might be the death of me. 

Well, the solution is to get moving, right?  Or moving even more than I already do?  The problem is that the more time I spend doing that, the less time I have to write.  There are a couple solutions out there; in the current April issue, there's a fine article  by Susan Dawson-Cook, "Better Health for Writers."  The majority of the stuff she mentions you already know: the importance of proper ergonomics, ways to reduce discomfort while writing, and all that.  (Another news flash: I have NEVER had as many problems with my arms, hands, and--strangely--feet before I upped my writing time.)  If you want to fork over the money for a treadmill, you can build yourself a treadmill desk (or buy one).  Me, I actually considered that, but it seemed kind of criminal to buy a machine when I have access to plenty of them at the gym.  I also wonder how effective I can really be trying to both walk (even very, very slowly) and compose at the same time.

Yet, there is a long tradition of writers walking as a way of clearing out the cobwebs.  Thoreau once wrote: "Me thinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow."  We all know some of literature's famous walkers--Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, and--my personal favorite--Dickens, a man who routinely walked over twenty miles a day.  (Of course, he was also an insomniac and died early of a stroke, but who's keeping score?)  I know that I can write all day long, get my pages in and all that--and still I've done my best thinking while walking or working the machines.  (Swimming . . . not so much; I think it's because I have to both count laps and breathe.  When I let my mind go, however, I do think relatively well . . . although I seem to end up swimming the same lap over and over again.  Same problem with spinning: if I'm listening to music to keep a cadence, there's no way I can think about a story.  I love to bike, but I find it tough to sit for even more hours after I've been sitting all day.)  When I go for long walks, I always bring along an iPod to listen to an audiobook . . . but I've also noticed that when I'm deep into a story, I might plug in the earbuds but never turn on the iPod at all.  Or I'll listen to the story, but my mind wanders because I'm very wrapped up in my own work.  So I lose track and finally turn the silly thing off.   I just don't want any distractions.

So walking works for me in terms of freeing my mind.  (Ditto hiking; my husband once turned to me at the end of a fifteen-miler and remarked that I hadn't strung together more than ten words the entire day.  He wasn't miffed, but it's a good thing he knows me so well, or else he'd think it was his breath.)  The question is . . . do I really want to take time away from writing to take a couple walks during the day?  Say, before I get started and at the midway point of my day, half hour at a pop, and in addition to the workout at the end of my workday I already do?  We're talking about another hour, minimum, and more likely an hour and a half by the time you do the shoes, wash the hands, get a drink of water, blah, blah.  You know how time dribbles away.

Here's what I'm really concerned about: breaking my rhythm.  Yes, yes, I often realize that I'll have to kill the work I just did or change things in those last five pages just as soon as I've turned off my computer and walked away because that's when it hits me that <DOH>, you idiot, that wasn't the right place for that scene.  But it is just as true that I have a tough time getting back into writing after a break.  I can do it and certainly have done.  When the husband's away on a business trip, then it's not unusual for me to either work 12+ hours and then exercise, or work, break for my workout, and then slide back into a few more hours at night.  But that second chunk of time often feels less focused, quite possibly because I'm . . . well, tired.  I mean, I've been hunched over the keyboard all bloody day; I can tell I start to lose focus roundabout the 5th or 6th hour, but I also know that if I just keep going, that seems to diminish.  At any rate, I'm a little concerned that I'll be shooting myself in the foot, work- and production-wise, on the outside chance I might live longer or, at least, as long as I might have if I'd never begun writing and sitting for such long stretches in the first place.

On the other hand, for my poor characters?  Given all the tsuris I put them through?

I'm sure they'll think it's poetic justice.