Interview with the Vampire

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Paula’s Post #70 - Interview with the Vampire

Well, not really a vampire. Actually, just my cousin Vlad (not his real name, DUH). And since my-cousin-in-the-book-biz is incognito for this interview, I thought, ‘Vampires’.

I mean wouldn’t you?

And ‘Interview with the Vampire’ is maybe just a wee catchier than Interview with my Cousin.  

Anyway, this week, my cousin “Vlad”, who incidentally knows a thing or two about the world of publishing, (as you’ll see from his comments, below) very kindly agreed to be interviewed for this weeks 5writers blog post:

PAULA:

Vampires, Vlad, – what do you think? I mean we always hear a catchy title can sell books. And a title with vampires in it sounds pretty catchy.  Why, I’ll wager we’ll even increase blog traffic, just by using ‘vampire’ in the title of this post and repeating it several times, just for the SEO optimization. I think Google likes the word ‘vampire’.

Vampire. Vampire. Vampire.

So, with apologies to Anne Rice, today I’m bringing you ‘Interview with the Vampire’ – aka my cousin Vlad. Who, come to think of it, actually is quite pale in an almost Canadian kind of way and,- also come to think of it,-  does seem to lead something of a nocturnal lifestyle.

Hmm… maybe we better check, just to make sure.

Q#1 – PAULA: Are you a vampire, Vlad?

Of course. Pass the blood vial, will you?

Q#2 – PAULA: Hmm. You’re kidding, right. But you did actually live in New Orleans at one time, didn’t you Vlad?

Yes. And I’ve lived in several other cities where vampires live. Does that make you happy?

Actually, the city that just drips with vampires is Portland…

Q#3 – PAULA: Are you making fun of Portland? You know Portland is my hometown, don’t you? Oh never mind. Anyway, just to clarify for our readers, Vlad, this past Friday evening was one of those rare occasions when we actually got to sit down and visit for a while and talk.

For reasons that are long, involved, complicated and, for the most part, totally irrelevant, we decided to meet at the ‘Beer Hunter’ bar at the corner of Washington and Hwy 111 on the border between Indian Wells and La Quinta. 

Not only a notorious vampire hang out, but also a bar where you can:

a) Simultaneously watch four giant screen TVs playing, respectively: golf, tennis, baseball and hockey;

b) Order beer tasting flights with yes, no less than ten individual ‘tasters’ of beer for the princely sum of $11.

Sometimes, you’ve just gotta love America.

But I digress. I’m supposed to be interviewing Vlad

VLAD: just for the sake of accuracy, let us note that the “tasters” of beer are 3 oz – so literally “a taste.” 3 oz of blood would merely be a “lip wipe of the tongue.” I’m sure there’s a word for that in German, but it escapes me at the moment…

Q4 – PAULA: Hmm. I see. Well, back to the interview. So Vlad, Why don’t we get to see each other more often? 

VLAD: Well, it doesn’t help that you’re usually in bed by 9. I’m barely up by then. And I do travel quite a bit – necessarily. You don’t want to over farm a particular field if you know what I mean. And not to be unduly critical, but the blood around here is all….aged.

Q5 – PAULA: Is that a another dig? Palm Springs isn’t just for retired folk you know. And besides, with wine ‘aged’ is a good thing. Isn’t it the same with – oh, never mind, I’m afraid to ask. Maybe you could just share what is it that you do that keeps you on the road so much? (See, I’m feeding Vlad lines here).

VLAD: Fresh….prospects. I do sell books as a cover – so I am, a travelling salesman. Such a jaunty title, ja? And with the recent merger, I am now even more…in demand. I work for the largest English language publisher, somewhat ironically, owned by Germans. We are working incredibly hard on trying to find a logo that works with both Penguins and a Haus. It’s a little like trying to get Vampires and Werewolves to agree on something… but Penguinhaus or Randompenguinvolk don’t seem to work to well. Perhaps…Igloo Books?

Q#6 – PAULA: Wow, Randompenguinvolk, – that’s a mouthful! I bet you publish a lot of vampire titles? (I ask, never missing the chance to up the SEO on the blog by repeating the word ‘vampire’ yet again).

VLAD: I’m not sure I follow. Vampires have never been gluttons. We like to, how do you say? “cut a fine figure.”   (chuckles) And yes, there are a number of vampire books on our list – but then you could substitute almost any word for vampire and it would be true…

Q#7 – PAULA: You mean there are a lot of books on your lists, period? Your group employs – what? About 10,000 people globally across 5 continents? In other words, you are a very, very big, big f’ing deal in ‘bookworld’ aren’t you?

VLAD: I am but a small cog in a very large machine. Ze company is, yes, a pretty large entity, selling about 40% of the American market, but I am but a travelling salespersonvolk.

Q#8 – PAULA: My 5writers colleagues are going to wet their pants thinking you can get them out of the slush pile. Maybe I better check on that. Any chance you can pull a few strings and… you know…?

VLAD: It is much better to know an Agent, or an editor, than a salesperson. I have tried over the years to help a select few, but have met with very modest success, and most of that with non-fiction. You have to understand; there are ~4000 books published every day (in the US) or about 1.5 million a year. If you haven’t been published, you just need to try a little harder. Someone WILL publish you. And of course, it’s even easier now, via Amazon, to self-publish. No, do not sneer, cousin P – let us remember that some of the great tomes of the last few years were discovered by publishers in the Amazon 99 cent bins…like 50 Shades of Chartreuse, for example. Or Grey? Whatever.

Q#9 PAULA: How big are you?

VLAD: About 190 lbs – how big are YOU?

Q#10 PAULA: NO! I meant how big is the company you work for?

VLAD: Oh, it is quite large, and quite worldwide. But the US market is still by far the largest, followed closely by…not Canada.

Q#11 – PAULA: Hmm. I think that is another ‘dig’. I’m getting the idea vampires like ‘digs’. But getting back to that slush pile…You see my buddy Helga has written this fabulous La Carre-esque cold war novel set in post-war Vienna. And ever versatile Joe not only has this cool PI novel set in the high California desert, he also has penned the first volume of his planned YA Fantasy trilogy.  What do you think, Vlad? Maybe you can help out a couple of my 5writers colleagues? How can we give their manuscripts a leg up on the ‘ole slush pile? (Or is that a mixed metaphor)?

VLAD: mmmmm. How do I break this to you and your lovely rosy companions? So full of LIFE, ja? Even poor John Le Carre himself does not sell so well anymore…and why write about the old Cold War, when the new one is freezing before your eyes? Isn’t Tehran the new Berlin? Did you know that 20% of Americans think Ukraine is in S. America?

Ze problem with a cool PI novel set in the desert is obvious, but here is another thing to consider – yes, most detective novels strive for an original regionality. But it helps to pick a region with a lot of potential readers/buyers. This is why so many books are set in NY. Or places people want to go…Venice for example. Do you know how many murder mysteries have been set in Venice? It is a great way for writers to “write-off” a trip to Venice. And then, of course, the editor may find it necessary to visit the writer in Venice. Most editors in NY (and 99.9999% are in NY) do not find the “high CA desert” so fascinating. Well. Maybe the “high” part. Not so much the desert. Or CA. It’s a long trip.

Q#12 – PAULA: Hmm…. I see your point. Pick somewhere nice for the setting. Super nice. First, the writer gets to go there.  If their lucky, the writers agents and editors get to go there… and finally, either physically or at least metaphorically, the reader gets to go there. I get it, a  nice locale sells.

But what about the YA Fantasy trilogies? First Hunger Games, now Divergent. No road trips to those worlds, but they’re selling like hotcakes. Sounds like a no brainer to me?

 

VLAD: Um, ja. They haff always been big, you forget perhaps, Tolkien? C.S. Lewis? Or Asimov’s Foundation books? As long as there are disillusioned and devious youthmunchkins, I think these books can succeed. But there are many many of these written, and only a few rise to the top. Like cream. Unlike sediment in wine or …pass ze vial, please cousin.

Q#13 – PAULA: Maybe you are really just on the hunt for more vampire novels?

VLAD: I think you can just put a period after ‘hunt’, ja? There are already many more vampire novels than vampires. Perhaps we need a new endangered genre, ja? Where are all the panda novels?

Q#14 – PAULA: But seriously Vlad, you know a lot about books and the authors that write them. Can you share with my 5writer colleagues and our faithful readers what’s hot this year?

VLAD: This is always much easier at ze end of the year, when I can say, ja, this was HOT! But I do seem to see a trend of handicapped, adopted, otherwise marginalized “Kleenex” books succeeding. Jojo Moyes made a small splash with “Me Before You” and I haff just read a ms of Five Days Left which is in a similar vein. You know, very sad people, stuck in a struggle for LIFE, and then you know, a sad, but uplifting ending, and you know, very, very good for Kleenex salespersonvolk. This is not a favorite type of book for vampire. The trend of writing a novel about the spouse of a famous person seems to be slowly withering…you know, Paris Wife, Freud’s Mistress, Ahab’s Wife, etc. I will not be surprised to see novels about children of famous people, My Dad Einstein, or things like this. But do I recommend writing them? Nyet.

Q#15 – PAULA: So, not to pluck at any 5writers wounds, but I’m interested in your opinion about how frequently you need to pop out a book to be a successful published author of series commercial fiction?

VLAD: If it is truly a series, and if you ARE successful, then from a publisher view, the faster the better (to some extent). But the key is “successful.” If you are a writer of a ‘sort of okay selling’ series, then once a year is plenty. There is an interesting phenomena where books with shorter sentences and paragraphs and chapters seem to do somewhat better (esp in genre fiction) than more erudite, complicated, and intertwined textual messages. This may have to do with time demands of our age, or texting, or just because you can read it faster.

I should make note for ze budding writers, that the genres with the highest frequency reader, the voracious and insatiable beasts that require the most filling of the trough, i.e. romance, and mystery and thriller, these are exactly the books moving most to “e-book” format. So if you’re writing a “read it once and you’re done” kind of book, you must realize that MOST of your readers will now download, read, and delete your work. 70% of romance is now sold as e-book, just as an example. However, a History of the Sudan, in three volumes? Not so much.

 

Q#16 – PAULA: In other words, something like one novel every 5 months or so?  Will that about do it?

Speed can be good, but reliability is much more important. If you tell a publisher, “I can write a book a year” they will schedule you like that, and if you don’t deliver on time, it messes a LOT of things up. How would you feel, if I, your salespersonvolk, said, “oh, sorry, I had “salesmansblock” last three months, and couldn’t get around to selling your book, but I’m feeling really optimistic now, and should be able to sell it in the next few months”?

The question is, are you a professional writer, or an amateur? A professional meets deadlines, maintains his/her social media, helps get the word out, presses the flesh, signs books, answers fanmail, etc etc. They do not whine about “writersblockenspiel.” Sad but true. Writers are published as much for WHO THEY ARE as for WHAT THEY WRITE. You have to have BOTH now. Better to be a beekeeper in AR who writes about bees, blogs about bees, sells bee honey, than a retired accountant in a trailer in 1000 Palms writing about a detective on the UP in MI. Capice?

Q#17- PAULA: So, if you were an unpublished writer of hmm…. advancing middle age. One who procrastinates and is easily distracted, would you be inclined to:

a)    make submissions through the conventional process (send out queries to agents, wait. Send out more queries. Wait. Send out more queries. Give up and write another book and try, try, try, again and again to get represented with the aim of selling your book to a traditional publishing houses?

Yes. Write an extraordinary book. That is actually quite important. Not a “good” book. Not an “ok” book. Not a book that “needs a little work.” A book that makes someone stay up until 3 to finish it, and then wants to tell everyone “you’ve GOT to read this!” These are books publishers look for…and pay for.

…or

b)    take a good long, hard look at self- publishing?

VLAD: Yes. You can write a not-so-good book and throw it up on Amazon. Someone will probably read it if it is 99 cents or less. Then they will tell you, “this is not such a great book.” You will think, “what a schmuck.” Someone else will read, and say “the other reviewer was being kind. This book sucks!” And you will think, “what a poor deluded soul.” Then maybe, if you are very, very, lucky, someone ( your Mom?) will say, “these other two reviewers have missed the depth and wonder of this extraordinary piece of writing, I can’t wait to read what they write next!” And you will think “GENIUS!” But there is value in feedback and just getting your work out in front of readers. I am a little surprised that more people are not using Amazon to write serial novels (like magazines used to publish). If you sold two chapters for 25 cents, then the number of people willing to buy chapters 3 – 4, would pretty much tell you if you’re on track…and if no one buys, start a new novel…

 

Q#18 PAULA: Oh wait. maybe that question could get you into trouble? 

VLAD: Everything gets me in trouble.

Q#19 – PAULA: Don’t answer if you’re going to get into trouble. We don’t want to get you into trouble.

VLAD: My middle name is Trouble. Vlad Trouble Van HelsingkvolkpersonVYes, I sell books that I love, and books that I hate, and books I wonder why in hell they were ever published. I am sorry to say, I don’t believe there are very many “great books” that never get published. As far as I am concerned there are too many books published.

Q#20: PAULA: Well, that’s about it Vlad. Unless you have any other advice for my 5writer colleagues?

- VLAD: 3D printers (with apologies to The Graduate)

PAULA: I mean I know you aren’t an agent or editor, but you do sell the books that make the authors $$$$. Even a lot of vampire books. 

VLAD: Yes, I sell books that I love, and books that I hate, and books I wonder why in hell they were ever published. I am sorry to say, I don’t believe there are very many “great books” that never get published. As far as I am concerned there are too many books published.

PAULA: I know you know a lot about the biz. So this is your big chance to spew. What are your top, tips for getting a shot at getting published?

It’s really very easy.

Write an extraordinary book

Send to the right agent.

Let the agent sell to the right editor/publishing house

Let the editor “sell” the book “in-house” to create enthusiasm. Have all the sales reps read and love it.

Let the salespeople’s enthusiasm get booksellers to read and love your book.

Let the publicity and marketing people get reviewers, TV shows, Bloggers, etc to read and love your book

Let all those people get consumers to read and love your book.

Nothing to it.

 

PAULA: Thanks Vlad.

VLAD: You’re Very Velcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Street scenes and road warriors

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Silk’s Post #80 — Helga’s right. California is a an incomparable people-watching place. A writer’s observational playground. Especially SoCal, where you’ll find just about every sort of person under the hot, fertile sun.

And most of them will be in cars. On the road.

cal-car-2Because California, especially SoCal and the Valley towns, really loves its cars. And its roads. From two-lane county roads, to neon-lit main drags, to 6-, 8-, why not make it 10-lane highways. Whole communities have been engineered and built to accommodate this car passion.

There are fresh, new towns with malls of every description, but no Main Street. Never fear, you’ll probably find at least one mall dressed up to look like an idealized, Disney version of a tidy, perfect Main Street, with lovely landscaping and ever-blooming flowers. They call them towns, but they’re actually developments – or “planned communities” in real estate parlance. California invented them, in part, to make its cars happy. (Which makes its people happy.)

Some California towns actually do have an organic Main Street (as opposed to a strip-mall-lined Main Drag), which often has been rehabbed to recall a historic past (anywhere from the pioneer days to the 1950s), or just as often is on its second or third wave of tenants and on the waiting list for such a rehab. Rehabbed streets will likely be lined with BMWs, un-rehabbed ones with low-riders.

Do I sound cynical about California? In reality, there are many Californias, and I actually have a soft spot in my heart for the Golden State. It was the first place David and I moved to after we got married back in pre-history (the 1960s), when we lived not far from The Haight in San Francisco.

cal-car-3My husband is a fourth-generation Californian whose forebears arrived there by covered wagon (literally). He has cars deep in his DNA, which is inevitable for a red-blooded California boy who grew up in the 50s and 60s. He built and raced hot rods in his teens. So did both his brothers. So I “get” the car passion. I’ve even spent the odd late night watching Barrett-Jackson auctions. By the way, we still have his street rod in the garage – a 1931 Ford pick-up with a 409 under the hood. (It’s sleeping. David’s on to boats now.)

But back to the road. The essential environment of any road is defined by speed, number of lanes, number of lights and what it passes through. The super-highway is the dominant form of California road, as opposed to, say, the urban avenue or the small town 50s-style main street. Californians made an art form of cruising the drag in the mid-20th century, and now in the green-thinking 21st century it’s virtually impossible to put the brakes on the car culture.

Urban streets, for instance, are nothing but a frustration to cars, their drivers often grim-faced, heads swivelling as they seek that rarest of commodities: an on-street parking space. However, city streets are rich in people-watching opportunities, as pedestrians stroll, saunter, skip, march or hustle along their own miniature roads called sidewalks.

cal-car-4Highways, on the other hand, are built exclusively for cars. Occasionally, you may see a sidewalk or even a crosswalk along a highway, but these are just safety measures to reduce the potential carnage when cars travelling at high speed share the road with people who are not wrapped in automotive armour. Here, sidewalks are not necessarily indicators that pedestrians are actually welcome to share the road with cars. Ever try actually walking along a main highway, other than when you were hitching a ride? Then you know what I mean. It’s an alien environment that wasn’t built for travel on two legs, like a railroad track.

Why does any of this matter to a writer? Because, when you think about it, the best people-watching is often observing people in transit. Unless you happen to be a Peeping Tom. From her frequent trips between California and BC, Paula has extolled the joys of people-watching in airports.  Joe recently enjoyed the full, triple-shot California people experience in his Traveling with Kids odyssey. And then there was Helga’s colourful people-watching experience that, arguably, could only happen in California.

I loved Helga’s observations about the wildly contrasting drivers who pulled up to a light on either side of her during her Highway 111 adventure. The doobie-smoking furry freak brothers in their beater car to the right … the bejewelled, ancient Gloria Swanson wannabe in her Bentley to the left. Yes, that’s the California I know and love (and mock, of course, that’s the fun of it).

This somewhat jarring encounter is what got me thinking about people-watching in cars: street scenes and road warriors. Here’s the thing: you would likely never see these characters anywhere near each other in their own neighbourhoods. It’s very possible that the only thing they will ever share in their lives is the highway, where they’re protected from each other by their vehicles. When Lady Bentley alights from her car, it will be in one world, and when the ganja gang piles out of their car it will be in a completely different world. It’s only on the road that they’re united, courtesy of the modern worship of mobility and the internal combustion engine.

How people get around their home turf tells you a lot about what life is like there. Slow paced or high speed? Intimate or distant? A cohesive society, or a disparate one?

People encountered in traffic may come from entirely different tribes, with different rules and different lifestyles. On “their” streets, they’ll be among “their” people. Can you imagine Lady Bentley wandering into a funky head shop, or the ganja gang invading an A-list country club? That’s the stuff of drama, or comedy, depending on the outcome.

I always find one of the most entertaining thing about people-watching is spotting incongruity, diversity, people out of place or doing unexpected things. What are they doing there? Why are they doing that? Many a tale has sprung from such disruptions and abnormalities.

But then, in California – at least on the highway – even the bizarrely incongruous is, well, pretty normal.

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Note to readers: Apologies for my absence the past couple of weeks. Like all the other 5writers, I’ve been travelling – and on this trip the preparations, the just-made-it flight schedule, and a visit with dear friends that deserved 100% of my attention intervened. I had this post almost ready to go a week ago. Almost. But it’s better for an extra edit.

PS – All photos in this post by me. 

 

Bursting on the scene

Helga’s Post # 76:  I haven’t made a great deal of progress on the writing front for a shameful period of time, and that’s putting it generously. There are good and solid reasons of course, but fear not, I won’t indulge you.

This lack of progress did however prompt me to take a departure from ‘writing about writing’, to ‘writing about reading’. I thought it might be interesting to look at what’s trending in the book world these days, and by extension, what kinds of books are snatching the coveted prizes. While this is about literary fiction rather than commercial, it still gives us a glimpse of what kind of stories people love to read at this point in time.

One of the most coveted prizes is the Pulitzer, which has awarded writers yearly since 1917. For this year, the word is just out: The 2014 Pulitzer goes to….

You probably heard it too: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. _74243621_donna-tartt-composite

What an amazing story. Not just the novel, but also its 51-year old author. Goldfinch is Donna’s third novel (writers take note: it took her 11 years to complete it), following her critically acclaimed The Little Friend, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2003. She began writing her first book, The Secret History, at age 19 while studying at Bennington College. A pretty impressive list of achievements.

I always love to read summaries or blurbs of books that win prizes. They tell so much more than contemporary reading trends and what kinds of books ultimately sell. These blurbs also tend to shed light on issues that occupy us within our society, issues we writers would do well to be aware of when choosing a topic for our next novel.

Let’s start with Donna Tartt’s novel and then take a look at the other two finalists.

The book received lavish praise from the moment it was published. One example, from Booklist had this to say: “Drenched in sensory detail, infused with Theo’s churning thoughts and feelings, sparked by nimble dialogue, and propelled by escalating cosmic angst and thriller action, Tartt’s trenchant, defiant, engrossing, and rocketing novel conducts a grand inquiry into the mystery and sorrow of survival, beauty and obsession, and the promise of art.”

So what’s all the fuss about? Here is how the story starts:

A thirteen-year-old boy in New York City, Theo Decker, survives a terrorist bombing attack in an art museum that takes the life of his mother (and dozens of other art-loving citizens). His father was not there, having deserted the family some time prior to these events. Theo adored his energetic, beautiful mother – as did many other people in Manhattan – and thinks of his father as an alcoholic, occasionally abusive, and as a thief.Theo accepts a ring and an enigmatic message given to him by a man, elderly Welty Blackwell, who dies in the rubble of the explosion. Theo is willing to unravel the puzzle, because (before the bomb went off) he had found himself fascinated by a red-headed girl, Pippa, also at the Museum that day and who was somehow related to the old man, and on her account, he will grant the dying man’s last request. Believing that the old man, Welty, is pointing at a painting (The Goldfinch) on the wall, Theo takes that also in his panicked escape. The taking of these items – one handed over freely, a family heirloom, the other a literally “priceless” painting by Carel Fabritius – was done by Theo in a state of terror, concussion, and shock, with no ability to reason how these minor-seeming actions would influence the rest of his life.

And that’s just the beginning. The sprawling epic, weighing in at 755 pages, starts as a coming of age story. It then follows protagonist Theo years later to Las Vegas, New York City’s Lower East Side, and Amsterdam. It’s definitely on my reading list.

Let’s look at the two other Pulitzer nominees, The Son by Philip Meyer and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis. PhilippMeyer

“The Son,” by Philipp Meyer (Ecco), is a sweeping multi-generational novel that illuminates the violence and enterprise of the American West by tracing a Texas family’s passage from lethal frontier perils to immense oil-boom wealth.

In the first few pages, a 100-year-old man called Eli McCullough describes the Texas he knew, before its glories were trampled: “the land and all the animals who lived upon it were fat and slick. Grass up to the chest, the soil deep and black in the bottoms and even the steepest hillsides overrun with wildflowers … the country was rich with life the way it is rotten with people today.” Eli had come to Texas as the child of pioneer settlers, but was abducted by Comanche warriors, with whom he lived for some years before returning to the white world to build a cattle and oil empire by the usual methods of armed landgrab and state-sanctioned illegality favoured by empire-builders everywhere. The rise and fall of that empire, and the moral and psychological costs its maintenance imposes on five subsequent generations of McCulloughs, is the subject of The Son, a work of extraordinary narrative power and contrasts, in which destruction seems inevitable and enjoyment of victory’s fleeting pleasures bittersweet at best. (Excerpted from a review by The Guardian)

The second finalist, “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul,” by Bob Shacochis, is a novel spanning 50 years and three continents that explores the murky world of American foreign policy before 9/11, using provocative themes to raise difficult moral questions.BobShacochis_AF

The earliest part opens on the wasted landscape of Croatia during the German occupation of World War II. Eight-year-old Stjepan Kovacevic sees his father beheaded by one of Tito’s Muslim partisans. Before the blood even stops flowing, the boy and his mother flee toward the sea, determined to reach the United States, “the only place strong enough to defeat the enemies of Christ our savior.” In Shacochis’s electrified narrative, this is a frightening odyssey through a society with nothing “left to believe in except the horror of existence.” Military order has collapsed; soldiers devolved into thugs bribe and shoot and rape, knowing they don’t have long to live anyway. For little Stjepan, this ordeal is an indelible introduction “to his destiny, the spiritual map that guides each person finally to the door of the cage that contains his soul.”

When we see Stjepan Kovacevic again, he’s been transfigured into an elegant, though shadowy, undersecretary named Steven Chambers. The little boy’s inchoate desire for vengeance against the enemies of Christ now finds expression in the spycraft of the most powerful nation on Earth. Wielding almost magical military technology, bottomless black-box funding and special ops men trained to godlike prowess, Chambers and his “Friends of Golf” (FOG) pursue “the self-dramatizing schemes of overheated minds, unrestrained in power and influence and felonious inspiration.” Their crusade against the infidels rages away entirely beyond the purview of Capitol Hill and those silly politicians who imagine they’re in control. (Excerpted from a Washington Post review).

So here we have it: Three epic books that follow their protagonists over many years, starting when they were children or teens. All have elements of violence, some quite explicit and gory, and all are grounded in historical events. Will this become the new trend for bestselling novels?

I don’t know which of the three books to pick up first. They all sound enticing. The chronology doesn’t really matter. What’s important is to pick them up.

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How to write when you have no time

Joe’s Post #92 —

spoonsSpoons, baby, spoons.

It’s something I heard a lot about when my wife was trying to fight cancer. It’s basically how much energy or time you have. On some days, she’d have a lot of spoons. A spoonful could be eat breakfast. Another might be Go for a 15 minute walk. I’ve heard people with Lupus use this as well.

For me it’s about time as much as energy. In About A Boy, the protagonist measures his life in 30 minute units. It’s a funny-ass book, but one that rings so true to me know.

With my new life, I have to find a spoon here and there, 30 minutes taken from something to be able to write.

If I assume a spoon is 30 minutes of time, I need to grab about 6 to able to do my blogs. I’m getting faster at doing them, finding pictures for them, solving problems that crop up and, of course, writing them. Practice may not make perfect, but it does make you faster.

Eye_of_CthulhuSo, today, wrote one blog while eating. That’s an easy multitask. I’ll give up a long walk since it’s raining like hell. That’s an easy one. That gives me about 4 spoons. I’ll be with the boys tonight so I’ll not play a game with them and get the last blog done. That should about do it.

Is my day any worse? No. I may be a bit fatter. I may miss a cool boss fight with the boys, but I’ll get my writing done. It’s all doable.

But now, what about the other things? Queries. Each one takes about 20 min, more if I have to research the writers they represent so I can say, yeah, so like I write like Shakespeare who you represent. Say 3 in an hour or 2 spoons. Learn more about social media. Say 2 spoons. Write new novel. A good 4 spoons a day. So, that’s 8 spoons or about 4 hours.

Now how the heck am I supposed to do that and get the house ready for sale, spend quality time with the boys and the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world, watch Game of Thrones, email everyone, exercise, look for a house, laundry, dishes, and research and being with friends and…

First… TV that’s crap. So, so long Survivor. Goodbye Will Ferrell movies on PVR. Adios Frontline news shows.

Then… sleep. No more sleeping 10 hours a day. 8. That’s all I can afford, (which is actually all I need). No more lying in bed. Up and attem!

It’s not like this is a tough life. It’s not. But it’s a matter of moving some things around, find a way to multitask when I can, and give up the things that are less important than me writing.

It’s what needs to be done.

Here are my latest blogs. At least one is pretty good. None have any nudity.

Traveling With Kids

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How much I think Game Of Thrones Rocks: A billion times. And if you haven’t checked this out, please do… (spoiler alert) GOT Honest Trailer

Pages Written on New Novel: 0

Outline Complete: 60% (might be 62%) I’ll get the tires kicked on it then start.

Blogs Written This Week: Lots and lots.

Queries Out this Week: 0 (only so much time)

Rejections for the Last Week: 0 (has to be bad news. I may need to move the 5 out there to 5 rejections)

Queries Still Out There: 5

How Much I Agree With Karalee’s last post: 100%  Hey look at CSI, that’s full of so much wrong stuff (I mean, seriously, lab techs doing interviews, chasing down bad guys, having perfect hair, it’s all crap.)

Hope Meter: 70/100.  Holding steady. No longer posting her on a daily basis, though.

Does a writer need to be right to write?

Karalee’s Post #72 —

Okay, so I’m a perfectionist. As a writer I often feel that this is a disadvantage.

It makes sense that to lead a balanced life everything should be in moderation. This means everything from food intake, exercise, work, play, cooking, hobbies, etc.

But it’s extremes that make a story more interesting. Take Helga’s last post for instance, and how experiencing the (extreme) unexpected was refreshing and added energy and interest to her desire to write. Readers want those extremes in stories they read too.

Does that mean that writers need to know the extremes of what they want to write about? In my opinion I would say no. Not at first. Rather, what writers need to know or research to understand, are the norms.

Then start asking the age old jump-start-your-ideas question, “what if?” Keep asking the question and pushing the normal until you get an extreme that excites you and you can build your story around.

So what’s my problem? Why do I feel being a perfectionist is a hindrance to me?

More often than not I feel such a strong urge to “make sure what I write is right” that it often prevents me from getting out of the starting gate. How can I push the extreme unless I know exactly what it’s all about or how it really works?

Is this a form of writer’s block?

I read the blog The Kill Zone today and it was about this subject and Joe Moore’s opinion about what is behind it. I tend to agree a whole lot with his view.

So no, I don’t have writer’s block, I have writer’s fear. Fear of being wrong about my concept, scientific details, geographic details, etc., etc. It does stop my progress, or rather my beginningness!

How do I overcome my tendency to want to know everything before I start? Are there other writers like me out there?

Research is important, sure, but one can’t research forever, and if you are like me, research will never be enough to soothe me since there will always be more details to learn.

I’ve been working hard on personal issues and growth the last year or so and it has come to light that my reluctance to dive in and expose myself to writing something that might be “wrong” is due to childhood issues of never being good enough, and it has fed a negative loop I’m finding hard to break.

I’m a bright person and can use this to my advantage. I know what this “extreme” feels like and I can use it in my writing. And, as for not knowing “everything” before I start writing, the details I don’t know need to be put into perspective. From the experience of writing my first two books, I know that the details that need to be fixed are usually minor, or an expert can help me with that particular event to make it “real.”

In effect I really don’t need to know it all. Or even very much of it!

The secret is to simply WRITE. Don’t let not knowing the in-depth details of something stop the writing in progress. Leave a blank and keep going. Leave lots of blanks or put in details you think will work and review it later. It doesn’t really matter when you are in the middle of creative output. What does matter is to keep writing!

Fill in the blanks or make changes later. Some plot points may need to be altered, but the important thing is that good progress has been made AND I now know exactly where/what details I need to find out about. In effect, my research has been narrowed down!

I find it very interesting that the blanks are often minor details that are important, but won’t take all your time (days, weeks…) of research, most of which I don’t need to use or know about.

If you are looking for interesting tips on developing your writing skills, I find the following blogs a great read: livewritethrive.com and jmmcdowell.com.

Also, for interesting extreme behaviours and/ or life circumstances, you may want to watch the Dr. Phil show!

Happy writing!

 

 

 

Only in California

IMG_3443Helga’s Post #75:  This is highly unusual for the 5/5/5 blog – every one of us (or at least four) are, or have recently been, traveling at the same time. Me included. Regrettably, unlike fellow poster Joe, I did not have a laptop with me. Hence no blog posts while on the road. My thumbs are just not deft enough to type a whole post on the iPhone.

Since the theme du jour has largely been travelling, I feel inclined to add one of my own. A little anecdote.

I am always amazed how a change of scenery, an absence from my usual surroundings, influences my writing after I am back home from a trip. It must be that hunger for new experiences, the interest to observe and take in every small detail, and our natural curiosity in all things new that makes our imagination shift into high gear.

That’s what I have been experiencing just now. Having traded my familiar surroundings of Canada’s cool west coast for California’s dry and hot desert for a few weeks, I am in awe of just about everything. I feel like a kid in a candy store. I lap it all up like a dog in a butcher shop. Not only the weather, or the almost surreal blue sky. Not just the awesome mountains and palm trees and Bougainvillea wherever you look. Or the mid-century modern architecture. I could go on.

But it’s the people that are infinitely inspiring.

To give you a sense of what I am experiencing: We are on picturesque Highway 111 somewhere between Palm Desert and Indian Wells in southern California, cruising comfortably in the middle of three lanes. At the red light I peek at the car to our left – a huge fancy Bentley. Shiny black. A tycoon’s toy. Curious, I am wondering who drives this masculine icon of über-wealth.

“Don’t stare,” my husband says. I ignore him of course and lean ever so slightly forward to take a discreet peek. I expected a forty-something driver, a strong-chinned poster-boy CEO on his way to a board meeting.

But it was nothing like that. I blinked, trying to make out the driver. At first I didn’t see him at all. As it turned out it wasn’t a man. Hunched over the steering wheel, chin almost touching, was the tiny head of an older woman. A white turban, reminiscent of the fashion of the early fifties, crowned her withered face. A huge gold hoop hung from her ear (I assumed from the other too, but I could only see her profile). She peered over a pair of gigantic sunglasses perched on her nose. Her hand on the steering wheel was at the same height as her face. Huge rings on every finger.

So I was right about the icon of wealth, but the image of that tiny old woman sure blew me away. How she ever managed to see the road ahead of her and to operate this massive car remains a mystery.

I could not have made her up in my writing. She was that unusual. But now that I know she exists, I realize she has made me a gift. The gift of inspiration. I couldn’t take a photo of course, but she is firmly planted in my mind. I hope I will find a place for her somewhere in my novel. And spin an interesting yarn about her life. Perhaps she could even become a main character in a new novel. The possibilities are endless.

But that’s not the only head-shaking surprise I got at that same intersection, waiting for the red light to change. “Look to your right,” my husband offers, “just be careful. Don’t stare.”

Not another Bentley. Not a luxury car of any kind. A beat-up badly bruised jalopy of indeterminate colour, windows down (if in fact there were any), rocking back and forth as a result of some movement inside. Tobacco smoke oozing. Curious, I turned down my own window. Tobacco smoke it was not. It smelled strong. Reefer-like. Maybe something stronger. The sound of hard rock – really hard – and four figures rocking in tune. Rocking hard. Making the jalopy sway. The four figures – I assume they were guys but I am not sure (remember, I wasn’t allowed to stare) looked like cartoon Photoshop versions of the wildest hippies I have ever seen.

Only in California.

I will not go into more detail about their hair or body piercings, but here is another example of what could make a great scene in a novel. Not just the hippy car, or the Bentley, but the fact that these two cars on either side of ours, their owners surely worlds apart, stopped at that same red light and shared this particular moment in time.

And I happened to witness it. I was part of that moment, observing from the middle lane. Only a few seconds, but a splendid writers’ moment.

So, while my writing took a backseat while on the road, both in terms of my novel as well as posting to our blog, I arrived back home loaded with lots of memories and images. Some pretty quirky ones. I am sure a few will find their way into my novels, because they are too amusing and precious not to share them.

Stay tuned. There will be more.

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Social media

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Joe’s Post #91 How much social media is too much, how little is too little?

It’s hard to figure out how much time to spend on social media. Am I building an audience or is this just narcissistic me shouting at the world to pay attention to me, dammit, pay attention?

Karalee wrote a great post about Twitter and I was lucky enough to hear her thoughts and advice on that form of connecting with people.

gotThing is, I love connecting with people and groups online. Hello, Game of Thrones fans! ‘Sup fellow writers. What’s happening, Sandra Bullock, why the restraining order, why, why, why?

But it’s like research. It can consume your writing time. Two blogs a day takes time. Adding the links to other media takes time. Making posts on Twitter, well, you get the idea.

And time is the one thing I’m short on at the moment. That and chocolate. But I can go buy chocolate, I can’t buy more time. So, if I’m to get my book started on the 14th, if I’m to finish it up in three months, AND still blog AAAAND still get queries out, and help my writing friends, and be a good parent, and a good partner, then something has to give.

It may be a bit of social media.

*****

Days Until Game of Thrones Starts: None. It was amazing. Love the Hound. Love this too, I laughed my ass off… (spoiler alert) GOT Honest Trailer

Days Until I Start My Next Novel: Date has been set. It’s April 14th. That’s, errr, next week!!!!!!!!

Blogs Written This week: 14 new ones. Maybe more. I kinda lost count.

Queries out this week: 0 (See, this obsession with social media has to stop)

Rejections for the last week: 0 (has to be bad news. I may need to move the 5 out there to 5 rejections)

Queries Still Out there: 5

Hope Meter: 70/100.  Up +20. Loving that I have a few more readers on my blog. LOVE LOVE LOVE blogging. Thanks for my fellow 5/5/5 writers for letting me go nuts on this site.