A clear and present danger


Paula’s Post #65 — We live in the digital age. A time of ever-increasing distractions. Our iPhones, our iPads, our Fuel Bands and Fitbits, our 1000+ digital cable channels, our Netflix and Twitter and Linkedin accounts… all contribute to a world where the hours of the day are subjected to being sliced and diced like a French chef’s mirepoix, until there is nothing left but a few stray minutes here, an hour or so there.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t shake the vague sense of feeling ‘robbed’ by all these distracting influences.

I know, I know,  I can hear you all now: “It’s your own fault if you can’t turn off your phone for an hour or two – if you can’t push yourself off the couch and pick up a book instead of sitting rooted, like a gnarled old oak, transfixed by the Olympic’s Women’s Parallel Slalom Snowboarding event or the latest episode of Downton Abbey.  

We all make choices, this is true, but there is no disputing the radical changes the digital age has brought to our everyday lives.

Just 10 years ago, I actually visited libraries on a weekly basis. Visited bookstores too, almost as often, checking out with armloads of heavy books from my favourite authors. I recall vowing to purchase Sue Grafton’s alphabet offerings, in order, all the way to Z is for… but alas, faltered somewhere around P is for Peril.

P is for Peril

I was amongst the first to cheer the introduction of the eReader, the device that heralded the dawn of a new age, a utopian future where we could travel through Europe without fear of running out of books to read, or of being charged excess baggage fees when the 17 travel guides we’d squirreled away in our luggage resulted in our suitcases topping out the scales at somewhere north of 50 pounds.

Up until the last decade, for better or worse, actual physical ‘books’ were an omnipresent part of our everyday lives.

Now, with rare exceptions, most of my books are downloaded to my iPad. I still like to buy real hard copies of the reference books that I used in my business and  I think I will always want to buy hard copies of ‘writing’ books, for these I like to index with little stickies and dog ear the pages to mark passages that resonate with a particular sage piece of advice. But now, my purchase of ‘real’ books, as far as fiction is concerned, is more often than not confined to purchasing that special first edition of a favourite author’s book, or better yet, the hot off the presses launch of a writing colleagues debut novel.

To me, this is disturbing.

How could so much have changed in so short a time?

Not everyone is like me. I’m sure many of you are still acquiring books, whether from a genuine preference for the touch and feel and smell of ‘real books’ or from an altruistic need to ‘save’ a dying art form.

When I packed up my house to move last summer, I could have built eight foot walls from the shelves full of books we’d accumulated over the years. Some purchased, some inherited, but either way far too many to move yet again.

In case you think otherwise, there isn’t a huge market for used books – they’re difficult to even give away. But my 5writer colleague Joe was quick to step in, offering to ‘shelter’ several fine books in his collection.

Indeed, I’ve started to think maybe we need to develop ‘book rescue’ organizations, something akin to ‘pet rescue’. Noble undertakings where you offer to provide a home, temporary or otherwise, to save old books from being euthanized at the dump.

But think about it for a minute. Even if you do rescue these books, how many of these books are you actually going to read? Are we ‘book readers’ the last of a dying breed?

What about young people? Are the majority actually reading actual books these days? I know the Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent series have captivated a certain segment of teen and young adult readers, in much the same way as J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series managed a decade before with somewhat younger readers, but is this an isolated trend?

My sister-in-law Eleanor is visiting this week; a retired high school teacher, she is a life-long reader who still works with young people, tutoring ESL students. Eleanor is a true reader, having read every day of her life, from the time she learned to read. She even admits to feeling upset if she doesn’t read a little bit everyday, if only for ten minutes, before she falls asleep.

But Eleanor readily agrees that she finds it disturbing when she has to almost ‘force’ some of her young adult students to read books, even for pleasure.

I’m beginning to wonder if we may have done our children a disservice, herding them into English class and forcing them to dissect books like specimens in a biology lab. Dictating that a novel must be ripped to shreds until there is nothing left to love. Lost is pacing, plot and most egregious of all, the suspension of disbelief. Who wouldn’t rather play video games?

Perhaps what we need is a revolution in reading. Since it debuted in 1996, Oprah’s Book Club has helped to keep reading fun, social and interactive. She’s even got lists to help introduce kids to the joy of reading.

Yet even here, some have criticized the pop culture, mass appeal of the books Oprah has championed over the years: Scott Stossel, an editor at The Atlantic, wrote:

“There is something so relentlessly therapeutic, so consciously self-improving about the book club that it seems antithetical to discussions of serious literature. Literature should disturb the mind and derange the senses; it can be palliative, but it is not meant to be the easy, soothing one that Oprah would make it.”[1]

Seriously? What a snob!

I don’t know about you, but I want to fall in love with books again. Yesterday, a beautiful 80 degree blue sky day in the California desert, I launched my floatie raft and drifted about my pool. Within minutes though, I was antsy. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t have a book I could take into the pool. Two sat on my bedside table: The Spellman Files, a hardcopy, first edition mystery by Edgar nominated author Lisa Lutz bearing a personal inscription to the friend in my Bocce league who’d lent me this delightful debut novel.

No, no, no, no – definitely not taking that one in the pool.

Ditto for the second book on my night table, The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett, another hard copy first edition debut novel that is winning rave reviews. This book a Christmas present from my cousin Mark.

Not pool fodder, no, no, no.

I finally settled on launching with NumbersRachel Ward’s debut YA psycho thriller about a disaffected teen with an unusual affliction, the ability to see ‘numbers’ attached to people, the numbers the dates of each person’s death. I’d purchased the book when researching the genre for my own 5writers YA novel, but never did more than read a few of the early chapters.

Yesterday, floating on my raft under an azure sky, I lost myself in this little paperback book, if only for an hour or so before yet another social engagement. But that hour was enough to rediscover the joy of reading. I didn’t pick it up at the end of the day, when I was exhausted and destined to fall asleep in a mere 10 minutes or so. No, for once I found the time to read in the middle of the day, my iPhone and iPad safely ashore, I floated adrift and unplugged from the normal distractions of everyday life.

I can’t say it is the best book I’ve ever read, but that is not the point. Yesterday, I cherished the simple pleasure of reading just for fun.

The Atlantic’s Mr. Stossel would no doubt cringe at my choice of reading material, decrying the author’s thin characterizations, familiar themes and simple prose.

Who cares!

If we do not rediscover the joy of reading for pleasure, I fear there is a clear and present danger lying just ahead.

I fear we will have no one to write for.

For you followers of our 5writers blog, I suspect I’m preaching to the converted. If you’re following a blog about writing, your either a reader, a writer, or both. Most likely your spouses and kids are too.

But what about the rest of the people in your little world? Do you know a boy or girl who never reads? A young adult who has yet to discover ‘the joy of reading’? A spouse who may have slipped from grace, distracted by the easy ability to watch six episodes of Breaking Bad in a single evening instead of picking up a book? Even amongst yourselves, are you finding you have too many books you are ‘supposed’ to read, with little time to just read for fun?

If so, I’m suggesting a small experiment. Pick up a book you’d never otherwise read. Read it for fun as quickly as possible. Try not to analyze it. Try just to enjoy it.

When you are done. Give it to someone else.

Bonus points for anyone who can coax a young person, under thirty, into reading a book, just for fun.

Paula’s Post #65.5 — A quick update: Alas, I did not quite manage to get this post posted by Tuesday, midnight, the deadline for my once a week blog offering. As in ‘if this is Tuesday, it must be Paula’s 5writer blog day’.

As we 5writers all know only to well, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. I’d smugly written this post Monday morning, leaving it to add only the insertion of a number of links to author pages, etc. I figured I had plenty of time to do that Tuesday morning before my flight from California to Canada.

I figured wrong.

Remember, suspense in fiction is created by unexpected events. Events like the misplacement of keys before an international flight. The only set of keys that would let us into our rented postage stamp apartment in Vancouver. The keys we were sure we’d taken down to California, but were no where to be found, despite a massive key hunt. The keys that made us an hour late for our flight (good thing the flight was an hour late too).

But as Will Shakespeare famously wrote: ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’: a good friend picked us up to the airport in Vancouver, stayed with us all afternoon and hung out at Starbucks with us until we managed to track down our property manager and an extra key to our apartment. Our kind friend then joined us for dinner and drove us both to dinner and home, after we realized we still didn’t have a working ‘fob’ that would get us into our locked garage where our car is parked.

The fob is coming at 9 am this morning and we’ll be back in action, even if it looks like I’ll end up with a late start for my journey up the coast to check on our renovations. No bumpy journey is without a silver lining. For me, that was being reminded of the true value of a good friend.

Thanks, Colleen!


Surrey Writer’s Con (Act 3 – Success or Not?)

Joe’s Post #67

successWas it a success?

Well, no one said, “OMG, I HAVE to read this novel, send it out right away, no wait, print it up and give it to me now, I’m going to cancel everything else and read it… and get you a cupcake.”

But setting that up as the measure of success is unrealistic. And a bit silly. It’s sort of like me thinking I’m the handsomest, funniest, tallest guy in the bar. I may think that way after 4 shots of tequila, but it’s not reality.

The reality is that I got great feedback on the challenges I will face in submitting this novel. On Friday, I heard this loud and clear and it was depressing. Really shoulder-slumping depressing. But with sober second thought, if I know there’s a problem, I can rework my selling tools to deal with that. I won’t run from the concerns, I’ll tackle them head on and see if I can find a way to make someone believe in this story as much as I do.

So let’s take another look at this.

I managed to pitch 5 agents and editors, I talked to one more in a workshop. All good. However, I missed talking to one agent due to some really bad timing decisions on my part, and a complete inability to stalk someone. I thought I could do a quick pitch as she left the interviewing room but she was nowhere to be found. I thought she might be at the supper but despite walking around with a glass of water and stopping at every table and staring at everyone with a Gomer Pyle expression on my face, I couldn’t see her, even though I found the agents table.

I think I will have to learn how to stalk properly.

Epic fail on the stalking.

But a success (for the most part) on the whole ‘meet important people thing’.

My pitch, though, was off. It failed to connect or at least create something that agents or editors thought was magical (and by that, I mean sellable.) I went with a character-theme heavy pitch but I needed to emphasis an audience and what would make it sell.

My bad. I’ll be far better prepared next time. I already have some ideas.

But epic fail on the pitch part.

However, my ability to haul my sorry ass out of a bad pitch was pretty good. Not REALLY good as my nerves may have log-jammed-up my thoughts and I may spit out words like a mini-gun spits out bullets, but with the exception of one editor, I convinced them there was at least something to look at. Or they took pity on me. Either way is fine.

So, success there.

seanAs well, epic success on the query. That one I got right. After retooling it at 1am. Again, thanks for my buddy Sean (who’s celebrating his latest book, The Guilty, and probably working on a way to get a topless picture of himself in the next fireman’s calendar.)

Epic success, at least for me, on meeting new people as well. It got easier and easier and reminded me that I’m not alone in this quest to get published.

Lastly, my business card rocked! In my darker moments, I think the agents/editors agreedphoto (5) to look at my stuff because they loved my card.

So, all things considered, the conference was very much like my real life, there were moments of hope and moments of despair, there were ups and there were downs – and there were cupcakes. I’m proud that no matter how terrified I was to go and pitch my novel, especially when I began to realize my pitch was massively off, I still went in and did it and did it again and again. I never did overcome my fear but I didn’t let it stop me from doing what must be done.

Score one for the good guys.

I also think I have three of the most important skills a writer needs.

1) Pigheaded stubbornness (stupidity?) to keep doing this no matter the setbacks or math that says my chances are slim.

2) The desire to keep learning, to write better, to find a way around or through obstacles and barriers.

3) And of course, perhaps foolishly, I believe I can write and tell a good story.

I’ll be back again next year.

I hope to see more people there. If you go, make sure to come up to me and say hi. I’ll be the nerdy-looking guy in the business center taping away on my laptop, a cup of coffee and remains of a cupcake nearby.

Surrey Writer’s Con (Act 3 – Or Joe Get’s Schooled in YA)

Joe’s Post #66

IMG_1555[1]So let me give you an insight into a workshop. A Joe’s-eye view.

Writing Captivating YA

By Janet Gurtler

Funny. Charming. YA Writer (That should be on her business card)

The words on the screen are “Write the SHIT out of everything.”

Immediately, I know I’m a gonna love this workshop.

First up, I’m the only guy here. This is one of my hurdles. A guy writing about 16 hear old girls. Wait, hold on, just as the workshop is about to start another guy walks in. He’s wearing a hat. And hipster glasses. Maybe I need a hat and hipster glasses.

I sit and listen to Janet, (yes, I feel I can call her Janet, we’d talked about mistaken identities and hookers for goodness sake) and she stressed – then demonstrated – how important voice was in YA. Well, voice in anything really but here, voice trumps clever writing, perfect grammar and a well chosen font.

And listening to her own words, how Hunger Games opened, how John Green writes, it suddenly occurs to me that I need to do better. Maybe a lot better. Not that I can’t do it, but I will clearly have to kick up my voice.

She talks about how YA deals with teen issues – coming of age, etc. YA lets readers know they are not alone, that their experiences aren’t abnormal, that there are others like them out there. YA deals with FIRSTS, first love, first heartbreaks, first dances, first loss, with bodies changing, with difficult decisions having to be made and with difficult personal issues, real or imagined that they have to encounter every day.

All good stuff.

As she talked, though, I thought more and more about my story, about my character and all sorts of depth came to mind, ways to make them more like teenagers, and less like, well, me. I wrote notes, quick scenes, snatches of dialogue, inspiring me more and more.

I could so make this a better novel.

She ended with 16 ways to build a YA character. Some of them you have probably seen before, but some are brilliant.

1) What does this character want? What do they need to accomplish? (I totally have this in spades, but wait, do I? Do I really? Have I shown this want? Or told the reader about it?)

2) What’s stopping him or her from getting it? (I got this.)

3) What is the character’s most notable physical trait? What do they notiice, what do others notice? (Oh, these are gems! Brilliant questions!)

4) What is this character’s greatest flaw(s)? (I don’t even write a word until I have this down.)

5) What do you know about this character that she will never admit? (oh, holy hell, another gem! This so got me thinking about that dark, shameful secret we all have buried deep within us.)

6) What is your character’s secret wish, but may never ever get? (Also good!)

embarassing7) What is your characters most embarrassing moment? (I never even thought about this one. What would it be and how would it define who they’d become?)

8) What does the character sing in the shower? (neat detail)

9) What is the characters deepest regret? (A subtle but powerful question!)

10)        What is this character deepest fear? (Got that but it’s something I often bug my other writers about until they want to hit me with their Macbooks.)

11)        What is their greatest hope? (see above)

12)        Whom does this character most want to please?!?!?!?! (fucking hell, that’s the best question EVER!)

13)        Why is this character angry (or why not?)

14)        What calms them down? (Wow, this is not something I would have thought about either. Or how do they react to stress?)

15)        List the choices – not circumstance – that led this character to his/her predicament. (Not a question but a GREAT exercise.)

16)        Who depends on this character? (OMG another wow question!)

And one last great piece of advice…


Anyway, after leaving, I knew I needed to do 3 things. So I came up with a plan.

1) I need to make sure I know how a 16 year old girl thinks and speaks. I will place an ad on Craigslist that says, “middle-aged writer wants 16year old girl.” I’m sure that’ll solve the problem.

2) I need to remember that clever writing is not always in the voice or the head of my YA character. I will do better to see the world through their eyes and experiences.

3) I’m going to have to do back and re-read a few books. I read Hunger Games like a reader. I need to look at it again like a writer. Ditto John Green. Or whoever did that Divergence novel.

But a fantastic workshop. I was so pumped to get home and write!

Breaking the rules

rule bookSilk’s Post #26 — Everybody ‘writes’. (Let’s leave the very real literacy problem aside for the moment and concede that writing is a pretty commonplace activity.)

We all express ourselves in written words, somewhere, somehow, for some reason.

But becoming a ‘writer’ is quite a different matter. The decision to take up writing as a profession, even when (or maybe especially when) it’s a second career, takes a mole hill and turns it into a mountain. The simple, familiar, natural act of putting words on paper (or on screen) becomes a sometimes bewildering challenge.

You read a book – probably many books – and you become seduced. You think: I can do that, how hard can it be to tell a story?

Of course, very few would admit to thinking that naive thought, especially somewhere around chapter five of their first book. But surely most of us must have privately entertained a similar notion at some point. Otherwise, would we have set out on the Writer’s Journey at all?

Would-be novelists do not get very far down this road before they find themselves anxiously looking for road signs to tell them where they are and how to get to where they want to go. As soon as we realize we’re probably lost, we hunt for a friendly filling station where we can find a map, and maybe buy a guide book. We grab what help we can find, and top it off with a large coffee to go.

Once you understand that knowing how to put words on paper is not the same as knowing how to tell a story, what you really want to know are the rules of play. You have an idea for a novel, but where do you start? How do you move the plot forward? What do you do at the end? It all seemed so obvious before you faced that blank page. Now you cast your eyes skyward and beg for some reliable commandments that will get you to writer’s heaven.

Fear not. Apart from tax accounting, there is probably no field of endeavour so richly endowed with rules as the enterprise of novel writing. Many centuries of English etymology have yielded a whole universe of rules on usage, vocabulary and grammar, with such a mind-boggling array of exceptions to every rule that just navigating the language is an epic quest in itself.

But that pales in comparison with the rules of storytelling that must be followed if you want to turn your idea into a bestselling novel. Let’s start with the rule that there are only Seven Basic Plots. Or perhaps there are five. Or twenty. There is no real general agreement on this rule.

In fact, right away you discover that you’re going to have to choose among competing rules.

And there are many prescriptions for what a writer must, or must not, do. The aspiring writer, eager to learn, is given to understand that the penalty for breaking the rules is a rejection notice. Career suicide. Eternal obscurity. Among the most conventional of these rules (listed from memory after a couple of years of seeing them over and over and over) are:

  1. Show, don’t tell
  2. Write what you know
  3. Avoid too many adjectives, and all adverbs
  4. Write in active, not passive, voice
  5. Don’t go on and on and on and on and on
  6. Put conflict on every page
  7. Banish boring backstory
  8. Mind your POV
  9. Keep the writer’s presence invisible
  10. Don’t use exclamation points (for much more than you ever wanted to know about this topic, see my earlier post, “I miss the exclamation point!”)

Did you notice how I made a neat list of 10 rules? I’m following a literary tradition here. The gurus who give writing advice, many of them writers themselves, like to come up with pithy lists of rules.

Elmore Leonard has Ten Rules for Writing, as Paula noted in her post “Deja vu all over again”. So does Etgar Keret (plus a few hints about nose-picking). Neil Gaiman managed to edit his list down to Eight Rules for Writing. The great Robert Heinlein’s Six Rules for Writing are some of the tersest and wisest.

But that’s just a tiny sampling. There are pages and pages full of rules to learn. Books full. Seriously, there is no end to this overflow of wisdom. It’s an industry.

But there’s a catch. And it’s a big one.

Nobody ever wrote a great book by following rules. 

I’m not suggesting all this rulemaking and advice is not helpful. Rules encapsulate broader lessons that writers need to learn, and provide useful (if sometimes confusing) signposts along the road to from “Once Upon a Time” to “The End.” However, I’ve been forced to the conclusion that following rules is certainly no guarantee of success, nor is breaking them a guarantee of failure.

I offer evidence from two very different points in the literary spectrum.

Exhibit 1: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

girl-with-the-dragon-tattooThe blockbuster book. The hollywood movie. The phenomenon. Together with the two other titles that make up Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, this series racked up 65 million sales worldwide in a little over five years, and spawned three darkly dramatic Swedish films and a star-studded Hollywood remake.

I have yet to talk to anyone who started the series and did not get sucked into it. I also have yet to talk to a reader who doesn’t claim they almost abandoned it as they laboured through the slow-moving, backstory-riddled, unexciting first few chapters.

“Why the hell is everybody raving about this thing?” was my first reaction. But I stuck with it. Millions did. And we were rewarded with an original and daring saga, driven by unforgettable characters.

Flawed? Certainly. Perhaps if Larsson hadn’t dropped dead at 50 and had polished it further with the help of a good editor, it would have been a better book. Or maybe it would have been “fixed” by rewriting it into a forgettable formula suspense-thriller, or never have been published at all.

If Larsson has a biographer, I hope they’ll name the book The Man Who Broke the Rules.

Exhibit 2: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

midnight's-childrenThe Booker Prize. The art film. The critics’ darling. This 1981 saga of India is an enduring work of literature that became a movie 31 years after it was published. Critics lavished praise on Rushdie’s second novel, the sale of which prompted the author to quit his part-time job as an advertising copywriter and become a full-time novelist.

“An extraordinary novel … one of the most important to come out of the English-speaking world in this generation.”      — The New York Review of Books

“Huge, vital, engrossing … in all senses a fantastic book.”   — The Sunday Times

What most people know Rushdie for is his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, which earned him a different type of notoriety: a 1989 fatwa calling for his execution issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini for what was judged to be the book’s irreverence in its portrayal of the prophet Muhammad.

But while Rushdie’s work made him an outlaw in the Islamic world, it made him a superstar in the literary world. Midnight’s Children was awarded the “Booker of Bookers” prize in 1993 for the best novel among Booker Prize winners for fiction over the prize’s first 25 years. In 2008 it went on to win the “Best of the Booker” by popular vote.

I defy anyone to dive into the rich, thick soup of Midnight’s Children with anybody’s list of writing rules in hand. You will be overwhelmed with the wanton breakage of virtually all of them. There’s tell-tell-telling that doesn’t at all feel like telling. Bizarre, lurching changes in POV, concurrent with dizzying shifts in time and space. The book is littered with odd punctuation, so that it often feels like you’re reading a song with some hidden rhythm rather than a piece of prose. It’s difficult. A book to give an agent ulcers. Yet the whole thing is utterly engulfing.

What to say about an author so given to rule breaking and prize winning? He’s a survivor. A creative voice that has persisted despite death threats, assassination attempts, multiple marriages, the commercial obsession of the publishing industry, and every writing rule book. Oh, and the advertising business.

So let me ask Colson Whitehead, New York Times Sunday Book Reviewer to wrap up this rule-breaking point for me:

“There are no rules. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?”

Joe on Joe

Joe-Interviewer: Is it just me, or does that title sound a little weird?

Joe-Writer: I hear ya.

Joe-Interviewer: Good to see you, again. You look even more handsome in person.

Joe-Writer: I get that a lot.

cooperJoe-Interviewer: You have the whole Bradley Cooper thing going on.

Joe-Writer: Ah, let’s not get carried away.

Joe-Interviewer: Right. So. You finished your novel. You must be excited.

Joe-Writer: You’d think so, but no, it needs to get out to my readers and then I’ll put it into a final draft.

Joe-Interviewer: Who will be your lucky ‘readers’?

Joe-Writer: I haven’t decided, yet. Being a YA novel, I may need to go to YA readers.

Joe-Interviewer: You mean go and hang out at a book store and ask kids if they want to read your novel?

Joe-Writer: If I want to get arrested, sure. Luckily, I know at least two people who’ll read my novel, two teenagers who aren’t afraid to give me their honest opinion.

Joe-Interviewer: That sounds scary.

Joe-Writer: You have no idea.

Joe-Interviewer: What about adults? Will you give any of them the book?

Joe-Writer: For sure. More than a couple have offered to read it.

Joe-Interviewer: So did you do anything to celebrate?

Joe-Writer: Nope. Finishing a novel is like finishing making a shoe. One shoe down, many more to go. I also realize how hard it is to sell that damn shoe so I no longer get excited about it.

Joe-Interviewer: Come on, it must have felt kinda good?

Joe-Writer: No question, it felt good to get it done so quickly, though, as I wrote before, I will work very, very hard on an outline next time and take that to someone I can brainstorm with. I had to toss out nearly 1/2 the novel by the time it was done.

Joe-Interviewer: Yikes! Is that normal?

Joe-Writer: For me, yes and that’s something I want to change.

Joe-Interviewer: So what was a typical writing day like for you? Up at 8, writing for 10 hours, no food or water or porn until midnight?

spaceJoe-Writer: It wasn’t like that. But the funny thing was when my laptop died, I had to clean out my office and that made a space for me to write. Having that space made it easier to set a routine. I found that if I did a chapter, then something else, (walk the dog, eat, watch Spartacus, laundry, whatever) then another chapter, then break, then another chapter, then break, I had my greatest success. On the last week, I was managing to get about 30 pages a day redone (most of which had to be written from scratch.)

Joe-Interviewer: So what’s next?

Joe-Writer: Queries. There seems to be some correlation between sending out queries and selling a book. Sadly, no agent has received my telepathic messages and contacted me about my novel so I’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way. Letters and emails.

Joe-Interviewer: You’ll query this book?

Joe-Writer: Not yet. I could, the first act is pretty solid in my humble opinion, but I’d like thoughts on the rest of the book before sending it off. Instead, I’ll start sending off queries for Desert Rains. Man, I still love that book. Best character I’ve ever created and I love the story.

Joe-Interviewer: Do you now?

Joe-Writer: Yup. I wish I could say it’s going to be easy, but queries are the hardest part for me. Sure I think it’s a great novel, but not everyone does (or my query just plain sucks) and then I have to deal with the rejections. Oh sure there are people out there who take rejection well. I do not, especially when it’s a form rejection. I just don’t know what I did wrong and it eats at me.

Joe-Interviewer: Boo hoo. Get it done.

Joe-Writer: Yup.

Joe-Interviewer: And what about the writers’ group?

Joe-Writer: I’d love to keep the blog going no matter what. I’d also love to get back to meeting more often. But this whole thing was a pretty cool exercise. It’s not as easy as you’d think to get a novel done in 5 months, but we all learned a lot by trying. Different genres, outlining, mind-mapping, even having the courage to toss a novel and start again, that’s all pretty cool stuff.

Joe-Interviewer: What’s next for everyone?

Joe-Writer: Wait and see, wait and see. Everyone seems super excited about their projects so I expect there’ll be more completed novels very soon.

Joe-Interviewer: Thanks for your time. Mind if I take your manuscript with me? I kinda want to read it.

Joe-Writer: No way. I don’t trust your opinion.

Queries sent out: 0

Books written in 2013: 1

Pies: 0

Turkey Dinners: 0


Done, Done and Done. Sort of.

Joe’s Post #21

More tomorrow, my regular posting day, but for today, a quick update.

Deadline was midnight Feb 5th, 2013.

Feb 5th, 2013, 5:38pm, I finished my second draft.

dec 2012 035So what does second draft mean? It means the first 30 pages are good enough to be sent out. It means I can start querying if I want. It means I can send out the whole book to readers for feedback.

It means met my goal.

Next step – Reader feedback. Then I’ll put it aside for a couple of months so when I do my final draft, I can look at it with fresh eyes. Like I did with Desert Rains. Maybe go to Vegas again. Or Mexico. Or Paris.

All in all, the story should be pretty engaging, I LOVE my characters, and love some of the scenes I’ve crafted, but I went with an unconventional structure and that may sink me (or not.) Either way, at some point, a writer just doesn’t know if something works or not, but hey, that’s what readers are for.

Pages written: 419

Word count by the old 250 words/page: 104,750

Word Count by Word: 76,249 (Wow, I mean, WOW, that’s a HUGE difference!!!)

Suggested YA Word Count: 80,000

Stay tuned.

Book buying

books and books

Joe’s post #18 — How do you buy books? By genre? By authors? By recommendations from friends? By the pretty picture on the cover?

Ok, but let’s be more specific. How do you decide to buy a book by a new author, by someone you’ve never read before?

That’s a challenge for all of us new writers. How do we stand out? How do we get the attention of an agent, of a publisher, of millions of readers?

I’m not sure I have the answer, but I can look to how I buy a book by an author I’ve never read before.

1) Genre. It’s my first filter. New or old, I go to a section that I love to read. Mystery. Thriller. Fantasy. As new writers, we don’t have much of a choice where our books get put, but we can help agents and publishers by delineating where we think our books belong. My latest book, YA fantasy. One day, I hope to be able to move out of that genre and into mainstream. Sort of like moving out of my mobile home and into a spacious condo overlooking the city of Vancouver.

a-game-of-thrones-book-1-of-a-song-of-ice-and-fireCover and Title: Yes, it matters. At least to me. If the cover has a bare-chested man with a half-naked women pressed up against him, I won’t care that there’s a dragon in the background. But show me something like what’s on the latest Game of Thrones, and you got yourself a sale. Have a cool title like “The Bone Collector?” Even better.

So, writers, make sure you have a cool title.

Any recommendations: Has it won awards? Does GRR Martin recommend it? Oprah? Are there any quotes from famous authors, like “Best book I’ve read since my book” or “I’m going to kill this bastard for writing such a great story.”

I can tell you one thing, if I ever get published, I will shamelessly pester all my published writer friends to write something nice about my story.

The Flap: Ok, I made that word up. It’s the ‘blurb’, or the synopsis or why the hell should I buy this book?  So now I’m standing in a ‘section’, trying to look cool, and I’ve picked up a book with an interesting cover and a neat title (and maybe with a nifty recommendation.) Now, I read the back (or, in the case of the hardcover, the promo inside the dust jacket.) It has to wow me. I’m sorry, it does. If I read ‘bored housewife…’ I put the book back. If I read something that might interest me, then I move to the last filter.

The First Pages.   You can fool me with a nifty cover – I’m easily distracted by pretty colors and half-dressed women on dragons. You can fool me with recommendations – Writers have been known to get together at comicons or mystery writers at wine tasting nights and agree to endorse each other’s books. You can fool me with a cleverly written blurb – Hey, they have entire marketing departments working on this in-between martinis. But it’s harder to be fooled by someone’s actual writing. So I read the first pages, a few paragraphs somewhere in the middle, and then I make a decision.

As new writers, I think we need to remember this. Words matter. Voice matters. Style matters. How a story starts… matters.

The Way Around It All: Frankly, the way I usually buy books by authors I haven’t read is that I’ve been told it’s awesome by a friend I trust. Any time I get a text like “OMFG you have to read this!!!!!!!” I will give it a try, despite the number of exclamation seanpoints. If someone brings a book to a coffee chat and the first thing they say, after telling me how handsome I look, is “I have just read the most amazing book of amazingness ever!” then I’ll give that book a try. I mean, why not, they’ve done all the work and all I have to do is look up that author?

Like this one. Check it out. It’s a FANTASTIC book.  !!!!!!!

But no matter what your own personal filters are, give a new author a try.

We need all the help we can get.

Why so serious?

Joe’s Post #17 — Ok, so it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Lost material. Cold. Blah, blah, blah. Time for some fun.

spamFor some reason I don’t completely understand, our beloved blog has been splooged by spam. Yesterday alone, I deleted 76 spam messages. I’m not sure what we did to deserve such attention, but I thought I’d share some of the spam with you all. For the record, not a single word or comma has been changed.

“so theyre sending i pot-dealing WoW player to prisonWay to continue, Johnny Law, thats about as harmless while he come.” Ok, wft? I mean, seriously, wtf?

“Right affinity foresees the requirements of other sorts of in lieu of glorify its personalized.” Sounds like a very bad google translation of something profound.

 “Bliss could be a essence you should not strain found on many and it doesn’t involve purchasing a variety of declines found on you and your family.”  Painful, just painful.

 “don’t want millions of people to see me in a bikini anyway. ” I loved this one, but then, what did it have to do with anything we’ve ever written? Still, it’s better english than some of the others.

“He was the top-winning Affenpinscher for several years. So the two frogs went to Mississippi River to look for Odie mother-in-law, which ask her to help untie the spell both of them.” It’s almost like I came in the middle of a conversation. But now I kinda want to know about Odie and the frogs.

“Never ever grimace, although the majority of a person is sad, to create do not no that is going down obsessed about a satisfaction.” Now, to be fair, I’ve said very similar things after two glasses of absinthe.

“hey, i like your valuable article in which you have described very well with point wise.” Me too.

“Its possibility are so fantastic not to mention working pattern so effective.” I know, right?

“cialis levitra ou viagra”  Ok, how in the world did we start getting french viagra ads?

“so informative site! big thanks!” Hey, no problem, you’re welcome, I think.

“Thank you for any other magnificent post. The place else could anybody get that kind of information in such a perfect manner of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.” Right, then, my advice, if you have a presentation, put down the rolled dollar bill, shovel the coke back into the bag and get some sleep.

“you need time to create that interesting and additionally real effort to make such a good article.” Truer words were never said. No I mean, it. NEVER.

“I cnduot bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dsenot mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.” Now this was totally intersesting as I could actually read this and I wasn’t completely drunk at the time.

However, some of the spammers actually spoke (or knew how to write) english. Here are some of the more generic ones:

“great website. thank you for the info. cheers!” Thanks, but I will still not buy your Gucci bags.

“that was nice to know about.” thanks. *delete*

“your post is really informative for me. i liked it very much. keep sharing such important posts.” Oh, we will, we will. You can’t shut us up now even if you wanted.

“excellent article , covers a lot of ground i’ve found a great article. Thanks”  Oh, so close, but a swing and a miss.

thanks for taking your time to explain that, i bet everyone likes your articles. You know what, I do, too.

So now, I look for those odd spamisms. I’ve even come to like them. “Me want can’t do like article you.” It almost makes sense. It’s so close to actually being something. Like me making a curry. It wants to be a curry, it almost looks like curry but boy, did I bugger something up along the way.

A part of me wants to spam back. Write something in english, translate it to french, then translate it to arabic, then translate it chinese then back to english again. I wonder what would happen.

Now let us all sing together. Spam, spam, spam spam spam spam spam,

Pages Rewritten: 102

Turkey Dinners: Still 0

Backups Done: 3 every day (sometimes more.) Save. Save to flash. Save to email and send.

Movie Seen This Week: Les Miserables. Freaking brilliant.

Priorities and the 80 Rule

Joe’s Post #15

life-balanceBalancing life and work can always be challenging. Balancing life and work and writing, even more so.

However, there’s a few times where writing or work simply has to, or at least should, take a backseat to life. That’s Christmas time for sure. Maybe a birthday or two. Maybe while on an epic vacation.

I have no regrets at all spending all of the last few days with friends and family. Did I get any writing done? No. At least not on my novel. (I honestly hadn’t even planned to get any writing done, so in one way, I achieved my goal!)

But here’s the thing. I call it the 80 rule.

dec 2012 620When I’m 80 years old and sitting on my porch, glaring at all those young’uns with their new fangled music and jeans so far down their legs they are now basically shoes, and I think back to things I regret, one of them will NOT be spending Christmas with my nieces and nephews, or driving over to see my friends and playing games with them and their children, or having coffee with people I love. That’s quality time to me, more important than doing the dishes, more important that checking my emails, more important than writing, even if I’m under deadline.

So writing, work, dishes, that freshly dropped poo in the backyard, they can all wait a bit. I have living to do.

% of Book Rewritten: 0%

Number of Turkey Dinners: 0 (I know, right?)

Pies: 0 (Another astonishing development)

Number of pounds gained from amazing non-turkey dinners: 1 (actually this is more amazing considering I was shoveling food into my face for about 48 hours straight.)

The End of the Beginning

Joe’s Post #14

books doneTo quote my favorite quotable guy, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Churchill.

On Tuesday, I finished my first draft. A good landmark, for sure, but there is still so much work to do to turn it into a sellable product that it’s hard to jump up and down and celebrate. I mean there’s 3 back-to-back scenes set in a library for the love of Pete! As well, one of my main characters still needs work. And then there’s the whole pacing thing and making sure that if a sword is used to slay the dragon, that sword is introduced earlier in the story.

It’s the downside of only creating a limited outline before actually writing. What I ended up writing is basically a very detailed 346 page outline. But that’s my process. I love to discover parts of the story by actually writing it. It’s fun. Like Karalee said, it’s basically looking past all the flaws and just writing.

However, that process leads to some scenes that need to be expanded, some that need to be reworked, some new ones that need to be written and some that need to be 100% tossed out. It’ll be quite a bit of work.

Still, one advantage with completing the first draft before Christmas is that I think I’ll take Christmas off. Write a few more blogs, do some fun writing, more research on agents, prepare more queries for Desert Rains. I’ll put aside the stress for a week and enjoy life, turkey dinners and friends.

Come Jan 1st, though, it’s back to the book. The fun is over. The work now begins.