Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Guest Blogger Richard Tongue and Discovery Writing

When I first began to write seriously a few years ago – having spent about a decade poking around – I bought the usual selection of 'how to write a novel' books. (All of which have long ago been donated to charity shops, but that's another story.) They all had in common the requirement to come up with a detailed outline, a plan to follow while writing. I sat down to start...and couldn't get anywhere. Putting together an outline that even remotely satisfied me was a difficult enough process to begin with, but when it came to translating that into an actual book, I failed. I've got about a half-dozen half-finished manuscripts from those times knocking about, none of which will ever see the light of day. (Pretty much anything I liked from them has been cannibalized for other books in any case.)

Years of frustration before I finally worked out where I was going wrong. Because I had plotted everything out before I'd got around to writing, “It was a dark and stormy night”, the story was finished in my head. I knew how it ended, who lived and who died, who got the girl and who was left to stew for the sequel. There wasn't anything satisfying in that. It came to me that I needed to take the journey I was going to take the reader on myself first, but that I couldn't script it; I had to live it as the reader would, one page at a time. I didn't know there was a name for this until recently: Discovery Writing. And in this way, I've written three books in three months, where before my output was effectively nil. So...how do I work?

Well, just because I'm making things up 'on the fly' doesn't mean that I don't need to do some preparation. I'm blessed with a memory good enough that I can remember the previous books in the series I'm writing pretty well, but that doesn't mean a good read-through of the last book isn't necessary. Usually the core idea of the 'next book' occurs about half-way through the book I am writing, so I let that percolate around in my head for a little while. The absolute first step is to make a few lists – not of story ideas, but of names, places. That's critical if you aren't going to go mad trying to remember 'who that guy was'. It's better to go overboard with writing character names at this point, even though you might not do anything with half of them, it saves time later in the process.

Then – the cool idea. There's always something I want to see in each book, usually a series of somethings, and they give the core framework that I want to hang the plot around. Take the novel I'm finishing up as I write this, 'Not One Step Back', - I knew the ending of the book first. The rest had to be created to get to that point, ticking off a series of story options. With a series that has an arc, progress needs to be made along that plotline; the individual arcs of characters need to be pushed as well, which generally suggests scenes, dialogue, background to be fitted in. I keep this stuff in my head mostly, but this can also easily be written down.

Once that little bit of preparation is done – which for me usually means two weeks' thinking time and a day actually putting together the lists – I start work on the book. I find it best to set a deadline, but that's just me; I've started my last three books on the first day of each month, and that's something I think I'm going to stick to. The trick then is to write and keep writing; try and get into the heads of your characters, and let them guide you where they want to go. You know what the destination is, but they can tell you how to get there. Now the hardest part of this whole process is beginning book one; at that point, the characters do not yet exist. You will be surprised. (I certainly was. The series was supposed to be from one POV; by the tenth chapter there was another one I hadn't been expecting.)

Roll with the punches. Characters that at first conception you liked will turn out to be less interesting to write; ones that you were not expecting to enjoy will come to the forefront. An example from the first book, 'Price of Admiralty'; half the book follows the adventures of a group of Triplanetary Espatiers (Space Marines, basically – but don't tell Games Workshop's lawyers) on the surface of a planet, but a lot of that wasn't in my original conception. I found I enjoyed writing them, and, well – if you enjoy writing something, it's more likely that it will come through to the reader enjoying it as well, in my experience. The character of 'Orlova' went from having a sub-plot to having half the book to herself, and has continued to push herself forward – she developed a good double-act with another character who was originally meant to simply be name-dropped, but as a result has developed into a major character in her own right. This happens.

The plot will twist itself around, as well, in unexpected ways. That's part of the fun, but it
requires you to have an idea of where you are going. By fairly early in this process – if not at the start – I personally need to know what the ending is. Details might change, but I need to know where things end up, because that gives me a problem to solve – a problem that I can only solve with the tools available to the characters themselves. Of course, at some point, you will run out of steam.

This happens. During each of the three books I've written in this way, I've had to pause at a point because I've written myself into a corner. Don't try and force it – just stop and spend the day thinking about what you are doing. By this time I'm usually well into the book, so I can start working out where I need to go to get to the end – and this is when I often do put together a short outline to organise my thoughts, but I've never done this earlier than half-way through the book. It was at Chapter 18 this time that I stumbled for a day.

The main thing is to finish the book. Tidy it up later; I always do – but working this way, it is possible to get from 'I have a neat idea' to 'I have a workable first draft' an awful lot faster than if you spend weeks or months plotting out; and that means that the initial enthusiasm for the project stays, and hopefully makes itself felt in the book.

The last thing I'll say here is that this isn't for everyone. All those books were given away because they weren't helping; pushing myself onto set patterns ended up being restrictive to me as a writer, stopping me from developing. I don't think anyone can give you a 'write by numbers' text; after a certain point, everyone needs to find their own path. (Yes, I think I just told you to ignore everything written above. That's what I mean by discovery writing – you never know where you are going to end up!)

Richard got his start as a writer in the role-playing industry, running a series of magazines and fanzines around the turn of the century before the cold, bitter light of reality crept in, and he was forced to find a ‘real job’ working as a media monitor; nevertheless, the bug never actually stopped, and finally he decided to take a year out and see what he could do with it. As a result, he is currently the author of the ‘Battlecruiser Alamo’ series of books, available on the Kindle.

For more on Richard and his writing, check out his blog HERE.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Thoughts on Character Names by guest blogger Chris Redding

I’m very conscious of my character’s names. Especially now because I’ve read a critique partner’s manuscript without names in it. Just Hero, Heroine, etc. A little unnerving.

But I love naming characters. It’s like naming children. And I did name my children as my husband will tell anyone who will listen.

Jennifer was the name of the heroine in the first book I wrote. She had to have an Irish last name because she has red hair. I used O’Grady and her real father was a cop in Philadelphia. My father had many uncles who were cops there and if you get stopped by an Officer Redding in the City of Brotherly Love, I am probably related to them. But it won’t get  you out of a ticket.

She isn’t my favorite heroine, but it’s the first book I published so it will always have a special place in my heart. Her hero was Sean. That’s a strong name. He was a strong, silent type so it fit. His last name, Guadette, is my mother-in-law’s maiden name. It’s French.

When my kids were younger I was involved in a Mom’s club. I used some of the kid’s names in my books. I asked the parents first, of course, and the character didn’t resemble whose name I used.

One of my novels is called Blonde Demoltion. The heroine is Mallory Sage. This is the daughter of a good friend of mine. We’ve known each other since her Mallory and my son #2 were probably two years old. They are twelve now. The character Mallory’s hero is Trey. I have no Earthly memory of why I picked that name. But he’s McCrane, a good Irishmen. See a trend here?

Incendiary’s heroine is Chelsea. Remember On Golden Pond. Jane Fonda played a Chelsea and I really liked that name. I’ve kept it all these years and finally used it. James is her last name. I think that was one of those flipping through a phone book moments. Her hero is Jake, another strong name. Campbell is his last name. Uh, Irish?

Stone Feeney is a minor character who is a hero in another book. Stone. Probably Stone Phillips. I thought he was cute on television.

Coming soon!!!
The best story I have is for a book that hasn’t been published yet. One of my favorites that I’ve written. Along Came Pauly is a romantic comedy. The Pauly in the title is Paulo Gabagool Vincenzo. He’s Italian and from New Jersey where the story is set. Paulo is the name of a friend of mine’s, son. Paulo’s best friend in the book: Carmela Loschiavo. I needed a very Jersey Italian name for a character and once again I borrowed one from a friend’s child. He still bugs me about when the book will be published.  Which it will be in August of this year.

I don’t like when I don’t know how the name is pronounced. Aileen or Niall for instance. (Irish huh?). They don’t look like how they are pronounced. Neither does Sean, but for some reason that doesn’t bother me.

What do you think about character names? Have you ever read a book where you hated the character’s name?

For more on Chris, check out her blog HERE
Find Chris on Facebook HERE
Check out her books on Amazon HERE
Follow her on Twitter @chrisredding

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Finding Those Hidden Gems of Books by guest blogger D.J. Gelner

Finding Those Hidden Gems of Books - 
by guest blogger D.J. Gelner

Barnes and Noble's most recent round of troubles leave the company on uneasy footing, to say the least. As they continue to close retail locations, many are left to wonder what's to come of the bookstore industry.

It's sad because I remember as a kid, my dad would always drag my brother and me along on errands every Saturday morning. The usual boring ones were in there: dry cleaners, grocery store, mall, the odd oil change. Many of these places gave new meaning to the words "boredom," "fatigue," and "I told you kids to knock it off!"

The one place we never minded visiting was the bookstore--usually B.Dalton back then. My brother and I could be content there for hours, browsing through the sci-fi section, hunting for our next literary conquests.

Sadly, those days appear to be numbered. Some indie bookstores are popping up to serve previously-Barnes and Noble -dominated territory, but as readers increasingly turn to ebooks, even those stores will have to increase their electronic presence at some point.

What's a reader to do?

I'm glad you asked...

My business partner, Rick Tucker, and I think we have a solution. We started a site called Hunt to Read; it has only been online for a couple of weeks. It's our goal to make hunting for ebooks fun, just how my brother and I used to have a blast looking through bookstores for now-cherished favorites.

We have a bunch of improvements to the reader interface in the works to make the book browsing process fun and exciting. Additionally, if you're an author, you can always list your book on our site for free. For a limited time only, you can have access to six months of our analytics, a perk that will eventually be included in our premium memberships.

But browsing books will always be free for readers, and it's our goal to make a fun and exciting community where readers and writers can interact and enjoy themselves.

All that's not to say that I haven't found some classics; from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine that I first came across at my school's book fair, to the copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that had been quite literally submerged in a relative's basement. Every book that's near or dear to our hearts has a story behind it, perhaps even a poignant one if it was given to you by a beloved friend or relative.

So my question to you is: Where is the craziest place you've found a cherished book? A gift? A hand-me-down? Maybe at a garage sale or discarded in an attic...or even the trash (hey, I don't judge!). If you have a favorite book discovery story, please share it in the comments. Who knows? Maybe Hunt to Read will use your tale to help shape future hunts.

Thanks everyone, and happy hunting!

D.J. Gelner is an indie author (Amazon Author page here) and CEO of Hunt to Read, a book discovery and analytics site. You can check out Hunt to Read here or visit its facebook page here

Contact D.J. directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com
Follow him on Twitter @djgelner and get the latest book tips by following @Hunt_to_Read as well.   

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Is a ghost story a horror story? By guest blogger Barry Napier

Is a ghost story a horror story?

Does a supernatural thriller deserve to be categorized as horror? What about films like Saw and Last House  on the Left? Should those be considered horror or psychological thrillers?

Chances are, those questions garnered many different responses among anyone reading this. I personally don’t think Saw is a horror movie because horror needs more than tension and gore to pull of the genre’s staples. (If interested, I have written more about that HERE once upon a time).

Anyone that has self-published work through Amazon knows how detailed the platform can get when it comes to placing your book in the appropriate genre. For a writer that wants their book to land on a Top 100 list within a certain genre, this can be quite handy.

But for readers searching for new authors and titles by genre, it can be quite daunting and irritating.  Go back to the top and revisit this question: Is a ghost story a horror story?

My answer is a loud and definite NO.  Consider this…there are ghosts in A Christmas Carol and it is, by all intents and purposes, a ghost story. But it’s not horror.  Alternatively, there are ghosts in The Shining and that is classic horror. This example alone indicates that creating sub genres within main-level genres is necessary.  

But how far do we need to stretch this sub-genre placement?

These are questions I have wrestled with a lot as of late. When I first started writing, I labeled my work as horror. But in the last two years, the content in my books is more along the lines of suspense or supernatural thrillers.

The term “supernatural thriller” makes me cringe, but I don’t know what else to call most of my recent work. To call it “horror” would be a disservice to the genre. Thankfully, Amazon has many suggestions for me. If I don’t want a book labeled horror, I can choose from a wider variety: occult and supernatural, ghost, thriller, dark fantasy or paranormal (just to name a few).

While some of the following have not yet appeared on Amazon, I have seen these sub genres on blogs and
review sites. A few of these seem to go a little overboard:
·         Historical paranormal romance
·         Survival vampire horror comedy
·         Dark fantasy steampunk

I am admittedly undecided as to whether or not I agree with needing so many sub genres. I believe they can come in handy in certain cases (although maybe not quite as specific as the three examples above). Sub genres allow writers to get very specific in query letters. For instance, I am well aware of the fact that many agents don’t represent “horror” by will check out “psychological thrillers.” Similarly, some won’t bother with “horror” but will consider “paranormal romance.”

I will admit to calling one my own novels a “supernatural thriller” when it was a horror novel at its core. As a writer, I can’t help but wonder if there is some dishonesty in this or if the acceptance of so many sub-genres makes it valid.

What say you, genre gurus and fellow writers? Are sub genres a valuable tool for writers or are they bogging down markets that don’t really need such delineations?

For more on Barry, check out his Facebook page HERE
or follow him on Twitter  @bnapier

Friday, July 19, 2013

4 Top Tips for Writing the Hero’s Journey by guest blogger Caitlin White

4 Top Tips for Writing the Hero’s Journey

Allow me to share a secret with you: The hero’s journey is where it’s at.  
Wait, are you staring at the screen quizzically and wondering what the darn tootin’ I’m talking about? Let me clarify. The hero’s journey is the evolution of your protagonist. It is the path he/she travels and the lessons he/she learns from your book’s beginning to its climax.
It is effectively the force that propels your content forward. So, how do you write a good one?

Here are my 4 Top Tips for Writing the Hero’s Journey:

1) Conflict
This applies to fiction of any kind. There has got to be conflict. Inner, outer and world. If your character has conflict then he has a reason to grow and evolve. He has a reason to take his journey in the first place.

In my urban fantasy novel, The Harbinger, the hero, Sirus, woke up in hospital with amnesia and has had anger burning in his brain ever since. He wants to find his past and get rid of that anger. This is his inner conflict.

Sirus is also in love with a stripper, Vixen, who is a g-string away from leaving him because of that rage. This is his outer conflict.

What Sirus doesn’t know, is that the Demoniacs (demons) and Infinites (Gods) are about to wage a war on Earth. The Infinites need him to save Earth, but he can only do that by controlling his anger. This is the world conflict.

So, inner is what your character is going through internally. Outer is his troubled relationship with other characters. World is what’s about to pop off around him.
All these conflicts make your hero who he is. But this still doesn’t force him on his journey.

2) Stakes
Stakes are what your protag stands to lose if he doesn’t resolve conflict. Let’s take a look at the stakes for our example above.

Inner stakes: If Sirus doesn’t find his past, he won’t be able to clarify his self-concept. This will likely lead to a deep depression and possibly suicide.

Outer stakes: If Sirus doesn’t control his anger, Vixen will leave him and he will lose the only woman he loves.

World stakes: If Sirus doesn’t help the Infinites and control his anger, Earth will be overrun by demons.

3) Prodding
Have you got your stakes and conflicts established? Great! Now you need to work your character forward. Prod him into a series of events that will FORCE him to evolve.
For instance, Sirus doesn’t want to get in rage. So I force him into a situation that will make him angry. I open with him fighting with Vixen outside the strip club. This drives them apart. Sirus gets irritated and storms off.

But I don’t let the poor sucker fume in peace. I send him into the convenience store and… WHAM! He gets caught in a stick-up. This makes him angry.

I drive him to the point where he explodes. Literally. He blows up the store with a power he never knew he had. This clues us in on what happened in his past and sets off a chain of events which drives the novel.

My point is this: your protag isn’t your best bud. You’ve got to drop them in the poop to get them anywhere. After all, the greatest heroes didn’t become heroes by drinking tea and nibbling on scones all day. No, they lived through the grime, grit and the darkness of despair and came out the other end.

4) What YOU want
So, you’ve got your stakes, your conflict, and your chain of events. What else? Well it depends on who you want your character to be.

I want Sirus to self-actualize. I want him to get rid of his anger. I want him to evolve. So I force him to follow the path that will lead him there. This is what it’s all about. Who he is now and who I want him to be. Writing down the steps that will get him there are interminably important.
Any questions, comments or top tips to share? Leave them in the box and I’ll get back to you.

Bio: Caitlin White
Caitlin is the author of The Harbinger, an urban fantasy eBook available on Kindle. When she
isn’t writing blog posts, reviewing, interviewing and promoting, she’s rescuing her cats from her toddler. Being a single mum and author sure aint easy, but it’s worth it.

You can find her latest and greatest on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com and follow her on twitter: @WhiteCaitlin . Check out her Facebook page or Goodreads author page. If you’re an indie author, do check out her blog: Top eBooks for Kindle and get in touch if you’re lookin’ for some promo. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Canadians Are Not So Nice by guest blogger Cathy Astolfo

Canadians Are Not So Nice
By Cathy Astolfo

‘Yahoo! Answers’ says that Canadians are so nice because we feel safer and more comfortable in our country than, say, Americans do. Maybe we’re just not reading the newspapers. Maybe no one else is reading our newspapers either.

Only crime writers would beg to differ about the nicety scale. After all, we make our living penning stories of mayhem and dastardly deeds on Canadian soil, by Canadians, for Canadians. We dislike the polite, pleasant face of Canada because our novels might be dismissed as boring or tame before anyone reads them. Believe us crime writers: Canadians are not so nice.

In my books alone, aside from the murder and mayhem, I have explored animal and child abuse, religious fanaticism, wrongful conviction and psychopathology. All my research was Canadian based. In other words, I found some very not-nice occurrences in our country. I could list a whole bunch more, but I don’t want you to run away scared.

I do have happy endings, which might make me appear to be nice. Love does win out most often. The evildoers do meet with justice. That’s not always the way it happens in real life, but we’re not reading fiction for reality. Otherwise, we’d go back to the newspapers.

My message is this: you won’t find tediously bland, polite people in Canadian crime books. In my Emily Taylor mysteries, even the seemingly normal, lovely school principal-heroine has a dark past. In Jill Edmondson’s Sasha Jackson books, you’ll discover a sassy, witty woman who would step on your foot if you called her a lady. Our mystery and crime books are every bit as salacious and sassy as any Swedish novel. 
In my latest novel, Sweet Karoline, you’re not really sure who is the good and who is the bad. It’s a psychological suspense, with some history and romance thrown in. However, I do start the odyssey in Los Angeles, city of angels and devils. In doing so I’ve introduced the “bad boy/girl” USA into the mix (cue laugh track here). The characters also travel to Italy, where “one the most memorable sex scenes I’ve ever read” (according to one of my reviewers) takes place. 
Canadians, particularly we crime writers, are really not so nice. Come read us and you’ll see what I mean. Start with SweetKaroline if you like! Find her here: www.catherineastolfo.com

Follow Catherine along on her blog tour! Click on the image below for her latest updates, and follow her on Twitter @cathyastolfo

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guest blogger Misa Buckley on Shapeshifters in Sci Fi

When people hear the word “shapeshifters”, most automatically think of werewolves. Almost everyone thinks of them being a staple of the paranormal novel.

But what is a shapeshifter? A basic definition would be someone (or something) that can shift its shape. Vampires shift into bats. Transformers can shift from vehicle to robot. Wait, what? Well, that’s true, isn’t it? But how many consider an Autobot a shapeshifter? I doubt you do.

Yet shapeshifters do exist in science fiction, however they are few and far between, which I think is both a shame and a lost opportunity. Shapeshifters offer great possibilities. Not just as potential enemies, like the T2000, but also as allies.

Sadly, the only example I can think of where a shapeshifter had a major, recurring role in sci fi is Star Trek DS9’s Odo. Not even my favourite shows Stargate SG-1 and Farscape had them (though maybe one could argue Maldis shifted shape). Stargate Atlantis came the closest with the human form Replicators, but otherwise the genre is shockingly short on shifters.

This was the reason that I wanted an alien shifter as the love interest when I started writing STAR ATTRACTION – it was time to bring shifters to sci fi.

For Raul, and others of his species, being able to shift to look like other beings is a defence mechanism, which they use like camouflage when observing different races. However, this peculiarity is used by a parasitic race to enslave Raul’s species and then spread their own kind across the galaxy, making the shifting ability a negative.

To find out what happens to Raul, you’ll have to read STAR ATTRACTION. Or you could win an e-book format of your choice if you tell me what other paranormal/fantasy staple you’d like to see represented in the sci fi genre.

Blurb: Observatory tour guide Megan Shaw has always had stars in her eyes, so when she all but runs down the otherworldly Raul, she barely blinks. It doesn’t hurt that Raul is hot – whether in his human form or his natural one – and that there’s an immediate mutual attraction.

But Raul is on the run from his alien overlords and soon Megan finds herself fighting against a foothold situation with nothing more than a couple of cattle prods and Muse for soundtrack.

However Earth is not the only planet at risk and with his species desperate to escape generations of oppression, will Raul’s loyalties shift as easily as his physical appearance?

Bio: Misa Buckley is a sci fi geek who escapes the craziness of raising five children by creating imaginary characters who experience adventure, romance and really hot sex on their way to happily-ever-after. You can keep up to date with Misa’s latest news by following her on Twitter (@MisaBuckley) or at her website (www.misabuckley.com), and you can check out her many books on AMAZON.