Sunday, June 7, 2015

Book It: Reflections on a First Novel Nearly Ten Years in the Making

I saw a photo of me and the kids--well, 'twas just David and baby Rachel at the time--circa 2006 or 07, I think it was. My hair was darker than it is now, at any rate.

Around the time I took David to one of the Harry Potter movies and when we emerged and I observed his sense of wonder at the magical world into which he had for the past two hours traveled, I determined that I would write a story for him, something also magical, with none other than David himself at the center of whatever world(s) I might conjure. I told him about it, made a promise that it would be written.

Soon thereafter a storyline fell into my head--it would be a YA Fantasy, and have some pretty damn cool elements. But I remembered hearing Michael Crichton talk about how Jurassic Park--though the dinos naturally provided the hook and stole the show--was more than anything about Chaos Theory, and, of course, the people whose lives were profoundly impacted.

So I knew there needed to be  more than magic and fantastical elements at the heart of my story, and it was immediately evident to me what that would be. From the moment she'd arrived, David had been protective of his little sister. Once at a birthday party at a park I was with the kids and Rachel--not yet two--was playing in a field. I may have been distracted by my phone or whatever else but I recall a look of concern spreading over David's face and he gave me that split-second "you're the father aren't you going to do something" look before realizing I was clueless and rushing over to his sister. An enormous, buzzing bee--unbeknownst to her--was circling just above her. David had always had a pretty healthy fear of them, probably accentuated by his cognizance that his grandmother and therefore possibly he, was extremely allergic to their stings. But seeing that not only had his father not yet pieced together what was unfolding but that even if in that moment I had, it would now be too late, he shot in, scooped Rachel up in his arms just as the angry insect prepared to alight upon her,  and backpedaled quickly out of harm's way.

A small thing, perhaps, but it moved my heart. He understood that his actions could be injurious to himself; so too did he understand that inaction could prove catastrophic for the little sister he'd already come to watch over with such vigilance and care.

And there it was, the heartbeat of my tale. The Awakening of David Rose.

I wrote in dribs and drabs and fits and starts but never really got any traction until about three years ago. I finally finished a draft and then a few more until last night I finished what I hope were final  revisions(significant ones, anyway). I took about nine months to do so, partly because the whole working full-time, three kids thing, you know--but also because I was trying to get this right, really improve it. I hope I did. Whatever is better owes in large part to my editor, the amazing Ally Bishop, and my dear friend, freakishly-talented scribe and amazing beta-reader Amira Makansi. Whatever is not, is my fault alone. I am grateful to Booktrope for being my publisher and giving me and this story a chance.

A few quick observations, as I look back. Most books on writing that I read said that it is typical to end up paring around 20% of your manuscript's original length. Those who know me know becoming 20% less wordy is no small feat for me--alas, when I clicked save last night I'd indeed gone from 100,000(too long for YA) words, to just fewer than 80,000. I found things to pare and improve every single time I went through it. Commas and adverbs suffered the greatest annihilation, and rightly so.

One of the biggest things I wrestled with(was one of the key aspects of Ally and Amira's sage feedback) was the need to have my protag take at least a little bit of the lead in all that is happening. That sounds simple and obvious enough, but the fact is I knew this story was the first in a series and deals largely with a young man trying desperately to cope with the crazy things unfolding around him and the unseen, sinister forces which have pursued him through the centuries to this day. A story of a good kid whose family has endured a trauma and it’s all he can do to try to look after his little sister and deal with normal teen angst, much less deal with this ethereal, mysterious stuff beginning to effervesce around him. Of course, the problem is, it is becoming less and less ethereal and more and more real and that indeed becomes a key source of tension: we must always present what our characters most want, as well as what stands in the way. David wants more than anything to take care of his sister and to find the truth about what really happened to their mom—but all these crazy,  dark, fantastical things are proving one hell of a distraction.

But of course Ally and Amira were right---a protag is not much of  a protag—even a kid—if he is little more than an always- reacting milquetoast. So I endeavored to transform that aspect at least in part. Not radically, because one of the most important aspects to me in all this was that I wanted David to be a “normal” teen—albeit one confronting some pretty heavy and now increasingly strange, things—and it wouldn’t be terribly normal for him to just readily accept and take in stride, all these extraordinary things that until now would have struck him and most rational beings as impossible(Amira in fact stressed this point to me in her inimitable way as well, telling me I needed more of that “holy shit” element for David when the shit, so to speak, really goes down. She will be pleased to know that I not only worked to improve this but also at the 11th hour in fact inserted that very phrase). So, given all David is dealing with and given typical human reaction to the seemingly impossible, it made more sense to me that he would indeed be on his heels a bit. That said, it was of course necessary to the development of his character and the arc of the story to have him gradually take the reins a bit as he comes to understand and accept a bit of what’s happening, and its implications. That necessity was also a golden opportunity to mine the character more deeply than I had—whether that translated effectively to the page others shall decide but I enjoyed the process. Part of this process included injecting a bit more of a sense of mystery, and some scenes where David and his friends set about trying to do a little investigation concerning his mother’s purported death a year ago. David increasingly suspects  whatever happened to her is linked to these other mysterious developments but whether it is or not he is determined to discover the truth about her either way—a resolve which in itself tells us he will no longer accept just being acted upon. Their sleuthing must occur in rather clandestine fashion, owing not only to the topic, but also to the fact that David’s father remains adamantly opposed to what he believes are his son’s(understandable, given the trauma) conspiracy theories. So this afforded me an additional layer of conflict to mine.

Each time through I had to really assess voice. Mine leans heavily toward the literary and of course this was YA. I remain, however stubbornly, convinced that we needn’t patronize or dumb things down for young readers—but there is of course a difference between doing that and being too florid and stuffy in one’s prose. So, I made some inroads there—whether sufficiently, we’ll have to see. I have a few  pretty aristocratic kinda British characters in there, and even one of David’s friends who upon first glance may speak “above” the typical fifteen year old is in fact based loosely on a friend of mine who spoke a bit that way. Part of the fun of it, I think, is seeking that elusive balance of an overall voice which resonates with most readers, yet also sprinkling in some quirky touches, even if that includes a kid in a wheelchair with who thinks and speaks like a young Sherlock Holmes (and yes, those who know me shall be unsurprised to know I have that character articulate a preference for Poe’s Dupin).


I like both. In any case, this journey for me has been anything but “elementary.” My hair is a lot grayer than on that evening I made a promise to my son. We have been blessed with another son in the time since the story was conceived (Rachel reminds me frequently that I MUST include Daniel somehow in the sequels. She also reminds me I must give her a bow and arrows in one of the stories too). David has likely forgotten that night, and Rachel has become much more interested in the story, and has become a budding and extraordinary literary soul herself. But I hope both will read it, and like it. They are its heartbeat, after all.  I hope you might read it and like it too. If nothing else, nearly a decade later but what the hell, it is a promise fulfilled, and that feels pretty good.




Thursday, April 16, 2015

Guest Post: 3 Reasons to Stop Relying on How-To Lists for information(and What to Do Instead)!

Grateful to the amazing folks over at PROBLOGGER for publishing my guest post about lists. “List posts” are wildly popular across many domains but in particular within the literary milieu and—as I point out in the article—do in fact harbor some utility. It is simply within the context of how over-reliant folks can become on lists that my post takes aim, and it is a piece ultimately somewhat tongue-in-cheek: a list of reasons to forsake lists.

 

I hope you enjoy (if not then perhaps dispatch me your list of reasons whyJ), and as always, feedback is welcomed.

 

Cheers!

Friday, April 3, 2015

On Giddiness, Nerdom, Truth & Fiction

Giddy like a schoolboy(are they giddy?—I don’t really recall) at prospect of seeing one of my favorite scribes, Erik Larson, discuss his latest book Dead Wake, here in St. Louis April 9th. Last year I was privileged to publish a piece on CS Lakin’s wonderful website about how great nonfiction can really impact fiction writing, and I used examples from one of Larson’s other works in the article.

It may be just another manifestation of my nerdom, but I think about these things a lot…how different genres, writing styles interplay…about the different elements of and approaches to writing. How much or how little detail to use. I’ve even drafted a fiction novel from the viewpoint of a fictitious narrator as though he had researched a mysterious story and recreated it nonfiction style for the reader(hope sooner than later to share more about that one).

Anyway, what are your thoughts, as writers and/or readers: do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Favorite authors for each? Do you agree the genres may positively influence one another, or not so much? I’d really welcome your thoughts.


As always, be well and happy reading and writing!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

SW2C: On Writing, Editing and A Dose of Humility...

“If it sounds like writing,” Elmore Leonard once said, “I rewrite it.”

Just as great acting should transport you away as if you were there watching the moment unfold—rather than having you think, “this is great acting”—so too does the best writing allow for full immersion and escape into the story. Most folks don’t sit there thinking: this is a really great sentence. Well, okay, sometimes I do, but I’m nerdy like that, and many times can’t help but think simultaneously from a reader and writer’s perspective.

But as a writer I support a good deal of respect and regard for the reader, and if I find myself lapsing into the typically self-indulgent exercise of trying to write “a really great sentence,” I stop.  Let us clarify: of course we all want to write really great sentences but the point is, we must understand what constitutes such, and this consideration must always be rendered with the reader foremost in mind. The writing must be authentic and good grief I realize that can look a gazillion different ways but I tend to believe most times it has a lot to do with understanding your audience and your characters and your story and being as true to them as you can.

I am nearing the finish line in my latest revisions of my YA/Fantasy novel and nary a day goes by without a humbling reminder of this. I find it an often tough balance, seeking the right language and approach which will challenge but not lose young readers, and which will also appeal to adults. So often my language tends toward floridity—to wit—and it never ceases to amaze me how in the moment it had seemed so damn good, but which upon further review is revealed as yet another manifestation of writerly insecurity. See how well I can write? Notice the big words, and riveting description?  Bloody hell.


Look, sometimes big words and many times riveting description can be a good thing—just, not for their own sake, or the sake of your ego, or at the expense of the reader’s trust. Do whatever fits. Don’t over-explain. Most times but certainly not all (I’m not about to ask Cormac McCarthy if he could please tamp things down a bit), editing will entail finding a simpler word, or even eliminating a word or sentence or section entirely. Erik Larson, one of my favorite scribes, extols on his Twitter profile his love of “clear and spare prose.” Most writers don’t tend to be math people but there is an equation which helps me re-anchor when I list off-course:  SW2C.  So what, and who cares? Is the word you are employing—or the sentence or section or plot for that matter—fundamental to advancing the story and characters? We’ve all been cautioned about the perils of adverbs, and in most instances, rightfully so. But it’s more than that, I think. Once more I believe it all circles back to honesty and authenticity and an abiding respect for and faith in your readers.

Hopefully your readers will love your work.  And while they may go back through and parse and deconstruct and think, “that was a really great sentence,” the primary reason will be that you were not preoccupied with the notion that they do.

So let us all be thankful for editors and editing and that invaluable opportunity to get over ourselves and in the process let our best work shine through.


Happy writing, happy editing and happy reading to all!



Monday, March 9, 2015

Author Interview: Ally Bishop. Inside the Lines...

It is my distinct honor and pleasure to share with you my interview with a talented, kind woman whom I am fortunate to call my editor and blessed to call a friend. Ally Bishop’s steamy novel Inside the Lines was released today, and Ally was kind enough to take a few minutes amid her whirlwind day to indulge some of my questions. I hope you enjoy!

First things first: your book was just released—Inside the Lines, first installment in the Without a Trace series. What can you tell us about the book, and what has you most excited about it?

Inside the Lines is a sexy romance about Dominatrix Lux Trace and what happens when we have to start making difficult decisions about our lives and future. When she meets Fin MacKenzie, sparks fly and pushes every one of her boundaries. Let's just say, Lux isn't prepared for this kind of heat.


I'm most excited about having books finished and out to the public. It's easy as authors to work on our books, but never actually put them in front of the public eye. So while scary, it's also exciting to share my characters and stories with the world. 


It is not a genre with which I am particularly versed but it caught my attention because I knew you would have a more compelling and nuanced take than 50 Shades (which I found unreadable). You’re probably tired of addressing the comparison so let me approach it this way: I KNOW you will mine these themes in a starkly different manner than did James—and I know I would enjoy it exponentially more. But tell me something that might compel a reader like me, who simply isn’t that much into the genre, but is a sucker for great characters and great story, to give it a try?

Ooo, good question! One of the most prominent themes in my writing is the human spirit's desperate need for freedom, while we fight for structure at the same time. We always want both, even though they can seem like dire opposites.
If you enjoy seeing the human spirit triumph over the frustrations of life, and don't mind or maybe even enjoy some steamy scenes, my books may be for you. They are romance, so you have to have some enjoyment for the genre. 
When I landed you as my editor people told me how lucky I was—how right they were! What do you enjoy most about being an editor, and talk about the balance you strike between that work and your writing?

The privilege goes both ways, my friend. I love working with authors to make their stories sing. I've always enjoyed the creative process and how you take something that was in your head, and give it to the world to enjoy. There's something incredibly empowering about it. I also enjoy the conversations that yields as you delve into the finer issues of plot and character development. 

Balance -- always tough! I find that I have to protect my writing time with rabid fervor if I'm to get any in. So I ensure that I spend at least an hour a day, sometimes two, on my own writing.

I have heard you encourage others to live their dreams…something I know you are doing right now, having in the last year taken the leap and stepping full-time into your writing and your editing/author coaching business at Upgrade Your Story.  I know so many things factor into this process, and the history behind it which for so many of us took root in the dreams of our childhood—what has been one of the most compelling aspects of taking this next step in YOUR dream?

I truly believe that we shine brightest when we do what we are best at. I've never flourished behind a desk. In fact, some of my favorite jobs were ones that sent me off into all directions of the world and gave me time to think about my stories. So for me, I knew that to have type of development I want as a person, to reach that next level of self-actualization (as goofy as that may sound), I had to do what I loved. 

A wonderful whirlwind of activity swirling for you right now—give us a sneak peak at what my lie ahead on the horizon for Ally Bishop?

The second book in the Without a Trace series will be out in June 2015, and that series will have at least five books. So for now, that's my focus. I have a wonderful portfolio of editing clients, but I'm always willing to talk with authors who wish to learn more about my services. Nothing makes my day more than working with creative minds and helping them forge their own dream.

Thanks so much, Daryl!

Thank YOU, Ally. It has been my pleasure getting to know Ally, and I hope each of you enjoyed getting to know her and her work here too. For more info, here is a blurb about the book, and Ally’s bio, including easy links to her book and website!


Ally Bishop


Inside the Lines       
   
What happens in love might destroy you...

Or remake you all together.

I make a living offering men and women their ultimate fantasies…as submissives of the mysterious Mistress Hathaway.

I've never surrendered to anyone. That's not the way it works. Or rather, not the way I operate.

But when the gorgeous Fin MacKenzie shows up in my life, he throws everything out of balance.

Now I'm not sure who I am anymore, and I'm questioning everything.

What woman can turn away from a gorgeous Scotsman, especially when he sets her body on fire and her heart ablaze?

I have to stop it…us. I can't keep going like this. It will ruin everything I've worked so hard to build.

Who am I if I surrender to him? Worse yet, who am I if I don't?

You can read Inside the Lines at:
Amazon: http://bit.ly/insidelines
Goodreads: http://bit.ly/insidelinesGR

Length: 238 pages
Genre: Sexy romance, erotic romance
Heat rating: Get out your summer wardrobe—things are about to get hot!

Bio for Ally Bishop:

When you do something effortlessly and people commend you continuously, you have found your gift.

That’s what I tell people all the time. And it’s true.

I get story. I always have. I started writing when I was 8 on a Smith Corona (the electronic kind — I’m not THAT old). I wrote stories in every spiral notebook I had. Eventually, I graduated to a Mac (yes, I’m one of THOSE people). I imagined new worlds, emotional conflicts, and HEAs while I waited at stoplights or wandered the grocery store. But here’s the thing: I didn’t just dream it up and write it down — I critiqued what I read. I knew when ideas were good, and when they stunk. I ran writing groups, judged creative contests, and eventually got two graduate degrees in writing. That’s right: I love it that much.

So here I am, years later, writing kickass heroines and devastating good guys, along with some mystery and vampires thrown in (I promise: THEY’RE COMING). And what’s really cool? I do what I love. Wanna write a success story for your life: I promise you, that’s it. Do what you love. And hopefully, you can make a living at it too. That’s the golden ticket, Charlie.

And chocolate doesn’t hurt, either…

The serious stuff:

I have an M.A. in creative writing, as well as an M.F.A. in creative writing with a focus in publishing. I produce two podcasts, host one, and am a freelance editor and publicist over at Upgrade Your Story. In my free time (what is that, exactly?), I read, workout, game, and converse. I’m a high introvert despite my extroverted behaviors, so you’ll find me behind my computer most days. I’m married to the wild and brilliant Billy Crash, have two dogs who are filing to change their species designation to “human,” and can often be found wandering Manhattan in search of the perfect writing spot.

You can find me at Twitter at @upgradestory & @allyabishop, Facebook, Pinterest, and my website.






Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Look Back, A Look Ahead...

Nearly a year ago the wonderful Gilda Evans was kind enough to publish a post I wrote called A Dream Deferred, which speaks to my lifelong writing dream, how I was--well—a few decades tardy in pursuing it seriously, and what the main factors have been behind the progress I’ve made in the last year or so. It also touches upon that oh so elusive life-work balance sought by so many of us, and—like for so many of us—if that balance includes maintaining a full-time job and pursuing the dream –for me, writing—in your precious scant spare time—AND trying to be there for your family (and friends, and all areas of your life), it can be all the more daunting.

But no one said realizing your dream would be easy, and I rather think it SHOULDN’T.  Little that is worthwhile and enduring, ever is. And if you think about it, isn’t the chance—even a long shot chance—to articulate and pursue our dreams, our passions, an utterly beautiful thing?

I say, yes.

And I have to say this: the progress I have made in my writing in the last year has been encouraging, and I am very excited about things to come. But the most beautiful part of the journey by far (aside from, as my post for Gilda refers to, sharing it with my children, my little girl in particular), has been the people I have met and gotten to know along the way. Amazing people who are talented writers and better human beings. I consider this nothing short of a blessing.

I am grateful to everyone whom I’ve met in the last year or so, as well as those friends and family who have also supported me and my aspirations along the way. I very much hope this is only the beginning, but for what it’s worth, an update:

The David Rose Series: The incipient book in this YA/Fantasy series will be published this year by Booktrope, and I am very excited and grateful. My editor Ally is the best in the world, and I am deep into revisions based on her sage feedback. March is a very busy time with work and travel and, of course, writing—but I hope within about a month to be done with the rewrites. With a series you really need to be thinking ahead and prepping to dive into the next, at least outlining where you want to go--because nothing worse than capturing readers' interest through a first book(which I hope to do), then letting the sequels languish, until they lose interest. I have penned a fun opening scene for the next book, and can't wait to work on it. It's a balance--you don't want to get ahead of yourself, but books in a series--while they should be strong enough to stand on their own--ideally convey a plausible synergy and connection--between and among characters, storylines, and the books themselves.

Stories & Guest Posts: David Rose has been the driving force of my aspirations but I love to write, period, and always have many things in the pipeline. And one of the biggest epiphanies as I started to get serious a year or so ago—obvious though it should have been—was the need to build something of an author platform, a little name/brand recognition—get  a little buzz going about me and my writing if I could. Part of this has meant publishing some stories and guest posts—a win-win since writing is writing and we must always hone our craft, plus it confers a little exposure and opportunity to build said platform and connect with the literary community. I have been fortunate to publish some pieces, and am working on more as we speak (a short story I am rather fond was recently picked up, and I’ll link it when it’s published—hopefully soon!). Finally, I am thrilled to be part of fantasy writing project with three stellar scribes (and wonderful friends). The stories/project will hopefully be published by summer, and I can’t wait to share, including the intriguing challenge/opportunity/process involved in such collaboration.

Literary Novel: I have a draft of a literary novel called Musclewood, which I have queried a bit and garnered some interest. It needs some work, but I am very excited about it. A very different voice & style from YA. 

Serial: I released a few early chapters of Ten Acts of Penance, which may be found on my blog, and intend to circle back, as it’s a story and protagonist I am pretty fond of. I intend to consolidate it at the end and seek to publish it as a whole. 

Interviews: I have had the good fortune of interviewing some amazing writers(here’s a sample), and am thrilled to announce I have lined up several more in the queue—I promise they are talented folks and will have some compelling stories and insights!

Thanks again to everyone for your support. As you’ll discern from some of my posts, I am all about community: we are better by virtue of supporting and challenging one another, and sharing our unique and valuable insights and ideas. Please feel free to weigh in on anything I’ve said here, and most assuredly weigh in about YOUR journey—be it literary, vocational, LIFE. We are in this together, after all.

Happy weekend to all, and may you find inspiration and support as you soar onwards toward your dreams…

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Not Sure Where to Start? Helpful E-Book Resource(yes, I'm in it).

Greetings!

Very excited that a guest post I did for Carol Tice at her helpful and successful site How to Make a Living Writing, is featured as part of a smartly-arranged collection of perspectives/guidance from 40 talented writers/bloggers...addressing through their unique lens and experiences the so often vexing question of how to get started with our writing and publication ambitions. 

I've read almost all of it and it's good stuff--very helpful if you and/or anyone you know harbors such literary aspirations. It's a great deal: just $3.99 for a resource which might and hopefully will help you on a path toward earning a good income from your work!

Full disclosure: I do get a percentage of any sales purchased through the link below. But with this or anything I ever may promote, I of course only want you to purchase if you think it may be enjoyable and beneficial to you or someone you know. I certainly hope you do, but certainly understand if you don't .

Anyway, take a peek here if you're so inclined, and you'll see more on the books, and even a cool photo wall of the 40 contributing authors--including me and also my talented and beautiful friend Nillu Nasser Stelter(hover your mouse over a photo to cue up the respective author's name).

Here's the link, and thanks as always for your support!