Monday, January 24, 2011

Knee-How -or- Why I Haven't Been Updating My Blog

New Town Guangzhou: skyscrapers, parks
& stadiums. Everything is covered in colored
lights and moving LEDs--even the trees.
I just got back from a last minute trip to China--actually, I got back last night; I just woke up after sleeping for 18 hours. And yes, I realize that's not how you spell, hello in Mandarin, but the only way I can pronounce Mandarin is to find English words with similar sounds.

I know what you are thinking, oh, China sounds fun. Okay, maybe the first time, but I've been to Guangzhou eight or nine times now and frankly, I dread going back. It's not just that there's nothing to do their except visit factories. Ask any local and they'll tell you (once you get acquainted) how the government has torn down almost every historic site to build impressive, but slightly tacky, LED clad skyscrapers.

After so many trips, it's more about praying I don't catch something. Last trip, I ended up in the ER with a case of overly zealous E. Coli. Just 48 more healthy hours to go and I'll be batting .500 (for you who don't keep up with baseball, that means if I don't get sick, it'll put me at 50%).
Don't get me wrong, I love the Chinese people and have made some good friends (perhaps due to the government, the Chinese people that I've met tend to be very guarded until you build a friendship). It's just when the only thing to do is visit the City Zoo, The Temple of The Six Banyan Trees (which really is a must see), or sit at a conference table across from a team of skilled negotiators while drinking tea made from non-potable water (you just pretend to sip it), you end up spending a lot of time doing the later.

Temple of the Six Banyan Trees.
Bring lots of water and good shoes.
So, the real reason for this post is to apologize and explain my absence from the blog. I had enough time to schedule my blogfest post (it looks like the whole blogfest was a great success), but even if I had the time to write an OOO (Out Of Office) blog post, I don't like announcing that my wife and kids will be home alone for the whole week. I'd rather apologize after the fact for not replying to any comments, keeping up with others blogs, or making any posts.

Of course, viewing or posting on Blogger from China is not possible due to the Great Wall--not the historic Great Wall--I'm referring to the one China isn't quite as proud of: The Great Firewall of China.

Now, that I'm back, I'll belatedly check out all the, "What's Your Process" comments as well as other blog participants posts, and just generally catch back up with everyone.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's your process Blogfest!

I'm participating in Shallee McArthur's What's Your Process Blogfest. There's about 35 bloggers participating, so check it out. You're sure to find some good ideas.

I'm going to cover my process in three phases, pre-manuscript, manuscript, and post-manuscript. I'm on my fifth or sixth manuscript, so my process is still evolving. But, what I've been doing does seem to be working for me.


One thing I've learned is don't bother writing unless you've got a great idea. For me, the idea part isn't too hard (it's the execution that I have to work at). The toughest part is is coming up with a big idea that I'll love to write. For me, if I don't fall in love with the story and the characters, there's no use.

However, even if I love the idea, if it isn't going to sell, I'm not going to write it. I have too many hard drive novels, as do most writers I know. My advice is not to bother writing quite books, manuscripts about talking animals, or whatever agents aren't buying right now.

In fact, I try to come up with the hook before I write my first word. What's a hook? Two kids fight off an army of the undead, armed with nothing but Super Soakers--that's a hook (from my most recent novel). It's what you're going to tell that agent you run into in the elevator, on your way back to your room, at your next conference. It's what's going to appear on the jacket cover to make kids go, Wow, I've gotta get this book. If you idea doesn't have one, don't bother.

Next, I layout the story. Here I use a step sheet. Basically, I just start a word document with a step-by-step for the story. Here's short an example:

Dude moves to new town.

Meets a girl.

Falls in love with Girl.

Turns out Girl hunts vampires.

Just one problem, Dude's a vampire.

Okay, so that's a plot from Buffy, but you get the idea. Mine are usually about 200-400 words by the time I'm done. I'll also work out the subplots and key scenes in the step sheet. That way, I'm never lost when writing my manuscript, as all I have to figure out is how do they get from one step to the next.

Before I start writing I have one more step. It's the most important pre-manuscript step (for me). I call it falling in love with my characters. It's where I get to know them. There's lots of ways I do this. Here's just a few:

Do an interview. Start writing out some questions and type out the character's responses. This is a great way to get a background for each character and makes getting each one's voice down a lot easier. You'll probably even end up using a few lines from this in your manuscript.

Write a short with your characters. It's a great way to get to know them and see how they'll react to stress. Several times I've taken parts of my short stories and plugged them right into the novel. Plus, if I really work the short (which for me is about a dozen edits) I really have each character down by the time I'm finished.

Play it out in your mind. This works great if you have an active imagination. Approach it like meditation. Sit in a quite place where you are not going to be interrupted (I know, that's easier said then done), and keep a pen and notebook handy. Then close your eyes and imagine your characters. I often approach this like a movie--especially if I've hit a roadblock or dead-end.  I start right at the beginning of my story (or even before the beginning) and walk right through it. When I get to the point where I'm stuck, usually the characters just continue with the story for me.

Which is one of the reasons to keep a notebook handy; so you can write down whatever creative solutions to your plot problems that may come up. Plus, you'll also find sometimes your characters deliver the perfect line of dialog without any help from you (write these down right away so you don't forget them).

I often use this process during the writing process as well. And I always keep an eye out for anything that doesn't feel right, or new characters that pop-up on their own, stuff like that.


As you can see, it sounds like I don't really begin writing until I really have the groundwork laid. While this is usually true, I often come up with a story idea and just want to start writing. Fine, I do it. I just go back after I've exhausted my inspiration and do the prep work then. I find what I initially write usually doesn't make it into the story anyway and end up just doing more prep work.

Actually writing the manuscript is (usually) the easiest part for me. That's not just because I've done some of the leg work up front. It's also because if I don't feel inspired, I'll simply muscle my way through it. In my opinion, there's plenty of time to get it perfect later. Right now, I just get the words down.

I don't worry about making it perfect. I don't make sure my grammar is correct. If I can't think if a word, I'll leave a few underscores and put a synonym or two behind them to remind me what I was thinking when I re-read it later on.

Yes, I sometimes go through later and delete entire scenes because they stink. So what? As long as the final product is my best work, I'm fine.

Here's another trick I use while writing the manuscript. For me, each time I sit down to continue a manuscript getting started is the hardest part. I have to re-read a little just to figure out where I've left off and then hope I can get back into the groove of things.

Instead, what I do, is edit everything I wrote the day before. I'm not perfecting the prose here. Just obvious errors, filling in the missing words, etc. By the time I've done a quick edit on everything I wrote the night before, I'm almost always ready to start writing again--it just gets me back in the story.

Post-manuscript (aka Revision or to some, Hell)

This is where most writers make it or break it. For me, it's where I spend most of my time (I'm talking months and months). As I said before I'll go over a short story a dozen times. Same for a manuscript, maybe even more. The difference is each edit takes days or weeks.

Depending on how I am feeling, I'll either dig right into the editing, or I'll take a week or two off. But no matter what, at some point, I'll take weeks probably more like a month to let the manuscript sit before I come back to it. This really helps me look at it with new eyes and I see all types of stuff I missed before.

At some point I'll print my manuscript out and edit it on paper. I also like to feed it into my Kindle and have it read it back to me. Both these methods really help me find errors, bad dialog and other stuff I just always seem to miss when editing on a computer screen.

It takes me 8-10 edits before the manuscript is read to show to a beta. I try to get at least 4 trusted betas. If I get two saying the same thing, I'll sit on their feedback for a few days before deciding if they are right or not. If I don't wait a few days, I can't look at their comments objectively. Then, when it turns out their comments are right (they almost always are), I'll rewrite and send out to a couple more betas.

Finding a good beta reader is hard. Most of mine only do manuscript exchanges (so they have to have something for me to edit at the same time). However, I can always find someone I know to do a partial beta. These are helpful if used right. Obviously, they can provide feedback on the first 3 or 4 chapters, or say, the ending. But I'll also use them for key scenes. I'll take a paragraph or two for some back story, tell the beta reader what I'm aiming for and see if they feel I've nailed it.

Once I'm convinced my manuscript is perfect, I set it aside for a month, maybe more. I can work on other projects, or on the query letter during this time (not the synopsis though). I just don't want to open or look at it at all during that time. When giving it a final reading, I try to imagine I'm reading it for the first time. This works great for finding inconsistencies and small plot holes.

Wow, I think that's my longest post to date. If you got this far, I hope you found something I said useful and will be able to incorporate it into your own process. If you have any tidbits to add, just post a comment. Heck, maybe even write up a post on your own process.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Blogger Awards

Yes, I'm down with the blogger award thing. I recently got my second and third blogger awards, so I'm going to pass them both along in one post.

The Stylish blogger award was from Tony Benson and his blog, Fireside Park, thanks Tony. BTW: Tony's running a "Show Me Yours" blogfest at the end of the month.

The Versatile Blogger Award has been around for sometime and to be completely honest, I've felt a little left out not receiving it yet. Thanks to Carol Riggs over at Artzcarol Ramblings, I no longer feel left out. Carol updates her blog quite often, and has a great backlog of posts to check out.

Now, for 7 things about me:
1. I build arcades for a living. Yes, there's something of a living to be made there.
2. I have the worlds two most beautiful daughters ages three and seven months--no the baby isn't sleeping though the night yet!
3. I have an old Lab named Casey. She's female, which makes it four against one in my house, but my wife likes baseball, so I'll survive (Go Giants)!
4. I normally write after midnight. Owning my own business, it's the only time I can find.
5. I've been to China seven times (soon to be eight).
6. I still get Legos for Christmas. No, I don't ask for them, but of course I build them.
7. I love Sci-fi, but seldom write it (though I'm not quite sure why).-
Yes, I know I'm cheating and, 
since I'm doing two awards, I should really list 14 things. But frankly I'm a little boring, so seven will have to do.

As for the bloggers I am passing the awards along to, I have too many to chose from. I know a lot of bloggers already have these awards so, I'm going to focus on newer blogs, or blogs with less than 100 followers.

Versatile Blogger winners:
Liz Davis at Novel Moments.
Dennis Laffey at What a horrible night to have a curse... (Yes, Dennis you were my 100th follower).
PV Lundqvist at PV Lundqvist Might not be the most creative blog name, but you've gotta love his tagline, "Embarrassing his kids by writing for their age bracket."
Kindros at Random Kindros has only been blogging since December, but he has Firefly clips on on his site, so he's off to a good start.
AJ & Charli's completely irreverent blog AJ & Charli Bite Back.

Stylish Blogger awards:
Dan Klinefelter at Sanguine Musings.
Alta at Limitless Possibilities has been blogging for a couple of years; lots of entires to catch up on.
Melanie at YA for the YAt Heart (she just posted her query letter and I'm sure would appreciate some feedback).
Nicole Green at SLUSHY MUSHY ME.
Katharina Gerlach is a published author who's been blogging since 2008.
Lisa at First Draft on Life, Literature and Lunacy hasn't been blogging long, but is very active.
Last, but not least, Angelica R Jackson's Angelic Muse is one of my favorite blogs.

You may have noticed that's only 12, not 14 winners, well I figure a few of these blogs might have already won one of these awards. So, if any of the winners have already won the awards they were nominated for, feel free to change awards. After all how much differences is there between a versatile and a stylish blogger?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Huck Finn Censored Again, No More N-word

Even the illustrations in Huck Finn are
shocking by contemporary standards.
Mark Twain is, in my opinion, one of the most influential American writers of books for children. The interesting fact is that he really wasn't a children's writer. Most of his body of work was for adults. In fact, in the preface of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, he specifically makes of point of telling adults the book is suitable for them as well as children.

It's follow-up, The Adventures Huck Finn, was clearly social commentary. And it's one of the most effective examples in literary history. I can still remember being shocked when I read it as a kid--the characters were so racist, I wasn't sure if it was an accurate representation of that time. It was just something I couldn't wrap my 12-y.o. brain around.

Today, Forbes has an article, about a publisher in Alabama that wants to sanitize Huck Finn. To quote slashdot:
Over a hundred years after the death of its author, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will be released in a censored format removing two derogatory racial slurs: "injun" and "nigger." The latter appears some 219 times in the original novel but both will be replaced by the word "slave.
Toning down Huck Finn is really just an attempt to sanitize our national history. Children should be allowed to see a clear picture of the past--no matter how ugly--in the hope that they will so be shocked and disgusted by it that they will find it impossible to tolerate bigotry in their own lives.

I thought it was only fair to link to a blog with the opposing view. I think, the idea here, is that some (perhaps many) students will find Huck Finn personally hurtful. That is a good point; while we do need to teach kids about racism in America, we need to be very sensitive about how we do it.

However, I find the blogger's assertion that Huck Finn is not relevant today, shows her clear mis-understanding of the novel. Even if we someday reach the Dream of a society where color doesn't matter, we'll still need to study our history to keep it that way.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Huffington Post Interview with Amanda Hocking

Amanda's a class act. I've interacted with her a little when I participated in her Zombiepalooza and on message boards. Speaking of zombies, if you are into them you should read her book Hollowland. She's not just a successful Indie author, she sold 100,000 books last month--in one month. Okay, I'm exaggerating a little, she only sold 99,000.

But, before you quit your day job to start self-publishing kidlit, there's a couple things you should know. First, most of her readers aren't kids, they are adults who read YA, paranormal romance specifically. Second, she's very talented. And third, she's gotten a little lucky, she would have found success no matter what, but she's had great fan support and even greater timing.

This level of sales can't be ignored and the Huffington Post ran an interview with her today. Even, if you aren't considering going Indie, it's worth checking out. And if you are considering it then consider this, she still has an agent.

Monday, January 3, 2011

100 followers - How I Did It

Okay, I know 100 followers really isn't an astounding number, but I did get most of those in about two months (that's my guesstimate anyway). Plus, I wanted to start a series of 'how-to' posts, sharing what I've learned so far about writing (not just writing, but building a platform, etc). I figured blogging was a good place to start.

While I enjoy blogging, it's certainly not something I do for the fun of it. It takes time away from my writing, but it's more than worth it to keep my fans informed (yes, I do have a few of them), connect with other writers, and build a platform.

I try to write stuff that will be of interest to both readers and writers and I steer clear of really controversial issues. I don't write about personal, non-writing stuff, unless I think others will really find it interesting.

When I first started blogging, I made a link to my blog in my signature on the forums I frequent (absolute write and Kindle boards, are the two I post the most on). I figured I'd slowly start getting people to follow. Over 6 months I got about 20. Most of those were other writers I knew (at least knew online), which was great because, they were more likely to leave comments.

But when I got ready to send out my query letter, I realized some prospective agents would google me and find the site; they might not be so impressed with 20 followers.

So, I started looking at who was following the bloggers that I followed. Sure enough a lot of them were YA and MG writers with some interesting posts. What I found was, if you follow a blog, that person is likely to follow you back.

After that, I simply checked once a week or so for new writer's blogs. I tried to leave comments and I followed many that were about kidlit or that I really liked, and about 1/2 followed me back.

One thing I found was that a lot of bloggers don't have a links to their own blog in their profile--big mistake. If you'd like to get more followers, you need to make it easy for people to find your blog.

Don't just follow every blog you find. You'll clutter your dashboard and few will follow you back. Look for blogs in the same genre or from writers you find interesting (I follow a lot of fantasy and monster blogs). Oh and most important, when someone follows you, check out their blog and consider returning the favor.

For me, I'm thrilled with 100 followers, it's enough that I don't have to worry about scaring away any agents that wander by. But I know there are a lot more experienced bloggers out there, please share you advice and comments on blogging. Do giveaways work? How about joining blog contest or blogfests?