Friday, June 19, 2015

Listening to advice is completely different to following that advice...

Inside the world of Authordom there are many, many people that will offer advice, most without being asked for it. As a new, up & coming author there is often the temptation to blindly follow advice given by successful authors, after all if it worked for them.....

Well, I'm going to disagree with this (to a degree). For me writing is a very personal thing, it is a selfish passion. I don't know where the story's come from, how they get into my head, but when they arrive, they arrive with a forceful presence that insists on making it onto the page. This is my world, I can make anyone do anything in the story, an alternative reality - if you haven't written a book you will have no idea of just how much fun that can be. I've heard some people refer to a book as 'art' - I'm not entirely sure that this is accurate, it's certainly not the way I feel, but that's just my personal opinion. However, a story should be very personal to the author; I don't see how an author can expect a reader to invest emotionally in a story if the author hasn't invested the emotion in the writing. My point is that, similar to a painting, it is the individuality of the artist that makes or breaks the painting; it is expressive, an extension of the person, a physical representation of the imagination - and that is why I disagree with blindly following others that have enjoyed a degree of success.

Yes, there are some base rules BUT to quote Tara Moss ( "Be wary of “writing rules” and advice. Do it your way.”

Sometimes there is advice that resonates to the point of vibration, an extension of your own deepest beliefs, Joss Whedon's quote is one such piece of advice:-

You either have to write or you shouldn’t be writing. That’s all.” ― Joss Whedon

When asked to share advice, Tina Frey offered the following:

“It’s a great lesson about not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go. You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it…You have to let people see what you wrote.” 

Again, I have to agree. It is a big issue with some authors, normally associated with those that refer to their book as their 'baby'. Accept the basic fact that not everyone is going to like your book. It is pointless trying to change the mind of a reviewer, they've formed their opinion based on their own thoughts (ideally), if they don't agree with yours, so what? Let it go people.

An interesting pearl of wisdom from an American authoress, Joyce Carol Oates, published since 1963, suggests "Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.” ― Joyce Carol Oates Yep, gets my vote too.

For my favourite of all I go back to Tara Moss, 

“Write. Start writing today. Start writing right now. Don’t write it right, just write it –and then make it right later. Give yourself the mental freedom to enjoy the process, because the process of writing is a long one...” ― Tara Moss

In my head I am writing pretty much all of the time, but unfortunately my day job would take umbrage if I just sat and wrote in their time. I don't have the opportunity to write, write and write, and strangely enough I think this is a good thing. I love writing, I love the whole experience at a granular level, but it's my escapism, my place to go to get away from the real world. To the surprise of some, my day job requires a degree of brain strain, thinking on a technical level. If we presume that the day job is the leash on my mind, writing brings the euphoria like being released into a field to run around. But if I lived in that field I'd never be able to capture that euphoria again.

Anyway, there are some other advisory jewels offered in the full piece, but remember these are other people, with their own advice. Writing is all about letting your self be true to yourself.

I hope some of it helps.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

That meeting!

As described in the last few posts, I was more than a little apprehensive about meeting a thirteen year old lad that had read the raw script of 'Elementals', and was prepared to give me his opinions. (I thought he was twelve but I was quickly corrected). The meeting was set for 1pm, the venue... McDonalds. Having bundled my own twelve year old daughter into the car, (moral support for me yes, but I also thought it would be less daunting for the lad, Cabe. And, my daughter would never pass up the opportunity of a McD's treat). All the usual thoughts were chasing each other around in my head.. 'what if he didn't like it?', 'did the story make sense?', 'Georgie Pie or Angus burger?'... I checked the digital display on the dashboard of the car, 1249; looking around the carpark I watched for people, searching for the familiar face of Cabe's father, but saw no-one. Now I started feeling a little anxious, 'bugger, what if they don't turn up?'. A quick text, 'Hi mate, am in the McD's carpark.." send, 

With the radio tuned to a local station, music and chat broadcasting inside the car, my daughter was unaware of just how important this meeting was to me, or maybe she was aware and had worked out that it wasn't important to her, or at least not as important as a Mack'ers. She was just happy singing along to the tunes. Nervously I watched the front of the screen of my mobile, willing it to light up, vibrate and herald the arrival of a response to my text. It's an interesting phenomena that, at times like this, it take hours for the digital clock just to change one digit, well that's what it seemed like.

Finally, the response comes through, 'Cool, we are inside.' It was time to face the truth...

New Zealand is a very sports orientated country. It doesn't matter how diverse the sport is, everyone is actively encourage to participate in some sport or other, especially the young. Saturday mornings are all about sports; up and down the country there are hundreds of thousands of youngsters throwing a ball, catching a ball, kicking a ball or belting it with a bat or stick of some description. And, it would seem that after playing the sport, hundreds of thousands of youngster head straight for a fast food fix! The place was packed. Had I known at that time that Cabe had a full head of red hair I would have used a different search criteria as I scanned the masses. The very fine wisps of hair that his father had gave no clue of this distinctive feature of his son. 

I'm not a fan of crowds; it's more of a psychological thing than anything else, but crowds make me nervous, uncomfortable and put me on edge. I'm not talking about freaking out and running for the door type nervous, more the case of heightened senses, fixed pupils, constant scan mode type nervous. So, here I am, surrounded by thousands, if not dozens, of youngsters, still hyped up from their game, demanding their reward from the parent, grown up or big sister that has been their morning chaperon. I'm looking for a man and his lad secreted somewhere in the sea of young faces, my palms are starting to sweat, I can't spot them. Another people carrier parks up, unloading a stream of nine year-olds dressed in a football kit, yelling with excitement at their arrival. They enter the establishment like a herd of stampeding wildebeest which seems to start a whole new competition with the incumbent children; who can scream loudest! 

At that very moment I'm thinking 'Yeah, nah.' time to leave, except I can't, my daughter has been promised a McD's, dammit. Reality strikes, I have to stay. The 5-star badge totting young woman behind the counter announces an order number, "225" she shouts.  And then, from the crowds of impatient, hyper-active kids appears Steve, the dad of the critic I was due to face.

It took five minutes or so for us all to be sat at the table with our orders, and it was my turn to be impatient. In hindsight I probably should have discussed the weather or something more appropriate to allow Steve and his wife to be part of the conversation, but in my head I just wanted to know Cabes thoughts about 'Elementals'. If I could I would of tried the Vulcan mind meld (Spock always made it look so cool!), I wanted, needed, to extract every piece of feedback from the brain of this thirteen year old - but sticking your thumb and fingers in strategic positions on the face of a thirteen year boy, in the middle of McD's, probably would have been cause for a call to the police, or a punch from his father - definitely one of the two. So, we conversed. Using all of my skills and experience of the sales techniques; I asked open questions, closed questions and confirmation questions. For the next hour it was all about 'Elementals' - it was great, I loved it. 

Cabe made some very valid points; he highlighted a couple of areas where the adult trying to be the kid hadn't quite worked, hadn't quite managed to resonate with the target age group. For me, this was priceless, total gold. Marks out of ten for the story? I got an eight. Happy with that bearing in mind the changes needed. For the characters? I got a nine!!! Cabe - Thank you!! (and your mum & dad too). It is definitely something that I'm doing again, such a worthwhile exercise for me, and I think Cabe enjoyed it aswell. 

What happens next? Well, I'll spend today making the required changes and then it's off to Judy at ProofreadNZ to start the editing process. Finances willing, 'Elemetals' will be out for Christmas.


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Monday, June 8, 2015

Following on from the 'Research the Crap out of it...' post, I'm quite excited by my next piece of research. Well, when I say 'excited', it would probably be more truthful to say it's a nervous, apprehensive and concerned type of excitement.

'Elementals' is a recent project, a story targeting the early teen/YA that I would liken to Harry Potter meets Gandalf & Bilbo, meets Indiana Jones. I have let a few of my usual proofreaders/story checkers read it and (modestly) the feedback has been favourable. But this Saturday I'm actually going to be sitting down with a real live critic whom I know is going to be 100% honest, brutally so, because that's what twelve year olds are. It just so happens that this twelve year old is a word machine, his eye's digest words quicker than... well.... quicker.. than...ermm.. quicker than a really quick thing. (My advanced apologies to all those that have been kind enough to review my other publications.) I don't know if it's just me but.... to actually sit opposite someone that has no ties to me at all, whom I have never met before, but who represents my target audience, seems quite daunting.... AND, I'm paying for the McDonalds!!

Let me tell you how this came about:

                     In my day job it is important that I build good relationships with customers, it's actually pivotal. But let's not forget that I'm a nice guy so it ain't too difficult to like me. Anyway, I was introduced to a customer that was about to fall into my care, and we got chatting. Somewhere in the conversation I did mention that I had written a couple of books, and we discussed a number of topics around books and films. As it turns out this guy has a son who is an avid reader... not just 'avid' but more avid than a really avid thing, possibly living on Avid Street. We're talking A.V.I.D. It's a sad reflection that it is so unusual to find a kid of that age that wants to read. My brain starts thinking that this could be a multi-pronged win/win situation; he's in need of reading material and I've got pages of the stuff that is (supposedly) written for his age group. The next time we met up the client kindly brought the topic around to my writing, I offered to let his son have the script of Elementals, and thankfully he agreed. I meet some great people eh, but now I face the demon that I have created (Drama!).  Maybe he should eat the McD's before he starts the critique?

Anyway Cab, do your worst, give me the feedback right between the eye's. And thank you for agreeing to do it. All of the other reviewers were great, and I thank them as well, but if you want to know the raw truth... ask a kid - especially when the target audience are kids: Sometimes the logic stuns me. 

I'll let you know the outcome.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Research the crap out of it....

Google is without doubt, a writers friend. Many moons ago authors would set off on journeys to discover the village, town or country that would feature in their next best seller... now we have Google: not quite as romantic, or expensive, Google and Google Earth offer a great insight into these places without us actually having to leave the comfort of our living room. If it's uniforms or cultures you are researching - Google it. Obviously it's not quite the same as standing in the middle of a 16th Century stately home because there is no ambiance or atmosphere to absorb but it is pretty damn good for dealing with the facts.

Way back in an earlier post I referred to Granddads story in 'Elementals', a story from his childhood, his days in London during the second World War.  It all had to tie in with the discovery of an underground vault. So, through research (Uncle Google) I managed to discover the number of German bombs that fell within a square mile of the location, and on what day. From the stories perspective, I doubt that 99% of readers would even bother to check the plausibility of the bombs falling, 'hey, it was London, in 1940, there was a war on, of course bombs could have fallen in or around that exact area... who cares?' - Well, the answer is that I do! I care that the one percent of people that will check on the day and date, will learn that over 400 bombs fell on the day, in that area; the collapsing shop front that crashes onto the road below, opening up the secreted and forgotten vault is plausible! The devil is in the detail.

It was the same with 'Russian Redemption', a funeral parade that passed along the walls of The Kremlin - thank God for Google! Various pictures, schematics and descriptive accounts of visitors and families from that era supplied all the information needed; enough to give a believable version of such a funeral procession (without boring the reader with micro facts that they just won't appreciate).

It is more than just being right, it's about completing the readers experience at a different level. Some readers seem quite happy to read anything as long as there aren't too many spelling or grammar mistakes, and the story has something of interest about it; these readers tend not to invest emotionally unless there is something specific in the story that resonates with them, a place, a song, a particular slang word. And it is true that some are happy with that, but I want as many people as possible to invest in my stories, I want the detail to win over the most hardened of picky readers.

Mind Map is a big thing for me as well. It helps keep my 'timeline' true. As I have said before, I tend to write in a manner that requires thought, I'll jump around a bit from time zones and places, always heading towards the finale, so Mind Map has proven to be an essential tool - it also allows me to make notes on character development and events.

I have to be honest and say that 'Elementals' has involved an incredible amount of research, not just location but also mythical as it involves historical 'forces'; Probably, for every two hours of research, a single sentence is constructed - but it's a bloody important sentence!

Talking of 'Elementals' - it's a VA/early teen story. The other day I was having a drink after work (or maybe during actual work hours, but definitely working - ish) with a client, you know thing. And we got around to discussing the fact that I wrote books, enjoying the fact that I could honestly say that I was a published Author. Anyway, it turns out that the son of this chap is an avid reader, and when I say 'avid', I mean a constant need to read. This is 2015, a 12 year-old addicted to reading - there is hope for the generation yet. I've taken a brave step and sent the 'Elementals' manuscript to a 12 year old to read and critique. Seeing as this is inside the age brackets of the target audience I feel this is a really good move, and am looking forward to the honesty of the youngster to correct any story or plot glitches that a mere adult would over look. Does that count as research, hmmmm, possibly.

Anyway - back to the laptop for research purposes, a whole new story brews.