Browsing "On Writing"
Jun 27, 2012 - On Writing, Paranormal, Romance    61 Comments

Demons Rule! Angels Drool!

(Congratulations to Trix who won a copy of Angel in the Middle)

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Or what happens when characters take over.

Meet Tribal, the angel formerly known as Marcus. He’s quickly become one of my favorite characters, but there’s a little secret in his past. Tribal was originally only going to be a single scene character. He was a rent boy who attracted Franco’s attention. I didn’t even give him a name in that scene. He was simply “the twink with the tribal tattoos.”

Then a beta reader jumped all over me because she loved “the twink with the tattoos” and she wanted more of him. So, I went back to that scene and at the end, this happened:

***

Tribal slithered up Franco’s sweaty body and met his eyes. He pulled the two fifties out of his pocket and let them fall to the pavement. “My master says he will speak with you when you find the fallen one. There will be payment for services rendered, of course.” He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Franco’s. “You taste good, Big Guy.” Then he vanished in a flash that left spots whirling in front of Franco’s face.

He stood there, with his jeans around his ankles, smelling the brimstone of Tribal’s departure. Damn. If there’d been anything missing from this problem, it had just shown up and fucked him. He picked up the bills, pulled up his pants up, and climbed into the Hummer.

He’d been assigned to hunt a fallen one who looked like an angel. One Lucifer himself took an interest in. And now a map lay on his dashboard. A map that hadn’t been there when he’d gone into the bar. He picked it up. Ybor City. He’d be driving all night. He and the devil might be in Georgia, but Darius was in Florida.

***

I hadn’t planned for it. I didn’t even know it was going to happen. I was like Tribal took control of the scene and revealed himself not just to Franco, but to me.  Those are the moments when being an author is absolutely awesome. When something changes and suddenly the direction of a
story becomes clear. When a character becomes real not because of a carefully filled out character sheet but because he wrestles control from the author and says “this is all about me!”

Want to read more about Tribal and the Lucifer’s Boys gang in Angel in the Middle and Demon Bait?  They’re available from Liquid Silver Books and on Amazon.

Apr 11, 2012 - On Writing    3 Comments

Writing the opposite sex

In writing groups I sometimes run into the debate on whether writers can write as characters of the opposite sex. Despite all the debates and my love of debating, this is one I never seemed to be able to get into. I grew up with two brothers (and one sister). As kids we were sometimes stationed on military bases overseas. So, I was often around males or in a strongly male environment. Of course, this doesn’t make me an expert on the male point of view. But, see, there isn’t a single male point of view we all have to aim for. And if I worried about it, I’d never write most of the stories I enjoy writing.

However all of this didn’t stop me from grabbing the nearest male author for an opinion on a mystery novel I recently picked up. I won’t give away the name but this isn’t a small press author. Still, it is an author I haven’t read before and I wanted to check out the series. The book starts with two male characters discussing the salads they had for lunch and the shopping required by their diet. Then, since they are working out at the gym, one goes to spot the other and notices his buff thighs. At this point the male writer across from me was chuckling.

“Are you sure that’s not one of your books?” he asked.

“Not mine,” I said. “And these characters are both straight males.”

“Female author,” he said.

“After this they ogle every female in the gym,” I said.

He shrugged. “Okay, that part might be kind of accurate.”

Now the author is listed only by initials, so I had to check. Yep, female author. Now I’m struggling to read the book because I’m distracted because her male characters really should be dating at this point. But in the long run, it makes me think that we all need to stop worrying so much about writing the opposite sex. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

Mar 31, 2012 - On Writing, Romance    2 Comments

In which I self-publish a story


Not long ago, I sat in a local writing group to hear the local self-publishing advocate tell the group “you can write a book today and have it published by the time you get home.”  It’s a claim I’ve heard him make many times before. People nod enthusiastically, which is how I know they aren’t authors. Really, I’m going to write a book right now (it’s 7pm), and publish it before I get home? I know Denny’s is open 24 hours but how long can I stay here eating pancakes?

Now, I’m not writing this to tell you not to self-publish. I just want you to go into it with some sort of idea of what the process is like. Not gate keepers versus letting the audience decide but the actual process of going from story to published. I just used Smashwords and Kindle to self-publish my short M/M erotic story RED FLAGGED.First, let’s look at that claim “you can write a book today and have it published by the time you get home.”  I’ve never seen anyone in the group actually do it. Why?

Because writing a book is the biggest challenge you’re going to face, especially if you have never written a start to finish draft before. It does get easier over time, but quality is more important than impressing someone with a fast turnaround. For the example below, I’m working with a short story. The first draft of the story didn’t take very long but that first draft is just the beginning.So, I had my story, but what I had was an unedited and unproofed manuscript. So I went through three self-editing runs where I fleshed out details and reworked bits and pieces of the story. Then I went through three proofing rounds focusing on small details like spelling, misplaced words and commas. At this point, I had the story at the stage where I’d normally submit to a publisher–where it would undergo more editing and proofing. Yes, a good editor will still find things, even if they’re small things.

I’ve seen writers debate this part of the process on Kindleboards and other sites. Here’s my take on it–I wouldn’t work with a publisher who failed to edit my book, so why would I skip that step when self-publishing? Yes, I wanted to save money.  So I called in some friends–authors with multiple titles to their names–and asked them to proof. If you don’t have great proofing friends, you’re going to need to hire an editor. Prices: $50 – $2000 so shop around. Interestingly, even Mr. “Write and publish tonight” advises “having someone else look over the book first.” Oh, did I mention he’s a professional editor who charges on the high end. But hey, he’ll gladly look over the book, right?

Wait, I’m backing up a little. I needed cover art. I knew this part was coming so I started work on it before I sent the story out for proofing. There are many ways to do this, but not all authors are professional artists. I found a copyright free photo on a stock photo site. The price was right but it didn’t include design. I had a hot guy posing in front of a beige background and no text. I stared at Paint.Net (a free design program) and then called in Jenny. Jenny is a professional designer. She did my cover with a batch she was taking care of that week. Basic cover costs will run you $25-$500 (Mr. “Write and publish tonight” charges $500 and up.)

Wait, isn’t self-publishing free?  Sure, if you skip the editing and do your own cover, but we’re not done yet. I had my cover and my edited manuscript. Next I had to go through Smashwords formatting process to prepare to upload the manuscript. Now, this part you can do by yourself if you feel comfortable with MS Word. Preparing the manuscript can be tedious work and you want to set aside some uninterrupted time for it. If you need help, Smashwords has people who will do the formatting for you for between $30 and $60.

Did I mention the ISBN? Smashwords includes a free ISBN for books listed as published by Smashwords. Kindle has its own free Kindle ISBN system. You can go the free route or you can purchase an ISBN and list yourself as the publisher. I went for the free option.

Story written, check. Edited and proofed, check. Cover art, check. Formatting done, check. I’m ready to upload to Smashwords. And at this point, things actually are free, sort of. Smashwords, Kindle, other sites–they all take a service fee. Yes, it leaves me with more money per book than a small press does. But all those things I paid for above–I pay for none of it with a small press.

Oops, money. I have to decide how much to charge. I’ve decided to go for a minimal 99 cent price and see how things go.  Now, this is a difference I like since with a publisher, I have no choice on pricing. However, I’m also not getting the exposure I get with my publishers. Which is why I’m testing this out with a short story.

So, my story is uploaded but the work isn’t done. And no, I’m not talking about marketing, not yet. First, I had to check through the various published versions to make sure everything went well. And Smashwords vetting system checks for other mistakes and can have you reformatting and uploading the whole thing again.  But I hadn’t rushed the formatting process, so everything was fine.

I know the above isn’t about the allure and excitement of self-publishing. It’s not about claiming you’ll make more money or that you can do it real fast and make even more money. It’s also not about warnings and forebodings of doom if you self-publish. This means it’s less exciting than the debates I usually see taking place. This is simply a post to point out that self-publishing does take work, and it can cost you money despite all the free claims. For a longer work, I’d probably set aside a couple hundred dollars to compensate friends for editing and cover art. If that sounds high, I know a guy who thinks you can write a write a book and publish it tonight. Someone asked him once about helping with her novel. He offered her a $5,000 self-publishing package. Of course he wants you to self-publish your book. This blog was free.

Red Flagged is now available on Smashwords for 99 cents. Check it out. (I get a little thrill everytime the dashboard tells me someone downloaded the sample.) I’ve submitted it to Kindle where it is undergoing review. Apparently the self-publishing expert doesn’t know that Kindle now reviews new submissions and can take 12 hours to make your book available, so no, it isn’t instant any more. But then, a good book doesn’t require instant publishing.

Click to see Red Flagged on SmashWords

Click to see Red Flagged on Amazon Kindle

Feb 9, 2012 - On Writing    2 Comments

Writing a novel from nothing – Random Writing Rants Blog Hop

People often tell me I should outline before I tackle a novel, but I’m perfectly happy with my habit of just making the story up as I go along.  But I hate the “pantster” as in “flying by the seat of your pants” label because I’ve found that it tends to give a false impression about the process. I’ve actually run into a writer who believed that “pantster” was the opposite of “plotter” so that if I am a pantster, my novels have no plot. Oh, I’ve also had a writing coach insist that since I don’t outline, I can’t have written in completed novels. The misconceptions I run into in writing groups never fail to amaze me.

So, how do I build my story out from nothing? Or next to nothing?  Well, I do need a starting point. This can be a simple as a character and a situation or conflict. Now, here’s the critical point — I don’t have to start with the main character and the overarching plot of the novel. I’ve noticed that is what causes a lot of writers to stall before they even get started. Start small.

For “Love is Blond” my starting situation was — Patrick comes back to the inn having been bruised and beaten. What happens? Now, instead of writing this on a mind map or an outline, I draft a scene with Patrick and Rafael going through this. Essentially, my characters act out the scene. Now from that, I have two directions to go. One is — what led to this happening?  The other is — what follows this happening?  The reason I like writing out the scene is that one of my characters is likely to say or do something that helps me figure out the answer to one of those. So, then I write that scene. And that leads to another scene, and so forth.

After going back and forth and loosely writing scenes for a bit, I usually find I have a fairly good idea of where the plot is going. Often I’ll jump ahead and draft out a possible ending so I have an idea of what I should be heading toward.  If I’m writing a mystery novel, I want to know who the murderer is going to be, even if I don’t know exactly how that will be revealed. I’ll even jot down some ideas for scenes along the way, even if I don’t fill them in yet.

And this is the point at which someone yells at me “but that’s like outlining!” Well, yes. See I told you the term “pantster” was often misunderstood. Now I could “think” my way through all of this and jot ideas down and then organize them into an outline before I start. Perhaps I’d eventually end up in the same place. Perhaps not. By working this way, I usually have a good portion of the story written by the time I’m pulling anything like an outline together.  It also lets the characters talk to me during the process.

For me this method has a few other benefits. It takes away the pressure of needing to have the whole novel thought out before the writing starts. This means I get to start on a project while I’m still excited about it.  It also helps me identify false starts or ideas that just aren’t ready to be fleshed out fairly quickly. I keep a file of random ideas where I’ve written a scene and then thought “well, that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.”  I can always look at those sketches later if I think I might be able to work them into a story.  I also keep files with rough sketches of the stories that are in the queue waiting to be written.  I’ve found that reading a scene draws me back into the story idea much more fully than just reading an outline would.

Now, I don’t expect everyone to enjoy writing from nothing as much as I do, but if you’re the type who just likes to jump in and see where the story takes you, go for it!  Novels aren’t finished until they’re published, so you have plenty of time to make changes along the way.

Do you outline in advance or write as you go? Let me know.  I’ll be giving away a free ebook from the Lucifer’s Boys series (naughty  M/M erotica)  and a PDF book from the Cassadaga Mystery series (Cozy mystery).  Just let me know – Naughty or Cozy in your answer.

See who else is participating in the Random Writing Rants Blog Hop.

Jan 31, 2012 - On Writing, Paranormal, Romance    No Comments

How cover art happens

At our local writing group, the question of cover art sometimes comes up. Now each publisher handles cover art differently, but I thought I’d take you through a quick look at the cover art process for Demon Bait.

The process starts with words. Liquid Silver Books sends me a cover art form which has information for me to fill out for the cover artist. This includes questions about the story, the characters, the tone, themes, and obvious things like the title. I also include the marketing blurb for the story. The cover artist doesn’t usually have time to read every book they’re going for, so they go with the information sheet.

Along with the form, I can send any inspiration photos I think might help my cover artist. Usually I send photos that I think resemble the characters but since the current books are set in Florida, I’ll also send pictures from the locations. Demon Bait is set in St. Augustine, so I sent pictures of Tolomato Cemetery and the Castillo de San Marcos.

The next part can vary depending on the author and the cover artists. I’ve worked with Lynn on three covers now and I never tell her exactly what I think the cover should look like. I don’t have her artistic sense for what will look best.  So for Demon Bait, she sent two potential rough ideas.  One with three characters. The other with just Tribal. The question was — would I consider going with the single character cover.

 

I ran the covers past a few friends and decided to go with the Just Tribal version.  Now the version above was very rough, so we worked together on bringing in the smaller details. Tom, the ghost hunter, was going to be represented by an EMF meter. Lorenzo, the ghost, would be represented by what Lynn refers to as the “demon whacking sword.” Tribal’s tattoo was designed by Lynn and the T+L on the tombstone was her idea.  The end result is a fantastic cover that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, but that doesn’t leave out anything I felt was important.

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