"Writing a book is the art of listening to oneself."-Brad Cameron

Friday, January 25, 2013

Guest Blog- Chris Snelgrove

This week, I have invited author, Chris Snelgrove, to Guest Blog. Chris Snelgrove is the owner of the audio book publishing company DarkFire Productions, the producer of The House of Grey series, and co-author of YA thriller series: Harmonics.

The Art of Suspenseful Marketing 

A shadowy figure peers out from behind a column in a dark subway station. He leers malevolently at a young girl as she texts on her phone. Without arousing suspicion, he looks around and sees the last of the commuters head up the stairs. Without making a sound, he creeps around the backside of the column and positions himself behind the unsuspecting girl. The distant echoes of the rumbling train sound off to his right. He takes one last look around as the approaching cacophony of squeals, booms, and clacks grows louder. Just as the girl looks up, finally able to hear the approaching train over the music beating through her ear buds, the dark figure cocks his arms back and lunges forward.  

Lee Child, author of the popular Jack Reacher novels, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times on creating suspense. In it, he mentioned that as a bestselling author, he is asked many times how to create suspense. His response was both insightful, and something every author, marketer, advertiser, and shoe salesman should pay attention to. The question is not “how do you bake a cake” but rather, “how do you make your family hungry.”  

So did he push her? Did someone see him and at the last moment yell to stop him?

“Whodunit” has been a tactic used by authors of every generation not merely because of its time-tested nature, but because it taps into a basic human emotion-closure. As humans, we see everything in a finite scope. Birth-days, funerals, sun-rise, sun-set. We like everything in nice neat linear packages. So when we come across something that hasn’t found its inevitable close, somewhere in our lizard-brain a switch clicks on, and we become interested in seeing how it ends.

Talk with your friends and all of them can come up with a list of bad books, terrible movies, and dry TV series. Talk to them a little more and most of them read the entire tome, sat in the theater until the credits, and watched to the end of the season just to make sure it didn’t all of a sudden get good. Why? Because all of us like closure.

What made her the focus of his wrath? Why was she all alone in a dark subway station?

So what does closure have anything to do with marketing and serialization? Everything in fact. When you can delay closure, you create suspense. When you create suspense, even with bad characters, poor writing, and plot holes, people want to know how it ends. Does Luke turn to the Dark Side? Does Frodo destroy the ring? Does Bella end up with Edward or Jacob?

Back in the 1940s, the popular radio program Superman was masterfully done on a weekly basis. The Man of Steel would leap into a burning building despite protests of firefighters and concerned citizens. Just as they thought all hope was lost...tune in next week to see what happens. Now a message from our sponsor, Life Buoy soap.

Why did he not like the girl? Did he know her?

Because you had to wait a whole week to hear if Superman came out unscathed, something in your mind tagged that narrative as unfinished. There wasn’t a resolution yet. And while you knew your superhero would of course save the girl, the cat, and the day, you would still sit and listen...to find closure, to change that tag in your mind from unfinished to put right.

Did she know him? Was this his first attempt?

Likewise, good authors don’t go around rattling off ingredients for cakes, but rather, as Child puts it, they make their family wait four hours to eat dinner. Good authors create hunger. They dole out little bits and pieces of resolution, but always hold just enough back that the reader turns the page to the next chapter. In fact, brilliant authors can come out on page one, tell you who killed Roger Rabbit, and then explain that they don’t know why he was killed, and people will still read to the end to find out the killer’s motives. Jealousy, revenge, vengeance, the killer just doesn’t like cartoon characters. It doesn’t matter. Since the question was asked, folks want to know the answer.

Using Child’s concluding thoughts, “Trusting such a simple system feels cheap and meretricious while you’re doing it. But it works. It’s all you need... The basic narrative fuel is always the slow unveiling of the final answer. So don’t bake cakes. Make your family hungry instead.”

Did she die...or was she spared at the last moment. That’s what makes suspense such a valuable marketing tool.

-Chris Snelgrove

Twitter- @ChrisSnelgrove
Facebook- faceboook.com/ChrisSnelgrove

The House of Grey Series:

Barnes& Noble - http://bit.ly/OTDUaf
Kobo - http://bit.ly/QW3Ojk
Sony- http://bit.ly/VBFTTo

The Harmonics Series:

Barnes& Noble - http://bit.ly/LJSGh7
Kobo - http://bit.ly/KqvqV

Friday, January 18, 2013

“Dude, There’s Something Wrong with Your Horse”- The Tale of Sleipnir

I don’t think it’s too far fetched to say that I consider myself first a writer, and second a teacher. If I had the choice, I would spend my day developing characters and weaving their lives into myth-filled stories. But alas, one must continue to pay the bills while the hope that the already published works continues to sell. Nevertheless, it has been through my teaching profession that I have discovered a source of inspiration that helps me tell my stories. For that, at least, I am thankful.

Several years ago, soon after I took a new position as a high school English teacher, my department chairperson told me that I would be teaching a new elective class for juniors and seniors. The class was Mythology. I looked straight at her, and in my most confident voice answered, “Absolutely. Not a problem.” After she left, I sank into my chair, raked my fingers through my hair, and looked imploringly at my new colleagues. “Mythology?” I said. “That’s like Zeus, right?”

Despite my misgivings, I took to the new assignment like a mad man, soon discovering that yes, there was a Zeus, but there was also an Odin. As soon as I discovered that, a glorious new world suddenly opened up for me. My imagination took over and I immediately began inventing stories that would combine the myths of the ancient Norse to some form of Urban Fantasy. In the end, I came up with The Zeke Proper Chronicles.

The first story to capture my imagination was “The Building of Asgard’s Wall”. Simply told, the myth relates the events surrounding the Aesir gods’ desire to defend themselves more thoroughly against the Frost Giants by building a huge stonewall around their city. As luck would have it, a solitary figure, riding his massive workhorse, happened to show up one day, crossing the rainbow bridge, and asking to speak with the gods; his message was urgent but simple: “I,” he told them, “will build your wall. But I must have eighteen months in which to do it.” Nevertheless, his price for completing the work was high. His first demand was the hand of Freyja, most beautiful of the goddesses. Next, he demanded the sun and the moon. Odin, the All Father and leader of the Aesir, spat out his answer with disdain. “Your demands are impossible. That will be the end of it!”

Loki stepped forward after Odin’s outburst, calming is angry voice with his soothing, slippery tongue, urging the gods to reconsider the proposal. “Tell the builder that the wall must be built within six months. If he does it he may receive his demands, but if he doesn’t, he forfeits them all.”

Grudgingly, the gods considered Loki’s idea and presented the counterproposal to the builder. “Impossible,” the builder replied. “It cannot be done in six months!” Then he looked again at the beautiful face of Freyja. His intense longing for her provoked his answer.

The next morning the builder and his horse began their arduous work of gathering the heavy rock, the horse pulling the massive weight behind him, piling it in great mounds. As the days passed, the gods were astonished to discover how quickly the builder worked, fearing that he might indeed accomplish his task, forcing them to honor their agreement and award the builder his demands.            

The eyes of the gods turned angrily upon Loki. Odin strode across the palace floor and gripped Loki firmly by the shoulder. “This is your fault!” he shouted. “We must find a way out of this contract.”

“I swear,” Loki answered, “I will make this right. I will see to it that the builder loses his wager.”

In the waning light of day, as the builder looked upon his nearly completed task, he hummed to himself, already basking in the treasures that would soon be his when his job was done. Then came the soft, inviting whinny of a beautiful mare that stood within the shade of a small copse. The builder’s horse turned to see the mare and was at once struck with desire. The horse tore away from its reins and its master and ran toward the mare. The builder ran after, shouting and cursing. All night the two horses frolicked in the woods while the builder tried to follow, tripping over roots and tree trunks in the half-light. However, it was too late. The time to fulfill the contract had past. Without his horse the builder’s hopes were dashed.

A number of months passed before Loki the Shape Changer appeared again in Asgard. When he did he brought with him a colt. This colt, however, was quite unusual. It had eight legs. Loki named it Sleipnir.

Odin admired the horse. Loki said, “Take it. He is yours. I bore him, now he shall bear you. On this horse you can go wherever you want. He’ll gallop over the sea and through the air, thereby carrying you across the nine worlds as no other animal could.”
-Brad Cameron

Friday, January 11, 2013

Wodke Hawkinson Guest Blog Part II

This week, I am featuring Part II of Wodke Hawkinson's first guest post, "The 3 C's of Collaboration." It will further discuss their co-writing. 

How we do it.

There are four main steps in our process.

Planning comes first. We take an idea and toss it around. Sometimes one of us will have a clearer vision than the other. In those cases, communication plays a very important role. Through many hours of discussion, we lay out the gist of the story, work with outlines, photos for inspiration, maps, and diagrams.

Next, one of us will begin the book with a chapter or two. When completed, it is then sent to the other for editing, revision, and addition of material. We pass it back and forth. Sometimes we assign certain parts. For instance, if we know a fight scene and a love scene are both approaching, we assign one scene to each of us. However, ultimately we both work on all scenes, making our own contributions and suggesting changes. This step is the actual writing of the book.

The third step is editing. When we have finished a book, each of us will go through the entire thing, make comments, and send it back to the other. She will then consider the comments, accept or reject the suggested changes, and read through the entire book to make her own suggestions for revision. This back-and-forth continues until both of us feel there is nothing left to add or subtract from the manuscript. This way, the book is gone through multiple times by each of us until we are satisfied with the result.

The final step is proofreading. It’s important to note that even with multiple proofreading efforts, errors can sneak in. After publishing the book, we each re-read it in its published form to ferret out any mistakes that slipped past the pre-publication proofreading stage.

 Advantages to co-writing

There are many advantages to the co-writing experience. For purposes of brevity, we will mention only three.

An expanded supply of ideas. Co-writing gives you access to another person’s brain, their perspective, their entire history of experiences, and their creative ideas. This can add dimension to the story that had not occurred to you.

Two sets of eyes. It is a huge advantage to have two sets of eyes as far as editing and proofing are concerned. What you miss, hopefully your co-author will catch, and vice versa.

A division of labor. Splitting the work load can be a relief. It can also mean getting twice as much accomplished or finishing twice as fast.

*Thanks again to Karen and PJ.  Please support them by checking out their links below and leaving a comment. 

Reader & Fellow Indie Authors site: http://findagoodbooktoread.com/

Twitter ID:@WodkeHawkinson

Tangerine - Romance and intrigue in a future where space travel is commonplace and aliens a part of everyday life.

Betrayed - Brooklyn is taken captive during a botched carjacking. And so her nightmare begins.

Betrayed - Alternate Ending - Written especially for readers of Betrayed, this publication begins at chapter 49 of the original novel and takes the story in a completely different direction.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Guest Blog by Ciara Ballintyne

I am excited to introduce my Guest author and blogger for this week: Ciara Ballintyne.  Ciara Ballintyne is a writer of high fantasy, lawyer, and dragon expert. Bent on world domination and born argumentative, Ciara invested her natural inclinations in a career in law. Her short story, A Magical Melody, is available as part of the Spells: Ten Tales of Magic ebook anthology.  With that, here is Ciara.

Researching the Fantastical

‘Research? What research?’
So says the high fantasy writer with glee to a writer of just about any other genre you choose, even other speculative fiction genres. Some sub-genres of Science Fiction might run a close second, although most will have at least a passing acquaintance with actual science. Other Fantasy genres, such as Urban or Historical Fantasy, will require some research into current or past events.

Only the High Fantasy writer draws solely from the imagination.

Except… that’s not quite true.
You can write a High Fantasy novel with no research and using nothing but the imagination, but it is by far the scenic route if you will. Many writers use short cuts – after all, why reinvent the wheel, right?

Robert Jordan gives a nod to the many species of evil creature in mythology when he named his Trolloc clans. His world is also our world – but many turns of the wheel into the future – and a Mercedes badge makes an appearance, among other relics of our time. Jacqueline Carey writes in a world that is an alternate Earth, and so she must be familiar with many of the events of our history, as they also appear in hers. Terry Brooks wrote his stories in a world that was all that remained of ours post-apocalypse.
Even if you don’t go this far, a familiarity with the ancient cultures of our world can be a source of inspiration. Joe Abercrombie remarked that research is unnecessary, but at the same time made reference to trips to Europe being ‘research’ trips. I found the art and architecture of ancient Europe astonishing, and beyond anything I had ever imagined before laying eyes upon them. Similarly, square coins, or currency with holes through the middle, were not something I ever conceived until I stumbled across them while researching.

So what do I research?
Most of my research goes into world building, into creating place and cultures. For me, creating a fully functioning society from scratch, with the depth and intricacy of a real society, is incredibly difficult.

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time was my first encounter with a world that had that level of depth. Each country had its own people, with their own features, own local costume, own currency, own symbols, colours and insignia, own societal structure and politics, own architecture and own trade goods. If you have half a dozen kingdoms, that’s an awful lot of time you might spend creating all that information, and for no better reason than to be able to add a subtle richness of detail in the appropriate places.
So I cheat. There, I said it. I do.

I borrow extensively from the histories and cultural traditions of an ancient culture, and assign certain aspects of a given culture to a given country in my world. I might choose a culture based on local weather, so the clothing will match the climate of my country, or I might choose a culture that matched a particular characteristic of my country, such as the oppression of women. This gives me a myriad of tiny details that I can then use for the basis of my culture, and tweak as needed – for make no mistake, I will not slavishly follow the historical facts if they do not suit my world.

I don’t  build country profiles either. I research the culture and create a file containing all the relevant information for reference as needed; more often than not in the revision stages.
One thing I don’t do is use languages. Languages are tricky. While it’s unbelievable everyone should speak the same language, languages can also deter the reader, and may be an impediment to plot. Does the main character speak all languages fluently? If yes, why? If no, what happens if they need to speak to someone from another country?

To some extent I use our world as a model – many varied languages, but one language (like English) which is used extensively internationally. I don’t create these languages – I am not a linguist like Tolkien. I only create a word as it is needed.

The other area I research is biomes – what climate occurs at what latitude. This helps me to build in geographical features, local botany and wildlife in much the same quick and easy way I do cultures.

If my hero is in the woods, I can just refer to the appropriate file for the appropriate biome if I need to mention a plant or animal or describe scenery.
I’m sure not all fantasy writers go as far as I do – perhaps a few go further. I am sure, though, that most borrow to some degree.  

After all, if we didn’t, we’d never get to the actual writing part.

Here are links to Ciara Ballintyne and her writings:

Official Website: http://www.ciaraballintyne.com
Blog: http://fantasyblog.ciaraballintyne.com
Twitter name and URL: @CiaraBallintyne http://twitter.com/ciaraballintyne
Facebook: http://facebook.com/CiaraBallintyne
A Magical Melody: http://www.ciaraballintyne.com/ShortStoriesCiaraBallintyne.html