Archive for December, 2011

And now, because I called people out, I’ll find a billion mistakes in here. Figures.

I had an interesting conversation with a writer friend of mine last night, focusing on the things that we both dislike in writing, and things that would get us to stop reading a story, should we run into them.

It’s not just about themes or settings or even setups. I am not a fan of adultery in stories and so I avoid stories where that is a major element. That’s pretty easy and most people have those things, which in circles I run in are referred to as bullets. For example, adultery is my bullet that will kill any interest I have in reading a story or watching a movie/TV show.

What we were talking about is more about the little choices that a writer or production team makes. To make this even easier, I’m going to focus on writing. One of the major things that will a story for me is poor grammar and word usage. This usually only matters with fannish type stuff or self-published work. This applies to people who use the wrong “to/too/two” or “their/there/they’re”- that kind of thing.

This is the kind of mistake that a good editor or a good beta reader should be able to catch. When I see this stuff, it screams “unprofessional” to me. Even if the work is a known unprofessional piece, say like fanfic or something of that nature, running into these issues just tells me that you, as the writer, were too impatient to find a beta reader and just wanted to post and get comments, so you put something up that isn’t as quality as it could be or should be.

Moral of this story? Get a beta reader and/or get an editor (esp. if you intend to get this work professional published or you want to self-pub) and get rid of all these little, stupid mistakes. It’s worth the time and the money. You want people to remember you for you great plot and fun characters, not because you consistently used the wrong “its/it’s.”

The second thing that will get me to stop reading occurs in the character description. I hate, hate, HATE it when two characters are described in the following way: “The older man turned to look at the younger man.” Or, “The blond looked over at the brunette and smiled.” That’s not WRONG, per se, but it screams inexperience. It tells me that you don’t really know how to deal with multiple characters in a scene that might require the same pronouns.
Let’s say that you are writing a romance novel, featuring a man and a woman. You can use “she” and “he” throughout the book, especially in the scenes that they are in together, and that makes it very easy to differentiate between the characters when you aren’t using their names.

Now let’s say that you are writing a story that has multiple characters of the same sex that end up together in various scenes. Using “she” and “she” or “he” and “he” can get confusing to the reader. I can understand why someone would want to find different elements to use as differentiating characteristics. That’s how you get “the blond and the brunette” or “The taller woman and the shorter woman.”

But that isn’t very fun to read. It reads rough, if that makes any sense, and comes across as unprofessional and unseasoned. There are a variety of ways to differentiate between characters in these scenes, as much of the published m/m romances will attest to.

An example: “James turned to look at Sean and frowned. He was wearing a short sleeved shirt and shorts, despite the below freezing temperature and James wanted nothing more than to throw a sweater at the guy and cover his clearly cold frame with something warm. But he knew that Sean would get weird about it, so he kept his opinions, and his sweater, to himself.”

Now, that isn’t the greatest paragraph in the history of the writing world, but I hope it works as a way to show how you can still use pronouns with two characters of the same sex, without resorting to using their eye color, height, or hair color to define them.

On a more serious note, how you treat sex in your work will determine if I keep reading or not.

I like reading stories where there might be some roughness, but all in fun. Or it might get a bit more serious, like bondage, dominance, BDSM, etc. That’s FINE, especially if I go into the story, knowing that’s what I’m getting. What I DO NOT like is walking into a story and suddenly it’s a rape fantasy.

I recently finished reading a book where the heroine had been attacked (raped, beaten, left for dead) and had lost her memory. She was discovered by her family three years later and comes back to them, not remembering any of them, including her husband. Instead of understanding that she had undergone great trauma and didn’t remember who they were, the husband decided that he was ENTITLED to her body because they were married and despite the fact that she repeatedly said no, he was going to continue to attempt (and actually achieve) having sex with her.

It was not sexy, it was not fun or cute, and it was not an enjoyable read. I DESPISED this “hero” character and was incredibly upset when the heroine finally gave in to his advances and suddenly, all of her rape induced trauma was suddenly cured.

I felt like this story was disrespectful of anyone who had actually been raped and it failed to understand the kind of mindset that would happen to a person if they had actually undergone that experience. Plus, the story was buying into and promoting rape culture, which is just disgusting and disturbing. That’s the kind of thing that will make me stop reading your stuff.

How do you translate that into something that you can use as a writer?

Be mindful.

What the hell does that mean?

Have someone else read your stuff. Find someone you know who is really good at the grammar/spelling/punctuation to read through with a red pen and fix any mistakes that you have. No one is perfect and no one catches all their own mistakes. Our brains will correct things for us, making us see what should be there, as opposed to what actually is there, which means that if you don’t get a second set of eyes to look at your work, you could be posting or publishing with easily correctable mistakes and you’ll look like a giant toolbox.

Read a lot of books and stories. Read stories by other people, in different styles and voices, to find out how other people have tackled the same problems that you are facing. I’m not even talking about plots, but in the way that they craft a sentence, the way that they use words to describe places, people, and things.

There are a lot of great ways to do things and you may not have run across them all yet in your writing life. Explore and experience so you can better your own work.

Do research. If you are writing about a subject or situation that might be triggering to someone, like rape or murder or cancer, don’t wing it. There is a lot of research about the effects of rape on the body and on the mind. Same is true for victims of violent crimes, survivors of murder attempts or the remaining families of murder victims. Ditto for cancer. Honor those who have truly gone through these events and get it right. It doesn’t take that much more effort and those who read your work will appreciate what you’ve done to create the most accurate portrayal of those events.

That goes hand in hand with respect. Respect the situation and get it right. There are many people who participate in the BDSM lifestyle. That does not mean that they eroticize rape or torture. If you think that, you have NOT done your research and you need to stop right now and read some books. Hell, you are clearly on the internet- find some message boards, read some blogs and LEARN.

What this all boils down to is DO NOT BE IGNORANT. It will show and you will look like an idiot. You don’t want to look stupid and no one wants to read works that come off as stupid.

Be careful, do the leg work, and reap the rewards. Trust me, the time is worth it.

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There and Back Again… to AWESOMETOWN

I am so excited!  The Hobbit trailer was released yesterday and it just looks wonderful

I have heard some people complain about the appearance of the dwarves, especially if you compare them to how Gimli looked in the Lord of the Rings movies.  However, I felt like they really fit into that world and looked like what I imagine dwarves would look like.  If you recall, Gimli was the only dwarf that we really saw (that was alive) in the LotR movies.

Martin Freeman looks just wonderful as Bilbo Baggins.  I loved him in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, as well as in Love Actually, and I ADORE him as John Watson on the BBC’s Sherlock.  I wasn’t sure about him before that, to be honest.  I thought he was funny and cute and sweet in the previous two films but after seeing him in Sherlock, I have seen that he can be a BAMF as well.

John Watson on Sherlock is an Afghan war vet, and took some serious injuries to his shoulder and to his leg.  He’s amazing with a gun, and incredibly brave.  He’s also very smart, not just as a medical doctor but as an investigator.  And let’s be fair, anyone would look less than when paired with Sherlock Holmes.

When they announced that Martin Freeman would be playing Bilbo Baggins, I had recently finished the first season of Sherlock and was still in my initial “fresh and new” fangirl phase, which meant that I was all about anything having to do with the show or anyone in it, so I was doubly excited to hear about the Hobbit casting. 

Because while Bilbo is a hobbit, who tend to be a bit reserved and not particularly brave for the most part, he is also an adventurer.  He is brave.  He leaves his home with no guarantee that he will ever return.  I found that I could connect Bilbo and John Watson fairly easily and suddenly, I could NOT wait to see what Peter Jackson was going to do with Martin Freeman.

I was not disappointed.  I think the trailer captures a number of elements that are necessary for The Hobbit to work as a film.  It shows Bilbo engaged in his community, known around the Shire, and it shows his love and desire to stay at Bag End.

But it also shows his curiosity about the world beyond his home and his desire to get out there and see it.  It comes back to his desire to return home, always, but the trailer keeps pushing at us his interest in going out and seeing the world.

This is very different than Frodo, who leaves less because he wants to and more because he’s been convinced that he HAS to leave.  He needs to get the ring to a safe place (he does not yet know that it will need to be destroyed) and he is willing to take that journey in order to make sure that the evil the ring represents does not come to find him in the home that he loves so much.

I’m not sure who the braver hobbit is.  Frodo is in a bad position.  He must get the ring to someone that can handle it, because if he doesn’t, evil will find it and will find him, and all he loves.  Bilbo leaves because it will be fun.  At least, because it COULD be fun.  There isn’t anything chasing after him, no reason for him to sneak out of town, or to even consider Gandalf’s offer.

And yet he does.  He considers it, and he leaves the Shire.

I think that may be the bravest of acts.  Because there isn’t a repercussion if he stays at home.  No evil creature will come after him and hurt those he cares about.  He won’t lose anything, in fact, he may gain more if he chooses to stay put in his safe little life.

And yet, he decides that he can’t do that.  He can’t stay in his little house in his little community and be a little man.  He decides to leave with the gray wizard and change his life forever.

That takes guts, ladies and gentleman, and Bilbo has them. 

I will confess, I never read The Lord of the Rings books before they came out in theaters.  And I still haven’t read them.  I’ve tried to before, but I always gets stuck in Rivendell and can’t get and farther.  Nor have I read The Hobbit or any of JRR Tolkien’s other works. 

I have, however, fallen deeply and madly in love with the world that he created and the characters that populate it.

I mean, ARAGORN.  How can you not love Aragorn?  And while I didn’t want Eowyn to get Aragorn in the end, I still loved her and respected her and wanted to be her when she gets to her epic moment of “I am NO man!”  Holy shit, man.  That’s the kind of female character that teaches girls to be women and to not take any shit for loving who they are.

The LotR movies gave us a bearded, horse riding Karl Urban, looking fine.  They are also the only films in which I find Viggo Mortensen to be attractive in any way.  Orlando Bloom is so much fun, and Sean Astin just makes me weep with his love and devotion to Elijah Wood’s Frodo.

I’m glad that Peter Jackson finally was forced (I believe) to take the helm of both Hobbit films.  I think that he brought something to the original three movies that no other director could recreate or even hope to come close to.  And while other directors could have had great and interesting visions for this film, I kind of want it to feel like it exists in the same universe as the first three films.

That’s something that the Harry Potter films (at least the first two) don’t do as well as they could or should.  Those first two Chris Columbus helmed pictures just don’t have the same feel as the third movie and beyond, much to their detriment.  So, while I would have loved to see Guillermo del Toro’s The Hobbit, I’m really glad that we’re going to Jackson’s Hobbit instead.

There and back again, right?

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“Hold my hand. Ooh, baby, it’s a long way down to the bottom of the river.” – Bottom of the River, Delta Rae

I was thinking about why I like country music today as I was driving in the car to get to work.  I’m pulling an overnight (again) and I wasn’t listening to the iPod, just threw on the radio.

It’s weird.  In LA, there is apparently only one country music station and it’s pretty good, but then again, I haven’t been listening to country radio for a long time.

But, back to the music.  Recently, I have been on a country kick.  I’ve got a ton of stuff on the old iPod and I’ve been streaming music, watching GAC, reading country music blogs, and listening to the radio more than I have in years.  Why?

I realized as Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not” came on the radio tonight- it’s because country music is romantic.  There are a ton of songs out there that are basically the plots of various romance novels.  Or they are the aftermath of romances novels, when the new wears off and the relationship dies. 

Personally, I prefer the romantic songs but there are times, especially when I’m not in a melancholy mood but am in the mood for a slight sniffle, where I love to listen to the sad songs as well.

And NO ONE does sad songs like country music.  Good lord, Xander from Buffy was right.  Country music is the music of pain.

Brad Paisley has a song out right now called “This is Country Music” and it talks about how in general, music isn’t supposed to talk about mama, cancer, etc. but country  music does.  It’s like it’s different than anything else, bringing up the topics that no one else wants to touch because they’re painful or sad.  But country music doesn’t shy away from them.  In fact, says Paisley, they embrace those topics and that makes country music what it is.

Some of the saddest and some of the most moving songs I have ever personally heard have been country songs.  Some examples:

Two Sparrows in a Hurricane – Tanya Tucker

Waiting on a Woman- Brad Paisley

Then- Brad Paisley

The House That Built Me- Miranda Lambert

Love Story- Taylor Swift

Mine- Taylor Swift

I like listening to the stories of these songs, of hearing about the romance, the cute meet, the fall in love, the fight to be together.  I love hearing these men singing about how much they love their women and how hard they would fight for those same women.  I love hearing the women sing about the same things. 

Taylor Swift breaks me into pieces with a lot of her music.  There are a lot of women out there, many in feminist circles, that don’t see a lot of value in Swift’s work.  However, I think that Taylor and I are on a similar wavelength, because almost every song she sings, I can find a connection to my own life.  Hell, “Mine” is basically the story of my husband’s and my romance.  The line “you made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter” is the relationship I have with my father and with my husband, whether they know it or not.

I guess that’s part of it, as well.  I see myself in country music in a way that I don’t always with pop music and I don’t with R&B or rap.  I didn’t grow up in the south but I grew up country and I know that culture and that world, more than I know the world of the big city.

So, it’s the romance, and it’s the self-connection that I have with the lyrics.  And I tend to like the tunes a lot as well.

I like that country music is so connected to the blues, to bluegrass, to folk music.  It still feels like it has a good blend of a number of different, older styles, but has a modern and new sound.  I can hear you saying, “new?”, but listen to Johnny Cash and then listen to Brad Paisley and you’ll hear what I mean.

I am an incredibly empathetic person and I get emotionally involved and attached to things that  many people never do, including books, music, movies and TV.  And because of that, I need to find those pieces of media that make that emotional connection worth it.  Did I waste my time listening to something that I will never listen to again, or did I find a song that has emotional resonance for me and I will listen to it over and over and over again?

I actually just found a song that has stuck with me- haunted me, is being more truthful- and it was totally by accident.  My husband was listening to a non-country station here in LA and he heard this song that he wanted to do more research on.  He found a video of it on YouTube, and made me watch it.  You know how YouTube gives you suggestions on the side?  If you liked this, you’ll like this other thing, kind of deal?  Yeah, so I see this image that I wanted to find out more about so I clicked and I got the video for Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River.” 

The song is an original gospel piece by the band and by itself, it’s pretty haunting.  The lead singer’s voice is rocking and awesome.  But when you pair it with the creepy, supernatural video, the song transcends music and becomes something MORE.  It’s just so GOOD.  I’ve gone to sleep these past few nights thinking about the song and I’ve woken up singing it.  It’s just that great.

Please check it out and see if you agree with my assessment.

I just love country music.  I don’t love all of it- no one loves all of something, no matter what they say, but I love a lot of it.  I find it inspiring to write to, and I find it pleasant to listen to as I drive to work and then while I’m plugging away at work at my desk in the office.  And I know that when I need a good cry, I just need to turn to a few certain songs and the tears will just flow. 

I love that this kind of music can be so moving for me, that it can reach inside of me and touch me in a way that not a whole lot has, in the recent past.

It feels good to feel, if that makes any sense.  And sometimes it’s good to feel good, and other times it good to feel sad, or angry.  I love that these songwriters and performers have found an outlet for what they feel and have done so in a way that makes ME feel.

I can only hope that my own writing does the same thing for those that read my stories.

“If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” – Dan Poynter

I’ve discussed this before, I think, but I know that I have a real problem finishing projects. Over the past few weeks, I’ve read a number of blog posts from other people talking about why that might be the case.

One of the things that I think might apply to me is that I try to write stories before they’re ready.

What does that mean?

For me, it means that I get an idea that I think is pretty great. I get all excited about it and I want to start writing right away. But some story ideas need to percolate for a while. They need to simmer and stew and get all the flavors flowing before they should be eaten, er, I mean written. And I think that I jump the gun. So instead of flavorful, tasty stew, I get kind of runny meat water with undercooked veggies.

Not good.

So, one of my writing resolutions for the new year is to try and let the ideas sit for a bit. Especially the new ideas that I get in the shower, or in the car, or while riding in the elevator at work.

One of the other issues that I think I have is that I get bored. Why? It’s my story- can’t I skip the boring parts?

The problem here is that I think I need the boring parts. I’ve convinced myself that I need certain scenes to tell my story and when I try to write them, I get bogged down in the minutia of the scene. I get stuck with all the little details that just don’t get me excited and I stop wanting to write them.

Which should tell me, if I were willing to listen, that those scenes are boring. If I don’t want to write them, who in the hell wants to read them? I convinced myself a long time ago that I was a plotter and that I needed to plot out every story, get all my scenes lined up, and stick to the plan. But I think I forget to give myself room for change. I don’t have a contingency plan, in essence, which is a problem, because I need to learn to not be so fenced in by what I think I need so that I keep myself from doing what I really need.

Which leads me to another problem. I think I have unreasonable expectations for myself. I have unreasonable expectations about how quickly I should be writing, how quickly the pages should be flowing, and how easy it all should be coming to me, especially if I have outlined the thing out.

The problem with that expectation is that writing doesn’t work that way. I’ve had long discussions recently with a good writing buddy of mine about how writing works and we’ve both debunked the myth of the muse. No one is whispering the story into your ear. There isn’t a separate entity speaking to you, telling you what to write. All those little bursts of genius that blast out onto the page as you write come from you, even if you don’t realize it at the time.

Your brain has been pondering this story that you’re telling and it’s been knocking things around for you while you wash dishes, watch the latest episode of Castle, or even sleep. Your brain is trying to work out the problems that are keeping you from getting the words on the page, like a background program running on a computer, and when your brain thinks it has it figured out, it will push the solution to the forefront of your mind.

It’s not an external force, it’s an internal force. I think it’s a bit of a crutch to blame writer’s block on something like “the muse taking a break” or “the ladies in the basement stepping out for a smoke.” I think that’s cheating and it’s not taking agency of your own work and your own writing.

However, once you do take ownership of your brain and accept that the words coming through your fingers to the page are your own, then you have to accept both the failures and the successes. Sometimes they are both hard to deal with.

Back to my expectations, I tend to write very quickly once I sit down and actually do it. I can pound out 1000 works in less than 30 minutes and have done so many, many times. My brain, then, expects that from me and I allow myself to take breaks when I shouldn’t because I tell myself that when I do sit down to write, I’ll hammer out 4-5k in one sitting and be done with it.

How often do you think that’s happened for me recently?

In the past three months, it has happened ONCE. That’s right, ONCE.

I signed up for the Get Your Words Out challenge, pledging 350k for the year. I have yet to hit 100k. For all my talk about being able to pound out the words, clearly I haven’t done it.

Yet again, I don’t have a submission to the Golden Heart. I don’t have a finished submission for the editor who asked for one, and the only writing that I’ve come close to completing is fan fiction.

Clearly, I am my own worst enemy here.

I think I’ve done a lot of talking about what I’m going to do. How I’m going to fix myself. And I’ve tried things for a few days but I have to be honest. I am just as much EPIC FAIL as a writer today as I was a year ago. Possibly even more so.

Which leads me to my next problem. I have too many ideas and too many projects started. When one gets hard and the writing becomes real work, my brain wants to jump tracks and start working on something different. Maybe that’s what I should be doing. Maybe, if the words are flowing, I should just let them and get it all out on the page.

Maybe my fighting to stick to one thing is part of what’s hurting me. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe my writing ADD is keeping me from completing a project by not allowing me to maintain focus.

All I know is that I want to be a professional, published author, and to do that I need to get something done. That something needs to be a project that I can sell to someone, anyone, and it needs to be well written, the correct word count, and in my own voice.

I need to stop biting off more than I can chew and be more realistic about what I will do, not just what I am capable of actually accomplishing.

As we wind down 2011 and get into resolution season, I need to be honest and fair to myself and set some goals that I will actually achieve this year so I can start to re-build my confidence, as well as start to get myself to the point where I can consider myself a professional. That may be harder than I’d like to believe it is.