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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Advice for Aspiring Authors...9/3 Update

Seems like lately I've been getting a lot of requests for advice from young and/or aspiring authors on the topic of getting published. So I thought it might not be a bad thing to write an article on the subject. I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all answer on how to get published, and I certainly don't claim to be the ultimate authority on the subject. But for whatever it's worth, here's my advice:

(Begin Large Parenthetical Lament: Oh, and by the way, my clock is on the blink lately. Silly thing. No matter what I do--oil the gears, install fresh batteries--it still only gives me 24 hours in a day! Sheesh. Can't get anything for your money these days. All that to say, I won't write the whole article in one sitting. I'll probably post and then edit and add to this same post as time allows. ;-) So check back often if the topic interests you. End Large Parenthetical Lament)

#1 Work on your novel's opening chapter relentlessly. It is the critical chapter of your book. You must intrigue, captivate, and hook your reader there, or you will likely never be published. Editors receive hundreds if not thousands of manuscripts each week, so they have very little time for dull exposition in the opening. Go after your reader. Create suspense that won't quit.

#2 Work on your language. I don't mean punctuation and spelling--though those things better be sparkling in any manuscript you send out. But I mean the words from your palette--what you will use to paint the picture in the reader's mind. Take a contemporary poetry class--seriously. You will never learn more about making every word count.

#3 Read widely in the genre you want to publish. But read like a scientist rather than a spectator. Remember the parts you like and scrutinize them. What made them interesting? How did the author craft the plot? What made the twists and turned work? Every well written book is a treasure or resources that we can all learn from.

#4 Don't just write about what you know. I know, I've heard other author's say it; you've heard your teachers preach it: write what you know. And the theory behind the advice is good. Write about what you know because you have the inside info, the details, and the experience to write about that topic or field. You play county soccer? Good, now go write a story about a character who plays county soccer. You have piano practice every Thursday? Wonderful, now go write about a character who plays piano. Now that's fine advice if you're writing for an audience of one or two. Will it work to get you published? Uh...not so much.

Writing what you know will not get you published unless, of course, your day job is: CIA Code Breaker, Supernatural Phenomenon Investigatory, CSI Agent, or Tour Guide for the Amazon Jungle. What I'm saying is, the average, day to day life is not interesting enough to be the plot of a book. Now, if something interrupts that normal life: a tragedy, a phenomenon, a mystery--well, now we're talking. Most readers want a story to grab them, to move them, to take them places they've never been to before. Most publishers want the same thing.

So, how do you write about stuff you don't know? 1. Research: watch the Discovery Channel, read National Geographic, surf the World Wide Web--there's a novel plot, character, or setting just waiting for you. 2. Make it up: Now, this especially applies to the whacked lot of writers who want to write fantasy or scifi. You get to open your mind and just create. Make things the human eye has never seen before. Tweak reality. Have fun. Chances are, if you have fun, your readers will too.

(More to come...)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Suspense Technique #4, Frustration. And the Winner is:

Whew! A plethora of authors entered the contest on Suspense Technique 4: Frustration. {Uh, El Guapo, I do not think plethora is the right word.} Nevertheless, I've debated the winner of this one over and over. One of the potential winners was dripping with powerful suspense. I was reading it and everything got quiet around me...that's when you know you've got something good. But its main competitor made the best use of the actual technique.

So, it gives me great pleasure to announce the winner:
Pais Charos!

Pais, email me your snailmail and what book you'd like signed, and I'll get one to you as soon as possible.

Here's Pais' winning entry:

Laura raced down the stairs, envelope in her hand.

“Mom! I'm going to the post office, I'll be back in a few minutes.”

Her mom walked out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. “The post office? Why don't you just put it in the mail box and let the mail man get it tomorrow.”

“Because,” she grabbed her keys and purse from the table beside the front door, “It needs to be postmarked by today, or....” she glanced at her watch. 3:50! The post office closes in ten minutes! “I gotta go!” She turned, giving her mom a hurried wave and flew out the door.

She threw her purse and the envelope into the passenger seat of her car, strapped herself in, put the key in the ignition, and turned it.


Laura narrowed her eyes, and turned the ignition again. The car still wouldn't start. She sighed heavily and popped the hood , then flung the door open and walked towards the front of the car. Reaching in she grabbed the oil dipstick and pulled it out, looking at it. She scowled and rammed it back in, then slammed the hood closed. She looked at her watch again. 3:52.

Laura grabbed her purse and the envelope and ran back to the front door. She opened the door a crack and popped her head in. “Mom, my car won't start, can I take yours?”

Her mom's voice floated out of the kitchen. “Sure, honey! The keys are right there on the table.”

Laura grabbed her mom's keys and slammed the door shut behind her, running full speed towards her mother's car, parked right beside hers.

She sat down, buckled in again, and turned the ignition. The car purred to life and Laura smiled. She put the car in gear, and backed out of the driveway, then turned around and took off down the road.

A few minutes later, Laura sat at the second red traffic light. She ran her hands through her hair and rubbed the back of her neck. Only two traffic lights between my house and the post office, and they both had to be red. Her eyes darted to the clock. 3:57.

She scowled again, and glared at the red light. Turn green, turn green, turn green!

The traffic light changed to green, and Laura waited impatiently for the person in front of her to move, then followed it. She was on the homestretch, the final leg of this race to the post office! She smiled again. I might actually make it in time.

She turned the final corner, and pulled into the parking lot, just as her clock ticked to 4:00pm. She parked in front of the post office and looked up at the door with a heavy heart.


Pais Charos: Using the time limit mechanism was genius. Nothing ups the frustration like feeling time slipping away. Every obstacle--each one annoying by itself--was amped to the next level with the addition of time. Cool.

Honorable mentions go to:

Patrick: devastating story hook. I was all over this. I'm still wondering how the king was beheaded. Hmmm...

Cecilia: If you'd given your protag something besides a birthday, something that she REALLY wanted or needed--something the readers could buy into--yours might have won. If she was looking forward to that night because her mother was at last due to be back in the castle after years of separation, and it happened to fall on the night of the attack--now what would have been gut-wrenching frustration. Still splendid work.

Amy: Brilliant stuff. He was trying so hard to get out of the kingdom and then to run into the boy with the mysterious past...awesome.