You know what one of the toughest, bravest things ever is? To tell people that you’re a writer before you’ve been published, or if you’ve only been slightly published.
When I went to my high school ten-year reunion back in 2001, I made the decision to tell my former classmates I was a writer, even though I’d only had 3 or 4 short stories published and I was making my living as an administrative assistant. I did it because “writer” was my identity. The office job was just to pay the bills. I had some people smugly call me on it (“So you’re not really a writer…”). But it was worth it to me to be able to stand up and say, “Actually, yes, I’m a writer.” I knew (or hoped) it was only a matter of time. As it turns out, I was right, and now I do make my living writing. Not all self-fulfilling prophecies are bad.
This may be something to add to your goal list: call yourself a writer. What will it take for you to be able to say that to other people? What criteria are you looking for?
One of the big differences between SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and RWA (Romance Writers of America) is their qualifications for membership. SFWA requires that you have publication credits — at least one novel from a major publisher or three short stories in professional publications. RWA doesn’t require any publication for membership — you have to be seriously working toward publication, but they don’t define what that means. It’s an interesting divergence in philosophies that gives each organization a different flavor. SFWA sees itself as a writers’ union to advocate for working writers, while RWA sees itself as an educational organization as well as an advocate.
What about you? If you haven’t been published yet but are working hard toward that goal, do you call yourself a writer? Do you tell people you’re a writer? If you don’t, what will have to happen before you can do that? What made you decide to start telling people you’re a writer?
Initially I’d planned to blog about how as much as I love the way electronic publishing (and the iPad and Kindle and Nook and on and on…) is giving authors more options for getting thier stories into readers hands, I don’t for a minute think that print publishing is dead. But, then I realized that over the week many others have been saying the same things so why should I repeat it?
If you want to read the type of post I’m talking about, check out Charlene Teglia’s Random Thoughts on Publishing- She does a better job than I could at summing things up.
Instead, as I’m a huge movie buff, I decided to give a movie review-without spoilers.
You see, all week long I debated on seeing Robin Hood or waiting to rent it. People I knew who saw it said it was “meh” and online reviews have been pretty mediocre. Yet, part of me kept thinking it just couldn’t be that bad. And I really wanted to know “the untold story of how the man became the legend”. Finally, I went to see it. Maybe it was because I wasn’t expecting another Gladiator, and because I had low expectations, but I really enjoyed it.
The only trailer I’d seen before going to the movie was this one…
Not bad, right? It shows lots of action, and I figured at the least I’d get to enjoy some great scenery and fight scenes.
But there was a lot more to the movie than that. There was actual story. Layers of it with family, history, betrayal, and even romance.
There was nothing super surprising, I mean, we’ve all heard the story of Robin Hood so you have to expect that there won’t be any huge revelations. But, I really like the way this version of it shows us how things come about. Somehow, I found it more believable than any of the other versions I’ve seen.
If you look at the trailer below, you’ll get a hint that the Crowe/Scott movie is more than just action.
It’s still no Gladiator, but I found it very enjoyable, and will more than likely pick up the DVD when it releases.
Oh…and there is plenty of sly humor in the show as well. Subtle, but definitely there if you’re quick enough to catch it.
So, I’ve gone back to the gym this week. This is it. I’m getting in shape. I swear. I’m going to loose this writer’s butt.
You guys believe me, right?
This is why I never make New Years resolutions. New season, new month, new WEEK. Heck sometimes it’s a question of a new day. As in, starting today, I’m going to eat right/go to the gym/write more pages a day… And always the same stuff.
I get so mad at myself! Why am I not more efficient with my writing? Why don’t I write as many books as author X? Why don’t I work harder at publicity? Yadda yadda yadda.
Occasionally, I worry God sits there with a clipboard, checking off attempts. “Oh, sorry, kiddo. That was your seven hundredth and fifty-second resolution to be less of a neurotic nut job. Now you just have to STAY that way. And don’t even talk to me about the size of your butt. You’ve spent all your chips on that issue, and it is non-negotiable.”
But that’s not the way it works. Thank goodness.
Last week I talked about setting goals for your writing, whether its so many words a day, or finishing by a target date. I hope you also saw where I said, if you don’t make one, set another and try again.
We can always try again. At anything.
In the “someday” stage of your writing is you never fall on your face because you never make goals. Once you do, you’re going to stumble sometimes. You’re going to miss one of your self-imposed deadlines because a kid got sick or your paying job exploded on you.
In the “someday” stage, I was never tempted to just throw my hands up and say “I’m not cut out for this writing gig.” Now, it sometimes seems like everyone in the world has got their act more together than I do. Blogging, tweeting, publicity. How do they do all that and write three books a year, too.
But then I dust myself off, get back on the horse, and say, “This week I’ll do better.”
If you stumble, don’t let anyone, including yourself, kick you while you’re down. Life isn’t like a video game, where you only get so many new lives. When you really want to achieve something, there is no limit on chances to try again.
(The title of this post comes from St. Benedict, who literally wrote the book on how monks and religious folks should live. Basically: every day is a new day. Don’t dwell on how you do yesterday, just concentrate on how you do today. Pretty smart guy, actually.)
Remember a few blogs ago when I wrote about how much I liked Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Well, something must have rubbed off on me. In that blog I also talked about reading outside of my comfort zone. I took my own advice and guess what?
I read a historical romance and now I’m suddenly craving historical romances/gothics, which I’ve never really read before. I’ll admit that a lot of these books sort of follow a formula. Some chick is trying to marry a Duke, or some Duke is trying to marry a chick. Or some chick is trying to run away from a bad Duke. But there are enough twists to that formula, some very clever twists I might add, to keep my interest.
Something that has surprised me is the submissive chick from my Grandma’s historical romances back in the day, is gone. These heroines are feisty and stand up for their beliefs. And it used to be all about dark and brooding heroes, but now they also have a wicked sense of humor.
But I don’t think that’s what my new passion is about. For me it’s the inspiration of sexual tension in these books that keeps me reading. I have a lot of sex and sexual tension in my books, but I feel like I could use some improvement in that regard. I like the idea of something more subtle. This is a time period when a glance or a simple touch could mean so much, and is an excellent source for information about how to use sexual tension without ever touching. Showing this tension, I’ve discovered is what defines a great book from simply a good one.
Some of the authors I’ve been reading are Christina Dodd, Julia Quinn, Lorraine Heath, Victoria Alexander and Lisa Kleypas. These women have written some of my favorites, and they all have one thing in common: they are masters of sexual tension. They are able to make the reader hold his/her breath during those furtive glances. It’s a gift. The tension builds until that moment when the characters first kiss, or later on do the dirty. It’s art to keep the reader entranced like that.
An art I’ve been analyzing the last few days. Showing instead of telling is a big component of this. In Victoria Alexander’s What A Lady Wants the first time the hero and heroine meet she’s just seen him crawling out of the window of a married woman, who’s husband tried to shoot him. The second time they meet at a ball. Felicity, who enjoyed the quick-witted repartee during her first meeting with Nigel Cavendish, sees him again at the event.
Nigel is fascinated by Felicity and coerces one of his friends to formally introduce him to her. He’d initially thought her a young teen, who had helped him out, but now he realizes she’s so much more. I don’t have the book in front of me so I can’t do an excerpt, but at the ball he kisses her hand, and she’s surprised when her body doesn’t turn into a puddle. He on the other hand can’t figure out why he’s so fascinated with her, especially since she’s not his type. He’s slightly allergic to virgins.
Alexander makes the most of this unlikely couple’s unusual way of dealing with one another. When they finally do kiss — it’s a whopper of a scene.
The characters internal thoughts play a big part in what is going on. They seldom say how they really feel, which keeps things interesting. There is also that Twilight sense of these people shouldn’t be together but will go against the odds to do exactly that. It’s hardly a new theme, but it is important with romantic relationships. If there’s too much nice/nice your characters and their scenes will be boring. You need to throw rocks at them.
When I first began writing, it took me awhile to figure out the difference between sex and sexual tension, but the distinction is a big one. The first lesson I learned, and the most important, is your hero and heroine should have no reason for wanting to be together. There should be huge obstacles thrown at them. The twist is that they cannot resist the pull, even though they know they should.
So tell me, what are some of the books you’ve read where the sexual tension was awesome?
I used to always start with plot and figure out who to slide into the plot later. Now I try to start with character.
It is important that your protagonist WANTS something right from the beginning of story. A protagonist who is always reacting loses the reader’s interest pretty quickly.
Your antagonist is the one who usually introduces the PROBLEM, which is the core of the novel. A novel is a character (protagonist) trying to resolve a problem (introduced by antagonist).
One hard thing is getting your antagonist in some form into the book early on—not having the antagonist suddenly appear on page 345 just before the climactic scene. When Jenny read a draft of CHASING THE GHOST one thing she quickly pointed out, among many others, was that my antagonist didn’t appear until very far into the book. So in re-write I had my antagonist appear in the first scene. That doesn’t mean you know who it is. But my hero knows there’s a ‘ghost’ out there, another sniper mirroring him in the very first scene.
Does the antagonist have to be human?
Should be. Yes, there are times when it can be ‘man against nature’ or ‘man against society’ but most readers prefer personal conflict. Looking it up in a dictionary it says an antagonist is: ‘One who opposes and actively competes with another.’ I take the ‘One’ as leaning towards being a person.
Can the protagonist and antagonist be the same person?
Yes, but it’s damn hard to pull off. Because you want to externalize your conflict, show don’t tell, and if the two are the same, it’s kind of hard to show the conflict. Plus, all it takes is a moment of realization for the character to realize he’s his own antagonist and then the reader will think: well, stop it, dummy.
Should you have just one antagonist?
Should you have just one protagonist?
Yes. There is a difference between the book protagonist and antagonist and scene protagonists and antagonists. They are not always the same. But overall, in a story, it’s one character versus another character in the main story plot. Again, the book protagonist might not be the person you like the most: for example, in LONESOME DOVE, we love Gus, but Call is the protagonist because he drives the story.
In a romance can your heroine and hero be protagonist and antagonist?
Yes, but it’s difficult to pull off. Because, by definition, the climactic scene is when one character defeats the other. So who loses? Not a good way to start a romance: I’ve utterly defeated you, babe, now kiss me. Someone said they didn’t want movies as examples, but YOU’VE GOT MAIL comes to mind. Hey, the movie got made, so it worked, but wasn’t it kind of forced that Tom Hanks defeats Meg Ryan—puts her bookstore out of business—but then she goes “Hey, the thing I was fighting for all movie, I don’t care about any more, I’m going to be a children’s book writer.” Sure.
Figuring out who your protagonist and antagonist clearly are helps you set up your book. When you fill out your conflict box, the second thing we do in my Writers Workshop, you have to clearly label your protagonist and antagonist.
I wrote last week about Joe Konrath’s recent deal with AmazonEncore to publish the next book in his Jaqueline “Jack” Daniels series, SHAKEN. There were a number of others who wrote/blogged/commented on the same topic, with views that went from “eh, so what?” to “this is a blockbuster event.” (Personally, as I said last week, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of all that.)
Recently, Publishers Weekly printed an article that presented a rather unflattering look at the situation. Referring to Joe as a “midlist crime novelist” who’s been “published by Hyperion in paperback for years,” they also printed some of his sales numbers from Bookscan as a way of supporting their view.
According to Nielsen BookScan, the first book in the Jack Daniels series, Whiskey Sour (2005), sold 32,000 copies, while the latest, Cherry Bomb (2009), has sold 4,000 copies. So Konrath essentially took a book no one wanted and instead of fully self-publishing it, signed with Amazon-Encore, which will bring the book out in paperback a year after the Kindle release this summer and at the very least e-mail all those who downloaded his last book.
Yesterday, Joe responded on his blog to the article, noting that Publishers Weekly seriously missed their opportunity to double check their facts and get the information correct before publishing. For instance, he notes:
“My six Jack Daniels books have earned US royalties in excess of $200,000. They are all still in print, some in multiple printings.”
“The first three have more than earned out their advance of $110,000. The second three should should earn out their advance of $125,000, but all the the books haven’t been released yet. CHERRY BOMB, my last book in the contract, is not coming out in paperback until June. “
“As for the sales figures PW quotes from Bookscan, they certainly don’t match my figures or my bank account, and it appears the 32,000 they quoted for my first book is for paperback sales, and the 4000 they quoted for Cherry Bomb is for the hardcover release, which was botched in one of the major chains, but still managed to somehow sell enough to have a second printing. Kind of a simple-yet-important thing to overlook, PW mixing up those paperback and hardcover sales, and it certainly does make it look like my overall sales dropped dramatically.”
As I noted before, I find the entire situation fascinating. I am surprised, and a bit dismayed, by the PW article – I would think they would report on key issues like this with a bit more attention to accuracy and factual evidence. It was not, after all, an editorial.
What do you think about all this? Did the PW article sound as negative to you as it did to me? Did you feel there was a definite slant at work in the reporting? How did the additional information that Joe revealed about the success of the books (earning out advances of that size isn’t an easy thing to do!) change your view of the situation?
I finished the first draft of a book last week. (Yay!) Now, as something of a break until I get started on the next one, I’m turning to short stories. And I’m super excited because I’m getting to work on some rough drafts that I’ve had to set aside for over a year while I wrote novels and other stories with more pressing deadlines. I cleaned my desk, threw away a bunch of anthology guidelines that are now irrelevant because the stories are done and handed in, I crossed off a bunch of stuff on the list, made some brand new lists, and I feel like I’ve hit the reset button. Spring cleaning indeed! (One of the things I learned last year is that I had taken on way too much stuff and I need to learn to say no more often and really pick and choose what I work on. I feel like I’m finally done with a lot of the stuff that was making me feel that way.)
Short stories are for those ideas that just aren’t big and meaty enough for a novel. They’re for learning about some of the secondary characters in your book. (My story “Looking After Family,” which appeared in Realms of Fantasy, helped define the history and relationship of two of my major characters. I would not have been able to develop them in the series without having that story as reference. “The Book of Daniel” in Talebones tells the story behind a throwaway line in my second book — the story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den through the eyes of shape-shifters.) They’re also for experimenting. I confess that I’ve been sucked in by the steampunk craze, because it’s just so fun and stylish. I don’t have time to drop everything and write a steampunk novel. But a steampunk short story? Why, yes, I can do that!
I love the instant gratification of shorter pieces. In April, I took a couple of weeks off from writing the novel to write a story for an anthology I’d been invited to. I wrote it, revised it, and sold it in a little over a month. What a boost during the slog of the novel’s messy middle! Plus, once again, the main character was a secondary character from the Kitty series who I’ve been wanting to learn more about, and this gave me a chance to explore what he does when we don’t see him in the novels.
I’ve discovered, especially recently, that I’m kind of an ADD writer. I think I always knew this (if you saw the number of abandoned drafts and stories on my hard drive, you’d croak), but I’ve only recently started thinking about what that means for my process. I know I’m prolific (however much it doesn’t feel like it — I’m always looking at what I haven’t written), and part of that is I always want to work on something new. I always get stuck at some point while writing a novel. The cure? Write a short story, then I can come back to the novel with fresh eyes and get excited about it all over again.
Advertising! If I had a nickel for every person who’s said to me that they first read my writing in one of the anthologies or magazines I’ve appeared in, then went out and bought my book. . . Oh wait a minute, I DO! More than that, even!