Archive for July, 2010

Saturday, July 31st, 2010 by Ken Scholes
Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkeys (A Lesson in Being Careful What You Wish For)

When I was a kid, I wanted a talking monkey who would go everywhere I went and be my bestest friend. 

I mean, really, who didn’t?

After all, there was Chim Chim in Speed Racer.  And BJ and the Bear.  And even Clyde had his fifteen minutes.  Don’t get me started on Cornelius and Zira.

Now, years later, I have my wish.  And today I’m going introduce you to them.  Jen brought them up last week in my interview with her, so it’s only fitting that you meet them officially.

Folks, meet my Chattering Head Monkeys (CHM for short.)  CHM, meet the folks.

Now, put on your rubber slickers.  These critters are notorious poop-flingers.

How, you might ask, did I meet this particular barrel of fun?  Well, I’m not sure.  But I’m betting you’ve met them, too. 

They’re the voices in my head that whisper “You can’t do THAT” when I’m getting ready to try something new.  When I read a bad review, they’re the ones that chatter their “I told you so’s” and when I read a good review, they assure me with great certainty that the book or story in question was obviously a fluke or the reviewer was obviously drunk or stoned when he was reading my piece.  Or surely THAT book was fine, but the one I’m working on now is doomed, utterly doomed.

They have poop to fling in any situation and their aim is careful.

It seems to be pretty common in our line of work.  I recently read Carrie’s post on reviews and writerly insecurities and heard the echoes of my little friends in her post.  And just after Tor picked up the series, I was talking to one of their authors — thirty novels underneath his belt — and he told me that every time he sat down to write a novel, he was certain it would be the one that ended his career.  He must’ve wished for talking monkeys when he was a kid, too.

The Chattering Head Monkeys are everywhere.

So what do you do about it?  Well, first, I think it’s okay to just acknowledge that they are there.  Like the ghosts that kid saw in the movie, it’s worthwhile to ask them what they want.  You might be surprised what they tell you and you might even be able to explore some new territory in the jungle of your soul.

Sometimes they’re afraid we’ll fail and want to spare us that pain by intercepting us before we even try.  Sometimes (gasp) they’re afraid we’ll succeed and they want to spare us all the unecessary stress and new the set of problems that comes with success.  Sometimes, they’re just the leftover whisperings of older voices in our lives that told us we couldn’t or that we shouldn’t or that we can’t.

Regardless of what reasons they give, the next step sounds simpler than it is:  Put on your little yellow slicker, cinch up the hood, and get to work.

“This novel sucks,” they shout.  “Ha!” you scoff.  “It can’t suck yet — I haven’t even finished it.  And even if it does, it’ll be easier to fix when all the words are in the manuscript.”

“No one’s going to buy this story,” they insist.  “Ha!” you scoff.  “Who died and made you editor?  And even if it gets trunked, I practiced my craft by writing it, practiced my marketing skills by submitting it.”

And you  keep your head down and your fingers flying.  Or your brush if you’re a painter.  Or your notes if you’re a singer.  Or your feet if you’re a dancer.

And while you’re there persisting, fill your ears with other voices.  My pal John (Pitts) and I have two things we say to each other when the CHM are getting loud.  First, their vote doesn’t count.  And second?  Shut the [expletive deleted] up and write!  Because we’ve found that though we can’t really shut the monkeys up, we can sometimes find other people who can shout louder than they can.

And instead of taking them seriously, try chuckling at them.  One Christmas, after hearing me go on and on about the CHM plaguing me through one of my novels, John bought me an entire set of them.  Four or five little plastic monkeys wearing suits and dresses, some with mugs of coffee in their little monkey paws, some with little cigarettes hanging off their little monkey lips. 

I set them up around my computer to remind me how small they really are. 

Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes, I pick them up and play with them a bit when I’m supposed to be writing.  Or pose them for impromptu photo sessions…. 

Lizzy and the CHM

And then I put that slicker on and get back to work.

Friday, July 30th, 2010 by Rosemary
Your Inner Teen and You

I apologize that this is a little late this morning. I”m at the RWA National Conference in Orlando, and after a very busy day of YARWA duties (Did you know there is a YA chapter of the RWA? There is. And now has a lovely new president who is not me!) I decided to take the morning off from conference stuff. Slept in a little. Went to the gym (a very little). I was sitting here with my cup of coffee and thought… hmmmm, I’ve lost track of what day it is. Yesterday was Thursday so… Eeep!

There are an amazing number of panels about YA this year: writing it, selling it, marketing it… This is exciting but hardly surprising as it is such a growing slice of the market.  I’ve lost track of the number of best selling adult authors who have books on the teen shelves now. (John Grisham? Really?) I could be cynical and say ‘everyone wants a slice of the pie.’ But I also have to admit, YA books are just fun to write.

But not *easy* to write.

Newcomers to YA often want to know how you write for teens, and what are the rules for writing for young people. The answer, boiled down to its essence, would make a very short class: Just write a good book.

It’s not easier or harder than writing for any other market. But just like any other genre, you have to start with a story that you want to tell, not the mistaken notion that writing for teens (or romance readers, or mystery readers) will be easy. Adult readers can tell when someone is trying to cash in on a market, and so can teens. In fact, their B.S. meter is about 50 times as sensitive.

A YA book comes about because you have a story to tell that will resonate with teen readers. As long as you serve that story, you can put anything into the book that you would into any other.

The things that do make a good book for teens are the same things that adult readers enjoy: an appealing voice, a moving plot, scenes that are exciting or emotional or intriguing.  The only ‘trick’ is to know what is going to be appealing, exciting or emotionally evocative to your particular audience.

Think about what was appealing and exciting to YOU when you were 13 or 15 or 16. Chances are, the same things will appeal to teenagers now.

And this is where the breakdown occurs for some people. You have to be in touch with your inner teen. That’s where the story elements have to come from. If authors write what they THINK teens should like rather than going back to that teenage part of themselves that remembers what it’s like to BE a teen, then you have a distance between the author and the audience that often comes across as contrived or inauthentic (or trying too hard). Or worse, it comes across as condescending or moralizing.

So, your ‘assignment’ for this week is to spend some time in your head, remembering what it was like to be a teen. Do a little sense/memory recall, as we called it in acting class, and revisit your high school days, and see what stories emerge from the exercise.

Thursday, July 29th, 2010 by Charlene Teglia
The Write Stuff

What are stories made of? Kites and strings and dragonfly wings. Snakes and snails and puppydog tails. Daydreams, nightmares. Hopes and scares. There’s a lot written on how to write, but where does what you write come from?

It comes from a thousand things you’ve forgotten, from the passions you had when you were five and fifteen and twenty-five, from the stories that captured your imagination and the heroes you identified with, from your hobbies and even from hated assignments you were once forced to suffer through. Anything you’ve ever cared enough about to love or hate is writing material. Injustices that make you seethe are fair game. So are triumphs that make you want to crow. So are all those things that excite and move you but you know nothing about so you’ll have to do some research.

Writing what you know is far too limited. Writing to discover has an infinite horizon. But don’t forget what you know, all the deep truths that come from your lifetime of experience. I know there are monsters under the bed and that creatures can come through mirrors at midnight. Don’t pester me with logic and flashlights. Monsters disappear when you shine lights on them. I know there are endless worlds populated with strange things, and that a whole universe lives in a drop of water. I know the sky can fall and just when you think things couldn’t possibly get worse you’ll discover how much imagination you lack. I know there aren’t always happy endings but it’s not over until it’s over, and every day is another day to write another chapter of your life story. I know heroes are resourceful and determined. I know evil exists from the banal to the monstrous. I know the human capacity for generosity and achievement is miraculous and we don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit.

What do you know? What do you fear? What do you wish, hope, dream, imagine? What horrible or beautiful thing fascinates you? What makes you laugh? What makes you pull the covers over your head? What do you wish you understood or knew more about? What do you wish you could unlearn and forget?

Stories can be structured with all kinds of neat tricks, but the raw stuff of stories is messy as hell. Don’t try to tidy it up. Don’t write the safe story anybody else could think of, the obvious choice anybody could see coming a mile away. Don’t write comfortable and smug stories that couldn’t scare anybody or move anybody to tears or laughter. Write what’s real and true to you. That’s what stories are made of.

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010 by Bob Mayer
Pitching The Johnny Cash Way

When I teach my Warrior Writer presentation (Denver 10 Oct; Orlando 20 Oct; New Jersey RWA pre-conference 21 Oct; Houston RWA 13 Nov and workshop here on Whidbey, WA on 31 Oct—hey, if I don’t tell you who will?) the first film clip I show is from the movie Walk The Line.  Here’s the dialogue below and an excerpt from my book Warrior Writer.  It’s the scene where Johnny Cash has a one-on-one with a producer (agent).  I also have audio of this here.

Early in the movie Walk The Line, Johnny Cash and his two band-mates go for an audition. I recommend watching the movie and focusing on that scene. Here is the dialogue, with my comments in parentheses:

Johnny Cash singing a cover of an old gospel song—within 15 seconds he is halted:

Producer (read agent): Hold on. Hold on. I hate to interrupt… but do you guys got something else? I ‘m sorry. I can’t market gospel (read generic vampire novel, clichéd thriller, whatever). No more.

Johnny Cash: So that’s it?

Producer: I don’t record material (rep a book) that doesn’t sell, Mr. Cash… and gospel (a book like that) like that doesn’t sell.

Johnny Cash: Was it the gospel or the way I sing it? (was it the book or the writing?)

Producer: Both.

Johnny Cash: Well, what’s wrong with the way I sing it?

Producer: I don’t believe you.

Johnny Cash: You saying I don’t believe in God?

Bandmate: J.R., come on, let’s go.

Johnny Cash: No. I want to understand. I mean, we come down here, we play for a minute… and he tells me I don’t believe in God.

Producer: We’ve already heard that song a hundred times… just like that, just like how you sang it.

Johnny Cash: Well, you didn’t let us bring it home. (you didn’t get to my hook, climactic scene, whatever)

Producer: Bring… bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you were lying out in that gutter dying… and you had time to sing one song (write one book), huh, one song… people would remember before you’re dirt… one song that would let God know what you felt about your time here on earth… one song that would sum you up… you telling me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmie Davis tune we hear on the radio all day? About your peace within and how it’s real and how you’re gonna shout it? Or would you sing something different? Something real, something you felt? Because I’m telling you right now… that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothing to do with believing in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believing in yourself.

Johnny Cash: Well, I’ve got a couple songs I wrote in the Air Force. You got anything against the Air Force?

Producer: No.

Johnny Cash: I do.

Bandmate: J.R., whatever you’re about to play… we ain’t never heard it.

Within fifteen seconds of singing the song he wrote, the producer knows he is looking at a star.

What did Johnny Cash Do?

He tried even though the odds of rejection were high. We hear the scary statistics all the time about the slush pile. You can’t let that stop you. There are people who won’t query because they’re afraid of rejection. In essence, they’ve just rejected themselves. I heard a very weird statistic: 90% of people who have a one-on-one with an agent at a conference and are requested to send in their material, never do. There are many reasons for this, but the #1 barrier is fear. Why even do the one-on-one if you are never going to follow through?

Johnny Cash walked in the door even though he was afraid. We’re going to discuss fear a lot in this book. We’re also going to discuss ways you can overcome fears.

He went even though his wife didn’t think he had it. There is a scene earlier where he and his band-mates are on the porch playing and Cash’s wife storms off and locks herself in the bathroom. She tells him he’s wasting his time and he needs to get a ‘real job’. Some of us have heard the same thing, haven’t we?

He stayed after being rejected. Most people think rejection is the end. It’s actually a beginning. Use rejection as motivation. Rejection is an inevitable part of a writer’s life. I just got a rejection last week from a publisher with whom I’ve sold over a million books.

He stayed. He got hit with a double rejection: not only was the song not good, his singing wasn’t good. How would you feel if someone told you not only was the book not good, your writing wasn’t either?

Even though he was angry, he was respectful. I just sent the editor who rejected me a polite thank you email for taking her time to look at the material.

He asked questions. I watch people pitch agents at conferences and many rarely ask questions. They’re so focused on pitching, they aren’t using the time as a valuable learning experience. When Cash asked what was wrong, he got a response that allowed him to focus. In that email, I not only thanked the editor for her time, I asked a couple of questions that might give me a way to try a different approach.

He listened. Earlier this year I got some other rejections on a different manuscript. Looking back, I remember my agent making a comment when I was first talking about the idea. I didn’t listen carefully enough to what she was really saying, because in retrospect, what every editor said in the rejection letter was what she had said two years ago. We’re going to cover communication in Force Seven. Listening for the real message is a key skill successful people have.

He used his PLATFORM and tried again. We’re always hearing the buzzword Platform. A lot of people feel they don’t have one. You do. If you watch the movie, note the look on Cash’s face when he’s singing the gospel song about his “Peace Within”. He’s not peaceful. He’s angry. That’s his character arc in the movie: finding peace within. So when he finally sings the song he wrote, he’s singing an angry song. Because his platform right then is anger: over the death of his brother; the fact his father blamed him for it; and he hated his time in the Air Force, being away from his girlfriend (and losing her). Basically, he used his real self and mined his emotions. That’s your platform.

He conquered his FEAR. He not only walked in, he stayed, he succeeded.

He CHANGED. He walked in with one plan, but when it didn’t work, he quickly changed that plan.

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 by Sasha White
Set Your Mind

Since I’ve been sharing about my own issues lately, and because I’m not quit ready to talk about any new projects I might be working on, I’m going to share more of my journey with you. This past week I was going over my own blog posts from the past few years, just sort of reliving my past career path, planning my future and thinking on what I want from my career…some of my old posts really resonate to this day. This one was written in March of 2004, about two years after I started writing. Rereading it did my heart good, so I thought I’d repost it…see what y’all think.

I never planned to be a waitress all my life, but just after I turned 30 I realized it could happen.
Read the rest of this entry

Monday, July 26th, 2010 by Charlene Teglia
Tarot as a Tool for Creative Insight

One of the more interesting writing classes I’ve taken over the years was one that taught storytelling with Tarot. Before that, I didn’t know Tarot had anything to do with stories, or that you could use Tarot as a tool for plot, character, and more. Even if you don’t have access to a live class on the topic, there are excellent resources online for learning card meanings and basic spreads.

The Tarot deck tells the story of the Fool’s Journey through life, which translates to the hero’s journey in fiction. But wait, there’s more. Each card in the deck tells a story in itself. Beyond that, some cards represent character archetypes while others represent plot turning points. And each card tells its story in symbols and images, the language of the right brain, making the cards a great tool for bypassing the left-brained critic and accessing your creative side.

All of this makes a Tarot deck a great writer’s tool. Even choosing a deck is a creative adventure; I recommend looking at several to see which artwork appeals. I bought a deck intended for children that depicts fairytale characters and scenes on each card. Each deck’s visual interpretation of the cards will vary and one will suit your storytelling style better than another so it’s good to compare.

Once you have a deck, you can use it for multiple creative exercises. You can simply draw a card at a time, and see what story the image sparks. What story would you tell yourself based on what you see? Do a timed writing and tell the story in 5-15 minutes. Lay out a series of cards and see what characters and events jump out at you as you connect the cards into a single story. Then write a brief story summary.

If you are stuck on your story at any stage, go through the deck looking at individual cards to see what images jump out at you. Your non-verbal right brain can use the visual tool to point out what you’re missing; a type of character, a twist, a dramatic event or choice. Or you can pull out a handful of cards that appeal to you and play “what if”. What if I add this kind of character to this scene or story? What if I move the scene to a setting like this? What if I add an element from this image? What if I do a combination?

There are so many ways to use Tarot as a tool to jumpstart creativity and access your right-brained insights for story solutions that I could never list them all. But the next time you find yourself stuck or if you just want a new tool in your box, try Tarot.

Saturday, July 24th, 2010 by Ken Scholes
The Writing Life…From Another Point of View

Howdy folks.  Happy Saturday!

 We’ve had the last three weeks to get to know each other a bit and you’ve heard me go on about magic bullets and inner rednecks and how series are born.

Today, I thought I’d try something different. 

I’m just now getting underway in my fourth novel, Requiem, and I’m more mindful than ever that it takes a village to write a book.  I have a team of people that I lovingly refer to as Team 4J who keep me sane and producing, in addition to my agent, my editor and a host of other writing friends and colleagues.  Lamentation is dedicated to that team.  And the First Captain of Team 4J is my amazing wonder wife and partner, Jen West Scholes.

I thought it might be nice to introduce you to her this Saturday.  So, ladies and gentlemen, meet…The Wife.

Ken:  Hi Sweetie.  Thanks for doing this.  I know you’re pretty busy these days and I appreciate you taking the time to talk a bit about your experiences as the spouse of a working writer.  Would you tell our friends at a bit about yourself and how you came find yourself in this wacky life we’re living?

Jen:  I’m happy to.  In late 2002, I answered an IM from this little-known writer in one of the Portland chat rooms.  Ken wrote, “So, you’re a writer, huh?”  At that moment, I was at a crossroads in my life.  I was graduating from the University of Oregon, and I had grandiose plans for backpacking across Australia writing travel blogs and articles for very little money.  I’d write about the world and then “settle down” to have a family and an “ordinary life.”  

But I knew from that first chat that my plans were going to have to change.  So we started working on our “little empire” and now, with our castle (house), two heirs apparent (kids), two worthless minions (cats), obligatory revenue generators (full-time jobs) and the writing career, our life feels far from “settled” or “ordinary.”  We’re in the process of building something extraordinary. 

*Ken is now poking me to talk about some of the things I love to do.* I’m a Jen-of-all-trades and a Master-of-Puns.  I love experiences, and I’m constantly looking for new things to do or learn.  I tend a square-foot-garden, which usually ends up being an epic battle between me, the weeds, the slugs and the neighborhood cats who think my garden is world’s coolest cat box.  I recently took up rock climbing and softball (not at the same time).  I’m a scuba diver, a hiker, a backpacker, and a wannabe DIYer.  When not reading new material from Ken, I read urban fantasy/horror from authors like Carrie Vaughn, Kat Richardson, J.A. Pitts, Julie Kenner, C.E. Murphy and I have a stack of novels yet to read.  Most of my time is spent wrangling our 1-year-old twin girls.  They are entertainment enough by themselves.

Ken:  When we first partnered up in 2003, I had only published three short stories.  I was a pretty new kid on the block and relatively unknown.  Now, seven years later, I’m working on the fourth book of a series and am on the edge of my third novel (Antiphon) and my second short story collection (Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars and Other Unusual Suspects) releasing into the world.  A lot has changed.  You’ve been an important part of that work from the start.  How do you see your role?  And as my career has unfolded, how has your role changed? 

Jen:  At one of the conventions we attended a few years back, I remember Ken had to rush to a panel leaving me to figure out badges and program books, etc.  When the woman in the Green Room asked who I was, I replied that I was the Chief Operating Officer of Ken Scholes, Inc.  And that title stuck.

In the beginning, I did things like help post flyers for readings at conventions, and I read Ken’s new stories.  But as he sold more stories, attended more writing events and then landed the book deal, I became the COO of the Ken Scholes writing business.  Now I keep track of income and expenses, work with our tax consultant, brainstorm web content and design with our “gypsy webscout”, manage the schedule of writing events, and make travel and lodging arrangements.  I’m also a first reader and copyedit/galley proofer, although that role has been limited during the last year because of the demands of having baby twins.

Ken:  Writers are whiny, insecure, and tricky critters for the most part.  What are the most challenging aspects of living with – and providing support to – a wacky working writer?

Jen:  The other roles I play are cheerleader and sounding board.  After Ken finished Lamentation, I remember saying that the experience was like witnessing someone live through a life-long relationship in the span of a few weeks.  There were births and deaths, celebrations and sorrows, failures and victories, and the emotional rollercoaster that goes with all of that — but in a super condensed time frame.  And that feeling has held true in the subsequent books.  

Understanding the emotional toll is important.  Each writer is different, but I think what helps Ken is all the talking we do about our friends in the Named Lands.  I know he is a verbal processor, so I ask him questions – the investigative reporter at work. I also remind the CHMs (Chattering Head Monkeys) that they are just poo-flinging amoeba brains who wouldn’t know a good story if it bit them on their big, floppy ears.  Sometimes they need to be reminded that they don’t get a vote.

Ken:  You’ve had times where you were very involved in the public aspects of the writing life – conventions, signings, workshops and other events.  What have been some of your favorite parts? 

Jen:  I would have to say that the people I’ve met have been the best part of the public aspects.  I’ve gotten to meet authors I’ve admired for years, practice asking for autographs without turning into a drooling fan girl (until their back is turned), and can even count some of them as friends.  How cool is it to go have a meal or drinks with someone you admire and get to ask them behind-the-scenes questions about their characters or their worlds or their process or their influences?  It’s also why I love conducting interviews.  And the contacts I’ve made through the writing world have made it possible for me to tell other people’s stories.

Ken:  Since “East of Eden and Just a Bit South” back in 2003, red-headed and re-imagined projections of you have shown up in various short stories and certainly in the series.  What is that experience like for you?  Do you have any favorites?  How is Jen West Scholes like and not like Jin Li Tam?

Jen: Well, first, I’m too short to be Jin Li Tam.  We definitely have similar temperaments, though she is much deadlier with knives than I am.  Jin Li Tam is probably my favorite, and I do get a little protective of her when a reviewer doesn’t like her or compares her to a high class prostitute.  She’s a spy.  A femme-fatal.  A female James Bond!  

Occasionally, I’ll read something of Ken’s and realize he’s slipped in some little thing I’ve said or some little quirk I have that no one else would know about but him. There have been a couple of times when I’ve said, “I can’t believe you put that in there!”  But I’ve always found it amusing and endearing.  It reminds me of the coded “conversations” between Jin Li Tam and Rudolfo right under the noses of the other characters.

Ken:  Of course, you’re a writer as well.  What are some the highlights in your own writing life and what projects do you hope to tackle down the road?

Jen:  Like I mentioned before, I love telling other people’s stories.  And everyone has a unique story; you just have to know the right questions to ask.  I enjoy interviewing writers, because their imaginations and ideas touch and influence so many people.  I would even go so far as to say they are the original agents of social change.  Learning about what makes them tick and how they’ve honed their craft is a real treat for me.  Some of the people I’ve gotten to interview have included Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, Cory Doctorow, Bobby Henderson, founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for Shimmer Magazine, J.A. Pitts, and several of the 2007 Nebula Award winners.  And then at Radcon last February, I got to conduct a live interview with seasoned novelist C.J. Cherryh.  Larry Niven happened to be in the audience, and since we had some extra time, I got to conduct a surprise mini-interview with him, too.

Future projects?  I’d like to do more interviews and at some point, I’d like to tackle a down-to-earth but humorous book about having twins.

Ken:  There are a lot of partners out there wanting to support their writers.  Do you have any advice for them?  Is there anything you wish someone had told you about this wacky road we’re on?  

Jen:  If their writer is serious about writing as a career, then both partners have to treat it like a serious career.  The moment you compromise on that, the writing becomes a time-consuming hobby and little resentments can build from the sacrifices that have to be made in order to be successful – and success is far from guaranteed.  Many writers have to have full-time jobs, and their partners have to have full-time jobs.  Yet, there are still kids to rear, a house and yard to maintain, friendships to maintain, family obligations, a whole list of demands on our time and life events that will try to get in the way of writing.  It takes a concerted effort to stay the course and strike a balance, not just for the writer, but for the writer’s partner, too.  The job of the writer’s partner is to help keep the world off the writer’s head so the writer can write.  We are equally invested in this business. We are a team – a dynamic duo. I don’t think we’d be as successful in writing or in life if we didn’t have each other’s backs.

Ken:  Thanks for joining me here today, love.  And thanks for all you do.  I couldn’t do it without your love and support. 

Jen:  You’re welcome, Sweetie.  I got your back.

The West Scholes Tribe

And I’ve got yours.  There you have it folks.  A little bit more on the writing life from another point of view.

I’ll see you all next week!