Posts Tagged ‘Divas Never Flinch’

Last week the temporary job that I have held for seven months ended.  Y-e-a and B-o-o.  Y-e-a because it frees me up to write, and B-o-o because my income will plummet.  I may be eligible for a pittance of unemployment, which would allow me to keep going, but it will curtail any but the most basic expenses.

I am now about three-quarters done with the first draft my latest novel.  It would be so sweet to really focus on that, and work every day to complete it.  And that is what I have been doing – except I have needed to go to doctor’s appointments, apply for unemployment, and spend a morning applying for food stamps.  And there seems to be an endless array of other little distractions nibbling away at my time each day.  Even with what appears to be unlimited free time, life just gets in the way.

Today I have an interview for a new job that would start immediately.  It will be full-time, while my last job was just 4 days a week.  More money – yes.  More time to write – no.  Of course I may not get it, but if I do, then I’m back struggling to find the time to write.

It’s the same with travel.  I love to travel, but if I’m working –  I don’t have the time.  If I’m free – then I don’t have the money.  Of course, this is not new, nor am I unique in struggling with this dilemma.  It is just another facet in the joys of being a writer who is not yet supporting himself by writing alone.  May that day come soon.  And, by the way, I am not complaining, just commenting.

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I know this is hardly an exhaustive examination of this subject, but I wanted to say a few words about an element that I find most helpful in my writing.

A subtle pleasure in reading (and writing) are the effects of rhythm and pacing, whether it is in the line, the paragraph or the chapter.  One can think of this in musical terms.  Rhythm is the regularly repeated beat within a given structure.  In music you have notes.  In writing you have words.  Just like in music, the properly repeated beats of words, phrases or sentences can have their own intrinsic pleasure, independent of the meaning.

For me, one way to accomplish this is with what I call the rule of three.  There is something inherently satisfying in the repetition of elements in sets of three.

For example – which do you find most satisfying?  The man laughed. (or)  The man laughed and ran.  (or)  The man laughed, ran, and jumped for joy.  My guess is you would choose the third example.  Not only because of the repetition of three elements in the sentence, but also because of the three elements in the last phrase as well.

Another example would be the repetition of the same word three times in a sentence.  For example: The kid was black, the kid was kind, and the kid could hold his own in any situation.  Here we have the repetition of the word “kid” three times, and it lends a rhythm that emphasizes the subject of the sentence as well as satisfying on a purely rhythmic level.

This is not unlike the famous opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. 

 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I think it is very easy to see the use of rhythm and repetition here.  I will let this fragment speak for itself.

Pacing is a slight variation on Rhythm.  For example if one were to describe a lazy river countryside one might use long flowing sentences, using the writing to help convey the feeling and meaning of the sentence itself.  Long languid sentences matching the nature of the lazy river.  The boughs of the willows graced the silent, silver surface of the flowing river.  Wild flowers graced the banks, and sparkled like stars in the vast firmament of the fallow fields, lending a sweet brillance to the majesty of the royal, flowing water way.

If one were to describe a car chase one might use short choppy sentences to match the feeling and nature of the chase itself.  For example, the chase might read: The car careened around the corner, hit the curb, and dashed through the intersection. The wheels screeched.  The pedestrians jumped from the street. The roar of the engine pierced the silence of the sleepy street.

I know this but touches on a subject that can be more fully explored, but I wanted to introduce you to these thoughts.  I hope it was not too pedantic and that you might find it useful.

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I had a quite shocking experience not long ago while working on my latest novel.  I had nearly finished a segment with just a few paragraphs to go.  It suddenly became very clear to me that I had to kill off one of my main – and very favored – characters.  I stopped writing.  What was this?  I had never considered or even wanted to write such a thing.   But it was very clear that the story was demanding I do this.  It left me almost breathless.  Could I ignore this demand?  I very seriously considered not following the directive.  But then I realized I must do this.

Now when writing I have never plotted out the story ahead of time.  I always let the characters and story reveal themselves to me.  This process has worked very well for me before.  When I start writing I have a vague idea of the nature of the story and its general direction, but I never work it all out ahead of time.  And I realized that if I did not follow where the story was taking me I might stop the flow and actually dry up the source of the story itself.   In other words I had to kill off my character.  I really had no choice if I wanted the effervesce of the story to continue to flow.

Now I realize that is not everyone’s method of writing, and I am not advocating any one method of developing a story, but I just wanted to reveal how it works for me and the surprise I had with this process.  This goes back to the creative mystery and how it works.  Over and over again I am confronted with the mystery of the creative process.  And each time I marvel at how it works.

Every single one of us has our own style and method of writing and I am sure there are as many different ways of approaching writing as there are writers.  Interesting isn’t it?

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I have a background in theatre and script writing.  While I left that behind many years ago, I have found the influence is still with me.  I was an actor for a number of years, including professional acting with the American and New York Shakespeare Festivals.  The reason I mention this is because I find that my acting experience greatly influences how I write my dialogue in my novels.

Part of understanding a character as an actor is to explore the character’s background.  By creating a back story for the character the actor begins to feel inside the character, and out of that the actor finds the voice for the character. 

I find this very useful as a writer as well.  By feeling myself into the character I find that I find the voice of the character, the cadence, the way the character speaks, and even what they will speak.  When I am writing dialogue I put on the character like a bathrobe and walk around in their skin, then I find that the dialogue just flows.

Not only do I find their speech this way, but I also find the character itself.  I rarely plan ahead what the character will do or say, but rather, I feel them developing within me.  I am growing as the character grows.  I explore with them, and discover with them, and am sometimes led to very unexpected places.  The characters definitely develop the story itself and can lead me along very interesting roads that I would never have thought of on my own – trying to figure out the story.  Fascinating process.

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All of us have been influenced, in one way or another, by other writers.  When I first started out writing I thought that the influence of other writers might color my own writing, but I don’t think it has.  Perhaps when one is very young that might be a more likely outcome.  At that age one might be more inclined to copy the voice of a favorite author, but as one gets older it may be easier to find one’s own voice.  I think that is so my case.  However, I would like to discuss a few of my favorite writers and why they tickle my fancy so.

First is the adorable Jane – Jane Austen, of course.  In many ways I feel perhaps most influenced by her.  We certainly share similar circumstances.  Both of us wrote on our own, somewhat sequestered away, writing about the world we were observing around us – based on characters we were familiar with in a limited setting.  Her world was rural England in the late 18th, early 19th century.  Mine is 20 – 21st century, small town Santa Fe, NM.  I most admire her subtle satire of manners and mores, done with love and compassion.  Even her villains deserve your respect and understanding.

E.F. Benson, an English writer of the early 20th century is another writer I much admire.  His series of novels, collected together as Make Way for Lucia, are based on dominate women in rural England villages.  They delight me no end, and have given me inspiration for my own novel Divas Never Flinch.  He is little known, but should be more recognized.  I highly recommend checking out his writing.

Ethan Mordden is a contemporary author whose work throughly delights me as well.  He wrote a series of books on gay life in New York City that captures a time, place and a culture quite wonderfully.  I particularly admire his quirky sense of humor.  His work grew darker as the AIDS epidemic set in.  And has stopped writing this series completely, although he is still active in writing about opera and the theatre world.

Michael Cunningham is another writer I greatly admire.  Best known for his Pulitzer winning novel The Hours, I have read most of his work and find he is a beautifully descriptive writer.  Not the humorist like my other favorite writers.  But there is one passage in his book, Flesh and Blood that just takes my breath away with its evocative writing.

In all honesty I don’t read nearly enough, since I work a job and need to do my writing on weekends.  But I did want to share a few of my favorites.

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When I wrote screenplays a few centuries ago, I would spend a lot of time developing character and story before I even wrote the first “Fade In.”  The form of the screenplay breaks down into three acts, and has very specific lengths for each act.  In order to successfully design your plot one has to have fully developed characters.  A lot of thought went into character development, because the main character had to drive the story to its very precise conclusion.  And there had to be a protagonist and an antagonist – very structured.

However, when I started writing narrative fiction I found that my very precise character development ahead of time just did not work in that form.  And I have become endlessly fascinated by how a character can take over its own creation and development.

When I was writing Divas Never Flinch, my first novel, I had not written narrative fiction before.  I did have my main characters in mind and a list of supporting characters sketched out, but none with any full development nor any idea how they might play out in the story.

It was fascinating to see how each character took on their own life and demanded their own trajectory.  In fact I was nearly halfway through the book before a third major character suddenly presented herself and demanded to be a part of the story.

I quickly learned not direct the character myself, but to let the characters reveal themselves to me in their own good time.

Let me end with an example of a novel I am working on now.  I have a major character who is very strong, opinionated and demanding – a US President in fact.  I was writing a scene where he had just learned some devastating news and had not been able to react to it fully.  The event demanded strong action from him.  However, he had to bottle it up and go to a formal banquet first.

I was having some difficulty seeing the direction that the scene at the banquet would take, and struggled to find the next moment for the scene.  When that happens, I try not to push an external idea about how the scene should go, but try to let the character direct me.  Much to my surprise, and without any forethought on my part, the character suddenly collapsed just before he was to give a toast.  It was the perfect end to the scene, and a complete surprise from the character.  I had never dreamt that the scene and character would go in that direction.

I guess this is why I love writing.  You get to meet the most interesting people.

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Gotta admit it.  I’m a first class goon.  As an author my publisher pleads with me to get out there and work the social media.  She advises me to go to the Yahoo groups and get in there and work them with sizzle and shine.  She wants me to blog – which I am doing right now,  don’t ya see – she wants me on Facebook, Twitter and all the rest.  But I am totally helpless and clueless.  I have shunned these exercises like they were infected with a twelfth century plague.  We seem to be undated with a constant wash of personal agendas all screaming IN CAPITAL LETTERS demanding our dwindling attentions.  I really don’t care about what you had for lunch or if you brushed your teeth or not.  And I am for damn sure no one cares what I do about these activities.  Am I crazy?  Am I alone thinking like this?  But…but…but I’m a reclusive writer.  All I want to do is work on my latest book or story.  How am I expected to do that if I have to be doing all this other stuff as well?

Sigh.  I should have been born a whole lot earlier, or at least started writing earlier.  I know, it’s an age thing.  If I were twenty I would be all over it, but I’m 70 for chriz sake.  Leave me alone in my stupor and backwardness.  I can’t be out there pushing myself like a used car salesman.  Give me a personal break.

So, I shall make this blog mercifully short and hopefully sweet.  I have had my little say.  So if  I disappear into the cyber void so be it.  For those of you who are adept at these activities I wish you well, and forgive this goon who continues to stumble along in the darkness.  But hey, I did learn to write on a computer.  That’s gotta count for something.  Right?

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It seems to be the general industry practice that a traditional publisher will not consider an unpublished manuscript unless it is solicited by the publisher, or is presented by an author’s agent.  It would be a waste of time to try to query publishers directly if you are looking to get your book published.

The exceptions are the self-publishing houses that solicit manuscripts from authors who then pay the full cost to get their manuscripts published.  This is not recommended unless you are looking to publish just a few copies of your book – for instance, for a family history where there will only be a few copies needed, and no sales or promotion required.

However, the new trend in publishing is what is called subsidiary publishing.  In this arrangement you submit your manuscript to the publisher and they evaluate it just like a traditional publishing house.  If they believe the manuscript warrants publication they will offer the author a contract for publication.  With a traditional publisher the author might be offered between 8 and 10 % of the royalty.  However with subsidiary publishing the author can receive up to 50% of the royalties.  A big advantage.  However, the author will be requested to put up a certain percentage of the publishing costs as well – about 17 to 18% of the total publishing costs.  A number of major publishing houses are now offering this type of contract as well as smaller houses.

My first novel, Divas Never Flinch, was published in a subsidiary publishing agreement with Brighton Publishing.  Their website is www.brightonpublishing.com.  There is a lot of good information on their site about the various forms of publishing and it is certainly worth a look if this is a route to publishing you might wish to consider.  They also tell you how you may submit manuscripts to them.  My experience with Brighton has been very positive so far, but we are still in the process of rolling out the printed version of the book.  Of course, e-books are the new wave of publishing, and Brighton seems well versed in this process as well.  You will certainly want to consider a publisher experienced in e-book publishing.

I consider my experience with the publishing world to be modest at best, and I am certain there is much more that could be written on this subject.  However, this is my experience and I wanted to share it.

I am certainly open to comments and additions from any of you if you care to contribute.

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Inspiration – what an elusive creature.  Where does it come from?  Can one even define it?  For me there are several versions of it.  First there is the inspiration that gives birth to the initial idea for a story or a novel.  It can be such a small thing.

Let me give you an example.  I am currently working on a novel called The Seed. This is how simply an idea can emerge.  I was sitting down.  It was summer or early autumn and I was barefoot.  I felt a foreign object on the bottom of my foot.  I knocked it off.  It was a small melon seed.  I picked it up and looked at it.  I was amazed at how small it was – but so packed with potential.  This got me contemplating the power of seeds and before long that led to the creation of a new political thriller.  Can’t give the details just yet, but it sure was a surprise how such a small object could to lead to such a big idea.

Another way inspiration hits me is with a word or a phrase that resonates and before long a story is forming.  One instance is when I heard the phrase – dangling participles.  It had funny erotic overtones, and I was delighted with the short story that eventually came from that brief phrase.

At other times I might start with the image of a character, or a simple situation that will develop and grow when I am not looking.  By the time I sit down to write, it is like the character or idea is sparkley with all kinds details just exploding to be told.

This brings up the interesting subject of the unconscious.  Often times – actually most times – when I am writing I have no idea where I am going or how I am going to get there, but I just write.  Words and sentences just seem to flow and lead me forward.  It is like the character or situation is whispering in my ear leading me along.  Can’t tell you how much I enjoy that process.  I guess you could almost call it a form of channeling.  When I have finally completed the writing and am in the editing phase I am amazed sometimes at what I have written.  Where did that come from?  I have no idea how those words formed and flowed onto my page.

And fortunately, I have never suffered from writer’s block.  (see me knocking on many wood surfaces.)  Somehow I have established a strong connection with my unconscious and it continues to function well for me.

To sum up I would have to say that inspiration is both a mystery and a journey of discovery.  It cannot be coaxed or commanded.  It is like observing a wild animal.  If one is still, and patient, and open it might just come to you.

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Okay, so you have written your first novel, epic, non-fiction masterpiece – now what?  How do you get it out there, shared, published and read?  That’s a very big question and not easy to answer.  Again I am not here to pontificate on how it should be done only how I have gone about it from a very personal point of view.

I figured first I would need to get an agent, right?  We have all read about the powerful agents who know everyone in the publishing world and just need to pick up a phone and arrange the million dollar deal.  Well good luck with that.  In the good old days one sent out one’s query letter by USPS soliciting a resonse from an agent willing to read your manuscript.  Well those days are gone too.  We live in a paperless world when it comes to queries, and most are done through the internet now.  There are two pretty good sites that help you locate an agent in your field.  The first is www.agentquery.com.  You will want to use the full search feature to narrow  your search to find agents who are looking for your kind of materials.  The other site is www.querytracker.net.  You will need to register with that site and again do a selected search to find the agents you want to contact.  This site lets you record your queries and track them as well.  Good feature.

The next important thing to do is write your Query letter.  This is how you introduce yourself and your project.  It has a very specific format.  AgentQuery has some good suggestions on how to do that.  Just click on the link at the top of the page to read their suggestions.  I spent weeks writing and rewriting my query letter, refining and refining it until it was as susinct as possible.  It has served me well as my publisher used it to craft my back cover and press releases.

When that is all ready it is time to send it out.  By now you should have found the agents you want to send your query letter to.  It is mostly done electronically these days.  You can submit your query letter to your prospective agents by email.  Be sure to read each agent’s website as they have different ways they want you to submit to them.  Some want only the query letter, some also want the first five pages, or first chapter, or 50 pages, or whatever.  Be sure you send them want they want.

Then you wait…and wait…and wait.  It is a very good idea to keep track of who you send your letters to and how they respond.  Some will respond quickly.  Some not at all.  Most will not be interested in looking at your manuscript.  Be forewarned most agents say that fiction is not being published much these days.  The big dude publishers seem to be interested mostly in non-fiction, self-help books from already established authorities in their fields.

To be totally honest, I have not been able to find an agent yet.  And with the way the publishing world is going these days not sure I need one except to help find a movie deal.  I will go into why more later when I talk about the new developments in publishing in a later post.

I know I have not exhaused this subject by any means.  If you have any questions please feel free to ask and I will answer if I can.

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