Wearable Books: tech helps you “feel” the character

Lets set aside the fact that the contraption you’d have to put yourself into looks like something crossed between a back brace and a torture device. Instead, we’ll get straight to the stupidity of this ingenious invention, the Wearable Book.

Wearable book: feel the emotions

Yes, in this day and age, “feeling the emotions of the characters you read” IS a good thing. These students’ heads were in the right place. Make books more enjoyable by increasing your sensations for the characters and the storyline. Problem here is the delivery.

Great books already make you FEEL THE CHARACTER without your having to attach a book to electrodes and techno-pychotropic machines. Haruki Murakami is someone I’ve mentioned before but he’s a prime example of “feeling the character”.

Once I put down a Murakami book, even after a chapter or two, I (and my wife when she reads him as well) am suddenly sucked into similar sensations as the main character. I can’t help but feel bad about myself if the character is down on himself, feel old if he feels old, feel confused if they are. Hell, 1Q84 STILL makes me question why in the world there aren’t two moons in the sky!!!! And to this day, thanks to Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I have a craving for lemon drops.

How does he do it?

Well, for starters, he didn’t pay extra for the snug outerwear and electrical chord. He wrote characters that made you feel them. He wrote scenes that don’t seem to move the story forward, or ANYWHERE for that matter, because they do something else. They make you question who YOU are. He makes you ACTUALLY FEEL what the character is feeling. He does it naturally and beautifully.

Sadly, his craft is so rare we feel the need to step outside the realm of beauty and words to find another way to “plug in.” I, for one, refuse. I’ve been trying to emulate Murakami’s ability since I stumbled upon him 5 years ago. Please, for the love of humanity, don’t  buy this gadget if it becomes available.

Reading Fiction: Being an Active Reader

A frequent complaint I receive in my many writing critique group circles is that I read too far into the stories that I critique. This critique of my critiquing style is so prevalent that I’ve decided to explain things, mostly for my own self-esteem.

What sort of critiques am I talking about? Well, I tend to call writers out for stereotypes, storylines that suggest racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and a bunch of other -isms. This past week, I critiqued a novel that was one solid analogy of God and Jesus Christ, the fall of man, and the fall of the Devil. It was so prevalent that I rebuilt his story in my critique pointing out the VAST and deeply woven analogy. His analogy was BRILLIANT! It was so complex and well done on many levels…with a few contradictions I don’t think he intended…

Problem is, he says that analogy doesn’t exist…My critique colleagues mostly felt the same way.

I’ve called others out for sounding sexist and that readers will see that sexism and be turned off. Others have said, you just read too much into things. Today, I think I figured out what’s going on.

Reading so much philosophy made me an active reader. I don’t mean the type of reader that catches grammar or knocks the author for his ill use of adverbs and prepositional phrases. I mean, actively tearing apart the story, what it means, what the author is trying to convey, what is being said in the background.

You might say, “Well, it’s fiction. It’s just a story.” No story should ever be “justa” story. Stories, even fairy tales, are told for a reason. They are meant to convey a moral principle or point out the good or bad in something. If you read a story for the story, even sci-fi and fantasy, you’re missing SO MUCH!

So, I say this to my readers and those in my critique groups: Don’t expect me to relent. Active reading is what keeps me going. Having an active editor will make your story more important to the world. And, given the swath of books flying at you from all angles, if you don’t have an IMPORTANT BOOK, nobody gives a damn.

Rejection Letters: Then and Now

By “Then and Now” I mean MY rejection letters. This is a fond end of the year look back at ALL the rejection letters I’ve received over the last year and half since I’ve started querying any agents or literary magazines.

My first rejection letter was a painful one. Of course, it was a rejection, my first. So that by itself is heartbreaking. But on top of that, in June of 2012 (yes, LAST year…get over it), it’s what this agent said:

“You had a very intriguing premise, but your writing was a bit choppy. I wish you the best of luck.”

Basically: you’re writing isn’t good. And please, please, PLEASE don’t waste my time next go round.  To be fair, this agent was correct. That draft I sent them should never have been sent. I was a youngin!

The next year came with little better to report. Though I rarely received such criticism, I received 6 full length form rejection letters. Those make up about 1/3 of the query letters I sent out. The other heaven only knows how many just disappeared into the ether of the slush piles on countless desks around the country.

But the last few months have changed things. I’ve started sending out short stories and poetry to literary magazines (online and traditional alike). The responses have been mixed. However, they are moving in the right direction.

Two weeks ago I received 5 in one week. 3 of those 5 came with “please submit again in the future.”

One who does not submit writings for anything to anyone might not take this as a positive development. But, as anyone will tell you, if they don’t want to hear from you again, they will tell you so. These 3 told me, “Meh, not this one. But please submit again.”

OK, the “meh” was my addition.

The Acceptance Letter:

That’s right. As many of you know, one of those responses came back with a “Yes. We’d be happy to include your work in our upcoming issue.” For bragging rights proof, here’s a link to that awesomeness.

All in all, a good year. Once things got started.

To Write or To Query, This is the Question

Obviously writers need to do both in order to be successful. That’s clear, and I’ve embraced this marketing side of writing. The problem is that, now that I have stuff to send out, how do I balance this? So, I ask you!

How do you balance writing/editing your work and writing/sending out query letters? 

I have a novel (and 3 more in finishing phases), short stories, and poems, all in search of homes. I’m the Humane Society of stories. I’ve also written quite a few query letters and found numerous places to send my work.

Here’s my idea (that I have not yet working into my routine):

Saturday: Chill and hang with the wife.

Sunday: More chilling…if wife is busy, maybe some looking for places to send my stuff

Monday: Edit/write. Because by Monday, I need to feel I’ve accomplished something, even if that means EDITING.

Tuesday: Querying and looking for places/people to query. Every writer needs to do some of this or they are just writing to themselves…and that’s only one step away from talking to yourself.

Wednesday: Open rejection letter emails. Then promptly get to writing/editing. Have a drink (to help keep the self-esteem in check after your rejection).

Thursday: Chores that I put off during the week of staring at my computer. In between chores, read some. Because, as anyone knows, reading is as essential to writing as the actual writing is.

Friday: Realize you haven’t done squat! Mix a stiff one early in the morning because that’s the only way to deal with the fact that I’ve squandered another full week of potential.

Lessons from this years NaNoWriMo…so far

Day 10 of NaNoWriMo has me ruminating on this year’s NaNo event thus far.

1. Being a Municipal Liaison is more fun than I expected

This is my first year as an ML and I set up more Write-Ins than I think I should have. But I’m meeting lots of new writers from all walks of life. People seem to enjoy my writing sprints/word wars, and my co-ML and outgoing ML tutor are so helpful it’s hard NOT to have fun doing this.

2. Even well-outlined stories do their own thing

I never used to outline my novels before writing them. Then NaNoWriMo 2010 happened to me. Now I map out my story from start to finish. Character bios, chapter expectations, main plot points, themes, the whole shebang!

But, as I’ve learned this year, even those specific and extensive outlines can go down the crappy fast. Not in a bad way. The story and the characters just seem to do their own thing once the fingers hit the keyboard on November 1st. I’ve learned to embrace this. Instead of seeing my outline as something I have to follow, I live breathe, and eat my outline so long, I know where I want my story to go. If I go off track, that’s OK.

Truthfully, I only look back at my outline when I get stuck and try to figure out what it is my characters are trying to tell me. An outline for me is a guide when the “writer’s block” takes effect.

3. Falling behind isn’t the end of the world

I tell new Wrimos that not making your 50k isn’t the end of the world OR something to feel disappointed about. They still wrote more than they would have otherwise. They should be proud of their accomplishments. But I say this as a Wrimo who has ALWAYS won and ALWAYS stayed ahead. Until this year!

This year I had a family emergency at the beginning of the month that set me behind by about 6k. I had 4k words written and was supposed to be at 10k. OUCH! I never thought I’d catch up. You can’t write 6k in one day! Can you? Well, turns out you can!

Being behind is a great motivator…as is being behind other friends that are WAY ahead of you on their word counts. This is exacerbated by the fact that I’m the NaNoWriMo volunteer (ML) for the entire region. I CAN’T fall behind!

4. You go a little loopy by Day 10

NaNoWriMo is like what I’ve heard child birth is like. You always think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world…until the birth! Then it’s the worst thing in the world. Then, over the next 11 months, you forget the pain and insanity, and you think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world again.

I should remember how loopy I get by this time but it always surprises me. I start talking to myself (not normal for me), arguing with other writers’ characters of Facebook (just as weird as it sounds), and ideas and dialog gets so far out there I wonder if I’ll ever be allowed in public again!

5. Library Wi-fi is great for NaNo word count updates…and that’s it

Libraries are great. Free Wi-fi at libraries is real great. But slow speeds and choppy connections means no music streaming and my plan to send my Write-Ins into the stratosphere through Google Hangouts On Air was a total failure. But, that’s OK. I hate seeing myself on camera anyway.

6. Blog posts are a great way to procrastinate

Need I say more? Yes, this was me procrastinating. But to be fair, I’ve made my 1700 for today.

NaNoWriMo Live Writing

Like last year, I’m allowing anyone who wishes to, to follow me as I type out my NaNoWriMo novel: LIVE!

The Google Doc I’m using to write my NaNo novel is blank right now. But once Friday hits, you can click the link below and follow along as I write. Why, you ask?

Mostly because I love Google Docs (or Google Drive) that much. And, any chance I can nerd it up just a little more, the better. So keep an eye out. Right now I’ve only set the Doc to be view-able. No comments and no editing. Don’t want you changing my word count on me. Or telling me how crappy a passage is.

American Dream: A NaNoWriMo Novel

As you can see, I’ve already begun the NaNo nerdy-ness.

Action Kills Your Novel

This is a comment I’m sure other writers will come at me with pitch forks screaming blood murder. But I’m sticking to my guns here. Action, more importantly, too much action, will kill your novel.

Let me explain…

Dialog versus Narration:

Current trends say that you should have some sort of even ratio of dialog to narration. As if by some miracle, having the characters tell the reader what’s going on frees the burden of “telling” from the author. Not true. If a character tells, it’s still telling and it’s still wrong.

Next, very few great books are written in dialog only. Most don’t even have a ratio coming anywhere CLOSE to even Steven. Why? Because the world does happen when people are talking. It’s teh author’s job to make the narration not FEEL like telling. It’s not the author’s job to get fat and lazy and let the characters “say” it and therefore walk away unscathed by the “show, don’t tell” police.

The To-Be Verb Being Verbed Out

This one I’ve commented on before. To be verbs are not bad, but they are shunned by most writers now. They think that by shoving action down the readers Optic Nerves, they will enjoy the novel more. Not true. Most authors use the To Be verb constantly. Why? Because it’s a stative verb. It tells what is or is not. If all your story does is throw things and scream, you kill the story.

This is a hold out from all the amateur teachings of “use more active verbs.” Which is true. One should always use more active verbs when possible. But once you know the rules, break them. This is an amateur rule. This is like someone telling you, always preheat the oven before you start mixing stuff. If you’re a chef, you’ll start that fricken oven whenever you need to.

Lulls are Essential

It’s rare in life that we live the life of an action hero 24 hours a day. Even John McClane had a day off. And the only way to truely feel FOR John, is to give us some reason to care. Guns blazing and bad guys dying is great. But without a reason to care, John’s just another action adventure cowboy.

Lulls, or what seem to count as lulls as of late, are necessary pieces of the puzzle. They aren’t lulls. They are story. That’s right STORY. Something far removed apparently from the lexicon. They are back story, they are character finding themselves, wondering about life and the world.

Charater Biographies: A NaNoWriMo How To

One of the quickest ways to get bogged down in “writer’s block” is to not know your characters. Not knowing your main characters leaves you (and your characters) speechless when push comes to shove. And there will be a lot of shoving in November. National Novel Writing Month is fun, but it can get…hectic.

How do you get through it?

I say character bios are the best way.

You probably know what a character bio is, but try and sit down and write one. Just try it. Go ahead I’ll wait…

See! What do you have? Birthplace? Age? Gender? Name? Occupation? Not much huh?

How about this:

Facebook Page: This might sound silly, but think about it. What do people put on their FB pages? Everything! And who doesn’t know FB already. I even had a friend of mine actually create a FB page for her main jerk character. She did it because everyone who read her story hated him and she wanted to play with us. It was a riot!

Plus, you get to know your character inside and out. Their desires, their “likes”, their friends, hometown, dislikes.

Conversations: Some of my writer friends actually have conversations with their characters in their head. Laugh as you will, it seems to work for them. Me, I recognize the borderline mental illness that comes with having lively conversations with imaginary friends. Then again, don’t all fiction writers do this to some extent?

Me? I actually write dialogs. I have my character talk to whoever or whatever I want. Just something, so I can get a sense of their voice. Without knowing your character’s voice, they will sound just like your narrator, and unless you’re writing first person, that’s a problem.

I also write long back stories. I don’t write actual back STORIES like friends of mine, but I take extensive notes that include everything from relatives to pets to regular irritations, loves, hates, and the like. Anything that comes to mind that builds my characters into living breathing individuals. See? I’m just as ill.

Note Cards and Separate Documents: Have all these bios surrounding you. Either on the way where you write most often or on your phone or on your computer so you can easily get to them when the going gets tough and the time gets going.

How do you write your Character Bios?

NaNoWriMo: How are you preparing?

Less than 4 weeks away before the official kick-off of the NaNoWriMo season. Of course, that doesn’t mean that NOTHING is happening between now and November 1st. OH NO! There’s prep!

So what do you do to prepare yourself for NaNoWriMo?

Here’s what I do:

1. Outlines: Whatever it is you want to call an outline. I don’t do the spider web or bubble designs for outlines. I write loads of notes.

My notes get written/typed out in a million different places and I still haven’t figured out the best means to my easy ends. I use Evernote for much of my phone note making. But I also use a small pocket notebook (the traditional paper kind), GTasks To-Do app that allows me to add reminder notifications, and Google Keep. I’ve attempted to use Scrivener on a large scale for my big products. It’s super handy for outlines and prepping for NaNoWriMo. Problem is, it has ZERO mobile component.

If I’m not at my computer and come up with a great idea, it CAN’T go into Scrivener. Period. So, as things get closer, I have to piece everything together. Not the best method. But it’s mostly because I’m still trying to find ways to get all my notes and writing in one place.

2. Friends and Writing Buddies: That’s right. Find others that can keep you motivated, help you along, and just generally provide pep talks when the times get…rocky. I already have 10 or so, which is twice as many as last year and the year before that I did it alone. Friendly competitions works well as a self-motivator.

3. NaNoWriMo Swag: Who can’t live with a little more stuff? Especially when that stuff is stickers, posters, t-shirts, and the like. I bought a friendly competition poster where all our names will go up and progress will be followed. Winner gets bragging writes. Since we’re all writers, bragging rights are hard to come by and well sought after.

4. Scheduling: This one might not seem obvious, but 1700 words a day for 30 days can take some effort. Now is the time to figure out when and how that’s going to happen. If you’ve got family (and most of us do), you’ll be spending time with them during the holiday weekend. That knocks several days off your list. Are you going to write late at night? Early in the morning? During breaks? In your sleep?

Since I’m a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, I’ve already scheduled my time into a bunch of Write-ins I’m hosting. But that doesn’t I’m writing then. I’ll be hosting those events. I have to find time elsewhere. Which I haven’t yet. EEK!

5. Candy: I need an endless supply of sugar and other bad for me stimulants. I’ve got buckets stacked to the ceiling waiting for day one. I’ll figure out what I’m going to do the next 29 days later.

Short Story Submissions

With a “lull” in my weekly to-do list that usually includes appointments with any one of my three volunteer positions, my full-time job, writing, editing, and spending time with my better half, I found time this weekend to join Duotrope and start submitting my short stories at a faster clip.

This weekend, I found a dozen places to send any one of my short stories. One short story made it to several places today. My poetry will also find their way into the slush piles of literary magazines around the world in the coming weeks!

Does that mean I’ll be published by year’s end? Doubtful. But it does mean shit just got serious. I’m done pretending to be an author. It’s time to BE an author.

Four years ago, I decided to write books. Three years ago my wife told me to put up or shut up. Two years ago, I put up, joined a critique group (now up to several critique groups). Last year I joined SouthWest Writers Association. This year, I’ve sent my first novel to more than a dozen agents, became a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo. I only have one thing left. PUBLICATION!