Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tidbit: Spinning


So there I was, writing along, la-de-dah-de-dah, all happiness and rainbows and oh-my-goodness-this-story-is-so-going-to-work types of thoughts running around in my head. I found a great historical tidbit. I shaped a love story around it. And shazam! Perfecto story idea. . .

Corruption in the Minneapolis police department forces out Officer THOMAS LUND. As the sole support for his widowed mother and younger brother, his hopes to pursue marriage with the woman he loves, nurse WILLA BRIGHTON, are now gone. When her aunt and uncle decide to move back to England, Willa must choose between an uncertain future with Thomas or remain in the security of family. The only chance Thomas has to stop Willa from leaving and end the vice in the police department just may cost him his life.

Sounds fan-freaking-tastic, right? Nope. Not so fast there, zippy pants. I got the big shut down on that idea. Can you guess why? Go ahead. I'll give you a minute.

If the following were any of your reasons, you win a plastic banana:
  • Not romantic enough
  • Corruption doesn't sell
  • Too dark
  • Not a fictional world that anyone would want to escape to
What to do? Throw away a finished synopsis/idea? Sob into my wubbie like an overgrown infant? Demand congress enact a new regulation that would negate and also tax readers that don't like my work?

Nope. Didn't do any of those. I simply pulled a media trick and re-spun the tale from a different angle. Here's the new copy:

WILLA BRIGHTON loves her work as a nurse and her beau THOMAS LUND, but both are about to be taken from her as she must move back to England with her family. If only Thomas would propose—but he can’t. As sole supporter for his widowed mother and younger brother, Thomas’s hopes to pursue marriage with Willa are permanently on hold—unless he can expose the corruption in the Minneapolis police department and regain his career as a captain in the force. 

See the difference? Same idea, characters, and plotline. I merely notched up the romance and toned down the crime/violence.

Takeaway Value: There's usually a way around a boulder in your path if you're willing to listen to feedback.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Books + Boats

Given the choice, I'd rather hang out at a library than pretty much anywhere else. Except in a castle, of course. But come to think of it, usually castles have a library, so nix that.

Anyway, here in Jotunheim, I mean Minnesota, our library system is pretty much your standard white bread. Shelves of books. Nice. Yawn.

And nothing at all like what New York City is about to get: a floating library. Not even kidding. It is housed on space aboard the historic Lilac Museum Steamship, berthed at Pier 25 on the Hudson River, September 6-October 3, 2014.

The main deck is transformed into an outdoor reading lounge. How sweet is that? In their own words:
"The Floating Library intends to recodify how we occupy public spaces by bringing activities that are typically confined within privileged institutional walls--such as reading, writing, researching, questioning and debating--to open space."

Sounds a little fluffy to me, but still, I'd love to go read a book on a ship's deck, how 'bout you?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pffft on Toleration

In the good old days, way back when I could walk alone to the 7-Eleven and score a large Slurpee without even worrying if I’d die from diabetes, it was easy to find a book. Big Gulp in hand, I’d toodle over to the library, scan the row of fiction, and pull down five or ten reads to hold me over until my next visit. All in all, sugary beverage included, it took about an hour. You would think with the advent of the internet, that task would be pared down to like thirty seconds.

Wrong-oh, Flapjack.

When I open up Amazon and delve in, I’m lucky to explore .000000000001% of what’s available in an hour, and that’s being optimistic. Did you know that Amazon adds a new eBook every 5 freaking minutes? The total skyrockets faster than the national debt…wait a minute. That is an exaggeration. The national debt cannot currently be matched. But seriously, the total number of titles is nearly 4 million and counting. Who can even begin to sift through that many?

Not me. Though I may pine for the old days, I know that’s not realistic because the genie is definitely out of the bottle and shaking his bootie in a frenzy. I propose a new site. Something elite. Something that only sells the best of the best in eBooks. Yes, that’s right. I am daring a huge raspberry farty noise in Amazon’s general direction even though they happen to carry my books. Call me intolerant. A hater, if you will. But the problem is that my books, as countless others, are lost in the cyber eBook swamp.

So, any wizards out there able to create a new, discriminating site carrying great titles that aren’t schlocky? Because I think I can direct a whole lot of business your way.


In the mean time, think I’ll go grab me a Slurpee for old time’s sake.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Want to Be an Infographic Wizard?

You know those sweet infographics that all the cool kids are using nowadays? Something like this:


Good news! You can be part of the cool kid club by skipping on over to Piktochart, an easy-to-use site where you can create your own graphic for absolutely anything. There's a small selection of free templates, and if you're really into this, you can pay to use some fancy ones. Go ahead. Give it a whirl and jazz up your next Facebook post or impress your boss with a snazzy Powerpoint pic.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

5 Writerly Lessons From the Greats

What comes to mind when you think of a writer? Eccentricity? OCD? Control freak? There are some traits that are common to creative types that to "normals" seem kind of weird, but doggone it, if that's what it takes to get your art in the marketplace, I say let's copy them. Here are some rituals that might be worth mimicking . . .

1. Get your butt out of bed.
This one is probably my least favorite, but there's no denying big names ranging from Mozart to Frank Lloyd Wright to Georgia O'Keeffe were all early risers. Even Hemingway endorsed writing at an early hour by saying, "There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write."

2. Be flexible about your workspace.
Jane Austen used to write in the family sitting-room, with her mother sewing next to her. Often she wrote on scraps of paper that could be hidden away when interrupted by visitors, proving it's not where you write . . . it's what you write.

3. Don't give up your day job.
TS Eliot worked at Lloyds bank. William Faulkner held a night shift at a power plant. Many of the greats held other jobs besides their writing, so quit your sulking just because you have to punch a time clock.

4. Slip into your hiking boots.
Tchaikovsky believed that he had to take a two hour walk -- exactly two hours. If he returned even a few minutes early, great misfortunes would befall him. I don't know about the misfortune part, but taking a short nature walk usually gets my creative juices flowing.

5. Java it up.
Beethoven measured out his beans carefully. Balzac drank fifty cups a day. Kierkegaard poured black coffee over a cup full of sugar. Eew. For whatever freakish reason, caffeine is the drug of choice for many artists.

I know. It sounds like I'm making all this stuff up, right? Well, I am a fiction writer, but nope . . . all this information is taken from the book Daily Rituals ~ How Artists Work written by Mason Currey. What kind of interesting rituals are you partaking of, hmmm?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Move Along, Folks . . . No Dead Horses Here

I've made the point time and time again that reading is a good idea, and in case you missed it check out:
So I won't be beating that dead horse. I'm assuming you’re convinced that it’s a great idea to download a few gazillion books onto your Kindle, park your heinie in a hammock, and are ready to start reading like a banshee. Yeah, I know. Right? Everyone knows banshees howl like nobodies business but are completely illiterate. It would be meaningless for one to look at a book—and unless you read critically, it will be for you as well.

You don’t learn the bassoon by going to an orchestra performance. You won’t become an expert bull wrangler by sitting in the stands of a rodeo. And you sure as shootin’ won’t figure out plumbing by hunkering down on a . . . okay, so you get my point. The best way to enhance your writing skills by reading is to dissect the piece. Here are some things to look for:

· How did the characters change from beginning to end?

· What events led to the big black moment?

· Can you identify the goals/motivations/conflicts of the protagonist and antagonist?

· How did the author use symbolism?

· Where and how was foreshadowing woven in?

· What traits/quirks made you relate to the characters?

Reading is important, but even more key is reading critically.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Will You Get Fined if You Don't Follow the Writerly Rules?

If you Google writing rules, you’ll discover scads of sites, all claiming to have the magical formula for stellar writing. They offer good ideas—some even great—but the thing about writing is that it’s not only subjective but somewhat fluid. And therein lies the problem:

Rules change all the time.

Semi-colons used to be in vogue. Currently they’re naughty-naughty. Head hopping (changing POV’s) throughout a scene was trendy. Try it now, and you’ll be crucified. What’s a writer to do? How do you know when you’ve crossed the line into no-one-will-read-this territory?

Research.

No, you don't have to slip on a white jacket and goofy-butt goggles or enter any BSL-4 labs. Here are just a few ideas:
  • Attend writing workshops. 
  • Go to writer’s conferences. 
  • Join some online writing groups, for crying out loud.
You need to know what rules must be adhered to and which ones are okay to jazz up with a feather boa. The bottom line is that your writing needs to be easy to understand by the reader, no matter what rules you’re following.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Final Word on Plotting

There isn’t one. There won’t be. Scholars and word nerds will continue to peddle their versions of Plotting-For-Dummies and You’re-An-Idiot-If-You-Don’t-Plot-This-Way for centuries to come. Unless, of course, the zombie apocalypse really does happen.

Then we're all screwed.

Whatever, plotting doesn’t have to be scary. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. If you like to write scenes on sticky notes and line up those little soldiers on a wall in your house, then take down the family portraits and go for it. If you’re the analytical type that needs flowcharts and databases, then power up the ol’ hard drive and create files until dawn.

How you go about organizing your plot 
isn’t nearly as critical as what you put into your plot. 

Instead of getting all bent out of shape about which plotting methodology to use, shift the bulk of your concern to this single question:

What is the story you really want to tell?

Breakdown that story into a series of cause/effect scenes, and there’s your plot for you, all tied up with a red ribbon.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

New Camera + Road Trip = Shenanigans

Do you need a vacation? Hop in the car with me and let’s go . . .


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tidbit: Sequels


I was toying with the idea of writing a sequel for my upcoming regency romance, BRENTWOOD'S WARD. Okay. Who am I fooling? I started it and got about halfway through before I got the brilliant idea of asking the editor if they'd be interested. The answer? Nope. It seems sequels aren't necessarily the big hot sellers I thought they were. . . which got me snooping around the ol' interwebs in search of sequels to blockbusters that hardly anyone knows about. See if you've read -- or even heard of -- any of these titles:

THE STARLIGHT BARKING
By Dodie Smith

This is the follow-up story to 101 Dalmations, furthering the adventures of Pongo.





LITTLE MEN
By Louisa May Alcott

The story covers six months in the life of the students at Plumfield, a school run by Professor Friedrich and Mrs. Josephine Bhaer. The idea of the school is first suggested at the very end of part two of "Little Women", when Jo inherited the estate from her Aunt March.

THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
By Rudyard Kipling

Yeah. You'll never guess what this one is a sequel to. It features five stories about Mowgli and three unrelated stories, all but one set in India.





There's also SCARLETT, the book after GONE WITH THE WIND; 
THE BOOK OF THE GREEN PLANET, second after E.T.;
and THE LAST RINGBEARER, an unofficial add-on to the LORD OF THE RINGS series.

So, have you read any of those? I haven't, either. Nor am I rushing out the door to scoop up a copy from Barnes & Noble. Hmm . . . methinks my editor is a wise, wise woman.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Twain's Writerly Words of Wisdom

I once made the mistake of reading the entirety of Huckleberry Finn out loud to my boys. Sheesh. I have permanent scars on my tongue from verbalizing a metric ton of old south slang and twang.

But dang. That man can write.

Here are a few nuggets of advice from Mr. Samuel Longhorne Clemens . . .

A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. 

The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

An author should:
  • Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
  • Use the right word, not its second cousin.
  • Eschew surplusage.
  • Not omit necessary details.
  • Avoid slovenliness of form.
  • Use good grammar.
  • Employ a simple, straightforward style.
Great words from a great writer. . . but I still don't recommend reading Huck Finn out loud.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Discernment: It's a Grown-Up Thing

"When you’re just starting out, you’re at the bottom of everything going on. When you’re at the bottom you need every opportunity you can to climb higher. Each opportunity opens new doors, builds your experiences, and can help create new connections. But as you grow in your career, you need to instead focus on producing quality work. More opportunities later in your career can hinder, rather than improve, your ability to do focused work."           ~ Liz Danzico

No matter what it is you're pursuing, it's tough to figure out where you're at on the spectrum of experience. Oh, it's easy enough to pinpoint when you're a newbie rookie, but when exactly does one cross over into semi-professionalism? Is it a dollar amount? A certain number of books published? Getting asked to speak or being sought after for endorsements? Or is it something more nebulous like a confident state of mind? 

Yes, yes, and yepper. All those ingredients go into creating a professional writer. Taking on different writing challenges helps you gain experience. Case in point: I started out writing poetry and devotionals, moved into time travel, and settled in historical, though I've taken breaks to pen a contemporary mystery and some non-fiction. Trying various formats is fun and stretching, making growth as a writer almost a given, but at some point, it's time to buckle down and focus/achieve in one particular area. 

The most difficult thing about being a writer is learning when to stop saying yes and start saying no. Tweet That.

It's hard to turn down offers. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the good for the best, and that goes for all of life, not just writing.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The One Secret All Authors Share

Want to be part of the "in" crowd of writers? Want to find out the single most important thing all authors have in common? Want to know what sets apart those who've been published from all the wannabes who have a book idea?

Finish your manuscript.

That's it. That simple. Just finish the dang thing. Don't re-write the first half over and over in a useless quest to achieve perfection before moving on because here's a newsflash for you, Hoss. . .

It ain't gonna happen.

You're wasting your time. Quit over-thinking and restructuring your story. Pound out a rough draft of the entire thing from start to finish. It won't be perfect. Shoot, it might not even be good, but it will have two little words that writing posers will never achieve: THE END.

So suck it up and get out there and write until the whole thing is done. The sense of accomplishment is worth pushing past all the fear of how crappy your writing is. Trust me. Even the greats think their first drafts aren't fit for birdcage lining.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Nerd Problems: Spoilers

I planned to do a Fun Friday vlog today. I really did. Creating a regency era bonnet out of a lampshade, no less. But (and I've always got a big but) between a dog that just had surgery to remove her puppy making parts and other puppies we're visiting with, the doggone day just kind of . . . ummm . . . went to the dogs.

So enjoy this:


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tidbit: Websites


Every author needs a website. Okay, so not really need as in must have water, oxygen and chocolate to survive. More like it's a great idea to have an internet presence to broadcast the word about your books. Plus readers like to find out more about the person behind their favorite characters.

That being said, I just cancelled my website. There is no longer a www.mmgriep.com

If I were technical enough, I would've put a flashy warning on that page that it was about to self-destruct, but dang. . . I can't even figure out which remote to use to turn on my TV. So, mmgriep died a quick and merciless death today. But never fear, for there's a new and improved site for you to visit. Drum roll, please.


Yes! Bells! Whistles! Tutu wearing dancing gorillas! Everything that you may have liked about my old site is even better on my new site.

But don't get too attached. I'll be jazzing up the format soon, though the name will now and forevermore remain the same. Amen.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cut the Fat

Don't worry. I'm not going all nazi-diet-commando on you, guilting you out for eating that quart of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey last night. The fat I'm talking about is in your writing. Whether you're penning a novel or a note to Great Aunt Gertrude, the words you put down on paper matter because some poor slob has to read them.

How exactly can you trim the waste off your writing? Here are a few tips, little cowboy . . .

Cut the description. 
I know this goes against the grain of every creative writing class you've ever taken. But really. If your nametag doesn't say John Steinbeck or Carl Sandburg, then chop off 90% of what you've written or readers will gloss over all those words you painstakingly covered the page with.

Step away from the dictionary.
Multi-syllabic words don't make you look any smarter than a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. Trust me on this one. Big words don't impress people, they just annoy them.

There's enough monotony in real life.
Readers don't need to see your character pull off every detail like getting into the car, turning the key, revving the engine, releasing the parking break, pushing in the clutch, yada-yada.

Get to the point, Sparky, and that point better involve a flaming helicopter crash.
Don't waste time on backstory. Keep your tale moving forward, from one crisis to the next.

You don't have to answer every question.
In fact, you shouldn't, not until the very end. Readers like to figure things out on their own. You don't have to be writing a mystery to engage in a little mystery.

Incorporate these techniques into your writing and you'll have a svelte looking manuscript in no time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Not All the Voices in a Writer's Head Are Characters

Writers are psychotic little mammals. All wired up and worried about contracts and sales numbers and does-this-book-make-my-butt-look-big? I've dealt with rejection, doubt, and fear here at Writer Off the Leash, but there's one issue I haven't yet scraped onto a petri dish and viewed under a writerly microscope. . . until now, that is.

Guilt.

We've all been there. Don't tell me you haven't got an internal mother inside your head pointing her finger at you. There's a plethora of things an author feels guilty about, everything from all the money you wasted getting a doctorate in osteopathic medicine and here you are writing Amish Zombie Romances, or that your family is destined to eat frozen pizza for dinner yet again. Okay, so maybe you don't feel guilty about those things, but there are common anxiety causing situations that most writers face.

Top 5 Guilt Inducing Scenarios

An overwhelming amount of regret for a sub-par word count.
Sometimes when you sit down to write, words clog into tangly globs, kind of like my stupid garbage disposal that keeps backing up. You feel bad because you know you're capable of more, but for whatever cosmic reason, the ol' creative juices just aren't flowing.

Shame weighs heavy on your shoulders when you think of the poor slobs out there in Nine-to-Five land.
Others eek out a living by the sweat of their brow, clocking 8-10 hours of back-breaking labor while you park your royal heinie on a cushioned office chair whenever you dang well feel like it.

Lack of a regular paycheck makes you feel a metric ton load of disgrace.
If you got paid by the word, this wouldn't be a problem. But it is. This kind of work doesn't bring immediate financial benefits, so there's not a whole lot to show for it up front . . . which creates tension.

You landed a contract and your critique partner didn't.
I hate it when this happens. There are so many fantastic writers out there who deserve to be published, so why did an editor scoop up my story and not theirs?

You should hate what you're doing like every self-respecting employee on the face of the earth.
But you don't. You love creating worlds and characters and super cool car chases that end in fiery explosions. But everyone else complains 24/7 about their drudgery at work, and though you try, you can't quite work up a single "drudgery" emotion to relate to them.

And that, my friends, is only the tip of the guilt iceberg. So, what's a writer to do with all this angst?

GUILT SOLUTIONS:

  • Ignore all the naysayers and joy-crushers who heap coals of you're-having-way-too-much-fun on your head.
  • Look at your writing as a  long-term investment, not a get-rich-quick money making scheme.
  • Incorporate a paradigm shift: writing involves a LOT of thinking, so just because your fingers aren't flying over the keyboard, that doesn't mean you're not working.
  • Keep in mind that creativity takes time. Michelangelo didn't paint the Sistine Chapel in a weekend.
  • Make a to-do list and cross items off as you finish them so that you can see what you're accomplishing.

And always remember: the act of pursuing a dream tends to make a lot of people cranky because they didn't have the guts or stamina to pursue theirs. Don't let them steal your joy.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Dedication

I'm frequently asked who I'm going to dedicate my next book to . . . mostly by loser family members who are vying for position on the front page yet have never read any of my books to begin with. But today's query got me thinking about book dedications. What do they really mean? What are they all about? Is it merely a badge of honor to one up somebody at a cocktail party?

From a reader's perspective, yeah, pretty much. Readers want to know if they happen to know the name on the front page, or if they've really hit the lottery, if that name is their very own. After a quick looksie and discovering neither, they move on to the story and forget all about it.

An author, however, generally anguishes over a dedication. How does one narrow the field to a special few? Who does an author single out? Usually it's:

  • someone near and dear to their heart
  • a person instrumental in the writing of the story
  • devoted to someone they admire

Yeah, the list goes on, but those are the top three. Besides a name, some authors also divulge why they chose that person, and others only hint at a name. Here are some great examples:

You know how it is. You pick up a book, flip to the dedication, and find that, once again, the author has dedicated a book to someone else and not to you.

Not this time.

Because we haven’t yet met/have only a glancing acquaintance/are just crazy about each other/haven’t seen each other in much too long/are in some way related/will never meet, but will, I trust, despite that, always think fondly of each other….

This one’s for you.

~ Taken from Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys


For Colin Firth:
You're a really great guy but I'm married, so I think we should just be friends.
~ Taken from Austenland by Shannon Hale

Hi dad!
**waves**
~ Taken from The Selection by Kiera Cass

To grandma for being my first editor and giving me the best writing advice I've ever received: "Christopher, I think you should wait until you're done with elementary school before worrying about being a failed writer."
~ The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

To my wonderful readers: Sorry about that last cliffhanger. Well, no, not really. HAHAHAHA. But seriously, I love you guys.
~ The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

And my absolute favorite is from Tad Williams, author of the Otherland series:

Book 1 / City of Golden Shadow:
This Book is dedicated to my father Joseph Hill Evans with love.
Actually Dad doesn’t read fiction, so if someone doesn’t tell him about this, he’ll never know.

Book 2 / River of Blue Fire:
This Book is dedicated to my father Joseph Hill Evans with love.
As I said before, Dad doesn’t read fiction. He still hasn’t noticed that this thing is dedicated to him. This is Volume Two – let’s see how many more until he catches on.

Book 3 / Mountain of Black Glass:
This is still dedicated to you-know-who, even if he doesn’t.
Maybe we can keep this a secret all the way to the final volume.

Book 4 / Sea of Silver Light:
My father still hasn’t actually cracked any of the books – so, no, he still hasn’t noticed. I think I’m just going to have to tell him. Maybe I should break it to him gently.
“Everyone here who hasn’t had a book dedicated to them, take three steps forward. Whoops, Dad, hang on there for a second ...”

As for me, I haven't decided yet who I'm going to dedicate my upcoming release to, but I'm thinking about raffling it off at the next family reunion or possibly accepting bribes. 

Is that wrong?
 
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