Friday, August 31, 2012

Liebster Award

Well! I've just been nominated for the Liebster Award, an award for small blogs (less than 200 followers) given by bloggers to bloggers for bloggers. It's a way for bloggers to 'pass it forward' to one another. The dear Dapper Lass nominated me for this honor, and I'm thrilled and pleased and humbled by it. Thank you!


Upon nomination, the nominee must do the following:

  1. Post eleven things about yourself
  2. Answer the eleven questions from the person who nominated you (mine are at the bottom of this post)
  3. Choose eleven people to nominate (don't forget to let them know!)
  4. Follow the nominator and visit at least three of the other nominees

So, here goes!

  1. I've wanted to be an author since I was eleven years old, but I've been a bookworm from the moment I learned to read. I used to be 'that girl' who carried my dad's Complete Works of Jack London around in the fifth grade. It probably weighed half as much as me.
  2. I love to paint. Oils, not acrylics. I can sit absorbed with a painting for hours, just working on a single part of the final piece.
  3. I work at the Georgia Renaissance Festival and have done so for 7 years. Even when the season is closed I have all my costuming with me, just in case. I've been to three other Renaissance Festivals around the US.
  4. I love tea. I have a whole cupboard dedicated to it. Probably more than I should. But I can't help it. Must have more tea.
  5. Someday I want a library with a rolley ladder.
  6. I love classic rock and live music. I may have already lost some hearing as a result.
  7. I want to dance ballet again someday.
  8. I've been a roadie.
  9. I love driving on the interstate through downtown at night, when the skyscrapers rear around me in gold and blue and scarlet light. No I didn't mean to make that rhyme.
  10. I need green. My favorite season is spring, and I hate winter. Maybe it's just the cold (I hate being cold) but I mostly feel depressed when I see everything die back. I need the woods and the life that is in them.
  11. Last one...I have a thing about roses.

Now for the eleven questions!

  1. What's your favorite thing about fall? -- I love the change that occurs in the smell and feel of the air, like the boding of some great beginning.
  2. What is your favorite book? -- Oh dear, what a question! I'll divide it in parts. My favorite most influential book is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. My favorite book that I read every year is Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip. My favorite series is the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. I guess that's cheating, but what can I say?
  3. Do you prefer a traditional book or an e-book? -- Definitley traditional. You can't beat the smell of a good book or the way the pages feel or the ability to just hold it in your hands.
  4. What's your favorite recipe? -- Cherry O' Cream Pie. A Mitchell family tradition! I could eat a whole pan of that stuff... 
  5. Do you drink tea or coffee? -- Both, but mostly tea. I seem to drink coffee in the summer (oddly) and tea all year round. But neither for caffeine. I just like to have a hot drink at any time of the day. Though I only take coffee one way: mostly cream and sugar.
  6. What's your favorite day to write? -- I don't think I have a favorite day to write, but I do love writing in the morning and all through the afternoon. If it is good enough to absorb me for hours, it's probably going to be a pretty good piece.
  7. Why did you start blogging? -- I started blogging, honestly, for my resume. But I enjoy it now as its own entity. It gives me a chance to think and describe and connect as well as share with my readers all the things I know, have learned, or would like to learn about literature and publishing.
  8. What do you think is the hardest part of blogging? -- Definitely consistency. As stated in my last blog post (The Hunger Diaries) there is always something to write about, but whether or not we make the time, take the time, or even think to do it is hard. My posts used to be every 6 months to a year apart. Only when I scheduled it rigorously and forced it to become a habit did I get a control of my consistency.
  9. What are you currently reading? -- I'm currently rereading The Lord of the Rings, but once I finish Fellowship I'm going to start reading The Hobbit to prepare for the movie coming out in December. So excited!!!
  10. What's your favorite holiday? -- Probably Christmas. I love getting together with my family, cooking, giving gifts, and finding a warm respite from the cold of the season.
  11. What are you going to do after this? -- Classwork, probably. Or go drink tea. Maybe both!

On to the nominations!

  1. 455 Below -- A blog about science fiction literature and the theories found therein.
  2. I Wish I Were... -- A personal blog about college life and transitioning in the world.
  3. Divine Baking -- Recipes and cooking. Absolutely incredible desserts!
  4. Travel Your Days Away -- Travels through Italy.
  5. Vagabond Voice -- Reviews of books, short fiction, film, video games, and others.
  6. Renfaire Pictorial -- An insight into Renaissance Fairs everywhere.
  7. Outlandish Musings -- A blog on writing, art, and the artist life.
  8. V for Veritas -- Children's literature, industry media and updates, art.
  9. The Big Storm Picture -- Gorgeous storm chaser photography!
  10. Pink Dragonfly -- A blog on cake decorating and crafting.
  11. Catscott -- The world of food and literature as seen from an illustrator's point of view.

And my eleven questions for the nominees:

  1. What is your favorite comfort food?
  2. If you could meet any author (living or dead), who would it be?
  3. Why do you like to write?
  4. What is your dream job?
  5. Fondest smell?
  6. Do you have any penpals?
  7. If you had one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
  8. What can you see right above your computer?
  9. Favorite type of music?
  10. Red or blue? And why?
  11. What is the most influential book you've ever read?

That's that! Thank you so much!

The Hunger Diaries

I've recently been reading (working my way: it's funny how all that 'life' stuff catches up with you to ensure you never finish something on the first read-through) an article in a copy of the New Yorker by Mavis Gallant. The article contains exerpts from the diary she kept while travelling through Spain in 1952, a starving artist with an endless well of images around her. The language is beautiful and raw, and she manages to write everything she sees, from scenery to people urinating in the street, in such away as to be captivating.

The funny thing is, reading these entries, I can see how I, for instance, or any number of people who may find themselves walking a similar route in her shoes, would see all the same scenes, all the same people, all the great swath of colors and life...and could write nothing at all.

We don't take advantage of the images around us. Or we see them, smile, think that'd be a good scene, and then forget all about it. I even carry a scrap of notebook and a pen with me most everywhere, and it lies empty. Is this laziness? Is this a lack of habit? Is it that our minds are too obsessed with everything else that goes in to day to day life that we can't stop and see the stories?

Whereas Ms. Gallant writes "Gray stone houses, balconies, trolley lines, dust. Like a bourgeois part of Paris suddenly deserted, disappearing under grit and sand." Barcelona in March.

Gallant is the epitome of a daring artist. In 1951 she left a comfortable job as a journalist and moved to Europe to write fiction. Did she have any connections abroad? Did she have any money saved up? Did she have any idea how she was going to live? I don't know...from her diaries, it sounds as if there is a negative answer to each of those questions. But it didn't stop her. Europe, for her, was where the stories were, and Europe was where she would go.

Perhaps that is something that allowed her to write as she did. Perhaps Montreal where she lived before with her comfortable job and her day-to-day life afforded no time or inspiration in which to write. She could have felt herself too close to the imagery around her to be able to write about it. For certain, picking up out of nowhere and moving to another country would give one perspective, to say the least. And if she had little job beyond her pen (she was indeed writing fiction for The New Yorker and teaching English on the side while she waited for the payment to wire through), why, I bet she would be writing nonstop. But here we find published not short stories about Paris and the fashion of the age or statements about European politics or playing cards...we find personal entries about life in Spain, living hand to mouth, looking at everything all the time as a potential piece of beauty.

At the border, 1952: "An armed guard in gray, a church, a wild rocky coast on which rushes a steel sea . . . Fragile, feathery fruit trees in pink."

Variously in her writings it is clear that Gallant lives a stretched existence. She cannot get enough food, feels sick and tired. And yet still she writes. Madrid, April: "The Monte de Piedad [a pawnshop] is run like a bank, big, efficient, and clean. I part with my typewriter for fifteen hundred pesetas . . . Beside me on the bench is an old woman with that straight, strained gray hair they have, hugging her sewing machine. I smile at her, but I realize she is close to crying."

Giving up all that you have just to survive.

Who among us would have, at this point, simply come home? Throughout the rest of the diary entries she alludes to her struggles without saying anything directly. In order to eat dinner, she sells her watch at the pawnshop. She only reveals this when she says she glances at her wrist, "forgetting the watch is gone." And at that point you wonder...even if she wanted to come home, could she have?

Often our simplest writing is done when we think no one is looking. Is that the best writing, because it is most clearly us? Or does Ms. Gallant simply always stay on point when she writes, no matter who or on what it may be?

"I can't write to anyone. At the moment, I haven't the postage, but, even if I had, what to say? I am not pitying myself, because I chose it. Evidently this is the way it has to be. I am committed. It is a question of writing or not writing. There is no other way. If there is, I missed it." The answer is given. She cannot 'go home'. There is no turning back.

The diaries end abruptly and satisfyingly, but in a rather grey, tired way, like victory at the end of an almost impossible battle that has gone on too long and too hard. Like a refugee suddenly handed a glass of milk and a PB&J. The trail to that point left no argument in the following of it. But it is truly more of a battle in endurance than anything else. You have no choice but to continue.

You can find the diary entries here if you are a subscriber to The New Yorker. You might also be interested in the blog post written by Jon Michaud in response.

Mavis Gallant. The Hunger Diaries. July 9th & 16th, 2012. The New Yorker. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

This morning I really didn't want to get out of bed to come write this...I thought, oh, I don't technically have to be up until 11:00am...I could really splurge and just lie here and doze with my cozy socks on...I could really use the extra sleep. Maybe I'll just...

Then the little voice at the back of my head, the writer voice, snapped in. Imagine a kind of sergeant voice here: You're not a real writer if you don't get up and take advantage of that time!!! This isn't an option!!! Move move move!!! GOOOOOOOOOO! (This is a dramatization. No sergeants were hurt in the making of this blog post.)

So here I am, awake (ish) and writing. Something. There isn't even a title. Which, as I open up my document file that contains my newest book-in-progress, aptly titled "Untitled"...I bump unwittingly upon a bubble of inspiration. How to title your book.

Ahhh, an oldie but a goodie. And the answer to this? The key that will solve all your artistic problems and give you unending insight into the best summation and hook for your book that will ever be?

I don't know. I haven't even figured it out. I could list the number of titles I've been through for my other books, and how often they've changed, been scratched out, even switched up, but it would probably make my server crash. Because we have to be honest: everyone says "don't judge a book by its cover". Well, we do, don't we? If we're not specifically looking for a certain book or a certain author, if we're just browsing, we look at the covers, don't we? Sure, we read the synopsis on the back briefly or skim the pages on the inside (take a quick sniff of that good book smell), but really the deciding factor after those initial judgements come down to cover art and title. If the book has a really intriguing illustration and a captivating title, then by all means, give it a go.

The title is the initial 'hook' into your novel or short story. Of course it is, because it's the very first word or phrase that the reader will see. If it's dull and boring, the reader will assume your book is dull and boring. If it's awkward, the assumption will be your book is awkward, or weird, or just plain uninteresting. If it's too brassy or dramatic, your work will be labeled 'afflicted'. If their eyes slide past it in a row of other book spines lined up at attention for consideration, then you haven't hooked the imagination. That title has got to stand out and say "You have to read me. Your life will never be the same." But it has to do it like a seasoning-- not too much, not too little. Just enough to enhance what is already inside.

So, writers alike, how do we do it? Well...I'm working on that. At the moment with my newest book ("Untitled") I've made three slots to set in titles as they come to me. Only one is filled at the moment, and while it is my first instinct and the only option to arise for me, I'm not entirely content with it. Granted, I'm never entirely content with my titles until I've forced myself to give in and surrender to them, but this one in particular still strikes me as inadequate. It seems cliche, done-before, overworked, and obviously fairy-tale-esque. Not good. The rewritten fairy tale is an old hat trick. I may be doing it in an entirely new way, to my mind, and I'm going to have to convince a publisher that I'm doing it in an entirely new way, so that means that my title has to be completely different. Not reworked or skewed. It has to be utterly original.

Considering that "there is nothing new under the sun", I think I've picked a difficult job.

So I googled it. And lo and behold, what should come up first of all, but a Literary Agent's website with a page called "How to Title Your Book". How handy. You can read Rachelle Gardner's suggestions here.

She's got some good suggestions and reminders. For one, your title has to fit with your genre and your emotional feel. If you've got a fictional tragic book, you don't need your title to sound like a self-help comedy. And if you don't know what your genre or your niche is, you'll have difficulty fitting a title in with it. So do your research and figure out where your book would sit in a bookstore or library. Once you know that, you'll be able to find a title that matches that tone.

I liked this agent's suggestion of going through and finding books in your genre and age range with titles that you like. One, it prevents against the horrible realization that you've entitled your book with the same strip as another book. It also gets those mind muscles working and gives you a chance to see what kind of titles publishers have liked. Important note: the title is not the important thing in the query process. Most agents don't read the titles, and many publishers may even change the title in the publishing process. So it's not a kill-all at the submission stage, but you want to have a good feel for it and a good first impression. It's like wearing a suit to an interview rather than a pair of jeans.

Not all of the ideas this agent suggests are up my alley of attempting. I probably would not do the free-association project. Sounds too much like a creative writing class exercise or an icebreaker. But it could work for you, if you've never done free-association before or if you've liked it in the past. I'll probably morph her idea and just start writing down titles, descriptions, ideas. The thesaurus is certainly one of my best friends.

Give it a go. And if you find a good method for titling your piece, comment below and let me know!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Hobbit, 2012

My most recent foray into Middle-Earth got me to Weathertop...yeah, that scene gives me the willies in the movie, but I had forgotten just how scary it is in the book, too! Yet again Tolkien's minimalist writing style allows the imagination to fill in the details that he leaves hanging just above your head, ready to grasp, and if you've got a vivid, television-style imagination like mine, it'll put you under the covers waiting for the closet doors to close again. Gah, Nazgul...where'd he come up with those! If Hobbits came from a hole in his carpet, I almost shudder to think what may have inspired the Ring Wraiths...maybe a dirty microwave.

All joking aside, though, I'm just getting more and more geektastically excited for The Hobbit coming out in December. Midnight showing, anyone? Oh yes! I'll wait in line all day if I have to in order to go see that! But recently a friend put up just a section of video blog by Peter Jackson, and after tracking down the Youtube source, I found a full hour and a half of Production Blogs about the filming and creation of the first two movies-- by the way, rumor has spread that the movies will be in trilogy style, but this production blog mentioned nothing of the sort. After the filming of the second movie had finished, they called it a wrap and packed everything up for good. So I'm wondering if that wasn't just rumormongering...anyone with any proof of either side, please feel free to comment below!

In any case, I've never been more entranced by a production film before. Usually you see these things on the 'making of' section of the second disk in your dvd package, and at that point, having already seen the movie, most people don't watch them. But putting them out before the movie is released, now, that's genius. My anticipation has just been building and building all week. If you want to watch them, there are Parts 1-6, Part 7, and Part 8.

The production blogs give you a personal insight into Peter Jackson's work and thoughts, as well as of the artists and many producers, backups, tech-guys, Weta Workshops employees and artists, makeup artists, sound and light techs, drivers, wranglers, actors, creative producers, stunt doubles, size doubles, caterers, truck drivers...the list goes on and on! You really get an idea of how huge the scope of this movie making is-- not just any movie, but a Middle-Earth movie on a Middle-Earth scale! There are so many people invovled it makes my head whirl...

You get to hear from or about Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis (who is involved in directing the film as well), the 13 dwarves ((L-r) Jed Brophy as Nori, Dean O'Gorman as Fili, Mark Hadlow as Dori, James Nesbitt as Bofur, Peter Hambleton as Gloin, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield (center), Ken Stott as Balin, John Callen as Oin, Stephen Hunter as Bombur, William Kircher as Bifur, Adam Brown as Ori and Aidan Turner as Kili), the artists John Howe and Alan Lee (heroes of mine), briefly Elijah Wood and others from the original Lord of the learn about the costumes, the prosthetics, the technology as they film for 3D (and watching Alan Lee and John Howe draw in 3D...? There are no words...!), the site search through a half dozen helicopters, the rebuilding of Hobbiton, the workshops in which they create the world of Middle Earth...

Handsome bunch, aren't they? And these are just part of the main cast. Each one has a height double that has a duplicate outfit/makeup/prosthetics...not to mention Bilbo and his height double, and all the other characters and cast members and creatures of Hobbiton and the Misty Mountains, the Goblins and their King, Radagast the Brown, Gollum, and others. With Sir Ian McKellan as Gandalf and Martin Freeman as Bilbo, what a party we shall have!!

Suffice to say, I truly cannot wait for this epic to be released. Just as The Lord of the Rings changed literature forever, and then as a followup the movie triology changed movie-making and also movie-viewing forever, so shall The Hobbit turn heads and alter lives. I can only imagine the young folk of this generation who missed The Lord of the Rings hubub, and who will now be introduced to the chronological first in the Baggins' tales for the very first time. It gives me chills...The Lord of the Rings utterly altered my life and gave me the insight into what it was I wanted to do with it-- to write great tales and stories and to delve into dreams just as thoroughly as dwarves into mountains or hobbits into hillsides. What will The Hobbit (2012) do for those who are waiting...?

Watch the trailer here!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Getting it Done

Day before yesterday I moved back in for my final year of undergraduate studies...this is it, folks. The big one. The one you've all been waiting for.

I have so many people ask me if I'm going to teach with my English major, but that's not the goal. And most of the people here at university in the same department as me are continuing on to graduate school-- whether because they want to teach, or because they have some other plan that requires a higher degree, because they just want a Masters or a PhD for the sake of having it, or maybe because they just don't know what to do or how to do it yet.

That's not me. I'm done with school. I love to learn, but I'm tired of the three ring circus of it (and it is a circus, because I have never learned anywhere else how to more effectively juggle eighty things at one time that could all potentially be full-time at a given point). It's been a blast and a wild ride and I've loved it. But I'm ready for the next step. I'm so excited to have a horrible little apartment and a new job, whatever it may be, and to be out on my own and figure it all out. It'll be hard at first, perhaps it always will be, but I can't wait.

In any case, that's not the point of this post. For those of you who are still in school, and even for those of you who aren't and have full-time jobs already, this post is about making time.

It's really hard to work everything in the day. There never seem to be enough hours between sunrise and sunset, and I've seen my fair share of both from every angle you can imagine to know the truth of this statement. And yet we try to cram as much as possible into every single minute. However, there is one thing I'm learning that I think will prove to be the savior for those of us harried and those of us busy.

I'm a scheduler-- I like to make charts and diagrams and keep my agenda by my desk with everything written in it for a year to come. It helps me to make sure that I don't forget anything with this goldfish brain of mine (actually that 2-second memory goldfish thing was disproved), and it also helps me make sure things get done. If left to my own devices, I would not accomplish half of what I do, because, I like anyone else, love to lie around and read and laze and drink a cup of tea. Which is nice, and must also be scheduled. SCHEDULED. Always. I also tend to get up to do something, see something else that needs to be done, go do that, and then forget what it was I got up to do in the first place. Ever walk into a room and stop, wondering what it was you needed there, only to have to walk out again bewildered? Yes, that's me. I'm having senior moments at the ripe old age of 21.

I digress...again. It's turning out I need a schedule for this post.

Right now I am digressing to you during my 'writing' hour. Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday I now have a 'class' in my block of time that is set aside strictly for blogs, updates, and writing my book. I also left an extra hour on the other end for leeway should I have more to say than I originally thought. Which will probably be likely at least in terms of my book, which I have not worked on since my first huge push at it. Shameful. But the tide is turning, work shall be done!

This is really the trick behind getting it done, whether you have a full-time job or are a full-time student, or even if you're just a part-timer of either or both. Whatever you've got going on, if you don't make time for writing, you won't write. Saying, oh, I'll get to it in my free time-- it'll never happen. Because your free time will either become scheduled with company or going to the movies or whatever it may be, your free time will disappear in a sudden rush of business, or you'll get to your free time and the last thing you'll want to do is work some more.

Set aside an hour, two hours, even half an hour in which to jot some things down. Where you can take your typewriter, keyboard, or pen in hand and do nothing but write. Maybe all you'll do is stare at the paper for an hour. Maybe you'll write a few pages. Maybe you'll write a few chapters. But that time was your muse's time, and it will be put to good work. All writers know the value of staring into space. Thoughts may be vacant, but the brain is working. Or perhaps it only seems to the outside world that nothing is going on inside, but really an entire universe is being painted with a two-haired brush, layer by layer, thread by thread. That time is precious and we must not let it get hijacked by anything else.

Make your time. If you're not in the custom of writing out a schedule, simply set your alarm an hour and a half earlier than you usually do in the morning. Keep your writing journal on top of your computer and make yourself write in it for a half hour before you're allowed to open the laptop or turn it on. Or keep it by your bed and have it be the last thing you do before you go to sleep. As busy as we all are, we who do the extra job must make that time until a day when that extra time becomes our job. Perhaps it will never happen and our writing schedule will always be to 'make time'. But if that's the case, we'll be darn good at it, won't we?

Friday, August 17, 2012


Here's a good one for you potential authors to think about.

Copyright: it's the thing that makes your work yours. No one can take it from you, no one can say they did it first, and no one can snippet off bits of your ideas for their own. Ye Olde Wikipedia defines copyright as: "a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time. Generally, it is 'the right to copy', but also gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other related rights. It is an intellectual property form (like the patent, the trademark, and the trade secret) applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete."

There are several types of copyright-- there's poorman's copyright, purchased copyright, and published copyright (note that these are not actual jargon but Caitlynisms. Just so you know.)

Poorman's Copyright:

This form of copyright is the simplest and most obvious. You have a copyright on something because you have it. Now, it used to be that people would put a paper copy of whatever it was they wanted copyrighted in the mail to themselves. Recipes, poems, books, the secret to life, the universe, and everything-- if you have an original copy of it in your hot little hands, you've got a poorman's copyright. These days, with everything being so electronic, just having a file (or many saved, edited files showing the growth and transformation of the piece) on your computer counts. Anyone who genuinely has the work will have the copyright. And chances are, your work isn't going to get stolen. Someone hacking onto your computer is probably more interested in your bank info than your next-bext-novel.

Purchased Copyright:

Purchased copyright occurs when you go and straight up register and buy a copyright. You can do this at several different websites if you just google the word "copyright". In the winter I did this myself at Eco Copyright (the Electronic Copyright Office). Now there are pros and cons to either side of doing this. First, it makes you feel kind of legit and awesome to have your work regsitered in the annals of copyrighted materials. You even get a certificate and everything. But it costs about $30 for the most straightforward version, and if you ever make any further changes to your book (like I did) then your copyrighted version and your updated version no longer match. This doesn't make your copyright null and void, but it may irk your soul if you're a little OCD like I am. The fact that the titles are no longer the same between the copyrighted work and my edited work...bothers me. And there's no way to edit it in the Copyright Office. Once it's done, it's done. Having a purchased copyright may give you peace of mind if you think your work will get hijacked or stolen, but in the long run you have to weigh the practicality. Do you need to spend $30 on something that you have by automatic poorman's right?

Published Copyright:

Now we're in the realm where your book has been taken on by a publishing company and hits the shelves! The publisher will take care of the copyright themselves, because of course it's in their best interests to make sure that no one else takes the manuscript they've paid for. Here's another reason I'll never purchase a copyright again-- if I'm planning (as I rather think I am) on getting a book published, what is the point in buying a copyright when the publisher is just going to do it again for me? Perhaps I should save my money and put it towards buying stamps and envelopes to send off my manuscript to agents and publishing companies, eh?

This is also where you'll hear the terminology "First Rights". Many publishers are keen and particular about First Rights. Selling a publisher the FR means you've never published the book anywhere else or in any other form. The first time you publish a piece, the FR are gone, another good reason authors in today's economy need to be very, very careful about the pull of Epublishing. Epublishing can be very lucrative to the fair and few who have done it. But they have put all their efforts and advertising into it by themselves as well as hit the jackpot in having whatever it was that those specific customers buying Ebooks at that time wanted. My author mentor tried her hand at it, and when her book was free online it went to readers like hotcakes. As soon as she put a price of even a dollar on it, the sales dropped, even when she advertised like mad. And she's successfully published, so she knows that she can write and sell. Most of the time, Epublishing can be nothing more than a black hole. And if you give away your FR to an online attempt at distributing your book for potentially only 1/20th of what it's worth...? Well, let's just say there are reasons I've decided to stay with the traditional methods. There are some publishers who won't care if you give them FR or not, but some will not take your work on if it is already 'published' in any other way anywhere else. Won't even touch it with a yard stick.

It makes sense-- they want exclusivity in your work, and if they're essentially competing with the other version of your published piece elsewhere, it will hurt their sales and the effectiveness of their pitch, which will lose them money and you royalties. Because when a publishing company buys your work, they give you a lump sum (probably divided into sections to mirror the progress of the work, like a deposit when you sign your rights to them, a deposit when they print, and a deposit when the book hits the shelves, or something like that). Say the publisher pays you $30,000 for your novel-- before you get a cent in royalties for that book, your sales have to equal back that amount. So until your work has reached $30,000.01 on the profit scale, you only get what you were paid. This of course saves authors from the losses if their book nosedives, but it does mean patience.

There are also such things as International Rights which affects you mostly in terms of strategy and money as opposed to prestige. If you ever come across a publishing company or agency that has a good IR agent, this could be very useful for you. For example, Publishing Company A decides to buy your book from you, FR and IR in all, for $30,000. But Publishing Company B wants just the FR for $20,000, and your agent decides to handle the IR for you separately. She/he is successful and lands you the rights to, say, England, for another $20,000. You've just made money on that deal. You might think, well, that's obvious then which one I'll choose!! But you have to do your research. Perhaps you don't have an agent to handle the IR for you. In that case you'll want to go ahead and sell the IR to Publishing Company A for $30,000-- potentially, you'll start getting royalties faster because you have more square mileage covered across several countries. It really depends. But you can worry about all these details later when you  have a contract sitting on your desk.

The advice given to me that I am taking and the advice I'll give to you: stick with poorman's copyright until such a time as someone else will pay for the legitimate, published copyright for you. Save your money, because any copyright you purchase on your own will only become extra and silly once you publish, which is always the goal. It's good to be realistic and not be disappointed when the rejections come rolling in, or when it takes years and years for success to set in. But it's never good to expect to never be published and therefore take precautions against that. Work towards your goal, not backwards.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sometimes Naming Can Be Hard...

So you've just gotten this great idea for a book-- you know the plot, the story, the character quirks and voices, it's gravy. You have the genre all figured out: maybe it's going to be high fantasy, maybe science fiction, perhaps historical fiction, or maybe a combination thereof.

Wait a mintue now...there's a very precise detail being left out that can mean a lot more than you think. Names.

Yes, character names, place names, even street names in your book can be incredibly important details not only to your story but also to the pitch of your story. Things need to mesh up not only with the genre but also the proposed time period and feel of the book. But you can't go crazy: if you're writing high fantasy, the worst thing you could do in today's market is to name a character Behthoshefph the Dark. All you'll get is rolled eyes and a "Rejected" stamp on the top of the manuscript. No one will take it seriously. So what can a fantasy writer do other than mash letters or sounds together in their brain until it sounds cool (and believe me, I have been guilty of doing the same in the past). How do you research names that will be conceivable to your setting and time?

No matter what genre you're writing in, your characters need to be realistic and recognizable all in one, and their names are the introducing hand-shake to all of that. Most people don't have a dictionary of unique, convincing, and period-savvy names tucked away in their brains.

This is where a handy website I was introduced to this summer becomes useful: Nymbler is a baby naming website unlike many others. Lots of baby websites just give you lists of names that were most popular in certain years. That doesn't help someone writing about a land full of dragons, nor does that help someone who is writing about 1732. Names that were popular in 2005 are not going to be the same as those in the 18th century. Sorry to break it to you.

But Nymbler does so much more than this. Here's how it works. You can pick a name-- perhaps it's the name of your main character, or just a name you like. For example: Nathaniel. Nathaniel can be used in historical books and fictional books. You have a name like that to start with. You can even start with your name. Whatever you like.

You start out by typing that name into the box, pictured below. See that pull down on the right? That's where you can pick boy or girl names, or both. Even if the name you type in (such as your own) is not the gender of the names you're looking for, it will find related names for you. A girl's name can inspire a boy's name, and vice versa. For the example, I'll keep using Nathaniel.

After you've added the name to be searched, click "Find Names". The engine will then search for similar or inspired names to what you initially chose. As I kept the "Boys & Girls" option, there are names of both types in there. You can browse the names, think on them, or if they're not quite up to snuff, chose the "More Names..." at the bottom to search again. You can search as often as you like to get a new pool of names, change the gender of the names, even click the gold and white star image next to a name to add it to the inspiration box to affect the pool of names that will then pop up. I usually keep it to just one name in the top inspiration box, so if you add a name you can then go back up and remove the original name by clicking on the 'x'. However, you can of course use multiple names to inspire the search.

But here's the thing I like best about Nymbler. Pick a name and click on it: what will come up is an explanation/history of the name, including dates (if applicable), meaning, frequency, where it may have been used, and what it's national origin is. Nathaniel is a very Hebrew type name, so as you can see, lots of Hebrew names are popping up. If you're going for an English feel, you can go towards that leaning, or Gaelic, or Arabic, etc.

Whatever style your book has, you can make sure that all of the names are not only organic and unique in nature, but legitimate in detail, thereby avoiding the problems of having modern names in an antiquated setting, or an inappropriate mix of nationalities that would be unconvincing at that time (for example, Christian or Roman names in a Gaelic setting could make sense in the right time period, but if you have a very high fantasy genre, an overtly anything name is going to see strange). If all of your characters have names from a similar sphere or time period, your book will have an extra gold brick of solidity to it. For argument's sake, I typed in a different name that I already know has a Celtic origin to bring up that swing of names. You can see "Brian" there in the background. One of the names that came up in the pool of options was "Lachlan"-- a very uncommon, unique name that would sit well in a fantasy novel or a science fiction novel without drawing too much cliche attention to the genre (which a name like Azuulian the Dwarf would not accomplish). Personally, if it has the detail in the description that such-and-such a name has never been common in the United States, I like it all the more.

By using Nymbler you can select a cast of names that will add legitimate detail to your work not only in time, genre, and place, but also creativity. In the instance of high fantasy, the last thing you want to do is be like every other cliche writer who decided to come up with  names never before used. Half the time it just screams "FANTASY" to the potential publisher, which isn't a good thing. You want to be covert and alluring without seeming desperate. And names that have been used before, even if rarely or in such a way that no one remembers them, bring a sense of legitimacy to the work. Lachlan is more interesting and believable than Azuulian.

In short, you want your characters to be believable. Even if they do unbelievable things like work magic or control space ships or make watches, you want them to appeal and connect with the reader. Generally, names that can be pronounced help, but also those that have a real history behind them will draw the reader in, even unconsciously. Of course, if the meaning of the name matches up with the character, that's a nugget of gold you're leaving behind for someone to find. Your avid fans will do so, and will love you all the more for doing so.

Give Nymbler a go-- it's hard work, more than I ever had put into naming characters before, that's certain. I had never considered naming to be work, but it is just as important as creating a setting or a scene in your story. As long as it takes you to craft and weave that horizon upon which you set your characters, and as long as it takes you to discover who your characters are, you should spend a proportional amount of time in selecting their names and your cast. The devil is in the details, and if you let that slide, your work will slide too.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I've just started rereading The Lord of the Rings for the first time in a century, it seems...

I discovered these books right after the first movie came out, to my shame that it took me that long to read them in the first place. I leapt through them, devouring their contents as rapidly as I could, and they immediately became my number one (to this day) inspiration for story telling. As soon as I finished the trilogy, I started over and read them again. And again. And again. Then took a break to read every ounce of other Middle-Earth or fantastical writings Tolkien had ever come up with-- The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales (which funnily enough, you can't finish reading the story about Turin son of Hurin in Unfinished Tales without a copy of The Silmarillion, as there is about a 50 page section missing from the Unfinished Tales-- go figure-- that appears randomly at the end half of The Silmarillion), The Middle-Earth Dictionary (oh yes), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, besides more that don't come immediately to mind at the moment, even a biography of the learned author.

I then reread and reread The Lord of the Rings until the copy of The Two Towers that I was going through for the umpteenth time literally fell apart in my hands. A huge section from the middle gave up its hold on the binding and fluttered out, as well as a few other, smaller chunks. I ran to my older sister at the time, the books being her possessions, frantic, because to this day (but to greater effect back then) I was horrified at the idea of anything happening to any book, much less one that I was borrowing. She didn't mind, and I found a way to keep reading the books nonetheless.

I quickly became the hugest Middle-Earth geek you can imagine, and remain so to this day, proudly.

With The Hobbit coming out in December, I am going to reread that novel closer to the actual date, but I decided to start with The Lord of the Rings since 1) it's been so long since I've read them and 2) they are the story that stems from The Hobbit.

And I am yet again blown away by this language and tale. I've come across many people who say they've never seen the LOTR movies. Well, alright, you should see them simply because they're absolutely marvelous. No movie stays strictly to the script of the book, but I tip my hat to Peter Jackson for doing the best possible job I've ever seen. If you watch the movies several times and then go back and read the books, you will see just how much language and literature Jackson took directly from Tolkien's manuscripts, in various places all over, and you will be impressed and inspired. Then I come across people who have never read the books. Well, there are many reasons for that: they are pretty thick, much like Asimovian writing, but at the same time they're very simple, which can trick people into being not only confused but bored.

This is not the case in any terms, friends. The Lord of the Rings is like a dense dessert-- don't miss out on it just because you can only take it in short bursts at a time. If you try to read the whole thing in a week you'll be confused and overwhelmed. Read a chapter a day, even half a chapter a day, as I am doing, and I am known for reading at 7+ hours at a stretch. But don't miss out on these books just because someone else told you it was hard or boring, or because someone decided to start out with The Silmarillion rather than anything else. That is a huge mistake, I'll say. I didn't even read The Silmarillion in order-- I started towards the back and skipped the whole beginning, which is unexcusably dry. The rest of the novel is very enjoyable.

Tolkien is the ultimate minimalist. He leaves everything open to the imagination, which is very possibly why it is so hard. You have to work to picture everything, to create this world in your mind. And that, as speculated earlier this week between myself and another avid fan (one even better versed than I in Tolkienian lore) is also why it becomes so personal to each and every reader. In a sense, it becomes your world, the world. As Narnia captures the minds and hearts of children, so does Middle-Earth absorb all ages besides.

It is also important to note that so much lore that has affected our world today stems from these novels. Things we take for granted and don't notice. Of course stories of goblins and of dwarves and elves have been told for centuries before Tolkien even picked up a pen. But so many of these creatures only came into the limelight because Tolkien wrote about them, especially the ones he created-- the Hobbits, the Nazgul, the Balrog, the Ents, and many, many more. The imagination that this all must have come from is staggering!

And to think, it was all inspired by a hole in his carpet one afternoon.

Tolkien is the ultimate example of how no image or sight that we see day to day should be taken for granted. Whether it be a bole in a tree, or a leaf falling on water, or perhaps the grey glistening sheen of rain in the distance plummeting from a cloud; perhaps you heard a funny story, or a single line of dialogue, or perhaps the sound of a train rushing by; maybe it's the feel of grass under your bare feet, or the color of fire on a velvet ant's back, or the antics of a happy dog. Nothing is trivial. That doesn't mean you have to find empires in every thimble, but if they're there, don't take them for granted. And never think that your story-- or even the beginning of a story-- is too small or too insignificant to make a difference. Mr. J. R. R. Tolkien was sitting in his den, one afternoon, thinking of something to write, when he saw a burn hole or some frayed dot in his carpet, and wrote these words: In the hole lived a Hobbit.

The creation of a world with those words, where even the smallest of beings, little Hobbits, for example, made a difference. Indeed, made all the difference, and saved Middle-Earth from being covered in a second darkness. There and back again, those words, that hole in the carpet, inspired the creation of an entire world. And that mythical world inspired the entirety of ours.

Monday, August 6, 2012


I have some news that will rock your socks...

You're looking for one last book to read during the summer months or for that new novel to spark an idea for your own work. Maybe you're wanting to research new authors and their ideas, or maybe you're wanting to expand genres and styles so as to learn more widely-spread themes and types or to integrate fresh verbage and stylizing into your own opposite genre (verbage is totally a word).

It doesn't matter. When readers and writers alike hear the words 'free book'...the universe spins to a halt while all their heads whip in that direction.

And you know...sometimes it doesn't even matter what type of book. I know that I get goosebumps whenever I hear that someone is giving away books, or when I hear about a really great deal. I never get suckered into that coupon/on sale mentality where you stock up on stuff just because it's on sale, whether you need it or not. But if I come across some cheap books or free books...I'll take a look. Ok, I can't stop myself from looking. I literally can't. It's like going into a bookstore and not leaving with something tucked under your arm. That has happened to me on occasion, though the memories are hard to pillow is still wet from my tears.

Well, maybe some dramatization was employed with that last sentence there...

Author Jack Vance is currently promoting a book of his by giving an e-copy of it away for free. You can check it out here and download it without any forms to fill out or information to give away. Huh, well why not, eh? Especially with a summary that goes something like this:

"The starship Explorator IV is destroyed after entering orbit around the planet Tschai. Adam Reith's scout ship is en route to the surface when the attack occurs, and is damaged in the explosion; Reith crash-lands and is separated from his ship. He finds a world full of violence, where four non-human races rule: the Chasch, the Dirdir, the Wannek, and the Pnume. Humans are present, but dominated by the other races. In this volume Reith sets out to regain his scout ship, and makes his way to Dadiche, ruled by the Blue Chasch and their human servants. Along the way he finds loyal friends, and challenges social inequities with the same aplomb that he rescues fair maidens- like the lovely Ylin Ylan, Flower of Cath."

The novel is the first of four, and really, giving away the first of a series is pretty smart. If you become hooked, you will have to get the ensuing novels. Tricky, of you, yes...I'm on to your plots. And their effectiveness...will I ever stop being pulled in to your novel-producing ploys?

Probably not...and I'm not exactly sorry...

Now, I'd not say this summary is very well written. I'm still intrigued by the idea of the novel. I mean, well, it's free. I'm not going to be very discriminating here. And who knows, I might have a new favorite author out of it. The immediate and potential pros outweigh the potential cons. But I'd work on that writing there, for three reasons.

One-- you never want to use over sized words in a summary, such as "inequities" and "aplomb". Although there are plenty of people who will know what those words mean, there are also plenty of people who won't. If it's not used in every day conversation or one of the first synonyms for the simplest version that comes to mind, don't use it. You'll only turn off the potential audience as you give the impression that your book will be too hard to read.

Two-- oh my goodness, the use of punctuation. Commas are used in this summary like they would be if someone were speaking, implying dramatic pauses and inflection. That is not what commas are for. And it seems as if whoever wrote the summary decided to try and use every type of punctuation possible. In the space of a few sentences, all of these symbols are used . : ; , -  and none of them incredibly effectively. Your overuse punctuation can be just as important as your lack of it, so be aware.

Three-- it makes this book sound less intriguing, as the first opening of it did to me, and more like a science-fiction mello-drama. The first pitch I read was this:

"Tschai is about the adventures of Adam Reith, who after a crash landing on Tschai, a planet orbiting the star Carina 4269, 212 light-years from Earth, tries to find his way home. Tschai is populated by three mutually hostile alien species and the displaced native Pnume; and various human races, some of whom live as slaves or clients of the aliens. Each of the four novels relates Reith's adventures with one of the species, and is named after that species."

Now this is much simpler, easier to get a handle on first time around, and much more interesting. It's not chock full of really hard to pronounce names and a whole book's-worth of planets and alien races to organize, nor is it stuffed with unwieldy vocabulary and punctuation. Short, simple, to the point. Like (drumroll please) a query letter should be. Summaries and queries should be one and the same-- you're pitching your product to a potential buyer, and you don't want to scare them off. You want to hook and reel them in!

I'll download this book and give it a whirl. Any caliber of book is good to read-- as writers, we should be reading all the time. Good books, bad books, indifferent books: they teach us something with every sentence. Even bad books will have good sentences to learn from, and even good books will have bad areas to contemplate. And if nothing else, if you can't look at a book and think I want to write like this! you can at least think I don't want to write like this, but what did this book have that was marketable? Every book can be learned from.

Except Twilight. But that's another story entirely.

This offer expires August 31st, so I'd jump on it now-- it costs you nothing but storage space.

Friday, August 3, 2012


I guess I took my own advice to you all last time. Funny how that works-- often when we 'preach' we preach mostly to ourselves.

After much hemming and hawing and procrastinating, I forced myself to sit down yesterday and get to work on my new project. I did a little bit of note-typing-up, some paper shuffling, some thinking, and then wrote. Just wrote. Usually I pause and reread every sentence or paragraph as I go, and there were a couple of tweaks made here and there. But this time around I made myself go. Get to it. None of this dilly dallying of writing/editing. Editing can come later, it truly can. That is one of my worst faults as a writer, I think. I am slow as it is, but when you stop and agonize over every sentence as you write it, you become even slower. The most important thing in a first rough draft (and that is indeed the important thing to remember: rough and first) is to get the ideas on the page, to form the shape of the story. Later the details, the color of the eyes, the shape of the nose, can be filled in. Whether you use paint or chisel to do so will be discovered somewhere along the way.

In experimenting with this direct form of writing (as in actually writing, with no other distractions? Huh, what a concept!) I was able to chug out about 25 pages of raw material over the course of three separate chapters. I wrote these chapters out of order and then organized around and among them, making notes on where I needed to go back in and elaborate or what needed to come next. I was exhausted by the end of it, but I was elated. Though I knew I couldn't write a single word more, my heart was still pounding and I felt as if I could go on forever...I almost wished I could, so impatient I was to discover the rest of the story...

It has begun, now...I hope to finish long before Christmas. And I will continue to restrain myself most admirably from editing as I go. At this point in the writing process, I will only add new material to the pages every time I sit down to work. In that way I will be able to create a single, cohesive draft that doesn't undulate in quality from most-frequently edited to most-often edited.

Write first, edit later.