Friday, February 28, 2014

Update Day!

Hey all! Today is time for another update to my Big Dreams (call it what you like) bloghop. For those of you who don't know, the blog hop is about insane, or insanely important goals. We share updates on these goals on the last Friday of every month.

You're welcome to join! If you'd like to sign up, please go here.

So... Needless to say, February went off the rails in multiple ways for me.

But just to re-cap:

1) I'll no longer submit to agents.
2) The rewrite that had been the goal went so wrong that I have to draft the entire thing again in order for me to have something to work with. Not only that, but I've had to split the draft in two (ES1 and ES2).
3) I'm still waiting for edits to Wo6C2.

But I have written over 30k this month, counting the rewrite until it went awry. (Which I totally do count.)

Goals for this month:

1) I have a mystery project (MP. Creative, eh?) that's taking the highest priority a draft can take. More on this later. But I actually want to see how far I can get with it in the year. If I finish nothing else, this is the one I want to get done. (With the exception of Wo6C2. Because I want that baby published and soon.)
2) Continue redrafting ES.
3) See if I can actually squeeze in a few words towards my other drafts. I haven't touched them since November last year.

So now, this is what my current and planned year looks like:

How are your goals coming along?


I just want to let you know that I joined up with the lovely people at Unicorn Bell. I have the run of the blog this coming week (3-7 March) and I'll be critting query letters, first chapters and synopses. You can even send me all three, if they're for the same story. In fact, I quite prefer it. If you'd like a keen eye on your submission package, please contact me unicornbellsubmissions(at)gmail(dot)com. Please not that this isn't my usual e-mail address.

Have a great weekend all! XX

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A lesson in tension from Argo

A few nights ago, I watched Argo.

It's actually the second way I saw it, so this time round gave me a chance to think about its story in writing terms.

See... there's actually an awesome lesson in tension in that movie.

It works like this:

Give the main character a shortage of resources. Put him into a very difficult, life altering situation. Then, make sure that even the readers know how tenuous his/her position is.

In Argo, the CIA wants to save six Americans. So you'd think that breaks the resource part of the rule.

Except, things went wrong in Iran so fast that they're left reeling. And the only way they can save the six is by a very far-fetched plan. They can't put together anything better together, because they literally don't have the time.

Why? Because they know the revolutionary guard will find them any moment now, and odds are they'll all get killed.

So not only do we know the stakes early on in the movie, we also know that beating the stakes and attaining the goal is a long-shot. Because there is no James Bond to swoop in and save the day. There are no super powers. And because it's set in the 1970's, there's no internet, no cell phones, no technology that we're used to seeing in the movies.

It works the same way in books. If you have the reader invested in the characters and what will happens to them, things go from zero to incredibly tense if you don't know if they'll actually make it out of the precarious situation they're in. And you'll want them to, more than anything else in the story. And that desire from you vs. all the odds against the desire coming true is where the tension comes from.

In books, a good example it The Hunger Games. We want Katniss to survive, but every single thing is stacked against her. From her own personality to her inexperience, to the government...

Harry Potter is expected to beat Voldemort, but the whole time, you can't help feeling that he's ill-prepared for it.

The list goes on, but I'll leave it to you to to share more examples. :-)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oh no you don't.

Thanks to everyone who left encouraging messages to my previous blogpost! It really did encourage me.

I actually did end up getting some writing done. 1500 words, in fact, which is not bad, given that I'm hand drafting again. 

Still... I kind of feel that I should share what's on my mind. 

Truth is... I'm getting seriously frustrated with my publishing house. Because I handed in first edits in November. I got the news of my editor quitting in January. About a week later, I had a replacement editor. 

Who let me know the day before yesterday that my book has been put on the back burner and that he'll look at it again in March. "LOOK AT IT." In other words, I'll probably see the bloody thing in April. If I'm lucky.

Which is a problem, given that the book was supposed to be out six months after I handed the book in in November. This is written into my contract. As is the fact that I'm supposed to receive a complete monthly accounting of my sales. Which I am yet to receive. 

I've been runaround and pretty much ignored ever since I decided to stay with this publishing house, and I'm tired of it. 

I guess my words were feeding my growing resentment instead. 

So today, I've decided to channel my anger and do something about the situation. I sent a warning that they're toeing the line (or at least partially over the line) of breaching the contract I signed with them. For both books. 

Because yes, I might be small fry, but my work is important to me. And I refuse to have it languishing on some back burner due to something that actually has nothing to do with me or my work ethic. 

I'm. Just. Done.


Since doing this post, the pub house came back to me and clarified some stuff. So for now, I'm satisfied. So even though it might upset people, I'm glad I came out and spoke about it. That's why I sent them the mail. I can't expect the pub house to be up front with me when I'm not being up front with them. 

Hopefully now that we understand each other, we'll be able to come to a mutual beneficial situation for us both. :-)

Monday, February 24, 2014

I'm just having one of those days today, where words just don't want to come. Not even when I'm writing. 

So... I'll be back tomorrow. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

This would have made an awesome IWSG post

It's strange and wonderful for me to think of all the skills I've learned since finishing my first ever rough draft. I guess I always knew I'd improved, but nothing made that improvement as glaringly obvious as working on the second rough draft I ever finished.

Some of you will know from my previous posts that said project fell by the wayside after the rewrite was lost in a back-up disaster. (Yes, I lost the whole thing WHILE backing it up, which meant I lost the back-ups as well.)

Anyway, I reread the rough draft and... well... it wasn't good. I still really liked the characters, but the tension sagged all over the place.

So I put up a rewrite structure (i.e. I planned what I wanted to do with the rewrite). Things went well for the first three chapters. Until I realized that I'd matured so much as a writer that I wouldn't actually be able to work with what I had.


Anyway... I guess it's a good thing. My muse got me involved enough with the story that I actually want to make it awesome. The less than awesome thing is that I'm now basically drafting on my computer (which I hate), but I'm too deep into the story to start again by hand at well over 20k words. On the other hand...




I'm committed to getting the story done, and I don't think doing so by writing an infinite number of first drafts will help me get there.

But really. I seriously - SERIOUSLY - hate rough drafting on the computer. Because the moment I slow down, I have this insane desire to go back and delete every single thing I wrote.

It's something I always struggled with. It's the reason why I write in pen. There's no way to delete thousands of words on impulse if you have it down in ink.

With my computer... the chance is there, and it's very tempting.

On the other hand, I know hand drafting works, and it works for a reason. And I know I threw out the entire rough draft. So maybe bending my own rules a bit makes sense.

I mean sure, it might set the project back by at least six months, but isn't that better than getting stuck in my own head and getting delayed as a result in any case?


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Plot and Kevin Bacon

Hey all! Today, I'm welcoming Elizabeth Seckman to my blog. She's going to tell us what Kevin Bacon taught her about plotting.

Take it away, Elizabeth. :-)

Thanks for having me over Misha! I feel a little like a kindergartener coming to the high school to share knowledge, but I will try to sound like I know what I'm talking about.

The most critical part of a good tale is the plot. The plot is the bones everything else in the story hangs on. No bones, no book.

And everything I learned about plotting, I got from Kevin Bacon.

Applaud me, Kevin. I am brilliant.

Yes, Kevin Bacon, the actor.

Ever heard of  the game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Here's the game, in a nutshell: Link any actor to Kevin Bacon within six connections.

Okay, so here is how it works. Let's take Madonna. How is she connected to Kevin Bacon? She was married to Sean Penn, who starred with Kevin in Mystic River. So, that's a quick two degree separation. And the legend is you can link almost anyone in Hollywood to Kevin within six degrees.

Yeah, little party game, but what's it got to do with plotting?

I say plots MUST also be that tight. Let's pretend the plot is Kevin Bacon. Everything that happens in that story must, within six degrees, have something to do with the main plot. No tangents. No meandering. No superfluous characters to bog down the reader's memory. Every conversation and every action move the story along.

For example: let's say it's a romance. A single dad and his son. Dad needs a love interest. Now, pick the kid's sub plot...let's say he's learning disabled. Voila! Dad dates the teacher. Need some more conflict? Bring on dad's ex-wife. Now you have an antagonist who is bringing back story. See? Subplots + Plot are connected.

Keep it tight. Keep it moving.  Kevin will applaud you too.

Fate Intended is the third book in the Coulter Men Series.  Trip is the last of the Coulter sons to find
love. He’s a handsome man with all the skills a young spy needs to succeed. But when it comes to love, he misses the target. Jane is a sweet beauty who may or may not be wanted for murder. She’s hiding out as a cleaning lady when chance brings her and Trip together. It looks like a happily ever after is in the cross hairs until reality tries to destroy what fate has intended.

Elizabeth Seckman is a simple chick with a simple dream…to write stories people want to read.
photo credit: titi- via photopin cc

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why I NEVER insist on writers learning technique first.

Hey all! I'm finally back. Would have posted sooner, but the power was out all day.

Incidentally: Not the best thing ever to happen during a heat wave.

So anyway... remember what I said about me blogging about topics that leap out at me? Well, this is one of them.

I'd like to know from you, two things:

1) Did you decide to learn writing skills before starting to write?
2) Have you actually finished a book yet? (Even if it's a first draft.)

And now, on to the actual post:

On of my website meanderings, a new writer asked if it's cliche to alternate points of view with every new chapter.

I said something along the lines of it not being a question of cliche, but of flow, and that if she thought the flow worked, she needed to have the guts to follow through with it.

Which led to someone insisting that a writer HAS to learn the skills and technique first instead of guts. And me being me, I tried to be nice and admitted that yes, skills and technique were necessary to a writer. But that one needed guts to actively write first before learning them.

Comment from her: 

No.  You need technical skill before you can develop your voice and style.  Dancers don't start off with as choreographers; musicians don't start of as conductors.


But writing is neither dancing nor music. And as a person who does all three, I know that approaching all three activities the same way would be pretty dang stupid. 

Point is that writers who focus on learning "all the technical skills" before they actually start writing, almost never finish their projects. 

Because the one thing writing, dancing and music have in common is that learning skills is a never-ending process. So if you don't start writing first and learning as you go, it basically comes down to an interesting form of procrastination.

That said, I don't particularly believe in insisting there's only one way of getting this writing thing done. So more power to anyone who does learn writing the other way around. I just haven't seen it happen among any of my writing acquaintances. 

(Which is where my questions came from. I haven't seen this happen, but it could have and I missed it. And me being me, I'd really like to know if I'm wrong, and by how much.)


Wow.  Sorry you feel so defensive about it.


I'm not defensive per se. But as I said, I've had contact with over a thousand writers since 2010, and none that I could think of actually finished a book after "learning the trade" first. 

I actually think it's because there's so much knowledge, some of it contradicting, that writers lose their inherent style and voice because they have too many people "telling" them what to do and how. 

And as I said, one never stops learning in any of the arts. So a writer who's postponing writing until sufficient knowledge and skill is gained, almost never actually gets to the writing bit. 

So truly, I'm not so defensive in the sense that I think my way is the only way. But I try very hard to foster an enjoyment of writing within new writers. And that's hard when people (no matter how well-meaning) insist on "rules" and "methods" and "skills" that - if taken too far - will actually set a writer back rather than help him/her. 

What I mean by this is that I've been writing for almost thirteen years now. I had the fortune of starting before I had access to the internet and all of its information. I say this because it meant I could find my own voice, style etc first, and adapt the rules, technique etc to suit what I wanted to do, instead of vice versa. 

With the shoe on the other foot, (people who wanted to learn the technique) I've seen person on person, new writer after new writer postpone their (often excellent) projects because they felt their technique lacking, or because their books broke too many rules. And you know what? They almost never start again.  

It's a pity, really. A great one. And it's the reason why I might come across as defensive. Because I'm defending a new writer's right to enjoy writing, even if their writing SUCKS! I'm defending their right to explore, to make mistakes and to learn for themselves. So that they can see in the end why techniques work, and which rules can stand bending. 

And if I can be very naughty, I'm going to use your previous analogy. 

Dancers don't become dancers to become choreographers. They dance because they love it. They become choreographers because they love dance first. 

Same with musicians and composers. The love and passion for music comes first. 

Writers need to have that love and passion fostered within them. And if that means me being a seeming anarchist to say: "Go on!!! Try it! No one will kill you!" I'll do it every time. 

Because in the end, the most amazing things in art come from people who had the guts to try something.

That said, I do believe skill and technique has its time and place. Namely: Revisions and edits. If you don't at least understand rules and why they exist, and if you don't know writing craft, improving on what has been written (an incredibly important aspect to producing a readable novel) would be impossible.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Gone Fishing

I'm a bit of a bad situation with my blogging at the moment. Unless something's thrown my way that I want to blog about, I don't have the time to think of something to write.

The guest house is nearing completion, but there's a ton of stuff that needs to get done. As a result, the time I'm not spending writing, has to go towards the guest house.

It's sort of annoying to me, since I wanted to do a lot of things on the blog by now, but when it comes to writing and my new business, blogging has to take a back seat.

As such, I'll be taking this week off from blogging. I will try to visit some of you (something that's also been falling by the wayside these past few weeks), but other than that, I'm going to be scarce until Monday.

See you then!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Thoughts on Donald Maass' "New Class System" Post

So... Last night, shortly before the clock struck twelve, I've started re-evaluating. I stumbled onto this blog post by Donald Maass. It's gotten me thinking, in fact, I've been re-evaluating ever since. Sadly, re-evaluating has in fact infuriated me more, so although I tried hard not to rant, it might come across as such.

See, even though I've been somewhat set on getting an agent and trade publishing, I've been absorbing bits of info here and there.

Bits like the worrying culture that big houses don't want to pay for marketing, and then blame writers for not marketing enough to justify wide distribution, (how exactly is a writer supposed to do that, anyway?) and then, they grow unwilling to further publish mid-listers. And the fact that Agents don't want to take on projects that they deem risky.

Still... that was all hear-say to me. Until I read the truth straight from the horse's mouth. Now, I'm not going to copy/paste the whole post. I suggest you read it, to see exactly where I'm coming from, but I think you'll be able to follow my train of thought regardless.



It may be true that trade publishers are cracking the e-book market. However, given their penchant for not marketing newbies and non-bestsellers, I can't see where selling more e-books is actually benefiting the author of said books. Especially since most of the money goes to the publishers. If I get less than 25% of royalties (apparently 25% is a non-negotiable industry standard, and then I still have to pay the agent out of that), I have to sell at least four books to make the same amount as one book I self-published (assuming I do everything myself).

Also, isn't it lovely to see mid-listers be referred to as burdens? Especially since not much is being done to get them out of the mid-list? Oh no, not while it's easier (and cheaper) to blame the writer.


Firstly, I deeply resent that any person representing people who are supposed to represent authors (and oh, he does), see us as cattle to be culled and slaughtered at will. I'm sorry, but after the crap I go through just to get a book done, I think I and any other writer worth his/her salt are worth a bit more respect.

Secondly, if the current publishing approach is to go after proven successes in order to profit from a writer's own investment, it seems a bit unfair. No... scratch that. It smacks of exploitation.

Also, I read a post by another agent the other day. She answered a question about whether agents will represent books that have been self-published. Her answer: Yes, but only if they sold thousands and thousands of copies. And then, signing with a big publisher means that the author would give up a significant portion of future royalties. (Bear with me. I am getting to a point.)


If this is true, why are more and more self-published books gaining traction?

Also, is gaining a wider distribution worth tossing your book into what more likely than not will be a black-hole known as mid-list sales? Really? 


Those classes might exist, but if I worked my butt off to create a first-class product, why exactly should I sacrifice 75% of my royalties to a subset in the publishing industry who:

1) Refuse to shoulder some (or any) of the risk,
2) Don't see the work put into a project as something to be respected,
3) But rather to be exploited
4) isn't willing to negotiate on royalties to compensate for the work the writer put in just to get the story into shape for submission.

Which brings me to the point. What are we as writers paying for?

Marketing? Probably not.

Covers? Editing? Overheads? Possibly, but small publishers offer better royalties, and we pay them for these too.

So could it be that I'd be helping to pay the pub house for the authors that *gasp* called wrong when they offered representation/a publishing contract?

Or will it be that I'll be paying for the fabled distribution channels? The same ones that has people turning into nervous wrecks for fear that their first editions will mostly end up as pulp? Because there wasn't any help with marketing?

What then? Where is the service rendered to me?

I am the writer.

Without writers submitting to agents and publishers, neither would exist. That means, the writers are the clients. They deserve to either get their money's worth, or the money they deserve.

Before, this irrefutable fact could be ignored because there were few agents and publishers, and many, many authors. With no alternative way to see a book published.

But see, this changed. We don't have to go through gate-keepers and gates any more. I can go upload my book right now (although I wouldn't without editing and formatting) and see the book out there for public consumption. All by myself.

And I can do this keeping control of my rights (with or without a lawyer), royalties, and the creative direction in which I want to take the stories I write.

In economic speak: the publishing market is heading to efficiency, and buying into the old inefficient system no longer makes sense.

Plainly said: I'm done. I won't submit another query to agents until I start seeing some sort of worth-while service.

Metaphorically: I see two classes of people everywhere: sheep and wolves.

I'm a wolf. 
I don't see why I'd force myself to eat grass. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

So... I read my western...

Okay... so shortly after my IWSG post yesterday, I opened up the rough draft to my western.

And cringed.

And cringed...

And cringed some more.

I mean really. Yes, I know the western (romance) was the first story I finished after Doorways, but damn, the suckage is great with this one.

I head hop. I put dialogue and action in all the wrong places. The major plot events happen out of nowhere. It's....



By far the worst rough draft I've written to date.

And yet.

There's something there. It's difficult to describe. I mean, with everything wrong with this rough draft, I should be collapsing into a heap and crying.

But I'm not. Because of this... this feeling I get when I'm reading. The main characters... They're both so hurt, but instead on melting onto a heap, they do what they think is best for their children. And the kids.... Man... there's one of them that just makes me want to walk over and hug him. Not because he's pathetic, but because he's carrying a huge burden no one else understands, and he's doing it bravely.

So reading this rough draft, I was drawn into their lives, hoping that the best possible things happen to them. And you know what? I think I can make a reader do that too. All I need to do is improve the way I told the story.

Luckily for me, I have three years' worth of experience with which to do it.

Anyone else go back to a terrible rough draft and try to turn it into gold? How did that go?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sean McLachlan on Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Hey all! Today I welcome Sean to my blog as part of his book tour. If you're looking for my IWSG post, it's here.

Post-Apocalyptic fiction: what it is and what it isn't.

There’s one thing a writer learns very quickly—the setting is not the story.

This is why I’ve written everything from westerns to post-apocalyptic tales, and as a reader I roam even further afield. I’m after the story. Sure, I have my favorite genres, and some plots seem to lend themselves better to some settings than others, but if a story is good I don’t care what genre it’s in.
(Except for romance because, well, I’m a guy and romance novels are written from the woman’s point of view. If a bodice is going to be ripped, I want to be the one doing the ripping.)

The current craze over post-apocalyptic fiction has been explained in many ways—fears over our deteriorating environment, the current economic crisis, international terrorism, etc. Whatever the reason, a grim future offers plenty of scope for storytelling. In the face of adversity, people have to pull together to survive, or become selfish and live off others. Civilization may have fallen but people still fall in love, have deep-seated jealousies, have grand dreams and petty insecurities. People, no matter what situation you put them in, are still people.

I saw a pie chart on Facebook a little while back called “What the Walking Dead is About.” It had various categories such as Loyalty, Friendship, Love, Parenting, etc. The smallest category, a tiny sliver on the pie chart, was titled “Zombies.”

The secret to the show is that the characters are compelling. We really love these people, or love to hate them. The zombies are there to get them into the situations that bring out the best and worst about them. They could just as easily been living on a space station invaded by aliens, or occupied France fighting the Nazis, or a Wild West town menaced by outlaws. In a different decade or a different country, the writers would have chosen one of those settings.

Back in 1901, M.P. Shiel wrote The Purple Cloud, one of the original “last man on Earth” scenarios. But, like Walking Dead a century later, it was about more than the fall of civilization. It was about humanity’s hubris.  People have been projecting their feelings onto apocalyptic novels for a long time now.
So if it’s all about the story, why do so many readers have a favorite genre? I suspect there are as many answers to that as there are readers. Some of it may be dictated by the zeitgeist or childhood memories, or a person may have been blown away by a particular book and that led to a permanent craving for more in that line.

What’s your favorite genre and why? Tell us what you think in the comments section. I’ll be hanging around here a while.

Sean McLachlan is an archaeologist turned writer who is the author of several books of fiction and history. Check him out on his blog Midlist Writer.

In a world shattered by war, pollution and disease. . . 
A gunslinging mother longs to find a safe refuge for her son. 
A frustrated revolutionary delivers water to villagers living on a toxic waste dump. 
The assistant mayor of humanity's last city hopes he will never have to take command. 
One thing gives them the promise of a better future--Radio Hope, a mysterious station that broadcasts vital information about surviving in a blighted world. But when a mad prophet and his army of fanatics march out of the wildlands on a crusade to purify the land with blood and fire, all three will find their lives intertwining, and changing forever.

Buy it at Amazon

Insecure Writers Support Group

Wow, time's flying. I can't believe it's already February. It's also time for another IWSG post. For those of you who don't know, IWSG is a bloghop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh, where writers share their insecurities and encouragement once a month. It's never too late to join, so if you want to, go here.

On the night of 26 December, 2011, I suffered the most catastrophic loss of data ever. I'd used a certain freeware program to do all my rewrites, which added up to well over one hundred thousand words. After many attempts, I managed to save a few chapters of some of the projects. But the original rewrite of Doorways was gone. Luckily, I'd already started to edit at that time, so I had a copy if I declined all edits.

What broke my heart was this. I'd written a western that year. I rewrote it too. I finished the rewrite on 24 December.

I lost: Every. Single. Word.

Of all the words I wanted to recover, that project was it.

It broke me. Really. Sure, I went on with all the other projects I saved, but I just didn't have the heart to start the western again. So I postponed the rewrite to 2012. Didn't happen. And 2013. That didn't happen either.

But this will be the year. In fact, I'm going to read the rough draft today. By the end of the week, I want the first words of the re-rewrite down.

Thing is, I have this horrible thought. I'd loved the rewrite. I thought it was touching, and emotionally rich and brilliant. And I know that theoretically, I should be able to make this rewrite even better.

Except... what if I can't? What if I lost its heart and soul that night?

Needless to say, I know I'm being stupid, but the idea of opening that rough draft fills me with trepidation. Nothing to do but start, though.

Have you ever lost a project and delayed starting it again due to insecurity?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Good News!

I have a new editor.

The Heir's Choice is back on track.

I have to say that it's great of Etopia to find me a replacement so fast. Editing begins tomorrow. :-)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Venturing into the trenches...

So... as I've been mentioning on and off for the past few days, I'm moving towards querying again.

Call me weird, but I've been looking forward to this for some time. However, I've forgotten how soul destroying it can be. (And I haven't even mailed my queries yet.)

I spent most of today going over my old agent list to see who'll actually represent Adult Urban Fantasy. I'm about half way through the list, and it feels like my brain is turning into goop.

"I'm attracted to stories with a fresh voice and strong story." At which point it takes me five more minutes to find the small sentence at the end saying "But not Fantasy." 

Or... "I'm not specific on what I like." Except he/she doesn't sell any fantasy. Which I have to check, because it's just not said. 

I can go on, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who went through this. Yes, I know that they can put whatever they want onto their websites. Just saying that it's mind-numbing when you've screened over a hundred agents in one day.

So yeah... needless to say, I'm going to go curl up with a book.