Archive for March, 2013

EasterIshtarHappy Easter. Wait, hold on, back up. Easter? What is this “Easter thing” I speak of? Seems like a strange question, but the name alone inspires much controversy. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

For Christians, it celebrates the resurrection of Christ. When I was a kid, the following questions always made me scratch my head. Where did the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs come from? Why is it always celebrated on Sundays? And finally, why do so many non-religious people observe it?

I won’t even begin to delve into this, but it has everything to do with old paganism. Disagree? Yeah, controversy.

Over the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter – what it means today, what it used to mean, and why it changed so much. This also got me thinking about holidays in general, which made my mind spin with creativity.

Holidays in writing. What a great opportunity to create culture in a story. So much richness, contention, and differing beliefs exist today in reality, why not transfer this over to world building?

Developing holidays gives us a chance to create cultures and conflict, back-story and religion. If you don’t know where to begin building characters, religions, or plots, you can start with holidays.

easter_egg_huntJust make something up! Call it Purple Tortoise Day! It sounds ridiculous, right? But to those of us unfamiliar, and even to some of us who are, painting Easter eggs and dressing up Christmas trees might also seem ridiculous. Call your new celebration Day of Milk Baths or create a yearly Carrion Carry!

Regardless what you choose, the more ridiculous the holiday you think up, the more interesting it will be, and likely, the richer the history. It will create conflict, religions, and tension potentially before you even come up with a protagonist.

Then, when you set pen to paper to write your story, your world will already be vast. Your characters will feel more real and relatable. Their adventures closer to home. Here’s a point I find very interesting. The majority do not know the true roots or reasons of common holidays, or understand the full picture of their histories. I find this fascinating. Holidays are traditions. Through the years, they change. Meanings lost or twisted. Reasons for certain games and their rules shift. But the spirit of the holidays can remain.

Christians, atheists, agnostics, and every other religion can celebrate Easter in their own ways, or can choose to not celebrate at all.

ChristianEasterThis is what makes holidays so intriguing. You do not need to write exposition in your story as to why it exists. You simply can show your characters celebrating it. The readers will understand your hints of meaning, and will be intrigued as to why certain traditions endure. As the writer, you don’t need to delve into the past to pique your readers’ interest. In fact, doing just the opposite can often help mold a richer culture, develop more tantalizing characters, and reveal hints of a lost history. If done correctly, you will have succeeded in sucking your readers in, and making your story feel more real.

So Happy Easter to all, whether you are Christian or Agnostic. Atheist or Buddhist. Celebrate this special day as you wish, but remember, each day is what you make of it. May you find happiness this day, and the next.

Like many a horror junkie, I went through a serial killer obsession stage.  Okay, not just like many horror junkies, but like many people period.  We, as a culture, have become fascinated by the monsters among us.  For most people, I expect the attraction is related to the same sensationalism that feeds the “what bleeds, leads” mentality of the mainstream news.  For others, I’m guessing there is a subconscious anti-hero worship where people identify with the taking of a desired object, even in the face of resistance.  Maybe because of resistance.  And finally, there are those who are intrigued by the different demons that possess these human beings and turn them into living nightmares.  What exactly drives someone to serial strangulation, necrophilia, cannibalism, or deadly sadism?  What is such a person’s motivation?

What’s fascinating is that serial killer motivations are our motivations.  Many of us feel the need to be in control in all situations.  Most of us accept that it isn’t possible, particularly in relationships.  A very few of us, Ted Bundy for example, decide to exert control in their romantic relationships by making corpses to have sex with.  We all know or have heard of the person with the domineering mother that makes a hell of low self-esteem for her children.  Most of us deal with this sort of thing through therapy or a bottle of Jim Beam (and sometimes both).  Edmund Kemper dealt with it by dismembering women as mommy proxies.  He’s especially interesting in that when he finally killed his real mother and stuffed her esophagus in the garbage disposal, he turned himself in.  Serial killers never turn themselves in.  John Wayne Gacy?  He hated that he was attracted to men. Once again, most of us would go the counselor or drug abuse route.  Not Gacy.  He killed what he desired and what he hated to try and reconcile his self.

You’re probably wondering by now what any of this has to do with writing stories, or if I’m just getting off on exposing you to the world’s ick.  It’s pretty simple really.  Characters in stories, including nasty little horror stories, need motivations believably enacted to be part of a good tale. Even stories about extreme events need simple motivations for readers to buy into them.  Serial killers may be the single best example of base motivations leading to extreme stories, and those stories are inherently believable because they happened.

Jeffery Dahmer is my personal favorite when it comes to thinking about basic motivations and extreme outcomes.  The primary motivation for his crimes is so familiar and so human that he becomes, for me, a monster that I can almost feel sorry for.  How, I can hear your outraged question, can you feel sympathy for a man that drilled holes in people’s skulls and poured acid on their brain in an attempt to create living zombies?  How can you be anything but repulsed by a person that ate pieces of other people?  The answer is easy.  I understand what was behind it.  You, on some level, understand it too.  Dahmer was buried at the bottom of a pit of loneliness he couldn’t escape and his attempt at solution was unspeakable.  Why did he try to make zombie love slaves?  So that his lovers wouldn’t leave.  Why did he eat people?  Because if he did, those people would be with him forever.  Now I’m not gonna make lobotozombies or eat people, but I do understand what it’s like to be desperately lonely.  Because of that I can connect to the horrific tragedy of Jeffrey Dahmer.  Believable motivation.  Extreme adaptation.  Real life horror story.

So how does understanding real horror apply to fiction writing?  In simple terms, reverse storytelling.  Dahmer has been very productive for me in this regard.  Especially because he allowed me to link loneliness and cannibalism.

Oh, yeah. Side note. Do not tell the sexy grad student who studies abnormal psychology that you have a thing for cannibalism and loneliness.  Definitely don’t tell her that on a first date.  There won’t be a second if you do.  Jussayin’.

Back to reverse storytelling.  Dahmer’s story led me to connect a basic motivation, loneliness, to an extreme response, cannibalism.  From there I simply disregarded the source material.  After all, Dahmer’s story is (quite unfortunately for everyone involved) already told.  Instead, I began to ask questions.  What would it look like if a mega-rich person came up with the same solution for his loneliness?  Would this sort of cannibal be different as a female?  What if the population of a small town decided to keep their favorite visitors around forever?  Could someone be so lonely they’d want to be eaten in order to be with someone forever?  All of these questions can lead to stories.  For me, a couple of them already have.

So pay attention to the world around you.  Motivation and its outcomes are everywhere.  They don’t even have to be horrific.  And all you need to do is take them and spin them back on themselves.  Happy writing!

Yesterday, I asked my three year-old daughter, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

She said, “Umm, I think a doctor or a fire chief, or even you, Dadda.”

Such a sweet moment. My heart warmed at the sentiment. Nothing is more important than family. But it also got me thinking. At what point in my life did I decide I wanted to be a writer?

Growing up, I had unrealistic dreams like any other normal kid. I wanted to be Superman. I wanted to play basketball for the NBA. When I got older, I wanted to be a professional singer. But when I got into high school, I started viewing the world differently – in a more realistic way. But still positively.

So NBA and Superman were out. I considered pursuing music and singing, but thought again. I didn’t want to be poor. So what other potential career paths did I feel I would love? I rolled it around in my mind and thought up a few possibilities: mechanical engineer, computer engineer, computer programmer, sniper for the military, nuclear physicist, math professor, music teacher.

But never once did I consider writing as a profession.

Yes, I always wanted to write a novel, but I took that as seriously as anyone else who wanted to someday write a book. I considered it would be more of a check-mark on my bucket list – like climbing Mount Everest or taking a pilgrimage through Africa.

So after college, I found myself in the military. Halfway through my four-year term, some friends introduced me to this game called Dungeons and Dragons. I was hesitant at first to try it out – as it was associated with only super-geeks, but I played anyway.

And fell in love with it.

That moment fired my passion for storytelling. Shortly thereafter, I decided to write a book for real. I got about two chapters in, and realized it was a D&D campaign, not a book. So I scratched that story, read a few series of Fantasy novels, and came up with a new idea.

That idea turned into a book. I finished it after my four-year term in the military, still unsure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I disliked what I did in the military, wasn’t passionate about what I learned in college, and wanted to try something fresh. However, writing novels still was not an option for me. Storytelling still excited me, but it didn’t appear I’d ever make any money at it.

Fortunately, I found a balance. Needing money to provide for my family, I quickly found a new job right out of the military, then eventually moved back to California. I discovered something I thoroughly enjoyed, which allowed me to make a decent wage – while allowing myself enough time to spend with the family and simultaneously, continue my writing.

I’ve previously posted about my journey of writing, how much I’ve learned and why, and the realization of being represented by an agent.

But it all started with a dream.

A dream that began late for me. I never thought I would be doing what I am today. Life throws unexpected curve balls and people change as they grow, finding new dreams, new hopes, new skills, and learning lessons that change value structures and entire belief systems.

I know I have changed, and I continue to grow. But that passion for storytelling still blazes in my soul. If you are a writer, and feel that passion, keep kindling that flame. Though I found mine later than some, that fire can never be extinguished.

Regardless of what happens during the process, if writing is something you love, don’t let others put it out. Don’t let self-doubt or opinions squelch that flame, because you will lose a piece of yourself. Grow, keep your mind open to change, open yourself to challenges that will continue to add kindling. Writing is an art, so find your voice, discover what you love about it, and grow.

Looking back to that question I asked my daughter yesterday, I can’t wait to see that passion in her eyes for what she loves, to support her as she grows, to help kindle that flame as she finds herself.

But she’s only three years old, and a part of me doesn’t ever want her to grow up.

Whatever passions I have, they’re all secondary to my family – something else I never saw as a younger man.

May you find what matters most to you, and protect what you love. Grow and adapt, keep your mind open to what the future might bring. Inspire those around you with your passions, and overcome your troubled feelings and obstacles without taking them out on others. I’ve discovered only one constant in this universe. Change. May we all make the best of it, because all matter eventually turns to dust.

Footsteps…

Posted: March 20, 2013 by K D Blakely in Karen's Words

For me, part of what makes a book interesting is being able to feel as if I am right there in each scene.  What helps me most  is a well crafted description.  The environment is the easiest, biggest, most in-your-face part of a description.   I want to know if:

I can feel the sun beating down on my head.

My nose is turning red with the chill in the air.

It is sunny, rainy, snowing, foggy.

Those factors can help to quickly put you in the scene.

But there are far more subtle descriptions that, if done well, can make a scene really come alive for me.

Take footsteps.

What is it about the sound of footsteps that make them so recognizable?

1) Tennis shoes on a basketball court.

2) Hiking boots on gravel.

3) Cowboy boots on a wooden floor.

4)  Leather dress shoes on concrete.

5) Rubber soles on wet grass.

If someone were to play a soundtrack of each of those footsteps, most of us would immediately recognize which we were hearing.

As a writer, getting those details on paper so someone can recall a specific sound can be incredibly frustrating.  Too much description will have the reader rolling his/her eyes and skipping ahead.  Too little description, and the reader won’t be able to hear those footsteps in their head.

There are probably a dozen ways to describe each of those sounds.  Here’s some quick examples:

1)      The high-pitched squeak of tennis shoes on a basketball court.

2)      The crunch of gravel under hiking boots.

3)      The rhythmic thunk-tap of boots striking wood.

4)      The scrape of leather shoes on concrete.

5)      Rubber soles squelching across wet grass.

Do you like it when an author describes sounds?  If so, do you have a favorite description?

I think smells are even harder.   How would you describe a scent to someone who has never smelled it?  For example:

The scent of warm buttery crescent rolls fresh from the oven.

Hot apple pie, thickly layered with brown sugar and cinnamon.

But how do you describe the smell of gooey melted chocolate, roasted garlic or eucalyptus?  Fresh mown grass?  Or something not quite so pleasant, like liver and onions, or the scent of coffee overheated too long?

I grew up near the ocean in Southern California and spent a lot of time on the beach near the Santa Monica pier.  You could smell that briny ocean scent a couple blocks away.  More than twenty-three years later, that scent is still instantly recognizable to me.

But I had someone who’d never been to the beach read my ‘briny’ description and they were shocked.  They’d always assumed the beach smelled fresh and clean.

I think she was disappointed to know the truth.

And I wondered, do most readers like to have descriptions of sounds or scents?  Obviously a detailed description won’t add value to every scene.  And sometimes, just calling it fresh mown grass can provide enough description.  So how important is a more specific description?

I know what I like, but what do you think?

I guess the real question is – does a more detailed description of sounds and smells really help other readers get into a scene?   If so, then the incredibly frustrating process of describing the nearly indescribable seems well worth it.

To many, I say Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Today, everybody is Irish! Drink a green beer, wear a green pin, or take your family and loved ones on a special outing.

But today means much more to me, personally. It signifies the fourth year my wife and I have been married. Happy Anniversary to us! Each year continues to be better than the last. We have been together for nine years, and I must say, I have grown immeasurably. I am a far happier person today than I was nine years ago. And those few people who knew me back then can vouch for my extreme turnaround. I owe it all to my wife for her patience, for showing me it’s okay to be happy.

Reflecting back to those beginning years, I shake my head. It’s a wonder how far I’ve come. In every way – even my writing. I’ve only been at it for 10 years, and after comparing my first draft to where I am today, it’s the difference between a kindergartener’s toy car and a humming Dodge Viper. There’s still room for growth, but wow, what a difference.

When I finished the first draft of my novel, I thought to myself, “Okay, what’s next?” So I began writing book 2 in the series. It didn’t take me long to realize there was something wrong with my writing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

So, I hired an editor. She scoured through it – fixed some grammar issues, sentence structure problems – she did her best for what it was. It needed more. Much more.

I put it down for about a year, feeling stuck, not knowing where to go. Then, I had an idea. Without going back to college and earning a degree in English, perhaps there was a better way to learn that thing I was missing. A writers group.

I found Stonehenge. And on that first night I attended, I learned something. I had a long way to go before I could ever consider myself to be a writer.

Through listening, practicing, hard work, and dedication, I can now proudly call myself a writer. My work is publishable, and in fact, I even have a Literary Agent! The awesome Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, book blogger and Twitter extraordinaire with Foreword Literary.

Today, I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the memory of how far I’ve come, but most of all, I celebrate my anniversary with my beautiful wife. She is the greatest gift to my world, and forever inspires me to be better than I was the day before.

Which direction did that witch go to get my sandwich? I should have told her, order two, and don’t let the chef put too much mustard like last time–a dash of thyme is welcome. And I hope she didn’t wear that stupid hat where she’s going; I wouldn’t if I were her. I wanted to go there myself, but their cashier annoys me, and they’re never gonna find a nicer one. Oh, well.

English is weird! I’ve been using it for some time, well, English and Bad English, and even today, I find it odd. Sometimes, it’s like trying to tell a person born blind what blue looks like. To me, communication is the most important thing in a relationship. And here is the rub: just because two people speak the same language, it doesn’t mean they understand each other.

Language is a living organism, always changing, and it is effected by time, religion, creed, sex, age, location, social status, and so much more. A word I use today may have a completely different meaning five years from now and another in ten. English doesn’t make things easy with the amount of rules and what not. It is a miracle we’ve gotten so far.

So, how does one communicate. Clarity and patience. It is not enough to use words, but we must place ourselves in the shoes of another. How do they perceive you and what you say? This may be achieved through clarity and patience. When using words that may have several meanings, be sure your syntax reveals the intention of the word, and if a person displays confusion, don’t cast blame or call them ignorant. Patiently inquire what they don’t understand, or, rephrase your words using alternate choices in vocabulary. It’s not like English doesn’t have enough synonyms.

Anyways, how does this apply to writing and literature? Well, that should be evident. Pick up some Shakespeare and see how the language was 400 years ago. It’s readable, but requires some knowledge. Imagine how your literature will look to humans another 400 years from now. They might need a dictionary too.

When writing your story, clarity is one of the most important things you can strive for. I am an advocate for writing the first draft as fast as possible and with little thought. This allows for the creative instinct to shine. But writing is like a sculpture. A block of clay is placed before you, big chunks removed, and little by little, it is slowly refined to bring forth amazing art. So, be patient with your own work as well. Give it time. Craft it, mold it, and ensure that it will stand the test of time.

Anywho, I’ve rambled for long enough…

What is a POV? Well, at my day job, it’s an acronym for Personal Owned Vehicle, but in the writing world, it’s known universally as Point of View.

What does it mean? Merriam-Webster defines it as: “A position or perspective by which something is considered or evaluated; standpoint.” Its first known use was in 1720.

Great. Now we know what it means, but how and why can it be applied to storytelling?

There are varying answers to this all-encompassing question, so let’s start with the how – the different ways to apply it, the different tenses, and the different perspectives. Here are some of the most common.

Third Person Limited: This is the hottest third person view to write from on the marketplace right now because of how easy it is for the reader to relate to the main protagonist. We see the world from the main character’s eyes only, know only what the character knows. We see his/her thoughts, feel those emotions, and sense the world with the character’s smells, tastes, sounds, sights, and touches. We know nothing about any other person or even the world except for how our main character perceives them.

This is most commonly written in past tense, and allows the reader to truly get to know him/her with immediacy and intimacy, and it illicits a strong emotional response. While reading, instead of watching the scenes progress through a window, we are right there with the character, seeing through his/her eyes, reacting when the character reacts, and thus, we have a stronger emotional connection. We have a more personal stake in the story. This above all keeps readers turning the page, keeps us interested, shows instead of tells of the scene real-time. And even though it is written in past tense, the reaction is immediate and close. Disadvantage is – we are unable to confront the world or learn anything that the character does not experience. This is most widely used across all genres except non-fiction, and less often used in Romance, YA, and MG.

Example: The moment Matt jumped from the plane, he regretted ever having agreed to this foolish notion. From the pit of his stomach, panic swelled to immeasurable heights. The cold wind howled in his ears, making him shiver as the land grew closer. He clenched his jaw, tightened his abdomen, and wondered if he’d ever have the courage to reach out and pull that cord to open his parachute.

Third Person Omniscient: This is a more old-fashioned style of third person storytelling, most often written  in past tense, but is still used today in some circumstances. This is commonly known as the narrator POV. As the reader, we can see all, hear all, know all. Writing has evolved through the years, and some consider this a lesser form of storytelling because it becomes more difficult to relate to the main characters. Personally, I believe it simply to be out of style. However, it has major disadvantages. It’s hard to feel immediacy with this form, more difficult to connect emotionally with the characters. There’s a greater distance between the reader and the protagonist. But it also allows the writer to show things that the main character would not normally see, which might be integral to the story. We can often see this in traditional Literary Fiction such as Count of Monte Cristo, in dated Fantasy and Science Fiction, and in older Historical Fiction, and Historical Fantasy.

Example: The moment Matt jumped from the plane, Joe smiled from behind. Unknown to Matt, Joe hadn’t packed the parachute properly, didn’t realize it was done on purpose. As he spiraled through the air closer to his death, both contemplated what would soon happen. But neither realized the repercussions of their decisions, or anticipated what the actual result would be.

Third Person Head Hopping: If done properly, this can create tension, illicit a strong emotional reaction, and allow the reader to see the world through several eyes at once, experience the world from more than one perspective. However, it isn’t often done correctly, and even if it is, can create confusion. The danger is jarring the reader: as soon as we are able to relate to one character, we are ripped out of their POV and slammed into another. Using this mode of storytelling makes it difficult to be sucked into only one character, and creates distance between us and the protagonist. However, it has the distinct advantage of allowing the reader to forge a relationship with more than one character at a time. Often, the POVs are separated by paragraphs, but sometimes are changed sentence by sentence. This form is the rarest used of this bunch, but can be read across all genres except non-fiction.

Example: The moment Matt Jumped from the plane, Joe cracked his knuckles, feeling giddy to finally having rid himself of this jackass. The punk had stolen his wife. Well, this would be the last time Matt robbed anything from anyone.

As Matt sailed through the air, death drawing closer with every moment, the cold wind howled in his ears, making him shiver as the land grew nearer. He clenched his jaw, tightened his abdomen, and wondered if he’d ever have the courage to reach out and pull that cord to open his parachute.

As we can see, the transition shift from the two points of views in the above example is jarring, and it takes a moment for us to readjust.

First Person Present Tense: An excellent perspective to write from, this style allows the reader closeness to the character that no other POV can grasp. It is one of the most popular of this bunch, and is primarily seen in but not limited to YA, MG, and Romance genres. Disadvantages of using this style are how description is given, and how often the pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” are used. As a normal person, I don’t narrate myself picking up a sandwich to eat – I simply do it. But, those who write in this format often face this problem. This sometimes reveals oddness to the writing that wouldn’t be caught if written in third person.

Example: I jump from the plane and tumble down across the sky. My throat tightens and I shiver as the land grows near. My hands frozen by both cold and fear, I wonder if I have the courage to pull that cord before my young life ends. Before I get to tell Joe’s wife goodbye.

In conclusion, if you haven’t yet decided which perspective to write from, experiment a little. The most popular of the above group today are First Person Present Tense, and Third Person Limited. Find out what works best for you. None of these styles are necessarily better or worse, comparatively speaking, but all have advantages and disadvantages you should consider before choosing. My advice, choose a situation to write about, then create it from multiple POVs. Write it from the different styles, then choose the one you feel most connected with.

As all of us grow as writers, so may our styles change. But the important moral here is to learn, and continue learning. Keep our minds open to possibilities, because as soon as we form a strong opinion on the matter, we limit ourselves to growing. As a balance, we must know ourselves, know our voice, so that when faced with differing opinions, we will not sacrifice who we are for the benefit of others.

Foreword Literary Agency

Posted: March 9, 2013 by Matthew Ridenour in Matt's Words
Tags: , , , , ,

As has been recently revealed, I am now represented by Literary Agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg. Some of you are probably getting sick of me talking about it, but there’s more news! Exciting news! This agency has shifted, been created anew under a fresh name. It has adapted to the digital age, and is the very first agency to make this shift. Not only will this new agency be working with traditional publishers, Foreword Literary will also be getting their fingers dirty with e-publishing. Here’s the press release:

FOREWORD LITERARY DEBUTS IN SAN FRANCISCO
New agency to concentrate on traditional and emerging aspects
of book publishing for their author-clients

March 5, 2013—San Francisco Bay Area—A new literary agency was formed today in California’s Silicon Valley…one focused on technology and innovation in addition to the more traditional aspects of publishing. Laurie McLean and Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, both former literary agents with Larsen Pomada Literary Agents, along with Gordon Warnock, formerly a senior agent at Andrea Hurst & Associates, have joined forces to create FOREWORD LITERARY, INC. with headquarters in the Silicon Valley and offices throughout the country.

“My background for more than 20 years before I entered publishing was in high tech marketing,” McLean said. “So in 2008 I recognized the emergence of Smashwords, Kindle, self-publishing, and ebooks, as a disruptive force that would revolutionize the publishing industry. I’ve seen this type of transformation many times before, and I know how to take advantage of the opportunities that are cropping up everywhere. This is where I want to make a difference for authors and publishers.”

Foreword Literary will be a virtual agency with professionals in the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento, Chicago and the Central Coast of California to begin with. But geographic limitations will be swept away through the use of cloud-based technology.

“Like the name says, Foreword Literary was created to move our clients’ careers and publishing forward. We keep abreast of all current and upcoming technology and plan to utilize every aspect of publishing to our clients’ favor, be it print, digital, or the newest thing since Gutenberg that hasn’t been invented yet,” said van Hylckama Vlieg.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling YA fantasy author Julie Kagawa, who landed three seven-figure deals while McLean’s client, will make the move to Foreword, as will 24 of McLean’s clients, 23 of van Hylckama Vlieg’s clients, and all of Warnock’s clients.

Warnock said, “I’m excited about what this means for our clients. We all have writing backgrounds, and we bring that passion and understanding to each of our projects. We’re also very aware that we can only be successful when our clients are successful. We’ve created an environment that is conducive to building promising writing careers, and I honestly think they’ll be some of the best served in the business.”

About Foreword Literary

Foreword Literary, Inc. is a new hybrid literary agency, blending the knowledge and skills of traditional publishing with the brash new opportunities engendered by digital publishing, self-publishing, ebooks, and technology. Partners Laurie McLean, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, and Gordon Warnock are joined by assistant agents Danielle Smith and Jen Karsbaek, and interns Laura Cummings and John Hansen. Visit the website, http://forewordliterary.com for more information. Or follow us on Twitter @forewordlit.

Testimonials

“Gordon’s support and attentiveness are positively unwavering; it has been his compassionate encouragement and unfailing literary expertise that have carried me through the arduous process of revising and pitching my manuscript. I can’t imagine where I would be without his guidance, and would never think of making a decision regarding my career without consulting him first. Gordon has many times over proven what an excellent agent, writer, reader, and editor he is. Above all else, he has become one of my dearest friends, and a welcome addition to my community of literary folk.”
Tanya Chernov
A Real Emotional Girl

“I’m so excited to be part of the launch of this exciting, new literary agency. From working with Pam and Laurie, I’ve learned that they understand our hugely changed and ever-changing publishing culture. I have great confidence that Foreword will be uniquely positioned to grow my career as an author on every level.”
Jeffe Kennedy
The Twelve Kingdoms Series

“I honestly wouldn’t have gotten where I am without super agent Laurie McLean.”
Bestselling YA Author Julie Kagawa

To each his own

Posted: March 7, 2013 by R. A. Gates in Ruth's Words
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There are as many reasons to write as there are writers. Some write to educate or enlighten. Others write to entertain. Story telling is a diverse art which has spawned all sorts of different genres from mysteries to urban fantasy, splatter punk to romance. And, thank goodness for writers, there is an audience for any kind of story the mind can conceive.

Is one genre better than another? Are thought provoking tales that relay a moral message above fun and campy stories? Is one writer better than another based on why they write? Does it matter that there are already thousands of similar books on the market? Is there no room for one more?

Recently, I was told that my story was “generic as hell” and felt like “a bad PG movie” because “faerys are lame main characters.” I felt like the worst hack alive because according to this person, I wasn’t unique enough and wasn’t taking my responsibility as a writer to educate the masses seriously. After a weekend of doubting myself, I got angry. Angry at myself for letting one person’s opinion have more weight than my own.

So what if there are already tons of books just like mine. Obviously, there is a large audience for such stories or there wouldn’t be so many—and a lot of money to be made. The great thing about being an author is that we can all share readers. I love reading the type of stories that I write, that’s why I write them. There are enough sales out there for everyone.

I will continue to write my story the way I want it, regardless if some think it is generic as hell. I know it is special and there are readers out there who will love it. Will I ask this person to read my writing again? Probably not. Some people just can’t separate their personal taste to offer subjective criticism. But thankfully, I have many wonderful writers around me who can be objective and helpful even if they don’t necessarily like my genre.

I love reading for a lot of reasons, but as a writer, I also love what I can learn from watching how other writers have told stories.  Of course the best thing is seeing how they’ve done things well—but there’s something to be said for learning from how other people do things badly too.

I thought I’d explore one narrative device I’ve noticed that, for me at least, never seems to work.  I don’t know if there’s a name for it, so maybe I’ll coin one.  Let’s call it the Hidden Horror.

The Hidden Horror is when SOMETHING happens (or has happened).  A character knows about it and reacts in shock and dismay…you know, an “Oh, the horror!” moment.  Sometimes that’s literally what the character says 🙂 but the point is that somehow it’s conveyed to the reader that the character feels SOMETHING really awful and horrible and excruciatingly bad has happened.  But—we don’t know what it is yet.  The narrator holds onto the secret, and makes us keep reading to find out what the SOMETHING is.  Sooner or later whatever happened is revealed, and of course we’re supposed to echo, “Oh, the horror!  Now I see what was so awful!”

The trouble is, usually I don’t.  Most of the time, if a writer makes me wait to find out what the Hidden Horror is, I end up with a complete anticlimax.  My reaction is usually, “Really?  That’s not that bad.”

And for the record—I am not someone with a high threshold for horror.  It’s really not that hard to make me squirm with blood and death and so on.  But if you make me wait to find out the details…it doesn’t work.

I encountered one of the clearest examples of this reading The Da Vinci Code.  There are some seriously horrifying things happening (quite apart from the horrifyingly inaccurate Biblical scholarship), but Dan Brown uses this trick of the Hidden Horror again and again…and gives me anticlimactic moments again and again.

I do have a theory on why this doesn’t work.  As soon as the character reacts, I start imagining what horribleness could have happened.  Horror is in some ways a personal thing.  One scenario may feel far more horrible to me than it would to you–and something that would seriously disturb you wouldn’t really bother me.  Maybe you can’t stand spiders but don’t mind slasher films, while I feel friendly towards spiders but would rather not hear vivid descriptions of…well, the things that come up in slasher films.  We’ll skip the details—I don’t like them!

The point is, when I start imagining the Hidden Horror, I imagine whatever would be most horrible to me.  And after I’ve had time to imagine that, how can the horrible imagining of the author—distant, third-party, impersonal—compare to whatever I conjured up?

I love plot twists (even when I guess them), and I love knowing there’s some secret in the narrative that I have to keep reading to learn.  I also enjoy suspense–when you know the story is building up towards something, which will probably be horrible when it arrives.  Perhaps the key difference is that, if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not being hidden.  It’s just approaching, and I’m not trying to imagine it because I’m still waiting for it to arrive.

It may also be a problem of over-emphasis.  When the characters go on and on about the awfulness, when the author goes to great lengths to convince me it’s horrible, almost anything would be an anticlimax when the Hidden Horror is finally revealed.

So—am I the only one this is true for?  Do you like when an author makes you wait for a big reveal of awfulness, or is it often an anticlimax for you too?