Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Contest #1—Write the Next SyFy Movie—Win a $15 gift card

Really quick, I’d like to thank for posting an announcement on their front page for The Memory Eater.  Out of all the online writing workshops, TNBW has always been my favorite.  If you want to build in-depth writer-to-writer relationships and get an honest assessment of your work, then this is the place for you.  As an added bonus, they just announced their 2011 Strongest Start Novel Competition (over $2,200 in prizes).

Now onto the contest.  I want to give everyone the weekend to formulate their ideas, so the contest starts now and ends this Sunday (4/3/11) at midnight.

Contest Details:

Become The Next Big SyFy Channel Writer!

In 75 words or less, pitch me the SyFy channel’s next hit movie.  What does it take to be SyFy, you wonder?  Well have a look (at your own risk, of course):

The first rule of SyFy is to always base your movie around an altered animal as shown in Mega Piranha.

Or an altered “thing” as shown in Behemoth.


The second rule of SyFy is to hire the best talent available within a three meter radius of yourself as done in Mega Python vs. Gatoroid.

The third rule of SyFy is that skin is optional as shown in Triassic Attack.

But really, there are no rules.  Just come up with the funniest/most ridiculous pitch, enter it in the comments below, and the winner (announced on Monday, April 4th) will receive his/her choice of a $15 gift card to iTunes, Starbucks or Subway.

Here’s a motivating clip from Shark Attack 3: Megalodon to get the juices flowing:

Good luck!

Monday, March 28, 2011

How Do You Stay Motivated?

Since it's Monday, the most unmotivating day of the week, I'm curious how fellow writers stay committed to progress?

This picture was taken at my wedding, and as you can see, there are roughly nine authors waiting for their novels to finish themselves.

This is how I look at home—staring at the computer screen.  My wife saying, "Can I use that for a minute?"  Me saying, "Yeah, after I finish this sentence."  An hour later, she lures me away with a video game dangling from a stick.

I do a majority of my writing at work (shhh!).  It seems when my brain is already fired up, I best get the most out of it before it shuts down on the car ride home.  So part of my motivation is to work while I work to kill two birds with one boulder.

On the other hand, I'm motivated to write by my desire to entertain.  I love people's reactions—making them laugh—making them think.  Stimulating the mind and creating a topic for people to talk about.

So with that said, what motivates you?  Money?  Fame?  Love of the craft?  Achieving goals?  Getting that crazy tattoo based on a Bob Ross painting?

And to celebrate having enough followers, I'm planning a contest.  It's probably going to take place next Monday, and yes, there will be a prize for the winner.  I'm thinking a $15 gift card to one of three places.  Stay tuned.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Four Things (Mainly Thanks)

First, I’d like to thank J. L. Campbell for putting the word out about The Memory Eater anthology.  J. L. is one of the nicest/selfless authors I’ve met.  She’s always willing to lend a helping hand without receiving anything in return.  Do yourself a favor and check out her blogs.  She does great book reviews here and talks about writing and gives away cool prizes here.

Second, I’d like to thank the CCC (Columbus Creative Cooperative) for including my short story The Grandest Trick in their debut anthology titled Origins, which you can preorder here.  I will be posting information on the CCC’s second anthology, and how to enter, when the details are finalized.

Third, I would like to thank everyone who already submitted a story, and to those following the progress of The Memory Eater.  I have received a lot of positive feedback, except on one board where I ran into a “Space Battle” with paranoid nerds wizards.  Other than that, it seems people are generally excited about this idea, which in turn makes me even more excited.

Fourth and finally, it’s Friday!  To celebrate, I’d like to share with everyone the track-listing of the first album to a band I created at work called The Office Band.

1.    Unnecessary finger quoting
2.    Direct deposit and a bottle of beer
3.    Ode to wolf-print sweaters
4.    Wake up sleepy, I hit your Porsche with my Pacer
5.    Water cooler lunchbox and the battle to store the world
6.    I’ll have Scotch.  No, the tape.
7.    Midday jam to Cyndi Lauper
8.    Two coffee mugs filled with pain
9.    Bring your hygiene to work day
10.  Plastic mat face-plant
11.  PlatenKleen: For cleaning and restoring platens and rubber rollers on typewriters
12.  Bathroom stall farter: I’ll remember your penny loafers
13.  George Washington issued a recall on my computer
14.  Bring your clipboard, and a shiv
15.  Four seasons of Hawaiian shirts
16.  How come the janitor never calls in sick?
17.  My computer has bi-focals
18.  82 of your 1,364 computer cords are tangled
19.  When the elevator’s broke, no one can get to their floor
20.  Gloria has 17 grandkids, 62 cats, a lot of horse apparel, loves arts and crafts, and is divorced with 3 mortgages on her trailer…according to her cubical

Now get out of here and have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Author Don't Care, Agent/Editor/Reader Pet Peeves

As writers, they say we need to develop a thick skin.  I say we need to be more like the Honey Badger. What's the Honey Badger, you say? Well, allow my friend to explain:


Okay, with that little introduction aside, I’d like to help the author’s skin by offering some anti-pet-peeve lotion.  For those who are allergic to certain ingredients, here they are so you can avoid at all cost.

These are from readers:

·         “Characters who take a beating or a bullet (often detectives) and then refuse pain medication.”

·         “Exclamation points! Especially two at a time!!”

·         “Characters looking into a mirror and describing themselves.”

·         “Mr/Ms Exposition. (i.e., characters who exist mainly for info dumps)”

·         “Rape scenes.”

·         “’Creative’ dialogue tags.”

·         “Internal monologues.”

·         “Information dumps disguised as dialogue.”

·         “New York, it’s as if the only city in the literary world is zip code 10001, same holds true for Los Angeles in film.”

·         “The belief that good description means describing fluffy clouds and sunbeams. (this is only excusable if the author is on LSD)”

·         “Characters in YA novels who seem like the embodiment of one giant teen cliche, spewing every contemporary slang term the 40-year-old author could overhear at her daughter's cheerleading contest.”

·         “When a comedy writer feels like every sentence has to be a punchline.”

·         “Overly descriptive passages. I usually skip 'em.”

·         “Very. Short. Sentences.”

·         “Cursing........ I do not need a profanity eevry three words. Thanks!”

·         “Dropping me off in a brand new world at the start of the story, and then proceeding to give me ten million made up words without explaining any of them.”

·         “Overly sentimentalized sex scenes, or sex scenes just for the sake of HAVING sex scenes. If it doesn't add anything to the story or character development - or if it's full of "her eyes were pools of desire" wishwash - it just irritates me.”

·         “Repetitions. If you've already told me the hero is grieving over a lost love so he won't let himself love again, don't tell me on every other page.”

·         “Stereotypes. The "strong" character has a "strong chin." The "weak" character has a "weak chin." The overweight woman is unhappy and sexless; the tall, slender woman is brilliant and sexy. Freckles equal mischievous and not attractive or sexy. Red hair means a temper and/or meanness or sluttiness, esp. in a girl. A short man is aggressive and defensive, and so on. These kinds of assumptions are akin to discrimination, IMO.”

And these are from agents/editors:

·         "1. Squinting into the sunlight with a hangover in a crime novel. Good grief -- been done a million times. 2. A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape. 3. A trite statement ("Get with the program" or "Houston, we have a problem" or "You go girl" or "Earth to Michael" or "Are we all on the same page?"), said by a weenie sales guy, usually in the opening paragraph. 4. A rape scene in a Christian novel, especially in the first chapter. 5. 'Years later, Monica would look back and laugh...' 6. "The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land."
Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

·         "Here are things I can't stand: Cliché openings in Fantasy can include an opening scene set in a battle (and my peeve is that I don't know any of the characters yet so why should I care about this battle) or with a pastoral scene where the protagonist is gathering herbs (I didn't realize how common this is).  Opening chapters where a main protagonist is in the middle of a bodily function (jerking off, vomiting, peeing, or what have you) is usually a firm NO right from the get-go. Gross.  Long prologues that often don't have anything to do with the story. So common in Fantasy again.  Opening scenes that our all dialogue without any context. I could probably go on..."
Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary

·         “‘The weather’ is always a problem—the author feels he has to set up the scene and tell us who the characters are, etc. I like starting a story in medias res.”
Elizabeth Pomada, Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents

·         Run on sentences: So many authors keep adding clauses to their sentences and connecting them with commas.
Barbara Ehrentreu, Editor

·         “Too many dialogue tags with anything but said. I’ll take replied, but using anything else detracts from the sentence. Many times you don’t even need a tag if the author has delineated the characters with one or two at the beginning of the dialogue.”
Barbara Ehrentreu, Editor

·         "I dislike opening scenes that you think are real (I rep adult genre fiction), then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.  And so many writers use this hackneyed device. I dislike lengthy paragraphs of world building and scene setting up front.  I usually crave action close to the beginning of the book (and so do readers)."
Laurie McLean, Larsen/Pomada Literary Agents

·         "I do in fact hate it when someone wakes up from a dream in Chapter 1, and I dislike an overly long prologue.  The worst thing that you can do is let that crucial chapter be boring - that’s the chapter that has to grab my interest!"
Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management

·         "Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking ... Authors often do this to transmit information, but the result is action in a literal sense but no real energy in a narrative sense. The best rule of thumb is always to start the story where the story starts."
Dan Lazar, Writers House

·         "I hate seeing a 'run-down list:' Names, hair color, eye color, height, even weight sometimes.  Other things that bother me is over-describing the scenery or area where the story starts.  Usually a manuscript can lose the first 3-5 chapters and start there. Besides the run-down list preaching to me about a subject, I don't like having a character immediately tell me how much he/she hates the world for whatever reason.  In other words, tell me your issues on politics, the environment, etc. through your character.  That is a real turn off to me."
Miriam Hees, editor, Blooming Tree Press

·         "I hate reading purple prose, taking the time to set up-- to describe something so beautifully and that has nothing to do with the actual story. I also hate when an author starts something and then says '(the main character) would find out later.' I hate gratuitous sex and violence anywhere in the manuscript.  If it is not crucial to the story then I don't want to see it in there, in any chapters."
Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary

·         “I don’t like to see a lot of passive voice, also inadequate research resulting in a lot of rewrites for the author, too many and/or awkward dialogue tags, overuse of em dashes and ellipses.”
Nancy Bell, Muse Editor

·         “General overuse of the same words or similar words, which we all are guilty of I might add. In particular the words, then, he, she, a character’s name, had, had been, that.”
Nancy Bell, Muse Editor

·         "Anything cliché such as ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ will turn me off.  I hate when a narrator or author addresses the reader (e.g., 'Gentle reader')."
Jennie Dunham, DunhamLiterary

·         “[I dislike] inauthentic dialogue to tell the reader who the characters are, instead of showing who the characters are.”
Jennifer Cayea, Avenue A Literary

·         “Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.”Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

·         “I’m turned off when a writer feels the need to fill in all the backstory before starting the story; a story that opens on the protagonist’s mental reflection of their situation is a red flag.”
Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management

·         “One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
Rachelle Gardner, WordServe Literary

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sticking with it to Become a Master

They (experts) say it takes 10,000 hours of practicing to become a master in your field.  That equates to 3 hours of practice each day for 10 years.  Or 5 years of full-time employment.

A test was done in the 90s where student musicians were divided into three groups.  The results showed that the masters had put in 10,000 hours, the good 8,000 and the average 4,000.  No one was ahead of the curve.  Next they applied the test to other fields and the same results were achieved.

So what I'm trying to say is, practice is the only way to get better at writing.  To test this theory, I took a look at my own writing, which I got serious with about nine years ago.  Now granted, I'm not near mastership yet—there are many gaps in there filled with a lack of motivation/writer's block/life.  But I'm definitely able to sit back and see how my hard work has paid off.

For the sake of this test, I'm only using the first 200 or less words of each novel.  (There are 6, but I'm leaving one novel off because I'm currently reworking it.)

2002—Second Chance

Clouds that appear to be the purist of pure black and seem to be infested with over populated bodies of water, crowd the greatest city of all.  Ready to unleash a beast that will punish the city.  Yes, nature knows what is in store for this city.  This city where life is described as wild and erotic.  Where money and glamour get you fame and fortune.  Where people who don’t succeed become nobodies.  Yes, in this town, a nobody is close to impossible to find.  Especially when the rain creates a mesh sheet with bite size holes devouring every city block. But for the length of the rain, it overwhelms the noise of the over populated city life.  It also causes blindness.  What can we not see that the rain blocks out?  What can we not hear that the rain mutes? 

Notes:  Reading this opening paragraph now makes me cringe.  And the funny thing is, it only goes downhill from here.  I switch back and forth from tenses.  Use too many clichés.  There's stilted dialogue.  And I apparently loved creating comparisons which didn't make any sense at all.

2003—My Sick Little Fantasy

            “It’s such a beautiful day.  To think I waited for a day like this for so long and yet I wish it had never come.”

Friday March 26, 2004           3:23pm

            “I have a surprise for you.”
            “What is it?”
            “I can’t tell you.  That’s why it’s a surprise.”
            “Where is it?”
            “Come with me.”
            “Where are we going?”
            “Kia, it’s a secret.  You have to wait.”
            “Come on Sid, you know I hate it when you do this.”
            “Just come with me.”

            Sid took Kia’s hand and led her down the stairs of her house to the front door.  He then grabbed the doorknob and twisted it clockwise.  Oblivious to what was going on, Kia kept interrogating Sid as to where he was taking her even though she knew he wasn’t going to tell her.

Notes:  Okay, so it might seem like I actually regressed here, but I read a bit further and found that I no longer confused tenses, but I apparently forgot how to add dialogue tags.  The characters are still as dimensional as cardboard cutouts, but the sentences don't seem as clunky, and I'm not over describing unimportant events like rain falling on a city.

2004-2008—My Son, My Prophet

"Hitler," spoke a naked man in a deep voice, isolated in a dimly lit room as homey as a cardboard box.
He stepped out of a molding machine that had just applied a cyber skin over his body and onto the cool concrete ground.  He was now presidential body guard James Fallon Carre.
A single light, buried in the center of the ceiling, illuminated a computer bin several steps away that automatically hacked the building's database to account for his attendance.  As he approached it, the top drawer unlocked and slid out displaying black dragon-scale armor, a security belt equipped with communication, subdue gun and pistol, and a death helmet which was a modified gas mask. 
After dressing, he jammed his skeletal thumb into his collar bone, ejecting a skin-colored button to reveal an operating dial.  As he turned it, his voice changed.  Once the correct setting was located, he plugged the button back into his body and pressed an exit switch on the bin.

Notes:  This seems to be a vast improvement.  The narration flows better, and even though there are unnecessary details, I don't see any glaring errors.  Knowing where this goes though, I have to say, unnecessary details really hold this novel back.  Clocking in at 107,000 words, there are simply too many characters and plots running rampant without any parental control.  The end result proves I tried to "solve the world's problems" in one novel.

By the way, I dread looking back at this one, because I spent so much time on it, and I know it's going to sit in a folder for the rest of eternity.

2009—Chuck Steak

The taste of blood was still fresh in Chuck's mouth.  Muscle spasms played the vertebrae of his spine like a keyboard.  And his nose—a wide gash split it in half, resembling a bridge connecting his two puffy, black eyes.
A drop trickled down the hairs of Chuck's nose, and with a sniffle, took a dive, but he swiftly flicked it away.
"Not getting this suit dirty," he said, giving his black tuxedo a pat down.  It fitted snuggly over an ivory vest which outlined his athletic build so well that he could almost see the curves of his muscles.  With a smile on his chiseled face, Chuck struck a pose, flexing his right bicep but accidentally splitting the shoulder seam.
"You mother—"
A rap on the door cut him off as if he weren't allowed to curse.
"Who's there?" he asked, pulling out his trusty Taurus 4510 five-shot revolver nicknamed "The Judge."  It accompanied Chuck everywhere, even the shower.
Not on my wedding day.  He took aim at the door, not because he feared trouble, but because he liked to point his weapon at things.

Notes:  It seems this is where I began to develop my own unique voice—something every author needs to separate them from the pack.  It comes out in bits like, "even the shower" and, "he liked to point his weapon at things."  I have a better flow to my narration, and even though I'm still stuck on some clichés, my descriptions have become much more varied.  It seems I also solved the problem of trying to do too much, as this novel clocks in at just under 70,000 words.


They say you're supposed to start the story as close to the end as possible.  If you don't, audiences of today will stand up during the climax and go to the bathroom, or turn the channel, or shut the book, but that's if people read anymore.  They say nobody does.  It takes too long, and it's boring.
            They say it's imperative to cut.  To pretend stories are women.  If you want to be anything that matters, you cut out fat and sodium, sugars and grains.  You need to starve yourself and avoid becoming bulimic, because acid reflux causes serious damage to teeth.  Water is your friend, but only from bottles.  And if you aren't bare bones by the time someone important enters the room, you might as well gorge yourself on everything you've missed the entire time leading up to this point, because they say you're lucky to get one chance.  Expecting two is like asking NBC to re-run a season of Veronica's Closet.  And if you've never heard of the show, then you're supposed to get the joke.

Notes:  The most noticeable change here is the switch to first person.  I had never done it before.  I never even thought of doing it.  Not until I read Choke and Invisible Monsters.  Those books helped me realize the opportunity I was missing to get personal.  To reach a new level in writing.  The flow of the story is at its best, and the comparisons not only make sense, but they're unique and cohesive.

I think this little timeline proves the 10,000 hours theory.  Even though I'm probably around 8,000 hours, I see a massive improvement in my writing from past to present.  What you don't see in there are the countless hours I've spent in writing groups critiquing other's work.  From those groups, I learned many rules, common author pitfalls and all about clichés.  But most importantly, I learned how to edit.

Throughout the years, I've wanted to quit many times.  After each rejection, each harsh critique, each novel that got pushed into an abandoned folder, I really wanted to give up.  I read published novels and said, "Man, I'll never be this good."  I read other's work and said, "Damn, this is like ten times better than mine and it's not even published."  I reread my own work for the 100th time and said, "This isn't as good as I thought at all."

But I hung in there.  I came back stronger and worked harder each time.  I fought until I could edit my own work, and I fought until I found my voice.  And now, after a very long road, I might not have a novel published, but I'm extremely happy with the quality I'm producing.

So if you're confused or frustrated or feel like quitting because your work isn't meeting your standards, then relax, take a little break, realize that progress is slow and come back stronger to start working toward that 10,000 hour mark.

Queries sent out:

2008—My Son, My Prophet:  over 150 sent, all form rejections.
2009—Chuck Steak:  about 90 sent, 2 requests for the first chapter, 1 request for a synopsis.
2010—Secret Project:  about 30 sent, 1 request for the first three chapters, 1 request for the full ms.