Tag Archives: am writing

Censoring Myself in the Publishing World

10 Jul

Fantasy is More Fun is giving away tons of prizes to celebrate their one-year anniversary. Check out the raffle by clicking here, be sure to join, and you might win ten novels! Minutes Before Sunset is included!

Censoring Myself in the Publishing World

It’s hard to be yourself in an art industry – as strange as that sounds.

Correction: It’s hard for me to be %100 myself 24/7 in the publishing industry. Perhaps this a fact of life – not just something in the publishing industry – but I have found myself censoring myself about my lifestyle because I’m afraid that I will lose readers if they don’t agree with me. (Personally, I don’t see why we have to agree about everything, but this still happens.) This happens in and outside the publishing world, but I wanted to share the topics I struggle with as an author in order to help other authors talk about their personal troubles. I also hope to take my first step at being %100 honest without fear of reader rejection.

So here is a list of things I have been afraid to mention before:

Books I Dislike and Like:

This isn’t about if they are good or not. I am a firm believer in the fact that books can both be good and be disliked. My personal example of this is Divergent. I just could not get into it. I could not wrap my mind around a society the forces you to be only ONE thing, and the color scheme seemed too simple for such a complex topic. I also felt like it had a lot of religious undertones that made me very uncomfortable. That being said, I still think Veronica Roth is a fantastic writer. I can see a variety of reasons to love it. I can appreciate her prose. On the opposite spectrum, I enjoyed Twilight. There. I said it. Granted, I was 14 when I read it, so it was also marketed to girls my age at the time. I actually remember buying Twilight after a friend told me about it and being reluctant only to go back the very next day to buy the second book that had just released. It wasn’t until much later that I considered the themes in it – when others saw it as abusive, I saw it as just a story – just entertainment. Either way, it still makes me really sad when readers hate on other readers, so that’s why I think I censor myself about my personal book tastes. I don’t want a fan to think I’m attacking their favorite book, because I understand how personal a book can mean to a reader, how much joy and heartbreak can come when a reader loses themselves in a story and how destructive it can feel when others try to tear it to pieces.

I smoke hookah and I drink:

I’m 23, so both of these acts are legal for me, but I try not to mention this about myself because my readers are primarily young adults, and I don’t want to encourage them to do either of the things. As a contradiction, my next novel, Take Me Tomorrow, deals with a lot of themes about drugs in society, including the youth. The sad fact is that many young adults find themselves involved with drugs. This a reality. But my biggest fear is someone telling me their kid blamed me for trying hookah or trying a drink. Here’s another ugly truth: my mother died from a drug overdose. They were legal painkillers prescribed to her. So I know the deadly consequences that can derive from drug use, legal or not. Perhaps – because of my various experiences – I am sensitive to how people perceive me in regards to the drugs in my upcoming novel. Who knows? When I’m asked in interviews “Where do you write?” I find myself struggling to answer honestly, “In a local hookah house.” Because I don’t want other kids to smoke because I smoke occasionally. I know it’s bad for you. I understand this. I am only afraid readers will somehow think I am saying it’s good for you when I’m not.

From Post Advertising

From Post Advertising

Depression associated with publishing:

It happens. I have days where I struggle – just like any person in any industry – but there seems to be a strange stigma associated with artists. If we complain, we aren’t grateful. If we complain, we are selfish because there are so many writers who wish they were published. But can’t we be honest? Can’t we say it’s hard? Can’t we feel sad sometimes, too?

Characters I’ve based off of people:

I don’t directly and purposely try to base my characters off of people in my life, but – as time passes – I can see strong correlations. Still, I am terrified of admitting to my relationships (friends or not) with these people because many of these people are no longer in my life. It feels rude. It feels selfish. Maybe I’ll get over it. Maybe I won’t. But sometimes – when I realize this – I miss them. I miss the characters that were once my closest friends. And I have struggled to even make friends. Since I moved around a lot as a child, friends didn’t last very long. We always moved. But losing friends when I still lived in the same area was an extremely difficult part of my teenage years. I didn’t have to deal with it until I was 15 – and it was hard. Really hard. I couldn’t comprehend how someone I confided in could turn their back on me (or how I managed to turn my back on others.) So when those characters clear up, it can be confusing and unreal and strange, so it’s much easier to deny the possibility that my characters might – in fact – be them.

Certain scenes:

When I was younger, it was easier to be true to the story. I didn’t care what readers thought of a controversial scene, but now I find myself changing them or cutting them out completely – mainly because I or people I have met have gone through many of these trials and I don’t want to stigmatize the victims. I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to trigger something.

My personal life:

So you know I have a cat. You know I live in Kansas. You know that I work for AEC Stellar as an author and an employee. You know I lost my mother at a young age and my college roommate. But you don’t know how much I mentally struggle to believe that I created a relatable female character because I struggle to relate to females in general (which I think stems from the fact that I was mainly raised by my father and brother, therefore feeling more comfortable around males.) I’m also more comfortable writing as a male, and when readers ask me about it, I get really uncomfortable about it, because I don’t even know why. To clarify, I’m not uncomfortable with the fact that I enjoy writing as a boy; I get uncomfortable when someone tries to make sense of it, like there has to be a reason for it. I – on the other hand – just want to accept it for what it is. The only other topic I would like to clarify on is that I am not just a “cat person.” I grew up with dogs, and I love and miss my husky, Shadow. (So much so that Argos in Take Me Tomorrow is based off of him.) He was in my life for 15 years. If I had a yard and the proper time and money for a puppy, I would get one. But I don’t. So I have my cat, Bogart, and I love him very much. But I love cats and dogs and pretty much every animal on the planet.

There are ugly parts of everyone’s life and art, but – even though it is common – it is hard to confess to those darker moments. That being said, confessing to those thoughts can help others who struggle with truths they avoid. I like to believe that my “ugly” parts aren’t ugly at all. I am human. That’s what makes us artists.

Feel free to share those things you avoid mentioning below! It’s quite a freeing moment, and I’m glad to share my struggles here, especially if it helps other artists come out with their struggles!

~SAT

Website Wonders

28 Jun

It’s that time again! Today is Website Wonders, and my next post will be June’s Ketchup. But I’m switching it up a little bit. Today, I’ll be sharing all of the websites I’ve come across this month that I think you’ll enjoy – but I’m also sharing a small excerpt of Take Me Tomorrow. Don’t forget to email me if you want to review it! I’m at shannonathompson@aol.com, and I should be receiving the review copies soon. I am also open to interviews! (Or just talking.) So talk to you soon!

~SAT

Below, you’ll find all of June’s Website Wonders categorized into these categories: For Writers, Publishing News, For Readers, Inspiration, and Humor. The excerpt is at the bottom, but I share all of these on my Author Facebook page throughout the month, so be sure to join me there if you haven’t already. :D

For Writers:

200 Words Instead of “Said” – I am a huge fan of the word “said” but many writers like to use a variety of words. A few readers left fantastic tips on my Author Facebook Page, including Amber Skye Forbes saying to use words like these like gems. I agree with her, but this article is great if you’re looking for those little gems to use.

Famous Writer’s Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity: Too bad my sleep habits aren’t anything like these.

21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips From Great Authors: “Even the great writers of our time have tried and failed and failed some more.”

Publishing News:

Amazon Is Now Re-Stocking Some Hachette Titles: This dispute is on-going.

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For Readers:

What Your Favorite High School Book Says About You: I picked “1984” since “The Stranger” wasn’t on the list.

George RR Martin’s editor hints at eighth Game of Thrones book: An eighth book?!

Against YA: I responded to this horrible article this month here –> “Everything I Learned From Against YA and More”

14 Brilliant Pieces of Literature You Can Read in the Time it Takes to Eat Lunch: This article is a brilliant piece to read during lunch. I felt so lucky to find this. It’s a great list!

Cassandra Clare released a snippet from The Dark Artifices: Can’t wait!

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A quote from Seconds Before Sunrise that Snydle quotes made!

Inspiration:

Spooky, Wild Scenes Straight Out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales: beautiful photos

Powerful Portraits of Brave People Revealing Their Insecurities: Other than the fact that this project is powerful and amazing and so many other words, I thought this would be a great exercise for writers to run through with their characters. What are there insecurities? Where would they write them down? How would they display themselves?

Under This Tree In Cuba, There’s A Secret World. Enter At Your Own Risk: Goes to show how much one tree can hide.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Great for historical writers!

The Top 10 TED Talks Every Woman Should See: I would like to add that these aren’t just for women. I think they’re great for everyone.

Humor:

The 20 Biggest Plot Holes In World History: Truth is stranger than fiction.

Which Member of the Justice League Are You?: I’m Batman!

Excerpt:

A little information first: the photo you see is from the Take Me Tomorrow Pinterest board. The boy is very close to Miles Beckett, a friend of Sophia’s. The scene you’re about to read is actually a part of a flashback of the first time Sophia met Miles when they were seven years old.

10486302_700440563336461_7589438558921574845_n“We’re going to be best friends,” Lily squealed, seeming younger than me even though I was told we were the same age. I couldn’t say anything to that either.

“You’ll really like it here,” Ms. Beckett said, giving a slight push to a young boy standing next to her. He had stumbled forward, but his gaze never left the ground. His curls were matted with gel, and his shirt had a collar. He looked like a child dressed in an old man’s suit.

Miles managed to tell me his name, while Lily exclaimed that he was her brother. Twins. I had never met twins before.

“I’m Sophia,” I said, glancing up at my father for social direction.

“You’ll like it here, kiddo,” he repeated Ms. Beckett’s words, playing with the glasses in his pocket. I nodded mechanically, knowing that his new job would keep him out of the State most of the time. I was stuck here, and everything was about to change.

Hope you enjoy the websites!

~SAT

 

Writing Tips: Introducing Your Characters

20 Jun

Special thanks to The Leisure Zone for reviewing Minutes Before Sunset: “A great read. I absolutely enjoyed reading it and it does take your imagination for a ride…This is a great leading book. I cannot wait to read the following books.” Click here to read the full review or click here to check out Minutes Before Sunset on Amazon, only $3.89.

Also, you might have noticed that my progress bar is updated on the right side of my website! I try to update it every two weeks, but I am really looking forward to the release of Take Me Tomorrow and Death Before Daylight.

People are obsessed with firsts: a baby’s first smile, winning first place in a race, your first love, getting arrested for the first time. (Okay. So maybe not that last one.) But we do like firsts, and I think it brings up a topic writers don’t normally talk about or even consider.

What are your characters’ firsts?

No. I’m not talking about their first steps when they were a baby. I’m talking about the first time they appear in the story, the first time they talked, the first time they laughed, the first time they really opened up and showed some depth to their created soul.

So I’m going to share some of my characters’ firsts as examples while I explain how important their first line can be. This might seem like a stretch for many but consider the popular phrase, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” But I really like the quote below, because I believe it applies to how your readers can perceive your characters’ first impressions as well:

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Characters are just like people except that we can decide exactly what that first impression will be. Maybe their first impression will be great and readers will consider loving them. Maybe everyone will hate them. You can do both, and that’s the beauty of it. You can even get really complicated and strive to have the reader love them while the characters hate them. But enough of my rambling. Below I’ll explain some first impression parts to consider with examples from Minutes Before Sunset.

First appearance:

This is important for the obvious, main reason: a first impression is largely based on how someone appears, how they act, how they think or talk. This “first appearance” can be an appearance a reader sees first or an appearance the other characters see first. Consider both of those moments carefully because you can set up how a reader might judge a character for a long time. For me – as a reader – I have become very confused when a character is introduced in a very violent or angry way when they suddenly become very nice seconds later. It’s like whiplash. Scenes like that make more sense to me when I already know the character. (I’m not saying it cannot be done. What I am saying is to approach first appearances with care.) Below are examples of characters appearing to the reader first.

In Minutes Before Sunset, Camille appears in the very first chapter. Although Eric is six, she is already his guard (and she is only nine!) We see her as soon as Eric’s father leaves him alone – and, unlike Eric’s father – Camille asks Eric is if he alright. This sets up their relationship as a caring one, but it also shows the responsibility Camille has to take care of the male protagonist. Fun fact: we don’t see Camille’s human appearance until page 21. I could go on and on about how their different identities appear at separated times, but she appeared as a guard first because that part of her life is more important to the story, to Eric, and to her.

First spoken line:

What a character says can define them just as much as what a character does. I find first lines to be good indicators on what we can expect from a character: are they funny? Angry? Bitter? Responsible? Yes, of course their personalities develop far beyond their first lines, but first lines normally happen at the same time as first appearances, which are usually important scenes, so first lines – by default – reveal extra insight, like if a character speaks with an accent or not. Moments like these then become defining factors. But I would say that you don’t have to take this literally. The first line doesn’t necessarily mean the exact first line. It can mean the first conversation they have.

For this example, I wanted to share a few first spoken lines:

Since I explained the first scene in Minutes Before Sunset, let’s look at Camille’s first line: “Eric.” Yep. That’s her first word. In contrast, Eric – as Shoman – first appears in chapter two, and his first line as a shade is “Camille.” One another’s names are the first things they say because it focuses on the depth of their relationship while insinuating how close they are on a regular basis. But if we wanted to look at Eric’s VERY first line – again, this line is spoken when he is six years old in chapter one – he simply says, “I’m fine.” It’s important to note that Eric is lying here, and lying later becomes a defining factor of Eric’s personality. On a lighter note, when we see Crystal – a side character – for the first time, she says, “Don’t answer that.” to Jessica after Robb begins flirting with her. Crystal’s first line not only shows how she can take the initiative, but it also shows her comfort with interrupting Robb, insinuating that their friends (or at least that they know one another.)

First time they interact with another character:

This can get tricky, because stories have dozens of characters and each one of them is going to interact for the first time eventually and – most of the time – it’s only the “first time” for the reader. Most of the time, characters have a past, so they aren’t speaking for the first time, but that’s also the point - the “first” conversation can show whether or not characters have a past as well as other things, such as a social ranking difference (sir, ma’am, etc.) and/or if their past is a good one. Are they friends? Are they enemies? Are they competitors? Do they talk or is this a rare instance? Considering these questions can help shape how one character approaches another one while also hinting to the reader about how they always interact – before and during the story.

In Minutes Before Sunset, we get to see two, very different types of first interactions. Since Jessica is new to Hayworth, the reader gets to be introduced to everyone just like Jessica does, but Eric isn’t new. Through his eyes, we see interactions that have history – a very dark history – and we see repercussions of that in his various interactions. For instance, let’s focus on the human identities in Minutes Before Sunset. Jessica first talks to Eric on page 36. They’ve been assigned as homeroom partners, and Jessica is trying to be amicable but Eric – obviously – does not have the same intentions. (Scene told from Eric’s perspective.)

“Hi,” she said, turning briefly toward me to smile. “I’m Jess.”

She laid out her hand for a handshake, and I pushed my chair against the wall. “I heard your name when Ms. Hinkel assigned you,” I said, opening the chemistry book left on my desk from the previous period. I was not interested in small talk.

Now – moving onto another scene to use as a comparison. Crystal – a girl who has gone to school with Eric since childhood – doesn’t speak to Eric until page 127, and the only reason they do speak is because Crystal is sitting in his seat. (If you haven’t read the books, spoiler alert: Crystal and Eric used to be friends until freshman year in high school until Abby – Eric’s previous girlfriend – died. Eric stopped speaking to everyone. Crystal and Robb take this very personally.) But here is the scene so you can see: (scene told from Jessica’s perspective)

“Hey.”

We both jumped, and our conversation halted as we turned around. In front of us, Eric stood inches away, and the teacher hovered behind him, crossing her arms.

“Er—Eric,” I managed, and Crystal stared.

“Hey, Jessica,” he said, turning his gaze to my friend. “Crystal.”

“Welborn.” She returned the acknowledgement with a cold tone. “Hey.”

His smirk faltered, and his lips thinned. “I hate to interrupt,” he said, swinging his hand over his shoulder to point at our teacher. “but I probably need my seat.”

Both of these “firsts” show Eric’s history as well as his emotional state, but the moments also reveal character traits of Jessica and Crystal. While Jessica wants to be nice at first, Eric isn’t interested, and the tension between Crystal and Eric is still present, despite the two years that have passed since Abby’s sudden death. However, this would be a good time to say that “first” interactions are just as important as how the characters continue to act and grow. Later in the story, all of these characters’ relationships shift dramatically.

So I hope you have a few places to start in regards to your characters’ firsts. You might even crack open a favorite book you’ve read just to see what those characters’ firsts were. They might surprise you. I know I had a few that shocked me.

Happy writing and reading!

~SAT

Writing Tips: Lovers

16 Jun

Writing Tips: Lovers

Read my latest interview by clicking here. I talk about fellow Indie authors who’ve inspired me, Take Me Tomorrow, and so much more!

The protagonist lover characters seem to follow these molds:

  • Gorgeous, mysterious, heart-striken male who cannot communicate his feelings until death is threatening separation, because of some past that has caused him to reject relationships in any form until he falls in love.
  • Stunningly pretty female who doesn’t seem to realize she’s beautiful, therefore causing her to be more desirable despite having no capabilities in regards to physical strength or mental strength. The only appealing part of them is their love and how they can support the male with their love.  

So I wanted to share three basic tips to deepening characters within their relationships, but the basic rule I follow is to show why they are uniquely beautiful in the inside and out to the narrator and to the reader. Let the “beautiful people” stand on their own beauty, let them define what “beauty” means to them, and create a beauty that is 3-D, that is rounded and deeply set inside of the characters’ hearts. This includes their unique features, gestures, speech, and more, but here are three examples:

1. Scars, injuries, birthmarks: 

Physical descriptions can, in fact, have a rounding out effect on a character, but these descriptions go beyond “brown hair and blue eyes.” For any character, scars and birthmarks can show a history written on their skin, but you can show this as an intimate thing between lovers. Maybe a lover is the only who has seen a scar or maybe everyone has seen it but the lover is the only one who knows the true story behind it. These little marks of history can be very telling. Someone may have beautiful eyes, but that time they fell out of a tree and broke their arm trying to save a cat tells about how caring they are of animals and others’ lives. It might even insinuate how they have a lack of fear of heights (or, perhaps, explain why they now do.)

Ex/ In November Snow, Daniel has a huge scar on his back, but no one knows what it is from until much later in the story. Serena isn’t the first to see it, but her curiosity about it showed a deeper concern for his past and health than other characters expressed toward him.

This reminded of Eric and Jessica from The Timely Death Trilogy.

This reminded of Eric and Jessica from The Timely Death Trilogy.

2. Gestures:

How do your loved ones show they love you? Think of the small things–the daily “How are you” can make all the difference. Maybe, in a time of danger, a lover would place a hand on the other to remind them they are present. It’s small, yet it tells so much. It says, “I am here. I am listening, and I’m aware that you are, too. I am here for you.” There is an endless streak of gestures – big and small – that people do to show how much they care, and gestures are a great way to define emotions in a relationship between people.

Ex/ In Seconds Before Sunrise, Eric automatically makes Jessica tea without asking her if she wants some or if she likes it. He already knows she does, but a part of him does this without even thinking about it because it comes naturally to him.

 3. Speech: 

Choose their conversations carefully. It seems to me, in young-adult especially, the characters are undyingly in love, yet they never have a conversation about their feelings, insecurities, and/or questions. They never ask the other what the other is thinking. I’m not saying that your characters necessarily have to do this literally. (Ex/ “Do you love me?”) I get it. There is normally a sense of tension in novels, so discussing love is removed for many reasons, so you don’t have to have a discussion about love, but let the lovers have deeper conversations. (Ex/ life, hobbies, past memories, etc.) Most characters – like people – will talk out loud, and choosing what characters discuss can define relationships early on – it may even define their relationship before they even realize they have one.

Ex/ In Minutes Before Sunset, in their human identities, Eric talks to Jessica without even realizing he is opening up about topics he doesn’t discuss with other people. He doesn’t act like it’s a big deal, but Jessica isn’t sure what to say because she realizes he doesn’t talk about it. On the contrast, Jessica tells Eric how she doesn’t like opening up to people. Ironically, admitting that to him was her way of opening up. She doesn’t admit this to anyone else. But in their shade identities, they both open up fairly quickly. Going back and forth between the two identities, their discussions become the main growing aspect of their relationship.

These are only three places to start, but there are endless possibilities to round out characters and their relationships with one another (lovers or not.) A great question for aspiring writers to contemplate is who their favorite book relationship included and why. Write down a list and figure out how to incorporate unique ways into your own stories.

How do you round out relationships? Who are your favorite lovers? Why? And if you’re feeling extra open, have you ever used real life inspiration for a fictional character’s love interest?

~SAT

Chocolate and the Metaphor

23 May

Shannon here to announce our guest blogger of the day. 

Ron Estrada

Ron Estrada

Ron Estrada runs 8.187. He shares his short essays that “contemplate the order and clutter, thrust and drift of the human condition in this great, big, hopeful world.”  Today, he’s discussing metaphors, similes, and how writers should approach them.

Now, onto him:

I was in a writing workshop five or so years ago and we were reviewing a short story or a portion of a longer piece of prose written by someone in the workshop.  The workshop setting, if you aren’t familiar, works like this: a story/poem/essay is distributed by the writer to each of his or her classmates during a meeting session.  The piece is taken home by each person, read, considered, marked with suggestions and reactions, and then brought back to the next meeting where everyone discusses aloud their impressions of the piece in hopes of enlightening the writer about their work.  I’ve seen this both work and fail.  Sometimes the counsel is beneficial and illuminating, will fuel, like coal from the hopper, will push the writer’s thoughts forward, which, in turn, pushes the story forward.  And then there are times the suggestions don’t offer ideas for polishing but take the form of an adolescent movie review–thumbs downthat was neatI don’t like that character’s name.  At times the writer will get defensive and respond to a remark with a counter argument and the discussion moves away from within the borders of the story and starts to focus on whether the story can live in the real world—someone may comment on the palpability of an event and the writer will respond with, “I know it can happen because it happened to my aunt.”  The intention and hope for the discussion of the work has now been guttered.

So during this one meeting the writer described a character in her story as having fingers like Milky Way bars, which was supposed to inform that they were brown and thick, tempered, masculine. But the comparison was too far off. Many of us said that the association didn’t fit; the sensual evocation gave us smells that we’re wrong and visuals that were surely wrong. But the writer defended their metaphor and the rest of us shrugged and continued along.

The issue here wasn’t so much the association of fingers to chocolate bars (actually, it was, yes, but, first, and more, there was a comparative step that was missing). The path from hand to Milky Way was absent of important intervals of ribbon. It’s natural and common for us to use simile and metaphor in our writing; they are useful tools in our creative relaying. But many writers, often young writers, will over-rely on these elements so much that the focus, the thing will get lost in description and details will sort of just lay out there on their own instead of blending and harmonizing. It’s important to remember that the “thing” must first be the “thing,” by itself, before it can be something else, before it can be a simile or a metaphor. Chekhov talks about the writer getting worn out when reading too many modifiers. And writers so much want to transcend their subject —good, that’s what art should do—that they get crazed in describing everything in their story as something else. Eventually, the modifiers will not only be applied to things but, more dangerously, to moments and to what should be quietly shared between characters, to something naturally artful, to something real and heartbreaking.

As writers we need to consider the thing first and use the right words to deliver it, all the while recognizing that it’s easy to strew leaves and over-dirty our pathway, pushing the reader to focus on the crackle and brush and not the direction, the walk, the right way.

Connect with Ron by clicking here, and tell us about your experience with metaphors! 

Getting Unstuck as an Author

21 May

Shannon, here, for one announcement: I’ve joined Pinterest as well. You can join me by clicking here. I have boards for The Timely Death Trilogy, November Snow, and Take Me Tomorrow – as well as boards for cats, coffee, and my crazy imagination. There might be some spoilers, but I try to keep it to a minimum. Think of it as “behind the scenes.” I hope you like them.

Now – for today’s guest blogger: Hanne Arts!

Sometimes when I’m writing, I get stuck on a sentence or an idea, or I simply give up altogether and procrastinate instead. Everything seems better than to fight through the obstacle at that time.
 It is, however, necessary to fight through that brief “down.”

Every writer has them, and every writer deals with them differently, yet here are a couple of tips that I personally find very helpful. It might help you along the way as well!

1) Write (about) something different.

I often find myself staring at my computer screen or getting frustrated over not finding the perfect words. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to acknowledge that fighting with the same strategies will not always work. If you apply the same principles, the same problems will pop up again! If you try something entirely new, whether this means throwing the old manuscript out the window, giving it a twist, or momentarily focusing your attention on a new (practice) story, certainly try it out! A new approach will bring freshness to the story. Furthermore, “writing something different” does not even have to be content-related. Maybe you just need to write in a different style, genre, or with a different voice. The more you try, the more smoothly the words will come to you later.

2) Change your environment or approach.

Changing your setting or writing area can entirely change your writing and consequently spice things up. Moreover, it might get you unstuck. If, for example, you usually write in a quiet room, try going out to a café and writing there. You might get entirely different ideas and inspirations, and, on top of this, it will enable you to observe the people around you. I sometimes also choose to write by hand rather than my usual typing, and this sometimes helps me produce ideas and keep going.

3) Write in a different order.

Usually I start my story with either an ending or beginning in mind. I then fill in the pieces in between. This, however, is simply one way of doing things. You could just as well know the plot and then create a start and end, or you could start with a mere scene in mind. If there is a scene that is currently vivid in your head, write it first before the idea gets lost by the time you get to it!

4) Read your favorite book(s).

Read books you like that inspire you because, quite simply… they inspire you. Ask yourself why you like the book(s) and apply it to your own work. Wouldn’t you want to have the same effect on other that that author has on you?

5) Relax.

If you currently have no inspiration, no sweat. Focus on other things and experience life. Later come back to your writing and view it with new ideas. You’ll have new ideas and new motivation. Nobody feels inspired all the time (for me it is often not there at all, but when it is, I cannot stop writing for days and days on end). If you don’t feel like you can take a break from your writing or you have a deadline to make, then simply put yourself to writing something each night (or morning – whenever you usually write). This will put you in the right mindset and make you more fluent and time-efficient in the future. (You could even try timed exercises to further train and challenge your brain.)

- Hanne Arts

Hanne Arts can be found here, but here are more of her blog posts:

30 Writing Prompts

The Seven Best Tips to Fight Writer’s Block and Writer’s Jam

9 Common Writing Problems…and Their Solutions

6 Basic Guidelines to Make Your Book Work

5 Mistakes that Authors Make that Lose Their Readers

 

 

History Is Something That Happens To Other People

19 May

Two quick announcements from Shannon before today’s guest blogger takes over:

I have joined Tumblr, so please join me by clicking here. Also, my headshot pictures have changed. I recently did a photo shoot with Colt Coan Photography. Check out his website by clicking here!

Today’s guest blogger is Misha Burnett, author of the Catskinner’s Book and Cannibal Hearts, science fiction/urban fantasy novels. He will also mention his co-author, Jessika O’Sullivan. Please click on their names to visit their websites.   

I have always been intimidated by historical research for fiction. One of my favorite authors is Tim Powers, who writes an unique form of historical fantasy, blending real events with fantastic elements so seamlessly that you finish his books wondering just what the hell really happened.

I would read something like The Anubis Gates (about a secret society of Egyptian magicians in early 19th Century London) or Declare (the career of Soviet spy Kim Philby explained as a cold world battle over the control of a colony of djin in the Arabian desert) and be utterly blown away—and completely convinced that I could never attempt anything like that.

Recently however, I found myself having started a historical novel. It’s kind of a funny story. An indie writer friend of mine invited me to join a Google+ group called “Legendary Author Battles”. The purpose of the group was to writers working together on short stories. One would pick the setting, the other the characters, and they would take turns adding to the story. These “battles” weren’t intended to be serious, they were simply a writing exercise.

However, a writer named Jessika O’Sullivan and I found ourselves with the beginning of a very interesting story, with characters that we cared about, and both of us decided that it really ought to be given a change to become a novel.

Fortunately Jessika is well educated and willing to shoulder the brunt of the research. However, as I was going I found myself needing to know things in order to figure out how events would unfold.

Our novel is set in East Berlin, in 1947. We have a diverse mix of characters, English, German, Russian, ranging in age from their early 20’s to their mid 50’s. Suddenly I have to know things like what was going on in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1917 or how extensive was the firebombing of Dresden, Germany in February of 1945.

Thank God for Wikipedia. Not only do they have pages on everything, they have links to actual source materials and archive pictures. Did you know that you can get lists of articles that appeared in The Lancet magazine going back to the 19th Century?

Translating the cold data into a character’s experiences, however, I have begun to realize that looking up facts is only the first half. There is a phrase used by military writers; “Ground Truth”. They use it to refer to the difference between knowing something because your intelligence agencies tell you so, and getting physically into an area and seeing it with your own eyes.

Obviously, I cannot physically walk the streets of East Berlin in 1947. I wouldn’t even be able to swing the airfare to visit Berlin today. I’m a writer, though, I travel via my imagination. Looking at the photographs of the devastation wrought by the war, I can project myself into the shoes of the figures dwarfed by those piles of rubble. Those lucky enough to have shoes, that is.

That’s when I realized that history isn’t history to the people who live there. It’s obvious in retrospect, but that’s what I think is the key to writing historical fiction—the characters don’t know they are characters in historical fiction.

To take just one example, our character Helmut doesn’t know anything about The German Revolution as a historical event. What he knows is that one day his father went to a political rally and never came back, and he had to become the sole support of his mother and brothers at seventeen.

It isn’t the things that make headlines or chapters in history books that make up a life, those are things that are only seen afterward, by people who hadn’t been there. Helmut reads in the paper that the UN is voting on the establishment of the state of Israel, and he mentions it in conversation, but what his wife Amalia is going to make for dinner that evening is a thousand times more important to him.

I am realizing that I have to keep asking myself not only, “What was going on in that place, at that time?” but also “What effect, if any, would those events have on my characters?”

What is the Ground Truth? To a young girl in the Bund Deutscher Mädel, National Socialism isn’t an ideology, it’s the thing that makes her work after school making bandages for the troops instead of playing outside with her friends.

Now don’t get me wrong—good research is important, and it’s hard work. If I write that my characters are standing around watching the Soviets build the Berlin Wall, a lot of people are going to point out that construction on the Wall wasn’t begun until 1961. If I’m writing about a character driving a car I need to know what sort of controls that car would have, and how they differ from modern vehicles. Would the car have a radio? Air conditioning? Automatic transmission? What sort of lights, and how are they controlled? Seat belts?

A million details, and there’s a temptation, when researching, to include everything. On the 12th of November, 1947, the writer Emma Orczy, creater of The Scarlet Pimpernil, died. As a writer and a lover of esoterica, I find that a significant event, given Orczy’s influence on popular adventure and mystery stories.

Honestly, though, it’s not something that my characters would have noticed at all. So I resist the temptation to put it in the book. It’s not my story, it’s my character’s story.

What matters most about people isn’t when they lived or where they were born or what language they spoke. What matters most about people is that they are people.

History is something that happens to other people. When it’s happening, it’s not history, it’s just life. One of the themes that Jessika and I have discussed is how in the midst of these huge upheavals, wars and revolutions and reconstructions, life somehow still goes on. People still fall in and out of love, work and struggle, argue and make up, wake up each morning and go to bed each night.

The fundamental things apply.

Misha

Help: I’ve Returned to an Old Piece of Writing, and I Can See Influences From My Past

20 Feb

Recently, I have truly enjoyed writing up my personal posts instead of focusing on writing or publishing tips. Sharing my story opened up a channel for me to hear your stories, and it was really nice getting to know more of you on a deeper level. If I continue this in the future, I hope to hear more from others. If you have an idea of a topic – any topic really – you can always comment below and suggest one. I will even credit your blog as the inspiration for the post. No matter what, thank you for reading and commenting. 

Today, though, I wanted to talk about a topic that is very much a personal twist on the writing spectrum. Yes, writing is always personal to the writer, but I wanted to discuss how certain writings can be influenced by a particular time in your life and/or how it can affect the writing process when you return to it later. The reason for this is simple: I’m currently going through it, and I wanted to talk about it in the hopes of reaching out to other artists who have experienced the same range of emotions I have,which include confusion, guilt, acceptance, and understanding.

If you follow my interviews, then you know I am already planning for which one of my novels will be published after Seconds Before Sunrise. (But I hope you’ll take a moment to check out Seconds Before Sunrise by clicking here.) Although readers might be expecting Death Before Daylight, I am moving towards publishing a new novel altogether before the last book of the trilogy. From this point on, I will be referring to this new novel as TMT.

When I went back to edit TMT, I found some surprises I wasn’t expecting:

There are some heavy influences that I could not see before. When I was originally writing it, I was in my freshman year of college. At the time, I could not see any correlations with my life in my science-fiction world. Now that I’ve been removed from the novel for a few years, I can interpret it more clearly. I can see old acquaintances in the characters. I can hear dialogue that sounds like a stranger I met. I can see where I mixed a scene together by blending a field by my dorm room and a forest by my old house. I can see my husky, Shadow, in the dog the protagonist cherishes.

This is Shadow - my buddy. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, but he loved snow just as much as me.

This is Shadow – my buddy. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, but he loved snow just as much as I do. (Probably more, of course.)

This was all unexpected, and – if I may be bold – difficult in many areas, because it brings up a lot of old memories I have since let go in one way or another. I believe this is a struggle many artists may face at one time or another. When we write in present time, we might not realize we have placed our friend in a novel as a protagonist’s cousin. Years later, after we’ve had a falling out with that friend, it is a struggle to return to the novel’s mindset where you must love that “cousin” you can now see was someone very real and dear to you but no longer is.

But it’s okay. There are many ways to accept these moments. They aren’t all bad. In fact, I would say most of it isn’t bad. As my posts normally go, I repetitively say, “It’s all about attitude.”

When you return to these older works, hoping to make them better, you can accept where the influences come from for what they are. Just accept them, and dive into it with the same passion you have today. Eventually, I have noticed that I am adding more influence from my current life into TMT, instead of letting my past life define it. It’s an interesting area to explore, because it’s the blending of me – my past, my present, and my future – and it brings a sense of serene acceptance.

Here are three thoughts that helped me through this:

A. Be prepared to feel this way. There’s nothing to be guilty or ashamed or feel any weirdness about. It’s natural. Think of it this way, it would be impossible to go sit in your high school parking lot without remembering a few times you were there. Art can be the same way. If you wrote it five years ago, don’t be surprised if memories from five years ago sneak up. It’s okay. Enjoy it, and change it if you want to.

B. You’re an artist – it’s bound to happen. You are inspired by life, after all.

C. If you are disturbed or upset, that’s okay, too. Put the writing down. Try not to be hard on yourself about it. The past isn’t always a place people are comfortable with. Write something new!

I actually asked about this topic on my Facebook Author Page, “Have you ever associated your novel (or a book that your have read) with a certain time in your life? If so, when you go back to edit it and/or reread it, have you seen influences you didn’t see before? Is this easy or difficult to comprehend and how do you think it affects the writing and/or reading process?”

Join me on FB, and your responses might be used next!

Join me on FB, and your responses might be used next!

Here are two fantastic answers,

The J. Aurel Guay Archive: “I wrote half a novel during a very transitional time of life. I set it down for several years and when I came back to it, I couldn’t find the motivation to finish it because I had progressed through that stage. I will finish it eventually, but it will change fundamentally as they open questions on which the novel turns have been answered in my life. I just can’t write it from the same frame of reference anymore. You can find a snippet here.”

Tanya Taimanglo: “My romantic comedy, Secret Shopper was cathartic for me. It resembles so much of my life, although I insist it’s fiction. (It is). The death of my father, elements of a bad break up and finding real love made its way onto the page. It was written years ago, and when I do reread it, I cringe at how much truth I allowed out there and I’m reminded of how much growth I’ve made. In some ways, it’s like a journal I’ve made public. I can’t undo it, just embrace its truth and move on.”

What about you? Have you ever returned to a writing and saw past influences you didn’t see at the time of writing it? How did you cope with it?

~SAT

Writing Tips: Details: Vehicles

16 Jan Just in case you’re curious, I drive a manual - a Mazda, RX-8 named “Roxy."

Last month was my best month in sales yet. Minutes Before Sunset continues to grow, and I want to thank everyone for their encouraging support, especially as we get closer to the release of Seconds Before Sunrise this March. I am very happy, and I must thank you all for that – thank you!

Another thank you goes out to Red Sand Reviewz for reading Minutes Before Sunset. “The summary alone had me hooked. Once I started reading it, I just couldn’t put it down. It has a unique storyline with plot twists and it beats a few stereotypes.” Find out what their only disappointment was in book 1 of The Timely Death trilogy by reading the rest of the review here.

And lastly, I asked everyone on my Facebook Author Page if you all would enjoy a monthly review of entertainment – like movies, music, and books – that I come across. Due to your input, these posts are now in the plan for once a month, and I will hopefully have my first one at the end of January.

Now, today’s topic. 

I’m starting a series of tips called “Writing Tips: Details: _____.” It will focus on things like how to choose a character’s wardrobe, bedroom style, and other favorite things in order to enhance their believability. This one is my first one, and considering I’ve been talking about cars a lot, I thought I would start off with vehicles – how to pick them and what to keep in mind while choosing them.

I think picking cars is a lot like picking names as well as many other things. The time period matters, the background matters, but you can still have fun with it, and it is ultimately up to the story. As long as you consider the character as the main chooser – and don’t choose a car simply because it’s your favorite car – I think you’re safe. I’m going to be using three examples from Minutes Before Sunset with individual reasoning for why I picked these cars. (The pictures are close examples, not exact, because years change over time, and one idea I talk about it being timeless.)

1. Eric Welborn (Shoman) – old Dodge Charger, black, two-door coupe

I know. I know. It’s only the backside, but the license plate is too funny! I have the link to the full picture below.

I know. I know. It’s only the backside, but the license plate is too funny! I have the link to the full picture below.

Originally, Eric drove a 2009, black Charger. The reasoning  – at first – was simple (and that is where I made a mistake). I wanted him to have a nice car, considering his father’s income, but I didn’t think his father would splurge beyond that for his son. When choosing the year, I picked a 2009, because that was the year I ended the trilogy, and my first plan was that he would have the latest model. But then I realized the same thing I realized when I discussed using technology in books – it becomes outdated really fast. That’s when I reconsidered the year of his car and realized that he also loves history. His personality directed a love for older cars. In that realization, I had to accept another change: his father spent more money on him. This came down to their relationship, which is explained in Minutes Before Sunset, so I can’t get more into it without a spoiler. But I made the personal decision not to focus on the exact year but rather the coupe style – that way, the car would last a decade after the book was published. I know the photo above is only the backside, but I thought the license plate was too funny to not share. If you’re curious, it’s a 1970 Dodge Charger 2-door coupe, RHD and you can see the full picture here.

2. Teresa Young (Camille) – old, silver BMW

This was the closest one I could find.

This was the closest one I could find.

More of Teresa’s background will be explained in Seconds Before Sunrise, but – so far – readers know she is a “half-breed.” She’s half-Light, half-Dark, and she was raised by the Dark. She is also Eric’s guard. When I reflected on this, I thought she might also have a nice car, something that Eric’s father would get her, but then I realized Camille was not the type to accept it. She wouldn’t even like it. She’s proud of being Eric’s guard, but she also wants to be herself, so her car had to reflect her independence, even if it seemed like more independence than she actually had. It also had to be unlike Eric’s car for another reason entirely – no one can know she is his guard. The world simply believes they are family friends. If the Welborn’s bought her a nice car, it would bring too much attention to their already suspicious relationship. It was another reason as to why she needed something that didn’t cause any unnecessary attention. That being said, Camille, herself, was insistent on a BMW, so that’s where I let the character ultimately pick (and what better way to celebrate her independence?). If I had to pick the closest car she would have today, it would be a 2004, BMW 3-Series with 80,000+ miles on it.

3. Robb McLain – Chevrolet Suburban, blue, a few years old 

This is a 2007, Chevy Suburban LTZ

This is a 2007, Chevy Suburban LTZ

One of Jessica Taylor’s best friends, Robb McLain is the social guy. He’s never alone, and he’s always driving someone around town, so I knew he needed a big vehicle, but his social life was not the main reason I picked this car for him. I had to think about who bought the car – his parents – and I remembered something my own father told me about choosing a 97’ Tahoe for my brother when he was Robb’s age, “I put as much metal around him as possible. I would put him in a tank if I could. It’s how I protect him.” As I thought of this, I could see Robb’s parents nodding. They agreed, and I knew I needed something like the 97’ Tahoe my brother drove at the time. Eventually, the Suburban settled down on my imagination’s driveway, and Robb was driving away soon enough.

Just in case you’re curious, I drive a manual - a Mazda, RX-8 named “Roxy."

Just in case you’re curious, I drive a manual – a Mazda, RX-8 named “Roxy.”

As you can see, there are a lot of things one has to consider when picking vehicles out for characters. Who bought the car? Who’s driving the car? What will the car be used for? Does the car work for the personality, setting, and economic background? And – most of all – did it feel right to your character when you picked it out? 

What about you? What kind of cars have you picked for a characters to drive around in? Were there any questions or hesitations you had when car shopping?

~SAT

Photography and Writing

12 Jan

First – if you like Facebook groups for authors, editors, and/or any one to do with writing, here’s a fantastic one for the Author Extension Community. It’s just another way to meet more people willing to support other artists.

Second – I want to thank Sarit Yahalomi at Coffee & Books & Art for reviewing Minutes Before Sunset: “I can always appreciate a female character whose purpose is not only to look cute and pretty in the arms of her leading man but to actually show some attitude and who knows how to fight back.” Check out her entire review here.

I joined Instagram. Believe it or not, this actually has to do with my post today. I didn’t plan on talking about photography and how it has affected my writing life, but I thought sharing my surrender to Instagram was a good way to open up this little discussion that has more to do with my past than my current life. I would love it if you would join me there. I will probably (mainly) take fun photos of cats, coffee, and my writing adventures, and I hope to see your photos, too.

But what do photos have to do with writing?

I used to love photography. I still do, but I meant to say that I used to participate in photography. At one point, photography actually overcame my writing – which wasn’t a surprise, considering my father worked for Kodak for 25 years, and our house was full of one-time-use photograph machines. I used to have a beautiful camera that sadly died a number of years ago. I have been weary about getting a new one, only because I need a new laptop first, but I miss it – a lot.

I found creativity behind the lens just as I find adventures behind words today. I used to spend hours walking through empty fields and forests, imagining all of the magic that could exist in one backyard.  Below is actually a photo I took in my front yard, and – fun fact – it was used on the back cover of Minutes Before Sunset.

19553_1171443324923_4970923_n

A part of this is now the back cover on Minutes Before Sunset.

At some point in my childhood I realized the magic I obsessed over was in the simplest of things – in the broken bottle cap or the abandoned farmhouse – because it came down to perspective. 

A farmhouse wasn’t just a barn that no one wanted – it was a mystery, a creaking doorway into the unknown. Perhaps this is why articles about abandoned places inspire me so much. They leave room for the imagination in reality rather than forcing the imagination while sitting in an empty room. It’s fresh air, so to speak.

The magic found in creating art is discovered by challenging a perspective. 

This is what photography has to do with writing – for me, it’s about how we see the world, but it’s also about trying a new hobby to enhance a talent (or taking a moment to get away from the keyboard and out of the house.) I’ve shown how I’ve used photographs in a book to keep track of writing, but there’s more to photos than simply staring at them in the same sense that reading words is different than writing words down.

The point of this – honestly – isn’t about getting you to love photography but rather sharing my experience with realizing that I might be able to further my love for writing by dabbling back in my love for photography. 

So, try it with me if you want – go back in time, remember something you used to love to do, even if it was rarely, and attempt to love it for a day again. Enjoy it like a vacation or rededicate yourself to practicing it again in 2014.

I know I will be. In fact, in the future I will be blogging about why the photo below is symbolic to my writing. If you recall, it was used as the placement photo before the cover to Seconds Before Sunrise was revealed, and there’s a very good reason for that. I’m looking forward to sharing that reasoning soon.

What does this have to do with Seconds Before Sunrise?

What does this have to do with Seconds Before Sunrise? You’re about to find out.

~SAT

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