Monday, January 30, 2012

Francis Ford Coppola Does It

OK, I did it again. I got another Fresh Air podcast inspiration.

But this time I was listening to Francis Ford Coppola talking about his film career and being a writer. I mean, sure. It's screenwriting. But he had the greatest advice.

I was kind of already doing it (bet some of you were, too), so in truth, it was the greatest affirmation.

He said, "When you're writing, just keep writing."

OK, that's not exactly what he said.

The gist of what he said was that young writers don't trust themselves. They go back and read those first five pages right after they've written them, and lots of times, they tear them up.

Along with some potentially good ideas or inspiration.

(Historical Note: FFC's old, children. Back in the day, writers used to write stuff on paper. Which they cold tear. His point is sort of the equivalent of deleting it all today.)

Back to Frank! He said to write, write, write. (Just keep swimming.) Then put it away for a day or so (Stephen King says a month, doesn't he?), and then go back and read it.

Give yourself a chance to forget it, and then read it with fresh eyes.

It's something I tell my editing clients all the time. Take a break. Let it rest a few days to a week. You'll be amazed how different it'll look.

He also admitted that he copied all his favorite screenwriters and directors.

He confessed that his movie The Conversation was based on some movie he loved and wanted to copy.

And then he said the most important point: But that's impossible!

Which I interpreted this way: It's okay to emulate, to strive to write something like that book you love so much.

(The one that made you almost give up on writing because you'd never in a million years be able to ever write anything that good. Ever.)

I'm not talking about plagerism, as I've said before. I'm talking about being inspired. Being challenged. Being ticked off (or depressed) by other writers.

And then getting in there and trying to beat them, depending on your personality.

I'm a bit competitive, so after I get over the wallowing and the "Oh, I'll never write as good as Jessica Bell!" I get up, dust myself off, and then get ready to kick her tushie. (*wink*)


OK, so here's the link to that podcast (link). And now hit it! I want to see some drills. Jumping jacks. Drop and give me 20K (words, that is)!

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends! I'm planning to get some of my own revisions done this week. More soon~ <3

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bloghop & Book Review - Your Path to Publication


Great bloggy friend (and future Mrs. Maine) Sheri Larsen is hosting the Rebel Writer's Pledge 2012 blog hop (link). It's about sharing our goals for 2012.

I never do resolutions. But I decided on January 1, 2012, I wanted to shake things up this year.

What better way than to make a resolution?

So my goal for this year (as far as writing goes) is to view writing books as a career and not as a hobby that might turn into something.

That means being more deliberate about my choices. Less passive. I know, you're thinking, "You were being passive?" Well, sort of. Yeah.

So there you go! And my new, "career" attitude is a great segue into the book I'm about to recommend.


[Note: Some of you remember Murray Dunlap (link). Murray is a great southern writer, and his book Bastard Blue (link) is on my Kindle. Heads up: the opening voice is absolutely riveting. After I plugged it here, his publisher Kevin Watson of Press 53 sent me a different book to review. So that's the disclaimer.]

But I wouldn't be giving it a super-A+ review if it didn't deserve it.

Your Path to Publication: A Guide to Navigating the World of Publishing by Kim Wright (link) is the book I wish I'd had back in January 2010, before I sent out my first query for my first-ever novel.

Most of us now know how to query and find an agent, but if you don't, the chapters on that subject will give you the steps to do it. Get it if you're just starting that process.

(My only quibble is Wright doesn't mention, which I think is the #1 most invaluable tool for querying writers. Even if the comments occasionally devolve into wound-licking rejection-comps, for the most part they're a great way to know which agents are responding, how fast, to what, and what they're saying.)

Back to Wright's book. For me, the most gratifying passages had to do with the "what to expect after" portions of the story: after you have an agent and/or editor, after you get a book deal, after your book comes out.

Information like that is hard to find, and I felt like I was chatting with my favorite, wise aunt about her experiences.

She even has an informative chapter on self-publishing (or indie authors) that answered many of the questions I had about that process, from the different options, to price points, to print v. electronic-only versions... It was eye-opening.

Finally, her words of encouragement really soothed my self-doubty little writer's brain. I highlighted almost every other sentence on my Kindle, but passages such as, "False barriers abound, and people who believe in them can drag you down," and "[Writing is] one of the last noble quests people can go on..." really hit home for me.

It felt like my path to publication.

Her story at the very end about the sun tea at the writer's colony made me misty--LOL! I'd never considered a writer's colony before--I'm not a princess! But now, I'm feeling like that's my new writer-dream. Making it to one of those.

Wright has a fun, humorous style and even great advice for how to respond to negative reviews. (Can you guess what it is?)

Seriously, writer-friends, buy this book. You don't know you need it, but you do. And it's a steal for Kindle at $3.99.

Here's the link to the book again (link) and to Wright's website (link). She has several other titles out, fiction and nonfiction.


Last word for the week, and I'll get out of your hair. If you haven't heard, our awesome poet, rock star, and novelist friend Jessica Bell (link) has the Kindle edition of her poetry book Twisted Velvet Chains on sale for 99 cents.

Jessica has such a gorgeous, engaging, and raw style, both in her poetry and her prose. And her music! Get TVC and get ready to lose a day. Here's the link.

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends! More soon~ <3

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK, Joan Rivers, and Yoda

First, Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., day! I wrote a post about Dr. King that you can see here (link).

It's incredibly inspiring to remember people who have dreams, and who go after them in the face of such terrible realities.

I have a dream, although it's not as world-changing as MLK's.

And at the beginning of this month, I was pretty low thinking about it and where I am in the process. I was driving to the store in the snow and Fresh Air was playing.

I've shared my love of NPR podcasts before--remember Gazumping? (link)

Well, this time T.G. was interviewing Louis C.K., and they played a clip from his Fox television show. In this particular clip Joan Rivers scolds Louie for quitting his gig after discovering he can't insult Donald Trump onstage in a Trump hotel.

Her words really hit home for me and how I was feeling that day. See, I was having a little writer's pity-party and telling myself I couldn't do it anymore. (TMI: It was also that time of the month, so there might also have been some hormones involved.)

Anyway, here's the short version of what she said (and remember, this is for me, but I thought you might like it):

"You know what's wrong with you guys? You don't know when you're lucky. Appreciate where you are for god's sake."

For some reason, that lifted my little chin. (The entire episode's worth a listen--if you're interested, here's the link.)

It's like what Yoda told Luke Skywalker when Luke was doing his Jedi training. The part about how a Jedi focuses on the present and isn't distracted by all the "what ifs." (Right?)

So look around. Appreciate where you are and what you're learning and who you're meeting. And don't forget to keep swimming. 

Til next time~ <3

Monday, January 9, 2012

OPEN MINDS Book Review & Author Interview

My TBR ("to be read") pile must have rabbits in it or something because it seriously multiplied in December...

Regardless, last week I finally started (and finished!) OPEN MINDS by Susan K. Quinn. And it is so great.

If you've been around, you remember I read and reviewed Dr. Q's debut novel Life, Liberty, & Pursuit last year.

That one's a contemporary, "new adult" romance--meaning, the main characters are in that space between high school and college. It's also very good. (Here's the link to that post if you missed it.)

OPEN MINDS is completely different. (Okay, not completely. There are still romantic elements, but it's more solidly YA. And it's a sci-fi.)

Here's my review:

First, I loved the tense opening scene: main character Kira Moore is boarding public transportation on her way to school, and she's a total outcast.

She lives in Chicago at a time in the future where humans have evolved to the point that everyone can see into each others' minds (hence the title).

The only problem is Kira's mind has never opened. In the book it happens to kids around puberty, but if it doesn't happen, you're labeled a "Zero" and treated like a pariah.

You can't go to college, you can't get a professional job... For example, Kira wants to be a doctor, but she can't. Everyone mistrusts her because they can't see her thoughts.

(It's such a cool trick because if you think about it, nobody can do that in real life, yet we all trust one another--even total strangers--based on what? Nothing! But I digress.)

Quinn sets up Kira's alienation and her desire to fit in and be accepted so well that when things do start to change for her, she faces a serious moral dilemma.

Kira discovers that she has the ability to control everyone's behavior by planting thoughts in their heads.

She's totally freaked, and she thinks she's the only one with this ability until she meets Simon, a boy at her school who shares her power.

He explains that she can fit in by mindjacking everyone and causing them to believe she's become a "Reader," too. (Pariah problem solved!)

Even though she knows it's wrong, Kira goes along with Simon and the two begin manipulating the entire school and beyond.

Ultimately, she's forced to decide how far she'll go with Simon, and whether she'll live a life of lies and manipulation or if she's brave enough to tell the truth.

I'll say no more. Except, totally awesome, right?

Not only is the story fresh, but Susan does a fantastic job exploring themes like honesty and privacy rights and how far people will go to be accepted.

There's even a part where Kira has the chance to take a little revenge on a boy who always tormented her before, and I found myself pondering the thin line between justice and revenge.

I also loved the cool slang she invented for the book. Personally, I hope "mesh" (cool) and "demens" (crazy) get incorporated into the regular lexicon.

So I highly recommend this book. It's perfect for readers of all ages who love great stories that make you think. And it's a total steal at $2.99.

Here are the links to get it (click on the names)
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords, iTunes, Diesel, Kobo, Request a Kindlegraph
Susan's Website
Mindjack Website

And now for our interview!

1. OPEN MINDS is so unique and cool, and yet it still does that trick of taking the familiar and twisting it around. Like at the part where she fears she'll kill her entire class with her inability to control her mindjacking, I thought of Carrie by Stephen King. Then I wondered, did you have any literary (or other) inspiration for the story?

I love how so many people say that Open Minds is unique, but mindreading (and even mindjacking) are very old concepts – it’s the twisting it up that makes it new.

My literary inspirations have always been the classic science fiction novels (and films) of my youth, like I, Robot, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Blade Runner (which was based on the story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). (All of which now makes me think I need to write a novel with robots.)

I’ve actually never read Carrie, so it’s interesting that you make that connection! My modern reading includes more YA than SF, and there’s not a lot of YA SF (notable exception: Across the Universe, which is awesome). Almost every YA paranormal novel has some form of telepathy, so I wanted to make sure I did something very different with it for Open Minds.

2. Many times, Kira refers to herself as the "Invisible Girl," and I loved how you explored the question of how far she was willing to go to be accepted--even if it involved lying to everyone and controlling their thoughts and behaviors. So which came first, the themes or the story?

Definitely the theme. From the very first brain spark (a girl in a classroom of mindreaders, only she couldn’t read minds), the story was about this girl’s isolation—how it affected her, the people who loved her, and eventually the society in general. As the story evolved, I discovered this world had mindjackers as well, and found that her isolation would lead her into all kinds of trouble. But it was an organic evolution.

3. The slang, as I mentioned, is awesome. Did you make it all up yourself or did you have help? (Did your sons help?)

I made up all the slang, based on Latin or terms that grew out of the mindreading world of the book. My children didn’t help, but the amazing Adam Heine critiqued the slang (and the novel) early on. I remember distinctly bouncing ideas off him for the term mindjacker. Originally, they were called pushers, and an agent noted that was awfully close to the movie Push (he was right). Adam and I debated the merits of terms like writers, hackers, drivers, eventually settling on mindjackers. I never worked so hard for a single word in my life!

4. Also loved the cool Tron-style cars and mind-controlled technology. Did you have a template for that or did you make it up? (You are the rocket scientist after all...)

One of the best parts of writing SF (and by best, I mean "Really, I get to do this for realz?") is making up plausible future technology. I love taking current technology, fast forwarding it a few dozen years, adding every cool feature I can think of, and then just pretending that some smart engineer in the future will figure out how to make it work. Or I just straight make stuff up. Open Minds has lots of fun gadgets, but it’s got nothing on Closed Hearts. After all, technology evolves.

5. When Kira mindjacks into the other kids and adults, she desceribes it being like penetrating Jell-O. And then everyone has a unique "mind-scents." First, I was totally grossed out. Then, I decided that was genius. What inspired that?

When I set out to write Open Minds, I was a little freaked by the idea of writing an entire novel where everyone read minds. I mean, how would that work? Would the book be entirely in italics? Would the reader spend all their time in people’s heads? I quickly realized that everything we smell, taste, think, feel … it all exists entirely in our minds.

People with damaged brains taste and hear things that don’t exist. We don’t really smell with our noses … we smell with our brains. (Which is now also grossing ME out!) I was determined from very early in the first draft to make mindreading (and especially mindjacking) a tactile experience, since I think that’s the way the mind would actually interpret it.

6. Riding the bus seemed sort of a bellwether of how life changes for Kira, from her first ride in Chapter 1 to the very end. Was that intentional? Did you want to convey some sort of idea or message there?

I like the idea of mirroring the first image and the final image. It’s not necessary, but I think symbolism has a lot of power. The bus is a symbol of something that every person can do, but Kira cannot (or should not), from the very first line: A zero like me shouldn’t take public transportation. It’s a symbol of her isolation, and I liked using it again at the end, to show how her world had changed.

7. In one part of the book, something really bad happens. Without being spoilerish (you know what I'm talking about), what made you decide to take the story in that direction. And how do you feel about reader response to tough choices in our writing?

That scene was really tough to write, but in the end, I think it was necessary to show what can happen in Kira’s world, and also to not let the reader be too sure about what might happen next. I don’t like gratuitous sex or violence in books, or gratuitous anything in novels, for that matter. (I don’t even like the word gratuitous; too many vowels.) If it’s not necessary for the story, take it out. Otherwise, put it in. This part was necessary, so it stayed.

As for reader response to tough choices, I think writers have to be aware of their reader’s expectations. If you’re writing a Spaghetti Western and then veer off the rails into making it a Space Opera, you’re going to freak your readers out. I’m not saying you can’t write a Spaghetti Western Space Opera, but for heaven’s sake, play it straight and write Cowboys & Aliens.

Beyond that, I think writers have an obligation to fulfill the promise of the premise of their story. If the writer plays it safe, shirks from the fullness of the story, it’s possible they will have written something good, but probably not something great. Some people criticized Suzanne Collins (who is BRILLIANT) for the choices she made in the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy (Mockingjay). I think the third book was true to her premise, and I have a hard time seeing how she could have written it any other way.

8. What's next for Dr. Q? (This is Book 1 of a trilogy... Care to tease?)

I’m feverishly working on Book Two of the Mindjack Trilogy, Closed Hearts, which I hope to have out in May (holy cats, it’s 2012 already!).

Also: I’m part of 25 Indie Writers called The Indelibles (link). We’re launching today, in fact, and if you hop over, you can enter to win a Kindle Fire as part of our launch celebration (and also win a paper copy of Open Minds).

Also, also: I have a short story coming out for Valentine’s Day in an anthology the Indelibles are publishing called In His Eyes. My short story is called "Mind Games," and it’s a prequel to Open Minds from Raf’s point of view. (Did I mention that I love writing boy POV? I love writing boy POV.) I’m putting the finishing touches on that tomorrow.

The anthology will be free when it comes out, but you can add it to your Goodreads TBR now (link).

Thanks, Susan! As demonstrated by your answers (Esp. #5, #7, #... oh, heck. All of your answers are brill!), you're an amazing author. Can't wait to see what you've got for us next.

Thanks you so much for having me! It’s always a pleasure chatting with you, Miss LTM!

Now, run grab your copy, and til next week, reader- and writer-friends~ <3

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mission: Imperfection

Happy New Year, bleeps! Here's to a fantastic 2012, and may all your resolutions and dreams come true.

Over the holiday, JRM and I sneaked in a few date nights, and on one, we saw the new Mission: Impossible film. It was very entertaining!

It reminded me of a chat I had with Dr. Q (link) recently about watching movies like a novelist.

Mission: Impossible, 2011
She and I agreed that it's hard not to study character development, pacing, plotlines, etc., while watching films these days, and usually we're disappointed by the too-fast pacing, plot-holes, and undercooked characters.

In the case of MI: Ghost Protocol, it was the opposite. J.J. Abrams is a great storyteller, and he did a wonderful job rebooting the franchise.

What stood out to me the most was the unimaginative premise: A madman is on a mission to steal a nuclear warhead--a Soviet warhead, no less--and destroy the world.

Wow. That premise is so old, it was the basis for a spoof movie that's also 20 years old.

Not only that, it opens with an agent getting assinated in the field, a prison break, and the whole IMF team getting disavowed. (Meaning, they're now rogue agents classified as terrorists.)

I sat in the theater and thought, "Seriously? This again?"

But I tell you, it was the best MI film I think I've seen since the first one. Naturally, I launched into study mode. Why did this work?

The tension stayed high because the story kept me guessing. (OK, maybe some of you out there saw the twists coming a mile away, but I didn't.)

Wasn't this the suit he wore in Rainman?
All the high-tech devices malfunctioned, Cruise did not save the world again and again--in fact, he failed on all but one occasion--and the Americans and the Russians worked together to fight the bad guys.

It was a nice twist. It was also a great writing rule-reminder: take the expected and flip it around.

Yes, there's nothing new under the sun, but I'm starting to believe audiences and readers like the familiar. That's why it keeps working over and over again--only with a twist.

Maybe that's the classic secret: Human experience is common, but if you can take a few common experiences that don't normally go together and mix them up, you come up with something uncommon. And maybe, sometimes, it's something even better.

What do you guys think? Seen any good examples of this lately?

Have a great week, reader- and writer-friends! Til next time~ <3