Tuesday, May 9, 2017

FEAST YOUR EYES ON THIS: My Author Website Reveal

So, I gave an author website a shot a couple months ago! Figure if I lay all my ducks in a row, one of them will quack eventually!

Wix was super easy to use, I can't recommend it enough! And I'm really pleased with what my amateur self was able to put together! Feel free to have a browse, call me out on any typos, or gawk at my growing number of WIPs! So many novel ideas, so little cushion left in my buttocks for writing them >_< 

Now that I think about it, does the writing community suffer from a flat-butt epidemic?? Or are standing desks something people actually invest in?? Treadmill desks? Pool desks? LIE DOWN DESKS!?! *checks Amazon just to be sure*

Writer's Cookbook: Recipe for a Love Story

A heaping spoonful of lust, two ripe and heaving bosoms, a pinch of drama, and a generous portion of bristling testosterone and you’ve got a love story ready for consuming. Right?
In the world of Harlequin romance novels, maybe. But many writers struggle with the recipe for writing true love, for a story about romantic love on a more complex and profound level. And while the writer may struggle, the readership DEFINITELY doesn't. Romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in sales in 2012 and was the top-performing category on the bestseller lists the same year.
Your readership exists. In huge numbers. And most crave something more than the "wham, bam, thank you ma’am" realities of modern society. Can you imagine how Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte would feel if she found out that courtship has been reduced to swiping left or right on a phone app? Blasphemy! 
So how do you produce a good love story that will quell the hunger of millions of romantic fiction (romfic) fans? It's simple, really! So simple I'll set it up like a recipe. So simple you need only incorporate four simple ingredients!
That’s it. Four ingredients (and some culinary know-how), which should all be added in equal parts: strong characters, passion, obstacles, and growth – although change makes a good substitute.

1. Strong Characters

This is vital for all fiction, but especially so for romfic. This is because the reader must fall in love with one of your main characters. Would Mr Darcy have set readers’ hearts aflame if he were a silly cad with no redeeming qualities? Absolutely not. He was a judicious gentleman of impressive intelligence and refinement who secreted away a tender heart. You want Elizabeth and Darcy to end up together because that means you get to end up with him as well, and a character must be dynamic and three-dimensional, otherwise who will fall in love with them? Your characters need to have traits that compete against each other. They must realize and struggle against their worst qualities for the sake of love.

2. Passion

Once you have strong characters, stick them together with a generous dollop of passion. If characters are really in love, a sense of passion should also be provoked within the reader – they need to feel the depth of your characters’ emotions for one another. Passion measures this depth and is the rubber band that you tie around them. No matter how hard they pull and stretch apart, that passion will bring them back together in the end.
Passion also means that your characters must fall for each other, hard. They can play around with the idea and question their true feelings, but the reader must know that, when push comes to shove, their love is unquestionably genuine.
Dialogue is essential in communicating this. Professions of love are acts of passion. A character is exposing their vulnerability during these moments of confession, articulating their deepest feelings. ‘Hey, I love you,’ just doesn’t cut it. They need to reach down deep and lay their beating heart on the table.

3. Obstacles.

Now that you’ve tied the passion band around your characters, toss in a liberal amount of obstacles to test its elasticity and your characters’ resolve. This can be in the form of an antagonist – in love stories, sometimes the best antagonists are the couple themselves – or a circumstance which makes being together impossible.
An effective obstacle is separation. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but your love-struck protagonists don't know that. Our star-crossed lovers must attempt to live without each other and then come to realize that, no matter ho hard things are while together, it's impossible to stay apart (think Tristan & Isolde, Romeo & Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, even Twilight for goodness sake). During this separation, the obstacles are the characters themselves. They think that, by being apart, because they're angry at each other or because they feel it's "for the best," they can dismiss their feelings. But never underestimate the power of that rubber ban of passion. 

4. Character Growth

These obstacles should come after growth and a sort of enlightenment from your main characters, which means they can overcome them. They should be able to recognize their negative traits, their differences and their flaws, and only then can they overcome the hurdles. Your characters need to grow and conquer their own negative qualities because of their love for each other. True love should inspire your characters to be the best they can be.

Now that you understand the ingredients, mix them together, follow the preparation steps (write the novel), and pop your love story in the oven. But remove just after marriage! The ending of a love story is extremely important. It needs to be optimistic and emotionally satisfying. Few readers want to read about life after marriage – it’s full of realistic issues we’re all too familiar with, problems that not even the greatest of romfic’s couples can avoid. Readers need to believe that the couple who have fought so hard to be together will live happily ever after. They’re finally happy, and that’s enough for us.
These are the basic ingredients of a love story. They’re a great start, but you’ll also need a dish to bake it in (the plot), some added spices (climaxes), a garnish or two (themes), and some nice china to serve it on (the setting). But if you’ve mixed in those four essential elements, the product will be a well-balanced meal of reading delights. Once finished, the yield will serve millions of women (and a number of curious men) who seek to experience true love through romantic fiction. As long as you have those four simple ingredients you can create the love story that mass-market publishers are looking for. You are the chef, the publishers are the restaurants, your readers the eager foodies, and your love story is the pièce de résistance.

Monday, January 30, 2017

BACK TO BASICS: The Creative Process: Road Tripping vs Train-Tracking

WARNING: Long post is long.

Every author's writing process involves (or should involve... if not, how's that working out for ya?) these four basic steps: pre-writing, drafting, revising, and editing. There are a variety of different ways to work through each of those steps and a number of other steps that go with them.
And while there's plenty of advice out there concerning the matter and what you should do, it's SUCH a subjective process--no one can tell you HOW to do it. And believe me, everyone tries. And there's this horrible misconception that if it works for THEM it HAS to work for you too. Nuh uh. No, sir. Don't buy into that.

Writing is an intimate process and you should develop your own way of getting from idea to the end. Which isn't to say you couldn't use someone else's process/routine as an example. But don't go getting addicted to laudanum just cause Dickens did. And because I don't want to be one of those people that tell you how you're SUPPOSED to do it, I'll just tell you what works for me/how I roll. And I'll tell you now--I like to wing it.

For most, the next big step after THE BIG IDEA (and the research that entails) is to create an...ugh...outline. I am not a fan of detailed outlines. THERE! I SAID IT! OUTLINES SUCK!

For me, outlines are like getting on a train. The train can only go where the tracks lead. There is no diversion, there are no spontaneous side trips, and while the views might be beautiful, you have to stay INSIDE the train at all times.
Likewise, if you follow an outline when you write, I think you miss out on some of the spontaneity that can come from just letting the words flow. Often, writers don't know their characters as well as they'd like until they've spent a good amount of time with them/writing them. And as they write, these characters should grow and make their own choices and throw a massive stick in the spokes of your outline wheel.

I think it's best to plan as little as possible, to leave room for the characters and the story to adapt to each other and start to take their own path. But, because people (professors, classmates, how-to books) kept telling me that I HAD/NEEDED to do an outline, I gave it a shot. Once.

In the beginning it felt good to have all the tracks laid out before me. All I had to do was set my locomotive on its way. But then came this humongous pressure to stick to those tracks from chapter to chapter. And then the writing became tedious and forced. But after writing such a detailed plan, it felt like if I strayed from the outline the story would implode on itself. I've never felt so creatively stifled in my life! Needless to say, I've not tried again since.

So here's an analogy for you: outlining is to "train tracking" as winging it is to ________.


I love road trips. You have a general direction, a decided destination, but how you get there is completely up to you.

You want to stop and see the Nation's Largest Ball of Yarn? DO IT. You want to stop at that natural spring and go for a swim... NAKED? Oh, my. Scandalous. DO IT.

Oh? You thought you were getting away without a gratuitous Shia gif? Think again! 
There's a wonderful freedom to road tripping. Don't get me wrong, I still have a list for the big moments that need to happen in different acts of the novel (the best attractions to stop at on my road trip). But how I get to them is completely up to that creative flow.

Are you sick of the transportation metaphor yet? Yeah? Well then, here's my process in a nutshell:

1. Title (GASP! Shock and awe!)
2. Main Character + Plot
3. Research, Research, Research (which involves creating character bios, storybuilding, etc)
4. Plan my road trip
5. Write the damn thing (I edit as I go so this tends to be slow going, but also means I have less work     at the end)
6. 2nd Draft + Revisions
7. Betas + Critique Partners (and further revisions based on that feedback)
8. Send my little mind child out into the world and hope for the best.

Simple, right?

Like I said, and will say again, ignore everything you've read when it comes to developing your own process: all the how-to books, the many different processes of the already-famous, maybe even MY advice, and do what works for YOU! Especially for your routine. Feel out different things: cafe or library, music or silence, sitting at a desk or laying in bed, in the morning or at night, outline or no outline, train tracks or the open road (sorry, had to throw it in there one more time for good measure, #sorrynotsorry).

Do you, boo boo. Do you.

~Be mindful of the influence and opinions of others, stay true to yourself.~

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How to Write Rounded Characters (and Avoid the Disney Princess Paradigm)

Creating new characters is like giving birth. Minus the nine months of pregnancy, morning sickness, and the whole "push a human out of your lady tunnel" part. And, just as if they were your own children, it's normal to want your mind babies to be perfect and unflawed.

But, in novels, character with flaws are often the most compelling.

Early Disney princesses come to mind as being the opposite of compelling. They are totally flat. Flatter than a piece of cardboard that's been trampled by a herd of elephants.

Cinderella is perfect: perfectly kind and perfectly hardworking. Princess Aurora is perfect: perfectly sweet and perfectly elegant. Snow White is perfect: perfectly innocent and perfectly pure. You seeing the trend? I call it the "Disney Princess Paradigm." Stop clapping, Snow White, it's not a compliment!

Those are a lot of good and admirable traits, don't get me wrong. But that's the problem: they're too good. They're too perfect.

And the problem with being perfect is that there's very little room for growth. What did any of those princesses learn from their stories? Can you think of a single thing? Anything?... Bueller?... Bueller?

Nothing, right!?

Real people are flawed with insecurities, fears, jealousies, etc. For every trait at one end of the spectrum, there should be a number at the other. And it's these negative traits that necessitate character growth, that force a person to confront their flaws and overcome them. And sometimes it's these traits that a reader can connect with. There's something powerful in being able to relate, to see your own mistakes and reactions and flaws in someone else. So you *puts bossy pants on* HAVE to create engaging, well-rounded characters.

To ensure my characters have positive traits AND negative traits/flaws and to keep them unpredictable and layered, I came up with a method I call the "U-List Method."

I do this for each of my characters before I start writing (though it might change as the story is written and as characters fall more solidly into place). Here's what it looks like:

Take your characters (main and minor) and apply this method to them. Draw a U, or a horseshoe if you're feeling fancy, and make a list along the "U," positive traits on the left, neutral at the bottom, and negative to the right. Here's a great list of traits some kind soul has already categorized.
Make sure your character's u-list is well balanced in each of these areas. Having a number of positive, neutral, and negative traits gives characters three-dimension. And knowing your character's main traits can really help you to understand them and how they would act/respond to happenings in your story.

Remember: negative traits don't always mean your character is bad. A character that's stubborn might also mean that he/she doesn't follow the crowd. A character that seems overly-sensitive might also be more compassionate. Make your villain idealistic and honest, make your hero gullible and impatient.

To every coin there are two sides, the same can be said of personalities. And that's what makes people so interesting. And it's what will make your characters more interesting as well.

So go forth, my fellow wordfolk, and unleash your rounded character creations on the world!

~Be mindful of a person's strengths and weaknesses. Some strengths can be a flaw and some weaknesses a blessing.~

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Vampire Mythos: Magic vs Science

This is a guest post I did for Pen and Kink Publishing's blog series on vampires! Find the original post here.

As the publishing world seems to finally be making room (albeit the little space at a crowded party next to the trashcan that smells a little funny) for our favorite supernaturals again, I wanted to repost this to my blog and continue to advocate for the paranormal and urban fantasy genres that are feeling the hole left by vampire fiction. I WANT MY VAMPS BACK. Just don't make them sparkle...
The earliest origin of vampire mythology can be traced back to the superstitions and folklore of 18th century Europe. What once was an all too real and malevolent creature is now mostly accepted (though if you dig deep into the bowels of the internet you’ll find otherwise) as a fictional being, one that permeates mainstream media across the board. Our modern vampires, immortal by definition, but also through our timeless fascination with them, are an intrinsic part of today’s creatures in literature, movies, and TV shows. They just suck in all the right ways.
Though they sometimes find themselves back in the proverbial coffin as media trends change, they always seem to dig themselves back out of the grave. They are the “undead,” after all.
But with this constant recurrence and on-and-off trending comes the need to reinvent vampires for younger and older generations alike. You see small variations in their abilities or their weaknesses, but now we’re starting to see a change in their mythology and origins.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, was hardly the first case of the literary vampire (see Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Polidori’s poem, The Vampyre), but it’s arguably the most famous and what really started our fascination (and sometimes our obsession) with vampires. It was certainly the reference point and inspiration for many vampiric tales, and perhaps acted as the foundation on which much of modern vampire mythology was based upon.
But Stoker’s enthralling gothic horror, wherein vampires were cold and merciless predators, started to change with Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, which shifted towards a more sympathetic creature, one whose life was a lament over eternity and the need to kill others to survive. With Rice, began a more modern trend to place vampires within a contemporary setting and in a more benevolent light (though not always; BURN THOSE PARISIAN BASTARDS TO THE GROUND. Ahem…).

It’s a trend we still see much more commonly today, especially as paranormal romance and erotica took root and flourished with Sookie Stackhouse’s vampire lovers and Bella Swan’s sparkly, golden-eyed bloodsuckers, which have all served as a sort of sex symbol that are still built upon Stoker’s vampire mythology: origins in supernatural magic.
Regardless of the setting, or scewability, of vampires in stories to come, Stoker set the standard for their mythos. Their bloodthirsty afflictions are most commonly the result of some supernatural curse, ancient evil, or magic, radioactive bat bite.
It’s only recently that we’ve started to see a change in the origins of our fictional vampires.
While mythologies rooted in magic or curses usually leads to the sexier, more romance-worthy vampires, science-based origins—which take vampires from paranormal fantasy to Sci-Fi—often exist at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Since parts of vampirism are likely inspired by real-life diseases like anemia, porphyria, and catalepsy, it’s natural that their origins would start to lean more towards the scientific.A virus or disease based mythology often morphs vampires from alluring, sparkly dreamboats to ravenous, primal monstrosities. Novels like Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the TV series The Strain, and even horror-flop
Daybreakers, mark this relatively new departure from the supernatural to science fiction. In the Underworld movie-verse, transgenics are responsible for vampirism. In I Am Legend, it’s a bacterial pandemic. In my own story, vampirism is rooted in evolution as an environmental transmutation.
But no matter where the mythos lies, with magic or science, vampires are likely to stay with us for all of eternity. The mythology surrounding them and the origins of their affliction will continue to change in new and exciting ways, especially as we eagerly await their resurrection in the current publishing market.
It’s likely we’ll soon see vampires as we’ve never seen them before, as they claw their way back to the forefront of our imaginations.
Whether you’ll be arming yourself with stakes, unlocking your windows for the more sparkly varieties, or eyeing the bat that seems to be circling your home, vampires will continue to haunt and infatuate us for generations.
Man. I couldn't find a good spot for this gif, but it's so LOL I couldn't leave it out!