Monday, March 25, 2013

Traveling your character's road

Snoqualmie pass March 21, 2013

Out in the Dark

Nothing brings your imagination to life like traveling the same road as your protagonist, especially if conditions are somewhat similar.

Jake, a 17-year old, on a frantic road trip in search of his father who has been missing for a year and who recently started sharing mental images of what he’s experiencing as a prisoner of an off-the-books organization who want him to use his exceptional remote viewing skills for their aims.

Because his father taught him the same skills, Jake can see and feel what his father’s going through and it’s enough to make him decide he has to find his father before it’s too late. He ditches school, packs some essentials, lies to his mother and sneaks out in the middle of the night in his father’s prized 1966 Pontiac GTO, and drives across the Cascade mountain range. Snoqualmie pass can throw all sorts of weather at you, no matter what the calendar says, as you can see from the above picture.

This weekend I felt Jake’s fear, his desire to get across the pass and his urgency to reach his destination as I carefully drove up the snowy pass on I-90, retracing my character’s drive. Jake’s story now felt very real. Luckily I was spared the pain Jake felt. And unlike Jake, I avoided picking up a hitchhiking college-bound girl (the love interest in this paranormal Young Adult novel).

Below an excerpt from “Out in the Dark”. To read the whole book, please respectfully tap your favorite publisher and gently direct them to this page.

                                                                            *  *  *

... A painful image flashed across his mind. He could see his dad doubled over and could almost feel the kick he’d gotten to the gut. He willed himself to see more details, to see who was doing this to his father. It was hard to concentrate on the image and keep the car on the road, but he managed to get a glimpse of the other man.
    With a shock Jake slammed on the brakes. That wasn’t right, that was not how the military ran those psi experiments. Who were these people?
    Cold sweat poured down Jake’s back as he gripped the steering wheel and tried to control his breathing. He felt as if he had been punched in the gut like his dad. He was no longer even aware of the freeway, the car or the darkness, he only felt the pain his father felt and the betrayal, knowing that his father was being held against his will. Somehow, something had gone terribly wrong.
    Static crackled through a John Coltrane piece, sharply bringing Jake back to the present.
    “Oh, shit,” he said, realizing he had stopped in the middle of the freeway just on the other side of the rise. If a car came over the crest they would not be able to stop in time, and would probably swerve to avoid him, ending up in the trees.
    Still shaken Jake put his foot on the accelerator again. The car roared back into action and fishtailed for a moment with excess power. That’s what his dad would have called it. Nothing much fazed him. A combat veteran and an officer to boot, he could handle anything, of that Jake had always been sure, until tonight.
    Picking up speed to at least match the speed limit Jake continued his journey. He was too shaken to even think about going above the speed limit...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Terry Brooks Interview

This month I welcome NY Times Bestselling author Terry Brooks for an interview and some advice for fledgling writers.

Terry, welcome to my blog.
You’ve just finished writing 3 books in one year, which again made the bestseller lists, does that mean you get to take a break now?
No, now my publisher wants me to do it again!
I offered to write more than one book in a year for the 35th anniversary of the Shannara series since many fans clamored for it. The publisher said they would publish them in 6-month increments, March 2013, July at the San Diego Comicon 2013, and March 2014.  I may be old school, but I believe writers should be read, not seen.

I don’t write the really thick books anymore.  I lack the staying power required.  My new mantra is ‘Less is More’.

What do you think is the enduring appeal of the fantasy genre?
Fantasy storytelling creates a world that’s imaginary, but still relates to the human condition. It allows the reader to be taken out of their daily life, yet they can still connect with the characters and what they’re going through. My younger fans especially like stories where there’s a lot at stake.
Fantasy is the oldest form of story in all cultures. Just look at the mythical tales surrounding the ancient gods.

Is there something in your books that you’d like to see in real life? Or is there a place in your stories you wish you could visit other than in your imagination?
My worlds belong to me and I share them through my writing. Although I would like to see more positive aspects of my stories in real life, not more negativity.

eBooks vs traditional publishing?
I’m doing ebooks now in the form of short stories as an acknowledgement that ebooks are here to stay. And of course many of my books are available in ebook format as well as paper.
It’s a venue and form foreign to me in my advancing years and I don’t like it much. But I can see their place in our world.
Personally, I prefer paper.  I like collecting signed copies of books and having my library.
My wife and my kids all have e-readers, but I don’t.

Pen & paper or a computer?
I have terrible handwriting, sometimes I can’t even read my own notes.
In either my junior or my senior year of high school my mother made me take a typing class. That proved to be a stroke of genius. I took to it and type at 120 words per minute, much faster than I could hand write.
I tend to think in rapid bursts, so writing by hand would be too slow.

My old editor at Del Ray believed that the computer ruined careers for many writers because they could put down a story so fast they didn’t take time to think about it. And writing requires you to think about it and go back over what you’ve written to make sure you’re not writing drivel. 

On a side note: The biggest change I’ve seen in publishing is the pressure to produce quickly and produce more. It used to be you were offered at least a year or more to write your next book. And an editor used to have time to train up a writer.
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always had good editors who have taught me a lot.

What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their odds of a successful career?
Have passion for your work. If you don’t love what you do, don’t do it.
As my wife, Judine, likes to say: “You’re either born to do it, or you’re not.”
Writing, if it is your true passion, gives you an outlet necessary to be a complete person. You’d write even if you didn’t get paid for it. I know, that’s easy to say from where I’m sitting, but it’s true.

I recall in the early days of my writing career I attended a conference and my publisher invited me to a lunch with several other authors and editors and he asked another newly published writer and myself this question: “What’s your goal for your writing?”
I said I’d like to keep writing for the rest of my life and if I could make a living off it, that would be great. The other author started listing all the awards he wanted to win. Now, 35 years down the line, the other author is no longer publishing. He wrote maybe seven books and that was it.

And of course, self-promotion. As you know, you have to be out there and actively connect with your audience.

What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will promise to keep secret, and does it help you in your writing?
I’m a very good editor. I have learned to be a good editor over the years. The manuscripts I send in now are very clean.

A few last words:
You are your own last line of defense. Don’t expect anyone else to do something you should have done yourself. Check everything, especially the galley proofs.

I recall one book in particular, the protagonist lost an arm early on and I was involved with the cover design. Then the book came out and I looked at the cover, thinking, “that’s a really beautiful cover”. And it hit me .... The wrong arm was missing!  By then, of course, it was too late to fix it.

Micro manage your professional life, get to have input on all aspects, from the cover to the book tours. Don’t be pushy about it, but do speak up for yourself.

Make sure you feel like you’re being listened to. After all, it is your name on the cover of the book.

Terry, thank you for taking time away from writing to talk with me today.
My pleasure, Lynn.

In stores March 12, 2013

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Using Swearwords

Theodore is easily shocked, poor thing. 
Every language has its collection of swearwords, grown from colloquial, and often harmless, usages to modern day punch-packing little bombs. And they can be quite useful in both speech and writing, especially when applied judiciously.

When confronted with an erratic driver in France it helps to make you feel like you’re blending in by shouting the right swearwords out the open window, like you see the other drivers doing.

In The Netherlands it helps if you know the level of swearword hurled at you so you can determine if a response is warranted ... or safe. The Dutch seem to have more words and greater nuances than other languages I’ve found so far in my, far from empirical, observations of swearing.

In American English I’ve discovered there are only a few words that get to do all the work and it required some initial observation, all those years back, to understand the context in which they are used.

For some users the F-word is every other word in every sentence they speak, which reduces the value or weight of that word. On the other hand, if I were to employ it - so counter to my soft-spoken manner - you’d know I was truly ticked off.

I think the same applies in writing; judicious use of swearwords can have a significant impact within the story without detracting from the actual thread of the story.