A Novel Update

So I’ve totally let this Blog slide for the last several years.

Why?

Because I’ve been focusing on writing my book, loving life, and having adventures. It’s been a fantastic several years (nice life, really!).

As for the book, well, I’m now calling it FRACTURED KNIGHTS, though a title change is no biggie. The major revision was writing it in first person POV, alternating between 3 narrators AND IT IS MUCH BETTER! It was good before, but the voice and humor really come through in 1st person.

So I’m happy with it. One agent is looking at it now and I’m hoping to get into #PitchWars (check out brenda-drake.com if you don’t know about PitchWars, the amazingly kind Brenda Drake, etc.).

Anyway, I hope you all are doing well. My absence doesn’t mean I’ve lost my passion for writing–far from it.

And maybe I’ll get back to this blog some day….

Cheers!

Craig

WriteOnCon is Almost Here!

Attention all Writer Friends!

The best news you’ll read today is that WriteOnCon is scheduled for August 26 – 27 = just over a week away!

This is a FREE online Writing Conference that helped me out tremendously last year. Anyone who is working on Anything should check it out. Heck, even if you’re not currently writing, you should still check it out because you’ll find loads of great information and tips! There will be guest speakers (you can watch the videos later if you’re busy during the day) and best of all, you can post your query letter, the first few pages of your story, and more in the forums. After you’ve done that, read what other people have posted, leave comments, and most will return the favor. I got some fantastic feedback last year that catapulted my writing into new areas that have been wickedly fun (so fun that I have completely ignored my blog lately).

Perhaps best of all, several literary agents and editors will be participating, leaving comments, etc.

So polish up whatever you’re working on (it does not have to be a completed manuscript) and get ready to post!

The website is under construction right now, but hopefully it will be up and running anytime. Here is the link: http://writeoncon.com

I hope to read some of your work soon!

-Craig

*Check out my posts about WriteOnCon from last year for a lot more info.

Importance of Each Word

 

And … I’m back (after an inexcusably long hiatus)!

The following is an amusing +  true story that (spoiler!) demonstrates why word choice is important. Okay. That doesn’t sound like it will be funny, but read on….

I had been wandering through Costa Rica for nearly a month, practicing my Spanish, white-water rafting, touring beaches and rainforests, when I learned an important lesson regarding specificity. So considering I was there to contemplate life’s big questions, a lesson about precision was somewhat ironic. Yes, I was vacationing and having fun, but my ultimate goal was figuring out my future as a college grad entering the work force. And, I’m happy to say, it was on a beautiful mountainside hotel rooftop overlooking the unending Pacific, the glimmering dark water somehow melding into an infinity blanket of stars that reached back over my head, that I decided my role in the universe.

But that’s not the lesson I want to talk about.

About a week prior to my big epiphany, I had a boring yet fascinating conversation with a fellow American tourist. At first, it couldn’t have been more typical . . . except for his reactions to my answers regarding who I was and what I did for a living. His expression became confused, then amazed, and finally horrified.

Anyway, I had told him that after graduating from Sewanee, I moved back in with my parents for several months, working as a substitute teacher by day and as a waiter by night. But when I mentioned that simple, mundane, fact, his brow furrowed.

“Que?” he asked.

The conversation continued in Spanish, but roughly translated, I explained that I “worked with children, teaching them English, writing, or whatever was required, but after dark, I worked long hours, often not finishing until the middle of the night.”

“And then you taught children the morning after?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I was exhausted, but it was fun. And I was making a lot of money.”

“As a waiter?”

“Yeah. People liked me and I made big tips. I had several ‘regulars.’”

He shuffled a little farther away and sized me up, as though inspecting a potentially poisonous snake.

I didn’t know what his deal was, so I tried explaining again, but he cut me off. I laughed because both his reactions and the questions he asked were so ridiculous. But I played along and answered as best I could. A minute later, he excused himself and ran off, looking back at me more than once.

I relayed this conversation to a girl in a pub later that night and she stopped me, pointing out a simple error in my Spanish.

One word. That’s all it was. Just one simple word.

You see, in Spanish, the word for waiter is “camarero.” But I had messed it up, using “caballero” instead—the word for “gentleman.” Not a big deal, under normal circumstances, but then I considered my responses from the American Tourist’s point of view, and the conversation took on a whole new meaning:

“After teaching, I work as a gentleman, working long hours into the night. It’s exhausting, but a lot of fun. The money is great. I am very popular, good at my job, and people obviously like me. I get big tips and have several regulars.”

And that’s when his follow-ups got really weird:

“Do you serve women?”

“Yes.”

“And men?”

“Si claro! Of course!”

“And you like it?”

“It’s great! I have fun and make sure everybody else does too!”

And at that he shook his head, looking at me incredulously, so I said, “So I guess you’ve never worked as a gentleman.”

He snorted as if such a notion was impossible.

But I said, “I think everyone should work in the service industry for at least a little while. It teaches you a lot about what people truly want.”

And then he ran away.

And that’s how I learned that, in communication of any sort, every single word is vital. As Mark Twain once said, “use the right word, not its second cousin.” Because I did not follow that advice, I can only imagine what the guy I had been talking to assumed about my relationship with my 2nd cousin . . . who is a dude.

The point is: you want to be specific with your word choice. Always. When you’re writing or speaking publically, obviously, but even in day-to-day interactions, because a small mistake can send a wacked out and bizarre message.

In this case, the damage was minimal. In fact, I’d say the added bonus of my learning a valuable lesson is that there’s a guy out there telling an amazing “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” story about the time he met a substitute school-teacher/bi-sexual male prostitute.

And that’s pretty cool.

 

A kind of Holiday Letter – 2013

Dear Friends,

Welcome to my annual “multiple-choice” Holiday Letter. As you may recall, I began writing in this format because (1):

  1. I enjoy ambiguity.
  2. Everyone loves a quiz.
  3. As a teacher, this format has become 2nd nature to me.

Yet again, I find that my life is ridiculously fun and rewarding. I owe this primarily to my wife and children, though my students, surprisingly enough, make me smile every day (thanks, guys!). There is so much for which I am thankful, including (2):

  1. That I get to spend so much time with my family.
  2. The good news about my Illinois teacher pension.
  3. That I still have winning the lottery to look forward to.

I am also happy to report that my wife (3):

  1. Has fallen in love with a younger man who our kids just rave about.
  2. Continues to make me laugh (not at her . . . usually).
  3. Has been asked to quit working for United Airlines and work exclusively for Air Force One.
  4. All of the above.

Our daughter has entered kindergarten and (4):

  1. Is learning in a bilingual school—most of her education is in Spanish.
  2. Has made several new friends.
  3. Still loves to give her daddy several hugs a day!
  4. All of the above.

While our son is only three-years-old, he (5):

  1. Has the destructive ability of a zombie dinosaur army.
  2. Speaks fluent French and Japanese.
  3. Is a cute, funny, and charming heartbreaker.
  4. Both A and C.

Life remains a blast—providing our family with new and plentiful reasons to celebrate. While we occasionally have a tough break or curve ball thrown our way, we stay happy because (6):

  1. We get shiny new toys that bring true enlightenment.
  2. Our fame continues to spread and our adoring public can’t get enough of us.
  3. Gold coins fall at our feet when we snap our fingers.
  4. None of the above is the key to our happiness.

We hope you have had a wonderful year and that the next one brings you (7):

  1. Adventure.
  2. Laughter.
  3. A few surprises.
  4. The time to do whatever it is you truly want to do.
  5. All of the above.

Happy Holidays!

Sincerely,

Craig

ANSWER KEY: 1 = 3.     2 = 1.    3 = 2.      4 = 4.     5 = 4.     6 = 4.     7 = 5.

Stagnation is Always the Enemy

As writers, stagnation is always our enemy.

This is true in several ways. Consider:

  1. We always seek to improve our craft—we are never fully satisfied.
  2. Our stories and characters must constantly grow, adapt, and change.

Although it may not seem like it, we grow every time we write. We think of new phrases, try new sentence structures, attempt new rhetorical styles, etc. The more you write, the better your writing will become. Of course, you can push yourself by setting yourself goals, attempting new styles, etc. Even if such exercises never see the light of day, they are valuable methods of improving your craft. We know this. You will keep the stagnation enemy at bay so long as you are writing and trying your best. If you are writing, you are evolving.

But it is equally true that our stories and characters can’t stagnate. They must evolve as well. In the past, I’ve written that a protagonist MUST change in the story (my two posts about “Transformation” in the Hero’s Journey). Change is inherently interesting. So if your character is stagnate and doesn’t change, you’ve written a boring story that violates perhaps the most fundamental principle of storytelling—that your characters will learn or be changed by what they experience.

In fact, every scene must involve change. If things are the same at the end of a scene or chapter as they were at the beginning, then that chapter should be cut or at least fixed. If nothing changes, there is no need for the scene.

When editing, go through each scene and identify what changes. If you can’t find something, ask “do I really need this in the story?” If you don’t absolutely need it, then you might just delete the whole thing (which might help your pacing). If the scene is necessary, at least re-work it so that something changes (arguing characters agree by the end, agreeing characters disagree by the end, have learned something that changes how they think or feel, something unexpected happens, etc.).

Keep it up! Keep working! Keep the enemy at bay!

Best of luck!

So About that YA Voice….

In YA (Young Adult), VOICE is ½ of the story.

The impression I’ve gotten from several books, interviews with agents, editors, authors, etc. is that for the YA audience, the story’s VOICE is just as important as everything else combined (plot, characters, themes, etc.).

What does that mean?

Well, a cynical way of looking at it is that even if your novel is structured perfectly, has fascinatingly complex yet relatable characters, and has something interesting to show us about the world or human condition, you’re still only half way to publication.

On a brighter note, if you have a Voice that teenagers will love, you’re half way to publication before you even have a conflict or character! So that’s awesome!

I find it easier to gauge the quality of my story/character development than my voice. I hope that “How I say it” (my narration/voice) is fun and enjoyable, but how can I know if a teenager will be captivated? How can I know if my YA VOICE resonates in perfect pitch with a teenager’s metaphorical ears?

Looking into advice on Voice helps, but it can be frustrating because answers are often vague or subjective. After all, “great voice & style” is, by nature, quite subjective even though we can agree on some general writing guidelines.

But don’t despair! Understanding WHY the Voice is so important in YA provides some answers. What most teenage readers want is INTIMACY and CONNECTION. I don’t mean “sex or kissy stuff,” (Oh wait. Yes, actually that is what most teenagers want) but rather, teenagers must immediately know and understand the protagonist. They must relate to her, feel for her, and get to know her so that her concerns become the reader’s concerns. This requires psychological and emotional intimacy. This means honesty: we have to see some vulnerability along with some strength in the protagonist because we all understand vulnerability. And readers must feel this intimacy/connection ASAP.

Teens read to find a friend. They want to care and form a bond. That connection is made through the use of details, the protagonist’s perspective and experiences, etc. The more specific yet universal, the better. Okay, now THAT was vague. What I mean is: the descriptive details need must be specific (for showing setting, her life, her emotions, her concerns, etc. — these should be particular) and yet the feelings evoked by those specific details need to be universal and therefore relatable to the audience at large.

This is probably why so many YA books are told in First Person—because the character is “talking” to the reader, letting him in on her thoughts, feelings, history, and everything else. The connection is made more quickly that way. It’s like the new friend is revealing intimate secrets and taking us into her confidence.

However, I’m sick of First Person YA and want to write in Third Person because it seems a natural fit for me. So how can this work in Third?

That’s what I’m trying to figure out . . . but I think narrating from over the main character’s shoulder is a good approach. By doing so, I can occasionally peaking inside her head to get at memory, history, and emotion. More subtly, all the imagery/sensory details, similes, metaphors, etc., will be filtered through her experience and voice – these are the things she would notice or the way she would describe them. So although I’m not having her narrate the story, the narrator is soaking in my protagonist’s experience, attitude, and perspective.

Before I go back and fine-tune that YA Voice, I’m reading what others have to say about Voice and studying some examples of popular YA told in the 3rd person. And after all that, I’ll have a huge job on my hands. Thankfully, it’s a job I love. I can’t wait!

Here’s a list of some helpful books.

Books about Writing for YA + Voice:

Writing Irresistible Kid Lit: The Ultimate Guide for Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers – by Mary Kole.

Second Sight: An Editor’s talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults – by Cheryl B. Klein

Great YA told in the 3rd Person Point of View:

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.

Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

Sunshine Award

Fellow writer and book lover Emilyann Girdner (http://www.anythingimagined.blogspot.com) nominated my blog for a Sunshine Award! Thanks, Emilyann!

Sunshine Award

Scroll to the bottom of this post for a list of great “writing blogs” I am nominating and go check them out!

You can learn a bit more about me if you bother reading my answers to these questions. I’m just a little bit of all right, so you might be interested in getting to know me better. However, I won’t be offended (heck, I might respect you even more) if you simply head straight to my recommended blog sites at the far bottom. You can thank me later.

As part of the fun, I am to answer 10 questions and nominate other bloggers for the award. Here are the rules:

  1. Include the award’s logo in my blog post.
  2. Link to the person who nominated you.
  3. Answer the 10 questions about yourself.
  4. Nominate 10 bloggers.
  5. Link your nominees to the post and commend on their blogs, letting them know they have been nominated.

So here we go. . . .

  1. Favorite color: Varying shades of blue, like the Blue Morpho Butterfly or a clear sea on a sunny day.
  2. Favorite Animal: Dogs, preferably the small & friendly variety that won’t kill me.
  3. Favorite Number: Four because that includes my wife, our two children, and me (so “No,” not because of Divergent).
  4. Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink: This topic is inherently flawed: it assumes that something without alcohol is still a “drink” instead of a beverage. But in order to play along, I’ll say Cherry Coke Zero.
  5. Favorite Alcoholic Drink: Blue Moon beer.
  6. Facebook or Twitter: I confess that I don’t follow either regularly, but I certainly learn more about writing via Twitter than Facebook because it is through other tweets that I learn about author signings, contests, agents, advice, conferences, etc.
  7. Passions: Checking items off of my “bucket list,” enjoying time with family and friends, vacations, and experiencing great stories through writing, reading, and shows or movies.
  8. Prefer giving or getting presents? Giving. No question.
  9. Favorite City: I have three:
    1. Edinburgh, Scotland.
    2. Wellington, New Zealand.
    3. Sweet home, Chicago.
    4. Favorite TV Shows: That are on right now:Arrow, Sherlock (BBC), Dr. Who (BBC), Modern Family, Grimm, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead

Favorite TV Shows Of All TimeLost, Firefly, Fringe, and Babylon 5 (ignore the sad production value—the writing is great).

And I’m nominating the following great blogs!

Note: I’m supposed to nominate 10 blogs, but I’m trying to only nominate ones I have not mentioned in the past. I met these folks via writeoncon.com this past summer and they all gave me some great advice on my manuscript! Check them out TODAY!

http://juliathewritergirl.wordpress.com

http://www.kimvanderhorst.com

http://kirabudge.weebly.com

http://jennifermeaton.com

http://rachelpudelek.blogspot.com

http://tangynt.wix.com/work

http://jessmontgomery.wordpress.com