Category Archives: On writing
When people talk about success in any endeavour – be it golf, acting, writing or anything else you care to name – much emphasis is placed on perseverance. I was reading an article by my writer friend Mona Karel on just that subject. Certainly it’s an absolutely vital requirement for success in any journey where you have to make the grade. You’ve heard all the cliches about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and starting all over again. Carry on in the face of adversity and all that.
But you know, I guess it all depends on what you mean by success. Sure, I want to make sales. If I didn’t why would I publish? If you go to all that trouble to write a book, of course you want people to read it. So does this mean if you only sell a handful, that’s bad?
I think maybe for me the driving force has changed. In terms of human lifespan I’m well over the hump and on the downward slide. My motivations have changed. I no longer feel I have to prove anything to anybody. Do I write because I have to? (Some people do) Maybe because I have all these stories trying to fight their way out of my head? (Some people do) Maybe I just love it? (Some people do)
Er, no. None of the above. Not really. Sure, I like writing. I’m well past the age of doing something I don’t want to do. But that’s the thing about retirement. Some people play bowls, some do volunteering and community service – and hats off to them. Me, I write. I enjoy the challenge of writing a good story. If it’s something I care deeply about, like wildlife conservation, that’s a fabulous motivation which keeps me going when my body mumbles stuff about not feeling like it. (That’s the perseverance bit) I enjoy the research and finding out new information, be it on wildlife preservation, fractals, the discovery of new exo-planets or new advances in computer science. Combine that with coming up with a plot that will hold a reader’s interest, compelling characters, evocative and convincing description, while all the while being cognisant of proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. It keeps my brain busy. And that is good.
I also like the fact that writing enables me to give a little back. That’s why I donate my tiger book profits to conservation.
So tell me, why do you bother?
I’m in the midst of writing new tiger story, the sequel to Black Tiger. It’s a stand-alone book, starring the two main characters but the setting is quite different, and based on the tiger trade in the US. In a recent post, I explained how I came to the decision that I’d write that story and I’m well under way.
Of course, I’ve done, am still doing, the research and I’ll check with people who know more than I do if I got it right. Thank goodness for the internet, and Google Earth. That said, you can’t beat experience. You can’t beat ‘been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt’.
The story starts in New York and I have been there, for just a few days. Sorry, I don’t heart NY. I’m not a big city person, and neither is Sally, my heroine. We both loved Central Park, though. It so happens, too, that the scene where Sally ends up in Harlem because she failed to realise she’d caught an express train also happened to me. Although I didn’t find a tiger in Harlem. Unlikely you say? Sure – but it has happened. Here’s the story of the Harlem tiger.
Now we get to the reason I’m writing this blog post, because I wrote a scene describing my abused tiger finally being released in a tiger sanctuary. Writing this, even thinking about it now, brought a tear to my eye. Why? Well, the world has turned many times since I was a child. I used to love to go to the zoo and see the animals. Our local zoo was small and these days has an enviable reputation in conservation of animals such as orang utans. But back then, like every other zoo in the world, animals were kept in concrete pens. I thought nothing of it at the time; few people did. But then opinion began to change about how animals should be kept, and the zoo changed its housing policy, first for the non-dangerous residents such as the deer and kangaroos. Then it was the big cat’s turn. Bear in mind these animals were never ill-treated. Many were born at the zoo. I’ll remember forever watching on TV as these cats (they were lions) first went into their new enclosure. And those memories are in this piece, as is footage from Carolina Tiger Rescue of a tiger being released into his new home. The writing is very raw, will probably change a little, but you get the idea. I hope. The tiger’s name is Ulysses.
Barbara Kranstein waved a hand. The forklift roared into life, edging the long prongs into the truck’s interior, then lifting. The operator backed the vehicle and the cage emerged with Ulysses standing, his tail waving. Sally felt his agitation and moved to where he could see her. Max, Bill and the forklift operator shifted the wheeled cage around and through the space between the double gates into the enclosure. It looked good, with a concrete den in a bank, a pool and wide areas of grass, as well as trees.
“We put food in the den for him,” Kranstein said, her gaze fixed on the cage.
When men were back behind the outer fence, Max pulled a cable that raised the second gate, then the cage.
Ulysses just stood for a few long moments. Sally sent him thoughts – safe, good, food, safe – and set her camera into video mode. Ash should see this, too. His head lowered, Ulysses took a step forward. Then another, patting the unfamiliar surface. A stride. And now he was beyond the gate and on the grass. The big cat threw himself down and rolled, this way, then that, wriggling his spine, chuffing his pleasure. Sally’s eyes brimmed, but she kept filming. Eyes closed, the tiger threw his head back and sucked some grass into his mouth. Another roll, back onto his stomach. Now he rose and padded over to the pool, large enough for a tiger to wallow. Once again, he patted, testing with one paw. When he walked into the water and collapsed with an almost human sigh, Sally couldn’t see properly any more.
I was quite sure, not so long ago, that I was going to write a new Morgan Selwood story this year. And maybe, later on, I will. But not just yet. The story just would not flow. I don’t believe in muses, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as writer’s block. In the immortal words of Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”
I thought the story was there. It was going to be based on a real, historical event but set in space. I started, wrote a few hundred totally forgettable words and went and kicked a few things. Sure, life was a huge distraction for me in the last little while, but now I’d started again, surely I could get on with it.
You see, the thing is with me that I can’t write it until I can (vicariously) live my story. I stand outside watching the sunset, going through lines of dialogue in my head. Or sometimes out loud. The scene plays, I sort of know what things look like and I can add details in an editing pass, no problem. With the Morgan story, it just wasn’t happening. One reason was that I hadn’t sufficiently converted the plot to space opera. That’s what the Morgan stories are about. Planet-hopping, high action is what I imagine readers will expect. This was going to be very, very planet based. I needed to rethink the action so I could add a spaceship and a space battle or two.
So I left the story in limbo and went and did something else, which was checking out Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. (On line, of course, although I’d love to visit.) One or two people have encouraged me to write another Black Tiger story and since tiger conservation is dear to my heart, it made sense. (For those who don’t know, all profits from ‘Black Tiger’ go to tiger conservation.
I watched a string of videos and read the stories about these cats and how they are treated. Tigers, lions, leopards and the like are not house pets. You cannot take the ‘wild’ out of them. One of the most telling statements I heard/read was that while a tiger will fight to the death for her cubs and is a wonderful mother, when they are grown there isn’t any lingering love. A tiger will fight its mother for territory. She’s just another rival. So bleating “but I reared him from a cub” when the cat turns and bites you isn’t worth a piece of… anything. In a number of cases, cats have injured or killed their ‘owners’. And some of the conditions these poor beasts were kept in… look for yourself. Check some of the other stories, too. And read the stories about cubs exploited in ‘pay for petting‘ practices.
Well, all of a sudden I had my story. I hesitated for a few days, coming up with a powerful villain who could match – indeed, defeat – my two weretiger protagonists, Ash and Sally. I’m having fun again, enjoying the difficult process of writing a book. Half the profits for this book will go to a US tiger rescue group. Not because it’ll help tigers survive in the wild – it won’t – but because these beasts don’t deserve to be abused for the sake of human exploitation and greed. I admire what BCR and Carolina Tiger Rescue are doing (I’m sure there are others), and fully support their actions to ban people from keeping exotic animals as pets. In Australia, you need special permits to allow you to keep reptiles or protected native birds. You’ll only find a tiger in a real, accredited, zoo, not stuck in a tiny, concrete cage at a gas station like Tony the truck stop tiger.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that there are more tigers in backyards and ‘zoos’ in the US than there are in the wild. But those cats are usually born in America, they are hybrids derived from matings between whichever tigers are around. You think puppy farms are bad? And (like cats and dogs) most of these beasts will live miserable lives and end up dead, killed for their hides and body parts.
OK, time to get off the soapbox. Breathe deeply…
Now then, back to writing and being diverted from a project…
Has something like this ever happened to any of my writer friends? Please share.
As a writer, I rub shoulders (virtually) with lots of other writers. On Facebook I’ll often see quotes from people like Stephen King, or Hemingway and others. Inspirational stuff. I think. But sometimes advice needs to be weighed and measured before it’s blindly believed. Here are a few I’ve encountered.
Really? Oh, I don’t doubt you’ve read heaps of books. So have I – both for pleasure and as part of my university degree. Piles and piles, heaps of books. But reading doesn’t make you a writer. My husband is a voracious reader – and I do mean voracious. He isn’t a particularly fast reader, but he would go through a book or two a week. The prospect of him writing a book? Somewhere between Buckley’s and none. Reading may lead you to writing, reading may provide you with knowledge about a particular genre, it may cause you to think that you could write a better book yourself. But reading does not make you a writer.
Do more writing courses
How many have you done? Lots or none at all? I’ve done a few. But at the end of the day, all you’re doing is training up for the real event. Would I suggest people do writing courses? Absolutely. Then go away and think about what you learned and how you might want to apply that knowledge (if at all). Writing courses are subjective, in a way that (say) basic physics is not. You can learn Newton’s three laws of motion – and if you’re writing science fiction, that’s not a bad idea. They are facts, just as 1 + 1 = 2. But writing courses will teach you how a certain person thinks the job should be done. Do you think Shakespeare, or Dickens, or Tolkien, did a writing course? You might as well have done lots of reading (see above).
Take lots of editorial advice
So you’ve written the first chapter of your masterpiece and you take it along to the local writers’ group for comment. Or, in this electronic age, you post it to to Authonomy or some other, similar, group. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a necessary step along the way. Float your little paper boat and see how long before it sinks. Some will say they love it, some will say they hate it. Whose advice do you take? If you’ve done the writing courses, you’ll recognise others who have done the same courses. But beware, take care before you take advice from people who don’t read the genre, or people who haven’t read the whole book. Consider opinions by all means, but don’t turn your book into a hippogriff by trying to pander to everyone’s whims.
It’s cool to collect rejection slips
Sure, it’s part of the process. But you know what? It doesn’t happen to everybody. I have a writer friend who sent the synopsis and first three chapters of her first book to five well-respected agents. Within two (2) weeks she had a contract for three (3) books, with a six-figure advance. The other four agents passed – but she didn’t much care. Sure, I know some will paper their office with rejection slips. It might be smarter to think about why you’re getting so many? Have you targeted the wrong agents/publishers? Do your queries stack up? And then (um) is your book any good?
Your work is good enough to publish
Maybe it is. If you’ve been through rigorous quality control. That’s what it is, really, getting a book reading for publishing – even if it’s self publishing. Find out if people enjoyed the read – and I don’t mean the people who will love anything you do, including those sausages you burnt at the last family barbie. That’s where critique groups are useful if you can find people prepared to read the whole book and give you fair comment. If they say the ending’s weak or there’s lots of loose ends that go nowhere, maybe you need to reconsider your plot. But for now, let’s assume that’s not necessary. A professional edit from someone who knows what they’re doing is still a very good idea. So is copy editing. Remember that husband I mentioned? The one that reads a lot? He’s no academic, but he knows ‘drug’ or ‘drugged’ is not the past tense of the verb ‘to drag’. He knows the difference between their, there and they’re. If you write “apple’s”, he’ll wonder “apple’s what?” If you don’t understand all of these, go and learn English.
So what do you think? What other “advice” would cause you to pause and think?
The writing business is full of advice, some good, some bad and some plain bullshit. I guess I’ve heard one story too many today, so this rant is my response.
1. You’ll never make money from your first novel
Have a look at this list of ‘first novels’. Admittedly, some of these people will have other manuscripts that have never seen the light of day, tucked away in desk drawers and the like. But one hears so often about the number of rejection slips. This is, if you wish, the other side of the coin. No one is saying all those first novels were necessarily an overnight success. We’ve all heard about how many of those were rejected multiple times. But they’re still ‘first novels’. Sometimes, indeed, only novels.
2. Your first novel will be crap
Really? Please see above. I’ve actually read advice along the lines of “write four novels, throw them away, then write your ‘first novel’”. Hello? Throw away four books? Throw away? Don’t do it, folks. Revise your little heart out. I’m here to tell you that the first versions of the first two books I ever wrote don’t look a lot like their published versions. But that’s editing, which isn’t the same as throwing away. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of editing, be careful whose advice you take. I had a little rant about that. And on the subject of editing my own first novel, I had this to say.
3. Shucks. My muse did it for me
Before I start, I’ll make the point that this one is just my (humble) opinion. I see it so often, writers extolling the virtues of their ‘muse’. I remember watching a presentation by a very successful author who claimed the words just kinda “came out” of their own accord. She was very humble about it, telling her audience some other hand had written through her. To that I say, bullshit. The muses were a bunch of minor Greek goddesses. I don’t believe in some sort of higher entity which works through me. I make up my stories in my head, undoubtedly building upon the stories I have heard or read or seen during my life. But they’re my words, they’re my plots and I take responsibility for them. If I write a load of universally panned rubbish, can I also claim that it wasn’t me, I didn’t do it? Point my finger at… oops, there’s no muse for space opera. Maybe that’s my mistake? If you have to take responsibility for your mistakes, why can’t you glory in your successes? But I’m not here to judge. If you’re a muse supporter, you go for it.
4. Aaaaargh – writer’s block!
This one isn’t just from the ‘muse’ supporters. “The word’s aren’t lining up in my head and pouring out my fingertips,” the writers complain. Did you guys watch The Jewel of the Nile, with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas? Turner played Joan Wilder, successful writer of romantic action-adventure. In the opening part of the film, there’s a ludicrous chain of events with a bunch of impossible characters, doing unlikely things. That was Wilder suffering ‘writer’s block’. And that, dear reader, is how to solve ‘writer’s block’. Go and write. Something. Anything. Yes, it might be crap, but you can edit crap. Writer’s block is really
- I can’t be bothered
- I’m not in the mood
- I have other things tying up my brain cells right now
- What if I can’t do this anymore?
- It won’t sell anyway, so what’s the point?
And other bits of negative and/or non-productive nonsense. If you want to write… write. If you don’t, do something else. It’s your choice.
5. Good writing will rise to the top
Er… no. Writing isn’t a bottle of milk, and ‘good writing’ isn’t cream. What is ‘good writing’? I’m not talking about grammar and spelling here. To me, they are tools of the trade and if you don’t know how to use them, you have no business in this profession.
Let’s name a few names which are often included in the ‘bad writing’ lists. JK Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, EL James. And some people touted as ‘good’ writers. James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway. I loved Harry Potter, wouldn’t touch Twilight with the proverbial barge pole, ditto for EL James, and I blew a resounding raspberry at the da Vinci Code – but in each case, not because of the writing. To me, Joyce is incomprehensible, Dickens is overwritten pompousness, Jane Austen is dated and Hemingway is just not very interesting. Sorry. Okay, actually, I’m not sorry. These are my opinions and they have as much validity as anybody else’s. And therein lies the point. ‘Good’ writing is relative. It depends on you the reader. I’ve mentioned before today that I persevered with a piece of fan fiction which was full of grammatical errors, because I enjoyed the story. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
So there you go. Rant over. Anything you’d like to add? Any other writing myths that are sure to get your goat?
As I announced in a blog post a little while ago, I’ve had to republish all my books due to circumstances beyond my control. It has now been about 10 days since I started the process of removing the titles from the various sites and republishing them under the new D2D label, and I thought some of you might be interested in the fall-out from the process.
First off, if you had a contract with your previous publisher, you can’t just give them the bird and self-publish or go with another publisher. You’ll need a letter of rescission, returning to you the rights for the book. This is a legal requirement. In my case, the split was entirely amicable and I have that letter. You won’t be able to use any existing ISBNs, either. New publisher = new version.
As far as Amazon and the other vendors are concerned, your newly-published book is a new listing. All my books had to start afresh at eleventy million, and work their way up from there.
I thought I’d lose all the reviews – but in fact the vendors’ software has recognised the same title for the same author and ported the reviews over. The only non-starters were for my Iron Admiral titles. It has always been a problem with those books. The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy became Conspiracy on some sites. Then I confused the issue by putting The Iron Admiral Book one: Conspiracy on the cover. Anyway, while a human would immediately see the books are the same, the software program didn’t make the connection. Apparently I could contact Amazon and ask them to re-link the reviews. I confess I haven’t bothered.
That has been the biggest pain in the posterior. Every link for every book had to be updated, on every site. Authordb, Author’s Den, Bookbuzzr, my own website – oh gosh, I’d better do the ones on Facebook. What about Linkedin? I’ve probably forgotten a few. Needless to say, sites which reviewed the book and had links will now be wrong.
The outcome (so far)
I’ve been interested to see that, of all the books, Black Tiger is doing the best in sales. I was beginning to despair over this title. Not that it’s zooming along, but sales are better than they had been. On the flip side, Morgan’s Choice and Morgan’s Return, which had been my flagships, never slipping much below the 60k rank on Amazon US, are languishing. Fortunately, I have reviews (at a review site) in the pipeline for Morgan’s Return and Black Tiger. I’m hoping they will help increase exposure. I’ve temporarily reduced the price for Morgan’s Choice to $2.99 to try to gain some interest.
Quite a few small publishers are falling by the wayside, so the time may come when you’re in the same situation as me. The best advice I can give you is document what you do. Write it all down in a spreadsheet. Links to reviews on websites, interviews on websites, places where you’ve listed your books – anywhere you’ve sent a link. You might not be able to get all of them updated, but an email to the owner asking for an update will usually be seen in a positive light.
How you generate new sales I don’t know. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve found blog tours and paid advertising doesn’t do much. I can only hope it’s early days and sales will recover. Have any of you been through the process of changing publishers? If so, what was your experience? Do you have any suggestions?
As I explained in my last post, my publishing arrangement collapsed when the company I worked through, folded. For me, writing is a hobby and with nine books published, I didn’t want to find myself up to my armpits in the mire of managing a whole bunch of accounts with Kobo, Apple, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Before, I’d left most of that (not Amazon) to Smashwords but I’d never been too thrilled with the Smashwords process. Having worked in IT for many years, I understood the pain of different strokes for different folks and formatting to suit. Smashwords makes its premium product available on many, many platforms and lowest common denominator is certainly the way to go. If that’s what you want.As far as I can tell, I’ve never made sales to palm devices or the more basic readers. In fact, I have never made many sales through Smashwords at all, so I was open to considering another choice.
Enter Draft 2 Digital (D2D), a new player in the formatting market. I decided to try the concept with The Iron Admiral, a book which I had only published on Amazon. It wasn’t even a simple choice, since it is an omnibus, a combination of both my Iron Admiral books. When I write, I use Microsoft Word with two basic styles, one for normal text and one for chapters, which I allow Word to number for me. I don’t use drop caps on the first letter of a new chapter, but I do make it bold, and slightly larger than the rest. It works well and I end up with clean, well formatted documents. No headers or footers needed. D2D’s software picked up the styles and created a table of contents. The system will generate a simple copyright page if you want, but I did my own, which it recognised. I did not enter an ISBN. In fact the company quite correctly states that an ISBN can be more of a hindrance than a help because you should have a separate ISBN for each format of any given book.
Draft 2 Digital puts your uploaded MS through the process, and shows you the structure of your chapters as it has recognised them, on this layout screen. It allows the user to select several special sections, as shown here for Supertech. I asked for an ‘about the author’ section, which you set up as part of your account, with profile and (optional) author photo. I created my own ‘also by this author’. The system will generate an ‘also by this author’ but the books have to be on D2D already (at least I think that’s what happens). Bearing in mind the system is still in beta, I ‘went it alone’ for most of these. That way, I have control.
Having picked your options and selected your cover, press save and D2D will produce three files for you. One is a mobi, for Amazon, one is an epub for Kobo, Apple and Nook, and one is a print file for Create Space. Although I didn’t proceed with the Create Space option, I tried it out. Personally, I feel a print file needs more tweaking to look really good, so although the pdf wasn’t bad, I had my reservations. For instance, do you want all your chapters to start on the right hand page? Where do you want your page numbers? Do you want headers giving the book name or something? That said, D2D worked out the number of pages and sent me an email with a template for the print cover – class act, IMO. I would have ended up with a good, clean paper back if I had proceeded.
Once the system has generated the files you can (should) check each format you intend to use, and go back and reload your files if something hasn’t worked as you expected. I had a slight problem with the auto-generated pages and sent an email, asking for help. The response was prompt and personal, not a generated page spouting boiler plate pearls of wisdom.
When you’re happy, move on to selecting your outlets. I chose Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. Although D2D states that it may take anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks to process the file at all outlets, The Iron Admiral was loaded to all outlets within a couple of days. I was so impressed, I used D2D to republish all my books.
Reporting is a breeze. Sales are shown by outlet and by book and is updated pretty much immediately the data comes through from the outlets. And payment is through Paypal, not messy paper cheques. Unless you want a messy paper cheque. Alternatively, they’ll make a direct deposit to a bank account.
Of course, Draft 2 Digital takes a share – generally 10% of list price. See the Pricing page for details. It also has to take 30% taxes out of your earnings, as per US Government regulations. But non-US authors can apply for an ITIN or the more easily obtained W8-BEN stating you are exempt from paying US taxes.
I’m impressed with this software. It works with writers, using the best of Word. If, like me, you don’t want to mess about with multiple accounts and you’re not too fussed that your books won’t appear on EVERY platform, give them a try. Draft 2 Digital.
There’s been a lot of talk about heroines of late. What makes a kick-ass heroine? Tough, sassy, strong etc etc. And I suppose that’s an attempt to distance them from the fluffy women you find so often in romance novels. But even so, I always feel they’re are a bit like Barbie dolls. You know what I mean, an unrealistic ideal. Young, beautiful, smart, sassy, sure of themselves, with tiny waists and legs up to here. So many are princesses, or uber-talented something-or-others brought up by adopted family. All images carefully air-brushed to hide any imperfections, of course.
There’s nothing like a serve of fantasy, I suppose. But at the end of the day, how many of us fit that model? I don’t know about you, but I’m the wrong side of forty, carrying weight I never did in my younger days. But who’d want to read a story about somebody like me?
Enter Diane Nelson.
Diane’s been writing for twenty-five years and more. She’s produced award-winning YA, erotica, paranormal – and this little set of gems. Romance with Reality. She writes romances about Real Women with kids and pasts and cheating husbands and love handles – and let me tell you, they’re funny and super entertaining, and you can relate – really relate – to what’s going down. Three short reads bound to appeal to the slightly older reader. Just click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page.
A tropical paradise does terrible things to the human psyche. Maggie, a systems analyst a little way past the blush of youth, finds herself the object of lust for three men. You might say ‘who’s complaining’ but Maggie left her confidence (in the romance department, anyway) back when she was a couple of dress sizes smaller.
This is a funny story, sure to strike a chord with those of us of a ‘certain age’. Maggie has packed the wrong clothes for the conditions. Killer heels don’t work on the beach and polyester tights aren’t comfortable in the heat. Some of the one-liners are just wonderful. For example “I can feel my ass straining the pencil-skirt, tight enough that even the slip has no `slip’, nailed in place between my pantyhose-covered cotton briefs and the thick-weave fabric.” While she’s at the conference she still has a teenage daughter and an elderly mother to contend with, both of whom give her grief in different ways.
Under all the humour lurks a wistful soul who has compared herself to others and lost confidence. It’s a gentle and tender love story as Maggie comes to terms with herself and the men in her life.
Jes’s story is one many women have lived. Get married, have kids, give up everything for the husband’s career, let yourself slide, put on some weight. And then one day she finds her politician husband in bed with a girl young enough to be his daughter. It’s the last straw.
Jes starts off sleeping on the sofa in her daughter’s college digs while she tries to piece together a new life. Her self-esteem is at rock bottom, her skills rusty, her financial situation dire. But help comes from an unexpected source – the ghastly mother-in-law and the basketball coach at her daughter’s college. Help is one thing, having the courage to take a chance, something else again. How many women do you know who have had to face a challenge like this? Cast out, alone, the skills they had before they married all but forgotten. They’re past first youth, so far from the romantic stereotype they might as well be in another galaxy. Jes’s story is told with compassion and humour.
Taylor is 38 and six feet tall, an ex-professional basketballer player who fell foul of a conniving, manipulative husband. Robert is a sports journalist, younger brother of Taylor’s best friend, and just a little bit shorter than her. At first meeting, he comes across as a slob. But he’s an unforgettable slob, a man who makes her hormones race. As for him, he’s beginning to tire of the cheer-leader bimbos. Besides, he smells a story in Taylor. She reminds him of someone… And away we go on a rocky romance tightly mixed in with a story of use and abuse, self-esteem, courage and a whole lot of love.
Like The Conference and The 90 Day Rule, there’s a whole bunch of laughs as well as angst and hot romance in this story. It probably helps if you like basketball – it’s a definite minor character – but it’s not essential. I’m not a basketball fan, I don’t know much about the sport, but I got by.
If you’re like me and you’ve been around for a few years, every one of these books will strike a chord. Been there, done that – or you’ll know somebody who has. Maybe not the precise scenario, but close enough. I think each of these wonderful stories sends a message of hope for those who need it. Even if you don’t need hope, you’ll laugh out loud along the way and find yourself cheering for the characters.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still like the alpha females and their alpha males. But these stories provide an anchor, something to hold onto when the thought of yet another billionaire or prince or princess becomes a bit stale. Please – have a look at these books. Tell me what you think.
Those who know me would realise that I raise an eyebrow at the mere mention of the Rules of Writing. You know the ones; thou shalt not use passive voice, thou shalt avoid ‘that’, ‘as’, ‘just’ and ‘there was’, thou shalt not use adjectives and yay, verily, thou shalt not use adverbs. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. They are sensible guidelines to consider, NOT “rules” Somebody was supposed to have said, “There are three rules to writing. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.”
BUT… the title says it all, doesn’t it? There is one rule you break at your peril, and that is
Do Your Research
I was involved in an interesting discussion with writers of science fiction, based on a blog post about whether the ‘science’ was important in science fiction. Specifically, the author discussed a scenario in a novel where a spaceship in deep space begins to slow down when the engines fail. There was some to-ing and fro-ing over how important it was that this would not happen. Without any drag in the almost complete vacuum of space, inertia would keep the ship travelling at a constant speed unless something else intervened. It transpired that the writer of the novel had based her ‘research’ on a few science fiction movies. This is not a great move when you consider films like Star Wars, where basic physics is either misunderstood (this ship did the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs) or ignored. Think fighters zooming around in space as they would in atmosphere, and making a quick trip to Bespin without a hyperdrive, just to mention a couple.
People who read science fiction tend to be interested in science. Authors should at least do their readers the courtesy of trying to get it right. I grew up on Asimov and Clarke, who made sure their science was plausible, and basic facts of physics were either adhered to, or if not then explained. Jack McDevitt does the same. Somebody is going to say, but what about faster than light travel (FTL)? That’s impossible. Sure. But that’s a recognised trope in SF, commonly used in space opera to move the story forward. And as I explained here, planet hopping might not be as silly as it sounds.
A similar thing can be said of historical fiction, which I have also written. Before I wrote about a lad beheaded with a sword – just for fun – I found out how this could be done and what would happen. If you’re interested, here’s the answer – murder by decapitation. When I needed to write a scene where muskets were used, I researched muskets. Here’s the post about that. Writers of crime novels face the same situation. You’re going to kill somebody. Is the mode of death feasible? How long does it take? What evidence is left behind etc etc.
I suppose not everybody will agree with me. After all, the story is the thing, is it not? And since I’m a Star Wars fan, I can hardly disagree. But I still think Lucas et al could have done their homework and come up with something more accurate and still just as exciting. Even a few nose thrusters in the fighters would have helped. And maybe the hyperdrive could have been damaged, in need of repair, but still barely operational. Sure, there’s a little more room in speculative fiction for invention. After all, it is ‘fiction’. But I think there’s a limit. Even when I wrote Black Tiger, which is about a were-tiger, I took care to find out about real tigers, the legend of were-tigers in India, and the role of tigers in Hindu theology.
So what do you think? Am I being self-righteous? Do you expect to find real science in science fiction? Real history in historical novels? Or doesn’t it matter to you?
It’s time to start a new writing adventure, face the cold, blank screen and begin. For me, it’s the hardest part of the whole process – the empty page. Once something – anything – is down, words are written, then you can read them back and change them, because the thought is there, translated into words.
In a way, this book should be easy, because I know the whole plot. It’s based on historical fact, a real life drama translated into a whole new setting. But is it really so easy?
Sure, I know what happens, but the essence of a good story is not the dry-as-dust facts, it’s the WHY. Why did the characters do that? What was their motivation? It’s the difference between learning a bunch of dates in history class, and learning the story of what happened.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. My first published novel was historical fiction, a dramatisation, if you will, of real events, acts carried out by real people. You can find out more about the book at my other website. The point, though, is that working out why something happened at a particular time isn’t always easy. In a history book you can write that the bad guys delayed their attack for a month. It’s a fact. It happened. But fiction isn’t like that. You’re in your character’s head. You have to have a very good reason why he would delay his attack. Your readers will demand it. As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. And it’s true. Your plot must be plausible, you must write the events so they make sense in every way – in how your characters speak and react, what they wear, what they believe or fear.
I had to take all those things into consideration when I wrote “To Die a Dry Death” and believe me, at times it wasn’t easy. This time, I’m not going to be writing a dramatisation, using the real people in the real setting. I’m grabbing a story from history and setting it in a Galaxy Far, Far Away, a Long, Long Time in the Future. In that respect, the journey will be a little easier. But I know it won’t be as easy as join the dots or colour by numbers.
Have any of you done something like this? What was hard? What was easy?