Dave and me, hanging out @ The Experience Music Project in Seattle
This is the fourth post in an occasional series about finding inspiration in other artists’ creative processes. Read the first, about Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the second, featuring Trent Reznor, and the third, mourning the death of Scott Weiland, at the links.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a massive Dave Grohl fangirl. (Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana, and founded and fronts the Foo Fighters.) So when I heard Dave was keynoting the South By Southwest Conference a couple of years ago, in 2013, I blocked out an hour on my (then) day job’s Outlook calendar so I could watch the webcast uninterrupted.
Dave didn’t disappoint. In an f-bomb-laden, highly personal speech, and sporting ridiculously sexy reading glasses, Dave brought us along on his personal artistic journey, one inspired by wise parents and a love of punk rock. He reveled in his independence, developing and nurturing what he later recognized was his individual voice.
Voice. It’s an aspect of art, of craft, that musicians and writers share. It’s a tone, or a worldview, that makes a piece of work – or a body of work – belong uniquely to its creator.
Some key takeaways from Dave’s keynote that resonated for me:
“There is no right or wrong, there is only your voice. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s (expletive) gone.”
“Am I the best drummer in the world? Certainly not. Am I the best singer/songwriter? Not even in this (expletive) room. But I have been left alone to find my voice.”
“I am the musician, and I come first.”
This statement about creative control of one’s art, spoken with such certainty during a time when my traditional publisher and I were parting ways and indie publishing loomed on my horizon, shrilled into my very bones.
Somewhere along the line, I’d forgotten that.
I am the writer, and I come first.
I won’t forget it again.
I could quote from this keynote for hours – and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it since Dave made it 2013 – but I think I’ll just let the man speak for himself. Here’s Dave, being all hot ‘n wise ‘n awesome. The video is 49:32; it’s well worth the time regardless of how you write or publish, and the language is NSFW.
Listen. Learn. Enjoy. And remind yourself, if you need to: “I am the writer, and I come first.”
I realize fifty minutes is a significant time investment, and that comments might be few and far between at the blog today. But if you’re inclined to comment:
Do you think there are lessons writers can learn from musicians, and publishing can learn from the music industry, about the intersection of art and commerce?
Is there a writer whose voice you absolutely adore? Why do you like it, and which book do you recommend we read to get a taste?
I recently took a virtual workshop about writing multiple series from NYT and USA Today bestselling author Marie Force. Self-publishing trailblazer and author of not one but FOUR continuing series, Marie also owns the E-Book Formatting Fairies, hosts Reader Weekend events for her biggest fans, moderates one of the most useful self-publishing loops on Yahoo, and is a frequent conference speaker. In addition, the busiest woman in publishing generously shares her knowledge by teaching workshops. I suspect that, in her spare time, she’s either invented cloning, or discovered a way to circumvent the space/time continuum. 😉
All joking aside, it was an awesome class, and I highly recommend it for both published and unpublished series writers. Marie shared some great advice about anchor couples, mining connections between characters, world-building (particularly the factors she considers when creating vibrant fictional communities that stand the test of time), and of course, the biggie: how to write characters that readers care about. In the last class lesson, she advised creating a series bible early on—which made complete sense to me—but then she recommended doing something that, in hindsight, seems so completely obvious, but that never crossed my mind.
Re-read all the books in your series, at least once a year. According to Marie, re-reading your books on a regular basis reacquaints you with the details you committed to the page, and it also helps generate new story ideas.
Re-read my own books? Seriously? Study them, like I study the books on my keeper shelf? The very idea seemed…presumptuous. Intellectually, I know my books are decent, but for some reason the prospect of re-reading them with that level of scrutiny made me cringe as much as I do when my sisters haul out my seventh grade school photos.
Yes, really. Marie was serious. So I hemmed and I hawed, I bitched and moaned, but…I finally did it. I was gestating a new project, and…dang it, why take a class from one of the most successful series writers in our industry if I wasn’t willing to at least try something she recommended? Bottom line, I knew my series bible was woefully out of date, so even if re-reading my own books was excruciating, I knew I’d get something valuable out of the deal.
No pain, no gain.
So I sucked it up and started re-reading my first published book, TASTE ME, my 2009 Golden Heart finalist and the kickoff to the Underbelly Chronicles. And yes, there were a few winces along the way: Unnecessary dialogue tags. The occasional copy-editing error. The very rare head-hop that…worked, but that I’d never allow myself now that I’ve become a POV purist.
But…heh. Not bad, if I do say so myself. * buffs fingernails on shirt *
And the details I’d forgotten! The potential plot seeds I’d planted, but hadn’t yet cultivated. The nameless, sometimes faceless characters that walked onto the page for a sentence or two, served their purpose, then walked away again.
Story ideas flew at me hard and fast. OMG, she was right.
I re-read all the other books in my Underbelly Chronicles series over the Christmas holidays, and plot seeds are still sprouting left and right. A character who received two sentences’ worth of real estate in TASTE ME—such a minor character he wasn’t even in my series bible—has elbowed his way back onto the page of Book 5, where he’s a major catalyst for conflict. And an unnamed character in my TOUCH ME novella? Oh my, do I have plans for her. The garden of my imagination is over-run, and I’m still tilling. Still weeding, still cultivating. But I really like how things are setting up.
Another thing I realized? It’s what I didn’t commit to the page in those earlier books that allows me to re-purpose these characters, to expand their utility beyond their original walk-on roles. By not providing more information than was absolutely required, I didn’t box myself in.
I came out of Marie’s class with not only an updated series bible, but with new ideas and a fresh, new energy for my work—a gift beyond price. So, that’s the biggest lesson I learned from Marie Force: that no matter how excruciating it might initially feel, re-read your work, at least occasionally. You never know the bounty your imagination might be ready to provide.
Have you ever re-read your own published or completed work? If so, why did you do it, and what did you learn? Did you find it exhilarating, excruciating, or both?
Last week, I took a day off from security guards, sex demons and assassins (the WIP) and joined a group of undergraduate English majors, MFA students, and other writers on the University of Minnesota Mankato campus, where we had the pleasure of listening to the amazing Roxane Gay talk about writing difference.
Though Gay is both a fiction and non-fiction writer, my exposure to her work has primarily been through her eloquent, insightful essays (and her Twitter feed, @rgay), where she takes on race, gender, sexism, feminism, social class, sexual violence, homophobia, privilege, identity, corruption, and the intersectionality of these topics. While Gay’s non-fiction subject matter can feel fraught and political and scary and huge, the craft talk most emphatically was not—except for a comment about the need for publishers to be more inclusive about the writers they publish, and to expand the breadth of human experience published books present to the world.
Nope, this was a one-hour craft talk about writing difference in an authentic way. And unlike institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and the patriarchy, character development is a writerly choice, something I fully control in my own work.
Note the simplicity of Gay’s phrasing: “Writing difference.” It’s as inclusive as it gets. It doesn’t value any difference over another. It excludes no one, and meets every writer where they’re at. It’s about me, the writer, writing characters who are different than me. Hell, I’m a middle-aged, middle-class, straight Caucasian woman who writes about vampires, sirens, werewolves and sex demons—whose ancestors are aliens—and the phrase still works.
Here are some quick hits from my notes from Roxane’s session. Any errors or misinterpretations are, of course, my own:
Writing difference is about authenticity, about reaching beyond stereotypes and “lazy, half-assed assumptions.” Don’t merely write “the sassy gay friend, the fiery Latina, or the wise black maid. Dig deeper.”
People who are different than you are people first, and different second.
When writing difference, start with universal emotions. There’s natural common ground here.
“No one is any one thing, right?” No one is solely racist, or sexist, or disabled, or LGBT, or homophobic. We can’t assume that any person—any character—is part of any monolithic whole. People are multi-dimensional. Characters should be, too.
Research is important. READ difference. Read across genres. Expose yourself to others’ realities.
As a writer, it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to simply try. Even if you don’t quite hit the bulls-eye authenticity-wise, your attempt means you’re acknowledging that humanity isn’t a monolithic whole. Acknowledgment is a move in the right direction.
“Writers write what they’re called to write,” but authenticity is key. If your story needs a character of difference, write one—but it’s problematic, and inauthentic, and perhaps an issue of ethics, to write difference as a marketing ploy, or as a way to hop on a bandwagon, or to fetishize.
Though Gay writes both fiction and non-fiction, she says that fiction writing is her “happy place,” a way to “self-medicate.” Soft-spoken Gay clearly relishes the power she wields when writing fiction. “I control my characters. I create entire worlds.”
Yes. And by writing difference in an authentic way, we, as writers, help create the world we want to see—one character, one book, one difference at a time.
To get a taste of Roxane in action, here’s her “Confessions of a Bad Feminist” TED Talk from last year. Bad Feminist is an awesome book, and I very much look forward to Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, coming in June 2016.
What are your thoughts about writing (or reading, or watching) difference? Can you recommend any authors who write difference well?
This is the third post in an occasional series about how I find inspiration in other artists’ creative processes. Read the first, about Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and the second, about Trent Reznor.
I was on vacation in warm and beachy Key West when I saw the news that former Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver lyricist and front man Scott Weiland had died on his tour bus in my home town of Minneapolis. “Ah, damn,” I breathed. As a longtime fan, I wasn’t particularly surprised by the news. Weiland had famously – infamously? – struggled with drug addiction for much of his career, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to assume that he’d OD’ed. (Indeed, it was later determined he’d died of mixed drug toxicity – an accidental overdose.) But having had the privilege of seeing him perform live on multiple occasions, having picked apart his spare, evocative lyrics, I was swamped by sadness, and by a growing, helpless anger. One of the most memorable front men of his generation, forever still? That gorgeous, soaring baritone, forever silent?
F*ck addition, man. F*ck it sideways, with a bloody goddamn chainsaw.
Pardon my French.
This post isn’t so much about Weiland’s creative process as it is an appreciation for a gifted artist’s troubled, complex, too-damn-short life.
Scott was a spellbinder, painting beautiful, violent, bittersweet pictures with words, motion, and sound. As a lyricist he was self-aware and utterly fearless, singing of innocence lost (Wicked Garden), and diving unflinchingly into the villain’s point of view (Sex Type Thing, Plush). Mid-career, his work turned hauntingly autobiographical, with songs about the pitfalls of fame (Big Machine), about deaths of loved ones (For a Brother, Pills, Demons, & Etc.), and about how his addictions led him to disappoint his family and band mates over and over again (Interstate Love Song, Sour Girl, Vaseline, Fall to Pieces, Do It For The Kids, Atlanta, The Last Fight).
Days after Weiland’s death, Rolling Stone published a career retrospective, Scott Weiland: 20 Essential Songs, where you can watch many of the videos I reference above. The magazine also published a compelling essay by Mary Forsberg, Weiland’s ex-wife and the mother of his children, about the effects of his addiction on his family: ‘Don’t Glorify This Tragedy.’ But if I had to choose a single song or video that I feel comes close to encapsulating the man and his work, I’d choose “Slither”, Velvet Revolver’s propulsive, gutter-glam debut single. In fine voice, but with his formerly beefy body whittled down to sinew and swagger, the video captures Weiland at his most mesmerizing.
Weiland married three times, and leaves behind two children, a memoir (though it must be said, his ex-wife Mary Forsberg’s memoir is superior) and a Grammy-winning body of work with Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver, The Wildabouts, The Art of Anarchy, and as a solo artist. Though his voice is now silent, he leaves behind his recordings…songs of reflection, of penitence, of unflinching, brutal honesty. Songs of pleasure, songs of pain…and of his search for a sobriety that he sadly never found.
No, this post isn’t about the Hanna-Barbera animated character Snagglepuss. (Yeah, I’m definitely aging myself here.) Instead, it’s about stage direction – you know, those descriptions, tags and ‘beats’ we writers use to move our characters around within the setting we’ve created.
To be even more precise, this post is about UNNECESSARY stage direction.
Too much stage direction can really slow down the pace. Too little stage direction can really confuse your reader. Either can make the reader want to throttle you.
I’m doing some final revisions on my WIP in part to improve the pace. (ENTHRALL ME currently weighs in at a whopping 128K words, so some judicious pruning is definitely in order.) When writing early drafts, I err on the side of writing too much stage direction rather than too little. This means that later on in the revision process, my manuscript is littered with so much unnecessary walking and sitting and touching and crossing and glancing and noticing that the Pace… Grinds… To… A… Haaaallllltttttt….
“Duh, we GET it, Tammy. Move on. No, really. MOVE ON.”
Seriously, we don’t have to explicitly write every physical action every character makes in every scene in our books. Readers are more than capable of filling in the mundane details for themselves.
I write in very deep third-person point of view. Following are examples of some “Well, Duh!” revisions I made to eliminate unnecessary stage direction and pick up the pace:
He let himself stare while she continued the conversation with Thane and Valerian, cataloging her rose petal skin, her lush, pink lips, her foolish green-tipped hair, and the mismatched earrings. Her eyes sparkled with verve, with life. Her impish grin conveyed her energy and delight.
Had he ever been so young?
First of all: The scene is written from Wyland’s POV; we’re already seeing Tia through his eyes. Using the words “staring” and “cataloging” to explicitly reference the act of seeing is unnecessary, and actually introduces distance in the POV work.
Second: My purple-tinged description of Tia’s many physical charms * wince* not only slows down the pace, but it diverts the reader’s attention away from the point I wrote the paragraph to make: that Wyland feels old in comparison. This is the wrong place in the manuscript for so much physical description – description I know I wrote better elsewhere.
Third: Wyland is an educated man, but I think I’ve used too many multi-syllable words here. Simplifying the language will pick up the pace.
As she talked with Thane and Valerian, she sparkled with life, full of energy and delight.
Had he ever been so young?
As he dealt with the cork and poured the wine, he heard a series of electronic clicks and ticks behind him. Fabric rustled, and the whispered sounds made his body hair stand on end. He shifted his shoulders, trying to gain some breathing room in a perfectly-tailored suit coat that suddenly seemed two sizes too small.
“He heard?” OF COURSE he heard; we’re in his POV. And, OMG, did I actually describe him moving his shoulders? #FAIL
As he dealt with the cork and poured the wine, electronic clicks and ticks whispered behind him. Fabric rustled, making his body hair stand on end. His perfectly-tailored suit coat suddenly seemed two sizes too small.
Sometimes, when revising, a few snips with a cuticle scissors will do the trick. At other times, you need a freaking machete.
On this revision pass, I’m also pruning away a lot of eye, lip, and breath gymnastics. You know what I mean: the blinking, the frowning, the eye-rolling, the raised eyebrows, the tightening and pursing of lips, the sighs, the inhaling and exhaling, that writers sometimes use to convey a character’s emotional reaction…or to avoid using “said” quite so often. 😉 I seriously overuse these supposedly subtle reactions in early drafts, to the degree that reading them later on makes me feel like I’m banging readers over the head with a cast-iron skillet: “SEE? SEE? IN CASE YOU MISSED IT, THIS IS HOW SHE FEELS!”
A little of this ‘tagging’ goes a long, long way.
In this example, Tia and Wyland are sharing a shower. They don’t have time to make love – he’s late for work – but that doesn’t stop Tia from teasing him:
The commute from Marine On St. Croix to Chanhassen was a haul and a half under the best of conditions. “Rain check?” Transferring her hands from his body to her own, she started washing her breasts.
His gaze followed, his face taut with arousal. Swearing under his breath, he grabbed the shampoo. “What are your plans for tonight?”
Oof, talk about belaboring the point. Do I really need to explain to the reader that Tia moved her hands from Wyland’s body to her own so she could wash her own breasts? Do I need to interpret Wyland’s emotion for the reader quite so explicitly? In addition to flagrantly violating “show, don’t tell,” my unnecessary stage directions killed the sexual tension dead.
The commute from Marine On St. Croix to Chanhassen was a haul and a half under the best of conditions. “Rain check?” She started washing her breasts.
Swearing under his breath, he grabbed the shampoo. “What are your plans for tonight?”
These precise little snips can really add up. I’m about 150 pages into this revision pass, and I’ve already eliminated nearly 4000 words of unnecessary stage direction from my manuscript.
Revision-wise, one writer’s clarity is another writer’s overkill. As always, YMMV. But when revising for pace, every word counts. We don’t always have to be so literal or “explain-y.” Our job as writers is to not bore our readers with too much stage direction, or to confuse them with too little, but to find that Goldilocks Zone where the story keeps moving, the pages keep turning, and the reader doesn’t say, “Exit, Stage Left!”
Do you have any stage direction, face gymnastics, or pacing pet peeves? Care to share some of your personal “Well, Duh!” or “Exit, Stage Left!” manuscript moments?
Curtain image by Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
On May 4, 2015, the Monday following the wildly successful opening weekend of Avengers: Age of Ultron, writer/director/producer Joss Whedon deactivated his Twitter account.
And the Twitterverse went WILD, attributing his departure to everything from him receiving death threats, to militant feminists’ anger over his depiction of the Black Widow character in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. But several days later, Whedon gave an interview at Buzzfeed denying those reasons.
His real reason?
“I just thought, Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place. And this [Twitter] is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life. … It’s like taking the bar exam at Coachella.”
“The quiet place.” Remember that place? I do, quite fondly – but with every day that passes, it seems to regress farther back in my memory banks.
In our day-to-day lives, we are deluged by media, by digital media in particular. Between time spent writing, and then promoting via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, Snapchat, blogs, blah blah blah and whatever the hell pops up next to infinity and beyond amen, the idea of a quiet brain, a quiet place, seems…almost quaint, doesn’t it?
Social media can be a wonderful way to create community, and for readers and writers to connect, but let’s be honest: it can also be tiring. Time-consuming. Guilt-inducing. Overwhelming.
It can also be addicting. Again, Joss Whedon:
“The real issue is me. Twitter is an addictive little thing, and if it’s there, I gotta check it. When you keep doing something after it stops giving you pleasure, that’s kind of rock bottom for an addict. … I just had a little moment of clarity where I’m like, You know what? If I want to get stuff done, I need to not constantly hit this thing for a news item or a joke or some praise, and then be suddenly sad when there’s hate and then hate and then hate.”
Will he ever come back?
“I think the articles that I found [via Twitter], I can find elsewhere,” Whedon said. “I’ll miss some jokes. Maybe I’ll have to go out to a club to see jokes! I think that’s already an improvement in my life. … I need to go out, do the research, turn the page, see the thing, hear the music, live like a person. I’m not great at that. So, oddly enough, because I always feel like I’m the old man who doesn’t get the tech, right now I’m the man who thinks he could do better without it.”
Whedon clearly had the wisdom to realize he’d hit the wall, and he’s far from the only artist who’s made the decision to disconnect in order to preserve their creativity or their health. Neil Gaiman once took a six month social media break so he could better focus on his writing. Comedian Louis C.K. shut down his Twitter account because he kept regretting his tweets and found himself growing depressed. Actor Simon Pegg turned his social media accounts over to his official fan club because he simply didn’t enjoy digital engagement any longer. Comedian and actor Stephen Fry left Instagram, and briefly left Twitter, saying he felt “hounded” and “unsafe.” Feeling hounded and unsafe is, regrettably, a rather common occurrence for many high-profile women on social media these days – women whose only ‘crime’ is daring to state an opinion in public.
It can be really rough out there.
Where’s the happy medium? Where’s the personal “Goldilocks Zone” of not too much social media, and not too little, but just right? How can we create healthy boundaries, preserving sanity, safety and self, in this era where creativity and commerce often intersect? Where direct contact with readers (and other writers) is not only desirable, but pretty much a job requirement?
Whether you’re a reader or a writer, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the pros and cons, the ups and downs, and the expectations and pleasures, of using social media. Do you have any tips or techniques for finding your quiet place in this noisy digital age?
When writers think about the tools of our trade, our thoughts might understandably go to craft: words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice. Characters, plot, setting, tense. Point of view, goal/motivation/conflict, dialogue, pace. And yes – all these things all need to be taken into account, all these things and more.
But I’d like to add to the list something that I consider to be an essential character development tool: empathy.
Dictionary.com defines empathy as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”
Film critic Roger Ebert once described movies as being empathy machines. I think the same thing can be said of books, because at the foundation, isn’t every great reading experience one where we temporarily abandon our sense of self so we can vicariously experience life from another point of view?
By the time I graduated from high school, I’d spent thousands of hours in fictional characters’ heads, considering someone else’s perspective, and the more unlike me the character was, the more fascinated I was…about the staggering breadth of the human experience, about the possibilities of the world outside my rural hometown, and about the place I wanted to make for myself in that world.
So this might explain why I feel a strong attraction to, and a strange affinity for, so-called “unlikeable characters”, and to fictional villains in particular. What intriguing psychological ground! What makes a villain tick? What secret pain does he or she hide?
I didn’t realize this affinity might be a marketable skill until I was in college, when a psychology professor suggested I consider a career in criminal psychology. “You have an unusual capacity for suspending judgment.” I didn’t end up interviewing with the FBI, but in retrospect, I think this sense of psychological curiosity came from a very obvious place.
From READING – and having free-ranged the adult library stacks from age ten, I’d met perhaps more than my fair share of dubious fictional characters. 😉
Which brings me to writing, and to empathy.
They say that a villain is the hero of his or her own story. He or she thinks they’re doing a good thing, the obvious thing, for very good reasons. When writing villains, we need to understand those reasons. Judgment and mental distance is a luxury we simply can’t afford, not if we’re going to do that character justice on the page. To get at a villain’s true goals, motivations, and conflicts, and to write from their point of view with any sense of authenticity, we have to dig deep, put aside our personal value systems, and try to find some common ground, some shared humanity, in what can be pretty unsavory psychological territory.
We need to be brave enough to engage our empathy machines…at least temporarily.
It can be very challenging to explore the inner lives of characters who might be very, very different than ourselves – REAL people, three-dimensional people, flawed people who both frighten and fascinate. Though it’s a tool that always needs honing, I find a well-developed sense of empathy to be a very handy tool to have around.
What are your thoughts on books as empathy machines, and the concept of empathy as an essential tool in a writer’s toolkit? Who are some of your favorite villains, and why? Please weigh in.
…who still receives letters from readers expressing both delight and dismay about Stephen, the villain in my 2011 release, TASTE ME – including questions about when I’m going to write “his” book! 😉
Composite image by stockimages/KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
To massacre a phrase from Hamlet’s Soliloquy beyond all earthly recognition, have you ever thought about the factors that influence you to buy a book?
This blog post started off as an analysis of authors whose work I pre-order and auto-buy, but then, looking at my Amazon Cart and seeing so few books there <wince>, I started thinking about the topic in greater depth. What alchemic combination of author, genre, length, format, price point, and release timing makes me buy a book?
I knew beforehand that certain authors were auto-buys, and that I don’t impulse buy–ever–but beyond that? I discovered that my purchasing decisions were filtered through a set of factors that were a lot more complicated than I’d realized.
Go figure. 😉
I easily read a couple hundred books per year, so it probably goes without saying that I’m a heavy user of the public library.
When considering whether to read or buy a book, particularly by a new-to-me author, I’ll scour online review sites looking for comments about lack of editing, typos, grammar errors and the like, which are my personal Kryptonite. Life’s too damn short to read books that annoy me.
At the time I write this post in late October, I’m awaiting delivery of three pre-ordered books:
Sarah MacLean – Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover (historical paperback, Book of Scoundrels #4)
Nora Roberts – Blood Magick (paranormal trade paperback, The Cousins O’Dwyer #3)
While I own every book MacLean and Roberts have ever written, I prefer Singh’s paranormal work to her category and contemporary releases.
There are several “new to me” authors whose work I’m enjoying so much that I’m happily glomming their backlists. I think it’s worth mentioning that I was introduced to Marie Force, Jennifer Probst, and Molly O’Keefe via a free paperback book. For me, free can pay off. O’Keefe, in particular, with her gift for exquisite sensory description, has made the leap to my auto-buy list. LOVE. HER.
My oldest Nora (1981)
While it’s every author’s dream to earn a place for themselves on a reader’s auto-buy or pre-order list—the kind of fandom that yields delighted readers, big opening week sales, and bestseller list appearances—I must admit that, as a reader, I rarely buy a book in its release week. I’m really good at deferred gratification, and my TBR pile already looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I have so many books to catch up on that I feel no rush.
I’ve also found that by waiting awhile, you have a fair chance of finding an e-book on sale, or free, at a later date. Ka-ching.
Once I make a decision to buy, format and price come into play. We all have our preferences; here are mine. As a rule, I don’t buy fiction in hardcover. I don’t listen to audiobooks, I’m ‘meh’ about novellas, and I heartily dislike serials. I’ve developed anthology fatigue from the sheer number of unread boxed sets growing dust on my Kindle.
If I want to read, for example, the latest book in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, or the latest J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts hardcover, I first reserve it at the library, then buy the book in mass market or trade paperback once it’s released in that format.
I read a mix of paperbacks and e-books. If a book has a chance of becoming a keeper, I buy it in paperback, because ebooks seem more…temporary, more disposable to me, for some reason. I think the most I’ve ever paid for an ebook is $5.99—and believe me, I thought twice before hitting the buy button. And then I got REALLY pissed off because the ebook went on sale not two months later. :-/ Talk about a disincentive to buy a book in its release week.
So, let’s open it up for discussion! Which factors lead you to either buy a book, or not buy it? Do you have format preferences? A preferred price point?
Who’s on your auto-buy list?
TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award. Learn more about Tammy’s books at www.tamarahogan.com.
Having recently hit a rough patch in my own creative process, one of the things I’ve been doing to refill my personal creative well is to explore the creative processes of people whose work I enjoy and appreciate. Fair warning: This video-heavy blog post is likely to be the first in an occasional series because I found so much good stuff. 😉
As someone who has to restrain herself from dropping the occasional f-bomb on the blog, it probably surprises no one that I’m a HUGE fan of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the Emmy-winning and Peabody-awarded South Park, and the Tony- and Grammy-winning Broadway musical The Book of Mormon.
Make no mistake–South Park, though animated, is a show for adults. These guys are expert cultural commentators and prescient social satirists. They pull no punches and have no fear. They please themselves, and only themselves. They have no sacred cows, but they have each other’s backs, and have for over twenty tears. These things, and so many others, are revealed in one of my favorite documentaries, the Emmy-nominated South Park: 6 Days to Air. 6 Days plants a camera crew at South Park Studios, and documents the process they use to create every episode of South Park, which takes an idea from nothing to the air in a mere six days.
SIX DAYS, people – that includes brainstorming, story-boarding, writing, voice-over work, animation, music, editing, and a trip or two through the legal department and Standards and Practices, before up-linking the episode to Comedy Central just before airtime. Talk about tight deadlines. They’ve missed the deadline only once in 18 seasons, due to a power loss at their studio.
Because of this process, the show is extremely topical; Parker and Stone can respond to news stories and cultural issues on a dime. This season of South Park is only three weeks old, yet the show has already taken on the Washington Redskins controversy, Ebola, and transgender bathrooms in schools.
The South Park episode whose creation the documentary showcases, Season 15’s “HUMANCENTiPAD” (NSFW, 22:10), is a genius mash-up of the concept of how people automatically accept Apple iTunes’ Terms of Service without reading it first, combined with the truly, truly disturbing Dutch horror flick “Human Centipede”. Rent the 6 Days to Air documentary for a glimpse into their very unique creative process if you have a chance. Here’s a clip. (5:50, NSFW, for profanity, poor taste, scatalogical humor, and an untold number of offensive and hilarious things. After watching, you’ll never think about “the cloud” in the same way ever again.) It totally cracks me up how the women in the writer’s room are rolling their eyes, and the men are practically peeing their pants with laughter. 😉 And yes, that IS the brilliant Bill Hader, formerly of SNL, brainstorming in the writer’s room. He moonlights as a South Park writer and producer, and in 2009 shared in the show’s Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.
Several years ago, 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft delved into Matt and Trey’s creative partnership (13:58, Rated PG-13):
Smart, funny, fearless, musical…these guys just thrill me down to my subversive, contrarian toes. The fact that they’re only one award away from the EGOT – the very short list of people who’ve won the Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar, and the Tony – makes me very, very happy. (They were Oscar-nominated for the song “Blame Canada” (NSFW, 1:36) from the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, but they didn’t win. So close, dudes! But that Peabody counts for something.)
Are there artists whose work helps YOU refill the creative well? Tell us about them! Have you seen The Book of Mormon? And if you have one, who’s your favorite South Park character?
TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award. Learn more about Tammy’s books at www.tamarahogan.com.
I spent more than a little time at 2014 RWA National in my hotel room, writing. Let me correct that: I was struggling. I was working on this love scene that takes place at about the halfway point of my WIP, ENTHRALL ME. For some reason, Tia and Wyland’s bodies were doing all the right, sexy things, but the scene was flat. Dead.
Over some awesomely sleazy Chinese take-out, I realized I’d completely lost track of Wyland’s emotional arc. Why were Wyland and Tia in bed again? They must have reasons, right?
I realized I had no earthly idea what those reasons were. Houston – or should I say San Antonio – we have a problem.
After returning home, I took what felt like a really drastic step–I stopped writing. I pushed writing new words aside and, using my daily writing time, tried some troubleshooting techniques I use in my day job as a quality and process analyst (namely root-cause analysis, and The Five Whys) to investigate what was up.
And I figured out what the problem was pretty quickly.
I hammered out the first draft of this book during NaNoWriMo, in Nov. 2013, then devised a Chapter/Scene breakdown based on that first draft. Over a half year had passed since then. So much had changed in my story, but I hadn’t taken the time to update my plot line document, my GMC charts, and all the support materials that are so essential to my process.
However, my revisions document was 10 pages long and growing by the day. *choke*
In a moment of serendipitous timing, a couple of my Ruby Sisters mentioned registering for an upcoming Story Masters workshop, which I’d had the opportunity to take last year and had written a blog post about. As I re-read the blog post, it hit me: I’d fallen headlong into the trap Donald Maass had warned us about!
Goals can get in our way. When you feel all caught up in deadlines, word count, page count, and meeting agent/editor/reader expectations, STOP. Ask yourself, why do I do this? What am I trying to say? What matters in the end is not that you made your daily word count, but that you told a compelling story. THAT’S the goal. Remember?
I’d become so focused on daily output, on the number of scenes piling up, that I’d lost sight of the endpoint. What was I writing toward? How was I going to get there?
* crickets *
My mental story map was no longer accurate. My out-dated support materials had become an albatross hanging around my neck.
Why had it taken me so long for me to recognize this? The best I can come up with is that I allowed outside influences, and thoughts about commitments to others, to get in the way. I’d stated a goal to readers to release a book annually, which still feels s-l-o-w. My CP wouldn’t get new, polished chapters if I stopped to assess whether the chapters I delivered to her actually, you know, connected in any reasonable way.
I also realized I’d fallen into what author Chuck Wendig called The Pit of Comparisons (language NSFW). Reading all those tweets from people who release multiple books per year, when I can’t release one, and who talk about their 10K-word writing days when on my most productive day, I can barely eke out 500, had really done a job on my head.
These things made it really easy for me to just…plow forward, to ignore that niggling spider sense telling me that something was wrong. Because activity equals productivity, right?
No. Not so much.
So I took a deep, painful breath, and told my CP it might be awhile before she saw any new chapters from me. I acknowledged—really acknowledged—that there was no way in hell I’d be ready to release ENTHRALL ME by years’ end. Then I devised a bullet-point plan to get myself back on track.
My plan includes:
Reading the first half of my manuscript, which is at second draft and which my CP has already seen, to reacquaint myself with the story facts I’ve committed to paper.
Updating my Chapter/Scene breakdown document to reflect what actually happens in the first half of the book.
Updating my character development charts to reflect current GMCs.
Applying those piled-up revisions to the first half of the book.
After these steps are done, I figure I’ll be standing on a firmer foundation story-wise. Next, I’ll need to:
Reassess the plot and storyline for the remainder of the book. What scenes do I need to write to tell the rest of the story, based on what I wrote in the first half of the book?
Update my Chapters/Scenes document to reflect that analysis.
Re-read first draft NaNoWriMo scenes from the back half of the book to see what might be salvageable.
Start writing the second half of the book.
I’m on step four of this plan, applying revisions, and I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER!! I’m getting my story back on track again, and not letting the words, or the illusion of progress, get in the way.
What do you do when you recognize your story might be clattering off-track? How do you keep yourself from falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others?
TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, was nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award. Learn more at www.tamarahogan.com.