Had I But Known

Had I But Known

circular stair

According to Mr. Wikipedia, “‘Had I but known’ is a form of foreshadowing that hints at some looming disaster in which the main character laments his or her course of action that came before some other series of unfortunate events or actions and classically, the narrator never makes explicit the nature of the mistake until both the narrator and the reader have realized the consequence of the error. If done well, this literary device can add suspense or dramatic irony; if overdone, it invites comparison of the story to Victorian melodrama and sub-standard popular fiction.”

And if I had but known that Indie publishing that would lead me on a roller coaster ride of euphoria, despair, anxiety, and relief (in no particular order) I most likely wouldn’t have bothered.

Most likely and yet here I am! 🙂

Dark Night of the Soul

The phrase, “dark night of the soul” has evolved into meaning the difficulties of life. And writers often use it to describe the hard time they’re having writing. And Indie authors like myself use it to reflect the struggle we experience trying to be recognized on the same plane as traditionally published writers.

Indie Publishing isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for the hobbyists that dabbles in writing and doesn’t care about gaining readers and making money off of their literary works. And that’s fine. But I’m a believer that doing what you love for a living is the best of both worlds.

As I research ways of becoming noticeable and gaining more clout, I noticed that financially successful authors provide lots of gimmicks that have worked for them and share these tips with less prosperous writers (sometimes for a price):

Free book giveaways

$0.99 Book deals

Blog Reviews

Dedication and Drive

And so many more bits of advice. To someone new to Indie publishing, like me, it is overwhelming. Especially when you have to juggle important factors — family, a spouse, and a full-time job — to name a few.

But even after implementing these strategies, some authors still can’t sell a single book. Or even break even with how much money they had invested in their work. For example, I’ve invested close to $2,000 in my career as an Indie author. The dollar amount includes:

  • Book covers (custom designed)
  • Editing and proofreading
  • Marketing (business cards, flyers, promotions)
  • Author website (hosting)
  • Paperback copies of book

Self-publishing isn’t free and it most certainly isn’t cheap.

Which brings me to an interesting statistic. As of 2016, close to 40 authors on Amazon  have sold over 1,000,000 ebooks. Yes, you read that correctly. FORTY!

crying

“NOOOO! It’s too horrible! Damn lies and statistics! Lies!”

40 self-published authors “make money”, all the others, and they number in the hundreds of thousands, don’t. This interesting statistic, recently revealed in a New York Times article, applies to the Kindle Store, but since Amazon is in fact the largest digital publishing platform in the world, it is a safe bet that self-published authors are not doing much better anywhere else. (from https://claudenougat.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/only-40-self-published-authors-are-a-success-says-amazon/)

With statistics like this, one could just throw up their hands and give up. Statistics like this are demoralizing.

On the other hand, when you read articles like this, the future of Indie publishing looks more promising than ever. According to the linked article, almost a decade ago, writers who self-published were viewed as failures. Fast-forward to present day and now many of these Indie authors are making a fortune. Whether these authors have earned a quarter of a million dollars or even $10,000 they’re making more money doing it alone than relying on gate-keeping publishers and their contracts.

$10,000! Wow, I’d be happy if I made even $1,000. So, I shall carry on.

For Art or Money? Or Both?

Let’s revisit the argument on why writers write. Is it less noble to expect payment as starving artist believe? I write for pleasure. I write to vent. I write because I’m compelled to. If I don’t write, I don’t feel right.

Likewise, once I’ve published a book – one of my literary creations – and place it for sale, I expect to get something in return. I expect recognition in some way, shape, or form. for all of the time I invested into that book. Money, for example, is a primary indicator of success in many societies. So, my motivation is a little bit of both – art and money. Nothing wrong with that.

Cave of Obscurity

caves

Amazon is like a vast rain forest filled with merchandise consumers go spelunking for. As an Indie author, braving the cyberspace landscape, (most likely on Amazon.com) you want exploring customers (potential readers) to discover YOU and quit clicking for something else. Unfortunately, rain forests, (like the actual geographical Amazonian rain forest) also possess caves where explorers can get lost. And on Amazon.com, you’re competing with other books that have more marketing clout and exposure than you do.

It doesn’t take long to realize that due to the residual stigma of self-publishing, most Indie authors are at a disadvantage.

Giant_Competition

David and Goliath? Little dude, use your briefcase!

Forget the so-called gatekeepers of publishing. Flesh-eating trolls who stalk the many cave tunnels are a much bigger threat.

And each year, the amount of titles increases, thus raising the likelihood that your precious literary baby will end up in the cave of obscurity – a place where no one will find it. Ever.

Heck, all the hours of writing, researching, building a platform, etc. don’t mean much if readers can’t find the culminating product of your effort, and read it, then share it.

As of 2016, over 4 million titles are available compared with 600,000 (amount of titles six years ago). The market is overly saturated with books. Notice I didn’t say “good books”, but books in general. Not all books are created equal. So, in order for readers to discover your book, you have to stand out in the crowd! For example, I published my first middle-grade fiction book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I wanted to have it available with as many distributors I could gain. I plan to add more distributors and vendors in the months to come. To test Barnes & Nobles’ search engines, I typed in the key words I had laboriously chosen so readers could find my book.

Not one of the words worked.

Even when I typed in my author name with the title, I couldn’t find the book. 🙁

And even when I typed in the title of the book, the subtitle, and my author name: nothing! I learned from other authors who published with B&N that the search engine is setup “like that” and I wondered why. I contacted B&N and asked for an explanation. I was given a sprawling response that went in a hundred different directions, but not an answer to my question.

Perhaps, B&N wants to keep Indie authors like me in the cave of obscurity.

descent crawler

Wow. Just wow. You’r really gonna do me like that?

There’s a good argument for that conclusion. I had planned on doing a book signing at the B&N close to my home and now I’m not so sure I want to commit to that. Why? Because after speaking with the manager of an actual brick-and-mortar store, I learned that as an Indie author, you have to sell your books on consignment. In other words, you purchase the paperback copies, bring them to the store and then have B&N customers purchase the book with a cashier at the front of the store. And this is the part that pisses me off. It can take up to six months for B&N to pay you the 40% that they OWE YOU. Sometimes longer.

Time will tell whether or not I will work with them. Will I recommend publishing books to other authors with Barnes & Noble? At this time, based on what happened . . . most likely not.

You Gotta Be . . .

On another note, I recently read a book on free promotion after seeing it on Facebook. And when I learned the author was an indie author like myself, I felt even more indebted to help the said author out! However, when I read the first page, disappointment seized me and I had to set the book aside. For the past two weeks, I return to the book occasionally to remind myself of what not to do. The book was published in 2011 and has not a single review. I feel bad for the writer because I think he/she (I won’t specify the gender) thinks the book was publishable. Even though, there were hundreds of grammar and spelling errors. Even sadder, I think he or she was so excited to even have a book published that he/she threw caution to the wind and clicked the published button as soon as possible. I’ve been there! Done that! But, due to the amount of competition, readers will pass your book by and move onto one they deem better and worth an investment of their time.

Number of Book Sales doesn’t = Talent

The amount of book sales doesn’t reflect how talented an author is. If book sales were an indicator then the strange phenomena of crappy books selling millions of copies wouldn’t occur or wonderful books only selling few or none.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Yet.

Writing is a poor man’s job where only a minority of writers are able to pursue their craft full-time and make a living from it. I laugh when my students ask me, “So, are you rich now?” after they learned I’ve published two books. The first book I had to republish because I lost my publisher when they went out of business. My students assume that every writer can be J.K. Rowling, a rags-to-riches single mother who created a $15 million dollar brand and has a net worth estimated to be less than $1 billion.

rollingrowling

I can only aspire to reach that status.

reach for the moon

I love writing and will most likely continue to do so. However, “had I but known” that the art of writing would change, I would have focused more on creating manga and graphic novels. So, I may have to change venues and write for television series, video games, Netflix, et cetera. You know, societies latest panacea for their social ills.

In the meantime, I’ll keep my day job and work, write, work, write, work.

Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be” will be my motivational anthem cheering me on. 🙂

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Books Transmit Values

Books transmit valuesI just learned about this event today and wish I could have attended.

The above quote by Walter Dean Myers, a children’s book author and best known for young adult literature reveals a lot about the way I started to feel when I realized that a lot of the books I read didn’t reflect me in a society that claimed to be diverse and tolerant. Myers died on July 1, 2014. And his books are still relevant to the lives of African-Americans. In fact, his YA book, “Monster” is being made into a movie.

xenophile

As you may already know, I’m a xenophile. I absolutely love learning about different cultures, languages, and people! So, it’s no mystery that I grew up loving to read. Reading was (and still is) my gateway to other worlds and food for my ravenously curious mind. One series in particular that I enjoyed reading during my preteen years was “Sweet Valley High”, which focused on two blonde hair and blue-eyed twins named Jessica and Elizabeth. Sweet Valley HighI don’t recall encountering any girls or boys of color within those pages. Besides, the main focal point was on those two twins who were as different as night and day. I loved the often good plotlines. Looking back, some were silly and over-the-top dramatic!

But, come on. It was high school, right?

Yeah, I really did love reading. And when my mother noticed that there weren’t a lot of books that featured characters that looked like we did (dark brown skin) or even came from cultures like ours – (Caribbean/West Indies) she got worried. My mom’s a wise lady. She started giving me books by Mildred D. Taylor. When I got older, she moved onto introducing books with more complex issues. I cried while reading both Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye”. In my high school’s Honors Reading classes, we were assigned to read “Beloved” and to analyze the characters’ motivations. I had no problem realizing that Sethe couldn’t simply be written off as a villainous character. I was hooked! I continued reading the remainder of Mildred D. Taylor’s series about the Logan family’s struggles and accomplishments. beloved2Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Now, back to Myers’ quote. My mother saw a voracious need in me that I couldn’t see. She saw that I needed characters to relate to. Characters that I COULD relate to. Sure, following the antics between twin sisters is entertaining, but the world of Jessica and Elizabeth from Sweet Valley High was as real to me as Barbie in her Malibu home.

Cast so white -- wait, there's a few token nonwhites for good measure

Sweet Valley High cast so white — no, wait! There’s a few token nonwhites thrown in for good measure. 😉

A lot of my students, Latinos and African-Americans are turned off to reading at a young age, and who can blame them? When you analyze the fact and consider that there aren’t many books that reflect their people in a realistic and beautiful way the reasons aren’t so hidden or hard to understand. And let’s not forget authentic as one of the necessary characteristics for diverse books.

The publishing industry knows that people want more diverse books. The rise in Indie authors who circumnavigated the gatekeepers is testimony to that. However, these gatekeepers choose to give us these “gifts” in a manner that cheats us of good, authentic tales. For example, most diverse books that I’ve encountered and enjoyed reading are written by non-POC people (“Full Cicada Moon” and “Seraphina’s Promise”). Regarding “Seraphina’s Promise”, I wondered how different the story would have unfolded if it had come from a Haitian person’s point of view?

Also, both of these books are written in prose. I love poetry. I truly do. But why do these authors have to resort to writing such deliciously complex stories in prose? Did the editors or publishers think that boxing the story within the often pedantic poetic style  would somehow give the illusion that the stories were more . . . dare I use the word — authentic? Soulful? Real? Organic? That prose would magically inject these stories with a je ne sais quoi that often only people who have experienced can personally write. Think of “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. I find it hard to believe that a non-Black person could write that book with the same results. the color purplefull cicada moonSeraphina's Promise

Now, don’t get it twisted (as my students sometimes say). As a Black woman who has written about a 19th century, peach-skinned (well, when he’s been fed the right amount of blood) British vampire and aristocrat I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say that white women or men can’t write from the POV’s of nonwhite characters.

However, if the publishing industry thinks that this practice of exclusively having white people tell the stories of nonwhite characters is okay or is an answer to the desire for diverse books, then that’s ridiculous and needs to change.

Interesting quote

Revealing facts about the lack of diversity in literature.

It’s almost as if the publishing industry (which is a part of the “media“) want to keep the White Savior myth alive. For example, in the movie Hidden Figures, which tells the true story of three brilliant Black women who were the brains behind one of the greatest NASA operations in history, the director Theodore Melfi fabricated a scene for emotional effect that perpetuates the white savior myth perfectly. You can read more about it here.

White Savior

White Savior complex. Africa today. Asia tomorrow!

Readdressing Myers’ thought-provoking question: What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?

pecola breedlove.jpg

Pecola Breedlove of “The Bluest Eye” Learn more here.

The message isn’t a good one and any answers I have will most likely become another blog post. I live in a country that seems to embrace the message of diversity and inclusion when it suits itself.  I’m glad that there has been a rise in diverse books. I’m glad that untold stories and histories of all peoples are being shared. Now I have a question:

What took so damn long?

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Lucid Dreaming, Moonstruck, and Poetry Month!

In this YouTube video I share a little about lucid dreaming which is a primary focal point in my first middle-grade fiction book, “Moonstruck: Book One of Waking Dream Series”.

I also discuss a little bit about Poetry Month and its disturbing past! 😉

I’m looking forward to the month of April. I plan on writing a couple of first drafts, apply for a grant, and pen some poems to share on my first ever YouTube channel, Monique, Monique, Quite Unique. 🙂

Like what you hear, subscribe!

 

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Crafting High Fantasy: Setting the Stage

That First Chapter

Writing the first chapter is something I struggle with because I want those first sentences, that first paragraph, that first page to be absolutely fabulous. So, sometimes I’m afraid to write anything at first. I don’t have a lot of time on my hands lately. My three sons, my husband, and my full-time job as a reading teacher keeps me extremely busy!

Since I want that first chapter to draw readers in and never let them go until they’ve completed reading the book, place it down, satisfied or at best, hungry for the next book, I’m overly cautious. And sometimes frozen with fear. Deer-in-headlights-frozen.

Now, I dare not say that I want the first chapter to be perfect because such a place doesn’t exist.perfection and writing

The first chapter is extremely important. Especially when it comes to high fantasy. High fantasy (or epic fantasy) is a subgenre of fantasy defined by its setting in a fictional universe or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, and plot. Whatever that means, right? Thanks Mr. Wikipedia.

Basically, high fantasy, is one of the hardest fiction subgenres to write. I mean, think about it! You’re creating your own world! The continents, the oceans, the seas, the cities, the roads, the people, their cultures, who they trade with, who they fight with, who they may or may not worship. Everything. Single. Blasted. Thing!

It’s overwhelmingly . . . FRACKING-FUNTASTIC!

And the first chapter has the potential to introduce so many things:

  • the mood
  • the tone
  • the main characters
  • the conflict
  • the antagonist(s)
  • what’s at stake
  • the setting

When I originally wrote Prelude to Morning, I didn’t know that it would be a trilogy. I had some ideas that it could possibly be a series. Well, that was only if it didn’t remain a stand-alone novel. After my oldest brother, Serge Desir, fellow author and video game bad-ass and author E. Rose Sabin gave me some brutal and honest feedback on the book’s weaknesses, I realized I had a lot of work to do to make the book as wonderful as it should be. And for a  time, an agent was interested. Until, the world-building fell apart. 🙁

So, I searched for help and re-rendered the map (thanks E. Paige Burks) :

Before:

Reath Before Map

This one I doodled over two days in a composition notebooks years ago. In 2013.

After:

Reath After Map

This one I began drawing on poster board. Still not done!

Next, I created a timeline, which I’ll share in a future post.

The timeline helped me to layout the history of the world of Reath (rhymes with death — an anagram for Earth). The timeline included:

  1. The prehistoric era
  2. Past wars
  3. Catastrophic events

All of these events shaped the world as it is now for the main characters.

So much depth. So much culture. So many languages. So many places. So overwhelming like our world, Earth. And how does one condense so much beauty into a single book.

Which put me at an impasse or is it a fork in the road?

One path would lead me to writing a book that would be heavy enough to murder someone with:BIG BOOK

And a third path appeared to me.  . . I’d have to break the story into more than one book.

And Then there were Three . . .

Bloodcraft Trilogy — (why the term bloodcraft ?–which I’m proud of coining — more on that in a future post).

However, I loved the idea of music being interwoven into this world and used different types of movement names in each of the three books that echoed and underscored the story’s themes.

*Book 1: Rhapsody of the Gods

A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations.

Book 2: Prelude to Morning

Preludes are characterized by being short and sweet (relatively), with a melodic and/or rhythmic motif that is featured throughout the piece.   This motif will recur throughout the piece, sometimes differing slightly as the music progresses.  A prelude may be played on its own, or as a preface to another piece, usually more complex.

Book 3: Nocturne of Twilight

Nocturnes are generally lyrical and tranquil pieces. The nocturne is known for being expressive above all else. It follows no specific form, but evolves as the music progresses.

To Prologue or Not To Prologue

In the first several drafts of Prelude to Morning, I originally included a prologue in the beginning. After researching prologues and learning that they’re only necessary if the opening is out of time sequence with the remainder of the story. So, I decided to rename the prologue as chapter one.

However, in my paranormal urban fantasy, Forbidden, Book One of Gabriel Lennox Series, a prologue was necessary because it fit that description and helped to create a creepy ending, which I wrote as a near mirror image epilogue. Thus, coming full circle. New Approved Cover 2015_Forbidden

How do you go about setting the stage for your high fantasy novel?

*Cited source

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Getting to Know You

On my desk, I added a “thank you” note, which reads: “Thank you for taking the time to sit down and spend time with us. Signed, Your Characters.”

The act may seem silly, but the note actually motivated me to place my butt in the chair and write. Even when I was tired, pregnant, and just wanted to curl on the couch and rest.

In order to create believable characters, we need to know them inside and out: the good, the bad, the ugly, the unspeakable, the terrifying, their most embarrassing moments, and their triumphant pastimes. We need to get to know all the things about them.

“So, tell me about yourself? Do you dabble in painting? Do you enjoy coloring outside of the lines?”

And though not everything we know about our characters will appear in the story, these pieces that make up a character’s backstory are important. Because honestly, if our imaginary friends (and enemies) aren’t real to us, they most likely won’t be real to readers either.

I’ve used a lot of questionnaires in the past. At this time I’m using Marcel Proust’s character questionnaire in order to learn more about the two main characters, Alexander Brennan and Tierryn Black, of the second book in the Waking Dream series, “Moondust”. They’re both middle school students. I may teach middle school students, but I’m not completely attuned with their adolescent hopes, fears, dreams, desires, goals, secrets. So, even when I will myself to remember what it was like to be a preteen or a young teenager, those moments seem so foreign to me. Both Alexander and Tierryn are both lucid dreamers. I’ve experienced lucid dreaming on many occasions so if write what you know is true, then I’m doing something right when it comes to that piece of the drafting puzzle. And finally, both characters experienced a lot of growth in the first book titled, “Moonstruck”. I want to make sure that that growth is clear in the second book. Also, for new readers who may not start with book one, I want to include significant events smoothly and in a natural and organic way within the sequel’s plot.

There’s a new antagonist to the series, Mary Katherine (Merricat) Komatsuzaki, (a half Black and half Japanese girl). Since she plays such an important role in this second book, I’ll need to learn more about her too. And of all the questionnaires I’ve seen, the Marcel Proust one seems to suit my needs. 

Besides being a priceless tool for fleshing out characters, completing the questionnaire for each character is a great writing exercise that I think will brainstorm scenes, advances in the plot, enticing twists and turns, which should all lead to the story’s climax and resolution.

Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire

This questionnaire was invented by the noted French author Marcel Proust. These questions are frequently used in interviews so you may want to pretend you’re interviewing your characters.

  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  • What is your current state of mind?
  • What is your favorite occupation?
  • What is your most treasured possession?
  • What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  • What is your favorite journey?
  • What is your most marked characteristic?
  • When and where were you the happiest?
  • What is it that you most dislike?
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What is your greatest extravagance?
  • Which living person do you most despise?
  • What is your greatest regret?
  • Which talent would you most like to have?
  • Where would you like to live?
  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  • What is the quality you most like in a man?
  • What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  • What do you most value in your friends?
  • Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
  • Whose are your heroes in real life?
  • Which living person do you most admire?
  • What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  • On what occasions do you lie?
  • Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • What are your favorite names?
  • How would you like to die?
  • If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
  • What is your motto?

That’s the goal! That’s the feeling I want readers to express about my books!

I found this questionnaire at writingclasses.com and a Word.doc format can be found here.

What do you think? Is there anything missing from this list that should be included? What other questionnaires do you find useful?

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Are You a Multitasker?

I’m definitely a multitasker.

I have no problem reading more than one book at a time and keeping track of the characters and plots in each book. It’s entertaining to compare and contrast how the two different books by two different authors. It’s especially fun when both books are from the same genre.

Being a mom to three sons and a wife most likely has a lot to do with me having to accomplish multiple activities at once. My oldest son is an honor’s student and participates in track, volleyball, violin lessons. My toddlers are busy with weekend sports, building Mega Block Worlds with mommy and getting into all kinds of adorable adventures as I wear them out during the day. 🙂 Because when they’re sleeping, I’ve got lots more to do!

Even as a sixth grade reading teacher, I often use the phrase, “Let’s kill two birds with one stone” when teaching my students how to prepare their essays, even before they have finished reading the anchor text. Basically, the process goes like this. During the initial read, students use special text marking (such as check marking, underlining, and writing comments in the margins) to keep track of important ideas and facts. They’ve done this several times throughout the year and then they realized that a lot of the sentences, paragraphs, or sections they’ve underlined, starred, wrote comments about can be used towards the evidence that will appear in their essay or paragraph. Students who don’t mark the text, during the initial reading, are left at a disadvantage because they didn’t use their time wisely. So, yes killing two birds with one stone works! Why?

Because it’s working smarter — not harder!

Lately, I’ve adopted the same practice with my writing.

I know what some of you may be thinking.

Skeptical Reader: “Is she crazy? Multitasking doesn’t work when it comes to writing! Heck, she shouldn’t even be doing that when she’s reading. It’s a possible way to get the characters and the plot mixed up! Poor, deluded soul.”

Moi: Crazy? Uh, maybe. But at least I’m not straitjacket insane. 🙂

Skeptical Reader: “She’s doing it all wrong! She should focus on one story at a time. Polish it until it figuratively blinds the readers with its brilliance! Not literally, because that would definitely suck lemons! And then, only then should she move onto another story.”

Moi: Perhaps. But that hasn’t worked for me. I need to break free, breathe fresh air, cook dinner, fold laundry, do some Zumba before getting back into the literary groove.

So, here are 3 easy ways that you too can multitask as a writer and get more words on the page!

  1. Edit and Revise – If you struggle with what to write next, reread what you’ve already written. Look for weak words, potential plot problems, and inconsistencies with your characters in order to make that story shine like the fabulous diamond it is! If the words are flowing like there’s no tomorrow, keep at it!
  2. Start a New Story – Say you’ve finished a draft of a novel or short story. It’s good practice to let it sit for a few days before delving into it again. Separating from the text for a period of time, gives your mind time to prepare for the arduous task of self-editing. And while you step away from the story for a week or so (in order to return with fresh eyes to it for the editing process) you can begin another story. Perhaps, even a shorter one in order to keep your writer’s eye and mind sharp. After all, the creating process is always more fun. The possibilities seem endless and the characters are like precious, new friends you simply have to know everything about!
  3. Write a blog post or create a YouTube post – In between editing and revising a completed work, you can take the time to step outside of your characters’ minds and just be you. Sharing advice or sharing something new that you tried is a fabulous way to keep the creative juices flowing. Even though I don’t consider myself a poet (often, they’re such a noble breed) I occasionally write a poem or two. It’s a different kind of writing and helps me to get out of a writing jam. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there’s a fourth step:
  4. REPEAT the process!

Are you also a multitasker and if so, what works for you? If not, how do you fit it all in? Please share! I love learning new things.

 

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What Kind of Reader are You?

Writers should be readers too. And if you want to be an exceptional writer, you should be an avid reader.

I love to read. And as a sixth grade reading teacher, I’m dumbfounded when my students would rather stare at their phones and tablets instead of investing their time in the glorious world of a well-written book.

Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m a hybrid of two kinds of readers that I’ve called, The Angel and The Devil.

In Angel mode, I’m utterly involved and hooked on a book and will remain faithful to the series, rooting the author and their imaginary friends and enemies onward to resolution! “You keep doing your thing, main character! I’m with you all the way! It’s about time that you told that girl you loved her. I mean, I thought you’d get a clue in Book Three, but no one’s perfect, right? Well, except you of course. Woot, woot!” *Fist bumps cover*

Heck, even if the book has some slow parts or a weak plot I’ll keep plodding through! Why?

I’m a patient, forgiving reader. I know what it’s like for my writing to be analyzed and torn apart. And even when it’s for the better, it’s an exercise in misery. LOL. So, give me your slow beginnings and your unlikable characters! Give me your sometimes cliched plot twists. I will read it, I will bear it, I will endure it!

This book-love at first sight may start with me simply seeing the cover and stopping dead in my tracks to go onto read the back of the book blurb. Interesting characters? CHECK! Riveting plot with just enough mystery and intrigue? CHECK! Infatuation with a book may even begin with a friend recommending it to me. Sometimes, I’ve even read a book based off of a bad review to learn on my own if the book And if my literary palette is piqued, I will immediately rush off to the library in order to possess it spine, pages, and adhesive perma-glue! Come here, you. Let’s have us a hug. Mmmm. Maybe some of your genius will rub off on me.

And then there are the times when my patience has run thin. Incredibly thin . . . until it snapped.

Devil Mode activated.        

Moments that turn me off to a book can happen within the first 50 pages of me reading a book. Or even much later. As a rule, my students and myself included HAVE to give any book we read the benefit of the doubt. It’s a mandatory rule that must be followed. Below is table for time frames to abandon books and I sometimes read more than that to make sure I’ve given the writer much courtesy before surrendering to defeat and choosing to not finish reading their precious, literary baby:

Type of Book Minimum Length to Abandon
Picture Book  After first 5 Pages
Chapter Book  After First 5 Chapters
Novel  After First 50 Pages

“The War of the Flowers” by Tad Williams is one of those books that I haven’t been able to finish. I made it to page 64 about five years ago. When I have more time that I’m willing to dedicate to completing it, I may return. I may not. But I didn’t feel invested in it, like my oldest brother, who recommended it to me. The writing is beautiful. The characters are lifelike. The plot is interesting and the setting, like the characters it holds, are believable. Likewise, when writing fantasy those two elements are essential because readers — new to the genre and old — will put aside disbelief for the sake of genre, but the foreign worlds have to resonate with what we know.  Fleshing out such a feat is vital to keeping your reader engaged. The primary reason I abandoned “The War of the Flowers” is because I couldn’t connect with the main character, Theo Vilmos, a rocker who is drawn into a magical world while reading a book. Like I said before, the plot sounds so tantalizing.

Why are you such a wimp? And why am I still reading this?

However, I just couldn’t connect with Theo. I didn’t like him and I didn’t want to care about him or his problems. I felt no empathy for him. I tried. God, did I try. I even tried reading on to see if some terrible fate would befall him and make my reading worthwhile in a twisted way so I could laugh through my tears at his dilemma.

Besides that, I’ve had my share of rotten book experiences. Especially when the author decided to murder my favorite character. “You. Did. What?”

You broke MY heart with that move, writer!

Or the author decided to not remain consistent with who the character is. Heart-breaking. For instance, in one series (that Shall Not Be Named) I adored the main character who started out as a well-rounded individual with a set of rules he/she followed precisely. Eventually, the main character transformed into something unrecognizable with Mary Sue attributes (perfectly flawed in every way and yet still . . . perfect). And for the record, there’s no place for Mary Sues in literature. After all, Mary Sue is place and doesn’t make a believable character.

As writers, we have an obligation to our readers to:

  • Remain consistent
  • Keep them invested in the plot and the characters
  • If you’re going to kill off a beloved character
    • Prepare your readers with little hints along the way and never, ever do it for shock effect alone.
  • Stay true to the genre
    • For example, romance novels have a certain formula and readers are pleased with that. Don’t ditch the formula just because you feel like it and think it’s avant-garde.

This post was inspired by Plaisted Publishing House’s post found here.

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You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover, Part 2

Quite some time ago I was torn between three different book cover designs for “Shoes”, the previous title of my most recent dark fantasy and middle-grade novel. After revising and editing the manuscript, I realized that the title didn’t fit the story and changed it to “Moonstruck”. (Also, great thanks to my husband and fellow author, E. Rose Sabin, for confirming my concerns regarding the title)!

I also noticed the book covers were too generic for what I needed. I teach middle school students and a lot of the time, there aren’t enough books that feature children of color and I needed to do more than just talk about the importance of “diverse books”.

I wanted to ensure that my actions matched the declaration: “We Need Diverse Books”.

Just a few minutes ago, I took a break from editing and revising the seventh revision to write this post.

Yup. The seventh. Count ’em, Billy Blanks and company:

And there may be an eight revision based on how well beta-readers are pleased with the book . . . or not.

Anyhow, here’s the most recent cover I collaborated and created with the talented, patient, and beautiful (inside and out) Domi of Inspired Cover Designs:

In the comments below, please let me know what you think!

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