Monday, November 28, 2011

The Next Big Thing

Not long ago, I read an article in Writer’s Digest magazine in which the author talked about the hole left in the young adult genre. This was attributed to the ending of both the Harry Potter and Twilight series and asked upcoming authors if they thought they could fill that void.

Let me be the first to say I’m no JK Rowling nor would I ever compare my books to hers. As to Stephanie Myer, I can’t say if I could hold a candle to her work due to my long standing Twilight aversion which I don’t want to go into again. It should be noted here that both of these authors wrote fantasy novels about creatures not confirmed to exist. Until recently, I’ve confined all of my young adult novels to true to life situations in a genre best described as teen lit. It was a former agent who challenged me to step into the fantasy and paranormal genres because that’s what publishers told him the target audience wanted. Though I complied, I’ve been unsuccessful in finding a mainstream following. I have enjoyed a nice online following but that’s a discussion for another time.

I have to be honest in saying that in the last year, I’ve actually enjoyed writing something different. I’ve also been fortunate that it's been met with a warm welcome from my online audience. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, writing is this genre has also applied the pressure to me. Once you establish yourself in a certain niche that’s what fans expect to see from you. What many people don’t realize is that several authors enjoy writing in multiple genres and do so rather well. The problem is fans don’t want to see Stephen King write a romance or Nicholas Sparks pen a horror novel. Of course, as with everything there are exceptions to every rule. James Patterson writes both intriguing suspense novels and heartwarming romance novels. Judy Blume has written in middle grade, young adult and chic lit. It can be done and done well, but it's rare. 

For those of us who can't crossover and are looking to break into the young adult genre, I'm here to tell you paranormal romance and fantasies are the next big thing. How do I know? I've seen the demand first hand. While looking for a book in Barnes and Noble this weekend, I was blown away to see an entire section of shelves devoted to teen paranormal romance. I can't even recall such a thing existing when I was a teenager. Does that make me sound old? I've also seen what's climbing up the on line rankings of the writer's site I belong to. Not to toot my own horn too much, but fans are clamoring for more of paranormal young adult romance and asking me why they aren't published. 

I don't know why I'm not published, but I tell you what. I'm ready to be the next big thing. My paranormal young adult romance trilogy is complete and I'm working on a new novel in the genre and already have a solid premise for the next one. 

Are you paying attention literary agents and publishers? I have an established following and am prepared to contribute to the exhaustive marketing of my work and am thinking beyond the completion of my sure to be popular breakout series. Your next big thing is here. Just drop me an email!

Think this shameless plea will work? Me either, but you never know.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Shame on Me

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase before in some form or another. The gist of it is that you can give everyone a chance at least once. You can believe what they say once. If they do or say the opposite of what you were first led to believe, the fault lies with them. You didn’t know they’d let you down. Now, if they let you down and you give them another chance only to be let down again, the fault lies with you. After the first letdown, you should’ve had an insight into their character.

After what happened to me this weekend, I think this quote can be more liberally applied. I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t another person letting me down. It was my own carelessness that let me down. It goes a little something like this…

With the three day holiday weekend ahead, I was looking forward to the opportunity to have a chance to write. For the last few months, I’ve been investing most of my free writing time in a new story. Initially the story was slow to get off the ground. Of late, it’d gained quite a bit of momentum, and I had the sense I was nearing the end. If you don’t recall from prior posts, I never really know how my stories are going to end. This isn’t something I plan in advance. Instead, I let the characters dictate how the story will take shape. That being said, this isn’t how I let myself down.

Given the upswing the new story was on, I’ve been very excited about it lately. In fact, I’ve been so excited that I’ve been working on it during my lunch hour at the day job. I want to clearly state that I do not take my employer’s time to pursue my writing. I have a strong work ethic, and I take my day job seriously. However, lunch is my time and I can often be found banging out a new passage of my latest creation during my lunch hour. This was the case on Thursday afternoon. I spent about a half-hour working on a new scene and then saved and closed the file. Then I removed the flash drive from the PC and went on about my business.

I’m sure you can imagine my horror when I plugged the drive into my lap top on Thursday night and received an error message whose basic point was that the file was corrupted and couldn’t be opened. I needed to complete text recovery. On first seeing this, I wasn’t actually too panicked. This was partly due to the extreme case of denial I was already suffering from. The other reason I wasn’t panicked is that I have a computer genius for a husband, and he’s recovered lost files for me before. I thought he could probably get most if not all of it back.

Now is where I must make the shameful confession. I’ve lost one of my files before. I didn’t just lose any old file then. I lost the entire third story in my trilogy, the entire third and almost completed story. After much crying, begging and hair pulling on my part and a lot of painstaking effort on my husband’s part, he managed to get back all but fifty pages of that story. That hurt, but at least it wasn’t the four hundred fifty I was first faced with losing.

Never again, I swore. I was never going to lose a story again. I’d learned my lesson and was going to be more vigilant about making back up copies. My husband pitched in to help. He set up the MS Word program to auto save every ten minutes and to always make a back up copy. He backed up everything on my flash drive onto his PC hard drive as well as my lap top hard drive. And every week, I would dangle my flash drive in front of him and ask that he back up its contents on his hard drive. And every week, he would without fail.

Then it happened. A virus hit my lap top and wiped it out beyond recovery. No problem. I had all my stories backed up. With just a little bitterness, but no concern, I bought a new lap top and my husband plugged it in and I went back to work. There’s a big but here, and no I’m not talking about mine! But I went back to work without setting the auto save and requesting a back up always be made. With the sting of my loss having faded, I grew lazy and complacent. There was always another day or time for me to back it all up.

Wrong! The file corrupted before that time came. The only back up copy we retained was one hundred four pages in length. I’d already gotten to page two hundred thirty four. That was more than half my story lost in an abyss of corrupted files. Again, I begged and cried, but this was different. Something happened to the text in the story. It pulled in text from a different story and read that as belonging to the new story. Don’t ask me why or how. I don’t know enough about computers to tell you, and I really don’t care. All I care about is the fact that I’ve lost half of a story I can’t get back. Yes, I spent my weekend attempting to reconstruct it and have managed to pen fifty pages, but I can’t get out of my head. I keep thinking the other version was better and this is terrible. I keep asking myself how and why I’d let this happen again.

I can’t answer that question. All I can say is shame on me! Don’t let it happen again.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Accuracy is Important, Even for the Fiction Writer

 If you ask me how long I’ve been a writer, you get two different numbers.  I’ve been a writer since I learned to put the words to paper, but I’ve been what you’d call a professional writer since 2006.  To see the latter number in print shocks me a bit since it feels like I’ve been in this business much longer.

When I decided to make the leap from writing for fun to writing as a profession, I ran out and bought numerous books on the subject. While I purchased the typical books on how to snag an agent and writing the perfect synopsis and query letter, I also picked up several selections on the process of writing. One of my favorite is a skinny volume from Jack M. Bickham titled The 38 Most Common Mistakes Fiction Writers Make. To this day, Bickam’s book remains one of the favorite in my library.

In his book, Bickham often takes a tongue in cheek approach to assisting writers in seeing the error of their ways. One such chapter is devoted to showing writers the importance of making sure their stories are accurate and their descriptions reflect that. To illustrate his point, he tells of an instance in one of his western novels in which one of his characters used a gun that hadn’t even been manufactured in the year the novel was set. An astute reader picked up on this and fired off an email to Bickham which pointed out the mistake.
This may sound like the reader is being too critical, but the fault lies with Bickham for failing to do his research.

Too often, fiction writers take the approach that accuracy isn’t as important because it’s a story and not a work of non-fiction. As much as it pains me to admit it, I too have recently fallen into this trap. I could go on the defensive and concoct some excuses for the oversight, but the fault is mine. I should’ve been a better editor, and the readers have caught me red handed. In my case, the problem wasn’t with research. My novel is pure fantasy and conjecture and has no root in reality at all. My mistake was failing to keep track of what I wrote so that critical details weren’t changed. The most glaring example I can recall had to do with the introduction of a new character. Character A was introducing Character B to his brother and explained his acquaintance to her by saying they shared a class together. The problem with this was that earlier in the story I told readers that Character A was in all of the same classes as his brother. Therefore, the brother should’ve already known Character B and known how she and Character A met. This is a perfect example of Bickham’s point and my own point that editing is more than correct grammar, punctuation and spelling. Editing also means getting the facts right and keeping your details straight.

Readers become emotionally invested in your characters. This is a good thing. It’s what you want. It means they’re going to keep reading. The flip side of this is that they’re so enamored with the story, they often recall what you the writer would think are minute details. While the readers may point out the inconsistencies, it’s not their job to do so. It’s our job as writers to get it right so that we don’t interfere with their reading experience.

So what’s the solution? I’m sorry to say there’s no easy answer. What works for one writer may not work for the other. It could mean making outlines and charts. If you don’t want to go that far, ask a trusted friend or family member to give it a thorough read, but proceed with caution if you make this choice. It’s sometimes been my experience that my family and friends are hesitant to point out mistakes or admit they don’t like my story for fear they’ll hurt my feelings. Ideally, you should hire a professional editor to catch these things, but who can afford that in this economy? Certainly not the fledgling writer.

Whatever you decide, you must face on thing. Even in fiction writing, accuracy and details count. Ignore this and face the consequences!