Monday, July 18, 2011

Steven King--On Writing

I've been a slacker blogger lately--I get distracted easily by other interests--but I do have some writing related things I've been thinking about recently. First off, I read Steven King's book On Writing and discovered that to be, not surprisingly, very insightful. It's worth referencing again from time to time. I especially liked...

p. 47: "When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story."

Steven includes some paragraphs illustrating early editorial corrections that his writing invoked. If I could read a whole book like that--a road map of how to get from first draft to final--I most definitely would. The illusive craft of revising and polishing is one I am just beginning to explore. A guide would be useful. "Taking out all the things that are not the story" seems a good place to start though.

p. 99: "You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair--the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: You must not come lightly to the blank page."

I've never really thought about my mindset when I write. Maybe that's why some writers listen to music--it helps them overcome "lightness" and approach this intensity that Steven King is so adamant about.

p. 176 "When it's on target, a simile delights us in much the same way meeting an old friend in a crowd of strangers does. By comparing two seemingly unrelated objects...we are sometimes able to see an old thing in a new and vivid way. When a simile or metaphor doesn't work, the results are sometimes funny and sometimes embarrassing."

I recently became intrigued by the power of similes and metaphors when I read Christopher McDougall's Born to Run. That guy was born to write--especially similes and metaphors. It's really worth a blog entry of its own, but it fits mentioning here. His book was a delight to read, not so much for the general content, but for specific jeweled phrases like "dog-toy tough" and "trail dust streaked his gaunt face like fading war paint." Steven King says that "similes should provide clarifying connection" but "should not be cliche. Say what you see then get on with the story."

Steven King also included an example of a phrase he once read that doesn't work: "He sat stolidly beside the corpse, waiting for the medical examiner as patiently as a man waiting for a turkey sandwich." Unless the author was going for a good laugh, turkey sandwiches and corpses don't mix well, but it illustrates that finding something that works isn't always clockwork.

The result, when it does work, may provide beauty as well as clarity. A lot of the fun and magic of writing, and especially of trying to write well, is condensing images and feelings into words that pack a punch. Similes and metaphors are powerful tools unto this end. When I come across particularly poignant examples, such as "perky as a rat in liverwurst" (p. 149), it makes me wonder if the author had to think a while before coming up with just the right phrase. On the other hand, it may be one distinction between true masters and amatures of the writing world--it just flows naturally from a master's mind, but we amatures have to put in a lot of thought to find something that works. Don't know. I'm hoping it's a learnable and improvable skill.

One final thing Steven King brought up that struck me: reading. Not only does Steven King try to write 2,000 words a day, but he tries to read at least 70 books a year. I realized I don't read anywhere near that number of books a year, which is not a good thing. That's like trying to get through medical school with only half the required textbooks. It won't fly. If I want to be a YA writer, and especially if I want to be good at it, I should be learning from the masters, ie, those who have successfully published their work already. So that's my new goal, slow as I am at reading, I need to read more. There's no way around it.

Ok, I lied, there's one more thing. Steven King stated that "I think you will find that, if you continue to write fiction, every character you create is partly you."

I seem to recall Orson Scott Card writing something along those lines as well. In the end, all the dialogue, everything the characters say and do, is ultimately your creation. Kind of like with acting; how hard is it to separate the actor Daniel Radcliffe from the character Harry Potter now? Nearly impossible. It's his body doing the acting, just like it's an author's mind doing the writing. At some level, it's impossible to distinguish between the person and the character. I suppose in that sense, all fiction is real.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Back and Better: A Full Manuscript Review

So I realize it has been a while since my last substantial blog post (my bad), but I have excuses. First off, I went camping. Second off, extended family visited. Third off, I got my full manuscript back. And it wasn’t pretty. But it wasn’t ugly, either. In fact, it wasn’t much of anything, which was the problem. I guess I should have expected a form rejection since that’s what most writers get back, but I had foolishly harbored hopes that a few helpful suggestions might accompany the bad news. No such luck. Not so much as a half sentence of advice. What’s a writer to do?

Naturally, I got discouraged…as in, I didn’t even want to look at the written word for a whole two weeks. The Self-appointed Inspector of Words took a long hiatus as the Self-appointed Inspector of Grey’s Anatomy, chocolate, and whipped cream. I especially appreciated the episode where a discouraged writer was admitted for surgery because he ate his novel that nobody wanted to read. Hah! Tempting…

Instead of eating my novel, I eventually chose the healthier and cheaper route of discarding the unwanted manuscript under my bed for dust collection. This worked well until my brother caught wind of my decision and forwarded me an article about self-publishing kindle ebooks through Amazon. To make a long story short, here it is!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Camping Trip

Luna really enjoyed her first camp out. She's quite the explorer and sets a good example for the rest of hard, play hard. Good times. Also, thanks to everyone who has visited and decided to follow, and a big thank you to "Bryce" for the "award" and kind words. That was nice to come back to. I'll follow up on that soon.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Horse Training

Ok, I'll stop hiding. This is me training a horse during my internship once upon a summer. There, now you can picture me. And now you all can stop hiding and leave comments!

Who’s Your Idol?

Long before writing was even a glint in my peripheral vision, I aspired to be an outdoor photographer. This came as the result of an early mid-life crisis—high school, to be exact. Realizing that life wasn't getting any longer, it seemed "high" time to pick something to "focus" on and become good at. (Ok, enough puns). Photography seemed like just the thing, so I sat down at a computer and set to work.

Midst the websites of technical jargon and how-to articles, I stumbled upon a gem: Galen Rowell, master of light and all things outdoor-photography. I was hooked from the first mouse (and shutter) click. Not only was he a master, he was a pioneering master, leading the way in adventure photography, "a special brand of participatory wilderness photography in which the photographer transcends being an observer with a camera to become an active participant in the image being photographed." Cool! Sign me up!

As if his philosophy of participatory wilderness photography wasn't cool enough, Galen was also a writer. Ultimately, it was through his words as well as his photos that he became my vicarious teacher, mentor and, yes, my idol. Much of what I understand about photography, in particular the often overlooked emotional and philosophical aspects of the art, I owe to his genius, his insight, and his uncanny ability to share them with others.

Looking back, I realize Galen's influence in my life didn't stop with my high school photography obsession. It didn't stop with my close-but-no-banana application, wait-listing, and ultimate rejection to the competitive photography major at BYU. It didn't even stop once my over-zealous photography aspirations faded to not much more than a glint in the rear-view mirror of life. His influence settled much deeper—deeper than the dust now settling in his books on my bookshelf. Galen Rowell's vision changed the way I look at this world. Whether it be through a camera lens, a computer monitor, or the naked eye, my search for meaning and possibilities in the environment around me will never be the same again.

The late Galen Rowell and his passion for living life to the fullest will live on in this photographer and writer's mind's eye for as long as she is coherent. May he and his vision never cease to inspire.

You know you’re a writer if…

Some of these have happened to me, some of them have not (yet). So this can be like two truths and a lie; you get to figure out which are which! (Hint: some of them are half-truths. I know, that's not fair, but it's fun!). Add your own, too. How do you know you're a writer?

…the letters on your keyboard are fading. Or missing.

…you know what a query shark is…and try to get its attention.

…you get your morning buzz from coffee, tea, and literary.

…you lose five pounds in a week because you forget to eat, but your manuscript gets fatter.

…you mean to say your spouse's name but the name of your hot protagonist slips out instead.

…someone has to remind you to sleep.

…you look in the fridge for the flour. When it's not there, you try the freezer.

…you don't know what day it is. Or what month.

…you text plot ideas to yourself while you exercise.

…you have reoccurring nightmares about opening email responses from agents.

…you're published!

Ok, your turn. How do you know you (or someone you know) is a writer?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Writing Sample

Now that I have a blog, I'd like to use it to solicit some feedback. I've decided to post the prologue of the manuscript I am querying. Suggestions and comments are welcome. I'm particularly interested in knowing if the "hook" is effective—does it make you want to keep reading? If not, can you pinpoint a reason why? Thanks for the help!

Rebel Admiral William Lancet didn't wait for the battered metal door to grate closed behind him before addressing the small assembly awaiting him. Four anxious gazes turned to greet him from the depths of the shadowed room as he entered, scrutinizing his windswept appearance, curious about their unexpected summons to a wasteland base.

"I'm glad to see you all found your way here, it speaks highly of your decoding skills," he began as he shook off the dust from his cloak. "Most of you are probably aware that our final attempt at a peace treaty failed last night, dissolving our situation down to desperation. We're out of time and we can't afford to fail again. We must implement a final offensive. That's why you're here."

The four gazes shifted uneasily from the admiral to one another.

"Each of you is here because of your expertise in a particular field," he continued. "No doubt you are distantly familiar with each other's work and achievements—your reputations precede you—but introductions are in order: Hector Gonzalez, rated number one in your engineering class, back in the days when we had classes," he smirked at his own joke, "and widely proficient in the use of modern, ancient, and alien technology systems; Danzel Milton, top rated performance in combat school, three year defending champion of the Reathan Tactical Weaponry Competition, and a wilderness survival expert with an arsenal of tricks and skills a résumé cannot do justice to; Kiarra Kirtlund, our most competent diplomat, counselor, and expert on Earth history; Captain Tom Vance, war strategist and our most seasoned assault leader."

Admiral Lancet paused and took a step forward, squinting despite the dim light emanating from their illumination belts to survey each individual, as though probing for reasons which might disqualify one of them from the task ahead. At length satisfied, he turned and began pacing the room.

"This mission is to be discussed with no one outside this room without my clearance. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Admiral," four voices echoed in the barren room.

He stopped pacing and turned back abruptly to face them. "And is there anyone here who has any objection whatsoever to participating in a mission that may result, should we be discovered, in the extermination of you and your entire family by order of the Royal Crown? Now is your chance to leave if you so desire."

More glances were exchanged, accompanied by nervous feet shuffling, but no one spoke. Everyone in the room was keenly aware of the consequences for defying the crown—they lived with the risk every mission.

"Very well, then. We may proceed." The captain opened the door through which he had entered and leaned out into the dark passageway. "Doctor, we're ready for you."

The admiral moved aside and a cloaked figure appeared in the doorway. With hesitation, two hands moved up to remove the hood, sending a shower of dust to join the thick layer already coating the floor, revealing a face etched with wrinkles and coarsened by time. Random tufts of white hair glinted in the dim light as the balding head rotated, energetic blue eyes examining the room.

"Doctor, welcome back to Reath. It has been a long time," said the admiral.

"It has, Admiral. It has," he responded distantly.

"Some of you may recognize Doctor Gordon Bohden by his title, former Royal Physician," the admiral informed the team.

Raised eyebrows were exchanged.

"Doctor Bohden has come a long ways to see us. He shared some information with me yesterday that has given me the first hope for our cause I have felt in many months. He is doing this at great risk to himself and his loved ones, but millions of people may one day be indebted to him for his journey here today. He wishes to tell you himself what he told me."

The admiral paused, cuing the doctor to speak, but the doctor showed no sign of having heard him. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Doctor Bohden, will you please relate to everyone here what happened in this room seventeen years ago?"

A visible shudder passed through the doctor as he continued to gaze around the room. His mind was busy taking in the changes, though he could still picture it as pristine as the day he had left: glittering console lights, metal drawers and shelves of neatly arranged tools, freshly sanitized test tubes, bottles of chemicals ready to be employed in important purposes, the well used examination table—his scientific oasis, his cathedral, his life's work. It had been a favorite place of his once. But things change—people change—as they had seventeen years ago.

He stood staring, silently reliving his last few days there, unaware that the blood was draining from his face so his skin now matched his ghostly pale hair. Feelings of anger and betrayal bubbled up from somewhere deep within, catching him by surprise. Coming back wasn't supposed to be this difficult.

A shudder passed through him again, this time purposefully as an attempt to shake off the memories. There was no need for these feelings any longer. With the information he would provide today, everything would be rectified, though it would come at a cost—a cost that was not his alone to pay.


A touch to his shoulder jolted him from his thoughts. "Yes, Admiral, I'm so sorry."

"I understand how difficult this must be for you, but we must proceed. I thought that's why you came."

The doctor turned to face him, a mournful expression in his deep blue eyes as he grappled with himself one final time over the decision he had already made. Of course he had done the right thing. With all that was at stake, the good would far outweigh the bad that would come of this...he was almost sure of it.

"Doctor, please."

With a final shiver, the doctor swallowed and squared his shoulders. "You're right," he whispered to the admiral. "It is time." His voice quivered as he spoke. "We must prepare the girl."