Tag Archives: Writing

Watt I’ve Learned About Wattpad

I have a lot of writer friends and I like to read and give feedback to them because… well, that’s what you do if you’re a writer and have writer friends!

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It’s the ‘polite’ thing to do, but I enjoy reading what my friends have been writing as well as thinking it’s an important part of writerly etiquette to contribute to the writing community. Most of my friends have books on GoodReads or Amazon etc. but some of my friends live in the realm of Wattpad.

For people who use Wattpad as a tool you’re probably already going over the many good things that Wattpad has done for you and your friends.
Let me start by saying: I am not opposed to Wattpad, I simply don’t completely understand it. I think I’m starting to get it now, but I have my reasons for feeling like a fish out of water on Wattpad.

Let me go over some of the good points I’ve noticed and heard about Wattpad before I talk about my own take on this increasingly vibrant platform for writers.

The first good thing is that it attracts young authors. Teenagers are encouraged to write and by getting feedback they’re encouraged to keep writing. The same point is true for new writers or writers who for various reasons need extra feedback to build their confidence and/or writing stamina.

It’s not a pointless endeavor to post on Wattpad either. I sort of thought it was. This one has an upside and a downside. The upside is that more and more people including large publishers are farming Wattpad for talent. Margaret Atwood has been involved in an award called the ‘Watty’ since 2012. There are poetry contests and all sorts of things that people can get involved in.

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I only found out those things after doing some research into Wattpad. Before I looked into it the last word I’d heard on Wattpad was that publishers considered anything put on Wattpad as ‘previously published’. A stigma that once attached to a story/poem/novel is very difficult to remove. Yes, most publishers only want fresh and virgin stories!

That part is still true and something that I don’t think a lot of people who post on Wattpad know about. That isn’t why I’m still a little anxious about getting into the waters of Wattpad, my reasons are my own uncertainties and my style of writing and reading.

When someone asks me to read their story on Wattpad or chapter by chapter it has the same affect on me: I don’t know how to give feedback.

From my limited exposure to Wattpad I’ve found most of the stories are in progress, this causes me to regard reading them as seeking ‘alpha feedback’. Alpha feedback is pretty basic because of the very obvious reason that the writer isn’t finished writing yet. Concepts and characters may be undeveloped because again… the writer isn’t finished yet.

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I’ve noticed that a lot of alpha feedback consists of nit-picky grammar edits that are, in my opinion, undermining and discouraging when you’re just getting going on a story.  This also negates the benefits of bolstering and encouraging writers to write more!

So, I’m not the only one who has a hard time giving alpha feedback. What is alpha feedback? Alpha feedback is feedback is, as stated previously, feedback given on works in progress (WIPS) and is usually done a bit at a time as the writer progresses through their story. Beta feedback is given on a finished work that may or may not have been edited.

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One of the best tips for beta reading your own work or the work of someone else. Beta reading can be where much needed texture is added to the entire story. 

Beta feedback is something that I’m good at and that I value deeply in the excellent beta readers who read for me. Beta feedback focuses on things like: umm, did you just teleport out of the shower into the living room? Or: I can’t understand this sentence at all, did you mean to say that they ‘ate China’? I’m thinking maybe you meant ‘chicken’??

Writing is rarely done all at one sitting and it’s also rare that there are no interruptions or distractions. If your writing environment is like that you are a lucky writer indeed! For the rest of us we have phone calls, knocks on the door, family and friends that talk just at the minute you were writing a key sentence… and you write down what they said instead of what you were intending to write.

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When you read your own writing over you’ll likely catch a lot of these errors. If you read your story out loud you’ll catch even more of them. The mind is an amazing machine capable of glossing over the same thing even on multiple reads. This is especially true when we read our own work but I’ve seen as many as five readers miss the same mistake in a story! This is why beta readers are like gold because the sixth beta reader who catches the mistake is the one who saves it.

This isn’t exactly the same as editing although they are closely related. Beta readers aren’t there to catch grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes, formatting errors etc. If they see something obvious they might make a note of it to save the writer some time but it isn’t their mission. That’s what final edits are for and that’s a whole different blog!

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Anyway, in case you didn’t know, now you’re caught up on the different stages of readings and writing. This brings us back to our original topic: Alpha reading and Wattpad.

I don’t know what sort of feedback any one author is looking for when they ask for alpha reading of a story. It’s hard to go into detail because we don’t know if the writer is keeping the suspense tight or if they’ve missed an important aspect of the story. When you’re asked to read a story some sort of response is required or the writer will likely assume that you hated the whole thing and don’t want to tell them how much they suck. So, you’ve got to say SOMETHING or you run the risk of your efforts to be helpful hurting the writer.

How can you do that when you don’t know anything about where the writer is going? The writer may be highly organized and know where they are going for their plot, or they might be like me, someone who is a ‘pantser’ (flies by the seat of my pants rather than outlining). If they are a pantser, then they probably don’t know where they are going anymore than the alpha reader does.

Feedback is like fuel for writers. They NEED it to know if they’re doing their job and their job is effective communication. If no one replies to what they have to say it is the writer’s natural inclination to determine that they are doing something wrong. If they know they’re reaching their audience it gives them more fuel to keep on.

Which brings us to the conundrum of Wattpad. Giving someone grammar tips is one of those gray zones if you aren’t their editor. It’s especially bad if it’s all someone has to say about your writing. First of all, it’s a negative observation and second of all it isn’t about what you said, it’s about how you said it in a strictly modern context of what is stylistically ‘correct’. Notice that nothing in grammar/spelling/formatting is going to help someone to understand how well they are communicating their story. Not encouraging.

Understanding that alpha and beta reading are the writer seeking feedback on how well they’re communicating gave me some insights into how to be a better alpha reader. First of all, I’m going on the assumption that anything that seems like a hole in the plot or that I don’t understand is likely going to be cleaned up in the beta reading. Unless it’s a continuity error (Bob is wearing blue pants and five minutes later spills coffee on his red pants), it’s better to ignore those things.

Someone in who is alpha reading for you is really only their for the most part as a positive influence. Unlike a beta reader who looks around for structural integrity, holes in the plot etc, the alpha reader is there to feed into the story.

How can an alpha reader do this?

First of all, I’ve learned to underline and comment on particularly striking turns of phrase or patterns of style that the writer uses. For example, I recently did some alpha reading on a story where the writer used vivid colors to effectively key in important aspects of their story.

Alpha reading is also disrupted reading. It’s hard to come back into a story and try to recall everything that happened in detail especially if you’re reading multiple alpha stories. Here’s where my personal, stylistic issue with Wattpad comes into play.

I am not a fan of chapter plays. I like to read deeply and intensely. I want to sink into the world. I don’t want to be just driving through yet another landscape. I want to know characters and places and experience them. I can’t do that if the sections are doled out a little at a time.

Another very personal issue I have with Wattpad is obvious: It’s all digital.

I don’t enjoy reading books electronically nearly as much as I enjoy reading a bound book. I enjoy the tactile sense of the fibers that make the paper, the sensation of physically turning pages… I like to read in the bathtub and my laptop doesn’t share my love of the water!

So, to all my friends on Wattpad who I haven’t had a chance to give feedback to… I’m sorry. I have started a Wattpad account (although I’m not sure if I finalized it, there may be some hanging step I neglected) and I have intentions to read your work. Intentions aren’t the feedback you’re looking for but I can assure you that it isn’t your writing that has driven me away.

The final thing I will say about Wattpad, again it is both positive and negative, is that it is a community. That means that it should be reciprocal. If I’m going to comment there, I should also be posting my own writing and getting to know people. The intricacies of the communal aspects of Wattpad are still mysteries to me.

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I don’t usually get anyone to alpha read for me unless I know and trust them very much. I don’t want to get the feedback of, ‘yeah, it was interesting… you had a run on sentence in the second paragraph… but otherwise, yeah, it was interesting.’

I will continue to contemplate the world of Wattpad and try to take the plunge. I hear that there is a vibrant poetry community as well as other writing and that may be a good place to start.

I think Wattpad fills a valiant function in the writing world. Alpha reading is important and I know that people do move on to beta reading and final editing. People have even started to have television shows made of their Wattpad stories!

That’s pretty much it: Watt I’ve Learned About Wattpad 🙂

 

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Liane Carter Writes: The Land of Virginia

Written and Illustrated by Liane Carter,

A tiny tale of a little of the land of Virginia

The path is red like her hair. Beware.

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She has a heart so big it makes her beauty – and she is a sculpture made by angels – seem small in comparison. You may feel overwhelmed in the wonder of the wildness and wilderness of all she is. Her depth, anguish, pain and intelligence swim on the river surface of her eyes. There is no disguise. She has allowed herself free to be and opens her hand to ask you to too. If you are willing to. Take another step into the unknown back to the birth of all that is known.

liane carter virginia pic 1

A goddess who guides you and hides you if you need a retreat because she has been there, and even if she hasn’t, her empathy nourishes your lands to live in. A lover of the living, animals flock to feed on her love so you may meet a few chickens, dogs and a gorgeous bird on the way.

picture by Liane Carter

You can stop. You can stay. I promise you a beautiful journey on the way.

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Marketing and Writing: How NOT to Promote

Yay! You wrote a book! Now what?

There is a steady cacophony of voices that are constantly spamming everyone to read their book. It doesn’t matter if it’s one of the ‘Big Boy’ publishers or if it’s someone who is self published. There are just too many people demanding to be read and no cohesive thought put into why someone should read your book.

Think of it this way: you’re the new kid at school. You walk into the classroom, nobody knows anything about you or what you will bring to the class. The first words that leave your mouth will set the tone for your trajectory in the dynamics of this world of strangers. Is that first sentence a demand? Would you ever walk into a room of people you don’t know and without invitation order them to do something that is time consuming and will likely cost them money?

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Seriously, why should anyone do anything for you? They’ve already got what you want or are trying to get the same thing. You’ve got to work hard to be the one who turns heads. Is it what you’re really looking for? 

Now put yourself into the position of someone walking down the street. Without warning someone comes running up to you, flailing, holding a book and gibbering incoherently about how they’ve got the next bestseller and you totally have to read it right now. My response? RUN AWAY!!! And if I see that book… RUN AWAY!!! It might look harmless but my experience has taught me that it was written my an aggressive lunatic.

Because lets be realistic, chances are you haven’t written the newest best seller. If you have, there is a likelihood that it will take years of steadfast dedication on your part of calm and steady promotional work to make it a best seller. It took George R.R. Martin twenty years of going to conventions, going unnoticed, being ignored, having few sales before anyone started to take him seriously as a writer.

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Do you know who is rated as the fifth richest dead celebrity? J.R.R. Tolkien. The man who changed the way the world would view fantasy novels. If you’re writing for the money you might have to realize that it could take years or even past your lifetime for you to become noticed, if you become noticed at all.

I’m sorry to sound like a downer on all this, but it is time for a reality check and after that I’ll give you the good news about promotion and writing, if you can handle it.

I’ve heard too many new writers (or even established writers) say that they were done with writing. It just wasn’t worth the time they put into it and it was too depressing. This usually is preceded by a storm of advertising and then silence and then… the pronouncement.

For brand new writers first quarter sales are nearly always disheartening. A few friends or family pick up the book and you’re lucky if you make fifty sales. Most people bottom out around twenty, especially for independent publishing. This is even more depressing because the first quarter is when, if you have a publisher, you will get the most publicity (unless something remarkable happens with your book).

For most people however, this is the pattern:

  1. Yay!!!! SO excited, finished my first book.
  2. I made my first sale!!
  3. Why aren’t more people buying my book?
  4. Buy my book dammit!
  5. Seriously, buy my book. Let me show you the cover art and an excerpt from it again.
  6. I did a book signing. No one showed up. I took a picture with some people I know to make it look less depressing.
  7. Buy my book! Why aren’t you listening to me? Spam, spam, spam…

8. I give up. Writing is stupid. People are stupid. I hate you all.

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Don’t feel this way. If you do feel this way, don’t say it online or even to yourself. Expect to have more failures than successes. At the same time, never give up on the idea that your next attempt might be the one that succeeds. 

I’ve been watching and this is what I see repeated over and over and over again. There is also anger is some cases, people lashing out at other authors that they may perceive as being more successful than them. None of this is going to help you promote your writing.

Lets get some more misconceptions out of the way:

My publisher does my promoting for me.

WRONG. In fact, it’s fairly standard for most publishers to include a hefty amount of work in publicizing as part of your contract. This has dissuaded a lot of writers from going with large publishers who take most of the money earned and leave the author with often only pennies per a sale.

Publishers aren’t all bad. Even though they have expectations of you doing more than just handing them a manuscript and then letting you sit back while the money rolls in, they also have something that you, as a new writer may lack: Presence.

Lets go back to the school metaphor. You walk into a classroom but this time you aren’t alone. Someone that most of the people in the class respect walks in with you. This person is your publisher. They say, ‘Hello everyone, this is John Doe. I know you’re all meeting him for the first time, but he’s actually a really cool guy and here’s why…”

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Public Relations lead to Branding. Advertising and marketing CAN work but they can also irritate people and make them decide to vacate the area. This is why it’s good in any business to have someone who can speak for you. It’s reassuring to know that it’s more than your own opinion of yourself or your product that makes it special. 

That is essentially what your publisher does for you. They introduce you to venues, bookstores, conventions and other places so that you become familiar to everyone in ‘the class’. They try to make you look good, they provide editing, cover art, formatting and I’ll tell you one thing about this: they’re the ones who make the choices about those things, not you. If you sign on with a publisher your baby is theirs to do with as they see fit. You are relying on their experience with the markets and what sells and what doesn’t to make the decisions in editing and appearance. This can be an upsetting and painful experience if you aren’t ready for it.  The rest is up to you. The publisher has opened the door for you but what you do once you’re through that door is up to you.

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Ready for your makeover? If you want to make it big, you’re going to have to make changes in every department. This is part of the ‘branding’ process’. Suck it up, buttercup. 

If you aren’t willing to go the extra mile and to get out with your fellow ‘classmates’ why do you expect people to buy/promote/read/review your work? What makes you above all the rest that you are exempt from the hard work of getting to know your audience and your fellow writers and doing things for them as well as for yourself?

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If you think you’re above all this then go back to the classroom metaphor again. You want to be an author that people read, right? Well, that’s the same thing as wanting to be the popular kid at school. You want to be someone everyone wants to get to know better, everyone wants to be around you and have you come to their parties: guess what, popular kids have to work hard for their popularity and you have to work for your popularity.

If you have what it takes in the charisma department to walk into the room and make your own introductions and have people respond favorably to you then the self-publishing market could work for you. There has been an increase in authors who have already been on the best seller list multiple times and won awards to become their own agent. They know that they already do their own work in the publicity department and they know the right people. They have the popularity to do their own thing and pull it off. If you wear your clothes in a new way do people mock you or imitate you? It takes a lot of leadership and charisma to make you a trendsetter.

Before you answer, think carefully: Is this what I REALLY think of myself or just what I wish I thought of myself?

But there’s more to this and I hope that you give this a good think before you get upset the next time something doesn’t sell as well you you hoped: Is this what you really want?

Now that you understand how being a best-selling author is the same as being popular or famous, is that where you want to go? First of all, there are a lot of sacrifices that will be demanded of you. Your time, your energy and your personal life will all suffer. Even how much time you have to write will suffer!

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Being popular means that people like you for what you do for them. They aren’t really your friends, they’re your fans. They want to bask in your success and get a bit of its smear on them in the hopes that they can be popular too. Being popular is a far different thing from being moral or honest. Ask yourself what’s in it for you? Is it worth the sacrifices? Is it worth the pain? WHY are you writing? WHY do you care about sales?

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I’ve asked a lot of people these last two questions in particular. The answer to the second one is usually: So I can quit my day job. Bad news. Your popularity becomes your new day job. The six months writing, six months publicizing rules comes into effect (which will be discussed in more detail in the next article) and you have constant interruptions. Don’t want to go to a party? Tough luck, it’ll look bad if you don’t go. Don’t want to go to a book signing? Too bad, it’s in your contract. Don’t think that your responsibility as a writer ends with your book, it only does that if you’re writing for the sheer joy of it and even then, there is still a certain responsibility to others who read your book that is polite to maintain.

The answer to the first question: Why do you write is usually answered by varying degrees of honesty. I know that I write out of a compulsion. I have to write. I write whether I send my work to a publisher or whether I leave it in a drawer to rot. I write because it’s a huge part of how I express myself. I’ve learned that even though I am verbally loquacious I am even more expressive in my writing. I’ve had so many people who are close to me react with surprise at the things that I write because, often to my surprise, I haven’t actually physically told them those things. My heart is wide open on the page whether it’s a love letter or a novel. It’s also an exploration of different ways of being, different types of people, an exercise in empathy.

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Since I write it all anyway, I might as well do something with it. People tend to enjoy my writing and I enjoy writing it. I don’t need to win a popularity prize to know my self worth, I know enough about myself to know that I’m rocking it and having a good time. That’s more important to me than ‘popularity’.

Another daunting issue is classroom size. A hundred years ago, two hundred years ago… there were fewer writers. Now EVERYONE wants to be a writer. I’ve met very few people who hear I’m a writer and DON’T respond with, ‘I’ve always wanted to write a novel…’. The competition has become fierce and if you are perceived as being competitive it’s likely that you’ll make people want to remove themselves from you. It’s something of an irony with fewer people reading that there are more people writing.

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I’m not sure I believe those statistics, I think that there are more people in the world and that there are more people in countries where attending school is mandatory. There are more people with an education so by extension there are more readers and writers. Be both. Don’t expect to dictate your worlds without taking in the worlds of other people. Be generous in your reading. Even if you don’t do it for popularity, do it because you will learn more about writing through reading a huge range of works than you ever will from sitting down in solitary meditation.

I’m done shaking my finger at you and reminding you that being popular might not be all you dream. Chances are you are looking for success at any cost and nothing I’ve said about that cost has changed your perspective. That’s okay, popularity is a valid life choice. The next question is: How do you get popular in a competitive environment where everyone is shooting for the same goal as you?

Read Writing and Promoting: Doing it the RIGHT Way for my thoughts and observations on what successful writers do to overcome these hurdles.

-VCS

Being Derivative and Writing

When I wrote my first kid’s movie I was told: write it like a it’s a Harry Potter knock off. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to make something the same as what had already been done and ride off of someone else’s popularity. I didn’t write it like a Harry Potter knock off. Instead I wrote a kids movie about Nordic magic based off of a short story I had already worked on.

The script was handed over to Hollywood Producers who promptly sent me around 300 pages of notes on what to change; most of them were ways to make it more like a sexy (but still geared for children) Harry Potter movie. I wasn’t happy with the changes and backed away from the film industry but not away from writing.

This is a clear cut case of something that is derivative in design. The thing that I found sad about the order to make a clone was that the Executive Producer had wanted to make a kids movie since long before Harry Potter came out and he had idea of his own that he also stipulated be put in place in the script (I didn’t mind writing those in since it was a made to order piece of writing). Instead of pursuing his own vision or allowing me to pursue mine the result was a series of mangled half measures.

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Is it parody or is it fan fiction? Know what you’re doing and you can be as creative as you want… but make sure you know what your own punchline is. 

This had been a conscious choice on behalf of the Producers and it was there to service the bottom line. I get it, making a movie is expensive and certain things have to be taken into account, but I believe that ideas must be strong enough to stand on their own in order to truly be successful. Consciously deciding to model a work and be the next, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, or the next,’Harry Potter’, or the next ‘Hunger Games’, isn’t going to get you very far. It might result in making a few bucks as you ride on the coattails of those that go before you, but is that really the only reason you want to be a writer? Really?

If it is, and I happen to pick up your book, chances are that I’ll probably toss it to the side and never pick it up again. Derivative is boring. Making a conscious, mercenary decision to be derivative is boring and sad.

A more insidious form of being derivative comes in the form of subconscious plagiarism. This is a sneaky one and I’ve learned from reading through slush piles that even if I’m not familiar with a movie/book or most often of all a video game that a plot and characters are hacked from, that these sorts of insertions follow a pattern. I like to believe the best of people and I’m not sure if I’m right or not, but I think that these really are accidental inclusions instead of actual plagiarism. Certainly the writers when asked about it seem shocked and dismayed. The more cynical part of myself wonders how much of that is an act and how much they damn well knew that they didn’t have an original idea and hoped that no one would notice the similarities.

I am generally of the belief that they are subconscious transgressions. Sometimes people even come up with an idea that they haven’t been exposed to before that exists already because there are limited permutations to the human experience and they are bound to overlap.

This is where the matter of being derivative becomes a dicey one. The first two examples, deliberately being derivative and subconsciously or consciously stealing another person’s world/ideas/characters are clearly wrong. I put subconscious theft into the wrong category because I believe that people should be aware enough of what they are doing to realize where their inspirations and influences come from. I also believe that we should respect the boundaries of those inspirations. It’s okay to be inspired, it’s not okay to steal.

But where is the line between inspiration and theft?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. An overheard conversation in a coffee shop can become the basis for an entire novel. Is this theft? No, because the author has taken something out of context and made it their own. A character in a movie can inspire someone to base their own life after virtues or even vices that they admire in that character. In the same way, an author can create a new character that contains elements of what they admire in another’s creation.

The common factor here is that they are making it their own. An example of how not to do this: I was reading a story. It was an interesting premise, I liked it. The style was awkward, the characters were stilted and the whole thing felt surreal and incomplete.

Awkward and stilted didn’t raise any red flags for me but surreal and incomplete did. I put in a few key terms from the story into Google and voila! I got the complete plot outline for the video game ‘Halo’. I also knew that this particular author was an avid video game player and she had mentioned playing Halo to me on several occasions. I myself have never played it. I didn’t know the plot, the premise or the characters but I did know the smell of someone writing in an incomplete world that was not their own.

The story was rejected, of course. I didn’t give the author detailed reasons for why their story was rejected, they got a standard form letter: Thank you very much, blah, blah, blah… Because I didn’t know if they knew how derivative their story was. This person had played Halo for untold hours, had it become so much a part of their internal landscape that they thought it was something of their own design? Is it part of my job to send snarky letters to writers telling them how their idea has already been done?

No. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that is my job for anyone but myself. I have to be aware of my own influences and how closely they border on other people’s creations. That isn’t my own editor’s job to tell me because we are supposed to be adults. Professionals who can see these boundaries for themselves.

Another example of this sort of derivative writing comes from people who watch or read historical fiction and confuse it for reality. A good example of this comes from the sequel to the movie ‘300’. I recently received a query from someone who wanted to write about the life of Artemisia 1 of Caria. The disturbing thing about their query was that their idea of her life was based off of the movie version of her rather than of the actual history of the real life historical figure. History had already drifted with the movie, which often happens. History is a subjective thing to begin with and it’s okay to take a bit of creative license. I find it an affront however, when an author doesn’t do their own research and relies on the research of secondary sources that have already taken liberties. At this point it goes from creative license to deriving a false reality.

If an altered fictional character inspires you I strongly suggest that you create a new character and don’t make aspirations to the idea that what you are doing is historical fiction. People who write historical fiction look at primary sources, they do a great deal of research before they start mucking about in history. Don’t steal that.

Someone or perhaps someones, said that at some point, everything is derivative. It’s true, there are parallels to be found in nearly any ‘original’ idea to other stories or events. The job an author of fiction has is of making those ideas their own. Endless, fading carbon copies, each more smudged and hard to read than the last does not make for good reading.

This is a way to track how derivative you are: sit down and make a list of all the media that you enjoy. Video games, movies, cartoons, songs, books- everything. Write down what inspired you as a child. Write down what frightened you as a child. Write down the same for you now.

Now comes the hard part. Identify what aspects of your inspirations are what truly inspired you. Now look at your own work, how close are the two? What are the essential difference between your creation and your sources of inspiration?

If you can’t find more differences than similarities then you have a derivative piece of writing and you might as well throw it out. Or hide it and rewrite it from scratch. Only save the original to compare how your rewrite changed from your derivative writing. Is it enough?

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Or don’t ask yourself these questions. Just know, you will be mocked. 

Ask yourself the hard questions about why you took it in the first place. What do you covet about the work you have taken? To my experience it is often because people are too big of fans of what they are writing about. It goes back to that inner landscape and how you ‘grew’ it from the time you were a little child until the time you sat down to write your first pages. This grows deeply psychological. Most people who write from an plagiarized inner landscape feel that those people and worlds are more real than anything else they could come up with. Sometimes they find them more real than the places and people in their real life.

Deep psychoanalysis of your own writing shows you where the gaps are in your logic. It shows you what you don’t want to face and what you obsess with. If you don’t take off the blinders and face your world anyone who reads your writing is going to notice it for you. They are going to point out failures in logic, similarities to other worlds/characters. Sometimes readers can be cruel and find connections to characters or worlds that you might not have even been exposed to. Sometimes it’s okay to have these similarities.

The important thing to take away from it is your own awareness of where your work is derivative and become conscious of when you choose to combine elements of your sources of inspiration. It’s a wonderful thing to be inspired and a dastardly thing to plagiarize and a very thin line that rides between the two.

On Writing

I never set out in life thinking: I’m going tobe a writer. Like much of my life happenstance, fortune and the fates carried me along like a branch in a stream and like the vast majority of my life I was happy to be along for the ride.

‘Becoming’ a writer sounds like a transition occurred at some point, but it didn’t seem that way to me. I jumped on board projects that happenstance threw in my pate and fortune and the fates dictated the rest. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a ‘famous’ writer and I don’t mind that. I have a lot more fun on the projects that I do without intent than the projects that I write and are turned into movies and such.

This is supposed to be a blog about being a writer and I realized that I rarely ever write about the ins and outs of being a writer. Part of that is because it’s a natural part of myself. It’s like talking about my eye color, it’s so much a part of me that blogging about it feels almost unnatural. When I sit back and think about where I started before my ‘becoming’ a writer and where I am now I can see the vast wealth of knowledge and wisdom I have gained from my journey.

I’ve learned that there is more to learn from other writers than there is from myself. Even though writing is, as many wise people have said, ‘the cheapest therapy you can get’, it’s interacting with other writers that has taught me some of the hardest but also some of the sweetest lessons.

Anyone who is writing or creating art of any sort is baring a part of their soul. Even if you set out to write a piece of drivel according to a formula guaranteed to become a best seller, how someone goes about doing so reveals more than hours on a therapist’s chair may reveal. There are a lot of writers out there and I’d like to say that some of them are absolute crap but the truth is that that’s just my opinion. I’ve learned that my opinion of another’s writing is entirely subjective. I’ve learned to accept this and to not judge a writer because I don’t like their writing.

have fun keep calm

This is a difficult lesson and I tell anyone that I do beta reading for to always remember that this is only my opinion. If I am content editing and I have a disagreement with someone but I’m editing for StarkLight Press, I will stick to my guns about what has to stay and what has to go… I will also remind the writer that there are lots of other presses and other option out there and that just because my feeling that their work in its current composition isn’t right for StarkLight, doesn’t mean that someone else might not think it is perfection just the way it is.

I’ve learned that it’s easy to lose friends because of giving an honest opinion after being asked to give an honest opinion. I’ve learned that I’m okay with losing those friends. I can accept this a lot better than I can accept being dishonest with someone about my opinions. I’ve also learned that no matter how often you remind some people that these are just my opinions, the cuts are too deep and a friend can become an enemy even though they’ve requested honesty.

From this I’ve learned that people are far more complicated than I ever suspected. I’ve never been the sort of friend who was okay with telling someone that they looked amazing when they (to me) really don’t. I try to be tactful and constructive but some people have egos like snowflakes and a breath of warm air can melt them. It can destroy everything they clung to that made them feel special. The hurt it causes the person is real and terrible.

I’ve learned despite this, I STILL must give an honest opinion when I’m asked for one. Even if it’s from a dear friend, my husband, anyone, I would rather them think bad of me than for me to hate myself. This was something huge to learn. I like to make people feel good about themselves. I like to pick the best parts of someone’s writing and praise it. If I’m asked to put on my editor’s hat and give a breakdown of a story though; that’s exactly what they are going to get.

The sad thing through learning all this is that I still believe that people and their writing, are each delicate and beautiful snowflakes. I don’t want to squish people and I think that it is unlikely that even what I might consider to be awful someone else might find inspiring. I’ve learned that there isn’t any point in trying to twist myself out of shape to find the beauty in every piece I read, not all writing is going to appeal to everyone and I’m part of everyone.

you write beautifully

There is no condemnation in writing. Well, actually, there is a lot of condemnation in writing, but there shouldn’t be. It’s open ended. I’ve read some things that have truly disturbed me, things that I find to be more along the lines of a snuff film than anything I’d like to read. Things so incoherent that the main character’s name has changed three times in the first three paragraphs and their state of minds of changed so rapidly and with no given provocation that I’m left laughing out loud and scratching my head in bemusement.

But, and this is a big but, I don’t feel a need to condemn that writing. I understand that to the writer if no one else it is a thing of value. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, or read it. And it certainly doesn’t mean that if placed in an editorial position I’m not going to point out the enormous irregularities and general spazziness.

books old

Some writers seem stuck in loops. They write about the same trauma again and again. They twist every character into the same poor, bereaved person that their soul is grieving over, usually themselves. Other writers try to mimic styles and clearly are using some sort of Gothic thesaurus. That’s okay. Writing is like sex. It’s intuitive, some people might be too rough, other people might be too bland. Some people are universally acclaimed as sex symbols and others may be waiting for ‘the one’ to recognize and match their style.

I didn’t understand the quagmire of politics that go on in writing when I got into it. Politics in many fields are something that escape me because I’m just me. I’m not trying to do anything with my writing, or with learning pottery, or with taking courses. The only thing I’m doing is being that twig on the stream. I bob along, sometimes I get caught on snags, sometimes I get submerged and other times I float merrily n the sunshine.

I’m also a little twig that doesn’t realize many things and enters each new current with the same wide-eyed innocence and faith as the first time I got into the water. I’ve learned a lot; one thing I haven’t learned is how to not be me.

have fun

I derive joy that my writing has touched so many people. Each piece of fan mail I get is a treasure. Every person who reads something I wrote and derives solace for their life makes the rest of the weird that comes with the mercurial world of writing worthwhile. Writing, reading or both, I hope people find their own lives enhanced by their pursuits like I have. I hope that they don’t bear the sting of the rejections too deeply. I hope that they are all that they hope for themselves and all the bits between.

I’ve learned a lot of other lessons from writing and the world of writing, a world non-writers are likely completely unaware of. For now, I’ve said enough. In fact, if this blog is like nearly every other piece of writing, I’ve probably said far too much.

Valentine’s Day Triple Feature

This Valentine’s Day has been spread over two days for me and my husband this year. Part of this is because in British Columbia we now have ‘Family Day’ which fell on February 13 this year. Because of this a lot of our day on the 14th is the ‘back to the real world’ part of any long weekend.

This hasn’t stopped it from being an extremely special time. Last year we released the ‘Hearts Asunder’ anthology and this year we released the second anthology of the same title. It’s starting to feel like things are moving at a rolling, steady pace with the holidays adding a conducive momentum to these types of themed anthologies. Heart’s Asunder 1 was popular and I think the second of the same name will be at least as enthusiastically received.

I’d like to share a more intimate (but still PG rated) part of my Valentine’s Day this year. As with most anything in my life, it comes with a backstory; so get cozy!

When I was a little girl I was in many ways treated like a princess. This extended to my Dad making me a little girl’s dream canopy bed. I had always wanted a canopy bed and both of my parents pitched in to make it my fantasy come true. Pink, with rosebuds on the curtains and canopy and crushed velvet accents, my mother made a matching blanket out of the same material with my childhood velour blanky as the lining.

pink-canopy-bed

This bed isn’t nearly as nice as mine was, but you get the general idea: A little bed for a little princess. 

Like all in most fairy tales, the princess’ life became more complicated through no fault of her own. Evil forces conspired to burn her house down and the magical bed went with it.

I’m really serious about that last paragraph. I’ve frequently joked about living in a Lemony Snicket book and I’m half convinced he got some of his ideas from my childhood (not really, but sort of really). The bed was lost in the fire and I never had one like it ever again.

Even all in pink my older brother was jealous of that bed. I think it was more about the time and energy both of our parents put into it but whatever the case, it was something special. it’s rare that something has so much love put into it. In my tempestuous life, it was an anchor point for me to hold onto. My dad was a man of grand gestures that made up for his many other shortfalls. In this case, that bed of mine made up for a lot of failing and probably bought him years of forgiveness that kept me bonded to him.

It wasn’t because the bed was perfect. It was, after all, handmade. As a child as now, I have always been far more impacted by the love put into a present than in the most expensive of gifts. My dad could have gone out and bought me a bed like other little girls had, but instead, I got something special. That was something no one else would ever have or could ever have. The bed lived on in my mind long after the flames took it.

Here we come back to the fairy tale princess:

The princess grew up and after many trials and tribulations she found her prince. They got married and she became his Queen and he was her King. They loved each other very much even though the words, ‘and they lived happily ever after’ never scrolled onto the screen. Instead they had many adventures and came to love each other more and more despite all odds.

Here I am, a Queen now in my own way but a Queen with a story that lacks closure on many areas. That’s just bad storytelling: Let’s hear more.

virginia-red-roses

This year I was telling my husband about my little girl bed and discussing the loss of it. There’s a whole lot more to the stories here, a wicked witch of a stepmother, a father turned villain, a mother under a horrible spell…

But that’s not for today. Today is about a happy ending to an aspect of my fairy tale princess story. After hearing about my loss my husband decided that it was only fitting that I get a grown up version of what had been stolen from me. This brings us back to Valentine’s Day.

True to the original bed, my husband decided to draft plans for a new, improved version of the bed and today I was presented with what will soon be a bed fit for a Queen. I’m not a princess anymore and I don’t need my little girl bed returned to me, there wouldn’t be room for two in it for starters!

I found a picture that is close to what the finished product will look like (there will probably be fewer throw pillows though): hp photosmart 720

Pretty nice, huh?

The dominant colors will be red with gold and dark wood accents and the headboard won’t look like the one pictured, but it gives you a pretty good idea: valance, curtains, fancy bit at the top and my husband will be carving the posts with things that are significant to us in our relationship rather than the simple doweling for the corners.

How did this make me feel?

First off: happy that it isn’t completed yet. I think having it all at once would have been a bit shocking to my system. It’s nice to have a bit of time to adapt and I’m also happy to have gotten to have input into the final touches of design.

Second of all, a lot like crying. We all lose things in life. Usually it’s a gradual moving on, in my case however, it was a violent and dramatic wrenching away of all my childish things in one hideous blaze. All I had left after the fire was my dog who was thankfully with me at the time. Even my fish and my turtle got fried.

A fire like that, the loss of my entire life isn’t something that is easily forgotten. The beautiful bed and all of the things I loved were taken from me. That was something that I dealt with and moved on until I discovered the villainy behind the fire and that it was not an accident. The bed had been taken from me by the same man who had so lovingly built it for me.

This is more than a piece of my childhood restored, this is a marriage bed. This is a bed fit for a Queen. This is a celebration of the fact that I am married to someone who cares about me enough to give and to not take away.

valentines-day

There were some more little exchanges. There was a lot of snuggling, there was good food and chocolates and the night was rounded out with a movie.

I got tools for me to work on my pottery and a handmade container especially designed for them. My husband got a few special things too 😉

I don’t think there is a Valentine’s Day that could equal what my husband did for me this year because it wasn’t just a time for loving, it was also the return of potential that had been stolen from me. It was a return of a certain trust that my father lost and my husband gained.
It was in fact, the best Valentine’s Day that the little princess who lost her magic bed could have ever imagined. Maybe I’ve got a fairy godmother or two looking out for me as well as some guardian angels. Man, I keep all those guys busy!

guardian-angel

 

A Guide to the Brave New World of Writing and Publishing

For better or worse, writing and publishing are not what they were even a decade ago. It’s a world full of dynamic changes and littered with frauds, scams and idiots. I’ve had ample opportunity to watch the world of writing change and I’d like to share what I’ve observed and learned. There is a lot of misinformation out there but I can tell you from lessons learned what I know about this Brave New World.

  1. Alarmist Rumors:

    false alarm

    This is a huge thing happening to writers, the constant alarm bells of Henny Penny’s saying the sky is falling. In writing I’ve seen this manifested is several ways. The most common one is to say that people simply aren’t reading as much. This is sort of true. There are more distractions and less time to devote to reading with busy lifestyles detracting from our time lost between the pages of other worlds. This is true, but not to the degree that some people would have you believe. Not everyone has fried their brain on television. There are a lot of people (like me) who have television shows that they watch and then… I’m done. TV has a finite draw for people, especially people of high intellect. These are the same sorts of people who have always been readers and they will always be readers. The other rumor: E-books will take over from paperbacks and profits will plunge. It’s just not true. People tend to buy e-books at a bargain for books that they aren’t sure of and if they like it they buy the hard copy. There are numerous studies to show that the tactile sensations of holding a book in our hands and turning pages with our fingers (not swiping, actually turning the page) has a different effect on our brain than reading something on an electronic device. Combined with the fact that no amount of ‘glare free’ technology is ever going to make looking a continuously glowing screen as easy on our eyes as a paper book. They were a bit of a fad: convenient, easy, cheap… and to nearly every reader out there just not as good. Paper book sales are on the rise. The third alarmist rumor: The Economy is Bad. True enough in many locations. Another truth is that even during The Great Depression the one thing that went up in sales was entertainment. People want to get lost in other worlds and stories when things are hard here. Books are one of the things that fulfill that need for diversion. Books aren’t dead, not by a long shot.

    brave girl
    Be optimistic and know your reasons for writing! Every day is a new journey in the adventure of writing and alarmists are justifying for a lot.

  2. The Big Publishers are the way to go?  and/or You Need an Agent.
    Hmmmm, this is an interesting statement. There is a lot of contention about this point. Some of the things that people don’t realize is that big publishing houses just aren’t what they used to be. They have a massive distribution network, swish ad campaigns, big contracts… they’ve got a lotof things. Here is what you might not know: big publishing houses rarely if ever give big bucks before you prove your salt. It used to be that if you signed on with a publishing house you would get a big advance, tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is extremely rare now. I would venture to say unheard of, at least for authors just entering the stage. Build up a name for yourself and maybe this will change but realize that as a newby, especially if you don’t have a resume publishing elsewhere, there is going to be a lot of pressure on you to make sales. You will be the publisher’s lowest priority and if you don’t get out there, do book signings, do interviews, be super charming then you probably won’t get any more exposure than you would at a small publishing house. In fact, you may get even less. It gets worse. Your first contract is likely based solely off of loyalties or a small advance that is subtracted from your royalties. You are being tested by your publisher, if you don’t prove that you are a charming go-getter as well as a good author and your book doesn’t sell then you WILL be dropped. There won’t be a second book, not from that publisher and not from any other major publisher. Do you know why? All the publishers WILL check your records out. They WILL call your previous publisher and ask why they didn’t sign you on for a second book or to renew your contract. In short, publisher do talk to each other and they do blackball people. Boom. You just blew your shot. One more thing about big publishers that you can’t forget: If you don’t sign their contract their way they won’t be likely to compromise with you. This is bad because publishing houses want to make money and they want to own you just in case someone else finds a way to make money off of you that they didn’t think of. They will own the rights to your story. In many cases you may even lose the rights to your character and your world. Think very, very carefully before you break out the champagne if you are offered a ‘big’ contract’.

    This includes the idea of agents. Remember any time you sign on with an agent they get a cut of what could be a very meager pie. Remember again: this person is supposed to be selling your product, are you certain that they can be at least as passionate about your book as you are? For every place that only accepts agent queries there are ten that prefer no agent. Remember: This is a Brave New World and things aren’t what they once were.
    brave cat
    Sometimes it’s best to be your own advocate. Maybe you travel best on your own or at least with the reigns of your work in your own hands. When you hire an agent or go with a large press you lose all your independence and your right to be an advocate for yourself in many cases. Some cats hunt better alone.

  3. All small presses are not created equal.
    books type setter
    There are a lot of ways that a small press can scam you as well. The cardinal rule is that if a press asks you for money to pay for artwork, layout, editing, ANYTHING they are likely a scam. It’s a presses job to figure out all of those things, that’s what they are there for, that and to distribute work. A good small press campaigns for their writers and celebrates every success that writers who work with them achieve. Your press shouldn’t expect you to write exclusively for them and you should expect to promote any press you work with. You are in a partnership when you get involved with a small press. A good small press works hard for their authors. I know this because my husband runs one.

    The general rule is that a press spends at least half of their time promoting their product and you should be helping out with that. I will tell you that a good small press watches you. They judge you on a smaller scale as to how a large press judges you: are you enthusiastic? Do you promote the press? Do you share posts? Do you give interviews and when you do, do you mention the press or presses that you have work published with? Do you have an author page? A Facebook Page? Have you done anything to get a following on your own (big presses look at this too, by the way). If you undermine the press you’ve signed on for or if you don’t get involved I can guarantee that there are other authors who will. Quietly, the press will stop offering to involve you in new projects and word will get around about you. Small presses don’t make a lot of money for the most part. They SHOULD get more sales than an independent published writer but don’t expect to get rich off their sales.

    Writing is an expensive hobby if you’re doing it right. Publishing is even more expensive. Publishers travel, they do all sorts of things. Google them. Do they come up? Google some of the authors who have their names on their website. Do the author’s names comes up? Does their connection to the press come up? How does the press talk about their authors? Do their authors have resumes? How do the authors talk about the press? Does the press have a distribution network? If you are selling a novel rather than a short story this equation becomes more important, especially if the press wants to own the rights to your story. First of all: Set limits on this. How long will the press own your novel for? What happens if they decide they want to drop you? What happens if you aren’t happy? This is generally called a ‘kill clause’ and generally it is the press that decides it doesn’t want to work with the author anymore. This can be for a range of reasons, including a lack of meeting your contractual obligations. Many contracts state you must do a certain number of things for your book and the nature of these obligations. If you sit around doing nothing they may choose to dump you and they have a right to because you agreed that you would work to promote yourself. If the press doesn’t promote you then you could have a problem as well. You might want to ask that a clause of contractual obligations of what the press will do for you is included if it isn’t already.

    The most important thing about a small press is: do you like working with them? If you do, go for it. If you don’t then go somewhere else. Don’t try to enforce your will on a press, if it isn’t for you then try another one. There are a ton of small presses out there and you need to find a fit that’s right for you. I can tell you that presses look for writers that suit their personalities and the ‘feel’ of the press. That’s the beauty of the small press, there is a huge range of diversity and there’s no need to try to fit where you don’t belong or feel happy.

  4. Independent Publishing:

    printing press books
    Are you charismatic? Are you outgoing? Willing to travel? Do you love to talk with people? Are you a competent and compelling public speaker? Do people respond to you in a positive way? Are you a human magnet that people want to be with? Are you good with computers? Are you good at editing? Do you have a network of other writers who can beta read and/or trade edits with you? If so, then you might want to consider going it on your own. Ideally, if you go with a press the press handles the extroverted side of things which is a good match for most writers who are introverts. I’m one of the rare and exotic extrovert writers which is part of why I handle so much of the marketing for my husband’s press. I could be independent if I wanted to be but I LOVE working with other people. I like promoting other people as well as myself and I like getting into collaborations with other people. Many writers don’t have this sort of disposition and if you are an introvert the truth is that you could use some backing. Doing readings and signings are physically a lot of work but that’s nothing compared to the mental and emotional component. You’ve got to be able to deal with rejection, questions and handle things on the fly. You have to know that half your time is going to be spent selling and the other half writing before you will have anything other than frustration and disappointment. I know a lot of big name authors who have signed on with the huge publishers and realized that they can do all their publishers do for them and a lot more on their own. They’re just waiting for their contracts to expire so they can have their story and characters back and be free. That’s something to think about. Be aware that all of this also costs money. Traveling, conventions, retreats, socializing are all time consuming and cost a lot of cash that it could take you years before you start to gather a following.
    books heart
    If you’re not doing it for the love of doing it, be prepared for heartbreak. Writing is one of the hardest things you’ll do and publishing is even harder so you’d better be in love or what’s the point?

  5. And now you wait. If you haven’t been working on your social networking, getting involved in the community and doing things for others, then now is the time to start. People will help you out but if you don’t return the favor they will notice it and you’ll get a big fat silence the next time you ask them for a favor. If you’re lucky the person will tell you that you need to repay them a favor before they do the next thing for you. If you’re smart you’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re right. I was being a selfish dick, let me help you the way you helped me.’. Some people have been burned by other writers who don’t repay favors and then it’s up to you to make the first step. Go out, read their book, give them a review. Like/comment/share their posts. Like/follow/share their blogs. If they don’t do the same after a bit of time then they are selfish and are breaking the cardinal rules of being part of a creative community. Walk away or send them an email saying: Hey, why aren’t you doing for me like I’m doing for you. They could have forgotten, it could be an accident, or they could be threatened by other writers and think that if they share that there will be less for them somehow. It will take time for you to get a following and that’s assuming that what you’ve written is good. Get feedback. Talk other writers and get their feedback. Be prepared to wait and wait and wait.

    books old

  6. While you’re waiting ask yourself why you’re doing this? Really. Are you upset that sales aren’t better? Why? Did you think you’d write a story and make a million dollars and never have to work again? If you just want to write you’ll be ok with waiting. I love getting feedback and I love sharing it with other writers as well. Most of all, I love to write. It’s not going to go away because it is part of me and every time I look at my shelf of published works my heart soars.
    virginia writing shelf
    Looking at this shelf makes me happy, I have more books on the way and soon I’ll need another shelf! These are the reason and they all have stories behind making the stories. Each one is at least one world and I’m in them all. These are little bits of me!

    Holding my book in my hand is enough for me. The finished product of my labors. The joy and hard work that went into that glossy cover. It’s mine. If other people love it it multiplies my pleasure but knowing that I did something is what really turns me on. I started it. I finished it. I have it in my hand. Sales are a beautiful bonus. Accolades like awards and nominations are icing on the cake. Having someone say: ‘Your words spoke to me. How did you know that this was me?’ is a pleasure I can’t even express. Knowing you touched someone in their heart, in their love, their sorrow, their self doubt, the fact that they are human… that’s the ultimate product and if you’ve had someone say that to you then that should be worth more to you than all the royalty sales in the world. Do you know why? It’s because what you wrote, the worlds you created, your words have changed the world.
    earth books