[Guest Post] Double Challenge

Cliff Garstka, Sr.This year I decided to try my hand in the Script Frenzy “script writing competition”. Granted, all you need to do is to write 100 pages to win, so everyone can potentially win. Now, I have won writing competitions in the past that actually required “content” to win, so this is a no brainer, right? Well, my wife and friends often tell me I have no brains, so this should be a perfect fit.

Although I can write at the drop of a hat, I absolutely HATED all my English classes in school. On top of that, I can’t spell worth a lick. Thank God for Spell Check and an understanding wife who is a wiz at spelling!

Those who know me know I don’t take the easy road in any adventure. And I am not taking one in this year’s Script Frenzy. What adventure am I throwing myself into? Glad you asked.

I was watching the news a couple of weeks ago, something I rarely do now-a-days, when something caught my eye. Immediately a story began festering in my mind, a what if story. The story took on a life of its own. I couldn’t rid my mind of the possibilities for the story. I contacted an author friend of mine and bounced the idea off of him. HE LOVED IT!

Great. I now had a concept for my story, and I figured, why not write this script for the contest?  I started an outline for the story, and forwarded it to my friend. Again, he loved the concept. He pointed out a few potential holes that needed filling, but encouraged me nonetheless. As the plot thickened, something strange happened. I would refine my outline, and define the “Plot Points”, and then I would hear that the twist I was planning actually happened in real life! Not once, but almost daily.

My friend would send me something that he heard and/or read about, and was as amazed as I was. Because of the timeliness, he encouraged me to not only write my script, but to also write a novel. At first I said “no way,” I can’t write a novel, especially when I am preparing to write a 100-plus page script. But as the outline grew, and my note cards multiplied, I realized there is a novel contained in my story.

My story is called “ANATEDAE PLUMP.” It’s an Action/Thriller, set in the present-day Middle East. Just so you know, although I will be writing both simultaneously, I am focusing on my script first and foremost. I will get as much of the novel written in April as I can, but I will complete 100 plus pages of the script. You can keep up with how I am doing by following me either on Script Frenzy or my web site, www.FrugalProductions.info.

Now to matters at hand. I also submitted a spec script to another author to adapt his novel to a script, and offered to adapt another story for another friend of mine. I told you I liked a challenge. As I usually sign off on my writings, keep your ink wet, and your sleeves dry. Till next time, happy reading.

Cliff Garstka, Sr. is an imdb.com accredited actor, writer, director and producer. He recently created Frugal Productions to make his films the way he wants them made – and Frugal Productions is open to assist other independent filmmakers. Their first film, “FROM THE EARTH,” was accepted into the 2011 Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. You can check them out online at www.FrugalProductions.info or email Cliff at Cliff@FrugalProductions.info.

Happy Birthday – The Rules of the Game

It’s been almost two years since the release date of my writing/publishing experiment, The TECH Project.  Publishing the book was something like an education: apart from writing the darn thing, I decided to learn about publishing by learning to operate a publishing company.

To do so, I did research on the publishing industry.  I also learned to use industry-standard programs, including Adobe InDesign and Adobe Photoshop.  (It was only later that I learned InDesign was much, much more important.)  In the year preceding and the two years since the publication date, I have learned so much about the industry that I know it’s where I want to be after I graduate in May.

With that said and done, I’ll get to the point.

Jan. 28 will mark the second anniversary of The TECH Project’s publication date, which I like to refer to as TTP’s birthday.  Last year, I gave away one copy to a fan of The TECH Project on Facebook.  This year, I’m giving away two copies – one on Twitter, one on Facebook – and below you’ll find the rules.

TWITTER RULES

  1. Start by following me on Twitter.  You can do that in the sidebar on the right or by finding me @FelizaCasano.  If you already follow me, you can skip this step.
  2. Tweet me what superpower you want and the hashtag #TheTECHProject.
  3. You can also tweet me the message “Happy Birthday #TheTECHProject” on Jan. 28 for an extra entry!

FACEBOOK RULES

  1. Start by liking both my personal page and The TECH Project’s page on Facebook.  Make sure you like both!
  2. Post on my personal page about your writing experience.  What books or authors inspire you?  What in your daily life inspires you?  Do you write short stories, poetry, novels, or something else?
  3. For an extra entry, post “Happy Birthday!” on The TECH Project’s page on Jan. 28.

It’s a pretty simple contest!  Just do what you normally do on Facebook and Twitter, and you could win a hard copy of the book.  I’ll announce the winners by Jan. 31, and I’ll notify winners by Direct Message on Twitter and Message on Facebook.

The TECH Project is a young adult novel following Zoe Lee and five other teen superheroes.  To find out more, check out this page.

[Guest Post] Frankenstein and the Private Eye

My eleventh grade English class read Frankenstein, and it started a debate with my teacher.  There is a scene in the book where the monster meets a blind girl.  The girl, not able to see the monster’s deformities, befriends him, and for the first time, someone treats him with compassion.  My teacher told us that this was Mary Shelly’s commentary on mankind’s tendency to judge based on appearance.  I questioned her.

Wasn’t it possible, I wondered, that Mary Shelly simply wanted to create believable characters that the reader could care about?  Didn’t showing a range of emotion in the monster make him more relatable and help draw the reader into the story?  Aren’t the best stories really about characters and how they deal with their situation?

I probably didn’t put it quite in those words, but that was the gist of my argument.  The teacher agreed to open the floor for discussion (which made me feel pretty good for a short, introverted geek with oversized glasses and a mullet).

I’ve been thinking about that discussion recently because I finished a book where I felt the author could’ve benefited from what had been said.  In this book, a female investigator is coerced into helping a drug lord determine who killed his beloved wife.  Our heroine’s policeman boyfriend follows her to South America, is shot and then nursed back to health in the drug lord’s compound.  While her boyfriend is near death in the next room, the investigator considers accepting the drug lord’s sexual advances (he’s just sooo powerful, and that’s hot!).

And… I lost interest.  I no longer cared what happened to the characters.  They’d stopped being real.  Would this investigator really develop those feelings?  Not the way she’d been previously portrayed.  How much did the drug lord really care about his dead wife?  Very little, apparently, so why was he going through all this trouble?

Love triangles and plot twists are fine, and I would’ve had no issue with these characters’ thoughts and actions if they’d somehow been established as people who would entertain such thoughts and perform such actions.  But the opposite was the case, and as a reader, I simply stopped caring.

If a character’s actions exist only to propel the plot, then you’ve done a disservice to the character and your readers.  While writing Good Deeds, I realized that one of my characters had acted against the personality I’d given him.  He’d left someone behind in the midst of horrific creatures only because I felt it made for better suspense and conflict.

But it didn’t ring true, and I knew it, so I scrapped about 30 pages and changed the action to match the character.  That change took the story in a different direction than I’d planned.  The result, I think, is a better story and actually has more suspense than the original writing.

Not only should actions follow a character’s mold, but descriptions and internal monologues should also ring true.  For example, let’s say you’re writing a scene where your protagonist (we’ll call him Jim) is wandering through a crumbling urban landscape, a once thriving city that has seen better days.  If Jim is an architect, you might describe the chipped stonework and compare early 1900’s warm craftsmanship to the 2000’s cold steel and glass.  Or, if Jim is a hypochondriac with OCD, he’ll only notice the filth in the wet gutters and the mixing scents of asphalt grease and rotting garbage in the alleyways.

And if Jim is a gang leader… well, you get the idea.  Either way, you’ve described a city in despair, but you’ve also made your character more real and relatable for the reader.  The reader will become emotionally invested in Jim, care more about what happens to Jim, and find Jim’s story more engaging.

So, please, take a lesson from Mary Shelly.  Create a confused monster instead of an apathetic private eye.  Jim—and your readers—will  thank you for it.

D. Miles Martin is a former English teacher and author of the dark novel Good Deeds (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords) and the novella The Evolution of Mortality (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords).  Hell Bent, the first in a new series of horror-mysteries, is scheduled for release in the spring of 2012.  You can find D. Miles Martin on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

[Guest Post] Hit Fast Forward

It’s now December 1st and you’ve got a spanking new 50,000 word novel (or at least a substantial part of a novel).  What are you doing to do?

If the novel’s not complete, finish it.  You’ve got momentum coming out of NaNo, really good writing habits, and the ideas are still sunshiny fresh.  Besides, your friends haven’t seen you for a whole month.  They won’t miss you if you’re absent for several more days.

Then when the novel’s done, toss it into the bottom of your literal or figurative drawer and ignore it for at least a month.  Call your parents, remind your friends you’re still alive, apologize to your significant other for ignoring him/her/it for so long, and wrangle up a date for the Christmas party.

And then what?  What can you really do with that tangle of words conjured up in a single heady, highly-caffeinated month?

First, read it (and yes, it’s perfectly normal to cringe.)  In spite of all the tricks you used to inflate the word count, do you see in it the glimmer of a great story?  Do you want to go further with it?

Of course you do!

Last year, I took part in NaNoWriMo for the first time.  My 70,000-word partially complete NaNo novel hit 120,000 words by the time the first draft was done.  Seven major revisions later, it has 91,000 words.  The novel recently placed second in the Royal Palm Literary Awards for Science Fiction (unpublished), and the full manuscript is currently sitting on the desks of several literary agents, where I’m hopeful it will go further.

The key to getting your NaNo out of that bottom drawer is to edit, edit, edit.  Compared to writing, editing is slow and laborious.  The rewards aren’t immediately obvious; instead of seeing that word count climb, you’re likely to see it fall.  But it’s the only way that NaNo novel is going to go anywhere.

Join a critique group and find the guts to read your novel in front of other people.  (I’ll confess, I’m still trying to work up the nerve for this one.)  Beg your friends to read your novel.  Score double points if that friend is also a writer – they provide better feedback.  Take part in NaNoEdMo and commit to 50 hours of editing.  Invest in yourself.  ‘Writing the breakout novel’, by Maass, provides fantastic tips on creating a story that’s worth telling.   ‘Self-editing for fiction writers: How to edit yourself into print’ by Brown and King teaches you how to identify and correct stylistic problems.

Don’t be afraid to substantially edit your novel.  It’s not a baby (really, truly). Think of it as a bonsai.  Regular pruning is absolutely required for growth.  My writer friend told me that the last third of my novel sucked (yes, that is a technical term).  So, I ripped out about 40,000 words, and eventually replaced it with something much better.

Are you done editing?

Do it again.

Do it until it’s the absolute best you are sure you can do on your own.  And then, if you’re not the archetypal poor college student and can find $1,000 – $3,000 to spare, seek out a good professional editor (the key word here is ‘good’, not just ‘professional’), and get them to look over your work.  (Full disclosure: I didn’t even consider going down this path until after my novel won the award.  I figured a winner was probably worth a larger financial investment.)

Finding an agent and getting published is a whole other story, and it’s a path I’m just embarking on.  But you’ll never get there unless you edit that NaNo novel.  Good luck, happy writing and merry editing!

Jade Kerrion is a Science Fiction author.  GENESIS, the first book in her DOUBLE HELIX series, placed second in the Royal Palm Literary Awards, Science Fiction (unpublished) category.  Find her online at JadeKerrion.com.

[Guest Post] Romancing the Tome – or “You and Me Could Write a Bad Romance”

This is my fifth NaNoWriMo. Twice, I finished over 50K.  Both times it was with mystery novels. Once, I changed ideas around mid-November.

I advise against this. Okay, sure, I could have kept everything I wrote the first half of the month and uploaded some kind of Frankenstein manuscript for the final count, but I wanted to be honest in my attempt. So I started from scratch.  Needless to say, it didn’t go anywhere. On the other two attempts, the stories were contemporary romance.

One went out with a bored sigh. Don’t get me wrong – I liked the characters and I thought the concept was decent. But it just didn’t have any zest. Sorry, honey, but I don’t think we should see each other anymore. It’s not you – it’s me.

The other one is in progress… as of this writing, 9,000 words behind the curve. But NaNo love is worth fighting for.

I enjoy romance novels – from Silhouette Love-inspired to Taming the Highlander-type bodice rippers. The first contemporary romance I ever read was Susan Andersen’s Baby, Don’t Go. It had spark. It was feisty. I wrote a fan letter to the author. And I decided I wanted to write contemporary romances too. I even bought Romance Writing for Dummies (don’t laugh – it’s a great reference for writers of any genre).

Writing romance that isn’t page after page of clichés is hard, and I’m developing new respect for the writers who do it all the time and make it engaging. My concerns may just stem from my own insecurities about writing in general. Maybe you can relate.  But here’s what I’ve confronted so far.

  • “Overexposure”:  Once the main characters have had their roll in the hay, or quickie in the broom closet, or whatever…I reread it and think, “Sweet biscuits, if anyone finds out I wrote this, I’ll never be able to show my face in public!”  Is it too much? Is it too goofy? Is it even doable? Maybe I need more research. I don’t seem to have a problem writing it; publishing it might be another story (so to speak). Well, this is NaNoWriMo. It’s about first drafts. On rewrite, I might opt for a more controlled burn… or a good pen name.
  • Fantasy versus Real World: I can’t relate to being swept off my feet by the chiseled rancher next door, and Alpha Males irritate me. But I like the self-employed guy with the nice smile who lives down the street. And I like the courage of the woman reinventing herself after a debilitating accident. My NaNo hero has a disability. The heroine is about to get everything she ever wanted, but runs away because she’s afraid she’s wrong. Things happen. Choices are made. Every day. Sometimes our responses are truly heroic.
  • Too much romance, not enough challenge: granted, I’m less than halfway through the word count – and I’m skipping around, not writing chronologically – but I feel like these two haven’t struggled enough. Hang on, kids. I’m about to make your lives miserable – and you’ll love me for it. No ninja pirates, but… well, you’ll have to wait and see.

Conundrums aside, I’m happy with the mechanics of the story; I believe there’s a good balance of dialogue and narrative. It’s all about the word play, as Jason Mraz would say, and getting fifty-thousand words closer to a romance novel I can love.

Elizabeth Irwin is an independent word contractor, which is a fancy way of saying freelance editor and writer, living in Sylvania, Ohio. She coordinates the Write Brain Workshop for the Northwest Ohio Writers Forum, teaches writing-related classes at Owens Community College, and writes everything from articles to flash fiction to memoir. You can find her blog “I Face the Sun” here.