[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.

[Guest Post] Writing as an Endurance Sport

“You’re doing WHAT?”

That’s the typical response when you tell someone you’re participating in an event to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The second response is “What do you get if you win?” For most people the idea of writing a novel in a month is, at best, a foolish waste of time. After all, don’t you know how few people actually manage to get published? The world of writing is a mysterious world indeed, and one that seems crazy to outsiders.

So what do we get out of it? Well, for some it is an endurance sport. Some people choose to test their boundaries by running marathons, or climbing mountains. And to these people the same questions could be asked. “You’re running 25k? Why? What do you get if you win?” The knowledge that you’ve won. It doesn’t seem like much, but humans thrive on competition. The act of winning is enough to spur us on towards greater heights.

But there’s more to it. You see, we’re not just in competition – we’re in community. There’s something about the experience of shared hardship that brings people together. Nobody runs a marathon by themselves, you run it with other people. Those other people give you competition (I’m ahead of two thirds of the other runners!) and they give you community (we’re in this together!) Both are necessary to reach your goals.

But why do we do this? Surely writing a novel in a year is the same outcome as writing a novel in a month? Why push ourselves? Because we have to. You see, there’s a vicious and evil monster that plagues writers worldwide. It’s called the inner editor. It’s that voice that says “That sentence sucks.” It’s a useful tool, in some settings, but in novel writing it is crippling. Such a high word count in such a low amount of time allows you to force the inner editor into a closet and lock it away. it means you don’t have time to spend three hours agonizing whether that comma sound be a comma, a semi-colon or a new sentence. You just don’t have the time.

So you write, and you write, and you write. And of course that first draft is rubbish. It’s ok. That is the most important thing that NaNoWriMo teaches. That it’s OK to write rubbish. You have a whole community of people, writing rubbish alongside you. And so you press on, desperate to get to that word count. And you finish the story. And yes, it’s crap. But that’s OK. it’s easy to edit something into shape once it’s written. But editing it before you even have it on paper is novelist suicide.

And so at the end of the month, if you have the dedication and the ambition, you have a novel. A crappy, un-edited novel. A crappy, un-edited novel you can then take your time the rest of the year and shape into the story you actually wanted to tell. You can polish it, and make it actually make sense.

But not in November. November is for the writing. At about 10,000 words, your inner editor comes screaming out of whatever hole you’ve buried it in and begins picking your novel apart. This is normal, and it’s funny to watch the NaNowriMo forums at this time. Everyone goes from “this is the best novel ever!’ to “I suck as a writer and am going to go be a fry cook now, that’s all I’m good for!”

But the people who have done NaNo for a few years come in and assure everyone that this too shall pass. And we all keep writing. Because it’s what we do. We’re writers. Even if you’ve only ever written school assignments, or fan fiction. You’re a writer. And writers keep on writing.

So if you’re thinking of doing NaNoWriMo, be prepared. It’s hard. You will curse the decision to join. But you will find companionship, support, and sympathy. A whole bunch of people crazy enough to take on the challenge with you.

Ki Vick is a freelance ghostwriter and novel writer. She is halfway through her first NaNoWriMo novel and is hoping to polish it up in time for publication early next year. She has been a writer for 6 years and lives with her husband in a tiny apartment in Dayton, Ohio.

[Guest Post] Micro-Goals; or How Word Sprints Save Your Sanity

NaNoWriMo is a beast: a 50,000-word minimum juggernaut that’s defeated far more seasoned writers than myself… and if, like me,  you’re  trying to tackle the dragon for the first time, it might be beginning to seem rather like an epic quest in nature. The daily climb to 1,667 begins to look like a repetitive trek up a literary Mount Everest—but there are ways to make the journey easier. Heck, there are ways to make NaNoWriMo look like a walk in the park.

The best tip that I’ve discovered so far? Micro-goals. Forget 50,000, forget 1,667; just concentrate on writing as many words as you can 1 hour, 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, even 10 minutes at a time. It doesn’t only help your word count, it may also save your sanity.

There are hundreds, even thousands of writers who are tackling the challenge and triumphing over the world-wide writing marathon one quarter hour at a time. Don’t have a stop watch? Doesn’t matter. Don’t have friends willing to take the plunge with you? You will soon.

If you haven’t already, go to NaNoWriMo.org, sign up, then look under the Tab ‘NaNo Near You’ and Find Your Region. Select the city nearest you, then scan the forum for write-ins, meet-ups, and other events for the chance to join up with other local writers write, celebrate, write, lend each other support, keep each other sane—and participate in the face-to-face version of the motivational micro-miracle ‘word sprints’.

Don’t feel like heading out? No problem, you can also participate online. Go to Twitter, follow @NaNoWordSprints (the official NaNoWriMo profile for word sprints) and get ready to rock your NaNovel like a hurricane. @NaNoWordSprints is run in shifts by different volunteers worldwide, so no matter where in the world you are, you’re never very far from a wordsprint — and if you don’t feel like going through official channels, trying searching for #NaNoWriMo or #wordsprint to see when random users worldwide are gearing up for a sprint—or add those hashtags to your own tweets along with an invitation to join a wordsprint at :00, :15, :20, :30, ect…

Once a sprint starts, write like the wind for its duration, then take stock & add up the words you’ve set down. Chances are you’ll be surprised. Only a handful of sprints and you’ll reach your daily quota. If you’re inspired to keep writing beyond that, you could well surpass it.

For example, I participated in a 20-minute word sprint on Twitter. I wrote 604 words. I didn’t come in first in the sprint, but I won something else: inspiration. I kept writing. Reached 1,364 words, took a break to eat dinner, then participated in another word sprint — this one was 30min long.

By the end of it, I was up to 2,017 words. I really felt like I was hitting my stride. By the time I was done, I’d cranked out 4,746 words in one sitting—and before you think I’m some sort of NaNo rockstar or ringer, I’m a noob.

This is my first shot at NaNoWriMo and I still hunt & peck because I never learned to keyboard. My daily word count on for the three days prior to the wordsprint was 342, 0, and 564 respectively. I’ll be the first to admit that staring a screen, wondering how I’m going to crank out 1,667 words much less 50,000, makes me cringe. But writing my heart out for 20 minutes? Now that I can handle. Heck, it’s painless, it’s fun, and there’s no masochism involved in going back for more.

Word sprints, or micro-goals, are fantastic ways to tame the beast, to take NaNoWriMo and break it into something much easier to handle, to find your way to the finish line with some semblance of sanity, and create your NaNovel one quarter hour at a time. They are awesome at giving you a running start before NaNoWriMo runs you over; try them and see!

Eryn Lockhart is an independent romance author whose debut novel, After Midnight, was released earlier this year. She’s also an unrepentant chocoholic, bookworm, Rockband addict, and movie-hound.  You can find her online at her blog, on Goodreads, on Facebook, and at her homepage.