Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of Year Wrap Up

Another glorious year has graced us with its presence and now it’s gone forever, only existing in our memories. This year was a blessing for me. Although I did go through some sad times, the happy more than outweighed the bad. I finalized DAWN OF SHADOWS (Messengers 1.0) this year. While I hesitate to ever say any project is completely finished, it’s done enough for me to move on.

Unfortunately, life slowed my process on the other projects I’m working on; but CRIMSON RENEGADE (Messengers 1.5) and CITY OF ILLUSIONS (Messengers 2.0) are close to the tipping point. For me there is always that sweet spot about 65% of the way through a book when it no longer is hard to write it, but hard not to finish it.

The Short Film has changed names (at least for now) and it is almost finished. There were some unforeseen difficulties in that situation as well, but those issues will stay in 2014 and not pass into 2015.

This year will bring about the completion of Books 1.5 and 2 and hopefully at least one more. I also plan to work on the first official trailer. While the short film is great to get interest, it’s still not a true trailer to the story in DAWN OF SHADOWS.

I helped (or hope I helped) about 12 people directly through Beta Reading for them, and met a lot of great people in the SCWBI community and twitter middle grade communities. It’s fun to struggle with friends instead of by yourself. (LOL)  I’m positive that 2015 will be a turning point for the series. If my own betas who have read DAWN OF SHADOWS are any indication, I should be able to find a home for the project soon. I also was fortunate to participate in four twitter pitch parties and several online writer contests. It was a great experience for me.

I hope that everyone can find peace, love, and excitement in 2015 doing the thing that they love and caring for those around them. Now it’s time to get back to work. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Writing Basics – Plotting II – Getting Down and Dirty with My Antag

This weekend I put aside some time to start into Book 2 of THE MESSENGERS. Autumn (one of my characters) has been pestering me about continuing with the series, especially since she has a little more page-time in this book. After a few words – oh maybe 20 of them – I recognized that I was going nowhere fast. Generally on good writing days I can knock out 1000-3000 words.  And sometimes I’ll run out of time for the day, but will put in another set the next day, and the next until 15,000 words are in the computer smiling back at me.

But I was looking at 20, and they weren’t smiling. They were laughing. They did that low rumble in the stomach to a full shrill burst-over-the-top pointing at you gut buster. So I did what I always do – Take a walk.

Walking frees my mind and helps me to unwind. Unfortunately it was 50 degrees outside, fortunately it wasn’t the 40 degrees that the weather people said it would be a few days prior. As I was going along, it dawned on me. My Antag was staring at me with one eye brow raised in the air and a palm turned up. “What’s my motivation?” My Antag asked. That’s why I was stuck. ( Read about the importance of Antag’s here.)

Now came the hard part, the reasoning of the bad behavior. Was the Antag mistreated? Unloved? Too loved? Did they run into problems early in life? Will their feelings be a surprise maybe even to them? Why do they hate? And hate so much to hurt another human being or system? (Remember you can hate and go into a shell – like many Red Herrings do.)

After three miles, I understood the motivation. Basically what I came up with was that … Hold on, I’m not telling. You have to wait for the book. :-)  I made it home and turned on my computer. It was time to do more homework – yes  more homework. I spent the rest of the day looking up everything from pictures of actors to fashion styles to weapons. I need to know what my Antag looks like, and how they plan to do their deed. Once I was satisfied, I went to watch the Indianapolis Colts lose to New England Patriots. Yes I watch football, and yes I wanted the Colts to win.

I took a break to let my brain breathe and let my subconscious create the character. I need for my Antag to talk to me in a voice just as strong as the Protag. In fact, I prefer that it’s stronger. Once that process is complete, I can rework any problems in the master plan to destroy/takeover. While I’m doing this, I try not to consider my Protag much at all. It doesn’t matter what they can and cannot do. What matters is what makes since for the Antag.  Once that’s done, we call in a mediator for the Antag and Protag to work through any issues and finalize the plotting of the Antag’s scheme.
So let’s use Felicia’s Antag from the last blog post – Mr. Furrytails.

Mr. Furrytails is a simple guy. He wants power and money. He’s currently working on a deal to remove two groups of werewolves from the city. He believes that if he can get rid of them, it’ll open up more commerce for his team to control. But to make this power move is risky and could cost him his life. But if it works, He’ll control all of the assets from Atlanta to Savannah to Williamsburg to Jacksonville. Basically all of the major trade in Georgia and the Carolinas.

When he finds out about Felicia, he doesn’t want much. He just wants her to come and pledge her allegiance to him. She’ll now be one of the many “controllable” powers in his territory. But Felicia’s mom gets in the way and that is a problem. The last thing he needs is anyone throwing off the balance of power or worse tipping off the heads of the Were-Families he’s working against.
So how does this show up in your book?

We know Furrytails attitude.
We know where he’s going to be and what he’s trying to do.
We know how many henchmen he’ll need to do the work.
We know his contacts.
We know his strengths – in resources and otherwise.
We know enough about him for his to affect our Protag.

Now that I know where my Antag will be and what they will be doing. I know how they affect the Protag(s). This movement of the Antag forces the hand of the Protag which creates story.  Hope this helps someone. Thanks a bunch for reading.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Writing Basics - Plotting

Now that character is out of the way, or at least a broad scope of ways to create realistic characters, we can move on to plotting. Plotting is simply the series of events that create your story. When I’ve helped other writers, I’ve noticed that plotting comes in a very close second to the problems that they face. I’ve already wrote about why your Antag is the most important character. In case you missed it, you can check it out here. (But I’d bet if nothing’s happening in your story – you haven’t sat down in the deep dark dungeon with your Antag.)

Plotting is simple. For most books and movies we use a Three or Six Act series of short stories that create the larger arc. Because I come from a movie background, I generally write a Six Act Storyline.  Below are the main items to be covered in each section.

1.       CATALYST – something in the daily life of character changes
2.       BIG EVENT – Changes the direction of story
3.       PINCH – Point of no return (Character fully committed)
4.       CRISIS – Major problem that needs to be fixed / low point
5.       SHOWDOWN/CLIMAX – When events must be put in proper order/things are fixed
6.       REALIZATION/RESOLUTION – Character has changed, achieved goals, etc

So that’s it. All done. Wow that was an easy blog post. I guess I’ll get ready for the next one. LOL

Okay, I’ll go into depth. First let’s create a character. We’ll call her Felicia and because of the name, she’ll be a cat. Everyone used to love ware animals so let’s make her a werecat. Or at least somewhere in the plot she’ll become one. Now let’s write a simple story based on that information. And we’ll see how easy it is to plot.

First I’ll turn her into a real character with Depth and Levels. This is generally a brainstorm based on what I spoke about here.

Felicia just started the 8th grade. She’s typical height/weight. I want her to wear glasses because I think it’ll be cute and something she can grow out of. She’s not shy, but not overly outgoing. She has dark hair and a periwinkle stripe. (Why? Why not? It’s cute and cool. And I want it. [Periwinkle stripe will need backstory though. Anything out of the ordinary needs backstory]) She speaks normally. She’s not the most popular girl, doesn’t have any “real bullies” and is more of a teacher’s pet. But she’s attractive and boys do like her. Her favorite colors are periwinkle and pink (because of her hair) and she has periwinkle eyes to match her stripe. She’s white[, but (backstory) she knows her dad was not 100% white. He was of a mixed race and her mother doesn’t know everything about him]. That’s why she may have the stripe. (Something to get to in a later book, maybe?) She has a hint of detective in her. (Maybe I’m thinking too much about the girl from the books of ELSEWARE – who cares I like it.) Her smart side conflicts with her attractive side.  She has no siblings (because I don’t want to think about other kids in the house. I want the story to be about her and her mom).  And there you have it, Felicia is born. (5 minutes)

Now back to plotting… Here we go.

CATALYST – something in the daily life of character changes
PROTAG does something normal for her world. They spots something/trips over something/meets someone that makes her think differently. They goes back to their normal life, but has doubts/imagination heightened/etc.

Felicia leaves fifth period. Abby, her best friend, reminds her about the 8th Grade Dance on Friday. They both spot Jason, Felicia’s crush. Felicia shies away from seeing him, but just then he texts her saying he hopes to see her at the party. Overjoyed she heads home, but on the way a cat follows her as she turns down a street. At the next crossways another joins. By the time she gets home 10 cats are parading behind her. Frightened she runs up stairs. Her mother tries to talk to her, but the weirdness of the day is too much and Felicia just wants to get to her studies to make sure she can go to the dance.

BIG EVENT – Changes the direction of story
PROTAG goes to event/place/new world. They see new things and are momentarily happy. Something Bad happens and they are thrown away from the old world into the new one or away from the new one back into the old one.
Felicia wants to go to the 8th grade dance. It’s the “Big Event” of the fall. She picks out her dress and talks to her best friend Abby about going. Abby is a little worried that none of the boys will notice them, but Felicia is not worried about it. She’s already received two texts from Jason. Felicia starts to have stomach pains and a headache, she hopes it’s not her whatever medical problem. Her mother thinks it’s something else, but Felicia plays it off and tells her mother she’s “understands.” After all, didn’t she ace Health Class? At the Dance, Jason notices her lip appears slightly hairy like she has peach fuzz. Panicked she rushes to the hallway only to watch in horror as her body transforms. Abby and Jason arrive and can’t believe their eyes. The BULLY\FAV TEACHER arrives and makes the moment worse. Felicia runs off into the night.

PINCH – Point of no return (Character fully committed)
PROTAG feels bad/confused. Someone/thing appears which gives them some guidance. PROTAG learns about this new ability, and reconciles that they must take on this issue.

Felicia doesn’t know what to think. She glares into her reflection at the edge of a lake. Her mother walks up from behind her. Her mother assures her it’ll be okay. It’s her first change, but there will be others. She states that werecats are natural enemies of werewolves and if she doesn’t learn to control her new powers the werewolves may find her and kill her. Her mother starts her training to change on command and to suppress the change when needed. Abby calls her and supports her OR Maybe Abby starts dating Jason. (It’s your story figure it out LOL)

CRISIS – Major problem that needs to be fixed / low point
ANTAG shows up just. PROTAG is gaining mastery, but is likely to fail at some major event causing a downfall.  

Mr. Furrytails, a super-powered werewolf, learns of Felicia. He wants all werecats to report to him so that he can control them. But her mom never reported in and therefore he is angry. Mr. Furrytails attacks and kidnaps her mom. Felicia is left because they think she’s dead, or that she got away or some other “convenient” way that she’s not captured. (Or maybe she is). Felicia starts to doubt. How can she save her mom? Was it her fault?

SHOWDOWN/CLIMAX – When events must be put in proper order/things are fixed
PROTAG comes to senses. A plan is formed. PROTAG goes to the rescue and new found powers save the day. (Generally in last breath, last second, last bit of rope, etc)

Mr. Furrytails takes Felicia’s mom to his stronghold. Felicia sneaks in with the help of the 10 cats that followed her home in part one and Abby making a few phone calls. (Or use whatever secret trait you’ve given the SC). Felicia sees her mom and rescues her. But it’s not that easy. Mr. Furrytails enters. He’s amused/angry. He attacks and almost kills Felicia. At the last moment she remembers something from a previous act that seemed unimportant to the reader/viewer. She uses that to stop Furrytails. He dies, scurries off, etc.

REALIZATION/RESOLUTION – Character has changed, achieved goals, etc
Cleanup all loose ends. Prepare for next book/movie/video game storyline.

Felicia tells her mom about how she feels. She knows everything will be okay. Her mom warns Felicia that Mr. Furrytails works for a Ms. Puffinpaws and that she is extremely dangerous. Her mom says that they’ll continue training and next time, they’ll be ready.

So there it is, a quick overview of plotting. Remember an Antag can be anything including aliens or a disease. (1 hour to plot) So in 90 minutes a story and character was born. An idea with more time should be more in-depth and fun, but the core of the plotting will remain similar.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Writing Basics - Character Depth and Levels

Recently, I did a beta read for an author I met on the SCWBI board. The book wasn’t bad, but I noticed a few reoccurring issues that I felt needed to be addressed.  I sent her my analysis, and she was overjoyed in my review. (At least she put up a good front through email. :-)) I’m pretty technical, and I like to give examples so that people understand what I’m talking about. I decided it may be good to put some of the information I told her out here on the blog just in case anyone else needs it. I’m not sure how many items I’ll discuss, and I will not be using her book as reference.

The first problem I noticed was the depth of her characters.
Depending on who you talk to, Characters will rank either number one or number two in importance for any story. Middle Grade fiction tends to lean toward it being number one, while speculative fiction for adults leans in in at number two. (Generally from what I’ve read/seen.) But either way it, super-duper important.
When I read her novel, the first thing that I noticed was that I could not tell her characters apart. Even doing her write-up, I still was confused. I kept having backtrack to figure out who was who, and why they were doing xyz. The problem was she only had four of them, and one was a girl – who didn’t act or sound any different than the boys.

Every character in a story should be different. I’m convinced that each one, even “extras” should have their own personality. I’ve heard many stories about how authors have accomplished this in their books – so I’ve listed a few.
  1. Backstory. Characters gain depth with experiences, just like people. What has happened to them shapes them. Write a couple of short stories for your characters. The stories don’t need to be long maybe a few pages. What this will do is give your characters experiences “outside” the book. It makes them seem more rounded because they will sometimes do things that aren’t expected. As the reader gets to know the character, readers will pick up on the patterns. This is also great if a book deal comes around because you can put a lot of these short stories online to gain more interest.
  2. Human References. This is the one I hear the most often. Authors base characters off of someone else. Many authors in their interviews may say “I thought about this actor when I was writing” or “a lot was based on my sister.” This method works well for most projects – even screenplays. Because the writer is “casting” as they write. The problem with this method is that to get a slightly different personality, which is sometimes needed for the story, a writer may have to blend people together to create characters. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just doesn’t.
  3. Questions. I’ve heard several aspiring authors say they’ve used this method. And I’ve encouraged a few to use it as well. There are several places where you can find a list of 100 questions to ask your character. By filling in the information, it gives the author a better understanding of who the character is. The problem with this method is that it’s not organic. What if you run into a situation that the 100 questions can’t answer? Sure you know the birthday – but how will that really help you? If nothing important happened on a birthday it will not give you any answers.
  4. Combination. The best IMO. Mix and match the information to give your characters multiple levels of who they are, and why they act a certain way.
If I’m creating a MC or Supporting my thought process is the following:
  • What does this character represent to the book?
  • What would I personally like to see? (Fr’ex: Do I want to add diversity / Go against stereotypes / Have some fun)
  • What is the overall mood that this character will bring with them and how does that compare and contrast to what I already have? (Will this be a best friend to the MC? An informative person to the MC? An antagonist?)
  • What would I like to see later from this character?
  • Will I need to remove them from the storyline at some point?
As these ideas are forming I begin to get a mental picture of who, and what I want to see. An example in DAWN OF SHADOWS is Evan.

(Point 1) Backstory – He rescued his younger brother going, against the code of his unit. He became a Messenger by happenstance and doesn’t remember any “bad times” in his life.

(Point 2) Human References –Kid from Daddy Day Care.

(Point 3) Questions –

What does this character represent to the book? He’s supporting to the MC. He’s the first “teacher” to the MC in the ways of this world. He shows the MC a different kind of love.
What would I personally like to see? Evan is Black. He’s not a thug, doesn’t play sports, and doesn’t use slang. His favorite things are traveling and his brother.
What is the overall mood that this character will bring with them and how does that compare and contrast to what I already have? He is close to a best friend to the MC. His mood is light and fun. He is full of information and life lessons.
What would I like to see later from this character? I’d like to see him have his own adventure. I want to put him at odds with other characters and create separation.
Will I need to remove them from the storyline at some point? Debatable. He’s the type of character that you want to see win, but it could be dramatic to remove him as well.
So there you have it. Hope this helps someone.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Different Type of Middle Grade Angst

Yesterday, I read about an eleven-year-old that killed an albino deer. It’s causing an Internet uproar. No matter what side anyone is on, it made me think about my Middle Grade stance that I wrote about here.

As a child/teen, the first book that I truly liked was LORD OF THE FLIES. I was a huge fan of Anime, and of American cartoons such as G.I. Joe and the original Transformers. As I watched G.I. Joe, I would laugh when the soldier inside the tank always got out before it exploded. And no one could imagine my thrill when watching Transformers the Movie (1986) when Megatron killed Autobots without mercy. But the best was when Galvatron turned Starscream into dust.

The movie had a PG rating and many parents in the US complained that it was too violent, and in the original Home Video version of the film, 2 minutes was cut. However, in Canada and other counties the movie stayed intact. When the Internet arrived, I was one of the first people to purchase the movie from Canada via ebay refusing to watch the dumbed down American version.

I think there may have been something wrong with my childhood because I didn’t see it with the same rose colored glasses as American moms. I don’t think I turned out bad, I’ve never committed a crime. Two years ago, I mistakenly ran over a rabbit with my car, and my day was ruined thinking about the death of some random wild animal. So it’s not that I don’t have any sensitivity in me. I just think when it comes to action, no matter what the age, I want it gritty and real.

Last year a friend of mine showed me an automatic weapon he had just bought for his nine-year-old son to go hunting. So, it didn’t surprise me when I read about the eleven-year-old who killed the deer. Maybe it’s a boy thing, but I don’t think so. Because girls ate up HUNGER GAMES like there was no tomorrow. And that was the most brutal book I had ever read.

So why the Angst? I don’t know – You know us boys don’t always know how to explain our feelings. It’s just something on my mind. Something that makes me want to keep writing. Something that makes me feel like so many authors are writing middle grade thinking about six and seven year olds instead of ten, eleven, and twelve year olds.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why My Antagonist Is the Most Important Character in My Stories

I run into writers all the time who have this great – awesome – spectacular idea and have already created the perfect set of characters. The protagonists are witty, smart, funny, strong, brave, etc. They are everything that someone could aspire to. 

Yet, when I ask them how far they are in writing the novel/screenplay what I generally get is…

“I’m at the beginning.”
I ask, “How long have you been working on this idea?”
“Oh, one maybe two years.”

We talk about the story for a while, and after a few minutes I generally notice the problem – the same one over and over again. The writer has spent all this time creating their main characters, but the antagonist has received no love at all. Generally in follow up questions, I find out the antag is not formed yet, they are still deciding between this or that. They don’t know if it’ll be a man or woman, old or young, strong or weak. In fact, the antag has been an afterthought.

The reason why their story has sputtered and died, is simple. You don’t have an enemy, so you don’t have conflict, so you can’t have resolution. That’s why their project starts great. However the point after the MC is introduced; the writer must introduce a problem and that problem, generally created by the enemy, drives the plot.

I truly believe Villains are more important than heroes. A hero is simply someone waiting for a villain to do something.

Antags come in various shapes and sizes from Aliens to bacteria to animals to self-doubt. Anything that causes the protag to move is an antag. A good rule of thumb is – the more powerful that antag is, the more compelling the story. (Or at least the larger the conflict) Think about your favorite tale. It doesn’t matter what type of story it is, but I’d bet it had a great antag.

Antags come in two main varieties. What I like to define as big and little bads. A Little Bad is an antagonist that exists in part of the story but is not that important to the overall arc. Maybe it’s a wolf pack that startles the MC and forces them into a tree or the misunderstanding between two friends which makes one miss their bus.

The Big Bad is the main enemy; the one the protag has to defeat to have their happy ending. This is guy or gal that we love to hate and must spend time plotting with. This is the being that a writer sits down with and helps them figure out their diabolical plan. This is the person that your readers hate or love or whatever. And, yes this person is the inner part of your being that’s just – well – evil.

Remember without your antag, your main character continues with their life never deviating.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Romance and the Middle Grade Novel

When the third draft of The Messengers was done, it was the first time that I actually sent it off to people outside my circle of friends. And it was also the first time that I heard the phrase “Don’t talk down to children.” Immediately, I began to notice the statement on blogs and other websites. I took this to mean “Give children respect in your writing to allow them to make decisions and to tackle not only difficult grammar, but also subject matter.” But yet in the midst of all of these comments, I received a few people who asked me to remove the “Romance” in the book.
Okay first of all let’s define the romance in the book. It amounts to four individual crushes. No kissing. No holding hands. Just kids saying or acting as if they find the other one attractive or cool or funny or heroic.
Now, I’m not going to go into heavy detail because one day I hope to have middle grade readers. And they may come to the website. But let’s think about an eleven year old – fifth and sixth grade. Sorry, but I adored a girl to the point of following her around in kindergarten. I actually remember her coming to my birthday party, and she forgot her sweater. It was white and pink. When I found it as we were cleaning up, I felt like Prince Charming. I presented it to her on Monday when we went back to school. To this day I remember that vividly. That’s how hard I was crushing at six-years-old. Yet, eleven-year-olds can’t at least like each other?
To remove light romance from middle grade novels in my opinion is talking down to middle graders. It’s a statement that says, “You are not mature enough to have real feelings about boys/girls.” But what I remember was very real and sometimes painful and sometimes beautiful. There are a lot of things I would change about my life, but the crushes I had I wouldn’t touch. They were the building blocks which I used later in life for more mature relationships. And as long as I’m writing, I’ll do my best to be true to the audience and not “write down to them.”


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Writer's Block? Write Multiple Books Instead

Having trouble writing your book? Here’s a suggestion: Write three of them. I know everyone out there is saying “What?” But this is a sure fire method for a few writers to avoid the block.

The human brain is an interesting thing. It doesn’t like to think about one thing for long periods of time. Don’t believe me? Try to think about your nose for thirty-seconds. You’ll find that you’ll quickly think about your eyes, which will lead you to something you see, which will remind you of something on TV. LOL

So, if you find this happening to you – why not just go with it. It’s natural after all. Start working on the book you “want to write” but plan another project in the same universe; maybe a side book, or side short story. When you burn out on the main book or your characters stop talking, you may find that your mind is fresh for the other idea, same universe, different situation.  When ideas start appearing for the “main book” you simply go back to it, giving your mind time to refresh ideas for the second or third book. But remember to go back. Give yourself a time limit to work on the other project so you can get back to work. :-) 

See if this works for you, maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But no matter what, it’s so important to keep writing. Remember the more you write the better. You can also do this for totally different universes if that works better.

Here’s another poster for the upcoming Messengers short film. Hope you like it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Creative Constipation

Last week, I was working on a non-artistic related project and received an email from someone. Before I knew it, I had responded to the email with a teeny-weeny bit of angst. Luckily, I knew the person and they called me immediately, and we had a little chat. I’m generally an easy going guy – extremely actually. I juggle three jobs in my daily life. In my artistic work, I’m often at the helm, directing or producing. So I’m used to pressure, but what I’ve learned that I must deal with – especially over the next few months is creative constipation.

For me, art is a necessity, not a luxury. I’ve heard actors, comedians, writers, etc. say things such as “If I wasn’t doing this [art] than I’d probably be doing something bad.” And honestly I can relate. When I want to get creative, it boils up inside of me and thickens. But if I’m not in a position to release it, it generally doesn’t go away. Instead it festers like a burning sore at the back of my skull.

To make a long story short, I took the rest of the day off and went home writing on a YA idea I’ve had for some time. I didn’t do much actually, maybe a half page. The next day I started to feel better. I cleaned up my schedule, freeing more time; and within a few days, I felt great.  I’ve learned that it’s not the amount of work, it’s the progress of the work. As long as I’m inching along a path, I’m okay. But when the path stops, then I’m not okay. LOL

It’s so odd that these “imaginary concepts” are so powerful as to arrest the soul, but maybe that’s why so many of us write. I hope this is encouraging to anyone who needs it.

Also as a bonus, I’m uploading the first poster for the short film The Messengers – Journey of 403. Enjoy – others will follow soon.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Snow in Atlanta - Snowpocalypse 2014

It’s that time of year again, the time when Southerners retreat from the incoming ice and snow like bears into caves for hibernation.

I know for many who live elsewhere wonder why Southerners are paranoid about snow? Well it’s simple. We get less than a few days of it a year, if that, so local governments spend NO money on dealing with it. We raid the supermarkets, get off the roads, and hope that the weather people aren’t crying wolf. (Because they know we hate snow and will watch their news programs if they are talking about it.)

Yesterday, the day before the dreaded fluffy white death fell from the sky, the news stations ran 24-7 warning us of the three to four inches of doom that would fall. Not to mention email and texting alerts on cell phones. And today, schools, churches, and business closed while the governor declared a state of emergency. If anyone ever wants to write about a true apocalypse, come down to the South when it snows and watch how we react. If aliens truly came to earth, those of us under the Mason-Dixon line know exactly what to do.

My friends from New Jersey snicker when I tell them all the problems that our three to four inches is causing, while they deal with two feet of the stuff. But I smile, pull my hot chocolate to my mouth, on my day off, and say “Wait for the summer, then we’ll see who’s complaining.”

I took a few pictures of the raid left on the Supermarket. It’s about what they show in the movies, but not quite.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Am I Upper Middle Grade?

Last night, I was at a writer’s meeting, and I wanted to test out a new chapter with my nine-year-old protagonist. (This chapter is actually the first chapter in the 1.5 Messenger’s Book, and this was the second time I’d read it in public.) I have to smile because both times, I received open mouth looks and tight eyebrow stares. (Most of the other writers are thirty-five and up and have a concept in mind of what Middle Grade fiction should be.) While I won’t give away the subject matter yet, I mean the first Messenger Book is still getting tiny updates with new betas reading it. But I will say that the first chapter is a bit more hard core than your average middle grade fare, but not too far off from the overall flow of the Messengers.

Anyhoo, one of the members, brought up the fact that she didn't believe that the book was Middle Grade (MG), but more YA, i.e. Young Adult. In my defense, I tried to explain that MG is divided into 3 basic groups because children mature so fast: Early Readers, Level 2, and Upper Middle. And I explained I write Upper Middle Grade for kids age 11 and up, but some advanced ten-year-olds should be able to consume it.

My niece and nephew were the spark that motivated me back into the written word from screenplays. Both of them are voracious readers and my nephew in particular reads like there is no tomorrow. But, unfortunately for him, he quickly runs out of things to read. He told me he’s tired of reading about “How cute the lead boy is” for the twentieth time in the middle of a YA action novel. LOL I couldn't agree more. At eleven and twelve both of them inhaled the “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins which is high on descriptive violence. But here was an eleven-year-old that loved it. The kids explained to me that all their friends read it, and a quick look on showed many parents saying the same thing.

The Messengers does have its share of violence and adult situations, but so is everything else in our world from video games to movies. Many of the places I've been on the web (blogs/articles) discuss the concept of what can be put in a MG novel. And the quick answer by most is - well - everything. I personally put into the books what I liked at that age – lucky for me I was a writer then, so I remember many of my ideas.

I believe that books should be real and that danger should be real as well. And with danger comes adult situations. Some places in the world have no problem with enlisting twelve-year-olds into an army or chopping a ten-year-old’s hand off if he steals. The Messengers is built on that grit, not on a simply fun story with cool tech. I don’t believe every MG novel should be all laughs and giggles, but at the same time I don’t think there should be decapitations galore. I wanted a story that is real to the actual emotions of middle graders expressing the sensitivity and beauty of being ages ten through thirteen with the adventure they dream of. That’s why I think the book is Upper Middle Grade for readers like my nephew and niece. Kids who want a bit more edge, but still need to be protected from other things. I hope anyone that one day chooses to read it will understand and appreciate that side of the story. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Surprise – My Characters Don’t Always Agree with Me!

I've been telling stories in some form for quite a while, and it’s always interesting when writing flows down like a waterfall and other days when it trickles out, barely giving you a sentence from its metaphorical faucet. But, I think what’s even more interesting than having your story simmering on the edge of your subconscious, is when your characters finally do show up in the front of your brain, but now both of you are on, no pun intended, different pages. (OK, pun intended.)

Giving birth to a character, at least in my mind, means creating a living breathing type of entity that actually exists within you. Writers can be a little odd in that way, speaking to things that don’t exist and even loving the created characters. Without fail, any time I talk to an author about characters they generally confirm this awkward phenomenon. But as an author, what do you to do when you and your characters don’t agree about what’s happening in a scene?

In The Messengers, there is a scene where one of the characters is hurt during a mission. Immediately, my director mindset told me to “Cut to the final scene and just explain that the characters got back to home base safely.” However, what I wasn't ready for, was one of the other characters getting mad at me. I could clearly hear his voice in the back of my mind saying, “Why are you doing this? Why aren't you giving the readers a chance to see what we can do? That’s not fair!”

Believe it or not, this happened. So first I thought, OK I’m not going crazy. But then I said to myself (which means all my characters can hear) “OK, hotshot show me what you got.” And I opened my mind and let the story flow from this character’s perspective. Before I knew it, I had an action sequence that I simply loved – and honestly (don’t tell anyone) I don’t feel that I actually wrote. It was that character that wrote it, not me, not the conscious version of me anyway.

I've learned that when this phenomenon happens I can generally do one of four things:
  1. Ignore the Character – Which honestly is the worst thing to do. Doing this means the character will act in a way that is unnatural to them and readers later will hate me for this.
  2. Change the Character – I really hate this one. The problem with this method is that it means going back to the drawing board, or changing who they have been so far throughout the project. This can cause a lot of rewriting scenes that no longer make since and will affect the other characters' personalities. Also, I tend to get attached to my characters and don’t always want them changed. “But the project comes first,” I say with hopeful grin and clinched fist.
  3. Give the Character More Experiences – I don’t mind doing this. I find that showing more experiences enriches my enjoyment of being in the world and allows the character to have more depth to become the person I need them to be. Downside it can really make the book long :-(.
  4.  Let the Character Drive – This is something I must admit, I do a lot. I like to see what the character is going to do and watch them come alive. When I do this, it’s like I’m reading the book as it’s being written. The only problem with this method is if the characters aren't developed enough, then they can go off in La La Land.  Yeah, I had that happen a couple of times – editing anyone.

Honestly though when my characters disagree with me I’m generally happy at least in one cool way, the characters have a voice and a distinct one. A character that doesn't talk to me isn't real to me, and therefore I doubt they’ll be real to anyone else. I hope this helps anybody else who has to battle with their MCs and SCs. Thanks for reading.