Archive for August, 2012


Krav Maga is an Israeli self-defense system, and in it there’s a concept known as “retzev.” Retzev basically means keeping up a continuous flurry of attacks and never leaving a gap to allow your opponent to escape or launch a counterattack. While I’m no Krav Maga master, I do think that the concept of continuous motion can and most definitely should be applied to writing.

 

I really enjoy variety and keeping things fresh and new even if it’s something that I’ve done several times. When it comes to writing, I try to keep up a continuous chain of “attacks” with writing, editing, blogging, re-writing, outlining, brainstorming and even reading. This allows me to constantly be working on something and have something to work on. With my second novel, I’m slightly changing up the format of my writing with some chapters. My latest chapter is comprised of nothing but training missions and an earlier chapter took a short break from the main cast of characters to focus on two other characters that inhabited the same world, just to flesh out the universe of the book.

As writers, it’s easy to be hard on ourselves and feel that we’re doing something monumentally wrong, or will never become a professional. What if a professional is nothing more than a person who never stops feeding and exploring their passions and making an honest attempt at fulfilling a goal? If a boxer does nothing but work on perfecting their left hook, they may have a mean punch, but they won’t know how to defend themselves or throw a combination to knock their opponent off guard. If you keep working on perfecting your dialogue writing skills, you may find yourself lost when it comes to character development or describing the setting your chatty characters inhabit.

One of the best ways to work on your writing style isn’t to constantly write, but to constantly read. Work on your editing skills by going back to the basics with the rules of punctuation and grammar. If you’re having trouble with pacing, watch a TV show or movie. In these formats you have to cut your material down to a certain amount of pages so it fits within a certain time frame. Attack your writing from different and unexpected angles. Are you better at defense or offense? Outlining or freewriting? Is there a way to transfer the principals of one to the other? Try out and examine different methods, even if you don’t think they’re a good fit for you.

This post is a little all over the place, and I think I like it that way. While I probably won’t make it a habit, I do enjoy the change. Keep the spice going in your writing relationship by switching things up. I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to stop writing before you get to the end of a chapter so you’ll have a great jumping point for next time. Edit snippets of conversations you hear while at the grocery store (I’ve done this before). This will give you a feel for how people really talk and how you should properly punctuate “real talk.” Read a sci-fi novel and a western novel at the same time. You never know how the mixed reading experience may help you. Keep things off balance and organize the chaos.

Take care out there, and keep those hits comin’ from every angle.

What are some ways you like to keep your writing life fresh?

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Serial Killer…Kinda

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m going serial!

I recently learned that my series DARK ON THE ROCK will be featured on JukePop Serials’ website very soon! If you’re a fan of superheroes or sci-fi, you won’t want to miss it! Even if you aren’t you still shouldn’t miss it. One of the great things about JukePop is that readers can not only vote for their favorite stories, they can also leave comments for the writer, which may have an impact on future installations/episodes.

Here is a small preview of what’s in store for you, and I’ll be sure to update as soon as JukePop launches. I’m really looking forward to this! Hopefully it’ll open some doors for me.

Take care out there.

 

 

I’m starting to work on perfecting my query letter(s) to send out to agents. *Pause for applause* I’ve been reading advice on how to write a query letter, what to include in a query letter and how to get your query letter trashed before the agent even finishes the first paragraph. While absorbing and taking note of all of this information, it’s occurred to me that writing a query letter is a lot like writing a book.

Let’s break it down like James Brown.

Target Audience

When writing a book, you have to know who your target audience is so you can craft your writing to reach as many people in that audience as possible. The same is true of a query letter. You have to know the name of the agent, what kind of material they accept and if they want to represent your material just as much as you like writing it. With both a book and a query letter, you want to make sure that your personality shines through. Although there are hundreds of urban fantasy series out there, each author speaks to the same audience in their own unique voice. Personality and individuality is paramount if you want to stand out on the bookshelves and in the inbox of agents.

Hook

If you don’t want readers to skip over your novel, you’ve got to have a hook. We live in an age where our eyes are constantly bombarded with stimuli, so if you want to snatch a person’s gaze, you’ve got to dazzle them. When it comes to books, the cover is what holds readers in sway. Once you’ve made them stop and stare, you’ve got to keep them enthralled with an original and compelling plot. With query letters, you’ve got to hook agents with your synopsis. I’ve always thought that blurbs are like movie previews, you don’t want to tell/show the audience everything, but you want to highlight the main points of the movie/novel and get their heart racing to see the full project. Authors have to come up with innovative and effective ways to get agents to ask for a full manuscript.

Trust

Bestselling authors aren’t always overnight sensations; it takes them time to build up their credentials before readers flock to pick up their new book the same day it’s released. One way they do this is by earning the reader’s trust and consistently putting out excellent material.  When writing a query letter, your trust comes from your publishing credentials. The more publishing credits you have to your name, the more likely an agent will trust that you know how to write and sell story, even if you’ve never written a novel before. If you don’t have many publishing credits, that trust comes from your personal background, what you’ve done before you decided to write a book and what makes you the perfect person to write a certain type of book.

Professionalism

In most cases, agents don’t want to deal with authors who don’t know jack about the publishing industry. They’re much too busy with other authors, editors, publishers and their own personal lives to give you even the nickel tour of the publishing world. The same applies to writing a book. Readers don’t want to waste time and money on an author who doesn’t care about grammar or learning the fundamental rules of novel writing, such as character development, plot and proper resolution. Remember, we live in a rapid fire age, and it only takes a few sentences for readers to decide if they want to buy a put or stuff it back on the shelves.

Now, I consider myself to be an intermediate-bordering on advanced writer, so what I’ve shared with you here is by no means holy gospel, only my personal observations on the matter. Writer’s Relief has a ton of posts on query letters, as does the illustrious Rachelle Gardner. Be sure to subscribe to both if you’re in need of a lighthouse while navigating the surging waves of the writing ocean.

Take care out there.

The Soliloquy Tweets

I’m finally on Twitter! @O’BrianGunn is my screen name. If any of you lovely guys and gals are pros at this, please help this lil’ tweetin’ tenderoni out! Now I know how older people feel when they try out new technology. Follow, help, comment, all of that good stuff!

Tweet care out there!

Ok, I’m done with the Twitter/tweet motif…for now.

Home Schoolin’

While writers may not have to spend years and years in school like doctors, lawyers, physical therapists or veterinarians, at times it feels like we do. The only difference is that instead of graduating with a master’s degree or PhD, we graduate with a book deal instead. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on how to survive as a writer in the “E-age” and how to go about writing, publishing and marketing a novel…successfully. Both books say that writers don’t absolutely have to earn a MFA degree, something that I’ve been loosely considering.

But now I’ve decided, I’m going back to school.

Rather than taking out students loans that will take me the rest of my life to pay back or visiting gorgeous campuses around the country, and planning a bus route to school, I’m going to home school. Writers have more educational tools than ever before right at their fingertips. A great deal of these resources are either free or affordable, and those that aren’t are usually/hopefully worth the price. We have a deluge (love that word) of blogs available that can teach us about writing, editing, querying, writing exercises, self-publishing, and how to build a platform. There are a variety of books available that reveal to us the mystery and the power of social media tools and how the writing world has changed. Right now I’m reading “How To Be A Writer In The E-Age…” and it’s made me excited about writing, reading, blogging and Twittering…which I going to start soon. There are also several websites dedicated to publishing markets, critiquing and rooting out shady agents and publishers.

What I’m getting at here is that you don’t have to be in school to go learn and advance your career. I thought that this was the perfect time to write this blog entry since school has started up. My plan is to make out a class schedule, assign myself homework and somehow either grade myself or have others grade me through critiques, acceptance letters or rejection letters. Maybe Mondays and Thursdays I’ll read up on how to write the perfect query letter, Tuesdays will be dedicated to writing short stories, Wednesdays will be editing stories and updating my blog, and Fridays will be writing exercises, reading educational blogs, or just outlining a story. I also plan on signing up for classes at local writers workshops. I’ll be learning, building my platform, hopefully getting a few things published, and learning more about the writing industry all without having to mail in transcripts or sending in letters of recommendation.

I guess now I’ve become one of those students who doesn’t know when they’ll graduate or feel as if they’ll spend the rest of their lives in school. But I really don’t mind it that much. It’ll be worth my while (hopefully), and when I finally do get a book deal, I’ll be that much more knowledgeable about the reality of being a published author. That’s much more desirable than being overjoyed and elated when I  find an agent to represent my book, find a publisher to publish my first book, and quit my day job only to have to pick it up again because I didn’t learn that one published book does not a successful author make. Hard truths are hard to swallow, but the pill isn’t so bitter when coated with an idea of just how hard that truth truly is.

Well, I guess I’ll go plan out this semester’s syllabus. I wonder who I’ll have first period with?

Take care out there.

Origin Story

I guess now is a good time to expose my roots and tell you how I discovered that I wanted to be a writer.

I’d first have to thank my Aunt Ann. Without her love for reading, I don’t think mine would’ve been so strong. I remember sitting with her at my grandma’s house reading a book. That little seed would only grow and flourish as the years went on and I started to grow up. I mostly read fantasy novels, anything that was imaginative and took me away from the “real world.”

When I was…about 14 or 15, I decided that I wanted to be a photojournalist. I think it was a combination of watching Spider-Man and The Secret World of Alex Mack (anyone remember that show?). I never actually went out and bought a fancy camera, but I do remember taking lots of pictures for a short period of time. Then somehow I stumbled on fan fiction! For the uninitiated, fan fiction is where you write your own stories for TV shows, adding your own twist to them. It was like being pushed into an ocean with no idea of how to swim. But I was more intrigued than anything else. I had discovered an underground dimension, a galaxy of parallel universes.

So I started writing fan fiction. My first was a Power Rangers fan fiction. Yep, Power Rangers. I was a HUGE fan when I was young. So I guess I have them to thank too for helping me discover my passion for writing. While attempting to come up with ideas for my storyline, I was still under the impression that I wanted to be a photojournalist, even though ideas for original stories were constantly pouring into my head.

I remember one story was about a group of teenagers who were mystical ninjas with elemental based powers who had to travel to a different dimension and battle their evil twins. Another was about two sorceresses, a vampire/werewolf hybrid and a seer who were part of an evil group called The Deranteke who were attempting to bring back their dark lord…all while staving off the attempts of other baddies who wanted to curry favor with said dark lord. Sounds like bestselling material, eh?

This is where I began my dalliance with exploring the “bad guys.”

I believe I finally decided I wanted to become a writer when I started writing the Bo Quintin series. Bo was a feral (a werewolf who doesn’t transform) and bounty hunter who received his assignments from an unknown divine source. I remember how much enjoyment it brought me to sit at the keyboard fleshing out this supernatural world and coming up with ideas. I even had a playlist for when I was writing fight scenes, and to this day writing a good fight scene is one of my absolute favorite things to do when writing. I was writing the Bo Quintin series when Angel and Buffy were on, and I was most definitely influenced by the Whedon world. I even had a spin-off series for one of my characters much like Angel was a spin-off of Buffy.

This is also where I developed the habit of jumping from project to project and starting things and not finishing them.

Next I visited my good friend Noel  in Kansas where I saw the movie Sin City.

This is where I was introduced to my good friend noir.

I was immediately held in thrall by this film. The colors, the music, the dialogue, the lighting, the story. It felt like a dark angel had descended from the corners of heaven, kissed me on the lips, blew out my soul like a jittering old car engine and gave me wings of my own. I remember going back to her apartment after the movie and starting my own noir story, one about an assassin and a vigilante named Vigil and Whisper. They were both gay and lived in a world where there were no women, save one, and they only operated at night. “Sons of Entropy”, as I called it, was some of my absolute finest work up until that point. I had cowboys, clones, a femme fatal, swords, strippers, courtesans, a gritty romance, drugs and the classic twisted noir ending.

I think I need to pull that story out and take a look at it. Who knows, could get it published after I polish it!

After “Sons of Entropy” came “SanGuine” and various other short stories, some of which I tried to get published and received my first rejection letters. I’m not sure when I got the idea for my first novel, “Fury Us,” but I do remember that it was originally ” X-Treme Quarantine.” I started writing it when I realized that there was much more to the story, and that I had to go back before writing about the XQtioners.

Presently, I’ve written an ish-ton of short stories, some finished, some not, one novel, some scripts, several poems and I’ve got about three chapters to finish on my second novel. I’ve come a long way, and I know that I have even further to go. I’m glad that I decided to share this, even the part about writing Power Ranger fan fiction, which I was apprehensive about. I guess you never know where “that moment” will come from. It’s always nice to go back and retrieve wisdom, passion and smiles that you’ve experienced on a personal journey.

Now, back to working on my latest short story!

Take care out there.

Mum’s the Word

Controversy.

It’s a word that sends images and words hurtling through our minds. It seems as if we can’t go a single day without experiencing, reading or hearing about some sort of controversy. We may lock ourselves in our homes, cut off the TV, take a hiatus from Facebook and Twitter and escape to the fantasy world of a book. Only to find that our escape isn’t an escape at all, but another quagmire of controversy.

As writers, we may not want to upset or alienate our readers. They give us their time, money, attention and hopefully their praise. We don’t want to dissolve that tenuous tether of trust by having our characters deal with something like abortion, race issues, homosexuality, rape or anything else that the public feels strongly about. Even if we don’t outright announce our stance on the issue, we don’t want to run the risk of scaring off potential readers by bringing in real-world politics or have a character who is thinking about having an abortion.

I often find one of the best ways to unravel my emotions and thoughts is to write them down, put my characters in a similar position and allow them to show me the way. Sometimes I’m shocked at how intelligent my characters are, just as I’m stunned by how cruel they might be. Even though it’s me writing the story, I’m not the one telling that story. I write about characters who share my personal views and beliefs, and I also write characters whose beliefs I don’t agree with. And sometimes it’s the characters whose views aren’t my own who are the most enjoyable to write.

Imagine that.

Controversy is something that I feel cannot and should not be ignored. Writers are nudists. We show our naked flesh on the page, the ink becomes our scars, moles and stretch marks, the creases in the book are the creases in our skins. We offer ourselves up to our audience and hope that they will be gentle. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. All of that being said, what’s the true risk in including an inter-racial couple, gay couple or a noble cheating spouse in your work? Not every reader will like what you write, even if they are fans of your genre. You have to ask yourself, are you writing to get your ideas out into the world, or are you writing to get a paycheck in your hand? Usually the answer is both, and it’s entirely possible to do both and still remain true to who we are, all with a little ingenuity.

As a gay African-American author, I know that there will be times when I’ll have to decide how much or how little of certain…possibly controversial subject matter I wish to put on the page, something that I’ve encountered already with writing my first novel. I’ve decided to not shy away from it, but also not to take it to the extremes. I enjoy creativity, and I want to not just put my own beliefs and views on the page, but do it in a creative way.

Creativity. Controversy. Creative controversy. Controversial creativity.

Blending them together gives them a totally different meaning, don’t you think?

Take care out there.