Tag Archive: writers


The Shock Factor!

Nudity. Graphic violence. Rape. Sex. Mass killings. Pedophilia. Extremely harsh language. Dark humor.

No, this isn’t a list of my favorite things, just a few examples of what we see in movies, read in books and hear in music. It’s an undeniable fact that the shock factor is a good way to get butts in seats, books off of shelves and music churning through headphones. It’s certainly not unusual to be shocked, appalled, disgusted, and mad as hell at an author, or rather at what an author writes.

But how far is too far?

How much is too much?

And are writers allowed a “get out of jail free” card for the actions of their characters? After all, if their main character is a murderer, the reader shouldn’t be surprised when that character slams a dull pencil into his disabled mother’s eye…right? If one of the characters in a book is a drug addict, then the reader has no right to be upset with that character is willing to give up their body to everyone they pass in a dirty alley in exchange for drugs…right? Neither does the reader have a right to be upset if the author chooses to go into great detail when describing how that character earns their drugs.

Where is the dividing line between sensationalism and true art when it comes to writing? There’s always been a debate about whether or not paintings of nude people is art or pornography, but I want to put the focus on writing.

I remember back in ’09 that I read a book by Samuel R. Delany called “Hogg.” If you know anything about the book, then you know it’s become extremely well known for its depictions of gay sex, incest, murder, and a full laundry list of taboo subjects. I honestly couldn’t make it through the book. It really wasn’t that I couldn’t stomach the content, just that I couldn’t grasp the story. It might be one of those books you have to stick with in order to fully enjoy, but to me it simply got too repetitive. So did Mr. Delany write “Hogg” because he truly had a story in his head, or did he write it to give people and critics something to talk about? Were his book sales dipping and he needed a way to inject some adrenaline back into his career using any unsavory means necessary?

I can’t help but wonder if I were to write the next “50 Shades of Grey” if that would get publishers and agents interested in me. Interested not because of the story, but because of the subject matter and the potential dollar signs. We all know that the publishing industry is a business, and just like any other business money is most often the biggest factor when deciding whether to go left, right or stay in the same position.

I realize that I’ve posed several questions here and I have yet to provide you with a concrete answer as to whether or not I think the shock factor should be justified or vilified. In some cases, I think going for the reader’s throat is a good way to make them aware, get them talking about things that they’d much rather sweep under their tidy societal rug. I also think going after the reader’s throat can at times be a cheap and lazy trick to keep them interested, to move the story along when you’ve run out of ideas. Cheap and lazy, but still effective.

It’s also quite possible that the author had no idea that they were writing material that might be considered shocking. What makes you uncomfortable might not even make them bat an eye, and what they find disgusting you might call everyday life. So it’s only really shocking if you aren’t familiar with it.

What’s the most shocking thing that you’ve ever read and why was it so jarring to you?

Next post: Writing for fans you don’t yet have. Good idea, or waste of time? 

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Tell Me Where the Road Turns

 

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on self-publishing and traditional publishing, wondering which would be a better fit for me, my personal tastes and my novel. There are aspects of both that I enjoy: the freedom and independence of traditional publishing, the level of exposure with traditional publishing, the level of control with self-publishing, the professional team you get with traditional publishing…and of course the financial benefits of self-publishing.

With traditional publishing I may have to wait months or years for my novel to come out, I’ll probably have to do all of my marketing on my own, I could be asked to change my title and I may not have much control over what my cover looks like. All of that being said, my material will be looked over by a professional editor, I’ll have more opportunities for reaching a wider audience and I’ll have an agent who knows where and to whom to market my work.

Self-publishing is a lot of work and can take a lot of money for a professional cover, editor and travel expenses if I want to do a book tour or something. That being said, it can be that much more satisfying if I become a success knowing that I did a majority of it on my own. I get to decide how much my book sells for, where my book is sold, what the cover looks like and when the book comes out. I know it’s possible to find an agent and publisher through self-publishing, but I feel like there’re just so many authors out there with magnificent and not-so-magnificent material. How does one stand out? How much time should one devote to marketing, networking, writing and working to keep food on the table?

I’ll be honest with you, there’s a part of me that terrified, overwrought and queasy at the thought of failing as an author. While I have confidence in myself and my writing, I’ll admit that I’m terrible at garnering attention. I’m the quiet, introspective type, not the Don Draper of the professional author world. I know I’ll have to become more extroverted and assertive as a self-published author or a traditionally published author. I know a lot of authors feel like this, and the way I see it is that if we’re brave enough to show readers, many of them faceless strangers, a part of ourselves with our work, then surely pursing an agent or self-publishing should be simple.

I’m sure some of us have heard horror stories about traditionally published authors who were forced to gut their books in order to make them “publishable” only to watch them wither and waste on the bookshelves. And we also know that if you choose to self-publish you have to set yourself on fire and put on a strobe light show with full surround sound simply to get readers to look your way , and even then they may not read your work.

So which path is the right path? Which is less painful? Which is more rewarding in this day and age?

I think they both are.

Rather than looking at it as an “either/or” issue, we should explore both avenues and realize their merit. If I do get an agent before I’m financially ready to be published, then I absolutely must express my concerns with them to make sure that we both want the same thing and so that I can make sure that my career is on the right path. I know that I’ll probably do some self-publishing, just to try it for myself somewhere down the line, hopefully after I’ve built up a bit of a following.

There’s no way of knowing where the road turns, and sometimes there’s no map to look at to plot a course, so all we can do is keep going…even if we’re all by ourselves.

Take care out there.

What are some of your fears and anxieties as a writer?

Devil’s Webground

 

I haven’t been feeding my child of creativity lately because my child of responsibility has been crying loudly, endlessly. As I was discussing with Diem Burden on Twitter, I hate it how life gets in the way of writing. And that’s especially true when you feel that writing is your life. Writers are also friends, fathers, employees, bosses, businesspeople, advertising agents and tax payers. While we would like nothing more than to put up a force field to block all of that out and simply write, we simply can’t.

I hate that I have to neglect my work-in-progress for my job, but I also hate having a zero balance in my bank account. And that’s what it’s all about really, balance. Sometimes that balance is a daily thing, sometimes weekly and sometimes monthly. While I would really like to work on something creative every day, I realize that sometimes I have to put aside the writing that makes me happy for the writing that makes me money. My novel isn’t making me any money yet, but my freelance writing is, and that’s something that I have to live with whether I like it or not. Sure I could say the hell with making money, but I like having a place to stay, food to eat and new books to read. In order to have all of that, I have to be bringing in money. While I have faith that I will make a luxurious living as a published author, I realize the hard truth that it may take a while for that to happen. In the meantime, I still have bills to pay.

Something else that I feel I’ve been investing too much time in, unnecessarily this time, is the Internet. I know that this is something that all writers deal with. These days it’s important to have an online presence in order to build up your platform and audience. But spending time online is a piece of the puzzle we have to fit in with the other pieces juuust right. Twitter, Facebook, blogging and all of the other social media gems are no doubt valuable, but they have to be done in moderation. After all, you won’t have anything to promote on all of those platforms if you don’t set aside the time to write. Just as you won’t have anywhere to sit down and write if you get evicted from your apartment for not paying the rent…ok, so you can go to a coffeeshop to write, but you won’t have money to buy coffee!

I guess what it all comes down to is prioritizing. Even if I don’t work on my novel every day, I can still write down ideas and at least outline a scene or chapter. Even if I don’t have something insightful to say on Twitter every hour, there are plenty of people who do and I can share their information, information that could inspire a blog post.

Writers are so busy moving, thinking, churning and reading that we forget to be…still…and…just…be. Just because you aren’t moving doesn’t mean that you aren’t going anywhere. Simply because you can’t feel the Earth move doesn’t mean that we all aren’t hurling across space. There’s no shame in having priorities, but there is shame in having skewed priorities and warped perceptions.

Take care out there.

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?

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.

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.

The Spark

I suppose now is a good of a time as any for me to rebirth my blog.

I’ve lived in Denver for three years now, and in that three years I’ve learned a lot about who I am, who I want to be and who I’m not. Today I’ve learned something else.

I’ve learned how to be afraid.

Last night I read that 20 people had been injured in a movie theater in a town not far from where I live. This morning I learned that 12 people had been killed and many more had been injured. It felt like something you would see in a movie or read in a book. I couldn’t help but associate the feeling with one of going to sleep in one reality and waking up in another.

Where does it come from? This need to cause chaos. Was the gunman wanting an escape from his life, his reality? Did he find solace and comfort in thinking  (not pretending, but thinking) that he was a character from the Batman universe? I perfectly understand the desire to want to be in a world of the fantastic, where ordinary humans don a cape, cowl and utility belt and become a guardian, a symbol, an icon. One of the ways I realized I wanted to be a writer was my active imagination and my natural curiosity.

Again, I ask, where does it come from?

My need to write comes from a need to understand the world I live in and the thoughts I have in my head. My need to write fantasy and fiction is an effort to keep a grip on my sanity. If I don’t get it out, I might go insane. Writing is therapeutic for me and creativity if my drug of choice. I do like to explore the mind of the villain, but does that make me a villain myself in a roundabout way?  Do I write in an effort to garner attention, to cement myself and my work in a history that will live on long after my bones have cracked and decayed? Does a villain not do the same? The shooter will live on long after he’s died, much like an author, painter or actor.

When something like this happens, we can’t help but wonder when our day will come, what we’ll be doing and who we’ll be with when we leave this earth. Dwelling on the unknown is like stopping on a treadmill, the world keeps flashing by and eventually you’ll stumble if you don’t get your feet moving.

I apologize for the dour post, but I just wanted to get this out. This is my healthy way of coping, a way that I wish the gunman had learned. The world we live in can be unforgiving and bleak, but there is goodness to be found, bountiful goodness. I use this tragedy as a catalyst to live my life to the fullest and stop being afraid of rejection, of setbacks, of bad news. It’s gonna come, and it’s gonna come heavier if I allow my creative muscles to atrophy.

Keep writing, keep living, keep going. 

Now I feel the need to listen to some uplifting music. What are some of your go-to songs when you’re feeling low?