Friday, April 23, 2010
Characters are the most important aspect of any good story--fiction and non-fiction. In non-fiction characters are real people, of course, and the stories we read regarding them are facts about their lives. It is a bold writer who makes those facts as compelling as possible.
For example, fireman Joe Burnett makes news because he has saved two children from a house fire. The topic in this case is already compelling, and Joe has performed heroically.
The ambitious non-fiction writer, however, digs deeper and discovers Joe saved the two lives three days after receiving news his job was being cut due to city finance problems. In addition, he gets Joe to talk about losing his job and learns he’s taken his circumstances in stride. He’s been through worse times.
Joe’s a recovering alcoholic who’s got four children and an ex-wife to support. He’s already lined up interviews for a half dozen jobs, and he’s determined he’ll get one of them. He never wants to let his family down again.
A valiant fiction writer, like an intrepid reporter, will seek out all the facts about her characters. Before she writes a word of her story, she’ll know her characters as well as she knows herself. Like the writer and everyone she knows, her characters will be rounded individuals with flaws and virtues. None of them will be all bad or all good.
Like Joe, they’ll have made mistakes, been visited by misfortune and have done courageous things. They’ll have loved, failed, succeeded and behaved badly.
Most importantly, the genuine characters a resolute fiction writer creates will be identifiable to the reader. Realistic characters make a story shine and entice readers to yearn for more.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
- Celebrate Love -- Small Town Style or
- Celebrate Romance -- Small Town Style
- Celebrate Small-town Love -- 21st Century Style or
- Celebrate Small-town Romance -- 21st Century Style
- Small-town Love -- 21st Century Style or
- Small-town Romance -- 21st Century Style
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I wrote her back, “If we writers didn’t have self doubt, we’d have noting.”
Okay, my answer’s an exaggeration, but there are times when self doubt seems to paralyze us, stop us in our tracks, even makes us take a step backwards.
When I signed with my first agent, the thought hit me, “Now I’m going to have to produce because I’m not on my own anymore.” That realization scared me. Could I do that? Up to that moment, my writing had been something I’d done when I had time for my own entertainment. Self doubt filled me.
That’s why I especially appreciated two earlier blog entries: Six Things I’ve Learned about Rejection and My Cure for Writer’s Block. If there’s anything a rejection does, it’s to make an author—well, at least me—think, “I’m a terrible writer. I’ll never publish again.” Writer’s block makes me think, “Where have the words gone? I’ll never publish again.”
Aah, yes. Self doubt.
It’s not just for writers, either. When was the last time you were filled with self doubt? When you decided to go back to school? Look for a new job? Has it slowed you, even stopped you from getting what you wanted?
I was a counselor for several years. Probably the main thing I worked on with people was low self-esteem. I know there’s a tape inside my head that plays those themes over and over, “You can’t do this,” etc. What I had to learn to do was turn off the tape, change the words, “You can do this. You are talented.” I had to affirm my ability and strengths.
That’s what I taught those I counseled. Clients told me they couldn’t turn off that destructive tape so I’d tell them, “Close your eyes. For a minute, I’m going to allow you to play that negative tape in your brain.” After twenty seconds, I hurled a heavy book on the floor. Every one of them opened their eyes, their bodies jumped, some screamed, and they all stared at me in amazement. “Were you able to turn off the tape when I dropped the book?” I asked.
Of course they were.
It IS possible to stop self-doubt. It takes a good plan and consistency and a desire to overcome that, but it can be done.
A writer can teach him or herself to learn from rejection, to overcome writer’s block and self doubt. But a writer must want to do that.
In our lives, we can learn that too.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Today, we have the privilege of introducing our new Avalon editor, Lia Brown. do please leave her a warm message of welcome.
1: You’re new to Avalon. Tell us a bit about what brought you here; i.e., what is your background in publishing?
Long ago I wanted to be a writer, so when my high school offered full-time internships for a semester my senior year, I took the opportunity and was placed to work as an editor for Starlog Magazine, a small sci-fi and fantasy genre mag. I worked for a wonderful editor, David McDonnell, who really taught me how to edit and work a story, and from there, I was hooked. During and after college I worked as an editor for Marvel Comics and later moved on as Production Editor and then Managing Editor at a number of houses including HarperCollins, St. Martin's Press, Random House, and most recently Oxford University Press. I love books and the business of publishing, I can't imagine doing anything else; I’m a fan.
2: What got you interested in books; e.g., childhood influences.
My parents are both tremendous readers. My parents’ apartment was filled with books and they were friends with many poets and artists. I was always surrounded by creative people who were also very generous with their time, considering as an only child, I was usually the only kid around. My parents were also always putting new books by different authors in my hands; titles that were important to them growing up and others that they just thought I’d enjoy. So, I guess it's in my genes.
3: What book or books have made the most impact on your life, or at least reading life?
I suppose that if I there was one book it would have to be "The Favorite Game," by Leonard Cohen (who is better known as a songwriter, though he is a wonderful novelist and poet). My father gave it to me to read when I was a teenager, I was writing a lot myself at the time and he said to me, "this is the book I keep on my desk when I'm writing." It's a beautiful coming of age love story. It's a truly incredible novel about becoming an adult and trying to reconcile oneself to love and one's family's history. A few years ago I read "Fortress of Solitude" by Jonathan Lethem. That has become a recent favorite as both a reader and former writer because it was the novel that I would have loved to have written myself. It's a story about growing up in New York at around the same time that I did, and the characters and their experiences, and the places they go struck very close to my heart. Some other favorite authors are Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Graham Greene, and John Irving.
4: As an editor, what type of books do you seek? What elements of character and setting, background and conflicts, etc.?
Well, specific to the genre and guidelines at Avalon, I am looking for wholesome family-friendly romances, historical romances, mysteries, and westerns. And within that framework, what I really enjoy are character-driven books. I especially appreciate a writer who has an ear for dialogue. I'm not a fan of simple black and white characters--all good or all bad. People are complicated and whether they're a Lady in Queen Elizabeth's court or a new divorcee moving back to their small hometown in the present day, characters with emotional depth are what I enjoy the most. I find a writer who is able to create really well-rounded characters is more often than not able to take any setting and conflict and make it feel new and interesting and best of all, real. I like to be able to recognize the emotions and motives of a character even if I don’t necessarily recognize their immediate predicament.
5: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Lately my focus has been on photography, and I've been working more on that thanks to my wonderful husband who gave me a beautiful digital SLR for Christmas this past year. I like to make things as well and I've gone through different periods where I was sewing quilts, doing mosaics, and my most successful venture, jewelry-making. I ran a little online jewelry store for a few years and did pretty well with it—I enjoyed it enough to consider (for a moment) doing it full-time. And as corny as it sounds, I really enjoy spending my time with my husband, Chris. He travels a lot on business and my job keeps me very busy, too. So anytime we have together to bike or go to shows, is a real treat. We met on Valentine's Day several years ago, completely accidentally (there were supposed to have been a group gathering, but we were the only two to show up), became inseparable friends, and after having dated other people, realized what we really wanted was to just be with each other. It's one of my favorite romance stories.
6: You now work in New York. Are you a native New Yorker, from nearby, or a transplant? Regardless of your background there, what do you like most about the city?
I am one of those rarities here, yes, a native New Yorker. My entire family is from a town in the borough of Queens called Corona, except for my mom who was born in New Orleans after my grandmother moved down there for a few years, although they moved right back to Corona when my mom was four. So on both sides, from my great-grandparents on, we're all from the city. It was a fun childhood, having my entire family close by like that. Since I also went to college in the city, the only time I ever lived away from here was in 2008 when my husband's job relocated us to Memphis. That was supposed to have been for a few years but it wound up only lasting for 10 months. That was a heckuva time, moving halfway across the country twice in less than a year--I still don't think our cats have forgiven us for it! Living outside of the city was a tremendous experience for me, so completely different from my life in New York. As for what I like most about the city, I can definitely say after having lived in Tennessee, is being able to walk everywhere! I missed that the most when I was away for sure. Even though I've almost always had a car in NY, there is just something that I love about not having to get into one to go to a restaurant, go shopping, or simply just walk to a park.
7: We hear and read a great deal about publishing getting away from print books, away from traditional publishing, and so on. What, if any, changes do you seeing publishing in the next few years?
I remember working on ebooks way back in the mid-nineties when I was at HarperColllins. At the time all the major publishers were rushing to get digital rights and put their books into every conceivable format with no real plan, and no truly good device for consumers to use. Back then everyone was saying how the end of the printed book was "5 to 10 years away." Naturally, that didn't happen. Since then I've seen great changes in how books are made--from electronic copyediting and proofreading--as well as how they're delivered. I now believe that there will be a day, probably in our lifetime, where books are not printed in the numbers that they've been traditionally produced. Between the cost of paper and printing and the advent of truly revolutionary devices like Kindle, the iPad, and Nook--devices that create a very familiar reading experience, even for traditionalists--it just makes sense for publishers to consider digital delivery more and more for the future of their business. I think it's a winning situation for everyone. Libraries have also started a push into digital media, and that’s great considering the difficult financial situation many of them are in. Digital delivery does help save cost not just in sale to the consumer, but also allows brick and mortar institutions to carry more titles on their websites where they don’t have to worry about paying for the space to maintain their inventories. That gives them options and allows them to offer more to their readers. It also keeps authors books in print and available. And I can't remember a time where publishing has been the forefront of the public conversation the way it has been recently. The huge buzz about Apple’s iPad has opened up whole media dialogues about the future of the book. It's great for everyone in the business to have the attention, and hopefully the ease with which the devices allow people to access books will create many future readers. And as someone who adores books, after having to pack 40+ boxes of them to move twice recently, I've quickly grown to appreciate the simplicity of having two dozen books only weighing a couple of ounces in my purse on my Kindle.
8: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Wow I don't think I left anything out to answer this! :) But, seriously, I am really looking forward to my new position at Avalon and although it's only been a short time, I think this is going to be a wonderful new experience for me. I’ve already met a number of wonderful people who have made me feel very welcome and I look forward to working with everyone.
Monday, April 19, 2010
One writer’s perspective
Let’s face it, rejection isn’t fun. It especially isn’t fun when it’s tied to your hopes and dreams. I’ve suffered my share of knocks over the years, and I’ve observed a few things along the way. These are in no particular order. Take them as you will.
• Rejection is better than hearing nothing at all. At least it is a sense of closure from which one can move on. Endless waiting is much, much worse.
• If you aren’t being rejected, you aren’t trying hard enough. We’ve all heard stories about the writer who received a long-lost rejection after selling her manuscript for a huge advance elsewhere. (And doesn’t that just sound like fun?) Getting rejected means you’re putting yourself out there. Putting yourself out there is the only way you will ever succeed. Unless you’re receiving rejection from someone--your online workshops, critique partners, teachers, contest judges, reviewers, readers, agents or editors--you aren’t putting yourself out there enough.
• Rejection sometimes means nothing more than ‘no, thanks’. It doesn’t necessarily mean every word you spew is garbage, you made an unforgivable typo, addressed someone too formally or informally, bugged them with one too many status emails, inadvertently wrote something unflattering about them on a blog or writers forum, put your work out there too soon or too late, missed an apostrophe, sounded too desperate, too creative, used the wrong verb or one too many adverbs, forgot to mention that fabulous detail that would unequivocally seal the deal, had the wrong word-count, are secretly blacklisted throughout the publishing community, or that you’re plain not liked.
It could just mean, “No, thanks. This work isn’t right for me.” Sure, you could be rejected for any one of these reasons, but then again, maybe not. Writers are stellar at reading between the lines. Sometimes, there is nothing there but white space.
• Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results really is one definition of insanity. While courage is required to put yourself out there, blindly forging ahead without stepping back once in a while to assess where you’re going isn’t a good idea. If tweaks and shoves here and there aren’t selling your manuscript, maybe it’s time to take a harder look. Manuscripts do get rejected for big problems which require hefty solutions. I’m not talking bon-fire big, rather, think-about-it-long-and-hard big. Structure problems, pacing problems, issues with voice, character, language or plot all require thoughtful, practiced rework. And rework. And rework. And that rework may get rejected. Fun, isn’t it?
• Rejection hurts, even when you’re used to it. True, skin may get thicker, but there is sting to rejection no matter how jaded the writer. Think of that small pain as a reminder you care. Doing something you care about, even if you are rejected should at least make you feel good for trying. So, take rejection with a spoonful of sugar, or a fistful of peanut butter M&Ms - whatever works for you - and keep that chin up.
• They can block your email address as spam, but only you can quit trying. Rejection really does put you one step closer to achieving your dreams...if you never give up. One of my favorite quotes is from Harriet Beecher Stow:
Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide willThat thought has kept me going on many a weary day. Wouldn’t you hate to find if you’d held on just a teensy bit longer, you’d have gotten that book deal/great review/contest win/literary representation/whatever? Of course, you'd never know that, would you? Can you stand not knowing? There's only one way to find out - and that makes this my favorite lesson learned. Rejection is a reminder to never, ever give up.