Friday, August 9, 2013

Reading WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL

No formula can predict the sudden plot twist that leaps from an author's unconscious mind to his fingertips to the computer screen, causing him to whistle and exclaim, "Where did that come from?" Is that true magic? In a way. But it is dangerous to hope that random flashes of lightning will make one's fortune as a writer.  ~Donald Maass

Unless, of course, those shining gems emerge from steady hard work and focus on learning craft. But then that's not exactly a flash of lightning, is it?

I have been in a manuscript rewriting crisis for more than a year. I'm embarrassed to admit it. Yet the offending project is one I can't seem to move on from. It's a project that, though it has promising elements, falls into fiasco by the midpoint and only gets more confused from there. Great characters, interesting premise, surprising plot twists ... BUT.

I have yet to feel passionate about any editing attempt to date. Needless to say, I've been spinning my wheels, banging my head, wishing for divine intervention to lead me to the right course of action. Where the f*ck is my Muse? Well, she can't be expected to do all the heavy lifting, can she?

In the interim, I've read craft books, taken workshops, gone to conferences, all searching for that gem that might help me break free from the blockades around making this book the one I hoped it would be. Through all of that research and attention to craft, I have yet to learn how to excavate the gems and repair the shards with an end result of a fully intact working skeleton.

So I've been revisiting conference notes, scouring craft blogs, and rereading writing books.

Last night I revisited WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass.

I have been fortunate enough to attend a couple of his workshops at conferences and I've always found him on the mark, inspiring, motivating, and in turn find myself excited about every morsel he shares. But I think, as with everything, the assimilation of knowledge and information into true understand has a time and place. I was open to what his approach could teach me before, but I wasn't in the place to process or utilize it effectively. And I think that is one reason immersing yourself in the writing culture is so important if you want to grow as a writer. You never know when that shimmering nugget will be the one you need. And you can't always know when that explosion of glittering inspiration will break through.

I read WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL last night in one sitting. All 260 pages. And though I have read it before, maybe now is my time. Because, for some reason, though I know it to be false, I feel like I'd never read it before now. I was astonished and inspired.

Donald Maass does an expert job of balancing the concerns of craft, art, and business in his approach to writing with reason and expertise. It's a great book for any writer wanting a readership.

A lot of people in my life are writers--aspiring, struggling, disheartened, tired.
Revisit the knowledge you know.
Then learn something new. Rinse. Repeat.

Read WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. And if you have, but haven't in a while, pick it back up. You might be surprised, like me, by what you find in it's pages.

Pea <3
M

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Crazy Summer Fun? Yes!


It has been a crazy summer for me to say the least. The World Horror and Horror Writers Association conference in New Orleans, then a jaunt to Neuchatel, Switzerland with my husband for his work, followed by ITW conference in NYC and the International RWA Conference in Atlanta. Before RWA gets really rolling and I  jet home to leave yet again for my family summer cruise, I best quickly recap my adventures and let you know what is in the works for the fall. I don't want you to think I've forgotten you.  *grin*

This summer has been about connections.

HWA… I met the amazing and talented Alma Katsu in New Orleans. I was a big fan and serendipitously ended up at a cocktail table with J and her. If you have yet to pick up her epic dark romantic tale, The Taker you are in for a real treat—the third in the trilogy is out soon. My fan-girl moment with Jonathan Maberry was by far a highlight and got me excited about rumors for a Rot and Ruin film in the works. There were so many other moments I touched on in a previous blog, so check that out.  And I posted plenty of photos on my Facebook page. I also got to spend time with mentor Carolyn Haines—always a blast.

ITW…. This event was a journey and a joy. It was my 3rd visit to ITW in NYC. And it didn't disappoint. Although I didn’t pitch this time around, I made a lot of connections that I'm really excited about and feel I have some places  and people to query when my manuscript is polished. I caught up with friend and talent Joshua Corin thriller author. I met a slew of up and coming writers that I will be on the look out for as well met a few authors I really admire. Plus, with Anne Rice as a spotlight guest interviewed by Christopher Rice the weekend was bound to be memorable. I learned so much at this con and really felt like I came away with ideas to combat trouble issues in my writing and my career.  I also got to sneak away for Moroccan food and bowling in Williamsburg, manages a trip to the Met, and shopped on 5th Avenue. I can’t complain. I have been blessed to adventure my way to new experiences by pursuing this weird, at time unsteady and daunting, and certainly bizarre career path I have chosen. 
More on all this when I open my new blog.

RWA… Reconnecting with pal K. D. Wood is always a blast. RWA proves to be a very different experience this time around versus the last time in Orlando. I was excited to already reconnect and talk shop with the wonderful Jenna Bennett, chameleon and fantastic talent, who also goes by Jennie Bentley. We’ve got three more days of the conference. So I’m sure much fun and many more moments will be had. I'm be sure to update you.

I will save my adventures in Switzerland for later. *sneaky smile*

My writing well is full and overflowing. And I can’t wait to put all this knowledge and inspiration to use.

In other news, I plan to relaunch my own blog and redesign my website. This is going to be a work in progress for the next few months. I hope to stumble upon a place singularly me that I can explore ideas, topics, and share with you all (maybe I will use the moniker Thai Shaped Head...well see). I will do my best to keep Pod readers updated and connected, but as I begin to dip into some personal and specific blog themes—I’m going to try rethink how I blog as a whole and venture out alone from the security of the Pod. *trembles*

That’s all I have for you today. Stay tuned in the Pod and keep an eye out for new spaces.
Peas and love. M
 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Guest Pod: K. D. Wood on Critique Partners and Groups

Today we have a special guest here Inside the Pod. M sat down with author K. D. Wood and asked her a few probing questions. Here is what K. D. had to say...

The day I finished my first manuscript was one of the most amazing, terrifying, exhilarating and confusing days of my life. It is also a moment that is forever burned into my brain because I remember staring at the screen and thinking, now what?

Unfortunately back then, I wasn’t pals with many writers. I just wrote for the pure thrill of putting that first story on the page and giving it life. Confused by my research and desperate to know where my story stood, I decided to start the submission process after only two revisions.

Nineteen rejection letters later, it was glaringly obvious I needed a new approach to my manuscript. I started reaching out and connecting with other writers. This led me to understand just how important finding great critique partners can be for a work in progress.

After actually finishing the manuscript, finding a critique partner or critique group is the life’s blood of all your future revisions.

Why?

Because just letting your mama/best friend/spouse read your manuscript won’t help move your manuscript or your writing forward. Your family loves you. They want you to be happy. This means unless your family/friend reader works in the publishing industry they are going to tell you that your book is AMAZING. That the story is the best thing they have ever read.

They are going to tell you what they think you want to hear because that’s what people who love you do.  Now that I’ve ripped that band aid off.

I. How do you go about finding a critique partner or group?

There are many, many different options for finding other writers. But first, you have to decide which platform will work better for your personality. Face to face interactions or online. If you want to mingle with other writers in person, start locally. Look for writers groups for your particular genre. My own group River City Romance Writers I discovered while partaking in another resource. I heard about RCRW while attending MidsouthCon in Memphis, TN. Writer’s retreats, conventions, library groups, book clubs, coffee shops and book signings are all great places to meet other writers.

Recently, I got to know a few writers who have a hard time in social situations due to Aspergers. Though working hard on their novels, they struggle with interacting in social settings. If that’s a hurdle you also face, there are online communities for writers too, and one in particular is Bookcountry. Facebook is packed with writers. I’ve made some amazing writers pals participating in #WordWar on twitter too.

And let’s say after you take this crucial first step, you hit writer’s gold and meet someone or a group of people you want to hang out and talk writing with. There are several very important questions you need to consider.

II. What do you want to accomplish as a member of a critique group or with your new critique partner?

If you and your new potential writing pals are not on the same page about goals, conflicts will arise very fast. So you need to ask the questions that are most important to your writing goals. Communication, communication, communication.

III. Are you writing as a hobby or on the road to publication?

These two things are very different and can make or break a potential relationship. If you’re pounding away on your novel, preparing for submissions, churning out those word counts every day, you need to make sure your future critique partners are in it to win it also. Otherwise, you’ll just end up frustrated because your goals are so different.

One of the best ways to make sure you don’t run into this issue is to ask this question of yourself.

IV. Are you setting realistic critique goals for your group or partnership?

Let’s face it. Life is extremely busy. We all have stuff to do whether it’s jobs, family, kids or laundry. There are a million things to be done every day. When you have these initial conversations with your potential critique partner or partner it’s a question you need to address. If you’re a full time writer, pounding out those words eight hours a day but your potential partner has a twelve hour shift at the hospital, there will have to be some extreme specifics in time management ironed out for both sides to be happy with the partnership. And even with a situation like this, if your personalities and writing style are so in sync, anything is possible if you work hard enough to find a middle ground.

Now for those more uncomfortable questions.

V. Will your potential critique partners be willing to call you out on accountability when you start being a big old whiner-pants?

This is the part of finding critique partners that involves making sure you’re compatible as friends first. As a critique partner you need someone who is able to tell you to pull your head out of your ass without crushing your spirit but who also won’t let you get away with whining and when you don’t have your pages for the week completed. Someone who is bleeding on the keyboard the same way you are, who can understand when you break down and want to shred your latest revision and just how crappy that feels. Finally, there is one VERY important step to helping you move forward in your writing and finding a critique partnership.

IF YOU’R BOOK ISN’T FINISHED, MAKE FINISHING YOUR MANUSCRIPT A PRIORITY – Everyone’s time is valuable. Joining a critique group and not having your pages complete for meetings or delivering a stinging critique to someone who is working on their 11th draft when you haven’t even reached the first END on your own is disrespectful to your friends and the time they are investing in your work. Everyone in your new group needs to be pulling his or her weight, so don’t you be the straggling zombie shambling behind everyone else. Write the very best book you can. That way, you will be open to all the hard work that comes with diving into a new revision with lots of great ideas from your new critique partners.

K.D. Wood lives in north Mississippi with her husband, two boys and one very bad puppy. She writes Young Adult and New Adult Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy. Visit her on Facebook (K.D. Wood) and follow her on twitter @KDWoodauthor

Thursday, June 20, 2013

HWA Con 2013

I'm blogging from Switzerland! I know. Crazy, huh? I had such a great time at my last Con--even the town of Neuchatel will have to wait until I post this.

June 13th through 16th was the Horror Writer's Association Conference and World Horror Convention. Both J and I attended this year and we had a great time. It has been awhile since more than one Pea attended a conference together and we were quickly reminded why we enjoyed it so well. Lots of laughs, lots of inspiration.

Genre-bending Panel (I left my Con notes in the states.)
The panels we attended were terrific and we got to meet and rub elbows with some idols. There was a terrific Mash-up/Genre Bending panel that kicked things off just right for me. I was introduced to some amazing authors--which is one of the joys of these sorts of things. We get to meet writers we may not know or may not have read and find reasons to pick up there books, learn craft from them, and have out horizons broadened. Meeting both Alma Katsu (The Reckoning and The Taker) and the amazing one-and-only Jonathan Maberry (Rot and Ruin & Joe Ledger Series') were highlights of my weekend--both were gracious and patient with with this here fan girl.

Dean Harrison and me.
We also ran into some friends. Dean Harrison was in attendance promoting his book These Unquiet Bones and our very own Carolyn Haines was getting in touch with her dark side promoting The Darkling. Overall, it was a terrific weekend and con I will attend again. The organizers and attendees were a great bunch.
Carolyn Haines as R.B. Chesterton.

Can you believe J and I never got a photo together this con? Blaspheme.

We sat at Alma Katsu's table.
Squee! Fan girl moment... It's Jonathan Maberry and me.

Next week, we'll have a guest blog from K. D. Wood. Yay!
Peas and love to you all.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Game Pod Challenge: 4 Phrases

Today's Game Pod challenge rules?
Simple.

Write a 300 to 500 word count flash fiction or scene that used the following four phrases as dialog, text, theme, metaphor, action, etc. in the work. 

A windmill full of corpses
Passive-Aggressive Post-it notes
Getting drunk on mouthwash
Licking things to claim them

First up, G...


Scavengers
 by J. G. Walker
 
Three men entered the hotel dining room. As the door shut behind them, Tom--the middle-manager, the one with the most seniority, and the man in charge--spotted a book on a table. 
He pointed. “There!”
No sooner had Tom uttered this than his teammates, Pete and Stig, scrambled away in a blur of khaki and denim. Pete, benefitting from longer legs and an elbow deployed to Stig’s chest, reached the table first.
While Stig sulked, wheezing, Pete picked up the hardbound book, and Tom stepped closer to look at it: An aged, bedraggled knight wielded an enormous sword, leaning back against the door of a rustic windmill. Around the door’s edges, various bloody arms protruded, some with hands, some without. A few hung limp, but others still appeared intent on strangling the knight.
The title: Don Quixote: Zombie Exterminator.
Pete sat on the table, dropped the duffle he’d been carrying, and began to scan the book. He eventually stopped, unpeeling a purple sticky note from one of the pages, reading aloud: “Are you doing your best for the company? Answer: You can always do better. Spread the word.”
He smiled at Tom. “Mark the dining room off the list.” He folded the note and shoved it into his shirt pocket with the other gems of company propaganda they’d collected.
Then he lifted the book to his face and ran his tongue across its dusty cover. Twice.
Stig recoiled. Tom was too stunned to move.
“Why’d you do that?” he said.
Pete held the book out to Stig. “Do you want it?”
“No,” Stig said, clearly horrified. “Not with all your slobber on it.”
Pete looked at Tom again, grinning. “That’s why.” He placed the book on the table and reached into his jacket, producing a bottle, a blue one with a familiar label.
“Is that what I think it is?” Tom said.
Pete unscrewed the lid. “Probably.”
Stig shook his head. Apparently, he knew something Tom didn’t.
“Here’s to me,” Pete said.
Tom watched, amazed, as Pete upended the bottle of Listerine.
All things considered, mouthwash was probably a good idea for Pete. Even on a good day, he could stand it, but especially after licking that book.
He did seem to be drinking a lot of it, though.
Finally, Pete finished, but instead of spitting the mouthwash, he swallowed.
“Gah!” Tom said. “That stuff’ll kill you.”
“Common misconception.” Pete smacked his lips. “Gives quite the buzz, actually. And kills germs.”
“You’re crazy,” Stig said.
Actually, Tom realized, considering Pete’s daily office behavior, the Listerine explained a lot. An question occurred to him.
“Have you licked everything we’ve found this morning?”
“Yup,” Pete replied, then belched. “Which room’s next?”
Tom passed the list to Stig, who consulted it.
“Scullery.” Stig pointed. “That way.”
Tom sighed. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Team building exercises, he thought.
A scavenger hunt.
With these two idiots.
Ten more items.
Bloody terrific.




Next up, M....



 
MINE

By Michelle Ladner

Nick knew instantly the post-break-up agreement had been broken. He stood at the door of the apartment he’d shared with Kay and stared at the bright yellow square stuck to the faded green paint. On the note, a scrawl of purple marker read:

TOOK WHAT I FELT WAS MINE. HOPE YOU DON’T MIND. JACK HELPED MOVE ME OUT. BE BACK TONIGHT FOR THE REST.
Let’s keep things civil, Kay had said to him. There’s no need to get your family involved. You know how your dad can be.
Nick teeth ground together. Jack sure had moved her out, hadn’t he? He plucked the note off the door and crumpled it, stuffing it deep in his pocket.
He turned the key in the knob and flung the door wide. All the furniture he’d charged to his credit card last year with her urging was gone. Worse than that, the artwork his gran painted him last Christmas was gone too. A few odds and ends were still scattered about the studio apartment. He saw more yellow squares with ridiculous purple script stuck to what Kay deemed her remaining things.
The space smelled mustier than he remembered. He paced around, cataloging all the things she’d already taken, their things.
In the middle of the kitchen counter sat a cardboard box. Stuck to the front of it, another angry yellow square with purple script stared back.
YOUR STUFF
He shook his head and rifled through the heaped box, chewing on his bottom lip. He realized these weren’t his things, but instead an odd collection of trash and random incidentals retrieved from under the bathroom sink.
Heat rose to his forehead. He decided to grab a beer from the fridge. She didn’t drink beer.
All his beer was gone. As well as the milk he’d just bought on Monday. Only half a wrapped sandwich stared back. On it, another Post-it…
DONT EAT THIS. IT’S JACKS. COMING BACK FOR THE REST OF MY STUFF TONIGHT AT 6.
Nick slammed the fridge door.
He plucked a full bottle of mouthwash from the heart-gouging box of his stuff. Imagining her skinny, slutty body pinned to a windmill full of corpses. He wrenched off the top and gulped down half the blue minty liquid.
After a moment, staring at the mouthwash bottle on the kitchen counter and experiencing a strangely fresh and warm feeling overcoming him, Nick opened the fridge. He unwrapped Jack’s sandwich, peeled it apart, and licked both halves. Carefully, he placed the halves back together, rewrapped the sandwich, and laid it back on the fridge shelf.
He packed everything in the apartment with a Post-it on it into his car. Sitting on the curb, sipping on the mouthwash, he dialed his father’s office.
“Markham and Markham and Whitley,” the secretary answered.
“Hi, Carol. This is Nick. Can you ask Dad to meet me at the apartment at six tonight after all?”
“Sure thing, Nick.”
Nick smiled, hanging up the phone, and downing the rest of his mouthwash.

 
Hope you all enjoyed our Game Pod! Let's do it again!!!



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Guest Pod: The Appeal of Horror by Dean Harrison

Today in the Pod, my long time friend and colleague, Dean Harrison agreed to share a post about the appeal of horror. With the my upcoming attendance to the Horror Writer's Association annual conference this June, it only seemed fitting. -M


 The Appeal of Horror by Dean Harrison

“Why do you write scary stuff? Why not write something the whole family can read? Why can’t you write something nice and happy? Why don’t you write a children’s book?”

Those are a sample of questions about my fiction that I have fielded from relatives over the years and is not surprising.

Many in the mainstream don’t understand the appeal of horror as a genre. They turn their noses up at it and label it as nothing more than garbage lacking in value, and void of any insight into the human condition. They believe it offers nothing but cheap thrills, blood, gore and sex, and  that it teaches no moral lessons beneficial to society.

But if they look beyond the onslaught of splatter-punk and Stephenie Meyer novels, they might find their negative perception of the genre to be wrong. From William Shakespeare to Stephen King, storytellers for centuries have used their talent to shine a light on the darkness within us all, a darkness which some in the mainstream are too afraid to face.
   
In horror, a character is put in a situation where they must confront their worst fear or else suffer a terrible fate, such as death. Those kinds of stories reflect the good and the bad of human nature, and expose what human beings are capable of when thrust into extreme situations, and the heroic acts they perform when pushed to the brink. I strive to illustrate this in my fiction, and so do the countless others who write within the genre.
   
Horror evokes a visceral, emotional response and an intense and prolonged feeling of fear. It is one of the oldest forms of storytelling, according to Michael West, author of The Wide Game.
  
What makes [horror] relevant today, West said in a Facebook interview, is its ability to help us “deal with our own fears, to explore the human condition, real world problems, and injustices through allegory, and to continue to provide a safe outlet for our emotions.”
   
Horror stories, in essence, are character studies. Just look at such writers as Jack Ketchum (The Girl Next Door), Brian Keene (The Rising), and J.F. Gonzalez (Survivor). You will find stories of human beings forced to rise up and confront evil, to fight for the survival of those they love and the things they care about. Even classics written by the likes of William Faulkner (Sanctuary), Robert Louis Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray) have something to say about the dark side of human nature.
   
Some people say we as humans are inherently good, but we all have a bad side. According to Ty Schwamberger, editor of Fell Beasts, it is that bad side that comes out when we watch the news “or almost marvel at the destruction that some madman caused on the highway.”
   
Michael Knost, editor of Legends of the Mountain State: Ghostly Tales from the State of West Virginia, has a slightly different view of horror, and why it holds such appeal. He says it’s actually beneficial to our mental health.
   
“Horror is the only literary genre that focuses on the excitements of fear, fright, terror, apprehension and dread,” Knost said. “It is a genre that takes on the goal of making its reader actually feel one of the variants of this emotion.”
  
And because of the emotional elements involved, Knost said we shouldn’t surprise ourselves with the “mass appeal for these particular styles of literature and cinematic experiences.”
   
“After all,” Knost continued, “the majority of our emotions are processed by our brain's limbic system. When endorphins reach the opioid receptors of the highly emotional limbic system, we experience pleasure and a sense of satisfaction.”
   
According to Knost, that means horror emotions are created by endorphins, which give us pleasure, much like those from breathing, sexual satisfaction and hunger.
   
“Taking all this into consideration,” Knost concluded, “the horror genre is very important to our mental well being, keeping us emotionally stable and as far from depression as possible.”
         
Elizabeth Massie, author of Wire Mesh Mothers, believes horror is “dread to the nth degree, a state of being that in the first moment of its emergence replaces everything else in the human heart and mind.”
   
“And in this brutal moment,” Massie said, “some of the most powerful stories of human strength, weakness, compassion, cruelty, courage, and love can be born.”

According to Massie, good horror fiction deals with the most basic of human emotions. Stripping away the fluff of the ordinary day-to-day, it gets “down, dirty, dangerous and gritty to see how characters will either face up to or run from their circumstance.”
   
When done well, Massie concluded, horror can offer “insight into who we are, why we act as we do, and the quite beautiful desire humans often have to come together and unite with each other against the direst of situations.”
       
Horror can also have a mix of other genres such as romance, comedy and action all in the same story, said Thomas A. Erb, editor of Death Be Not Proud.

“It is not all about the blood splatter,” Erb said. “It is about fear--internal and external.” He added that everyone loves to be scared.
  
 “I believe it is in the human condition to wonder about the unknown and to love to fear it,” he continued. “If we can’t explain it, we will let our devious little imaginations create far greater and vile things that truly exist at the bottom of the lake or dank basement of our house.”
   
Erb also believes that we as a race need to have fear.  “Fear of anything. It is through fear that we truly live.”

“When we read or watch a truly terrifying book or film, we live vicariously through those characters,” Erb concluded.

And it’s when we feel the panic and horror of losing what we have in our lives that we find value in it.

***You can find more on Dean Harrison at his website.
He's also done some previous posts with us: THESE UNQUIET BONES and an interview.

Next time, a Game Pod with me and G. Fun times will be had!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Recap: Daddy's Girls' Weekend 2013

Another year... another Daddy's Girl Weekend. For those unfamiliar with the antics of the Peas' university writing mentor, known troublemaker Carolyn Haines, and her esteemed cohort, Sarah Bewley, each year (for the last three) these ladies have hosted a writer and reader conference in or near the Mobile, AL area. DGWE always proves to be great craft and business advice paired with an unforgettable time. This year was no exception.

 Chris Grabenstien author of iFunny, Dean James AKA Miranda James author of The Cat in the Stack Series, Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books, Scholastic Editor Mallory Kass, Muse Literary Agent Debbie Carter, friend Ron O'Gorman (whose book Fatal Rythmn with be available from Tuscany Press, Marilyn Johnston, Kimberly Daniels, Robert Warren, Alice Jackson, John Hafner, and Dewitt Lebrano were all in attendance as faculty and panelists this year, offering a wide array of perspectives of craft and business.

This is always a fun event and I've yet to miss a year. Plus, it's always good to get back to your roots. In many ways, Carolyn's classes is what really started this crazy endeavor anyway.

Follow the Con via Facebook at: D. g. Weekend

They are already gearing up for registration and accommodations for 2014. You won't want to miss it (even if just to watch the antics of Carolyn's posse.  ;-)

~M

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Olde City New Blood: February Recap... Eesh!

This is so, so late...

Olde City New Blood

A recap on a conference that happened months ago seems...
Well, I just should've done one sooner.

But it was such an amazing group of organizers, authors, bloggers, and readers--I feel like the Peas owed all of them a little shout out.

Holla! You were terrific!

This was one of the most fun cons for me. Not only did all in attendance have their fingers in some facet of the genre/sub-genres/categories I love, but the attendees and faculty were so accessible. I got to hang with one of my heros (Janice Hardy) and meet a slew of other authors and new faces that were just amazingly generous with their time and willingness to share: Alex Hughes, James R. Tuck, Jenna Bennett AKA Jenny Bentley, Karina Cooper, Delilah S. Dawson, Lexi George, Lea Nolan, C J Ellison, just to name a few that were particularly awesome to me and gave me great advice. Since, I have read a lot of their books since, I am even more glad I got to be in the company of their talented selves. (So if you are looking for a summer reading list and some new authors to explore, start with the links above).

I also met an incredibly talented lady forging her way through this jungle of the publishing world, Cat York. A talented illustrator and writer. And now a friend and comrade for the future.

For news on the next incarnation of this conference... check out Coastal Magic
This is a Con worth following. Give them some love--great things are happening here.

~M

Monday, May 13, 2013

Today's Lost Chance to Hollywood It

Today marks a day of professional growth disappointment. The screenwriting workshop I had signed up for at the local university did not make and therefore was cancelled. I had high hopes of learning the secrets of screenwriting in a two-week long course that would, per chance, enable me to channel Joss Whedon as I approach my next story concept. What's more, to have an affordable way to explore the craft of movie and television writing, right here in my own backyard. Well, to even have the opportunity is a rarity. Imagine my excitement paired with my disappointment as the course was squelched (for reasonable reasons, I'm sure).

Alas, that dream has faded. Today is just another Monday.

Not that I fancy myself a reborn (new born?) screenwriter. I enjoy the wordy exposition of the book format too much. I understand how different the formats of screenwriting versus novel writing are, but that's not to say I don't recognize the similarities as well. After all, a good story is a good story.

I'm a bit of a cinematic writer anyway. I tend to view the scenes in my head that I write much like I'm viewing them through a camera lens. This isn't a method exclusive to me. A lot of writers do it. We (meaning writer folk of the last several decades) have grown up in a society where television and film saturate our perspectives. But there is something innately comfortable with this method of storytelling--lenses, scenes, etc.--probably explained away in some philosophical psychology of the observer in relation the observed that dates back prior to the birth of moving pictures. However, the chicken-or-the-egg argument is not what I mean to highlight. What I mean to highlight is, as novelists, writers of any kind, ie: storytellers, we can learn a lot from experiencing the screenwriting process (I imagine, I had hoped, I still hope). I also think we can do the same by taking time to closely examine films that convey really good story.

This isn't anything new. It's not rocket science either. It's just something I'm pondering today--directly related to the mourning of my lost opportunity.

One thought brambling about up there...
Our film market is inundated (and always has been) with book to film adaptations. What is interesting to me is what works in both, what works exclusively with the confines of each format, and why we are so quick to judge these formats against one another (I loved the book but hated the movie, we often say).

I imagine this inevitable relation is as simple as: they are both ways to tell a story.

As a struggle through finishing my books and then making them really good stories (which I think the finishing is one thing and the latter comes with rewriting and editing) I look onward in awe at those filmmakers and screenwriters that tell really good stories. Until the next screenwriting opportunity shows itself, I'll satisfy myself with rereading Syd Feild's The Screenwriter's Workbook and keep replaying and scrutinizing Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams series' and films'.
Maybe I can teach myself to Hollywood It? But I'm open to suggestions.

~M

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cumberbatching My Way Back to the Job

I spend an awful lot of time lately lamenting how much or how little time I spend honing my craft and producing pages versus being human and remembering to eat, sleep, and clean out litter boxes so my feline companions and my husband don't walk out on me. I think every writer trying to find their feet does this at various stages, whether they are considered a success (whatever that means) or not. Especially those writers with careers, families, and responsibilities not centered around their creative endeavors. It's part and parcel to the game (I think). Some handle it better than others. I, however, find it all very anxiety-ridden.

I have a lot of idols, writers and other creative types (artists, actors, directors, etc.), that I look up to and I think, "Wow, you've got it so together. What the f*@k is wrong with me?" It's in those moments that I begin to think about all the things I should be doing, but don't do well. Things that are supposed to help bolster my career as a writer (whatever that means): the Twitter, the Facebook, the Blogging, my website upkeep, networking, pitching, querying, and the list goes on. You know the list, it's the one you start to compile when you go to writers' conferences and workshops and every writer tells you what they do, every editor and agent tells you what they want, and you just start to assimilate all of it rather than picking and choosing what actually might work best for you (because you don't have any sense at all. Well, YOU might have sense, but I don't). And it's in those moments that I begin my desent. My downward spiral. It's then that the doubt and the fear and the disillusionment begins. Call it insecurity, call it the artist's lament, either way, if I allow it to get a hold of me, it can take quite a long time for me to dig myself out of it.

So, last night, I was doing what I often do when I'm not writing and worrying about how I'm not writing whilst realizing that the worrying about not writing is just not writing and I'd be better off writing but I don't write because I'm a hot mess and I decide to wallow in my writer's lament...

I googled Benedict Cumberbatch.
(I don't always google Benedict, sometimes it's Joss Whedon, sometimes it's J.J. Abrams or James Hance or J.K Rowling or someone else on that long list of creative people I idolize.)
Last night it was Benedict Cumberbatch.

Anyway, I adore The Cumberbatch. He's one of those amazing creative types (a British actor, if you are unaware) who, I think, will be considered The Actor of my generation. And I mean that quite literally. His birthday is only three months before mine. Why is this important? Well, it goes back to what I said before--Benedict is one of those creative types I idolize and I often think, "Wow! You've got it together. What the sh*t is my problem?" 36-years-old, like me, Ben's part of the successful, well-loved BBC Series Sherlock, and in the last few years he's been a part of some amazing projects: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse, Atonement, The Hobbit, and Star Trek (just to name a few). Not only is his career exploding, but I believe he genuinely deserves the attention. He's an amazing actor and he's intelligent, charismatic, and possesses unearthly cheekbones.

Ultimately, in this moment of the downward spiral, thinking of Benedict Cumberbatch makes me feel crappy about myself and my lack of success (again... whatever that word means). We're the same age, he and I, and I look at him and I think (because I have engaged in that desent), "I am a waste of air and space. What the sh*t have I been doing the last 36 years?"

I know, I know. I know what you are going to say. "It's not Ben's fault!"
Of course it's not Benedict's fault. I know that! I'm not totally unaware of my accountability in all this. I'm also very aware that the comparison is ridiculous. For one, I'm not British. Secondly, I'm not an actor. I'm definitely not a dude. And even if I lost 60 lbs, I am never going to have cheekbones like his. Ever.

Nevertheless, thinking of him in this way makes me feel totally inadequate as I stare at the mess of a manuscript in my lap and the six other (once promising) novel projects that haven't quite made it off the ground. It's an anxiety-ridden despair that makes me wonder, why the hell am I doing any of this anyway?

But, keep in mind, I've been googling Benedict Cumberbatch throughout this whole desent process.

This is what I stumble upon:


Screenshot from a USA Today Article by Brian Truitt



God love you Benedict and your f*ck!ng amazing cheekbones.

In the last several years of trying so hard to write a publishable manuscript and pave a way to break into the market, I had forgotten this simple fact: I love writing. I cannot imagine an existence without me doing it. And when I'm in it, doing it with passion and without distraction, I really enjoy my job.

Do I want an audience? Absolutely. But not at the detriment of my love for the job which I so enjoy doing. It's so easy to get caught up in all the extraneous things that have to do with writing for an audience, but that doesn't preclude that the first and foremost focus should ever stop being the writing. Without the writing, the rest of it is for naught. That I do know and I often forget that the work is the work.

~M


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Books are like Bananas? Where is this post going? Srsly.

*pokes head around corner* Um, hi. Alexis here. It's been a while. *grins sheepishly* Sorry 'bout that.

Life has been... well... life. Which has kept me from writing. Which in turn has kept me from posting because, hey, what could I say? "Oh, hey guys! Still not writing. Too busy trying to round up the marbles of my life which I've dropped all over the hardwood floor. Sorry I'm not inspiring! See y'all later!" Not really gonna cut it.

But just because I haven't written lately doesn't mean I haven't been creative. So I guess that's a stupid excuse. In fact, I've amped up my creativity quite a lot, especially in the last few months.
Tucker being ridiculously adorable.
I'm still doing my book "reviews" over at Witty Title Here. {With the new year came a new photo look and process, but of course I still get my feathery helpers to join in when they can}.  [RIGHT]

But you may not know that I've also started an Etsy store with my latest endeavor: hand-lettered typography. Most days, I spend my lunch hours sketching, and my evenings inking the sketches onto nice paper. [BELOW]

*FOR MORE INFO SEE BOTTOM OF POST
Lately, my evenings have been given over to finally, finally decorating and organizing my house and to refinishing the desk I finally bought for my office. Srsly y'all, you have no idea how long I've suffered without a desk and just how much chaos it has created in my home.   

The "cleanest" part of my office.











In my office alone, none of the art is hung. [RIGHT] Boxes flood the floor {because I have no storage}, all my art supplies and gadgets and computer and monitor are littering other parts of my house where I can use them since my office is pretty much just a storage shed/library. My books are only so organized on my shelves because they are sharing space with random objects and picture frames that have nowhere else to sit. It's driving me insane.

So, right now, my priorities have shifted to finishing the desk, getting it out of the garage -- where my husband can then move all his shit that clutters the house {it's a vicious cycle}-- and the house can maybe not be such a source of clutter in my mind.




Which is an exciting prospect. Because when my surroundings are in chaos, my mind is, too.  {Spent an entire Sat. sanding all of this, btw}.



Needless to say, with all that going on, I haven't really been focused on the writing aspect of my life. I haven't forgotten or abandoned it... just... haven't focused my energies there. I think it was much needed. In truth, things had been a little depressing for me in the fall/winter. I stopped sending out queries/synopses/etc in August, but got a continuous trickle of rejections through about November.


To be fair, there were many positive rejections. {One in particular, which came out of the blue a couple months after I'd stopped expecting to get any more responses, actually ended up meaning a lot to me because I was having a really rough week when I got it. And even though it was a rejection, it made me feel a little better}. [RIGHT]





But when something you truly believe in continues to give you almost nothing of real encouragement/positivity in return for years of devotion and effort, no matter how hard you try to change things, the veil of hope begins to wear thin. Especially when so many agents found it promising but, ultimately, not fresh enough. I'm convinced that this is the worst possible feedback you can get on a manuscript. How? How do you fix that? Srsly. It's very disheartening.

...And yet, I'm just the most stubborn person ever, usually clinging to optimism against my better judgement. {But that often pays off, so of course, it reinforces my desire to do so}. So even when I don't work on it for months, or give it really any shelf space in my daily thoughts, I continue to think of ways to fix it. Most are written off before they've completely formed. Other ideas swirl in my head for weeks before I voice them, and then realize how unhelpful they are. Yet I carry on. Why? Because my greatest flaw is my stubborn refusal to give up hope. Yes. Flaw. This flaw has got me in any number of situations where I suffer far more than I ought, and where most people would just give up. But oh, no. Not me. No, I'd rather spend seven years on the same book because I know it's worth not giving up on. And it's not like I'm being unreasonable. It's not a bad book. It's actually really good. People love the characters, they love the world, they enjoy the writing and the story... it's just not... Well, okay, it's like this:

You've got a bunch of bananas. They're ripe and bright and yellow and delightful. They are the best things you've ever tasted. But by the end of the week they aren't quite as bright. A little brown is creeping in. They're the same bananas you wanted on Monday, but by Friday, you've gotten used to the taste. You know these will be just as good, but it's not like you haven't had several like it before. Like, all week. You can actually taste them by memory without opening one up, and you decide to pass. You want a fresher one. So, at this point. my manuscript is sortof, to agents, like the bananas on Friday. Is it just the newest freshest plot ever? No. Is it still satisfying? I'd like to think so. But here's where my stubborn determination to not give up kicks in:

Not my photo. Totally grabbed this off the internet.

Wait another week and those bananas have finally reached the perfect ripeness for just the most fantastic banana bread ever. Yes, the bananas are mushy. No, they don't seem like something you wanna snatch off the shelf and devour. But add a few ingredients and give it some time... and you've got something devourable after all.


So I guess what I'm saying is: to me, my manuscript isn't bananas on Friday. My manuscript is banana bread. I just have to find the right ingredients and then give it some time. It will be fresh when the time is right. Maybe not in the same way as a ripe banana, but still devourable... still leaving you wanting more.

Anyway, that's the short version of where I've been and what I've been up to. I hope, if nothing else, you were entertained, and that maybe your life will seem easier and calmer in comparison to mine ;)

*Profits from ATYPeICAL are used to pay for the desk, art supplies, writing supplies, and books. Basically, if you buy my stuff, you're helping to sustain my creativity... and my sanity. So... please decorate your home and keep me sane!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Doing Nothing is Untrue

Is has been three months since my last lead on.

That's right. I'm fully aware that as a Pea, as a blogger, and as a speaker to our imaginary friends, I have been leading you on for months. I'd say it's because I've been doing nothing writerly since before Christmas 2012, but that'd be untrue.

It's an out and out lie actually.

Just since 2013's arrival, I registered for the national RWA Con (among others), I went to the Olde City New Blood Con in St. Augustine, I joined a local critique group, I met another amazing critique partner (who lives in Tennessee), I wrote my first worth-a-damn synopsis since I started this charade of being a writer, and I attended an event with Fairhope author Sonny Brewer (just this past weekend). Sha! It's true. I been doing stuffs! I even have another writer's conference scheduled for the first week of April. Why the hell didn't/haven't/wouldn't/willn't I blog about any of that?
Cause I have peas for brains!

(Clearly, I'm still in the anger/manic phase of this multi-staged return to pea blogging...)

And don't think the Peas haven't met semi-regularly either. Cause we have! J and I even concocted a slightly stalkery, INCREDIBLY fantastic, Princess/Sherlock/Benedict Cumberbatch themed birthday party for A (which was kind of for all of us really--let's face it). We even rallied together to get me through that worth-a-damn synopsis which scared me as much as a vat full of slugs and snails--which is a lot! (It seems my turret's word for this blog is: which.)

Heck! the group-text-dream-journal-entries the Peas trade daily... especially the one where Ziva from NCIS and I jump away from an erupting volcano, swim to Genoa, Italy, and sell all my parents belongings in a yard sale from a tent... those dream texts are proof positive that these peas have not lost the will to create. Our sub-consciousnesses demand it!

So if you're thinking that blue-masked Pea never blogs like she promised she would because she ain't been doing nothing...

Doing nothing is untrue.

I'm going to spend the next few blog posts groveling and getting you all caught up. (Yep... UP). First, the Olde City New Blood Con. It was awesome! You'll love it. See you back here soon for the skinny on the DL. (I have no idea what I'm typing. We'll just chalk it up to being out of practice.)

Peas and love.
M








Friday, March 22, 2013

Something Clever

I've wanted so badly to write something clever.

I read so many great blogs and I always wonder how do those writers keep it fresh, keep it going? How do YOU amazing bloggers keep all the contributors engaged and productive? Most impressively, how dost thou keep a single contributor going, going, going... especially when that individual is wholly aware that one's readers are imaginary friends?

It's no secret the luster and excitement behind the Inside the Pod posts has waned, dulled, dare I say... come to a screaming halt. I accept responsibility. I'm at least one third culpable. By that measure, I should at the very least post once every three weeks, right? I just haven't had any idea what to write. I wanted to make my fellow peas proud of the work I would do in their absence. And it's not very fun doing Game Pods alone. It just makes me sad that no one can come out to play. 

Then I was struck with a five part heart-squeezing realization...
A) My twenty year high school reunion is next year... which means time is passing at an alarming rate
B) A waiter told me I had a Thai-shaped head on my 16th wedding anniversary
C) I had a mind-blowing dream revelation that what my broken WIP needs is DRUGS as a plot line
D) I was mistaken for a man at the grocery store and will have a long conversation with my therapist Monday morning.
 ...Then Finally
E) I have logged text message conversations with A and J this week that include discussions of both French Toast Warfare and Tuna High Fevers.

No blog posts? No excuses.

When those three silly and ambitious writer girls set out to begin the Ninja Pea Blog, they never for a minute took themselves seriously. The whole point was random writerly related posts. The pod is information sharing, having fun with our writer friends and supporting them, and having a silly time. If someone got a laugh or a morsel or two of useful information...lagniappe. To quote THE Joker... Why so serious?

Somehow as the Peas got busy and I had this notion to continue alone, I felt I had to hone and forge amazing and clever words with eternal meaning.

What the hell was I thinking?

For goodness sake! There are three anthropomorphized peas in ninja masks on the banner of this blog. I've been taking myself way too seriously.

So that's where I am today. I'm inspired to get back in touch with the random-slightly-writerly-mostly-silly-and-misdirected-author-supportive-everything-we-love-blog that Inside the Pod was meant to be. And maybe... just maybe... if I can keep this thing on life support, the Peas will unsprout and return. Bare with me. This might get bumpy. But I hope I can lure a few readers back. I might even think of something clever.

Peas, Love, and Randomness
M


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

These Unquiet Bones

Kicking off 2013 Inside the Pod I have dear friend and respected fellow writer, Dean Harrison, here to talk a little bit about his debut novel. I asked him to answer a few basic questions to introduce all of you, our imaginary readers, to him and  THESE UNQUIET BONES. 

Make him feel at home.
(Horror and Southern Gothic fans, on the dark side, this is just up your alley.)

Release Date: January 28, 2013
M: You have your debut novel book coming out January 28th, 2013. THESE UNQUIET BONES. Tell readers a little about it.

Dean: It is about a teenage girl named Amy Snow. Trying to get behind the truth of her mother's death, she unleashes the skeletons lurking in the dark of her father's closet and learns a terrible and twisted truth about her family tree. Meanwhile, a man named Adam is on a mission to restore Paradise to its former glory. To accomplish this, he must find "The Lost One," a girl he calls Eve, and sacrifice her to the god she betrayed the day a talking serpent slithered into the Garden of Eden.

I like to think of it as a Southern Gothic and not just horror. It contains all sorts of elements: supernatural and psychological horror, suspense, mystery, romance, and drama.

M: What inspired this project and how did it come to fruition?

Dean: Inspiration came from a constant nagging desire to write a novel that I wanted to read. The themes and characters have been with me since I started writing fiction in high school but I never reached a stable storyline or plot until three years ago, which was when I decided it was time to finally get serious about my dreams.

However, the story and plot went through many changes before I made to the final draft. Minor characters became major characters and vise versa. Plot points were taken out and replaced by new and better ones. Some settings were different, some scenes were taken out and I went through three different titles.

The first title was THE CAPTURED GODDESS but I decided that sounded too much like dark fantasy. The second title was SUFFERING OVERDUE but I quickly decided it wouldn’t fit the story because it sounded too much like splatter-punk, which wasn’t what I was writing. THESE UNQUIET BONES was the third and final title, and the one that fit the story best. I hope others agree.

M: What kinds of readers will respond to this story?

Dean: Adults—and even young adults, since the protagonist and other key characters are teenagers—who enjoy drama, suspense, and supernatural horror in fiction; and who don’t mind being a little disturbed because there is dark and disturbing subject matter within THESE UNQUIET BONES.

Dean Harrison
M: Who are some of the writers that inspire you and what do you like to read when you aren't writing?

Dean: Douglas Clegg, Robert R. McCammon and Dean Koontz were my earliest influences. This was followed by Peter Straub, Thomas Harris and Thomas Hardy—I mostly read horror, suspense thrillers, and classic literature.

John Farris, Tom Piccirilli, Stephen King and William Faulkner were major influences for me while I was working on THESE UNQUIET BONES. T.M. Wright and H.P. Lovecraft also have a big influence on my writing, especially my current work.

Right now I'm reading a novel by Charles L. Grant, one of the masters of quiet horror. I’ve also been delving into the work of Graham Masterton and Arthur Machen, and plan to introduce myself to the writings of Dan Simmons, Richard Matheson, F. Paul Wilson and others.

M: Who is publishing the book?  Where can we find it?

Dean: Odium Media is publishing THESE UNQUIET BONES. You will be able to find it on the publisher’s website, odiumedia.com, or on such sites as Amazon.com.

M: What is next for you?

Dean: I'm currently working on a new novella inspired by Celtic mythology and the writings of horror masters T.M. Wright and Arthur Machen. I also have another novella, inspired by Lovecraft and alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins, on the backburner. And though I am not a big fan of short stories, I have a ton of short story ideas set aside for a rainy day.

M: For the writers out here, what's the best writing advice you've ever been given?

Dean: Just write and don’t worry about getting it perfect in the first sitting. As Hemingway once said, the first draft of anything is always shit.

Dean Harrison is a longtime fan of horror fiction. Though he has spent some time out in the “real world”   working as a shoe salesman, a security guard, an investigator, a loss prevention detective, and a journalist, he has consistently returned to what he loves doing most–writing horror stories. His published work can be found in the horror anthologies FEM-FANGS, FELL BEASTS, TWISTED TALES FROM THE TORCHLIGHT INN, RELICS & REMAINS, and CHRISTMAS IN HELL. More is to come. Dean lives with his family in his hometown of Mobile, AL; a city rich in ghost stories.

You can learn more about Dean Harrison and THESE UNQUIET BONES, which drops January 28th, by visiting his website: deanmharrison.wordpress.com
Like him on Facebook and drop him a line.

What's In Store?

Hello, lovely imaginary readers. It's 2013! Did you notice a whole new year is upon us? I can't believe it's been a month since we saw each other last. Santa came. The ball dropped. It's been a whirlwind of a 2012 wrap-up, which barreled right into 2013. Where did the time go? It's already mid-month. Somewhere during all that, we lost touch. Apologies. We'll try not to lose you again. No fear... we're back! And we're going to get back on track. Pinky promise. For reals this time.

In the midst of all the New Year planning, there'll be an Instagram revamping.
As is the nature of the pod, we've got a lot of random planned. But I want to fill you in on what's up with the Peas since we last chatted.

A is book blogging at Witty Title Here and you must check out her typography, photos, and graphic design forays on Pinterest and Instagram. She's pretty easy to find everywhere, doodling quotes and creating art to her hearts content. She's easily distracted (ooh, shiny) but she'll never neglect the pod.

J shared sad news about her Alex Sabian books. Since she has been playing with new creative ideas and vegetables. It's quite exciting -- the creative vegetable things. There's other super secret stuff she's doing (cause J is sneaky that way) and some not so super secret stuff. So... really... not much has changed. Yay for normalcy!

Me? Dr. Buttons has a big year ahead of her. A new rewrite of the same manuscript. And a new draft of a new project. Plus... I have 7,930 Days of books to read and the pile is growing. Lots of conferences--six total (Sha! I know! What am I thinking?) A few trips (Vegas, a Cruise, a super secret spring something). But I endeavor not to lose track of you, even when I'm out of town. I will learn to use the laptop effectively. This is part of my New Year's resolution... so... yeah, I gotta. It's in writing.

Heads up! This week I have writer pal, Dean Harrison, dropping by the pod to talk about his debut horror novel, These Unquiet Bones. After that, I have some mad ramblings planned until J and A ease back into the pod as their schedules settle. Hope you are ready for 2013! The Peas certainly are.

Much love and peas, always.