Ain’t No Thing Like a Good First Line

I admit I’m a sucker for a good opening line. So much so, that I keep a notebook of ones that I come up with even if I don’t have a novel or story to go with them. I know someday I will. Writing first lines is fun but in the chronology of your work’s creation rarely fit in. Many times I have added or removed the first chapter once the rest of the work has taken shape. I was going to write more on them, but then I saw this post from Rachelle Gardner and figured I could do no better. http://www.rachellegardner.com/that-all-important-first-line/

In the spirit of things I could add an own opening line I just came upon in my head: This would make a Hell of a first line for a book if it wasn’t happening right now, and to me.

The Story Begins on Page 1

Going through my RSS feed I came across this post from Janet Reid regarding a question about what to include in a query if the agent asks for the first 5 pages but your main character does not appear until the second chapter. http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2016/03/include-first-3-5-pages-with-your-query.html

Here is what my answer would be. Rewrite the book. Your main character is just that, your main character and should be the first character your reader comes across. I know, I know, there are several classic works where that isn’t the case, but as I said this is my rule. Readers need to know that the people you are introducing them to are significant to the story and capture their interest. I know if I am going to commit to 400 pages I want to meet the person that I am going to be rooting for as soon as possible. I know, with my characters, the protagonist is such that I can’t get very far into the writing without him or her making their presence known. But lets hear from you in the comments. What’s the furthers you’ve gone before introducing your main character?

Ready For The Printer

Hole_cover2Yesterday I completed the final edits on my collection of Weird Fiction. You should be able to purchase this in the next couple of weeks from a variety of outlets, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and for the reader of your choice. For my loyal readers of this blog I’m posting the afterword in which I provide my best description of where the title came from and what I consider to be Weird Fiction.

Afterword – What is The Hole in Your Mind?

What is the hole in your mind?  First, I must give credit to the writers responsible for Babylon 5 for the line, “There is a hole in your mind.” In the very first episode of Babylon 5, a would-be assassin tells this to Commander Sinclair.  In this case the hole references a missing piece of time.  Later on in the series we learn that the hole refers to the part of the human mind that cannot come to terms with some of the mysteries and realities of the universe.

For this book I chose the title, The Hole in Your mind, to represent the void created when what you experience does not match up with expected reality.  Most of these stories could easily fall in the Horror genre, but I prefer to think of them as Weird Fiction.  In stories of this type the end brings the protagonist to the very edge of reality and either gives him or her a peek at what lays beyond or shoves them right over the edge.  Either way the protagonist returns form that edge changed in innumerable ways, or not at all.

Weird Fiction has strong roots in the Horror genre.  Some of my favorite short stories spend time taking the reader into a world that could only exist in the mind of a writer.  One of my favorites from horror master Edgar Allen Poe is the story, “The Black Cat.” It is the inspiration for my own story, “The Cat’s Meow,” included in this collection.  In the very first lines of the work the narrator warns the reader that what follows may not fit easily into the reader’s conception of what is real.

“For the most wild yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.  Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence.”

The early master of this genre and my biggest influence is H. P.  Lovecraft.  His writing, more than anything, captures the horror of the unknown.  In many of his stories the central character comes face to face with the unreal, with something that his mind simply cannot comprehend.  In this instance the hole in the mind is defensive yet when breached leaves the character in the throes of madness.  The reader still has the burden of trying to imagine horrors that have no basis in reality.  This is where the hole in their minds comes into play.  In some cases, Lovecraft recognizes this.  In this example from The Call of Chuthulhu, the narrator accepts that at this point language simply breaks down.  The words necessary to describe and relate the horror in the story to the reader just do not exist.

“Poor Johansen’s handwriting almost gave out when he wrote of this.  Of the six men who never reached the ship, he thinks two perished of pure fright in that accursed instant.  The Thing cannot be described – there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.”

Lovecraft would revisit this breakdown in language in other tales.  For a writer this is an interesting point to make.  What happens when the very things you are attempting to convey defy the language you use to convey them?   In Lovecraft’s work he often invented terms, places, a whole theology of beings just to encompass, or circumvent, the language barrier in what he was attempting to create.

The goal of any writer is to transport a reader into the world of their story.  In some instances that world exists not in the rational and grounded but the fantastically bizarre.  In that instance the writer is expecting to find a hole in the mind of the reader that will allow him or her to fill it with a world both alien and yet inviting.  Writers call this suspension of disbelief but in its own way it is just blocking out the part of our mind that screams this is not possible.  Granted if readers only read about things that were possible we would have fewer books on the shelves.  The fiction sections of your bookstores and libraries are full of things that not only are improbable but not possible as well.

Readers expect a horror story to have scary bits.  They expect a hero standing up to some kind of monster.  However many things that may terrify readers and leave them sleeping with the lights on, are grounded in very real things to this world.  Spiders, snakes, even werewolves and vampires are all creatures that readers have no trouble conjuring in their minds as they read.  Some they have seen, and others are so ingrained in our literature that they are all but real.  A truly terrifying tale will take this expectation and twist it back on the reader.  Never mind the snake in the garden, it is the shovel wielded by the maniac that you must fear.  While your mind processes what the snake is doing the hole in your mind will never see the maniac coming at you.

Invoking the hole in your mind is more than just crafting a bizarre twist at the end.  The general atmosphere of the story needs to reinforce and prepare the reader for what is about to come.  Failing to do that will result in an ending that is more fake than resolving, more jarring than satisfying.  The reader is on the same journey as the writer and the goal is for the both of you to reach the end point at the same time with the least amount of difficulty.  The stranger the ending the harder that may be.  For the writer, this writer in particular, that is what makes Weird Fiction as much fun to write as it is to read.  It is the inherent challenge and risk of taking readers out so far beyond the norm that you may in fact lose them.  Should that happen it is time to take stock, take heed, and start over again.

All of the tales in this volume share that element of the strange and the bizarre that is a hallmark of Weird Fiction.  They are in no particular order or grouping so feel free to bounce around.  They come from many different years of writing, from deep in the file cabinet to closer to the top.  If I can achieve anything I hope it is that on finishing this volume you will be inclined to read more Weird Fiction and revel in all the madness that the hole in your mind can stand or supply.

Warning Major Life Event Ahead

In truth it’s already passed but I’m still not settled into a new normal. I left my job at the Arizona State Library and Archives after seven years. The reasons were numerous but in my head I knew I was ready for a change and new challenges. I’ve begun my new job as Adult Services Supervisor at the Maricopa County Northwest Regional District Library in Surprise, Arizona. Yes, Surprise is a real place. I am still on track to complete and have out my long overdue collection of short stories and flash fiction as well as my first Steampunk novel, The Fourth Prometheus.

I started thinking about how often we go through these events and yet often overlook them when it comes time to write. Is that because they seem too routine? I know most people wouldn’t want to read a story about some guy with a head cold, although Franz Kafka had us reading about one who turned into a cockroach. Cockroaches aside, there are plenty of events in our lives that can lend a little bit of reality and substance to our characters. Sure a zombie plague could be breaking out, but what if the main protagonist in the story also happens to be trying to plan her first wedding at the same time? An alien abduction? Okay, but what if it comes right after the abductee just became a daddy? These could all turn up the drama in a piece. In addition you would have a character that many readers will easily identify with.  Right now I’m working up a story about a new guy on the job who discovers that he can move objects when he gets stressed out. Can you say cleanup in aisle five?

Get Writing

Once again the cries of, “trick or treat,” have died down and the shelves of candy and costumes in the stores is being replaced by Christmas paper. That can only mean one thing. It’s National Novel Writing Month. Head over to Writers Write to download their handy calendar to keep track of your progress. http://writerswrite.co.za/nanowrimo-calendar-organise-and-conquer

Myself, I am not participating as I have already started my latest novel and have three others working thier way through editing. I salute those who take up the challenge and admire those who complete it. Qa-plah’

This Post Goes Blue

Recently the wife and I sat down to check out the TV show American Horror Story. All I’m going to say is if that’s your idea of horror, you need to read more Lovecraft or Ramsey Campbell. That’s not what bugged me the most. What was with all the swearing?

In general, though they wouldn’t admit it, people have a far more colorful, (dirty), vocabulary than they realize. At the same time very few people like being constantly sworn at. This creates a conundrum for the writer. Pepper your dialog worth too many naughty words and it will come across as trying too hard to be “gritty” or “edgy.” Not enough, or worse, you throw down some, “gosh darns,” or, “what the hecks,” and people will wonder what kind of prude world they have slipped into.

I remember sitting down to watch NYPD  Blue and marveling at all the words that shouldn’t be on TV suddenly on TV. Then there was the South Park “shit” episode. All the same I’m not really a fan of being sworn at constantly. I’ve enjoyed my share of potty mouthed comics but even there the best of them knew how to use these words for maximum effect. That’s what it really comes down to. As writers words are our tools. We must reserve the right one for the situation. You wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to swat a fly, would you? Your words should be used the same way. Save the words that would make you mom blush or shove a bar of soap in your mouth for when you really need your characters to show some emotion. It’s a subtle difference but can make or break your writing.

It’s Getting Expensive To Be A Writer

broken piggy bank

One of my favorite magazines from my days as a young Heavy Metal fan was Circus Magazine. A series of articles I always looked forward to was by Twisted Sister guitarist Jay J. French that chronicled the trials and tribulations of taking a band from the garage to the arena. Thinking back on that helped me with this post.

So, you’ve finished writing your book and have joined an elite group of writers who can say they have written a book. Time to break out the checkbook. I cannot stress the importance of paying to have your work edited. You do not have to mortgage your home but be prepared to spend around 200 to 300 dollars depending on what you feel comfortable having done. A good cover is worth more than a hundred good reviews so you will want to hire a graphic artist to do your cover. 100 to 500 dollars will cover that and give you a cover to take to the bank. Once it is edited,  you will need to format your book for printing. This too, unless you are a word processing guru, would be better left to the professionals. Prices can vary and services can cover much. Don’t forget about the eBook version as well.

By this point you have a finished product. You also have a slightly or majorly smaller checkbook balance. Now comes the part where you have to try and recoup some and hopefully all of these expenses. It’s now time to put on your snappy suit and barker’s hat and sell your work. You are going to need business cards,  bookmarks and other materials. This is also time to stake out a place in cyberspace. That entails purchasing a domain and leasing space to host your site. Hiring someone to create your site used to be a luxury that has since come down to earth enough to make it an alternative if you are not technologically inclined. Of course if you are selling your books, the government is going to want their cut. Make sure to apply for a transaction privilege license, (sales tax), in your state,  county, and municipality. You will pay a fee to start and then a renewal on the anniversary date. Some states consolidate the license across all three so check first with your state’s department of revenue first.

Now that you have your book, your materials and are square with the government you need a place to sell your tomes. Of course your book is up on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or Lulu, or any other online marketplace. You may even be lucky to be in good with a local book seller and have a place on their shelves. Personal appearances have been the most lucrative for me, even outstripping my online sales. The hardest part, aside from scheduling, is the cost involved. Different events will charge different fees for a table. Generally, and predictably, the more attended the event the higher the cost for a table. An event like Comicon here in Phoenix can cost upwards of $500. Smaller events will be in the range of $100 to $200. To get a better sense of what these costs mean let’s look at the math. For Undead Heart, if I sell a copy at $10 I make $5.79 a book. In addition I have chosen not to  charge customers for the sales tax so that comes off my bottom line taking my $5.79 down to $5 a book. To even break even at an event where I’ve paid $100 for the space I’d have to sell 20 books. Most of these event last a day, so assuming a standard work day of 8 hours I would have to sell 2 1/2 books an hour. Doing that I still have not made anything for myself, and are still in the hole for the business cards and bookmarks. I essentially spent the day working for free. There is some value in these events, I get to sit at a table with my business cards and receive the ego stroking of seeing my name listed as author on the place card. to be fair these events serve a larger purpose, so they can be rewarding even if no sales are made. Your name is out there, your books are out there, plus you can network with other authors opening up other opportunities.

Can you ever make money doing this. Sure just be ready for a long haul. I don’t mean to discourage you, but at some point reality will come around and you need to look at what you’re doing as a business. You will only last so long reaching into your own pocket for these costs. I’m not hear to burst your bubble or rain on your parade, just think of this as that little dose of reality peeking around the corner as you reach for your dream.

Blog Re-Cast: Is Talent Overrated?

I will state this now, I am not a talented writer. I am a skilled one. My first few stories blew as many chucks as the next writer’s. I listened, studied and learned, and I still have more ways to go. For me, the first step in becoming a success at any endeavor is knowing and understanding what you don’t know. For more I suggest you read this great post from Anne R. Allen’s Blog – Is Talent Overrated? 8 Things That Are More Important Than Talent for Writing Success.

The Best Advice I Had Not Heard Yet

interesting artI sometimes surprise myself when I come across great advice from the most unlikely of sources. Case in point, while watching one of my favorite video game reviewers, Zero Punctuation,  I came across this little gem of writing advice.

“Is this the most interesting period of your character’s life and if not why aren’t you showing us that?”

Now let that sink in a little bit and if you have heard it before kudos for you. I had never heard it, but now that I have I feel silly that I hadn’t come upon it in my own way. I know as a writer I can get bogged down in trying to convey to my reader all the machinations that went on in my heard to get my characters to this point. This information can be useful, even necessary at some times but it should not come at the expense of keeping the readers’ interest meter in the red. The good news is as the writer if these periods aren’t the most interesting I can certainly make them that way. Details are not interesting. Characters and events are. A simple rule and a helpful one to keep on an index card by your computer monitor.

This also leads me to the use of prologues. A couple of my novels (currently shelved ones if that says anything) do make use of prologues, but I find myself drifting away from them. Think of it like this. How would you feel if your significant other came home from work one day and said? “I have the most interesting story about something that happened at work today, but before that, let me tell you how I got the job in the first place.” Kind of a buzz kill ain’t it. Before the comments section fills with angry protests on the right to prologue existence there are times when the prologue can be a very effective tool and fundamental part of the work, but it must be interesting. That is after all the message of that little gem of advice above.

Said is Dead, Or Is It?

While strolling across the blogosphere I came on Heather Squires’s website that had an interesting graphic. Said is dead. The graphic is a handy tool for alternatives to using , “said.” While I agree in principle that no reader wants to stare down a whole page of, “he said, she said, he said.” Equally taxing would be a page of, “he stated, she replied, he mumbled, she questioned.” There is no need to raid the thesaurus every time you want to write some dialog. Like anything else in life a little bit will do you.

The goal of writing good dialog is keeping the reader on track as to who is saying what. Throw in some thoughts and this can become quite a challenge for even the best writers. I find it most effective to blend in actions. To break up the dialog and cue the reader in to who is speaking without relying on a said or any other word. For example…

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
“No,” Kim replied.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be,” Dad mumbled angrily.

Let’s try that same exchange but with a little bit of action.

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
Kim looked up from her book, “No.” Then went right back to reading.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be.” Dad mumbled as he stormed out of the room.

Now this is just a simple example and in a longer bit of dialog the writer would mix up actions and expressions along with said, asked and so on. The goal is to keep the reader aware of who is speaking but at that same time giving them something interesting to read. So remember, “said,” may or may not be dead, but to keep your writing off of life support explore the alternatives and mix things up.