Monthly Archives: May 2013

This Just Got Real

Alright, so NOW I feel like an author. I just received my first money from sales of my novel. It’s not much, I didn’t put it up until the end of March and only sold around 27 copies by month-end, but hey, it’s something! Now if I could just finish this short story I’m working on, I could get back to work the sequel to that novel. All in good time, I suppose.

At any rate, woo-hoo!! /giggle-like-an-eight-year-old

Categories: Books, Lethera, Life, Writing | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Participate in a Writing/Critique Group

The internet and books can provide you with a wide range of information to help you improve your writing, true. But, as far as the internet, I have found that the majority of what you find are the ‘rules,’ such as grammar. And sure, there are some sites—and many books—where you can find general information about plot, pacing, conflict and the like. But for detailed information, information about your book/poem/short story, there’s no place like a writing group to get good, honest criticism to help make it better.

In both books and on the internet, I’d read authors who said that joining a writing group/critique group had helped them improve as writers. I was leery of the idea, however. But seeing the same advice over and over, I thought I should at least see what all the fuss was about. So, gathering my courage, I attended one. I had joined the Facebook group for the San Antonio Writer’s Guild, and I saw a post there about free critique sessions that were starting up. I read up how it would work, printed out copies of the first few pages of chapter one of my next book, and on the meeting day, drove over, terrified. You see, I had just put up my first book on Amazon the night before, and, while my test readers all loved it, they are not ‘professionals,’ so I was not sure how my writing would be received by other authors. It went shockingly well. Well, shocking to me—I had no idea what to expect. Everyone there was a writer, and the genres represented were wildly diverse, which in itself was valuable to me, allowing me to see and hear how plot, pacing, etc, works in varying types of writing. The one thing you need to remember, though, is to not take the criticisms personally. Use them. They are inside information, valuable insights. Do keep in mind that it is your work, your writing, so pick and choose what suggestions you want to incorporate. But even those you don’t use can help you see things in a new light.

I have learned a great deal about writing that I did not know before. Some of the things I have learned so far I had never even read or heard hints about. Others, bits I had read about, I finally ‘got’ when explained in practical terms. I find that the aspect of writing that I need to work on most right now is point of view. I tend to have a wider point of view than is customary, so I am trying to refine it, to tighten it up a bit in my writing. And that is the value of these groups. You learn about the art of writing, the craft.

Anyone can look up the definition of ‘past tense’ on the internet, but I had never found any talk about how to handle a large section in your book that takes place in the past, how to transition into that section and how to transition out, except in my group. And it works. The tip: Use a had or two to lead into the section and one or two to lead out. The rest of the time, use whatever your normal tense is (I write in past tense, though some write in present). This way had doesn’t appear a million times in the section. I also try to throw in a now (or some other mechanic) at the end beyond just going back to the normal tense to let the reader know that we’ve returned to the present.

Though it is terrifying, I highly recommend finding a writing/critique group in your area and get into it. You can’t put a price on the things you will learn.

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Literary or Commercial? I Submit You Should Do Both.

I joined a local writing guild last week and went to their meeting for May. They had a guest speaker, Nan Cuba, who spoke about the journey of getting her book, Body and Bread, published. It took her quite some time. The novel started out as a piece of flash fiction. Over the years she wrote several short stories and eventually worked them all into what became the novel. She gave out a lot of great information for aspiring authors looking to get published: websites, publications, organizations, classes and programs, and more. But the most interesting information came after her talk, when she took questions from the audience. Well, interesting to me.

The biggest problem she faced with getting published, aside from finding and getting an agent and working the book into the best shape it could be, was the fact that publishers consider her book literary fiction. Most publishers are now looking for commercial fiction instead and kept passing on her book. She eventually did find a publisher, a small press, and she is very pleased with them. In fact, she said she ALMOST wished she had started looking at small presses first. But then, she told us, she would not have as good a grasp of everything involved with publishing if she hadn’t slogged through everything on her way to where she is now. At any rate, all the questions asked of her were interesting and concerned things about which I also wondered. But one gentleman asked her the difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction. I had seen reference to these terms during my own failed search for an agent (It turns out that Nan Cuba had used the same resource I had in looking for an agent, She also failed to find an agent through them, but that’s neither here nor there). Ms. Cuba told us that, in general, literary fiction focuses on character and words. The way words sound, the flow of them and even the structure of the sentences is important. And so is the character’s journey—who they are, where they come from and what leads them to their choices. Commercial fiction, on the other hand, focuses more on action. I think she even likened the difference to independent films versus summer blockbusters.

The thing is, while she was describing them, I kept thinking to myself: But . . . I write with ALL those things in mind. So, am I literary or commercial? Now, while it’s true that I don’t agonize for any appreciable length of time over each and every word, I do read and re-read sections many, many times, working out the flow of ideas and words within paragraphs and between them. And I think a story arc for the protagonist is important, too. That we see where they came from, where they are, where they end up, and that getting there is the result of who they are. But I also feel it important to have some action. Or perhaps a more appropriate word would be tension. You want dramatic moments to get hearts racing. It might be a Michael Bay-type action sequence, sure, but it could also be a tense argument.

Over the last several days, as I thought about it again and again, I kept coming back to the same place. I want aspects of both literary and commercial fiction in my work. I can see how leaning toward one or the other is doable, but the books I enjoy reading always have strong aspects of both, and that is what I want to create. After all, you could have one or more characters described very well, could have their lives shown on the pages in such detail that you feel as if you grew up with them. But if there is never any tension, readers will eventually get bored. And if the work is a series of action sequences with only light sketches of characters, the spectacle would soon wear thin. If readers don’t care about the characters, they won’t care what happens to them. So I try to balance aspects of both literary and commercial. Obviously there is more to a good piece of fiction than that, but at the core, that’s how I try to write.

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