Monday, November 30, 2015

So You Think You Can...Writer?

There's an idea rattling around in that brain of yours. You have a laptop. You have an urge to write the next best novel. You, are a writer. Right?


All of these things are things writers should have, important and definitely big factors of what one needs to write, but they aren't what a person needs to be a writer. 

At eight, I handed a thirty-page handwritten "novel" to my mother and declared my intent to be a writer. My mother, always very direct and honest, even with  budding youth, smiled and looked over the scrawled pages. Then, clearly, she said, "I always wondered which one of my girls was a masochist."

Of course she had to explain what a masochist was since, at eight, my vocabulary was good but not that impressive. What my mother was trying to tell me was that, to be a writer, one needed a thick hide, a stubborn head, and desire to plod on despite critics and naysayers.

Face it. To be a writer, to really be a writer, one has to have an absolute obsession with putting words on paper. It has little to nothing to do with writing "the next American novel" or "getting rich and famous." 

Being good with words isn't the same thing either. It's easy enough to write a well constructed sentence, paragraph, or even book. It's what comes after you string those words together that makes a person a writer. 

Even the exceptional writer has detractors. At best, they write a 1 or 2 star review on Amazon or any number of book review sites about why they dislike a particular read. At worst, they rip to shreds the body of work you spent the last umpteenth months pouring your blood, sweat, and - oh, yes - tears into. 

A writer has to have the pure, blinding, maddening obsession of putting words on paper to keep them going. They have to be able to take the abuse, the tear down, of people coming after a piece of their very soul.

At a recent writer's conference I attended in Scottsdale, Ariz., compliments of Desert Rose RWA, I had the privilege of lunching with several well known authors and several aspiring writers. When one man mentioned how hard writing was for him, how it was a struggle to sit down and write, one of the author's asked him why he continued. He said he had a book in him and wanted to write it.

"Give up now," she said. "You're not cut out to be a writer."

Harsh? Maybe. True? Definitely. After speaking with this man at length, everyone at the table got to hear how much he dreaded sitting down to write, how he was just waiting until it was finished so he could "get to the published" part.

"Quit now," she said. "If your obsession isn't to sit down and write, if the writing is only getting done so you can 'be published,' then this isn't for you." She went on to say she didn't want to dissuade anyone from being a writer, but she'd been at this game long enough to not sugar coat what she saw - he just wasn't meant to be a writer.

I didn't disagree with her. Writing, needing to put words on page, to tell a story, has to be the end all, be all for going through the daily torture of being a writer. Because that is what it is - torture. Few other professions, or passions, require a person to inflict as much daily torture on themselves as being a writer. 

Once you'd struggled through the self doubt, the elation, the exhausting torment of waking frantically out of sound sleep, pouring words onto paper, only to stumble back to bad for an hour of sleep before going to your day job, plodding through the rigmarole of daily work so you can get back to your real love, there's the editing. An editor ripping apart everything you'd just poured your heart into for months, or even years, building, bleeding, is excruciating. Then it's on to beta readers who do the same - love, hate, indifferent (and the later can be just as bad as someone hating the story, trust me). Finally it's off to the public, who have the opportunity to hate, love, or not care - only they get to do it on a very public, and very heartbreaking scale.

No, writers don't just write. They write because, despite the pain and hardship and difficulty of doing do, they simply must write. Because, despite the torture, they love every minute of it.

So... you think you can writer?

                                                         BC Brown is the author of three novels and has participated in multiple                                                            short story anthologies. Having committed almost every 'bad deed' in
the book of ‘How to Be An Author’, she now strives to educate other writers through humor and simple instruction.

Upcoming: Karaoke Jane (2016)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Be Right Back

Some of you may have noticed, I've not been active on my blog in the last few weeks. The main reason? My general fiction novel, Feather in a Hurricane, is gearing up for release, and I'm hard at work making sure it's utterly amazing for you. Bear with me just a bit longer. The words have gotten their claws into me, and I'm singing in the rain!!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Origins of a Dark and Suspenseful Urban Fantasy by The Felix Chronicles: Freshmen author R.T. Lowe

I drive to work. It takes me about an hour each way. Most people consider it a massive time suck, and for the most part I wouldn’t disagree, but all those hours alone with only the thoughts in my head triggered an idea. I started telling myself a story. The story took place on a college campus and the main character was a freshman. His name was Felix. In some ways this freshman (and the story) was quite ordinary. Felix made friends, went to class, studied, and partied like any eighteen-year-old away from home for the first time. Then I took that basic story and layered it with elements that interest me. After all, I was making it all up in my mind while stuck on the Merritt Parkway to entertain myself. So this is what I did:

·       I made Felix suffer. I’m a firm believer in putting your protagonist through the wringer. He steps foot on the campus of Portland College already with a heavy heart (his parents recently died in a mysterious fire) . . . and then it only gets worse for him.

·       I created a world in the midst of an approaching darkness, where strange creatures roam the nearby forest and a serial killer (the “Faceman”) murders teenagers who fail a “simple” test. The encounters with the unfortunate victims are chilling, violent and bloody. I made the decision ‘to spare no gore’ after a great deal of thought, fully aware that I was potentially subjecting myself to criticism. I understood that it would shock some (and most likely remove the book from the reading lists for those under sixteen), but I didn’t want to hint at the violence or rely on my readers’ imaginations. There are characters in my book who are truly bad people (or flesh eating monsters, in some cases) and I took the position that their actions should be described in such a way that the reader will understand that there is no limit to their cruelty. To put it another way, I want my readers to literally wince at the prospect of ‘what will happen to that poor girl when she can’t move the piece of wood with her mind’. Spoiler alert: nothing good. And although the campus of Portland College appears immune to the spreading darkness, beneath (and within) its stately lecture halls and ivy-shrouded fa├žades, a hidden world awaits those who can unlock its secrets.

·       I told the story from multiple perspectives, shifting scenes (and chronology) to keep the reader off balance. There is undoubtedly some complexity to the tale, but I believe Young Adult/New Adult readers are looking for stories that make you think. I drive the story forward through the eyes and thoughts of a dozen different characters. Some chapters seem unrelated to the “main” story (especially the prologue which takes place in the 4th century), but the pieces all connect as the plot unfolds and Felix learns that he may be ‘different’ than everyone else.  

·       I created characters who keep you guessing. In the real world, the “good guys” can be as flawed as the “bad guys,” and sometimes the line between good and bad is a matter of perspective. I also made sure that the “magic system” in my story allows for amazing, jaw-dropping displays of supernatural power. The way I see it, if you’re going to write in the realm of the paranormal you may as well go all the way: Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to start a fight with some of the characters in my book.  

·       In The Felix Chronicles, everything is at stake. I’ve always liked stories where the stakes are high, and they couldn’t be any higher than the fate of the world hinging on the outcome of a war that has raged for nearly 2,000 years.

·       I included humor (Felix’s roommate, Lucas, appeared on a reality TV show and he lightens the mood at all the right times) and romance (Felix has a love interest (or two) and Lucas has several as he’s not afraid to use his celebrity to his advantage) to compliment and counterbalance the action and horror.

There’s much more to TFC: Freshmen, but those are some of the highlights. Once I had it locked down tight in my head I sat down and started to write. 500 pages later (and a year or two of very little sleep) I published the book. It may not be for everyone, but I suppose that’s to be expected when you write for an audience of one. And who said nothing good can come from a long commute?

Author bio: R.T. Lowe lives in Newtown, CT.

Back cover summary:

Reeling from a terrible accident that claimed the lives of his parents, Felix arrives at Portland College hoping only to survive the experience. In time, however, his reality star roommate shows him there is more to higher education than just classes, shared bathrooms and bad dorm food, and Felix gradually dares to believe he can put his past behind him.
 But a fateful storm looms on the horizon: In the nearby woods, two hikers become the latest victims in a series of gruesome murders; a disfigured giant embarks on a vicious cross-country rampage, killing teenagers who fail his ‘test’; and an ancient society of assassins tasked with eradicating the wielders of a mysterious source of power awakens after a long silence. Only one man—the school’s groundskeeper—knows that the seemingly unrelated events are connected, and that an eighteen-year-old boy stands in the center of the storm.

Twitter: @TheRTLowe

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Free Book Giveaway! 2 Print Books, A Touch of Darkness and Quixotic: Not Every Day Love Stories, from Author BC Brown

That's right! I'm giving away 1 print copy of A Touch of Darkness (my urban fantasy novel) and 1 print copy of Quixotic: Not Every Day Love Stories (short story anthology) August 13, 2015-August 19, 2015. 

Enter to win yours today!!

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Monday, August 3, 2015

My Pain Is Not For Sale: I Will Never Publish Sexual Assault by J.M. Bates

It is 1989 and I am four years old. I somehow survive a sexual assault. Terrible things happen to children all the time, and they are stronger than they look. Twenty-five years is a long time to heal from anything.

In 1991, I am sitting in a sand box in my parents’ back yard by myself when I decide that I want to be a writer. Though it comes to me randomly, it is a solid thought, as real as truth. A cardboard box full of storybooks in my closet is my best friend at the time. At the age of six I agree on this life plan of telling stories. In the following days I put pieces of colored construction paper together, staple them into booklets, draw cats on the pages with a Bic pen, attempt to tell stories to others when I am illiterate. I wind up writing books with titles such as “FUCK”, “FAST RICE”,  and “MOES” because I mimicked words I found lying around the house.

In 2000, I find myself behind a microphone for the first time in a friend of a friend’s basement, screaming punk songs and feeling my own repressed narrative bursting from my chest as pain fuels fury. The other girls in the band are smashing their own instruments as hard as they can and afterward we are all standing together in the electric hum with tears in our eyes and none of us knows what the hell just happened or exactly what we experienced together.

It is 2004 and I am eighteen years old, on my own for the first time. I do not have a mailing address or a key to the apartment I am currently staying. I am living in a real city with crime and corruption, after only living in a small town with crime and corruption.

I work up the nerve to enter a feminist bookstore. After some initial nervousness, I quickly feel comfort inside the room and for the first time in my life I feel complete safety and validation. The physical walls act as a barrier, solace from the external and even internal turmoil, the untreated anxiety and other generalized hell that comes with post-traumatic stress disorder. I walk around for minutes or maybe hours. After picking it up and putting it back down again multiple times, I buy The Courage To Heal because I heard about it from a Le Tigre song. Back at the apartment, I hide under the covers in the bottom bunk bed of the room I am sharing. The book is large and its pages spread detail the journey ahead of me.

I continue to unfuck my life. In 2006, I am in a movie theater full of men in the audience. There is a villain on the screen holding a woman against her will as he tells her exactly how he is going to rape her. The actual act is not shown but I still feel frozen, nauseated, like it is 1989 again. I look around the theater and see only the bored faces of the men in the audience watching the film, seemingly unaffected by the violence in front of them.

 Later on in the movie, the woman stabs the villain who assaulted her. I literally cannot stop myself from cheering out loud, maybe more like a roar than a cheer. Multiple men angrily tell me to “Shhh!” and “Shut up!” for interrupting the film. I see a few dudes’ girlfriends glance over at me. I can’t tell if they are sympathetic or annoyed.

It is 2015 and I am publishing my first novel. In these years of healing, I have also been observing and absorbing the world around me. I’ve read multiple books and seen countless movies and TV shows with sexual assault used as a plot device to instill hatred against a villain of the story or inspire sympathy for a character who has survived. I can’t help but look back at my own life and think how cheap this is, how easy, how callous, how overly simplified, and lastly, how completely overdone it is to take such a complex trauma and use it in such a way.

In this book and all of my future books, there will be no sexual assault. I am unwilling to use my own pain and the pain of others just to take a lazy writing shortcut. Though I may include survivors of assault in my books, they will be complex human beings who represent much more than what they have endured. The violence I include will only be the minimum of what I feel is required. Any sexuality I write about will always be consensual.

It is not escapism if it is exactly what the world needs right now.

J.M. Bates is a fantasy and science fiction writer from Chicago, Illinois. J.M. is pronounced "jam".
Here's the first chapter of Brilliant Shadows for free: