Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Today, I finished my analytical paper on Frankenstein for my class at Harvard. When I typed the last word and clicked save, I let loose a sigh of relief. Writing it wasn't the hard part, the in-text citations and the mountainous pressure on my back was the trouble. One minute mistake and it's plagiarism, and the structure needs to be on point.

Anyway, I sat back and soaked in the scene...man my desk was a mess! Books and papers strewn everywhere! I honestly can't figure out how there was room for my laptop. It reminded me of something someone once told me: "Cleanliness is happiness." A perversion of that old adage we all know and love but it, as well, is true.

Living in chaos in frustrating enough, but having to write in it is worse. Humans are social creatures, our happiness stems from both external and internal forces. We need safety, food, shelter, relationships and all that good stuff.

Our creative minds have needs too. They vary (somewhat) from person to person, but we all need a clear mind...a sense of calm and like many things, "calm" can mean many things. Some people find that calmness in mess...even soothed by it (not me), but it takes that serenity for our ever tinkering minds to plow through the jumbled thoughts caused by stress. Find that calm...Goose fraba.

My mind's drawing a blank right now...the dog is barking to go out...I can't think with it :). 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Motivation

The first time I saw the United States Holocaust Museum it was horrifying obviously, but it was more than that. It reminded me of standing on the event horizon of a black hole, peering into the depths of darkness...that cold, unknown, and dark force staring back at you, offering only obliteration, but also a forlorn shimmer of hope.


In the museum there is a cattle car which was used to transport my people, the Jews to various death camps, and a gross monument to death in the form of shoes piled atop each other, much like the Nazis did to not only us, but the Romani, the handicapped, blacks, and anyone who did not fit the perfect race.


My grandfather has numerous articles of his time during the war on display in the museum, books, letters to my grandmother during the time he oversaw the Landsberg DP camp, and pictures. Horrifying pictures, pictures so devastating I keep hidden if for some reason a niece or nephew were to rummage through my place as kids are known to. These are pictures of my people, Jews piled atop one another like garbage, scantily clad and decimated to the point of not looking human.


The pictures of survivors are as or worse than those of stockpiles of the dead. Skeletons with barely enough flesh left to survive...if they were eight feet in height they could have passed as Frankenstein's monster...sunken eyes...yellowed skin...sparse hair that hung like torn curtain from their pates.

Upon leaving the museum my grandfather sat my brothers and I on a bench just outside. He told us that  during the war he had seen things that made him ashamed to be a human being...that we were capable of such inhuman and barbaric actions could never be ascribed words that would sufficiently describe the feeling.

Grandfather said that no matter how depressed or angry or wrought with despair he became, he would never let the bastard, Hitler win...he didn't say that part, rather he snarled, shaking his fist at the sky as if threatening the bastard...wherever his soul may have been. He explained we as Jews no longer could live as individuals...we were representatives of our entire people...at any point men like Hitler would point to even the most insignificant Jew and paint all of us in that man's image. Because of this it was our duty as Jews to live good lives, do right, and succeed. This was not religious in nature...from fighting in the war, Grandfather had learned hard that there was no God. This was revenge or rather justice...that, "I'll be goddamned if I let that bastard win"...to do well, live, and persevere was the greatest revenge or justice we could bring to Hitler.

THIS finally brings me to motivation. The above is my motivation, what keeps me going in all aspects of life, and most importantly writing. My grandfather wrote...several memoirs, and manuals on military combat which were consequently stolen by the Russian government and re-issued as one of their own manuals. He found it a complement, and rather funny.

Find your motivation. Something that does not give you the right to quit. You may fail...fail to become super rich...fail to become published...but you need to never quit. You only ever truly fail when you quit.

If you for some reason don't think you have this type of motivation, dig deep, and you will find it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Avid Writer: Overcoming Lack of Motivation

Avid Writer: Overcoming Lack of Motivation

This is another great post about breaking through that writer's wall!

I know many a times I have ended up staring at the computer screen, knowing all too well what my characters would do, but I do not know how to express it! As with everything, we writers can burn out, and sometimes we are far more vulnerable to it. The brain is a muscle, so to speak, it must be exercised and kept well rested. When you're taking a break from writing, reading can be the BEST re-energizer. Enjoy! :)

Overcoming the Agony of Querying

I recently joined QueryTracker.net even though I have an agent. Go figure I'd decide to join AFTER needing it. What inspired me to write this post was a back and forth between some folks on that site querying the agent whom represents me. I had mentioned it too about six months, maybe a little over, to acquire one.

Admittedly I felt foolish saying, "It took me six months!" Why? Well,  because some people never find agents. This isn't to say you can't get published! So, don't worry, there are plenty of small presses, e-pubbers, and other means out there for unagented authors.

Why it took me six months?

Luck I suppose. I have a list of every agent I ever queried...92 to be exact. Forty of which were rejections, several partial requests, even fewer full requests. Overall, I would say fifty were no responses, IF I'm being kind to myself.

I have to admit though, the first few rejections were entertaining. I was excited to even GET a response, whether positive or not. About ten rejections in and I think, "This stinks now." At the twenty rejection point, and a majority of no responses, I started to falter. I was discouraged, not wanting to check my mail, so I took a while off from querying.

Mind you through out my querying I was already writing my second book, and that's key. NEVER STOP WRITING! If you're like us, "writers" it's in your blood. I would write for as long as my aging hands would let me...why? That's for another post.

Back to querying agents. It's hard, draining, time-consuming (if you're doing it right), and full of hope, excitement, and often dream shattering. Yeah I said it—it can and probably will at some point drag you into the depths of chocolate and ice cream.

That's life. We live in a cruel world of cold, hard truths, but that's no excuse. Your job as a writer is to A) write and B) query if you want to get published. It's like anything else. In order to get results you need to do the work.

It's understandable how frustrated some can become, I went through it myself at one point, but I always kept one thing in mind: HP Lovecraft had over 200 rejections before getting published. That's right, the master of the Cthulhu Mythos received over 200 letters saying, "Tough cookies, Mr. Lovecraft." And do you know what he did with those 200 rejection letters?

Here's the main point of this post.

Mr. Lovecraft, and if for some bizarre reason you don't know him go rent any number of movies which are directly or indirectly inspired his work, took each letter and hung them on the walls of his office. The office in which Lovecraft wrote was lined floor to ceiling with rejection letters, every inch of space covered. Two hundred? Jeez, I only got forty! Now THAT is one dedicated author, AND he didn't stop writing while querying.

All a rejection letter means is "try again" and Lovecraft knew that. He never gave up, and neither should you. We all deserve the life we want. So, just take it. Query. Query. Write. Write. Write. Query, and Query some more.

So, Farewell,  keep on writing, and make sure your pen has ink!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Writer Beware ® Blogs!: Introducing Writer Beware's Small Presses Page

Writer Beware ® Blogs!: Introducing Writer Beware's Small Presses Page

All writers should see this! There are some red flags that can differentiate a legitimate small press from a scam...and there are scams a plenty!

Several small presses I have dealt with were not "scams" per se, but rather "non-professional" or as an agent once told me, "less than dishonorable."

Small presses are more apt to offer a "poorer" contract than big houses (my personal thoughts), because they don't have the big budget to back up a more "author-friendly" contract. By poorer I mean only that the author is often required to sign over more rights, such as movie, foreign, etc.

Just my $.02, and take it with a grain of salt!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Lay Guide to Publishing Avenues

My cousin, a member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) sent me a nifty little cheat sheet about the various means of becoming a 'published' author. I use the quotations, because she pointed out to me that many organization do NOT consider you published or professional unless you've received at least a $1,000 advance. Makes sense, because a publisher who has already dolled out money for you will want to make that money back! This leads to more aggressive marketing of your book. I have to note, I have no knowledge of that from dealing with publishers, but a degree in business gives even me some basic insight! :)

So, on to some of the publishing methods:

Traditional: The top of the line method that we all dream about. Huge advances (not so much anymore), your bool in every Barnes & Noble, or as my agent calls them "The big boys and girls in NY."
     -You get to work with top notch team who will handle editing, art/cover design, and marketing
     -A major advance
     -Large print runs to start
     -Availability in stores

     -You need an agent 99.99% of the time.
     -Kill or be killed = publish or fail
     -Sales record counts...sell 1 copy and say goodbye to that next advance or the publisher themselves

Self-Publishing: You publish your own work. Online or in print through an insurmountable number of channels. (Online channels: Smashwords, Createspace, Barnes & Noble, etc.) I'm not going to list channels of self-publishing in print, because they're everywhere.

     -Anything goes...you can publish a picture of a monkey eating a banana on 375 pages and call it the True Story of King Kong...you get the idea.
     -You get to run everything, track sales, decide how to market it, and you can get a royalty rate of between 35-70%.

     -Anything goes...people can print books such as the True Story of King Kong...and if I find someone did publish it, I will sue you, because it is MY great and hilarious idea :)
     -You CAN make a lot money, but you won't. Those who say they have are the exception to the rule, not the rule themselves. Watch...I can't remember the movie right now, so if you made that movie please know I'm giving you credit even though I forgot what movie it is that you made.
     -You HAVE to do all the work, marketing, etc. unless you're rich, in which case you can pay people to do that for you.
     -There's no advance, and bookstore staff will probably give you a funny look when you ask for placement on their shelves...and THEN when you leave, laugh at you with their friends. Sad I know, but that's how the cookie crumbles. That's what I would imagine on my way out after they said no in a polite fashion.

E-Publishing (Electronic Publishing): E-publishers are EVERYWHERE. I can't tell you how many there are. These aren't bad, per se, or at all. It just depends on what you're looking for. These are usually small presses, though they may have as many as 20 authors (I've seen it), but all their books are published online. MANY claim if a book is successful it will go into a limited run or become POD (Print-on-demand). This would be something to ask them about before signing a contract.

     -Much easier to have your work accepted, whether you're agented or not.
     -SOME provide an advance, but to be honest after pouring over pages of them, I've only seen one offer an advance, and that was one that did do print, not just electronically. 
     -You get to work with staff, which I would call so-so quality (A LOT better than me, but nowhere near HarperCollins staff)
     -You'll get more staff attention as it is a small press with a limited amount of authors
     -The press may already have loyal customers who will purchase your book just due to the publisher.

     -Rarely given an advance, and when you are, they're small!
     -You do have to or rather SHOULD do marketing yourself as the press will have limited means to help you. You should use, of course, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, LinkedIn, etc. etc.
     -You won't have much contact with many of the "big boys and girls in NY" as my agent says! Always make me laugh and smile :)
     -Your book will likely not reach any form of print.

VANITY: Don't use this. They may make you pay, or only sell your book to you alone. Don't do this. Don't do it! GO check out pred-ed.com. A FANTASTIC site about scammers and the "big boys and girls". It's run by Dave...something, but it is an INVALUABLE tool. USE IT!

Now for the citing of sources, as I don't want to get sued or be assassinated for misusing/plagiarizing someone. 

Source: November 2011 RWA Magazine, Article, by Virna DePaul

And a special thanks to my cousin, Leslie Carroll for making sure I never fell prey to any scammers!

So, Farewell,  keep on writing, and make sure your pen has ink!

Responses from Publishers

Before acquiring my agent I had queried several small presses for publication. A few rejections, but an overwhelming number of offers. Quite frankly, I'm astounded at the number and the speed at which they came in. In a week-and-a-half period I literally had FIVE offers. It's pretty staggering considering some criticism I've had by a one or two people I let read some. They weren't publishers, or agents or anything of that sort, but one was an editor. Anyway, before I actually started to delve into the 'business' I used what is called head-hopping. If you're reading this blog you probably know what that is.

Most people have told me it's not confusing, some have, and honestly I like it. Having read numerous books with 'head-hopping' I find it a great way to learn all the characters, and how they interact with each other, and how they truly compare and contrast each other.

Anyway, four of the five publishers were great to communicate with, all very professional, and though one contract was outlandishly poor, I passed. My agent is currently shopping it in NYC, and I have full faith in his advice and abilities. He's a big timer.

One publisher that I passed on replied with a scathing remark. I must use the word "astounded" again. I inquired about an advance, and was informed by this publisher: 'No, advances are given on an author's merit and ability to sell."

So...you want to publish my book, but don't believe I have any merit or ability to sell? I found it rather silly, and honestly a bit rude. Mind you I had asked politely...sort of I guess..."What type of advance can I expect?" Nothing too insulting, I think.

There were some other passive-agressive comments made, but I don't want to get into that, nor name this publisher or the email's sender.

I'm a newbie to the business, and maybe I was out of line?

All the other small presses were very easy to deal with.

I guess my point is that though our books should be written with marketability in mind, write what you want. My second book I've opted not to use head-hopping, but I still think it's fine.

This is the end of my ramblings :)

So, Farewell,  keep on writing, and make sure your pen has ink!

PS My cousin is up for the Good Reads Choice Awards for the Best Historical Novel, BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE so, everyone should go vote for her at this address!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Research and Its Funny Effects

I'm a research hound. I get it from my father I think. An example is if I'm watching TV and see something about a cookie cutter shark I pick up my iPod touch and start a fervent search for information about it. No idea why I do this...maybe I'm addicted to knowledge?

Anyway, in the process of writing my first book, THE FREEDMAN AND THE PHARAOH'S STAFF, which is currently being shopped in NY might I add :) I must have bought 20 books about the Civil War and that time period (which is when the book takes place!). Books about the styles of clothes, hair cuts/facial hair, swears, food, slang and all that. Though it's a speculative fiction/fantasy I always need things to be realistic. Voodoo is involved, so I have books about that written by actual practitioners, and even had numerous conversations with some friends from Haiti. They were the most helpful.

Now, I'm nearly done with my second book. It's a medieval fantasy (my favorite) and I have a dozen books about castles, siege warfare/machines/defensives, clothing, armor, weapons and those sort of things. You don't even want to know how many books I have on magic..."real" magic like Aleister Crowley and in the case of evil magic, I a copy of "The Black Arts". Another great book. I often wonder what my cleaning lady thinks when she sees that book...she must think I'm a nut job Lol.

When creating a fantasy world I suppose it makes sense to detach from reality, but I think this is something agents and publishers disagree with. In no way am I an expert in this area, but I have noticed from my days of querying before finding my agent, a lot of agents and publishers stated that fact. I remember one publisher/agent? I forget which, said they wanted realistic fantasy...not talking dogs!

Even the greats like Margaret Weiss keep realism in their writing. People get sick, people die...if I remember correctly, Flint Fireforge died from a heart attack/heart disease as he was chasing after someone. Sad, but realistic...people do die of heart attacks. As did Caramon Majere, now that I think of it.

Keeping faith to even the most basic facts about castles, medieval life, and weaponry can add pounds of world making. Little things...dwarven proverbs...a stereotype against elfs (I don't condone racism, but it happens)...and celebrations/holidays all make for wonderful world building.

A couple agents and some beta readers for my first book have commented, "it's like its own world." THAT makes me happy, because in its own way it is. Reconstruction Louisiana, a place where voodoo is at its heart...common knowledge that is so uncommon to us...like the spreading of brick dust across doorway or in a circle around yourself  keeps those with ill will towards you from crossing over the line. A true belief and practice, but few people outside the culture probably know or believe it.

Anyway, I've probably rambled enough.

So farewell, and keep on writing, and make sure your pen has ink!

Question: What research do you do for your writing, if any at all?

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Makes a Character Interesting?

I’ve seen a lot of books out about this subject; how to make realistically interesting characters. I actually own one, though I never have, and most likely, won’t read it. Why? Character development is one of the things I am most proud of doing, because I feel I do it well.
I would define an interesting character as someone you can come to know. Literally! Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman (two of my favorite authors) are GREAT at this, because they realize people are people. This is true whether imaginary or not. A great character is complex, good, evil, kind, and cruel. We, as people, have all been and will be again, these things. It’s just the nature of the beast.
This lays the groundwork for the art of creating our heroes, villains, and side characters. Be weird! Nothing is more real than the bizzare. Fact is, indeed, stranger than fiction, LITERALLY. Go read some historical books, or scientific articles, and you’ll see the universe is outlandishly strange. So, too, should our characters (and people, in fact). For example, in the past year or so I ran a D&D group (yes, I’m a huge nerd), and people loved it. Why? I think because of the characters.
Here I’ll outline some odd and funny examples:
-Twin brothers, one’s a good priest of healing, the other is an evil priest of war, and  they love each other...brothers and all. Totally opposite in every way (besides appearance) but they love each other. One told a funny story about their childhood…one found a stray cat to take care of…the other one killed it…you can figure it out! It's just a quirky thing that isn't totally unrealistic. Heck, I know family that if we ever got into a political/religious conversation we would end up choking each other out. 
-A demon who was madly in love with one of the player’s characters. MADLY in love. A character thought it would be funny to feed him a love potion…and it was…for hours…HILARIOUS!
-Another great character, the players overall favorite, was a traveling minstrel who was a pathological liar, but he was funny! He told great stories about heroes, villains and monsters he’d slain…half were true…a half he thought were true…the other half he made up, and still more were taken from the people who had done the very deed he claimed was his. :)
How does this translate into writing great characters? Easy, your villain is the epitome of evil. He steals, lies, and murders at a moment’s notice. BUT perhaps, he loves beautiful sunsets, and must stop and watch it everyday. Perhaps, his evil deeds hide the fact his life isn’t what he wanted it to be, or he'd rather be a painter. Basically the more contradictory a character may seem makes them more real. After all, there is the theory of 3 "You's"...there is you as you think of yourself. There is the you that others see you as, and then there is the you that IS you. Abstract theory? Yes, but applying to one's writing can only help fleshing out the world and its inhabitants.
On the other hand, your hero can be an alcoholic. Cliche? A little…but when he drinks he lashes out physically at whosever there, wets his pants, and wakes up ashamed of what he has done. Every other night he’s out saving the world, but then he sees a car drive by…a car he swears is his father’s who left him as a child. He gets drunk that night, gets arrested, and now is the criminal…so to speak.
These are not well thought out characters, as I am writing this on the fly. However, they are fair examples. Think of Frankenstein’s Monster…best character EVER!!! And why? Because he’s complex, he’s evil, he’s good, he wants to be good, but can’t be. Just being ugly turns him into a murderer, a simple analyzation, I know.
A great character will have readers coming back, and will have you, as the writer, salivating to write about them again. You read the dialogue, and think, “That is just so Bill!” Having that effect on you is what makes Bill a GREAT character!
Farewell, and keep on writing, and make sure your pen has ink!

Who are some of your favorite characters? I'd like to know!

First Post...A Nice Little Surprise

As the title says, this is my first post. Though I'm unaccustomed to blogging...as in never, I figured I would give it a try. Now that that's over with, I can get to my nice little surprise!

I'm currently taking a course at Harvard and going for an ALM in Creative Writing, so it's fair to say it's difficult. So far, we have to write a number of analytical essays about the Gothic story we had just read (oh by the way it's a course on Gothic literature lol). I'm easily bored...just the way I am, and instead of beginning another paper with the same old thesis and then motive and then...etc. I switched it up, and began with the following creative excerpt:

"A woman breaks free from the darkened field, bounding into the looming woods beyond. She dares not look back in fear of the madman on her heels. Thick copious trees conceal the moonlight, drowning our heroine in darkness. A baleful laugh resonates through the heavy night air a tone as deep as a pit whose depth is beyond human imagining. Our heroine stops, muscles exhausted, breath sharp, and turns to find, looming over her, the madman."

As a funny poke at myself, I made a remark following this excerpt: "This poorly written prose is the convention of a Gothic novel..." Not funny? Well, too bad, I thought it was funny!

Anyway, when I get the paper back, my professor had commented: "Not poorly written at all. It's fantastic and poignant." She even, later on, said I have an ear for language and am a great writer. 

So, that was a nice little surprise! Especially since I'm frantic about having to get the mandatory B+ to pass the class :-\

I'll leave you with something I heard the other day that made me laugh. My niece and I are sitting at the kitchen table talking, and of course she's on her iPod, DS, or some other smart phone thing and blurts out, "I'm not paying five smurfberries for THAT!" 

Now that's funny! Lol