Tuesday, July 6, 2010

So, you want to write a novel?

It's not easy. I've sent out many query letters for my first novel and had some close calls, but that's only in horseshoes I'm told. After reading some great materials on writing in general, I decided to take some advice and write for anthologies.

Actually, the only real money I made was from Spook Rock, my first novel and, The Lazarus Culture, my second. Most of the anthologies I've been published in were simply for the sake of making money for the publisher and getting my name known throughout the writing world. This is NOT a bad idea at all. If you enjoy writing in the horror genre as I do, it's a good idea to go to Ralan's Webstravaganza and and look for the word Anthology at the top of the page. You will be taken to the anthology page where you'll find the names of the anthology, the publisher, and what they're looking for from the author. Make sure you follow the guidelines.

If you're serious about writing, register an account with Permuted Press. There are some fine people there who have just about all the answers to questions you may have. You can actually talk about anything, not just writing.

There is nothing like seeing your name on a novel or on the index of an anthology. The good ones will put out a book that will make a writer proud be have their names somewhere in the pages. I can't tell you how many books I've sold at signings and simply by word of mouth.

A great book to help with your writing is Stephen King's "On Writing." It's simply direct and to the point with no foolish drivel that you get with other 'how to' or 'self help' type books. I have about $300.00 worth of research books as well, which include a good batch of Writer's Digest books like: Cause of Death, Body Trauma, Order in the Court, and Deadly Doses. I have these books because I believe that research is a very important part of writing. Know your audience. Your readers to be exact. Remember: Doctors, Lawyers, Nurses, Police Officers . . . all these people read. However, you're going to make mistakes no matter how much research you put into your work. The bottom line is that it's only a book. It's fiction. Do your best in the research, but don't be discouraged if someone nit-picks at certain faults they find. Reviewers can be very nasty when it comes to finding mistakes in your work. Just move on. Do what the wishguys do. Fi-git-a-bot-it!

A good 'young person's book' for a lot of fun in learning grammar is: The Transitive Vampire by Karen E. Gordon. She bills it as A Handbook of the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed. I received quite a few great comments by teens who enjoyed learning from its pages. If you have a young person who's interested in writing, have them give it a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tidbits I've Learned Over The Years

So, you've sent that email to 10 people and you're still waiting for that miracle, huh?

Read on:

Writing a book takes more than just sitting down and putting your idea into words. There are a lot of things that you have to consider.

Keep an eye out for spelling and grammar errors. When typing fast with fresh ideas in our heads, we tend to forget ourselves. Check and recheck your work. Editors are very expensive these days. When checking your work over, try not to put too much trust into Spell Check if you’re using MS-Word or any other writing program. Words can be spelled correctly but used in the wrong context. Spell Check will not find those as being an error.

You’ll need to know how to write an effective ‘query letter’ to a literary agent. The letter will also include a synopsis that will hold the interest of the agent, and want to make him or her ask for the first three chapters of your work. Never send a manuscript to a publisher or literary agent without querying first. There ‘are’ some publishers who will allow this, but you have to make sure you follow the guidelines for submitting to a Tee.

You’ll need to know how to format your manuscript. This includes the fonts (size and type) that most agents, editors, and publishers want. These are usually Courier New and Times New Roman (12 pt). Short stories and novels are formatted differently. You will need to follow submission guidelines just as they are laid down for your submissions. Anything less will result in your manuscript sent back or destroyed unread.

You will need to know what Point of View (POV) is. Know how to write in First Person Point of View. You’ll need to know the can and can not of each.

Do you know how to write dialogue? How to format dialogue? This is very important and allows the author and his/her characters to communicate with the reader. Remember dialect as well. Dialect is how a person speaks. Your characters may be highly educated or dumber than dishwater. ‘Ain’t got none’ is highly acceptable when used properly by a character who is even less than street smart. Keep in mind that it’s not a good idea to have two or more people speaking in the same paragraph. Each person speaking should have their own paragraph. Some may argue this point, but to be plain and simple, it’s not the right format. It’s confusing and it’s very amateurish looking.

It’s a good idea to know some of the publishing laws. The use of names and places.

These include
o Delivery Of Satisfactory Copy
o Permission for Copyrighted Material
o Grant Of Rights
o Proofreading and Author's Corrections
o Advances and Royalties
o Author's Warranties and Indemnities
o Copies to Author
o Option Clause

Learn how to get a ‘word count of your work. Some novels have a prologue and an epilogue. You’ll need to know how to write them and why they’re used.

Know what the word ‘genre’ means. Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction; These are all genres.

One of the most important issues in manuscript submitting is the proper ‘page set up’ for your work. This includes margins, indents, and paragraphs. Most editors will want to see your manuscript double spaced. This allows the editor to use his/her proofreaders marks between the lines. Most margins will be one inch all around with a ragged right margin and an even left.

Are you prepared to do a lot of ‘research’ involving your work? Remember that many professionals such as, doctors, lawyers, nurses, public accountants, judges, architects, bricklayers, engineers, and police officers read, too.

Do you know what a sub-plot is? This is a plot that comes ‘under’ the main plot. The hero may be after the vampire, but the mob may be after the hero as well. This is a sub-plot.

Can you take rejection and constructive criticism? If you’re easily hurt in the feelings department, then writing may not be your forte. Critics will tear you apart or build you up. The best writers in the world “King, Patterson, Koontz, J.K. Rowling, and many others” have been torn up one side and down the other. You can’t please everyone.

If you decide to hire an editor, remember: Your manuscript will be double spaced, which means there will be twice as many pages. A 600 page novel could cost you around $1800.00, some even more depending on what the editor charges per page. Then there’s the hourly rate that some charge. Usually it’s within the range of $65.00. So, if they work on your book for 18 hours, that’s another $1170.00 + $1800.00 = $2970.00.

Remember that if you are a minor you can’t get into a binding contract without your parents or legal guardians consent. Literary agents and publishers will remind you of this.

These are the things you must know to work at your craft. Don’t let these things deter you from writing. There are books in libraries and bookstores that can teach you all of these things. Buying these books (if you want to be a serious writer) is the best thing to do. Why? Well, because you can use a yellow marker to highlight all the points of interest. Then you can use the front of the book to make page references to those markings in order to check back on them at a later date, when you need to.

You’ll need to get a copy of Writer’s Market for the current year. This has literary agents whom you can send out query letters to. Some of them allow email queries. They also have a website. Google: Writer’s Market.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What about grammar in your writing?

Spook Rock is an actual place in Claverack Creek, Hudson, NY. We as kids used to swim there.

Everyone wants to read something that looks to be written by someone who’s fairly educated. You don’t have to be a scholar to write books, but it does help to know the ins and outs of writing correctly and effectively.

Grammar comes into play when writing ‘descriptive data.’ Here you convey your thoughts to the reader by ‘showing’ them what they’re looking at. By giving them what I like to call a ‘minds eye view’ of what you’re describing. That’s when your writing has to be in top-notch shape. This is the author’s words and not just some character who is dumber than a box of rocks made up by the author. This is also where point of view comes into play.

Point of view becomes important in grammar because of who’s telling the story. In first person, using the subjective personal pronoun ‘I‘in telling the story, could mean that a character is either well educated or simply street smart. This is where ‘ain’t got none,’ is perfectly acceptable in writing either dialogue or any other way the character may speak. The same goes for writing in second person point of view. In third person, the author can get into every character’s mind and relay his/her thoughts to the reader. However, in third person, most of the intelligence of the character is shown during dialogue. Here, once again, you can throw grammar to the wind, but only according to your character’s intelligence. That’s not so with descriptive data. Once again, these are the author’s descriptions and thoughts, and must be written properly.

In dialogue there are certain rules set aside for what can and can’t be written. You can write dialogue for a character that was brought up in the hood and speaks with little regard to political correctness or grammar in general. Yet, that same character would look all too phony if he/she spoke as though they just graduated from Yale. Every character must also be consistent in their vocabulary. I’ve seen a lot of books where the author uses a lot of contractions, but switches to the full two words (aren’t or are not), way too much in his/her dialogue.

A perfect example would be a novel about a very old vampire who is somehow brought back to life in this century. A four hundred year old vampire would be more prone to speaking in an old tongue rather than using present day contractions.

“I don’t have the means to walk in the daylight. However, it doesn’t matter that you don’t understand everything about me.”

This just doesn’t have the true ring of a vampire more than four hundred years old.

“I do not have the means to walk in the daylight. However, it does not matter that you do not understand everything about me.”

Now that’s more like it. However:

“I do not have the means to walk in the daylight. However, it doesn’t matter that you do not understand everything about me.”

This is an inconsistency involving the use of contractions. It just doesn’t look right. This is where self editing really comes in handy. We type fast at times, and these inconsistencies can be easily overlooked. I don’t know if it’s wrong or right, but I just don’t like the switching back and forth thing.

Grammar is an important tool when learning to read and write. When children are very young we tend to use what is called ‘baby talk’ on them. I’ve known a few parents to frown on this type of thing. We as parents and teachers are a lot like computers. We are the motherboards, and our children are the floppy discs. What we put on those discs, in the minds of our children, is very important. One day they will become the motherboards, and, they too, will copy what they learned from us to their own floppy disc children. And, so, life simply goes on.

One of the best ways to learn to write well is to ‘read.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s Harry Potter or Salem’s Lot. What matters is reading and remembering. Learning how sentences are structured by all these different authors. One can say that ‘this person or that person is a terrible writer.’ Well, if they were published by a major publishing company, then they must have done something right.

I’m not the greatest of writers. But, he/she who reads my words here will be able to get the gist of what I’m trying to say here. They can put it in their own words . . . as long as they get the point of it all.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

What's in your toolbox?

The Hudson Athen's Lighthouse. The Hudson River, between Hudson and Athens, NY.

How many times have you heard about getting the right tools for the job? A phillips head doesn't work very well on a straight head screw. You want to make that wood cabinet look like it was made by a professional with all the ornate shapes? Well, you need a router for that with all the proper blades.

It's the same with your writing. You need the proper tools to get the job done. What tools you ask? Well, the kind you can dig through to get some proper research information about something you know little about. For instance: You may be writing a court scene and get stuck on some legal term(s). You may also want to know if you can legally do something or say something in the courtroom. Order in the Court. This is a book put out by Writer’s Digest Books. It even gives you some ideas for a story.

What if you are writing a scene where a person has been in a terrible accident? You may want to elaborate a bit on the type of injury. Body Trauma. What if that person dies? Causes of Death. What if that person was actually poisoned? Deadly Doses. These are all Writer’s Digest Books. They’re a great buy and well worth the money. Remember: A lot of professionals read books. You want to get as close to ‘believable’ as you can, even in a fictional novel.

You may want to look up some information on publishing in general. I find Kirsch’s Handbook on Publishing Law very helpful. There is of course one of the great masters of horror who has one heck of a book out that will give you plenty of insight on the craft. On Writing by none other than Stephen King. A fantastic reference book.

I see a lot of questions on Yahoo Answers about character names. I have a really great system that I use for some really unique names. Get one of your DVD’s and go directly to the credits. Don’t bother with the cast; look to the people behind the scenes. The Best Boy, The Photographers, The Sound Crew, The lighting Crew, Gaffers, etc… There are literally hundreds of names to look through here. What? You’re afraid to use a real name of someone living or dead? Not a problem. What I do is take the first name of one person and marry it up with the last name of another. You can really come up with some fantastic names this way. It’s great, especially for horror novels where you want a really unique name for a werewolf or vampire.

If you’re really serious about getting your work politically or any other ‘correct,’ don’t be afraid to talk to the experts. You may have a darn good chatty relationship with your doctor, lawyer, nurse, tax consultant, electrician, plumber, etc… Get the information right from the horse’s mouth. Get it right.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Submission Guidelines & Formatting

Sometimes you'll feel like you've been battling with this guy for the chance at getting noticed.

Submitting stories is one of the many pleasures of writing. I usually look for anthologies that represent horror and a bit of science fiction. One of the most lifting and gratifying experiences a writer can have is to look into a book and find their story. The title, the ‘by’ line, and the author’s name right there in full view.

There are a few things to consider prior to getting to that most uplifting point. One of them is the story itself. Another is a query letter that is hopefully free of any type of errors. Finally that little thing called—format. Yes. Everything has its place in the writer’s world. No one can sell a story if they can’t write a simply letter. No one can get anywhere if they can’t follow simple directions either.

Every publisher who plans on putting together an anthology has what is known as submission guidelines. These guidelines tell the author what font size to use, what font type, what spacing between lines (double or single – usually double spaced), the page setup, which is usually one inch all around with a half inch indent for each paragraph. I find this is true if the book is to be in print form. Some electronic anthologies will request the page setup be in block form with no indents, and the identifiers. That being the author’s name, address, telephone number, email address, all in the proper place. Then there is the word count, title, last name of the author, genre, and page number, once again all in the proper place.

This certainly sounds pretty scary and tough, but it’s fairly simple. Everything will be spelled out in easy to read instructions. Follow them and everything will go along as smooth as a New York cheesecake. Since I write my stories in MS-Word, I use the header – footer to do my formatting. Make sure the ‘different first page’ is selected before formatting the pages. Then format like this:

To the left:

Email Address

To the right and tab directly across form name until you reach the end:

WC=3500/Vamp Girl/Horror/Morrone/Page 1

It should look like this:

Name WC=3500/Vamp Girl/Horror/Morrone/Page 1
Email Address

If there doesn’t seem to be enough room to the right, simply pull the text over to the left until everything can be typed in.

Setting the ‘different first page’ will allow the author to go to the second page and type only what is to the right, starting of course with the word count 3500. Clicking on the page number symbol will put ‘page 2’ in place. The rest of the pages will be exactly as page 2 with the exception of the page number, which will be 3 and so on. I’ve left out a few steps, but anyone who works with MS-Word will know how to do this.

Not ‘all’ publishers will look for this type of formatting. Some may request something totally different. This is where following the submission guidelines becomes very important. There are those who will not ask for double spacing, those who don’t want the ‘header – footer used, some who want Courier New and some who want Times New Roman. Most all will ask for 12 point font size. Some will ask the author to put the name of the anthology, the last name of the author, and the title of the story in the subject line. This is not uncommon. Some publishers will ask for snail mail submissions, and others will ask for electronic only. Most electronic submissions will be requested in either Rich Text Format – RTF, or DOC.

Some publishers will ask the author to underline anything that should appear in italics. Some my ask that the author to simply use the italics. The first page of the story with the story title and author’s name directly beneath, should be almost half way down the page. Below the title and author name and, about four spaces down, starts the story itself. This format is used for those editors who want to write something directly above, such as instructions or any corrections to be made.

Sounds like a lot, huh? It’s really not all that bad. There is an old slogan used for every job that needs to be done. ‘When All Else Fails, Follow Directions.’

As far as query letters are concerned, samples can be found all over the Internet. Find one that suits you and go from there. Make sure your letter is free of any type of error. I mentioned this before, but it’s just that important. An editor or publisher will not even view any stories if the query is full of mistakes in spelling and grammar. They will simply figure that if the author can’t write a simple letter, then how can they possibly write a novel or short story.

Don’t be discouraged with rejections. Most publishers will reject stories because they just don’t suit the story type they’re looking for. A lot of them will actually tell the author how well they story is written. This is a good thing. The old: There’s good news and bad news, right? Don’t take any critiques to heart or become offended. This is what editors are supposed to do. This is their job. I’ve been writing for quite some time now, and I’ve received my share of rejections, but I’ve never received a nasty one.

Here’s a couple of examples I’ve received:

Dear Pat,
Thank you for your submission to (name of anthology). We regret that we will not be able to use your story at this time. It’s just not what we’re looking for. We wish you luck in placing it elsewhere.

Dear Pat,

Thank you for your interest in (name of anthology). I’ve decided not to accept your story at this time. It simply didn’t catch our interest, although it was very well written. I wish you luck with your next submission to another publisher.

These are easy let downs and should actually make the author feel proud of his/her work. I certainly didn’t care for any type of rejections, but I did enjoy any kind words the publisher or editor had to say about my writing in general.

Follow the guidelines and get it right the first time.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Short Stories

Maybe the night of a full moon does something for you. What do they say about full moons?

Short stories can be easy or hard, but it's what you make of them. Imagination is very important in writing, as is the ability to get someone else to use theirs as they read what you are writing. I may have mentioned this before, but I will again just for the sake of drilling it in. Getting someone to actually see what you've written in their mind is what I like to call 'A Mind's Eye View.'

When writing your story, just let your imagination take you away. Let it run amuck for a while. Sometimes things get all hazy when we write, but that can all be corrected later. That's exactly what self-editing is all about. You read a sentence and end up changing it because you realize there is a better way to say it.

Write about something you enjoy reading or watching on TV or movies. Take the idea and change it all around, believe me, there is nothing wrong with that at all. If there was, there would be very little sequels by other producers or directors to be had. And . . . we all know that some are worse than others.

Some horror stories are true. Just read the paper or check out the news a few times a week. This is indeed a sad fact of life. Stories come from the minds of people who want to get away from reality for a while, and writers want to take someone along with them. Short stories can be told in 300 words. Some of them are very close to being noveletts with over 15,000 words. It all depends on how long it takes to tell that story.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride if you're the reader. If you're the writer, then keep your mind glued to the road.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Getting Ideas For A Story

This is a shot taken in Fort Morgan in Alabama. What's inside that doorway? Only the author knows for sure.

Each author has a particular element of surprise to convey to his/her readers. In short stories that element of surprise has to be quickened in one way or another. There really isn’t much time to dally around with objectives that may keep the author from getting right to the point. In a novel however, we have the chance to sift out every possible plot and/or circumstance that may very well be a very important part of the overall story.

In this case it’s a doorway that’s pitch black inside. Pictures sometimes give us ideas and certain thoughts. By ‘us’ I mean writers and authors to be exact. What exactly could happen to a person who would dare to walk into that room alone? What terrible fate could await an unwary visitor who happened to wander away from the rest of the crowd? In our minds we must visualize the facts and fantasies that bombard our brains and turn them into something that people would actually care to read.

It doesn’t really have to be a creature of some kind. It could be someone totally human, but someone who has slipped off the deep end as we sometimes say. They were pushed to the limits of their sanity. When we think of dark places, we often think of vampires and ghosts. What better place for a vampire to hide during the day. Would some visitor find them out? Would anyone believe that this being actually existed? Once again, it’s up to the writers to pinpoint that individual thought.

Many people complain about not having any ideas about a story they would really like to write. Pictures have a way of bringing that imagination part of the brain to full light. A closer look at one of those photos and something inside that skull has to click.

Hm! Picture that!