Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Favorite Inspirational Quote

One of my very favorite quotes that never fails to inspire me:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common that unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
--Calvin Coolidge

Friday, September 26, 2008

Learning Craft with Short Fiction

I have a confession.

Several years ago, fed up and burned out after a long series of disappointments, I gave up. At one point, I even threw away all of my story ideas, manuscripts, rejection letters, and research. Yup, I gave up.

Sorta. When I stopped writing novels, I still wrote. Every so often, I'd get an idea for a short story, I'd pound it out, I'd put it away. I submitted a few of them, but I didn't put pressure on myself. Writing short fiction gave me the opportunity to craft a story without having to commit to a long-term project - no pressure. It also allowed me to learn the quick and dirty route to telling a story.

Arc a character and bring the plot full circle in just twenty pages? No prob.

Give two characters the means to overcome their conflicts and find a happy ending within 5000 words? Piece of cake.

Were my stories good? Mostly not, but I can read a few of them today and not want to hide under my desk. Did they teach me how to write fiction?


There are so many pros to writing short fiction. As I've said, it's a fast way to nail a story and move on. If you learn best by seeing the big picture before the details, short fiction gives you the chance to get a good grip on the mechanics of storytelling - write the big picture and then have a limited number of pages to deal with in revisions (the details).

Recently, I attended a class on writing short fiction, and the lecturer (Dr. Lee Tobin-McClain) pointed out a few other benefits.
  • Experimentation. If you've had an itch to try a different genre or sub-genre, try it short first. See if you feel confident in the result. Try a new style or play with POV. Learn from the experience.
  • Improve your craft. It's easier to toss a failed attempt when you're talking about 10 pages. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can play around and learn from both the mistakes and the successes. Do you have trouble with world building? Write a short fantasy. Not sure if your voice shines through? Try out a literary story. Need help with plotting? Give mystery a shot.
  • Break open a creative block. There's no pressure in a short. It's short. There's very little lost investment of time if it bombs. You're a writer, and that gives you permission to pull out the most outlandish characters, plots, conflicts, and settings you want. It's your world. It's your story. Do whatever you want. When you're writing a short story, you can be as crazy as you want, and there's no loss because at the very worst, you'll have learned that something doesn't work for you (and maybe even why).
Dr. McClain also pointed out the career benefits of short fiction. Is your current WIP based on a town you've created or a whole other world? Write a short story based in the setting you've built. When you publish it, you'll open up the opportunity to draw in a larger audience for your novel. Have secondary characters who want a story, but you don't have much to offer them? Give them a novella. Some authors got their start in short fiction and broke into long fiction after establishing an audience and a track record.

Now that you've considered the benefits of writing short, head over to Duotrope and look at the markets that are available. Read a few issues and get inspired. Then give yourself permission to write a quick story. Go nuts. Unleash the muse. You might be surprised at the result.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Research? Likely Story: The deciphering of Operation Sheba

I may have had a little too much fun with this one, gang. But allow me to be serious for a moment. I've read a lot of books and know firsthand, there's a lot of talent in this biz. As for Operation Sheba, the author did her homework and honed her craft. I couldn't put this book down. Please welcome Author Misty Evans.

I recently completed Operation Sheba, and as I reached the last page, something the author said in the prologue made sense. The hook that led to chapter one summed up the way I was feeling. "Something's off."

Exactly. I wasn't buying it. Not the book -- the author's claim of being a happily married mother of twins, with a degree in marketing, who just happens to write suspense.

And I'm a size 2.

I knew who she was -- a highly trained operative who said she wrote this book by doing research. Step into my interrogation room while we have a little chat with Ms. Misty Evans and I do my best to break her.

D.B. Good morning, Misty. Thanks for coming down. Are you comfortable? Can I get you a cup of coffee?

M.E. I'd love a cup, black, please. Would you like me to check your coffee maker for bugs while I'm here?

Are you insinuating I might have bugged the coffee pot? A little paranoid, aren't you? This is a friendly chat, Ms. Evans. Besides it's also a blog and the coffee's a figment of our imagination. So, Misty, if that's really your name, when did you leave the CIA?

M.E. I don't know what you're talking about.

Don't you? I read the book. You talk about GPS chips, a shadow CIA, infared laser trip wires. You talk about glamorous international places and revolve it around a sexy and riveting plot. So let's cut to the chase. This book's in code; the question is who are you trying to market it to?

M.E. Who else? To people who love to read action/adventure, intrigue and suspense.

Not North Korea?

M.E. Er...exactly how much coffee did you drink this morning?

D.B. The coffee's imaginary. Stay with me. So you claim you did research. What else?

M.E. I'm not sure what you mean.

D.B. You didn't consult experts?

M.E. Well, I did use a few sources.

D.B. Aha! Did any of them start with double 00--?

M.E. No. But I have watched a few of his movies.

D.B. [Interrogator stares off dreamily] That new James Bond does have an amazing body.

M.E. Personally, I prefer his gadgets.

D.B. Exactly! You use so many in Operation Sheba. For instance, the lady bug mike. That was only one of the things that tipped me off. Knowing precisely what the device would and wouldn't stick to. How could you possibly know this?

M.E. My ten-year-old son bought one at Target.

D.B. Recruiting your own son?!!

M.E. Best to start em young, mold their minds, brainwash them so they fold their own socks.

D.B. This is getting us nowhere; let's talk about the Farm. You depict the training of CIA operatives so well, I felt like I was crawling beside them. You talk about the weapons they use, the chain of command, the intricacies of the Agency. How would a normal civilian know anything about this?

M.E. By Farm, are you referring to the CIA's training camp?

D.B. You tell me.

M.E. I told you. I did a ton of research. Besides although the training camp used to be quite secretive, it isn't any longer. It's located near Williamsburg, Virginia.

D.B. You drove right to it?

M.E. Actually, I used Google satellite maps.

D.B. You expect me to believe you used Google to write this edge-of-your-seat suspense?

M.E. No. Basically I read everything the CIA unclassified for the past 15 to 20 years. Anything they blacked out, I simply substituted with my imagination.

D.B. [Interrogator scribbles in notebook...she's almost convincing.] Let's talk about your characters, Julia, aka Abigail Quinn, Conrad and Michael. These characters are so well drawn, such risk-takers and downright heroic. You expect me to believe they're not real? Incidentally, how could you do that to Michael? I was dying when Julia told him Con was alive.

M.E. I am well versed in torture.

D.B. [Interrogator's eyes narrow.]

M.E. Kidding!! Don't worry. Michael will be rewarded with his own story. Writing these characters was great fun for me. That's why I'm turning their story into a series. My editor describes Operation Sheba as Alias meets 24. I hope to keep that kind of action and suspense in all my novels, while still creating characters with emotional depth and integrity.

D.B. You still deny you're a CIA operative and expect me to believe you're merely a fabulous writer?

M.E. You still claim you don't have bugs in your coffee pot?

D.B. Absolutely not! I clean it with vinegar. Fine, Misty, you can go. But I'll be watching you, and I know others will as well. Tell us where we can get Operation Sheba and what we can expect next.

M.E. Operation Sheba is currently available in ebook format from Samhain Publishing http://samhainpublishing.com/romance/operation-sheba. The print book will be released in July 2009.

In honor of Julia's heroics, I'm running a contest for readers. One lucky person will win an IPod. For details, visit my website www.readmistyevans.com.

Along with Operation Sheba, I have a paranormal comedy, Witches Anonymous, coming out in February 2009. And, no, Donnell, I'm not a witch. I just did really good research and sold my soul to a certain devil who also has cool gadgets.

D.B. I'll be the judge of that, Misty. Alias meets 24. I think we need to do a background check on your editor. That's pretty clever.

M.E. Thank you so much for having me on Five Scribes today! I know who to call for my next interrogation.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Reviewing Books Online: Smart or Disastrous?

Once upon a time, long ago, I was just a reader. When I read, I did so for pleasure. Books I picked up would be chucked if they bored me within the first five pages or if they had elements that annoyed me. I didn't study these books. I didn't stop in the middle of a chapter and say to myself, "Holy cow, I just read eight pages and got sucked in - must reread and figure out how she did that!"

Back in those days, I didn't think twice about dissing a book that left a dent in my wall. Not online. Not in the midst of a group of readers. Nor did I think twice about gushing when a book was so good, I walked around with a natural high for an hour after.

In fact, I didn't think much of these until earlier this year. That's when someone told me I should keep my school reviews* to myself in case Someone With Weight happened upon them. After all, publishing is a small world, and if I detail all the ways I thought a book failed, I could end up going straight from the slush pile to the circular file.

I know most authors realize that everyone has different taste. It's a subjective business, and even a highly-acclaimed book will have detractors. When I'm published, I hope my skin is thick enough to read bad reviews so I can learn what does and doesn't work for the general public in my own writing. But I'd like to know what others think of this.

Do you believe your personal opinion of a novel and its shortcomings in a public forum can diminish your reputation within the publishing industry? Do you think this is only an issue with the Internet, or is it an issue that could affect us at a conference or a writer's meeting? What do you think when you read someone's review of a novel - and you know that reviewer is a writer, too?

*I'm required to blog my opinion of the books I read each term (my required reads), whether it's a genre novel, a craft-of-writing book, or a critical text. In these blogs, I write about what I learned from these reads. Even books I think are poorly written teach me something, so I have something positive to say in each one. But if anything about a book pulled me from the story or didn't resonate at The End, I list it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Colorado Gold Conference Highlights

Hi All,
Just back from a fun, informative weekend at the Colorado Gold and thought I'd pass on some information:

1) GREAT session called Cold Critiques Reads where Agent Miriam Kriss and Editor Ben LeRoy listened to moderator read first page and a half of a random volunteer submission and either of them would stop the reading when they were fed up and then explained to the audience why they would reject it --or ask for more. It was very entertaining, but also an enlightening glimpse into the reasons behind rejections. And occasionally, they didn't agree, so the fickle subjectivity card came into play. I'd love to see more of those by a variety of agents and editors!

2) Romance Author Shirley Jump, author of more than like 34 books, did a great workshop on writing the synopsis that sells.

3) The Agent panel, featuring Kristen Nelson, Miriam Kriss, Becca Stump, and Donna Bagdasarian was entertaining and informative. The tone was very no-nonsense and blunt. They would like to see more "smart, sexy, salable books". Becca Stumpf would like to see more Sci/Fi for young people and girl protagonists. So if that's what you write--query her!

They all said do not even TRY to chase the trends--work to identify new trends and if THEY knew what the new, hottest thing would be, they'd all be rich. They particularly emphasized the importance of voice--so much so that I was tempted to print out the first page of my story and hand it to them and ask if this "voice" was anything they might be interested in. I mean, really, why waste everybody's time even pitching the story if they might not like your voice?

They all--editors included--seemed so emphatic about voice, that in my cynicism, I thought, heck, at the next conference, why not make ALL the agents and editors read the first page of conference attendee's work--anonymously, of course, then check the box next to the voices that are acceptable to them. I mean this would really streamline things quite a bit, I'd think. Right? BTW--I'm only half kidding.

4) I LOVED this question to the editors: Will font make or break the deal? HA HA to all those PICKY contests!!! They all agreed that webdings wedinrt IsIs the only totally unacceptable font. Ben LeRoy HATES currier new--but that's just his pet peeve. As long as it's legible and NOT cutsie, they're pretty flexible.

5) When asked if first publishing with a small press hurts your chances with a larger publisher, they all agreed NO. In fact, Daniela Rapp with St. Martin's said that they "regularly monitor what the small presses are publishing looking for up-and-coming authors, waiting to pounce and steal them." Then Denise Little recounted the famous Tom Clancy story where after being utterly, widely rejected by EVERY big publishing house in New York--twice, he published with a tiny Naval press and his book contained stuff somebody thought was top secret, so the white house aid put the book on President Regan's desk. Well, Regan just thought it was a suggested read, and read it for fun. When leaving on vacation a reporter asked him what was in his hand, and he held up the Clancy book and read the title and author and said, "Best book I ever read." And the rest is history .

6) How much editing do the editors still do? Quite a bit. All these editors are very hands-on. It depends upon the book, but they do what they need to do. Oops, the editors on the panel were, Ben LeRoy--Bleak House, Daniela Rapp, St. Martin's, Denise Little, Tekno & Five Star, ad Faith Black of Avalon.

7) Also, St. Martin's publishes 600 books/yr. WOW. I recently heard that there are something like 140,000 new books published every year. Holy Cow, that's a LOT of competition! And we thought it was bad just getting to publication. No wonder authors now have to promote so much.

8) The words of advice from agents and editors: Keep writing. Don't give up. READ, READ, READ! People who make it to the top learn every day. They listen and learn. Denise Little tells us that Dean Koontz took editing better than anybody. Sooo if he can be gracious about editing, I guess I can too.

There were lots of wonderful workshops, but these are just a few of the highlights and current news from New York. Next time, be there!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Same Old Song....

Part of the great thing about being a Scribe is I get to see a lot of impressive reads pass through this blog, awesome story recommendations, and also grasp how much talent and creativity exists among multiple genres.

I also judge several contests a year, everything from erotic, inspirational, science fiction, mainstream, mystery, thrillers to straight and sweet romance. And, though, I've never judged literary, I do enjoy literary work, too. Often, as I read some of these compelling manuscripts, many of them equal to products I find in the bookstore, I wonder why hasn't this sold?

Which got me thinking. I love so many genres, why is it when one book sells, myriad books emulating an author's style and plot seem to follow? At a conference an editor said to us, if you want to see what we're looking for in this genre, read this author. Give us something like this.

And then during the exact same conference agents on a panel said, We're looking for something new, fresh and original, or this line is dead, or this market is heating up again. Write this....

See my problem? There seems to be a pattern here. We receive so many mixed signals. As I switched radio stations the other day, I went from Oldies to Rap, Country, Jazz, Classical, Rock and beyond. Imagine someone telling a fan, you can only listen to this station. Or a band trying to break into the industry, and a producer saying, I'm looking for a group that sounds exactly like Led Zeppelin, or I like your interpretation of classical, but rap is hot right now. Or to put it really into perspective, a group that incorporates -- say classical and rap -- and a producer throwing up his hands and saying, I like it, but don't know where I'd place it.

Maybe it's exactly the same in the music industry and I'm naive. I have heard the stories of musicians waiting tables, selling shoes and nearly starving before breaking in. Maybe it is a whole lot like publishing. Anyone have his pulse on the music industry and care to do a comparison? I'd love to hear your thoughts. My only choice is to write the book that's in me and not try to sell to the market. While I'm at it, I'll shuffle through my Ipod and enjoy a whole mix of many kinds of music.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Taking Aim at the World of Epublishing

Ten years ago, when I was wrapping up my Bachelor of Nerd degree, I thought everyone in the world was as in love with technology as I was. After all, look at how pervasive the internet had become, especially after that crazy DNS bit changed the face of the web. So clearly everyone was going to be all up in the ebooks, right?

Viva la revolucion! Or something.

Clearly that didn't quite happen. Blame the bulky readers, the fact that uber-nerds like my husband wanted an all-in-one gadget that combined every tool he needed in a day, and the reticence of New York to see the value of ditching paper for bytes.

Ten years later, the tide seems to be turning. Even the monolithic RWA has tipped its hat at a handful of epubs who have exhibited great promise and/or great success.

And also, ten years later, I look at friends who joined in the revolucion back in the day and have found lots of success as a result.

Meet Denise Agnew, one of those dear friends. In the last ten years, she's kicked it in high gear, publishing over 30 stories with a variety of epublishers. I've asked for her view on epublishing and for a glimpse into her life as an author of ebooks.

You began your career in epublishing back when it was still a new market and many authors had confidence only in Hardshell Word Factory to stay around for the long haul. Besides the rise and collapse (sometimes within weeks) of epublishers, how do you think the market compares today?

Although I believe epublishing has a long way to go, and authors must be cautious about which companies they submit their work to, epublishing is something that is here to stay. Even the major print publishers in NY are firmly into ebooks. So epublishing isn't going away. :) Authors need to pay attention to the contracts they are signing both with NY publishers and with small press/epublishing.

What would you like to see the e-industry become in five years? What about fifty years?

Honestly I haven't thought about this as much as I probably should have. I think in an ideal world epublishers/small press would grow and become a bigger piece of the overall publishing pie in five years. I think until formats/ereaders become more uniform, a lot of readers won't read ebooks. I read ebooks and print, so I'm happy with both. In fifty years I think ebooks may be the majority of books read. Then again, I could be totally wrong. :)

To your knowledge, are many epublished authors still interested in selling to a New York publisher?


LOL. Okay, so any chance we're going to see you follow in the footsteps of such talented gals as MaryJanice Davidson, Anya Bast, and Sarah McCarty...all the way to New York?

Well, ideally, if my agent is able to sell some of the work that she's
trying to sell...yes. I would hope to follow my buddies MaryJanice, Anya
and Sarah into that arena. :) WINK.

What genres within the epublishing world seem to be the strongest from your perspective?

Probably paranormal and erotic romance paranormals. That being said, I think a lot of authors do themselves a disservice writing "to market."

What has epublishing done for you?

Given me an opportunity to publish in a wide variety of romance subgenres. I haven't pigeon holed myself as a result.

Is there anything you’d have different in your career?

Oh, that's a loaded question. :) I have been extremely fortunate in my writing career in so many ways. Naturally there are things I wish I'd done and hadn't done, which I think happens with everyone at one time or another.

One of the most fascinating things about you is the research that you do and the hobbies you use to seed your novels. Tell us a little about your research subjects.

Why thank you, Miss K.L. :) I've researched 1906 San Francisco for LOVE FROM THE ASHES, 1888 London, England for MIDNIGHT ROSE, Jack the Ripper for MIDNIGHT ROSE, 180 AD Roman Britain for a new manuscript I finished last year, 1850's Pennsylvania and the railroad industry for another book I wrote earlier this year, 1318 Scotland for BRIDGE THROUGH THE MIST, 1816 England for a story I'm tinkering with now, SWAT teams for my Heart of Justice series coming up at Liquid Silver Books, 1916 New Jersey for another book I'm thinking about writing, and 1747 France for another book I'll be writing. And there's more, but I could go on all day. Plus, I've managed to slip in two of my hobbies, archery and archaeology.

Have you ever put a rejection letter on a target during archery practice?

No, but that is an EXCELLENT idea. :)

How many of your experiences with the Army life inspired scenes in your military romances? Do you often find inspiration in personal experience, or does your Muse like to go maverick on you?

Ahem. Quite a few. I'd tell ya, but then I'd have to kill ya. :) I think most authors are like me in that our personal lives, interests, and the core of us as human beings always ends up influencing our writing one way or the other at some point in our lives. Any author that says they don't put some of themselves in the characters or in their stories is either not being straight with themselves or with the reading public. :)

What are your favorite themes to play with in your romances?

This is a great question, and my answer might sound really pompous. :) I was in a workshop earlier this year where the presenter helped us define some of the core themes that run deep in our stories. She wanted us to know what these themes are because it is what we are best at writing and what underlines our stories. I came up with this statement of meaning for my writing: "I write romance to illustrate that each person must find their truth rather than comply with prejudice and social expectation. My themes include personal growth, understanding, overcoming rejection and prejudice, and discovering personal strengths even when the stakes are or appear to be overwhelmingly high." I tend to write a lot of paranormal romance mixed with suspense, but have written every genre of romance there is except for urban fantasy, inspirational, and werewolves. The werewolves thing I maybe writing soon, but it's not clear in my mind if it's honestly a werewolf in the book or not. (WINK.)

What are your favorite and least favorite comments from friends and family about the books you write?

Most of my friends and family have been extremely supportive, so I haven't gotten a lot of flack from that direction. Still, I think some people, family or friends or not, tend to think of the heat level in my romance as "surprising." The comment I get most often from friends is that they just can't associate erotic romance with me. It's an aspect of my imagination they can't believe exists within me. Not sure how to take that sometimes. Most of the time I'm amused. They think they know what erotic romance authors are like in personality and looks, which when you think about it, is silly. There isn't a certain look for any type of romance author, inspirational, erotic, or middle-of-the-road on the sensuality scale.

Confession time: What [embarrassing/semi-embarrassing/mildly odd/really strange] thing do you do when you hold your own paperback in your hands?

Thinking REALLY hard about this one. Can't think of a darn thing.

If you could write anything – experiment with any genre/subject/character/setting/whatever – with no pressure around that story, what kind of story would you want to write?

Probably what I'm writing now. As I mentioned before, I continue to write all across the map. I think at one point I would like to write a horror novel/romance. I've edged in that direction before, especially with my vampire trilogy. Those stories came as close to horror as I've ever gotten.

You’re stranded with a hot guy straight off one of your covers. What five desert-island books would keep you from totally ravishing him (for at least the first five minutes, anyway)? Bonus points if you’ve got at least one horror novel in there. ;)

Hmm, well that takes a lot of imagination since I'm a happily married woman. Okay, if the hot guy was my husband I can imagine it. The five books would be:
  1. One Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child novel
  2. One Dean Koontz novel
  3. One Sarah McCarty novel
  4. One Lisa Kleypas novel
  5. One Barbara Samuels novel

Thanks, Denise, for answering so many questions for me. And if you do take aim at some rejection letters, get a pic and share! It might become my next blogging icon.

You can read more about Denise at her website, the Danger Zone Authors, and The Bradford Bunch.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yoga, Meditation and Murder

Annette Dashofy is my online critique partner and a fabulous writer. To top it off, she's in excellent shape. So, what revenge does one take against someone with such talent and physique? I insist she write an article about her interests in both. Please welcome Annette Dashofy to the Five Scribes ~ Donnell

The world of yoga and the world of murder mystery writing would appear to be polar opposites. And for good reason. They are. About the only thing they have in common is me. I am a yoga teacher who writes mysteries.

I've been told time and again that I should write a yoga thriller. But isn't that an oxymoron? Like jumbo shrimp? Military intelligence.

When I teach yoga, I coax my students into a place of tranquility. No stress. No tension.

When I write, I strive to put tension and conflict on every page. And the tension should build and become unbearable.

Basically, my characters need yoga.

The common thread between relaxing my students and bringing my readers to a nail-biting frenzy is the power of the word. When I was studying to become a yoga instructor, I was taught to use calming, passive langauge. "Gently clasping the right wrist with the fingers of the left hand, ease into the stretch."

In writing murder mysteries, I use active verbs. "He grabbed her wrist and yanked her from her seat."

We never grab or yank in yoga class.

As part of my yoga practice, I took up meditation. This was during a time in my life when I suffered an extended period of writer's block. The clutter of everyday worries and responsibilities drowned out the characters who used to speak to me. At one point, I'd forgotten they even existed. In meditation, I learned to sit and chant mantra and calm the internal chatter that nagged at me constantly. Until one day a strange thing happened. Two characters took advantage of that lull in the action and began telling me their story.

Which is a bit of good news/bad news. Meditation freed my mind to allow my creativity to flow once again. But I haven't been able to sit quietly in meditation for more than a few minutes at a time since then! As soon as my inner chatter settles down, the solution to my latest plot problem becomes clear. My meditation teacher would tell me to let go of those thoughts and ideas and come back to my mantra.

But if I do that, I might forget that perfect solution to the plot problem du jour!

Meditation rekindled my writing, but writing murdered my meditation practice.

Which brings us back to the polar opposite thing. The stillness of yoga and meditation vs. the tension of crime writing. Or is it so opposite? Aren't we all a study in contrasts? Don't you have hobbies and interests that don't mesh? Hockey players spend their spare moments knitting. Football players practice ballet.

Both football and hockey players practice yoga. It's about a life in balance. Yin and yang. Encompassing our light and our dark sides.

Maybe a yoga thriller isn't so far-fetched after all.

Just don't tell my yoga students that as I guide them into the deep relaxation of shavasana, I am, in fact, plotting out the murder in my next novel. I may be complex, but let's face it, one person's "complex" is another person's "totally nuts!"

Annette's short stories have been published in Mysterical-e and Spinetingler Magazine. One was named a finalist for a 2007 Derringer Award. Her literary agent is currently shopping her two veterinary mysteries around New York. She posts every Wednesday at the Working Stiffs blog (http://workingstiffs.blogspot.com) and shares random thoughts at Writing, etc. (http://annettedashofy.blogspot.com) And she's been teaching yoga since 1999.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Words of Wisdom

"We write to taste life twice." – Anais Nin

"Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed." – P.G. Wodehouse

From CS Weekly; http://creativescreenwriting.com

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dramatica's Contagonist Archetype

A Brief Introduction To Dramatica’s Contagonist Archetype.

Immediately, this archetype intrigued me, for this character adds another layer of conflict to your story, AND we all know deeper layers make for a more satisfying read.

Contagonist is a Archetype coined by Dramatica, and in this blog, I’m just touching the surface of what this character can do for your story, while hopefully whetting your appetite to learn more.

Both the Antagonist and Contagonist have negative effects on the Protagonist, but don’t confuse the two Archetypes. They have differing roles.

We all know the basic Archetype of the Antagonist is to stop the Protagonist, to prevent the Protagonist’s further progress. The Contagonist works to deflect the Protagonist, to delay or divert her.

Additionally, the Contagonist can attach itself to the Protagonist, like a burr under a saddle. The Contagonist can be temptation. Remember those cartoon images of an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, each whispering into a person’s ear? That devil would be the Contagonist, while the angel would be in Dramatica terms, the Guardian.

The Contagonist is not a passive character. Again in Dramatica speak, it’s a driver character along with the Protag, the Antag and the Guardian.

All of this may sound a bit theoretical and frankly, that’s my main beef with Dramatica, but the example they use in Star Wars, at least to me, made it feel workable, a character I could easily begin to incorporate in my writing.

Dramatica example paraphrased by me:

Most people would agree that Luke Skywalker is the Protagonist in Star Wars. The Empire, embodied by Gran Mof Tarkin and his troops, are diametrically opposed to Luke destroying the Death Star, thus the Empire is the Antagonist.

(Whoa, that stopped me, I thought Darth Vader was the Antagonist.)

Obi Wan Kenobe is the Guardian, protecting Luke, providing him with moral guidance and DARTH VADER is the Contagonist, representing the temptation of the Dark Side.

(I love that, Darth Vader is suddenly a more complex character.)

Han Solo functions as the Skeptic, disbelieving in the Force and arguing with everyone about everything. R2D2 and C3PO jointly fill the role of Sidekick, forever faithful to whomever they serve. Princess Leia is Reason, coldly calculating. Chewbacca is Emotion, often acting with little or no thought, wholly with emotion.

Emotion, Reason, Skeptic and Sidekick are the passenger archetypes, also interesting, and of course can add additional layers to your story. But it was the concept of Contagonist that really made me sit up and take notice, as I said, it immediately made me see more complexity in a character. Temptation, luring the Protag away from success, hindering its success.

This blog is not as wordy as many of my others :) It's just a bit to chew on, to think about. Please, let me know what you think of the concept of Contagonist.

Dramatica: A New Theory of Story is both a book and a computer program writing tool.

Oh, and the scribes are noodling with an idea to have a joint blog on our favorite and not-so-favorite writing how-to books. Check back soon.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Beach Reads: Important Label or Not?

So we all know, and perhaps resist the idea, that labeling is important in the publishing industry. Well, I came across this article in the Washington Post that asked an interesting question: What defines a ‘beach read’? As usual, I took this simple question a little further. To have the coveted description of a beach read bestowed upon your book—by people of influence (e.g. reviewers, book sellers, and celebrities) means bonanza sales for sure, but does it really mean anything at all?

I think, as with most scenarios in publishing, it means different things to different people. Obviously a ‘beach read’ is supposed to be a book most suited to being read at the beach—or by extrapolation, on vacation. To me a great beach read is a book I can’t wait to read and savor. It’s a book I expect to be a real treat that will enhance my relaxing, indulgent vacation experience. But to industry professionals, are there actually criteria that delineate a beach read?

The article I read consulted with the following authors and their responses are noted below:

Political thriller author, David Baldacci, believes it is a page turner with fast plots, engaging characters, twists and turns and is soothing, not-too-thought provoking about serious things.

Mystery writer, Janet Evonovich, believes it’s an indulgence, a well-crafted story by an author who consistently delivers a great story.

Suspense queen, Mary Higgins Clark, believes it should be something light and entertaining as opposed to a darker and more somber tone, and to be sure it doesn’t disappoint, she even recommends picking a book by a familiar author so you know what to expect and the opportunity to disappoint is minimized.

Not surprising, writer and critiquer, Thomas Mallon, disagrees with Higgins. He believes that a tranquil beach with the sound of rhythmic, soothing water helps create a relaxed, uncluttered mind, hence making the perfect scenario to enjoy more serious works.

However, not quite satisfied with their answers, I polled a few industry professionals of my own, and this is what they had to say:

Melissa Ann Singer, senior editor at Forge/Tor, said—“There are no hard and fast criteria. In one summer, we might have two or three different books that might be touted as beach reads. They are likely to be in different genres, but those genres will be more 'mainstream' than not. In other words, possibly a thriller, women’s fiction/romance, and general fiction, but probably not science fiction, fantasy, or mystery (though we all know people who take such books on vacation). Usually the books are relatively thick/meaty—something that a person might want or need a week or several days to read all the way through.

"Almost always paperback because we expect people will be traveling, we expect they will want to carry something relatively portable—and they may not want to spend $25 on something that is likely to be left behind in a hotel room when the vacationer heads home.

"Also, part of the goal for the publisher in designating a beach read is to get the book onto “\'beach read' or 'vacation' or 'summer reading' tables in bookstores, so there are marketing considerations as well.

"From what I’ve seen, the idea of a particular book being a 'beach read' develops organically, from a combination of things: people having read it; reviews; when it’s scheduled for mass market publication; what other books are being released in that month or in that season; etc. A book doesn’t start life as a beach read, except perhaps in the mind of its editor.”

Stephanie Kip Rostan, agent at Levine Greenberger, said—“I think any criteria are very informal. To me, a beach read is a light, fun, commercial novel that would be entertaining and easy to read.”

Jodi Picoult, best-selling women’s fiction author, said—“For some reason, I always thought a beach read was light - not just portable, but easy to read without heavy subject matter...you don't want to be sobbing on your towel, right?!”

Award winning fantasy author, Melissa Mayhue, said—“What an interesting question! I guess I've always assumed "beach read" referred to something quick, easy and fun to read... no in-depth thinking involved. Something you could pick up on your way to the pool and put down when you got ready to go get dressed for dinner... then pick up again the next day right where you left off....

Personally, though, I'm not a 'beach reader'... If it's a good book, I don't want to put it down 'til it's finished!!! :-)”

Jennifer Feldman, Scholastic Book publisher, said—“'Beach read' does fit into the description you suggest below. It also has the connotation of an easy read -- light, entertaining, something you would pass along to a friend when you were finished reading. As for any sort of category in the publishing industry -- no, nothing official. It's used more as a marketing description.”

Dr. Noelle Gracy, aka, Regency author, Catherine Blair, works as publisher, genetics and cell biology at Elsevier in Amsterdam for the past eight years and she has an interesting perspective on the topic of beach reads: “I always hear beach read used in an almost derogatory way--as though we were all normally reading deep literature but on vacation we would condescend to read something light and frivolous. I'd definitely say people mean it's a paperback that's light and a fast, fun read.”

Jennifer Rees, Scholastic editor, said—“Okay, so for me a beach read is exactly what you are talking about—something you’re saving and looking forward to reading/savoring. In the industry, at least where I’m coming from, I’m not sure a beach read is that. Our summer list tends to be fun, enjoyable, light, adventurous—think summer blockbuster movie. But we’re also publishing for kids who need to often be drawn into reading during the summer, lured if you will!”

Jessica Faust, an agent at Bookends, answered my question in a blog of her own today, check it out.

This is what my industry sources had to say. What do you think?