Those of you who know me in real life have seen me around town. At church. The store. We’ve talked, laughed, shared meals together. But part of my mind, the deep and introspective part, remained in the cave even as we spoke. Figuratively held hostage by the unwritten book inside. Pondering words. Planning the next scene. Weighing dialogue. Writing in my head. Always. Writing.
It must come out.
Today I’m at 63,000 words. Tomorrow I hope to be at 65,000. It’s going fast now… much faster than the first half of the book. The characters drive the action, and I’m breathless to see how a scene ends. I want to write all day but it drains me, so I write in an ebb-and-flow pattern fueled by regular activities and lots of coffee.
I would write all night, but I’ve learned that sleep is a necessity. I limit myself, try to stay balanced. The writing cave has windows for a reason, because without fresh air and relationships the writer will stagnate, suffocate, go under.
It’s the best kind of cave. And yet I’m ready to finish. So ready. The story? Almost excavated, almost fleshed out.
Until… The. End.
Then I’ll throw open the door of the writing cave, tell the sentries to go home, stretch my legs. Take a breath. Rest a while. And I’ll need the rest. Man, will I need it. To recharge. Refuel.
And prepare myself for what comes next.
Editor's Note: Our parade of contest finalists continues with entry #2. Stay tuned for the big reveal on Friday! -Tex
by Anna L. Davis
Ryker Morris sat on the bus and studied cyborgs.
It was research for the big story.
It had also become his obsession. Chips in the brain, the veins, the cartilage.
But not him.
We live in the country. Sometimes it’s terrific, like when we play ball as a family in the front field or have friends over for do-it-yourself fireworks on the 4th of July. Other times it’s not so great. Like when one of our pet goats becomes dinner for bobcats and scavengers.
Messy things happen in the country. Brutal things.
When my kids were younger, we read a couple funny books about goats. One of them, Gregory, the Terrible Eater, was about a young goat who would rather eat nutritious people food than the junkyard trash his parents forced on him. And the other one – a Norwegian fairy tale called The Three Billy Goats Gruff – is a classic, though I would probably categorize it as children’s horror.
“Well, come along! I’ve got two spears,
And I’ll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I’ve got besides two curling-stones,
And I’ll crush you to bits, body and bones.”
That was what the big billy goat said. And then he flew at the troll, and poked his eyes out with his horns… and after that he went up to the hillside. There the billy goats got so fat they were scarcely able to walk home again.
(Yes, I read this out loud to my young children. I will completely understand if you unsubscribe from this blog and call CPS.)
Our billy goat, however, was not so lucky. By the time we found him in the back woods, nature had mostly taken care of his bits, body and bones.
Life is brutal.
As writers, we cannot shy away from the dark realities of life. Sometimes we need to write fun pieces like Gregory, the Terrible Eater. Truth can be found in this kind of humor, especially for parents of picky eaters.
But often we need to write more like The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Because even children can sense trolls and bobcats under the bridge, waiting to gobble us up.
“Snip, snap, snout.
This tale’s told out.”
As an editorial intern at Henery Press, I enjoyed the unique opportunity to get an inside look at the publishing industry. I learned that, in fact, editors are not cyborgs. Also, writers should edit their first pages ruthlessly before submitting for publication. And I realized that while social media is important, it has a tendency to take over. Writers must deliberately create time and find motivation to write.
Yes, working in publishing gave me a new lens through which to view the writing world. This even affected my experience at the annual DFW Writer’s Conference, because I processed everything on two levels. Being a spy writer is a lot of work, I tell you.
So let’s get to it. Here are four things that nobody in publishing will tell you:
Publishers are TERRIFIED. From big-name bookstores and New York publishers down to small press and indie authors, massive transition in the publishing industry has everyone on edge. The bottom line? Publishing is a gamble. A big one, for everyone involved. That’s why most agents and editors are looking for the next (perceived) quick, easy sell and authors who already have a platform.
There is NO MAGIC FORMULA. Oh, sure… many websites and books claim to have found the perfect publishing paradigm for today’s market. But the industry changes lightning fast, and what works for one writer/publisher/editor/zombie/vampire/YA series might not work for another. Don’t waste time trying to copy or purchase someone else’s “proven” success formula in writing or publishing. Study the options, pick one, and throw your full commitment behind it. If that doesn’t work, try another one. As Henery editor Kendel Lynn said in her interview for Jungle Red Writers, “My biggest lesson I’ve learned: do what’s right for you and the rest will follow.”
PERSONALITY COUNTS. The key here is to know yourself, and use your strengths while compensating for your weaknesses. Thinking about self-pubbing? You better have a personality geared toward sales and marketing, or the funds to hire a publicist. Want to go traditional? Be prepared to network, promote publically, and develop an online persona that readers actually want in their FB and Twitter feeds. These are the rules of the publishing game, like it or not.
Good WRITING is SUBJECTIVE. Editors usually create publishing houses based on their preferences in books. This makes sense, right? A cozy mystery publisher like Henery that focuses exclusively on fiction isn’t going to consider a submission for a calculus textbook. But even within the same genre, writing preferences abound. Some editors like visual descriptions. Others don’t. Some prefer witty characters over plot. Others want plot-driven action. Editors have pet-peeves and hang-ups. As a writer, you ABSOLUTELY CANNOT CONTROL these things. Hone the craft. Never stop learning. But don’t take it personally when one editor/agent/publisher/critic/zombie/vampire/cyborg doesn’t like your work. Just move on to the next one.
And keep writing. (But shhhhhh… persistence is the biggest secret of all.)
Sure, the writing life can be glamorous. Thrilling, even. But at some point, when glamour fades and thrills subside, almost every writer encounters discouragement. As George Orwell said, “writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” I can certainly identify with this, since I’m currently trying to get one novel published while writing the second one.
(Just as a side note: Apparently ease doesn’t predict success. Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four recently enjoyed a huge spike in sales after Snowden cracked open the NSA surveillance scandal. Good to know that even the best and most enduring writers struggle with the craft, right?)
When the act of writing has been compared to “opening a vein” and getting published is often described as a soul-sucking process, how can writers push through the hard times? Here’s what works for me.
Write in a Different Style. Alternate writing styles like celebrities go through fashion. Have several projects on cue: your journal, a short story, novel revisions, blog posts, the next book in your series, a how-to article, or my personal favorite for beating writer’s block: timed stream of consciousness.
Write in a New Place. Go outside on a rainy day. Take your laptop to a trampoline park while the kids play. Try a different coffee shop. Write in the car while waiting for a meeting. Wake up early and stay in bed with a cup of coffee and a notepad. Record thoughts on a bus or train, and send them in emails to yourself.
Write in Your Head. Can’t find a good place or time to write? Don’t let that stop you. Let your mind wander to your current project. What’s the next scene? The biggest character issue or plot hole? No pressure. Just think. Ponder. It could be your best writing ever.
Read in Your Genre. Okay, this one is a no-brainer. As Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Read in Other Genres. I’m a sci-fi thriller and suspense kind of girl. Cozy mysteries and romance weren’t my thing, until I became an editorial intern for Henery Press. Reading in these genres gave me a whole new way to look at dialogue. Plus I got to enjoy some really good books that I would have missed otherwise.
Read like a Writer. Pick it apart. Think about what you would do differently, or the same. Analyze story structure and technique. It will make your writing stronger.
Ask Big Questions. Yes, the BIG ones. Why we exist, good versus evil, why you believe what you believe. All writing is the act of questioning. Go deep.
Ask Small Questions. These are the questions in every reporter’s arsenal and at the core of every science project: who, what, when, where, why, and how? When something jogs your interest, at any level, start asking yourself these small questions.
Ask Uncomfortable Questions. You know the ones. The places you’re afraid to go. The people you don’t like. The ideas you’re afraid to entertain. The things you just don’t want to think about. Let yourself be uncomfortable. Then turn it loose on your characters.
Ask “What If” Questions. What if your morning cup of OJ is really a teleportation serum? What if your house was made of Jell-O? What if our country finally broke free from racism and prejudice? What if we regressed, rather than moved forward, in technology? What if?
These are the basics: write, read, and ask questions. All that other stuff – queries, agents, publishers, marketing, and sales – doesn’t matter. Not really. Not in the long run. Not for those of us who love words, who will keep writing through the challenges, regardless of outcome.
It’s what we do.
(This is part five of six. Stay tuned…)
I like stories where no one is who they seem, probably because these stories reflect the nature of my own soul, of humanity. As Donald Miller writes in Blue Like Jazz, “The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest.”
It is indeed a personal problem, widespread and universal. We struggle against it every day as we try to find truth in the details of our lives. Almost all art forms, throughout all of history, reflect this struggle.
But too often, modern novels that address human nature and the struggle for truth are not entertaining. Thought-provoking, perhaps. Disturbing. Entertaining and enjoyable? Rarely. And yet I would recommend MALICIOUS MASQUERADE to any beachcomber looking for a great mystery. This new release from Alan Cupp delivers page-turning suspense with topics like greed, lust, heartbreak, romance, murder and deceit.
Cupp’s writing style is smooth and engaging. His main character, Chicago PI Carter Mays, draws us in with an unassuming everyman demeanor. We first meet Carter at his desk, when a wealthy young woman named Cindy Bedford enters his office. We read that as Cindy “settled into the sage green upholstered chair, Carter stole a quick appreciative glimpse of her long, shapely legs. Catching himself, he immediately refocused on his prospective client’s purpose for being there.”
And what, exactly, is Cindy’s purpose for hiring a private investigator? To find the missing love-of-her-life, who just happens to be the man who jilted her at the altar on the same day someone stole millions of dollars from her father’s company.
Like most private investigators, Carter has a keen grasp on human complexity. In one particularly riveting scene, Carter studies the “faces and facts” he suspects might be involved in the disappearance of Cindy’s fiancé. Carter studies them so that “at least he would have some warning. Based on their records, Carter knew this was not just another case and things could get dangerous.”
Since the beginning of time, humans have put on masks of various kinds. Everyone has them, and most of life is about finding the real people behind our masks – the truth about ourselves and others. This search for truth, in both faces and facts, lies at the heart of MALICIOUS MASQUERADE.
It is a search that resonates with me on some deep level, wrapped into an exciting story that captivates.
For more information about Alan Cupp and his new release MALICIOUS MASQUERADE, click here.