Making Your Own Magic

This past summer, I listened to the audiobook version of Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Listened, rather than read, because I saw her in person on a panel at Denver ComicCon and thought she was a delightful and engaging speaker.

Almost anyone who considers themselves a geek is familiar with Felicia Day. Along with recurring roles on Supernatural and Eureka, and co-starring in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, and being a consummate gamer, she created and starred in that seminal Internet video series, the Guild. In her memoir, she tells the story of how she pulled together this show using spit and chicken wire, inspiration and perspiration, and a whole lot of caffeine. Her budget was whatever she could beg, borrow or steal. In other words, she made her own magic and the result was a phenomenon.

Felicia Day’s memoir spoke to me. It said you can make your own magic happen, too. Coincidentally (or was it?), while I was listening, I received a conditional resubmit letter from a publisher. It basically stated that they were interested in my novel, Fake, but wanted me to submit a rewrite with some substantial edits, including changing the point of view. This isn’t the first time this has happened. A few years ago, I submitted another book to a publisher and got a similar request. I did the rewrite and didn’t much like the results. It altered the story and characters too much. I resubmitted and was rejected. All that work for nothing. Or was it?

During that time, I was living in Colorado, and after receiving the rejection I had a bit of a meltdown and went to stay with a friend in San Francisco. While there, I wandered the streets and came up with the idea for Fake and the world of the Crossroads.

The offer from this latest publisher brought me to my own crossroads. Do I take that chance again? Do I send the manuscript to another publisher? Or, like Felicia Day, do I make my own magic?

I chose magic. I put myself on the path, and steep learning curve, of indie publishing, which I’ll blog about in future posts. I’ve submitted Fake to Amazon’s KDP program. It’s now available for pre-order and will launch on November 1, 2016.

Hitting the button that submitted my final draft was the hardest part. I wondered why and then realized it was the final step in saying farewell to my dream of being traditionally published. Making your own magic means discovering and owning your own power. Wish me well on this journey. May you discover and make your own magic and dreams come true.

NaNoWriMo: Inspiration Before Perspiration Part 1

October is the month when many writers begin planning for their participation in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. It’s the time to plan and plot before the mad, creative dash that is November.

If you’re a plotter, you write an outline or synopsis, fill out character charts, index cards, timelines, etc. If you’re a pantser, you decide you’re going to write a story about fairies and demons set in Santa Fe, maybe.

Whatever your writing style, it’s best to do some prep work before beginning NaNoWriMo. Get your creative energy flowing now so you can ride the tide into November.

To win NaNoWriMo, that is, to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to know what it takes. A novel is not an easy thing to write and doing it in 30 days is just plain crazy, but it can be done. If I can do it, anyone can.

So here is the gem of advice I offer all NaNoWriMo newbies: this is your crappy first draft. Part of the creative process here is throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. Yes, you will have a hot mess at the end, but you will also have a first draft that you can edit.

A big part of the NaNoWriMo process is turning off your internal editor, that voice in your head that is never satisfied and wants every sentence you write to be spun with gold.

Turn. It. Off.

That is the only way to win NaNoWriMo.

Chris Baty, the man who started NaNoWriMo, best explains the process. Luckily, his book, “No Plot? No Problem!” is currently on sale for the Kindle for $1.99. If you’re planning to participate this November, I strongly suggest reading this book. It’s the best prep you can make for the coming month of madness.

  No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty
Chris Baty, motivator extraordinaire and instigator of a wildly successful writing revolution, spells out the secrets of writingand finishinga novel. Every fall, thousands of people sign up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which Baty founded, determined to (a) write that novel or (b) finish that novel in—kid you not—30 days. Now Baty puts pen to paper himself to share the secrets of success. With week-specific overviews, pep “talks,” and essential survival tips for today’s word warriors, this results-oriented, quick-fix strategy is perfect for people who want to nurture their inner artist and then hit print! Anecdotes and success stories from NaNoWriMo winners will inspire writers from the heralding you-can-do-it trumpet blasts of day one to the champagne toasts of day thirty.

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Food and Writing

What a person eats reveals a great deal about them. This is probably why the TV show “Iron Chef” used a quote by French epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

Food is also an important indicator of place, time and culture. Therefore, writers can’t afford to be sloppy when it comes to literary diet. Readers are ready to cry foul when they spot a food-based blunder. For example, a friend recently complained about a scene in a novel where the main character, supposedly a New Orleans native, prepared coffee. Herself a native, she claimed no one in the Big Easy would make coffee that way.

I recently went through a delightful BBC TV series called “Supersizers.” During the course of each episode, the hosts, Giles Coren and Sue Perkins, would spend a week living and dining according to the customs of a given time period. Done with tongue-in-cheek humor, the hosts were nonetheless quite serious about being authentic, particularly in terms of cuisine.

I highly recommend this series to readers and writers of historical fiction. It’s easy to glamorize the past, but it’s the elements of realism that make a story come to life. One awful reality the Supersizers had to face was not drinking water for a week. Instead, they had to subsist on wine and beer. Imagine that. Now, write about it.

“Supersizers” is available on Hulu Plus with a paid subscription. You can also find several episodes on the Supersizers YouTube Channel.

Today on Amazon, I found a free-for-now book about First Century food. It looks really interesting, great for readers and writers interested in that time period.

  At Table with the Lord – Foods of the First Century by E. G. Lewis
Relying upon the Bible and extensive research for his popular Seeds of Christianity™ Series, E. G. Lewis presents an interesting and informative study on foods, cooking and day-to-day life in the early Christian era. All major food groups are covered with specific chapters on Spices & Herbs, Fruits & Nuts, Grains, Vegetables, Salad Greens, Fish & Fowl, Meat, Milk & Cheese, Sweets and Sweeteners, and even one on What They Didn’t Have. Includes bonus chapters on Aviculture, Apiculture, Ancient Beers and Wines, Olive Oil, Manna, the Gladiator’s Diet and lots of Recipes you can try at home.

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Travel Genre

I’m sorry to have neglected my blog for so long. I took a short trip that wound up being longer and involved business, pleasure and helping out a friend. With that in mind, I thought I’d write a bit about the travel genre.

Travel writing can be divided into two equal parts, travelogues and guidebooks.

A travelogue describes a person or persons’ adventures away from home. The best travelogues are written as creative nonfiction and read like a novel. This means the narrative should involve conflict and resolution as well as character development. The narrator who begins the journey should be changed by their experiences, just as one would expect from a character in a novel.

Examples of travelogues include “A Year in Provence,” “Into Thin Air,” “Eat, Pray, Love,” “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” and “A Walk Across America.”

Guidebooks are pretty self-explanatory.  They are the what-when-where-why-how of travel. A good guidebook can spare you a lot of confusion and loss of time, whether you’re traveling to a nearby city or a distant continent. Guidebooks point out the major and minor attractions, as well as clue the reader in on culture, currency, nightlife, restaurants and hotels. Note: no book will be completely accurate on a currency’s rate of exchange. The XE Currency Converter is a good web resource for getting the latest rate of exchange.

Popular guidebooks include “Lonely Planet,” “Rough Guides,” “Fodor’s” and “Frommer’s.”

I highly recommend watching the TV show, “Globe Trekker.” It’s half-travelogue and half-guidebook as different narrators takes you on personal journeys to lesser-known worldwide destinations. It’s the one show that really gives me the travel bug.

Below I’ve listed some travelogues and guidebooks that are free-for-now on Amazon. Happy trails!

  Europe Essentials by Lonely Planet
Planning a trip to Europe? Know before you go! Download a free copy of Lonely Planet’s Europe Essentials and receive helpful tips on packing and planning, etiquette advice, transportation information, themed itineraries, and much more. It’s the perfect complement to Lonely Planet’s guidebooks and a great starting point to a dream vacation.

  5 of USA’s Best Trips by Lonely Planet
Whether you’re a local looking for a long weekend escape, or a visitor looking to explore, Lonely Planet’s TRIPS series offers the best itineraries – and makes it easy to plan the perfect trip time and again.

  Ye Olde Britain: Best Historical Experiences by Lonely Planet
Explore Britain’s rich and varied history with this ultimate guide to the best historical things to do throughout England, Scotland and Wales; includes author- recommended reviews and practical information on a wide-range of interesting options from fascinating pre-historic sites such as Avebury to excellent modern museums such as the Museum of London. This guide has been created by Lonely Planet’s dedicated authors and local experts who immersed themselves in England, Scotland and Wales, finding the best historical experiences and sharing practical and honest advice.

  Down Under All Over by Barbara Brewster
Down Under All Over is more than a travelogue. It is an account of Barbara Brewster’s very personal journey—one which entices us to follow along in her footsteps through that fascinating land of Australia. Her account of the adventures she and her husband, Sid, shared invites one to crawl under the skin of the land and to know its colloquialisms and people. Brewster’s enthusiasm for the place is contagious.

  Too Fat for Europe by Joe Leibovich
A hilarious travelogue through Europe featuring the adventures of two comedians, who happen to be married. Follow their whirlwind tour of London, Paris and Rome…all in about a week.

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I found these books via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

These freebies are limited time offers, so there is no guarantee any of these books will still be free when you click on the links. Grab them sooner rather than later.

Graphic Novels

A graphic novel is a book length story or anthology told primarily with illustrations. The genre includes a number of different formats. A graphic novel can be a compilation of previously published comic books that contain a story arc. It can also be an anthology of complete or continuing stories. These stories can be original to the anthology or previously published in comic book or magazine form. A graphic novel can also be an original novel or series of novels that may or may not have been previously published in another form.

Some people believe graphic novels are glorified comic books and, in certain cases, they’re right. However, many graphic novels contain rich stories greatly enhanced by the use of illustration. Graphic novels aren’t just for people who want something easy to read with lots of pictures. The genre has gained respect over the years and graphic novels have won prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.

In terms of story, graphic novels tend toward speculative fiction. A fair number could be considered literary fiction. “Maus” by Art Spiegelman is a memoir of his parents, both Holocaust survivors, and his own youth as he struggles to understand them. In a whimsical yet controversial touch, Spiegelman portrayed Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs and Americans as dogs. “Maus” was first published in serial form in the underground comic magazine, “Raw.” It won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

Other graphic novels have been praised and awarded for literary as well as artistic achievements. “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi tells the author’s coming of age tale in revolutionary Iran. “American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang uses myth and stereotypes to tell an outsider’s story. “Ghost World” by Daniel Clowes portrays the confusion and alienation of post-high school teens trying to find their way in the world.

Super hero-style comics are a popular genre for graphic novels. Go into any good comic bookstore and you’ll see multiple shelves of these books, which are often purchased by readers more interested in the story and the characters than in collecting individual comic books.  Well-known authors include Alan Moore (“Watchmen,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “Batman: The Killing Joke”), Neil Gaiman (“The Sandman”) and Frank Miller (“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” “300” and “Sin City”).

Like regular novels, graphic novels have well-established publishing houses such as DC and Marvel. There is also a strong tradition of independent publishing known as underground comics. Edgy and unrestrained, these comics can occasionally gain wide audiences. Bryan Lee O’Malley published his “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novels with Portland, Oregon-based Oni Press. The series gained a cult following, sold millions of copies and was adapted into a movie and a video game.

A growing number of graphic novels are being adapted into electronic format. In my opinion, these are better viewed on a tablet or computer screen rather than a conventional eReader such as the Kindle. Below, I’ve listed several free-for-now graphic novels available in the Kindle store.

  Twilight Lady #1 by Blake JK Chen
Introducing a unique new heroine to the world of illustrated fiction! Paranormal journalist and truthseeker Rona Eden has a close encounter with a mysterious hooded lady who appears to have killed several people in Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood.

  Photo Booth by Lewis Helfand
He wanted to change the past, but first he would have to alter the future…A new deadly drug is about to flood the streets of New York City. The police have no leads on who is producing the drug, or where it is coming from. As far as Praveer Rajani, a wreckless Interpol agent, is concerned – the only way to prevent countless deaths lies in a handful of mysterious photographs.Within the photographs, Praveer can see images of places he has never known, and people he has long forgotten. But what are the photographs leading him to?

  Dead of Winter: A Comic Anthology
Horror Stories With The Setting of Winter.

  P.I. Jane; Volume One: Missions: Totally Do-Able by Lauren Burke
MEET JANE DAY. She’s a twenty-something temp-by-day, detective-by-night… and sometimes also by-day. Jane lives inside her head as much as outside of it. To fight the mundane (and even not so mundane), she retreats to a fantasy world in her mind wehre the pop-culture references are plentiful and comforting. Follow Jane in her private detective salad days surveilling Lindelof & Lindelof heir, Chad Lindelof, Jr. She’ll learn the ropes working undercover to bust the shady, bootlegging Li’l Susie Bees, and solving the mystery at the roller derby. Then she takes a breather and reads about her favorite comic strip, PIE V. CAKE.

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I found these books via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

These freebies are limited time offers, so there is no guarantee any of these books will still be free when you click on the links. Grab them sooner rather than later.

Daily Boosts for Writers

So, let’s say you are a creative person with plenty of inspiration and original ideas. The words flow like a waterfall from your brain to your fingertips to the page, right?

Riiight.

Writing is hard, whether you’re full of ideas or struggling to come up with one. Writing is also a solitary endeavor. Even if you belong to critique and support groups, attend literary salons and poetry readings, and write in a café surrounded by other writers, the only person who can tell your story is you.

Writers need something to get them going besides caffeine. Daily encouragement can help and who better to give that boost than other writers? Which is why I am recommending a free-for-now book of daily affirmations, “Writing Conversations: Spend 365 Days with Your Favorite Authors Learning the Craft of Writing.”

For example, here is the affirmation for today.

April 5
FAILURE:
I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone.
Bill Cosby, humorist and author of “Fat Albert” and “The Cosby Show.”

If you’ve been in a critique group, you know how true that is. It’s good to be reminded as you write that what you write won’t be to everyone’s liking and that’s all right.

Other quoted writers include Michael Crichton, Julia Cameron and Anne Lamott. It’s free-for-now, so don’t miss out on these inspirational sparks.

  Writing Conversations: Spend 365 Days with Your Favorite Authors Learning the Craft of Writing by Cherie K. Miller
Writing Conversations is about the daily life of the writer. How do you keep motivated in your craft when it’s just you? Spend a moment of each day listening to the voices of your favorite connoisseur of the writing craft. Learn what they know about how to become a successful author. Whether it’s the first line, the last line, how to find an agent or how to publish, it’s all here. Learn how to launch the bestseller that’s been incubating inside of you for so long. Writing Conversations has just what you need!

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I found this book via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

This freebie is a limited time offer and there is no guarantee it will still be free when you click on the link. Grab it sooner rather than later.

Inspiration and Original Ideas

While I was researching my posts on fan fiction and derivative fiction, I came across two schools of thought.

  1. People writing fan and derivative fiction do so because they have no original ideas.
  2. People might as well write fan and derivative fiction because there are no original ideas.

The first thought is on the sour side. And does anyone really want to tell Neil Gaiman that his Doyle/Lovecraft pastiche, “A Study in Emerald” is the work of an uninspired mind?

Didn’t think so.

I prefer to concentrate on that second school of thought because it reminds of a certain trope: there are only seven basic plots in literature. If you’ve taken a creative writing class, you’ve probably heard some variation of this. I learned these seven, which are attributed to Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch.

  1. Man against man
  2. Man against nature
  3. Man against himself
  4. Man against God
  5. Man against society
  6. Man caught in the middle
  7. Man and woman

However, there’s a new magnificent seven in town, according to Christopher Booker and his writing manual, “The Seven Basic Plots.”

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Rebirth
  6. Comedy
  7. Tragedy

If you’re feeling worried and/or smug that your plot doesn’t fit into either of these groups of seven, keep in mind that most stories use combinations of these plot elements. Here are some articles with more in-depth explanations.

So, do we throw away the idea there are any original ideas? Of course not. Every person has their own take on a given situation and their own stories to tell. You may have heard another trope: it’s impossible to create in a vacuum. In order to be creative, you need inspiration. What inspire us are our world and the stories we hear. We take what captures our imaginations and turn them into original stories.

For example, George R.R. Martin’s wildly successful series, “A Song of Fire and Ice” was inspired by the English civil war know as the War of the Roses. Lannister and Stark  = Lancaster and York. Students of history will see the similarities, yet the world Martin created is very different than that of medieval England.

The wacky, ultraviolent Japanese movie, “Sukiyaki Western Django” was also partly inspired by the War of the Roses, and in particular, Shakespeare’s “Henry the Fifth.” The world in the movie is also vastly different than medieval England, and nothing like “A Song of Fire and Ice.”

My novel, “Fake” was inspired by wuxia, the literature and cinema of Chinese martial arts. I incorporated some common elements of this genre, such as the Beggar Clan, and created some of my own. My love of Irish music led me to discover the world of Irish Travelers, a nomadic people who are not related to the Romany. I created my own nomadic people, Strowlers. While based on Travelers, there are also key differences. Putting the two worlds together makes for a unique combination that is all my own.

Neil Gaiman took Sherlock Holmes and put him in H.P. Lovecraft’s London. The movie, “The Banquet” took Hamlet and placed him in imperial China. As an exercise, think of a character or real person who captures your imagination and place her in another world. Be inspired, creative and make it your own.

“A Study in Emerald” is available online for free, formatted and illustrated in the style of an early 20th century newspaper.

Speculative fiction author David Drake took a familiar archetype, the grumpy old wizard, and placed him in post-Revolutionary War America. You can pick up the free-for-now eBook from Amazon.

  Old Nathan by David Drake
The forces of evil are poised to prey on the folk of the hamlets and hollows: witches, demons, and red-handed men—but first they’ll have to overcome Old Nathan the Wizard. He doesn’t claim much for his magical powers, but they’re real enough for what they are—and besides, he hasn’t forgotten how to use his long flintlock rifle… Enter the gritty, realistic world of Old Nathan, a backwoodsman who talks to animals and says he’ll face The Devil himself-and who in the end will have to face The Devil in very fact.

Lucinda Brant penned a Georgian romance novel inspired by the arranged marriage of the 2nd Duke and Duchess of Richmond. You can pick up the free-for-now eBook from Amazon.

  Midnight Marriage by Lucinda Brant
Set in the opulent world of the 18th century aristocracy and inspired by real events, Midnight Marriage is the standalone second book in the acclaimed Roxton family saga. Two noble teenagers are married against their will. Drugged, Deb has no recollection of events. Disgraced, Julian is banished to the Continent. Nine years later, Deb falls in love with a wounded duelist, only to later discover it is her husband returned incognito! Can Deb forgive his cruel deception? Can their marriage survive beyond seduction? Meanwhile, Julian’s nemesis plots to destroy them both…

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Disclaimers and Disclosures

I found these books via Amazon’s Kindle eBooks store. Resources for free Kindle and other format eBooks are listed in my sidebar.

These freebies are limited time offers, so there is no guarantee any of these books will still be free when you click on the links. Grab them sooner rather than later.