Monday, June 30, 2014

Live Vicariously Through Your Characters

I always wished I could draw. I mean I draw epic stick figures, but I've never been able to really produce any masterful work of art. I get these vivid images in my head that often play out like a movie, but I just can't draw it on paper how I see it in my head. In fact, my art never ends up anywhere close to what imagine. I try to draw some scenic view, and it ends up looking like road kill.

I think my artistic ineptitude is one reason I write. Because it allows me to paint that picture with words instead of lines on paper. To get it out of my head in a way that others can enjoy it. So that others can paint that picture for themselves. But what they see probably isn't exactly how I imagined it. And that's not always important, but it is a barrier that exists between the visual and the imaginative art forms. And I know deep down, that no matter how hard I practice, and how much I want it, I doubt I will ever be able to draw well. Okay, one day my road kill drawings might start looking like beef stew instead, but I doubt it will ever look like what I envision in my head.
Which brings me back around to my writing. I may never be an artist, but one of my main characters is. And it came about in large part because it's something I've always wanted, but never could obtain. So instead, I live vicariously through my main character's eyes. She paints, she draws with charcoal, she uses pastels, you name it. All things I wish I could do well. But in watching her explore her talents, I feel like her artistic ability has become a part of me, like her art is an extension of who I am.
It's really an odd feeling, almost hard to describe. But even though I couldn't draw to save my life, I get to experience as my main character does. I feel what she feels. I see what she sees. Every brush stroke, every line drawn, even if it's drawn inside my head and then described on the page with words, I am experiencing it. Which means that whenever I visit her world, I get to live life as an artist. It's something that will never happen in my real life, but it's a fun escape.
And as I slip into her world and pretend for a while that I'm an artist, I often wonder if other writers create characters that have traits or talents that they feel like they could never obtain, but always wished they could. Do you ever given a character a talent you wished you had, but knew you could never be good at? If so what was it? Describe your character.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Your Unique Writing Life

My 19 month old son Fulton has some kind of a sensor in his brain that must tell him when I'm pooping. It doesn't matter when, where or how quietly I shut the door but no sooner do I, um, settle in, then I hear the machine gun pitter-patter of his feet followed a few moments later by a ferocious pounding on the door.

Somewhere along the way, I decided to stop shutting the door and that's why sometime yesterday I found myself in the following position. I was on the pot, my son had stuck a baseball glove on my hand, he'd found one for himself, and we started to play catch.

And I wasn't even finished.

A couple months ago the seven month old started screaming as I was heading for the bathroom for the far easier task of old number one. So I grabbed him up and continued on my merry way. I never did see that sneaky little bastard Fulton until it was too late. He crawled past me, stuck his head in the toilet and I peed right on his curly blonde hair.

At this point, you may be thinking about contacting child services. But bare with me. I'm a stay at home dad of eight kids, six of whom are boys. Not particularly well behaved boys either. Loud, rough, sneaky, clever and always challenging boys.

This is my life. Your life may look different. Maybe you're kids are grown or they are in school every day. Maybe you have all the time in the world to tap, tap, tap away at your keyboard. Maybe you're one of the people I think about and wonder, "How much freaking writing would I get done if I had their life?"

The assumption, of course, is that this mythical person out there has it easier than me or better and if only I had their "circumstances" then things would be easier for me: I'd be cranking out a novel per day. Bestselling novel no less. And not just International Best Seller because I would sell the shit out of Neptune.

Thing is, this is all a bunch of horse shit. My life is my life. The way in which my writing is unique and fun and something that somebody else cannot possibly reproduce is because my writing is informed by my life. My busy, crazy, loud, challenging (whatever) and unique life.

I play baseball with my toddler while pooping. Maybe you are a doctor or a delivery man or raise children or raze villages. I don't know. But I do know that peeking over the neighbor's fence and wishing for their life doesn't help but embracing your own life, with all its challenges, does.

Happy writing.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Let the music play

Music helps me write. There are those songs which put me right back into the tiny middle school gym with a bunch of my classmates, searching for the courage to ask a partner for a dance. I hear those songs and still wonder, did I look cool? Did I hold her hand right?
There are those songs that remind me of camping trips with my dad and brothers, where I can smell the bacon mingled with the campfire smoke and taste the sand, grinding into my teeth with the charred bacon. I remember the feeling of sleeping restlessly through a cold night only to spend most of the next day playing in a frigid river with ninety degree sun beating down.
Some songs take me back to my teaching and school counseling years. When I hear those, I remember the youth who came to me for advice, or who struggled through class, or who dealt with some situation at home or with peers.
Listening to music puts me in certain time periods, and also certain moods.
My mood and focus improve when I can listen to music. I must need some noise in the background to accompany my thoughts as they swirl into words on the page.
I discovered the value of a playlist on my iPod really improved my attention to my story and more importantly, the characters within.
I listened to a playlist when writing my recent middle grade novel. It helped me through first draft and through many rounds of revisions and edits. It is filled with an eclectic mix of songs which span four decades and include genres of rock (hard and soft), country, and praise and worship. I’ll go back to it I ever write a sequel.

For now, I’m creating a new playlist to accompany me and the cast of characters in my new secret project.

So, the next time you have trouble putting words to the page, consider letting music help you find a mood and voice for your characters.

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Writing Process, done with HILARIOUS WEB COMICS!

I know it's cheating, but not everyone has seen my writing process that I did awhile back, so I figured I'd post it it here!! ENJOY!!

The other day, good 'ol Brooks Benjamin, decided to pin me up against the wall and threaten my very existence if I didn't partake in doing a segment on MY WRITING PROCESS. Well, seeing how I didn't want to get sent to the depths of Hades under the wrath of Brooks mighty fists of fury, I gave in.

I'm kidding, it didn't go down like that. He asked me (very nicely), if I wanted to do it and I said "BUT OF COURSE!". Then he mentioned something that I would have never thought of. He said to me, "Tom, do it in comic form." To that I said.... good sir...

On that note, I spent the week whipping out some fairly quick web comics for MY WRITING PROCESS. While my writing process isn't explained in these strips, it's more of a gag, I had a great time doing it. No worries, I'll also explain in detail what goes on in my bonkers head.

Feel free to click on the images to get a larger version of them so you can read them better.

QUESTION #1 : Who Am I?

(I really suggest listening to this while you read this first strip - MASTERPIECE THEATRE)

So who am I? Well, I'm 30 years old with the mindset of a teenager. Seriously, I can't picture myself even when I'm 80 not wearing video game apparel, and rocking my Saturday Mornings watching some cartoons and playing some old school games.

Before I was a writer, I was a wannabe artist. I was good in high school, and was a comic book fiend. I never payed any attention in class, and all I did was draw on my brown-bagged textbooks. So what does an artist do? He attends art school. I went to the School of Visual Arts with a major in cartooning (no joke, that's a major and that's what my degree says..BACHELORS OF CARTOONING / ILLUSTRATION. It's like clown school lol).

Well, I learned something in college. My creative side wasn't really in my art. I'm not bad...but I'm not good. My creative side was actually in my writing. I was delving into writing comic scripts (which I still do), and then novels. That's when I started working on some middle grade novels, which ultimately led to me developing my first agented manuscript, COPERNICUS NERDICUS. (which you can see a description of on the link to the left).

A shout out to my awesome agent, Dawn Frederick! *waves* Be sure to follow her @RedSofaLiterary

Of course, I still draw, but I mainly write. However, in a week or so, I will be unleashing my new web comic to the world that focuses on my love for retro gaming. It's actually a side-story to my COPERNICUS NERDICUS universe which is pretty exciting for me. After all, I need to kill some time during submission.

QUESTION #2 : How does my Writing Process Work?

I'm not going to lie. That's what happens a lot with my writing process. I get all pumped up, raring to go, and then you know what happens. I get distracted. My writing binges usually happen at the oddest times.

At work, I run a lot of reports and when I'm waiting for them to finish up, I tend to do a load of editing. At home, I dabble in writing in between watching TV shows, and going on a gaming run. But that's just when I write. How do I write???

Well, let's talk about coming up with ideas. I honestly have no clue where my ideas come from. Usually it's just from day dreaming. Something will pop into my head, and I have to feverishly write it down somewhere. Usually it's on my iPhone. After the idea starts to stew a little bit, I start whipping out a quick outline that I usually follow while I prepare my first draft. In all honesty, my outline is tied directly into my query. I write a query letter to make sure my story makes sense. After all, putting your story into less than 350 words makes you think about its core.

First drafts are a blast for me. I don't think. I just write. Sometimes whatever is coming out of my head is absolute gibberish, but I'm just trying to get my story down. This is where I feel bad for my beta readers, because I pretty much come across as an absolute amateur in my original drafts, but that's how I roll, baby.

After beta readers, it's more editing. And more editing. And then more editing. And then editing. And editing. EDITING...ED..I..TI..NG.....yup. Lots of editing.

QUESTION #3 : How does my work differ from other works in my Genre?

You know, I thought about this question a lot. First of all, with COPERNICUS NERDICUS I can't find any legitimate "video game" focused middle-grade books out there. I mean there are a few futuristic based and dystopian based books (that are pretty damn good mind you), but nothing that takes place in this era of Video Games.

I tend to focus on my interests, and blow them up to a point where it can catch everyone's interest. I wrote COPERNICUS NERDICUS for the video game lovers out there, but I know I couldn't just write it for gamers. So I built an adventure-heavy, mystery diving plot into the book. It's all about figuring out who your platform is for your books that your writing.

QUESTION #4 : Why do I write what I do?

The thing is, my works are all bits and pieces of me put onto paper. It's all of my childhood dreams, and even my current dreams transformed into a middle-grade universe. I figured, hey, I'm crazy enough and act enough like a kid that other kids would enjoy my insanity! It could work, right?

I feel like I relate with kids more than I do anyone else. My wife says I'm never going to grow up. So do my parents. So does everyone else that I run into. But you know what? I don't want to grow up. What's wrong with wanting to live through the eyes of a child? I feel like I enjoy things more that way. I'm not saying I'm not mature. I whip out the maturity when I have to be. I'm like Robin Williams. Goofy most times, serious when I have to be. I'll run around my office doing impersonations.

Who else sits at their desk and talks like Smeagol while they enter reports? Me.

That brings me to why do I write middle-grade? Well, for me, it's all about being that kid at heart and pulling out that kid mentality and throwing it on paper. It's a venting system for me, and hell, it works.

QUESTION #5 : What are you working on now?

That's a bit of a secret. My beta readers know about because they just finished ripping it apart. But I'll give you a few clues because I kind of have to with this question. Picture Indiana Jones.....just cooler. Hahaha. Alright, alright. I've been working on a query for it so I'll put it here along with my final web comic on some of the things you'll see in my next book.....LUCAS PEREGRINUS and the ESCAPE FROM MANUKI ISLAND.

(please ignore the horrendous query below, it's in the alpha draft phase lol)

For thirteen-year old, Lucas Peregrinus, summer vacations were never anything to brag about. After all, being stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere surrounded by Easter Island Moai statues wasn’t exactly his idea of fun. But when Lucas uncovers a relic that could lead to the forgotten Polynesian island of Manuki, his summer vacation enters uncharted territory.

Lucas and his archaeologist father take to the skies in an attempt to discover the island and the fabled Manuki Idol. The idol, worth billions could be the break the museum was looking for and secure his dads standing as lead archaeologist for the Museum of Natural History. But the vile, millionaire relic hunter, Arthur Stanwall, is following their trail and will do anything in his power to get his filthy hands on it first. After losing him in a mysterious storm shrouding an uncharted area of the Pacific, a shadowy creature stalks Lucas and his father from above and overtakes their plane. Lucas awakes from a crash to find that they are castaways on Manuki Island. 

But Stanwall is already there waiting for them.

On the island, Lucas befriends a local masked native named Kahu, who helps him unravel the mystery hidden behind the fabled Manuki Island and its priceless idol. But ancient treasures aren’t the only thing hidden on the island. A gigantic creature is hunting them in the shadows. To make matter worse, if the idol is taken, the once dormant volcano  on which the island lies on will erupt, destroying the island and its people. 

It’s up to Lucas and Kahuto rescue his dad and prevent Stanwall from stealing the idol and therefore destroying the island. But Lucas needs to beware, for the island will do anything to do protect its secrets.

I hope you enjoyed that little trip into MY WRITING PROCESS. Be sure to check out others on #MyWritingProcess hashtag on Twitter. And thanks again to 'ol Brooks for asking me to do this. I had a blast.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Review: A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Title: A Snicker of Magic 
Author: Natalie Lloyd
Genre: MG Magical Realism
Pages: 320
Publication date: 2014
Publisher: Scholastic Press

My rating: 5 spitwads / 5

From Goodreads:

Introducing an extraordinary new voice---a magical debut that will make your skin tingle, your eyes glisten... and your heart sing.

Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere---shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog's floppy ears---but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she'll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that's been cast over the town... and her mother's broken heart.


Words are incredible little things.

You string the right ones together and you can make people laugh, cry, or think. With just a few carefully chosen ones you can thaw the edges of even the iciest heart. Heck, you can even transport a reader into a whole other city, a whole other time, a whole other world.

All with just the right words.

Felicity Pickle is no stranger to words. She sees more in a single day than most people will see in a lifetime. Felicity is a "word collector" and can spot the little boogers swimming around just about anywhere, invisible to everyone else's eyes but hers. Throughout the course of the book, Felicity realizes that words play a huge part in her story, as well as the story of Midnight Gulch, Tennessee.

And the beauty of it all is how Lloyd weaves this theme throughout the entire book. A Snicker of Magic isn't just a great story about a girl trying to solve a magical mystery and bring peace to her family as well as the town she wants to call home.

It's also a lesson on wordcrafting.

There wasn't a single page that didn't leave me smiling. Lloyd captures that lyrical sing-song cadence of the Appalachian storytellers that I love listening to so much. Every chapter is full of little Tennessee-isms and it's obvious that not a single line is neglected of the voice that makes reading it so delightful.

To use a word coined by Felicity herself--the book is simply spindiddly.

So if this one's on your to-buy list, stop waiting and go pick up a copy. If it's sitting in your to-read pile right now, quit dillydallying and crack the sucker open. If you've never heard of this book before right now, you're welcome. From Tennessee or not, fantasy nut or noob, reader or writer... you need to read this. Because it really doesn't matter who you are, I can guarantee that you'll agree with me on one thing:

This book has its own snicker of magic inside.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Everyone’s path is different. Stop comparing.

I’ve been on this “trying to be published” trail for a while now. I started writing seriously in 2009, went to my first conference in 2011 and since The Writer’s Voice in 2012, I’ve been closely following many writer’s journeys, all the while hoping I wasn’t too far behind the ones that “made it.”

I’ve seen writers go from stuck in the query trenches, to agented, to amazing book deal in a matter of weeks. 

I’ve also seen authors sign with an agent, followed by months of silence. Sometimes those authors keep fighting alongside their agents for years, some end up with book deals out of it. Some don’t.

I’ve seen an author go from big name agent to self-publishing on her own (to amazon best seller lists and eventually a big deal for one of her titles)

And of course, there are writers like me that come out with a book deal without an agent.

If there is one thing I’ve learned during this whole process, it’s that some paths are harder, some take longer, some make you feel more affirmed, but how you find your way doesn’t matter. It never has.
Are some writer’s careers better than others? Sure. But that doesn’t mean the “others” don’t have amazing careers, or didn’t get what they were hoping for all along. And it definitely doesn’t mean they chose the wrong path.

Not all successful writers start out with the traditional agent and big book deal. Some start out by self-publishing. Some by small press. Some sell three books before they find one that hits the market with a splash.

I’ve been agent hunting for years now, with three different novels. I still don’t have an agent. I know that my path isn’t overly traditional, but that’s okay. I’m still fighting for that agent, but I’m sincerely happy with the publisher I found on my own. I know that if I never sign with an agent, I can still have an incredible career.

If you’ve been struggling in those trenches for what feels like forever, keep your head up. The ones who have the strength to keep fighting will make it out one way or another.

 It’s okay if you never find an agent. 

It’s okay if you do but your book doesn’t sell. 

It’s okay if you spend years and years trudging through while others find their way before you. You WILL get there.

It’s okay no matter what happens because there are no dead ends. There is always a new path to choose. Be brave enough to take it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Social Media Don'ts

Social media is a wonderful thing. Except when it's not. I love social media, twitter, facebook, tmblr, blogs, websites, etc. They are all awesome ways to communicate with people. But when you abuse them, you send people in the opposite direction. So here are some of my social media pet peeves.

Automatically assuming I will follow you back or asking for a follow back
I follow people who I engage with and I find interesting. I read my entire yes ENTIRE twitter feed so I follow people I like hearing from.

Posting the same blog post repeatedly on a social media site within an hour or even a few minutes of itself with different taglines
It's fine to repost at different times of the day to catch different audiences, but if you are tweeting and retweeting the same post a million times in a short time span, just stop it!

Music or autoplay videos on your blog or website
Nothing makes me leave faster than random music on a site that I can't find and turn off. I'll just close the window and not come back.
Popups on your site forcing me to look at certain content or forcing me to sign up for your mailing list
If I can't view your site without being accosted by random windows, I won’t stick around. If your site is easy to navigate, clutter free, and well labeled, I'll find your content. No need to shove it down my throat.

Being a jerk
Remember that old saying about treating people the way you want to be treated? Yeah that. Just because you don’t have to look someone in the face doesn’t mean you get to be an instant A-hole. Don't do it. Enough said.

Buy my book! Buy My Book! BUY MY BOOK!
It's fine to advertise your awesome book, but I want to know more than just your book is on sale. Your social media stream should be about 80% you, 20% buy my book. And that's honestly being generous. If I know you, I'm more likely to buy your book anyway without you mentioning it. Just think about that.
Nothing but rants
I get it. We all get frustrated sometimes and want to help others, but if your entire social stream is rant after rant after rant, I'm going to unfollow you. I want to learn about you not just what bothers you.

Nothing but negativity
We all have our horrible moments. We all even tweet or share them sometimes. But if your entire feed is woe is me, and everything sucks, I’m going to start ignoring you. I have enough of negativity in my life and I don't need that from you 100% of the time. If it continues, I will unfollow, as negativity just begets more negativity.

Tweets at me to buy your book
I'm on twitter/facebook/tmblr to get to know you. Don't assault me with links to buy your book. The same goes for any other things you might be selling, including but not limited to editing services, website design, cover design, publicity sales, marketing etc. I don't click random links from people I don't know, and if you shove your book/services down my throat I'm going to spit it out and run screaming.

Auto DM's
Just don't. They are annoying. Especially with links. I won’t click them anyway.

Pitching your books at agents
Unless it's for a specific contest and it’s requested that you pitch directly to the agent via social media, DON'T EVER DO THIS! They have submission guidelines for a reason. Follow them! Doing anything other than that will piss them off and quite possibly put you on a black list.

Follow and Unfollow me fifteen hundred times
You got my attention with the first follow. The subsequent follows turn that positive attention into an annoyance. If you continue to follow and unfollow me, I will never ever follow you back and most likely will block you.

Hashtag free for all
Use a hashtag or two to find your audience, but if you put a million I'm just going to get annoyed. You can vary your hashtags as you vary your posts throughout the day but don't overload your posts with them. This is how annoying you are:

Unreadable blog/website
I love color don't get me wrong, but if your website is blinding, the text is too small, or the colors make it otherwise unreadable I'm not going to stick around.

Social media is great. It brings people together, especially within the writing community. I have found so many wonderful people and support through social media. Just keep in mind that if you annoy people it could hurt your brand and/or your sales. In general, be nice, be happy, be supportive, and don’t incessantly annoy anyone! Those are some of my social media pet peeves. What are some of yours?