Friday, December 24, 2010

Two sides of the same coin: Rejection & Adoration


"I don't like it," she said.
I just looked at her. My heart sank. 
"It does nothing for me," she continued.
"Ok," I uttered.
"I forced myself to read past the first page."
What was that sensation? Oh, yes. It was the knife that my wife was churning in my sensitive heart. She held chapter 1 of a new concept that I was playing with like she would be insulted to use to line our trashcan. 
"I don't even think you like it," she said. "You're writing it because you think it's time to write. This is NOT the idea that deserves to be the followup to Aces.

There it was. 

When I wrote those 2,500 words I was writing -- the mechanics were there: my fingers moved on the keyboard, and words were displayed in my Scrivener app. 

But my heart was not in it. Unlike Aces, this one did not have heat or passion. 

Aces is in the query process. I've started to contact agents to query their interest. Everyone told me the same thing: when you start to query, that's the time to start your next novel. So I followed instructions. 

But, that's what I was doing -- following instructions. The magic of writing is only magic when you, the writer, is also transported to that world.

So I got a bit depressed. Got a cup of coffee (soy latte with illy coffee -- if you were wondering) and returned to my office. 

Noise canceling headphones? Check
Emotionally wrenching music? Check
Note book? Check
Idea? um, no check


I wrote random ideas, drew things, and my mind wondered to the Lunar Eclipse and Winter Solstice. 

In about one hour, if the clouds parted, the moon would look red, ominous, and awesome. Click! An idea came. Very fast and furious.

I wrote eight pages of notes in my journal. Before I knew it I was on the computer writing the opening scene. At 1 AM I was done. I missed the eclipse. Thankfully, according to my neighbor I didn't miss anything. The only eclipse I would have seen was provided by the clouds.

When she woke in the morning, I followed her around like a lost puppy. She knew what I wanted. 
She turned to me and smiled. "Make me a cup of coffee and I'll read it," she declared. 
Coffee in hand she read it. I watched her facial reactions wanting to see her laugh at the funny lines. Nothing! She instead had that serious face on. She's a high school teacher (a damned good one!) so she can't help looking serious. 
She was on the last page. She was done. She turned the last page and turned to me. A smile cracked her face.
"I like it. A lot. I want to read the rest of it."
I smiled. Probably looked goofy and silly. But I didn't care. I got her adoration.
"Get started. This is it!"

And of all things, I'm writing a YA novel. I've read so many lately that it was only a matter of time. 

My wife's done this to me in the past. I had written my Great American Novel some time ago. After I was done, I let her read chapter 1. She didn't care for it. She said "So what?"

Those words led me to work on the craft, learn, study, read, and do all I can to impress her -- my first reader. Fast forward one year and Aces went to her -- from rejection came adoration. I've already written her reaction in previous posts.

It is hard to get rejected. But it is necessary, absolutely critical, to take the rejection and improve from there. For anyone that has learned to play an instrument, the concept of rejection is built into the system. Your instrument of choice -- guitar, piano, etc. -- will immediately tell you when you strike the wrong note. Yes, that is rejection. It's a form of direct communication -- "not that note, try again." We don't take it personally. We make adjustments and move on. 

If you have trusted people around you, they should be that first filter. Later, it will be your agent. The agent will want changes, that's a good thing. It means that a professional reader is telling you when you've hit the wrong notes. Then the editor will do the same. It's all part of what it takes to create beautiful music with words.

Rejection has taken on a very negative connotation in our society. Do you have a good story where rejection led to something extraordinary. Share it! It's cathartic to share!

I am convinced that it is the blood line to creation. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Tool for Writers

Quick Update First:

The process is afoot! Yes, my first novel, Aces, is ready for agents to gobble up! Okay, so first they have to gobble up my query letter, but you miss the point! The way I see it, I've written a novel. That in and of itself is a major accomplishment. The process of creation is done, now we enter the business of publishing.

I'm putting my little 'un aside for now. I need to stop obsessing. Therefore, I am doing what all successful and accomplished authors will tell you -- start your next novel, now.

The New Novel:

An idea had etched itself into my brain a few weeks back and I started to brainstorm. I use a lot of James Scott Bell's frameworks for how I develop the idea, but mainly, I use mind-mapping techniques. I used to be a video game designer, so formulating the idea and developing it is all FUN-FUN-FUN!
Typical mini-mind-maps when I get stuck
I intoxicate my mind with the Hero and Heroine, the situation, and scenes. These things infiltrate my brain and I exist with a heightened sense of observation. It is during this time that I need all my tools to help me capture and forget nothing.

Enter Evernote:

I realize that all writers (published or otherwise) are busy and we can always use tools that improve efficiency. Evernote addresses taking random notes, ideas, sudden thoughts and the like. Common practice is to jot it down somewhere--carry a little note pad, or a diary, etc.

I'm a technologists, and always gravitate towards tools. My tool of choice is Evernote. This is a free tool. Yes, you heard me--FREE. As in, you get to use this phenomenal tool with no strings attached. You have 40 MB of free data transfer per month (trust me that's a lot). Don't exceed that and you'll be fine.

I use the Evernote client on my Mac, iPhone and iPad. Your one account assures that all your notes are synchronized across all your platforms. Take a voice note on your iPhone, and within seconds it's on your iPad.

The types of notes you can take are voice, text, picture, and websites (it takes a complete image of the site along with the links - if the site dies, the information you capture is forever in your possession--SWEET!). Another VERY cool thing -- images that have text in them are automatically processed for character recognition. So if you took a picture of a place that had the name Bistro, but you can't remember where you stored it, just search for Bistro... it's magic.

A Typical Day with Evernote:

- I'm driving and a funny one liner comes to mind (at least I think it's funny!). Take out my iPhone, click on voice, talk and my moment of inspiration is captured in a audio file waiting for me across all my platforms (synchronized in seconds!)

- As I walk, I see a restaurant that would be perfect for my hero and heroine to have their first dinner together. Evernote, snapshot, done!
- Night time comes and I'm ready to work on my novel. I launch the iPad Evernote app and look at all my notebooks. I'm inspired by all the BRILLIANT ideas I've amassed.

- I export my Evernote notes as html files, or images and drop them into Scrivener in the Research section

Christmas Wish: For the fine folk at Evernote and Scrivener to build a integration point between their tools. It would enhance my workflow. I know the hooks exist, what do you guys say?

Give a try, you won't regret it. Evernote and Scrivener are indispensable tools for me (in case you missed my love story re Scrivener, here it is). I hear you, but you haven't published a book yet. But one day I will, and then I'll be asked "How the heck did you do it?" and I'll send them a link to this post.

Do you use these or other tools? How do you use them? Let me know if you give these ideas a try and if it helps you.

Now go! Cause something extraordinary.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

One Guy's Take on Two YA Novels

I am not a professional critic. But I am authority on what moves me. These two novels moved me.

I recently picked up two YA novels: NYT Bestseller Kiersten White's Paranormalcy (her debut novel) and Stephanie Perkins's Anna and the French Kiss (also her debut).


I bought the Audible version of this book. My daily commute is un-fun, and listening to good books makes me a happy Ara. A bad book makes me an irritable Ara. I have limited time to partake in reading (or listening in this case) and writing. There is an additional dynamic when it comes to audiobooks... the narrator better rock or a good book will stink. This book and narrator nailed it!

The hook: a young woman who can see beneath the skin, and see people for their true paranormal selves (vampires, elfs, werewolves, etc). She is unique. And so is her perception of the world. Her innocence is captivating. The way she gets excited about the concept of a real high schools (not the ones she watches on TV shows) with 'real' lockers. I couldn't help but feel so much sadness and hope at the same time. When you are special--unique--you sometimes bypass life. The pleasures and joys that make you who you are are lost and maybe never recovered. And in the craziness of a fantastic plot is a story of love and hope. If we could look at the mundane elements of life with the exuberance that she has, then life will always be full and complete.

I found myself sitting in my idle car even after I had reached my destination. Or offering to go pick up something... but take the scenic route. Very few books make me do that... this one did.

My boys wanted to watch Peter Pan this past weekend. I popped the DVD and as I watched tinker bell, I couldn't help but realize that after reading this book, fairies will never be the same for me :) what do I mean, you ask? Get the book!

Anna and the French Kiss

What can I say. I am soooo mad at this book! As I've chronicled in the past, my passion for writing is limited by my "life". I don't have a lot of time--every minute counts.

I went to Borders to pick up the novel. They didn't have it--to add insult to injury, the twerp that I asked gave me a look like "Dude, you're not a young adult, nor a girl." well, I am a youthful adult, thank you very much, and 40 is the new 13, so bugger off, mate! I didn't say that (I should have). Instead, I gave him my "do you know who I am look." I've refined that glare over the years (age implies experience). He then offered to order it for me. I refused. Order it? That will take days or something. I need instant gratification. I was seeing all the tweets going back and forth about this novel. I needed it now.

I walked out and something was glowing in my car... my iPad. It spoke to me and when I looked, iBooks had it. Couple of clicks later, I was the proud owner of the book. I was stylin' now. After we had dinner and the kids were starting to doze off, I leaned back and started reading. 

Wow! I mean, come on!

This story totally and completely took me back to my youth in Barcelona. I remember those days with such fondness and this story nailed the feelings, confusion, and passion. I felt like the story was written for me. Even the reference to the snow in Paris!

[Ara's Tangents]: Last January when I was there on business, it was snowing, and I asked my staff, "Is it supposed to snow in Paris?" One of them was confused as he sipped his espresso. "Of course not. We get cold, rain, but snow... That's a sign of Apocalypse!"

View from my hotel room
The hero and heroine are fantastic. The cast is exceptional, and Anna--her voice--is still in my head. I used to scratch my head when I would read an agent say that they are looking for a fresh voice. Now I get it. This story has it all, and if you still remember those teenage years, there is no way that you will not find your story written in these pages. 

So why am I upset? Because I couldn't put the stinkin' book down! I was supposed to work on my new manuscript now that I'm about to send out my first novel to agents. 

But. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down!

If not for the fact that I wake up each day at 5 AM, have a demanding career, and we have two boys (thunder and lightning) that drain all life energy we have, I would have finished it in one sitting. 


Like I said, I am not a professional critic, nor is this an attempt to give a complete pros and cons view of these two novels. It's really simple: I have become a fan of these two amazing writers and I can't wait for future books to hit the shelves (audio, eBook, or paper... it matters not!).

There is one constant in these two novels for me. I miss the characters. I want to hear them again, and see what happens next. 

Kirsten White's NY Time Best Seller Paranormalcy is book one of three. Book two, Supernaturally should be a blast. I can't wait. I hope the audio version is done by Emily Eiden again. The first time she called Lend a "Dork!" I nearly drove off the 405 freeway! 

In the case of Anna, it's probably best that we let our imagination, and our hopes play out the rest of her life. Stephanie Perkins will release her second novel in the Fall of 2011 -- Lola and the Boy Next Door. Lola, you say? Spain? Brazil? Argentina? 

Please do us all a favor. Buy these books right away. Read it. Share it. Let's support the one thing that can truly transport you to another place and time.

Selfish Question: Please let me know of other YA books that are as honest and touching. I'm looking forward to Across the Universe by Beth Revis in January. Leave a comment, send me an email, call me. 

Ara Wants Information. Now! I'm giving you my "do you know who I am?" look!

Now, I better get to my stuff! Gemma and Andre are feeling neglected :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's a Great Day!

It's raining in LA... and that should be enough for us sun-worshipers to be depressed... maybe even mildly insane. But not me... things feel right.

I made pancakes for the family...

Drank an espresso while I slaved over the range...

Served the creation... with Nutella :)

Had a latte... I was nearly certain that I had skipped coffee ;)

Yes, the twin towers -- before LA, we lived in NY for a year

Only the best espresso beans will do!

Illy brand coffee... Don't cheap out!

Watched the not-so-LA-type weather...

For those in Syberia, this may not seem like much... but it is!

Cuddled up with one of my cats... That's Leo... Pete was taking a cat-nap (or do they call it just a nap)... not sure...

And got ready to read my final revision of ACES before I send it off to the Proof Reader

Scrivener's export to eBook format... LOVE IT!

Yes. You heard me right... we're hitting the proof reader next. The Great Michael Levin and I are in agreement that my novel Aces is ready! It's a bit odd. When someone like Michael--who has written 90 books, and has helped thousands of aspiring novelists--tells you we're ready to hit the agents, the feeling is a bit unreal... like an out of body experience. How can I get that stupid grin of my face? My kids are getting scared of me!

If all goes to plan, my manuscript will be with the proofreader on Monday. Two to three weeks and I'm ready to find that one agent that will partner up with me to bring the characters and the story to life... But I'm jumping the gun. Oh! Here's Leo again... he wants me to give him some love... how can I say no?

Fight the good fight... because it's worth the fight!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Music Makes Pictures

"When I heard the music, it made pictures in my head. These are the pictures." ~Walt Disney

The role of music in my work cannot be ignored.

I've been following the blog and tweets (@JMTohline) of JM Tohline. He had two posts on the topic of music, and the playlists we create to accompany the literary work we do (here's one... and the other).

Ara's Tangents: His twitter short stories are fantastic. Here's one: The debutante scratched her butt. The end. Here's another: She put on a Bill Clinton mask and came out of the bathroom. She had never looked better. The end. You owe it to yourself to follow him. His first novel, The Great Leonore, will be released Summer of 2011. I'm looking forward to it.

I wanted to share my madness with you. I'm a picture-driven type of person. If I can't see it (biological eyes or mind's eye), I can't create an effective scene. Music, like actual images, creates very real images for me. It is not an underestimation to say that some musicians have forever altered me--I am haunted by their words and their melodies.

When the seed for my story, Aces, was planted, I was in Paris on a business trip. I immediately took out my iPad and found some music that seemed complimentary to the type of story that was growing in my head [for those wondering, it's a love story]. As soon as I had the music going, I started mind-mapping the opening scene.

The music was from Colbie Caillat's Break Through and Coco CDs (Break Through, Oxygen, The Little Things, Realize and Bubbly). As I listened to those songs over and over (and over... 11 hour flight-- give me some slack here!), the personalities, the conflicts, the possibility all rushed at me. I was not able to write and draw fast enough. Needless to say, that as soon as I was back in LA, I bought everything Colbie I could find on iTunes (54 songs if you're keeping track).

With that, my play list started. I added about three dozen Chris Issak songs. About 80 Beatles songs, and then a bunch of one offs that felt right to me. If I heard something at the beach while hanging out, or at the market, I bought the song then added it to my playlist. My playlist includes songs from P!nk, Billy Joel, Kelly Clarkson, Sarah McLachlin, Sting... and more.

Ara's Tangents: If anyone knows Ms. Caillat and Mr. Isaak, can you ask them to collaborate on an album for me? Thanks. I owe you one!

My story starts in Paris, then travels to Malibu, then to London and finally ends in Barcelona. When I reached the Barcelona scenes, I had to tap into memories of my youth when we lived there. I found songs from Julio Iglesias and Peppino Galiardi that at the time were very popular. The music brought back memories, scents, faces.

Ara's Tangents: Peppino Galiardi? Who dat? The first person who can name that tune from Peppino that was popular in 1978 will get an autographed copy of a blank piece of paper... if I had something more valuable I would sign that.

A couple of people told me that my novel reads like a movie script (undoubtedly under the influence of expensive vodka). They can see the places, the faces and the storyline. If the Book Gods smile on my novel and it gets published, and if said book became a movie, I would ask the Director to remember the music that brought it all together. Since dreaming is free, I might as well dream big!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Waiting Game - Part II

My manuscript is back out for review with the pro! Nervous anticipation rattles my brain.

What to do with all this free time? Sleep is one option. But I think a retrospective is appropriate at this stage of the game.

  • I completed the first cut of my manuscript Aces back in early October. My wife (my first reader) loved it.
  • I elected to get a professional to read my manuscript and give me a full helping of reality. I wanted to know if what I had was really good, or was I about to end up like those pitiful souls we see on American Idol? When we watch those auditions, we laugh and ask, "Don't these people have friends or family in their lives who can tell them the truth?" I really didn't want agents to use my manuscript as the "what not to do" example. Yes, I am sensitive... don't be hatin!

  • The feedback that I got was the reassurance that I needed. I can't tell you how an objective opinion, from someone who is a best selling author, does for the ego. Each time I questioned my words, I could remind myself that objectively, my work is good.
  • I spent two weeks on the rewrites: one week to outline my plan of action, and another week to make all the changes. The net effect was that two full chapters were completely redone, one chapter got dropped, some themes were crystalized and the word count went up to 95,000. More importantly, the ending changed. And in my humble opinion, the result is a great ending! I got to say, that I see now how I had short changed my characters. Gemma and Andre deserved better, and they got it now. When I was pushed to think down a different path, the paths opened up.
  • A couple of nights ago my wife finished reading the revisions. She was elated with the result. That's got to count for something :)
  • After some final edits, this afternoon I compiled the new manuscript and sent it off to Michael Levin... and now, we wait.
Writing... what a powerful medium! With a few clicks on my keyboard, the characters suddenly behave differently, say different things, and more often than not surprise me. They say things that I never expected, and behave in ways that makes me bubble up with excitement. 

For their dialogues to sound true and crisp, I spent a lot of time formalizing these characters. So much so that I am nearly certain that if I was asked to put them in different scenes, I would know exactly how they would react without much thought. It's a bit unnerving. Split-Personality Disorder is alive and well in my head!

I never thought that I would enjoy, absolutely love, the editorial process. Maybe it gets old after many months, and revisions.... maybe. But I must say, I enjoy my characters so much that each time I revisit them, they come to life. And when there is an opportunity to make them better, I am ready to hit the keyboard. My wife hit the nail on the head. "I miss them," she said. Yeah, I hear you.

Now, instead of catching up on some sleep, I think I'll start brainstorming a new idea that was born when my wife and I were enjoying lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. But before I start, I need to get the brain juices flowing. And there are two ways that my juices flow: music and exercise, P90X style! I'm a glutton for punishment!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

10 Things I Love About Scrivener

I spent the last week finalizing the rewrites to my manuscript. The entire work was done in my tool of choice - Scrivener 2.0.

[Legal Disclaimer #1: just because my blog's name has the word "scrivener" in it, I am not affiliated with the developers... unless they want me to be... call me... we can do lunch!]

The good people at Literature & Latte have released the much anticipated version 2.0 of their tool. Let me be clear, they've always had the best tool... but this release put me in a poetic mood:

[Legal Disclaimer #2: some of this content is stolen from the developer's web site... it's for educational purposes!]

1) You keep me honest: What's your word count goal? Set it, achieve it.

2) You keep me on track: Set your daily goal and beat it... (don't judge me... I'm in rewrite mode)

3) You let me change my mind: Snapshots rule! Version control? Compare documents? Scrivener does that on steroids!

4) You let me play around with cards: I like being able to storyboard my ideas, move the scenes around and see the flow of the narrative

5) You let me look at my work on my iPad: ebook output is phenomenal! The formatting is spot on. Calibre? Fo'get about it! Write it at night, ebook it to my iPad before I go to bed, review my previous day's work while drinking coffee in the morning (double espresso Illy brand coffee).

6) You let me get inspired while I write: Import pictures of locations, people, etc. Side by side, look at image and translate what you see into words

7) You let me synch with dropbox: Love that cloud thing

8) You let me synch with SimpleNote on the iPad: Edit on the train, plane or automobile (hopefully while someone else is driving...)

9) You let me compile the whole thing in a beautifully formatted manuscript: I find that I don't need to do much formatting (at least during this stage of my writing) or export to Word. I am self-sufficient on one tool.

10) You read to me, when my eyes are too tired to read: Ok. So maybe you feel that I should have ended with more umph... I'm tired okay. But, this is a big deal for me. Hearing my novel read back to (granted by a funny voice who can't pronounce my heroine's name properly) is very powerful. My story is driven by conversations... hearing it out loud helps me improve the flow

Great tool. Great support. These guys get it. I better go. I'm getting emotional again :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I'm a big proponent of value creation. Anything you do should generate value. Said differently, are you being active or productive. What is it that you need to produce? Be absolutely clear in your head. When it comes to the art of creating something like a novel (while still gainfully employed) you better be effective with every ounce of time that you have.

For me there are a handful of things that I do everyday to make sure that I have a comprehensive approach to the craft:

  • Read, read, read! I read a minimum of two, up to four novels per month. Two are always audio books ( I'll pick up a paperback or two during the month. Being able to see how the author structured the narrative, the beats, the pauses, the sentence structure is an important element of my writing.
  • Write, write, write! If you don't write, you can't be a writer (I know, I'm brilliant--no need to send me gifts). When I'm writing, I have a minimum quota of 1,200 words per day. But I'm so competitive (with myself at least) that I do my best to hit the 2,500 mark. As I've posted in the past, I only write after 9 or 10 pm at night for a couple of hours. So I need to be ready, in the right mindset to let the story accelerate out of my fingers. Scrivener, my application of choice, does this simple but critical function with grace.
  • Right brain activity... I never mix right brain (planning, plotting, resolving issues, ...) with left brain activities (writing). In fact, I find that if I don't separate them, my writing slows down and the dialogues start to fall flat. I'm thinking too much while I write, as opposed to let the words come through. During the day, before I start, I think about things that bother me. I have a little Red Moleskine journal that's always with me. I will jot down thoughts, ideas, lines, names of characters, as the day unfolds. Before I start writing, I review what I have there and now the juices are flowing.
  • Blogs and Tweets... It's somewhat cathartic to blog and tweet. It's also inspiring to read the blogs and tweets of others. There are so many generous people out there -- authors, editors, agents-- that want to share. I have been around various industries, and I can't say that this industry is packed with caring and generous people who want to help others. How cool is that. I therefore feel that the least I can do is contribute. I'm a nobody. But if I get signed, then my manuscript is picked up, maybe I'll give some beads of hope and guidance to other aspiring novelists.
Currently, I've spent time on revising and developing the approach to resolve the areas of improvement that was raised by my writing coach. I'm really enjoying the process by the way. He has raised such great points, that I can already see will enhance the overall experience from the reader's perspective.

I read this great post by Ed Hogan (@edhoganderby) on "What Editors Do". Since I actually enjoy this editorial process (so far), then maybe, when the day comes that my novel gets picked up (envision a positive future!), then I'll be loved by my editor :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Feedback Part I

I got some fantastic feedback today from my coach (see Bring on the Professionals). I'm giddy and nervous all at the same time. Did I mention "fantastic"?

We're going to talk in person next week, but for now I got some in-depth analysis in an email. Each point he raised made me pause--look to the sky--ponder--and say "Dang dude! He's right!"

There is one controversial point--but instinct tells me he's right--my heart tells me "That's a significant rewrite!" I love people who are so sure about their opinion that just by their use of language they inspire you to think outside of the box.

In Stephen King's On Writing (have I quoted him before?) the 3rd Foreword states, "The editor is always right." In this case, he's not the editor per se, he's the pro. Why would I enlist a pro if I'm going to claim that I know better.

I have a full weekend ahead of me. I'm going to dig into each of the points that he raised and address them. This weekend will be an "Ideation" weekend. Mind-mapping here I come!

I must say that I am encouraged, greatly, by his words. The compliments were stunning (because I'm not good enough), but the questions he raised were so well thought out that I knew right then and there that I did the right thing for my novel.

Did I mention fantastic feedback?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I am Inspired!

As most adults will do, I was following twitter last night (judge not!) and came across power-agent Janet Reid's (@Janet_Reid) message about a must read novel by Veronica Roth (@veronicaroth).

If that's not an endorsement, nothing is! So I found my way to Veronica's site and started to read.

Man, I was stuck on her site for a good thirty minutes. In my life, that's a long time (it's like dog years). She was recently signed and her book will be published in May of 2011 (Divergent).

Two things stuck out:
(1) Her blog is written in a way that is easy to follow, her humor comes through, and it keeps me engaged. There is a profound level of honesty that makes you feel at ease. I suspect that her novel will be written the same way, which implies that I will have a hard time setting it down.
(2) There is a generosity in her site that is inspirational. She shares everything about her process in there. She has pictures of her signing her contract, when she received her arcs... it's just a great story and one that really got me happy.

It reminded me of a passage from Stephen King's book "On Writing." He tells us about the day that he got the call from his agent. The call that informed him that Carrie's paperback rights were picked up for something like $350k. This was his first book. Advances of that sort were unheard of. Add the financial desperation of his life at the time, and then his very honest and human reaction to this news... ("Can you say that number again?" as he slid to the floor) that was such a heartfelt moment that I found a bit... ahh, well... you know... an eyelash got caught in my eye. Yeah, that's what it was. Leave me alone, will you!

Here's a classic line from her blog:
This is what I keep thinking to myself: My NAME is on it! MY name. And it's like...a thing! That you can HOLD! In your HANDS!

How can you not root for her? To know that your story will be read by others must be an out of body experience. The fact that she shares this type of information is inspirational and is the carrot. The possibility that we will one day get that call as well.

Here's to all of us who want to be like Veronica! I hope it's an instant best seller. I know I'll get a copy.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why Do You Need a Professional to Read your Novel???

Why indeed... well, one of my favorite blogs captured the reason succinctly.

Jane Friedman wrote:
"Why are editors rejecting my work when family and friends love it so much?
Your family and friends love you and see you in your work. An editor doesn't know you and is often more objective, especially when it comes to marketability. Publishing professionals have distance; you and your closest friends/family may not." There Are No Rules - Agents

Objectivity is critical. 

Writing is an art... publishing your art is a business. 

You need to know that a business executives (Agent and then Editor for the publisher) believe that many people will want to read your story. Chances are that your story has some things in there that will delight your friends and family... because they know you, they get it, and maybe they are excited by what you have done. The agent and editor don't bring all that baggage to the game.

Bring on a dose or reality... that will make me a better writer, a better story teller. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Waiting Game...

I'm waiting to hear back from the critique service... I must admit, that I'm a bit of a mess. What if they're drinking beers laughing at my dangling participles?! And I'm paying them for this. Who you callin' a gerund? Sometimes I wish I hadn't slept through high school grammar class. Worse still, these are professional readers who have read hundreds of manuscripts... and published dozens of novels themselves. The pressure is enough to make me want to get a croissant with Nutella!

But fear not, I am not sitting there knitting an afghan! I picked up a very promising book by James Scott Bell, "The Art of War for Writers." I really like his work, both his novels and his non-fiction material on the craft of writing. Good stuff. I have another one of his books in my "Must Read" list of this blog.

Also, I'm pouring over sites and articles about the "Query Letter." For aspiring authors these two words cause a disturbance in the time-space continuum.  It's a one page sales pitch that very briefly describes your work to an agent. And you hope that your three or four paragraphs are convincing enough to excite that agent to say "Why heck! This guy is the next Tom Flippin' Clancy! Send me your manuscript! Pronto!"

It is odd... you slave over every word as you prepare a novel (in my case 91,000 words)... and if your one pager is a dud, the agent won't even want to look at it. But hey, let's not fight the wave. We ride the wave!

Janet Reid (agent extraordinaire) has a phenomenal blog Query Shark. You submit your query and the shark gnaws away at it, until she's happy with it. Apparently if it's good enough, she will ask to see your manuscript. She's a tough one. My fragile heart will not last long under her piercing glare. But when I'm ready, I'll jump in the shark infested water and see what happens. What makes this site fantastic is that you can look at all the queries that she has gone through, her comments, and the revisions. Very informative.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bring on the Professionals!

I have decided to enlist the help of professionals with my manuscript. There are various services (individuals and companies) that will read your manuscript and critique it's contents. Here's one such service provided by Writer's Digest Shop. They write:

Writer's Digest Shop - 2nd Draft Critique Service

Don't submit that manuscript...
Without a professional review from the professionals at Writer's Digest! 
Before you send out that manuscript to an editor or agent, make sure it's got a fighting chance. Send your work to 2nd Draft Critique Service and get specific, tailored advice you need to get an extra edge on the competition — and make your work more marketable. 
After a thorough evaluation of your submission, one of our hand-selected-professional critiquers will give detailed feedback and recommendations. You'll not only learn what's working in your writing, but what's not, and — most important — how to fix it.
Sounds reasonable...

There's energy around this story. I want to give it a fair shot. The industry is too small for me to send out duds to agents.

So step one, get a pro to look at this and adjust as appropriate. Step two, send out ~250 query letters to agents. Step three part I... wait. Step three part II start my next novel. NEVER stop writing. You are only a writer, if you write.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How I made time...

It's complicated... Those that know me, also know that I don't have a 9 to 5 job. One can argue that I have a 24x7x365 job.

The first draft was probably the most challenging time. Because you want to write, and write fast. The ideas are pouring out, the characters want to breathe and you want them to break through. You don't want to let anything derail you. The story wanted to be written and my life tried to be an obstacle. But thankfully, I have a support structure that helped grease the way.

My wife wakes up at 5 AM, I try my best to be up by 5:30 AM. Get ready, check emails from my European colleagues, get the kids ready ("Come on buddy, you have to brush your teeth!"), take them to school ("Okay last hug, I really have to go") and off to work I go. I typically eat in my office... no time to waste. I try to get home before 6 pm to help with the kids (homework, bathe, cook, rescue my wife). By the time we're done, it's hitting 8 pm. I power up my laptop and clear out my emails for the day (I want to face each morning with a clean desk). Between 9 pm and 10 pm I am close to being done with my work-work.

I push the laptop to the side and turn to my desktop. I then put on my headphones, turn on noise canceling and start entering the world I've created in my mind's eye. I go on, until my eyes tear and my head drops every other second. That's usually midnight...

It's not easy. But I have my wife's support. And on an occasional saturday or sunday, she would take the boys out with our friends so that I have a complete day to write. Those were the days that I achieved milestones. A plot element that was troublesome, a character that didn't behave like he should have, or a scene that didn't seem to transport the reader there.

With all acts of creation, you can not do it alone. I know I haven't.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Words, words, words...

A novel is made up of words, and applications like wordle give you a very interesting view of your work. In brief, word clouds take the provided text (in this case my manuscript) and based on frequency of use, create a cloud of words... can you guess the names of the two main characters?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Recap...

Here's the high level time line of my manuscript: working title "Ace"

  • Feb 23, 2010: in my idea notebook I write about a love story involving a regular guy and a world class tennis player... a love that can not be
  • May 24, 2010: I land in Paris (business trip), French Open has just started
  • May 25, 2010: during breakfast, I notice tennis pros there. Amongst them is Dominika Cubilkova. I say hello. As I eat, I notice a young guy staring at her. An idea is born
  • May 28, 2010: on plane (Air France), on my iPad I do a mind map of the high level story. Then the opening scene. Do I want to write a love story? I was working on a mystery novel for two months... do I stop it? Yes!!!
  • June 1 - June 8, 2010: I develop my characters, the high level plot and major scenes. I need to test the idea
  • June 8 - June 16, 2010: I write every night from 9 PM till midnight. I complete Act I, 15,000 words. I like it.
  • June 17, 2010: My wife reads the opening chapter. "I like it... I want to know more." All systems go.
  • June 18 - August 5, 2010: I write my first draft. I develop 75,000 words. Stephen King and James Scott Bell tell authors to wait 2-4 weeks and no look at the draft. It is agony. Sheer pain. During those two weeks (I couldn't wait three) new ideas come to me. Clarity over missing scenes.
  • Aug 23- Sept 22, 2010: I clean up, enhance, clear up, modify, and finish my 2nd draft
  • Sept 23 - Oct 8, 2010: I am being a coward. I read it. I re-read it. Find spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors... I am trying to delay getting the manuscript to my wife... my first reader
  • Oct 8, 2010: I give manuscript to my wife... 274 singe sided pages, 1.5 spaced.
  • Oct 12, 2010: She tells me, "Don't give up on this one. This is it. It's a great story, great characters, great dialogue, I can see it as a movie. Do what you have to do." 
  • Oct 13, 2010: clean up some of the issues she pointed out (great points, that I had missed)
  • Oct 14, 2010: "I want to read it again," she says. "I miss the story and the characters." I am one happy and lucky guy

If all goes to plan, by early next week, I will print out five copies and hand it out to my select few.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

She Cried!

Okay, I realize that it's so uncool to make your wife cry, but, I am out of my mind excited. My novel made her cry. She read through all 90,000 words and the things she said I will hold on to forever. "I love it... I really, really love it... what a great story.... the dialogues... the characters... I couldn't put it down..."

She went to bed early because she said she was overwhelmed and needed to wind down.

Even if I never sell one copy of this book, these months of work have paid off. I gave my wife a story that she loved. I am in heaven!

I realize I've skipped a whole bunch of stuff... but the reason why I started blogging again, was because I finished my 2nd draft and had time to look back as my wife read my manuscript...

Happiness is a spouse that cries over your story :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm Back!

It's not that I stopped writing... it's just that I realized I had written myself into a corner. The corner was a dead-end street, and I got car-jacked to boot.

I saw a lot of manuscripts on that street. A lot of broken dreams out there. The good news was that I knew the street wasn't real, and that the drive to move forward was completely within my hands.

I had been reading Writer's Digest for some time, so I thought I had this thing down. Furthermore, Stephen King's On Writing had shown me the light. But... there's always a but... just look behind you... it's one thing to read this stuff in the abstract--it's quite another to read it with the knowledge that I had committed all the cardinal sins.

I didn't give up. I read more, looked at my work, wrote new material (mostly short stories), and found that my writing got better, considerably better as I worked on the craft. I read more novels, not just for the story but also to learn how the author used elements of plot and tension.

I wrote three short stories that I was proud of. Then I did the unthinkable... I put myself out there. I entered my work in a competition (didn't win... but that's not the point) and allowed a select few to read my work. They include: my wife (my first reader... if she loves it, other's get to see it), my "editor" (she isn't but she is... i can't explain... she is awesome), my friend (he's married to the "editor" and although he doesn't express himself, he still spoke to me so that was good news), my mom (who reads more books in a week than publishers release) and my brother (who is an artist, a romantic, a phenomenal musician... and a CFO... what can you do? we still have to pay our bills).

Yes, I allowed them to read the damn things. I never realized how paranoid I was of their opinion... as if somehow, if they didn't like the work, it meant they didn't like me as a person. Well, they liked it. Liked it a lot. In fact, I was moved and motivated by their words and the fact that they got it.

In summary, since February of 2009 through May of 2010 I was studying, practicing, testing and harnessing my skills. I will do a separate post on what I read. But my education was beyond a shadow of a doubt fundamental to my growth as a writer.

I may not have mentioned this, but I'm gainfully employed as a senior executive for a large technology company servicing the Entertainment industry. I have a full time job that is what most people would call stressful, and time-intensive. But I digress... I was on one of my many business trips. This particular time in Paris. It so happened that I was there in late May at the start of the French Open (for those who are confused, that's one of the largest tennis tournaments in the world). I was in a hotel where a handful of the professional athletes were also staying. An idea was born. It was caused by one athlete in particular, Dominika Cibulkov√°.

On my flight back, I used my handy iPad to mind map (iThoughtsHD) the seed of an idea. Next, again on my new best friend, I wrote the opening scene (Apple's pages for the iPad). I smiled. I was onto something.

Stay tuned... the story will continue soon.
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