Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recommended Reading: The Epic Love Story of Doug and Stephen by Valerie Z. Lewis

Today's recommended reading comes to us from Valerie Z. Lewis, the same author who wrote our last recommended reading. This one is called The Epic Love Story of Doug and Stephen and if you think it's a gay love story featuring men named Doug and Stephen, you are correct. 

Doug is a Midwestern-mechanic-turned-NYC-model. He gets a job at a gay interest magazine called "The Flame" as a regular model/fashion columnist. He's an idiot. I don't mean this to insult him; I actually love Doug. He's just not very bright. The reason there's a button on the cover of the book? He swallowed one. At kind of a key moment. It was even red. Anyway, Doug may be an idiot, but he's a total sweetheart. He's just a good guy, and for some reason, he falls in love with Stephen, who is a self-centered, pretentious jerk. Stephen isn't a bad guy, though; he's just a drama queen who doesn't have enough conflict in his life, so he makes it up. Doug can, apparently, see this. He decides that he's in love with Stephen, even though Stephen "terrifies" him, and proceeds to woo him. "Woo" in this case is more like "stalk," which sounds creepy but is actually quite endearing. Doug just sort of gently bullies Stephen into a relationship by being a complete idiot and not getting any of Stephen's "hints" to back off (read: death threats, threats of violence, threats of bodily harm). Stephen, like the reader, isn't immune to Doug's charms, and eventually gives in. Well, sort of. Stephen is apparently the King of Denial, and even after I would consider them a couple, he insists that he and Doug are only dating "casually." Yeah, buddy. Whatever. 

The relationship gives Stephen the confidence to pursue the second main conflict of the novel, which is nice. 

The whole book is really well-written and really well-crafted, and I just love it. I will confess that I don't care as much about Stephen's writing or the exposé, but that has nothing to do with Ms. Lewis' writing and everything to do with the fact that I am completely enamored with Doug and Stephen's relationship and with the humor (which is absolutely, perfectly spot-on in every instance). 

If you're looking for a fun love story for your Kindle, this is it. At $0.99, it's a steal, so snap it up!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How I Write

"Easy reading is damn hard writing." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Vaguely, I recall reading or hearing somewhere that there is nothing more obnoxious than writers talking about writing. I generally agree with this, and so I tend to discuss writing with other writers; lucky for me, most of my friends are writers. Actually, no, that's not luck at all. That was deliberate. Like a number of modern authors, I can say that I got my start in fanfiction, and that is where I met some of my dearest friends. So we're all writers, and we all talk about writing, and I actually don't find any of them obnoxious at all.

Writing is hard. Writing is really, really hard. In fact, a short list of things that are easier than writing is: replacing a transmission, driving a stick shift, getting into the University of Texas at Austin, giving birth, and being a mother. I have done all of these things. They were easy compared to writing even a short story. 

But I won't be giving up writing anytime soon, and I won't be letting writing get easier. When writing is easy, it's probably a sign that the writing is crap. (There are exceptions; sometimes, a story just flows out of you. Those exceptions are pure magic.) 

Writing, for me, usually involves several steps, retracing those steps, and doing tons of research. It takes lots of time, lots of effort, lots of energy, lots of late nights, lots of pots of coffee, more than a few drinks, and, finally, the triumph of something completed. 

Do you remember in school when they had you "brainstorm" a topic? I still kind of do that. I begin by writing down a one-line premise. After that, I make notes: character names, locations, any necessary quotes or descriptions. Sometimes, I even jot down the "point" of the writing, whatever it is I want to say. 

After that, I come up with a summary that is no more than two to four sentences long. Any more than that, and it means I don't have a clear idea of what it is I'm trying to write. Most of my stories can boil down to a single sentence, or maybe even two. I've learned in the last ten years that if I can't summarize a story in just a handful of words, then I certainly can't tell it properly in several thousand. 

With the summary in front of me, I make a bullet list of things that have to happen in order for my story to make its point. The length of the list depends on the length of the story. 

Now, when it comes to short stories, this is fairly simple. I usually have three to five things on this list; chaptered stories are considerably longer. If I'm writing a short story, I skip the next step and move on to the action-draft, but when I write chapters, I...

...create one-line summaries of each chapter, followed by a bullet list of the required events in each chapter.

Once that is done, and I have both a clear idea of what I want and how it's going to happen, I move on to the action-draft. 

The action-draft is something that, as far as I can tell, I came up with. I'm the only person I know who writes like this. It's a blueprint for the story I'm writing. The action-draft is my first draft, my "rough" draft, in that it is the roughest version of the full story I can pound out. It contains action, feelings, impressions, and dialogue only. It is usually organized into the proper paragraphs and chapters. There is no proper grammar, it is usually in present tense (though I frequently use the wrong tense), and there are few adjectives, few articles, and few pronouns. 

Once this is done and I'm happy with it, I go back to the beginning and I begin to write. For every single action-draft word, I usually write about two or three words. For each sentence, two or three sentences take its place. 

And then, I edit. 

Each story, each chapter, usually goes through three edits. When it comes to fanfiction, I send it off to a "beta" reader; I have had one amazing beta reader for close to ten years, and, with any luck, I'll be able to convince her to be my editor for the current novel. If I'm particularly self-conscious about the story, I'll ask a few of my friends to give it a pre-read and give me feedback. 

Google is my friend, as is an LJ community called "little_details." I use both extensively when it comes to research. I draw on my own experiences and my mini library of books at home and on my Kindle. I don't feel like I can ever do enough research. I want whatever story I'm telling to be as accurately detailed as possible. 

I'm kind of neurotic that way. 

Writing can drive me crazy and it can burn me out, but I will never, ever give it up. I love it too much. It's the single hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life, and I still love it. 

Non-writers think I'm crazy. Writers I know just give me a sad, sympathetic look and nod. They get it. They know.

And maybe you do, too.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

SitRep Saturday: Vampires!

A "sitrep" is a situation report, and I thought it would be a good idea to report on the writing situation once a week. It will keep me honest and keep me accountable, and knowing that I'm going to have to report on my progress once a week should (I hope) keep me motivated. There's nothing quite as motivating as the desire to avoid public humiliation. 

This week, I managed to come up with a half-page summary of the novel, as well as one-line summaries of the main plot and the two sub-plots I hope to develop. I then wrote out one-line summaries of each chapter, and listed the events that need to take place in each chapter in order to make that summary accurate. I typed up the very, very minimal "drafts" in my word processor. 

After that, I just started action-drafting with chapter one. Chapter one's action-draft is 2,131 words long; chapter two's is 2,891; and chapter three's is 1,776. 

I was feeling a bit burnt out by the time I got to the chapter three action-draft, so I plan to review it before I move on to chapter four. 

In an action-draft, each word equals about two or three words in the final draft, so I'm hopeful about making my word count goals. 

Since this is all about accountability, I'll confess here that I hope to have the novel finished and ready to go by June 30.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Are you on Twitter? If you are, you should follow me. But you should also follow these people:

Victoria Schwab is an author. Her book, The Near Witch, comes out this August. She is funny and adorable, and I thoroughly enjoy her tweets.

Bret Easton Ellis is also an author. He wrote my favorite modern novel, American Psycho, which is apparently due out as a 20th anniversary edition sometime this spring. He's a prolific tweeter, and his posts are always interesting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Recommended Reading: The Blood of the Lamb by Valerie Z. Lewis

I just finished reading The Blood of the Lamb by Valerie Z. Lewis on my Kindle. I really enjoyed it.

Basically, I'd describe it as a feminist, agnostic re-telling of the Passover story. I might have this wrong, and my interpretation might upset the author (which I actually care about, since I consider her a friend), but this is my take. Musa is the Moses character, Meren is the real prince, and when their grandfather dies, Meren becomes Queen. She very quickly becomes the same sort of ruler he was, which pushes Musa to save "her" people from slavery in the kingdom. Musa doesn't necessarily believe in God (which is kind of a pity for me, because I love Old Testament God and all of his badassery), but she's a talented magician, and works demonic magic to force Meren to allow the Ebreo (Jews) to leave. The supporting cast of Aaron and Ivrit, the Ebreo who enlist Musa's help, are useful additions to the story. This is nice, because supporting cast in short stories can be really hit or miss.

I wasn't a big fan of the Musa/Meren love interest subplot, but that's a personal issue. (Incest isn't my thing, and though the girls weren't blood siblings, they were sisters as far as I was concerned.) It was handled beautifully and very believably, and while their ending wasn't happy, it was satisfying. Their shared pain over each of them doing what was best for them and for their people was heartbreaking.

My favorite part of the Passover story has always been when Moses parts the Red Sea, and it was no different here. I absolutely loved the way Musa called on the water demon, parted the sea, and let the Ebreo flee to safety.

If you're looking for a fairly quick read and you're interested in a retelling of the Passover story, or even just interested in reading about magic and love and one girl's fight for survival, then I highly recommend this novella. And at $0.99 for your Kindle (or Kindle app), it's a steal.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams is one of my all-time favorite authors. I was crushed the morning my dad woke me up to tell me that he had died, and I still catch myself getting a bit teary over it every now and then. Next month, it will be ten years since his death.

He wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a book I have no fewer than four copies of, and he wrote the rest of "trilogy" to go with it: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe and Everything,
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless. You can actually get all of these books, as well as a sixth installment, in The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is the book I brought with me on the sixteen-hour flight when I moved from Texas to Germany at the beginning of 2010. I giggled the whole time I read, which got me furtive glances from the other passengers, but he's just that funny.

He also wrote Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Posthumously, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time was published, though I must confess that I've never read it (because I'm sure that if I do, I'll really truly believe he's gone, and I'm not willing to believe that).

I tell my parents and friends frequently that I'd like to be like Douglas Adams when I grow up. His writing is wonderfully full and quirky and funny and interesting and thought-provoking. I truly cannot read any of the Hitchhiker's books without laughing out loud through most of them. "42" is my go-to answer when I don't know the real answer. I have actually had the "perfectly normal beast" conversation with my mother. (Twice.)

If you have even a vague interest in science fiction or humor, Douglas Adams is a must-read. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Amanda Hocking

Let's talk about self-published young adult fantasy writer Amanda Hocking.

I discovered her entirely by accident. One night, while browsing the Kindle store, I discovered some well-reviewed inexpensive ebooks that seemed to belong to the same genre as the novel I'm currently working on. Since I am a big believer in learning what my intended audience wants and likes, I downloaded a couple of them. Specifically, I downloaded Hollowland (The Hollows, #1) and Switched (Trylle Trilogy, Book 1). I just finished reading Hollowland, and I must admit that I feel the same way I did eighteen years ago when I finished A Tale of Two Cities for the first time: I need more!

Ms. Hocking is excellent at what she does, and she has a number of books available. In Hollowland, the action was intense, the characters were believable and compelling, and the conflicts and resolutions were immensely satisfying. I may be slightly biased because I am a bit fan of zombies, but I'm not biased enough to read an entire novel and think it was wonderful. I can't wait to start reading Switched.

If you have a Kindle, or the Kindle app or software, and you're looking for an inexpensive, well-written urban fantasy, I highly recommend checking out this author. I don't think you'll be disappointed.