Saturday, November 30, 2013

1970s Interview with George Lucas

I got this from the Official Star Wars Youtube page.  It is an interview with George Lucas on his original concept for the Star Wars storyline.  I like seeing what authors had in mind when they started their story.  Anyone who has written anything knows that the story often changes as it goes for a variety of reasons.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mythology Monday - Mythical Creatures Quiz

This Monday, I'm handing the entry over to another web site, one where there are 15 quiz questions about mythical creatures.  I did well for a while, but then missed three.  :(

How many did you get right?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

4 Bits of Clever Writing - Doctor Who Style

You do not need to be a Doctor Who fan to enjoy the cleverness of the writing used to make this show such a success.  I've only been a fan of the Doctor for incarnations 9, 10, and 11, but that's been long enough to notice that it is not the special effects or even the actors that make the show.  It's the writing.  The writers think out of the box, which is something we can all learn from.

Here are four examples of some of the cleverest writing on the show:

1. Weeping Angels
"Don't blink. Blink and you're dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don't turn your back. Don't look away. And don't blink. Good Luck."

What it is

How scary can a stone statue be?  Watch the "Don't Blink" episode to find out.  These creatures look like stone statues of angels covering their faces, but when you are not looking, they move.  They are super fast, so you'll never see them move.  In fact, they cannot move while anyone is looking.  Their defense mechanism is that they are stone if anyone looks at them, which means killing one is very difficult.

Why it's clever

It takes the whole what-you-can't-see-is-scary idea to a new level.  At first when you see them, they aren't scary at all.  However, after noticing that the statue is in a different place whenever the camera pans back to it, you start to get a little freaked out.  They even made it so that the angels can't move even when the viewer is looking at them.  This increases the suspension and you find yourself getting tense whenever the camera stops looking at them.  Add to this that the Doctor and his companion (Martha, in this case) are hardly even in it.  That's a writing exercise for you.  Try writing a great scene for your character while keeping your character out of the story for the most part.  Perhaps the best episode of Doctor Who ever.

2. Regeneration

If you are not a fan of the show, then you are probably wondering why people say the 10th doctor, the 8th doctor, and so on.  That's because of regeneration.

What it is

Regeneration is the ability for a Time Lord to escape death.  Whenever he is about to die, he undergoes the regeneration process and comes back alive, but as a new person with a new personality.

How it's clever

Whenever the James Bond franchise gets a new actor, fans rate that actor over how close to the James Bond image he is.  Fans had a fit when Daniel Craig was cast because he was blond, and you can't have a blond Bond, can you?  Well, not so with the Doctor.  You can have a blond Doctor, black haired Doctor, or even a ginger Doctor.  When one actor is ready to leave, instead of trying to find some who looks like the previous actor, the writers simply kill the Doctor and have him regenerate into a new body.  On top of that, the new Doctor has a completely different personality, leaving the actor to decide what kind of Doctor he wants to play.  On top of that, fans don't get upset because this actor or that doesn't act like the Doctor.  They just sit back and wait to see how the Doctor's going to act now.  On the plus side, the
first episode of a regenerated Doctor usually revolves around the Doctor trying to figure out what kind of person he is now.

Rose: What's the city called?
The Doctor: New New York.Rose: Oh, come on.The Doctor: It is! It's the city of New New York! Strictly speaking, it's the fifteenth New York since the original, so that makes it New-New-New-New-New-New-New-New-New-New-New-New-New-New-New New York. [Rose laughs.] What?
Rose: You're so different.
The Doctor: [grins] New-New Doctor.

3. Time Travel Explained

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff."
What it is

Doctor Who is a show about time travel.  The Doctor uses a Tardis to travel in time and space.  It looks small, but it's bigger on the inside.

How it's clever

Well, being able to materialize anywhere in the universe at any time period between The Big Bang and the end of time opens up all sorts of story possibilities.  However, the one problem all time travel movies have is the whole paradox thing and eventually the story line falls apart.

Some stories fall apart harder than others
Not so with Doctor Who.  Time travel is explained in a way eliminates not only the paradox idea but the whole, why-not-just-go-back-five-minutes-and-prevent-it-from-happening solution that would end all stories from getting any good or having any suspense.  First of all, some moments in time are unavoidable no matter what you do.  At one point the Doctor's companion tries to prevent Van Goth from committing suicide.  She thought she had done it, but when they went back to her normal time, nothing had changed.  The other rule of time travel seems to be that once the Doctor has experienced a moment, he cannot go back to undo it or alter it.  This is explored when Rose goes back in time and meets her father, who died when she was a baby.  She witnesses the car accident that kills him, goes back five minutes and stops it from happening.  This unleashes all sorts of demon-like creatures who feed on time problems like this.  So "fixing" things makes them much worse.  The only way to stop these demons from destroying the whole world was to make the original course of events happen like they were supposed to.  The rest of time travel rules are played with loosely, but these two keep the stories interesting and feasible (well, feasible for anyone willing to believe that you can time travel in a small blue police call box, that is).

Plus, the story potential is endless.  You want horror, have the doctor travel to a place that is scary.  You want science fiction, have him travel to the future or off world.  You want comedy, have him travel to a place that puts him in an awkward situation.  You want historical fiction, well, you get the point, right?  Plus you can play with the problems of time travel, such as having him fall in love with another time travel and arrange it so that they meet each other opposite.  In other words, the first time he meets her, it is the last time she sees him.

4. The Sonic Screwdriver

What it is

The Doctor is locked in a room.  No worries, he pulls out the sonic screwdriver and makes it make noise.  The door opens.  The Doctor experiences some goop that he's never encountered before.  No worries.  He aims his sonic screwdriver at it and gets some readings.  Now he knows what to do next.  The Doctor runs into an alien psychopath that wishes to kill him.  Opps.  Worries!  The sonic screwdriver can't do everything.

How it's clever

How strong is Spider-Man's web?   As strong (or weak) as the writer needs it to be.  What's in Batman's utility belt?  Whatever the writer needs to be in it.  What gadget does Q give Bond?  Whatever gadget the writers are going to need to get Bond out of a jam later on.  The sonic screwdriver does that.  It gives the writers a convenient tool to get the Doctor out of trouble.  As the Doctor said, "Oh, yes. Harmless is just THE word, that's why I like it! Doesn't KILL, doesn't wound, doesn't maim. But I'll tell you what it does is very good at opening doors!"

But what makes this a great device is that it only helps to do small things.  It cannot heal, it cannot kill, it cannot do crazy magical things.  Just manipulate small mechanical devices.  As long as the writers keep it to this function, it falls under the viewer's suspension of disbelief.

Well, that four, just like I said.  Those of you who are fans can probably name off a few things that are cleverer (and I invite you to do so in the comments section).  Those of you who are not fans, not only should you be, but you can take this idea of turning an idea on it's side like the Doctor Who writers do for your own device.  What twist can you put on your character today?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Quotable Quotes - Part 4

More great quotes from great writers:

"If you stay true to your characters, the story will take care of itself."   -Eva Byron

"The best was to become a successful writer is to read good writing, remember it, and forget where you remember it from."   -Gene Fowler

"I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before I was satisfied."   -Ernest Hemingway

"If you wish to be a writer, write."   -Epictetus

"Less is more."   -Robert Browning

"You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance."  -Ray Bradbury

"You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better."   -Maxim Gorsky

"Books aren't written - they're rewritten.  Including your own.  It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it."   -Michael Crichton

"I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances."   -John Steinbeck

"The easiest thing to do on earth is not write."   -William Goldman

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Day of the Doctor

In honor of the upcoming Day of the Doctor (11-23-13 and shame on you if you didn't know), here is the trailer -

So, any Doctor Who fans out there?  If so, which is your favorite Doctor?  I've only been a fan since the ninth Doctor, but I have flipped through the Classic Doctor Who on Netflix to see the others.  I'm a big fan of the 11th, but I must say the tenth is probably my favorite overall.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Art of the Query Letter

The literary agency of Browne and Miller give a list of what needs to be in the query letter.  Since we've just seen a list of why 96% of authors get rejected by agents (with one of those being stinky query letters), it might be useful to see what these agents think should be in the letter.

1. Overall, a query letter must be highly polished – typed, no spelling mistakes, typos or grammatical errors. 1 page long, if possible.

2. It must clearly identify the genre or category the proposed book fits into and also provide some insight on general market positioning – where does it fit in the marketplace and on the shelf? This means an author must do his or her homework – visit a bookstore, be familiar with other works in the genre, etc.

3. It must offer a brief overview of the work that is clear, compelling and makes one want to read more – this part should be somewhat reflective of the author's writing style.

4. We always advise against mentioning other unpublished works in a query – the focus should be on the one book the author is trying to sell. Agents don't necessarily want to know that an author has other unpublished manuscripts sitting on the shelf.

5. For new fiction authors, a novel is almost always sold on a complete manuscript. Author should indicate what material is available to send to the agent for consideration and the manuscript length (i.e. word count). We advise new authors to write a detailed synopsis of the book – 5 pages or so – too, as we usually ask for a synopsis and 3-5 sample chapters before asking to see an entire manuscript. For non-fiction, an author should have a full proposal plus chapters ready to send. We rarely sell non-fiction on manuscript; almost always on proposal. In general, we ask for an exclusive – that we are the only agents reviewing the requested material. We make exceptions in certain circumstances, however.

6. If the author is querying several agents, he should indicate that his is a multiple submission.

7. The letter should also offer information about the writer: writing and publishing background, associations (i.e. RWA, MWA, etc) or writers groups, awards and prizes, published works (even short stories, articles); academic background, anything notable. This would also include info on the author's PLATFORM – speaking engagements, conferences attended, media coverage, etc.

8. Author's contact information, including email address and phone number, should be included.

9. No gimmicks! We have seen our fair share of the bizarre over the years including a query letter filled with glitter (and little specks of glitter remained on our wood floor for months after…grrr), handwritten queries on scented, colored paper in colored ink, queries containing nude photos, queries on candy bar wrappers, etc. These letters are memorable, but we did not pursue a single one of the books presented. Creativity is appreciated, but authors should present themselves professionally overall.

10. Author should always enclose an SASE with a mailed query. This agency, for example, does not respond to snail mail queries without return postage.

It is interesting that Query Shark doesn't seem to agree with #6 and #7.  Then again, the Shark is quick to point out that every agency is different and everyone is looking for pretty much the same thing, just in different ways.

I do like how they end their list: There is an art to writing a great query, but it is an art that can be mastered.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Agents Reject 96% of Author Submissions

I found this article while looking through the Zite app on my phone:

Why Agents Reject 96% of Author Submissions

Which, of course, got my attention.  You can read the whole article here:

I'll give the reasons they listed and you can go to the article to read them more in depth and their solution for these.  I don't know the truthfulness of the 96% rejection rate, but it sure seems that way in the whole query process.  Here are the reasons authors get rejected:

1. Failure to follow submission guidelines

2. Genre confusion

3. Your query letter sucks

4. Nonfiction is a different beast than fiction

5. Spelling and grammar

I certainly think #3 and #5 are big causes for agents to reject a query.  They get tons of submissions every day.  Having to make fast decisions causes them to judge your writing only on what they see in that query letter.  If you are bad at writing it or you have mistakes all through it, then that probably means you are bad at your other writing and have mistakes all through those too.  However, I think there needs to be another one.  How about 6. You don't have a personal connection to the agent.  I think that meeting an agent and  having an author who works for that agent recommend you are probably important keys to getting in.  That is not to say that I disagree with this or anything, just it seems that these too things would help you stand above that 96% of authors trying to get in, but not doing so.

So, read the article if you wish to see more information on these, and tell me what you think.  Do you think the agent rejection rate really is 96%?  Do you agree with this list?  Do you have your own #6?

Whatever the case - here's to us being one of the 4%!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Author Spotlight - Joseph Finley

This month's author spotlight is on Joseph Finley.  Now I do not know Joseph and have never communicated with him before this post.  What drew my attention to him was two things - his amazing blog (Fresh-scraped Vellum) and his book (Enoch's Device).

The purpose of the author spotlight is to see how other authors are doing it.  How are they establishing an online platform?  What are they doing that works or doesn't work?  Of course, we want to look at their writing too.

When checking out Mr. Finley's page, we do not get a lot about his personal life.  He lets the visitor know that he is an author, a book reviewer, and a lover of history (especially medieval) and fantasy.  Just a quick look at his page will let you know that medieval history is a passion of his.  So what does he have on his site that really works?

  • Book Reviews - Finley reviews books that catch his attention and that he has time to read.  It is not the focus of the site, but it is a major component.  He is good and fair reviewer, too.
  • Access to his Writing - he has a tab for short stories which leads to a link to a magazine that published one of his stories.  I get the feeling that his plan is to fill that tab with more short stories as they get published.  It is a quick way for an interested agent or publisher to see his previous successes and to get more of a taste for his potential.  I would definitely encourage any aspiring writer to post all of their publishing history.
  • Social Media - He has quick links to share his site on Facebook, Twitter, and two I haven't seen before - an e-mail share link and a ShareThis link.  He also has a Twitter account @joseph_finley which I have added to our ongoing monthly list of authors on Twitter (which is scheduled to end in February).
  • A Blog Roll - A listing of other blogs about writing, history, fantasy, and book reviews that he likes. The list is pretty long and I plan on taking the time to look through them and I'll share with you guys some of them.
  • A Drunken Monk - How many other blogs can you think of that has one of these? 
He also has information about his book, although he has a separate blog for his book.  I'm not quite sure if he did this to provide more concentrated coverage of his book or if Fresh-scraped Vellum is a blog that he started before his book and wanted to keep the two separate. His book blog is Enoch's Device.  

Here is the description of his book:

Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, an Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse.

Pursued by Frankish soldiers and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor, Brother Dónall, journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais from a heretic-hunting bishop who insists mankind must suffer for its sins. Together the trio races across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.

Sounds good, doesn't it?  I'm getting it on Kindle and trying it out.  It sounds like a book right up my alley.  This is also where he does a good job with his online platform.  This blog gives all the updates he needs for the book - Amazon link, testimonials, and links to reviews.

Has anyone here read him before or has followed his blog?  Anything you see that he is doing that you plan on doing in creating your online platform?  Let me know below!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Authors on Twitter N - Q

More authors with Twitter accounts to follow.  If you know anything about these authors, or of one I missed in this alphabet range, let me know!  Are you an author?  Did I miss your Twitter account?  Let me know.

Nall, Gail - @gallecn
Nash, Jennie - @jennienash
Nashar, Ray - @RayNashar

Nelson, Kadir - @KadirNelson
Nesbitt, Kenn - @poetry4kids
Ness, Patrick - @Patrick_Ness

Newman, Leslea - @lesleanewman
Newman, Patricia - @PatriciaNewman
Newton Fusco, Kimberly - @kimberlynewtonf

Nielsen, Jennifer - @nielsenwriter
Nielsen, Susin - @susinnielsen
Norris, Elizabeth - @liz_norris
Numeroff, Laura - @LauraNumeroff

O’Brien, Caragh M. - @CaraghMOBrien
O’Connell, Mary - @thesharptime
O'Connor, George - @george_oconnor

Oates, Joyce Carol - @JoyceCarolOates
Ogle, Maureen - @maureenogle
Oh, Ellen - @elloecho
OHora, Zachariah - @ZachariahOHora

Okey, Shannon - @knitgrrl
Oliver, Lauren - @OliverBooks
O’Reilly, Tim - @timoreilly
Orlean, Susan - @susanorlean

Orman, Suze - @SuzeOrmanShow
Orr, Wendy - @wendyorr
Osborne, Mary Pope - @MaryPopeOsborne
Oxford, Kelly - @kellyoxford

Padian, Maria - @mpadian
Palacio, R.J. - @RJPalacio
Palahniuk, Chuck - @chuckpalahniuk

Paolini, Christopher - @inheritanceCP or @Chris_Paolini
Papademetriou, Lisa - @axyfabulous
Parker, Amy - @amychristinepar

Parker, Rae Ann - @raeannparker
Parry, Rosanne - @RosanneParry
Patrick, Cat - @seecatwrite
Patterson, James - @JP_Books

Paulson, Ingrid - @IngridEPaulson
Pavlina, Steve - @stevepavlina
Payton, Ross - @rosspayton
Peacock, Kathleen - @kathleenpeacock

Pearce, Jackson - @JacksonPearce
Pearson, Mary - @marypearson
Pearson, Ridley - @ridleypearson
Penn, Joanna - @thecreative penn

Perkins, Mitali - @MitaliPerkins
Perkins, Stephanie - @naturallysteph
Perl, Erica S. - @ericaperl
Peterfreund, Diana - @dpeterfreund
Picoult, Jodi - @jodipicoult

Pike, Aprilynne - @AprilynnePike
Pina, Mara - @thewritingblues
Pinfold, Levi - @LeviPinfold
Pink, Daniel - @DanielPink

Piver, Susan - @spiver
Plait, Dr. Philip - @BadAstronomer
Plourde, Lynn - @LynnPlourde
Plum, Amy - @AmyPlumOhLaLa

Polacco, Patricia - @PatriciaPolacco
Polisner, Gae - @gaepol
Pollack, Lindsey - @lindseypollak
Pon, Cindy - @cindypon

Portman, Frank - @frankportman
Potter, Ellen - @ellenpotter
Powell, Laura - @L_R_Powell
Powley, Tammy - @tammypowley

Prendergast, Gabrielle - @GabrielleSaraP
Prensky, Marc - @marcprensky
Prineas, Sarah - @SPrineas
Price, Lissa - @Lissa_Price

Prinz, Yvonne - @Allyougetisme
Pyron, Bobbie - @BobbiePyron

Qualls, Haylee - @hayleeq

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mythology Monday: Treasure #7

A Watched Pot Never Boils

One day, I'm at my mother-in-law's house and she asks me if I would take something to her storage shed. Being the great guy that I am, I say, "Sure thing!" When I get to the shed, lo and behold, there is a huge black witch's cauldron right there in the doorway. Before I thought, I said, "So THAT'S where you keep it!"

You know, I've always had my suspicions...

Anyway, the cauldron story is a lead in on the next Treasure of Britain. The Cauldron of Dyrnwch the Giant (Pair Dyrnwch Gawr) is a large cauldron that only works for the brave. If you are a coward, you can heat the water up all you want, but the meat will never boil. However, if you were a brave man, it would boil almost immediately, even without having to light a fire (very useful if you are in a hurry and have no microwave handy or if fire smoke would give your position away to enemies who would like to kill you).

There is an Irish story that is similar and the two are most certainly connected. In this story the owner is Diwrnach, who is sometimes described as a giant. Just as the British treasure, the cauldron is picky about who cooks it. Along comes this guy, Olwen, who has a quest to gather several treasures together, including this cauldron (much the same as the idea of gathering the 13 treasures together). Arthur, ever the helpful friend to Olwen, had his man persuade Diwrnach to give it up willingly, but Diwrnach's steward refuses to let it go. After trying again, Arthur just takes the thing, fills it with treasure he took from Ireland, and goes home.

Also, the Preiddeu Annwfn, a poem that may have been written by Taliesin, the cauldron is not only mentioned, but described as well. The poem goes on to detail a trip by Arthur into Annwfn (I believe to be a section of the Otherworld). While there, he finds the cauldron and here we learn that it is not some big black witches cauldron (such as you might find in my mother-in-law's storage shed), but it is finished in pearl.

R. S. Loomis suggests that this cauldron was an early Celtic idea that the holy grail evolved from. Bernard Cornwell, in his series about Arthur, has the cauldron also with the ability to restore life (drawing from this connection Loomis makes).By the way, if you have not read Cornwell's books about Arthur, what are you waiting for?

Whatever the case, this cauldron seems to me to be a strange treasure. Maybe a cauldron that turns things to gold or a cauldron that feeds thousands or something. Refusing to boil food for a coward... well, it just doesn't seem, I don't know, all that treasurey* to me.

In Future King, this treasure is not yet found, nor do they look for it.  It will be sought after in the second book, Holy Grail, provided, of course, I ever get Future King off the ground.

*I am an English teacher, so if I say "treasurey" is a word, then it is!