Monday, June 2, 2014

Using Sensory Impressions to Bring Your Scenes to Life

Using sensory impressions in your creative writing helps draw a reader into your story.  Certain sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures produce pictures in readers' mind that are connected to emotions in their pasts.  A writer doesn't have to be flamboyant with the descriptions.  Sometimes subtle depictions do more than over-description.

If you've ever walked through a forest after a heavy rain and kicked up wet leaves, your mind picks up that scent and visual while you're reading the setting right now.  Does the thought of a freshly plowed field in early spring trigger anything in your mind?  It might, if you grew up in an area where farmers planted their crops. What about walking along a pier as the misty breeze off the ocean flows past you?  Moth balls in your grandmother's closet.  Honeysuckle on a late summer afternoon. Freshly picked tomatoes.  Dill pickles.  Grandpa's pipe.  These images remind me of times in my youth and as I grew up.  They might mean something totally different for someone else, or others might visualize similar things.

The point is words produce images in our minds, and sometimes those images are linked to our emotions.  Exact sensory words connect with readers, but they won't if the writer doesn't get out of the way.  "Show, don't tell" is an adage that is more valuable than most writers understand.

A simple example is:

I saw a big tree and heard a bird singing on a branch. (Telling)

A red robin sang on the leafy branch of the massive oak tree. (Showing)

Even in the modest example, showing is more beneficial for the reader.  You get specifics, which are details that paint a picture with words.  So, if you're writing about a man driving a car, don't be vague.  What kind of car?  What color?  Rental or does he own it?  How old is the man?  Does he have a beard?  Is he bald?  Tall and skinny or short and chubby?  The possibilities are endless, but all these details give the reader insight into his personality, his tastes, etc.

However, don't be too overly descriptive, either.  Too much detail will cause a reader to skim ahead or skip entire passages because it bogs down the plot and eliminates the urgency.  Have you ever read a novel where the entire room or house is thoroughly described to the point where you flip ahead?  Yeah, me too.  Overdoing description is almost as bad as not enough details.

Take a notebook and go for a walk sometime.  Find a place to sit and describe all the sounds, smells, and sights.  Bring your surroundings to life on the page.  It might take a few attempts, but the effort is well worth it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Shawndirea (Chronicles of Aetheaon: Book I) Release Date: June 12th

I am proud to announce my newest novel, Shawndirea, will be released on June 12, 2014.  Here's the book blurb:

" Often the smallest unexpected surprises garner the most demanding dilemmas, which proves to be the ordeal that entomologist Ben Whytten faces.  While netting butterflies to add to his vast collection, he mistakenly sweeps what he thinks is the most spectacular butterfly he has ever seen into his net.  Upon examining his catch, Ben is horrified to discover he has captured a faery and shredded her delicate wings into useless ribbons.

Devastated, Ben vows to take Shawndirea back to her realm, Aetheaon; but he discovers that doing so places their lives into immediate danger.  To get to Aetheaon, they must pass through a portal rift deep inside the haunted cavern, Devils Den. 

Once they cross the rift, Ben enters a world where mysteries, magic, betrayal, and power struggles await.  He must adapt quickly or die because Aetheaon is filled with enchanted creatures and numerous races where chaos often dominates order.  And since Shawndirea’s destined for the throne of Elvendale, opposing dark forces plot to prevent her from ever reaching her kingdom again.  The faery's magic isn't enough to fully protect them, so he must trust other adventurers to aid them during their journey."


Book contains a great map drawn by Millard Pollitt.
Book Length: 148,000 words or 536 printed pages (It's a LONG book).
Genre: Fantasy, Fae/Faeries, Sword &Sorcery, Action/Adventure, Magical Realm, Dragons, Wizards, Dwarves, Elves, etc.

Pre-orders at Barnes & Noble later this week!  $5.99

Friday, May 30, 2014

Indies, Why the Rush to Publish?



Why the rush to publish?

Never upload an unpolished novel to Kindle or Smashwords without hiring an editor to proofread and make corrections.  Finishing the first draft of your manuscript is a remarkable accomplishment, but the novel isn’t ready to enter the world of readers.  Your reputation is on the line.  First impressions do mean everything.  A book filled with excessive grammatical errors, improper punctuation, and plot holes will only reveal the author’s lack of writing qualifications.  Think about it.  The better your book is, the more readers will anticipate your next one.  And the best part is word of mouth.  If readers are telling other readers how great your books are, your audience is going to grow.

Trust me.  I speak from my own experience.  In 2007, I published my first novel through a Print-on-Demand publisher, and it was riddled with numerous flaws.  The publisher, which I shall leave nameless, did not make corrected edits that I had paid for, and the “package” I bought was hefty in price.

At first I was so ecstatic to see my book in print that I didn’t notice.  However, as time went by, readers would message me via Myspace and let me know where they had found some errors.  The more I looked, the more I realized the publisher had taken my money but didn’t do the work they were hired to do.  And worse, this knowledge came to me after having a third novel published through them.

The final straw was with my third book, The Game of Pawns.  I handed one of my sisters-in-law a copy because she loved the series.  A week later she said, “Did you know at the end of the thirteenth chapter that it stops midsentence?”

I was horrified.  I know I enjoy writing suspense, and an incomplete sentence does leave a reader wondering what happened, but this wasn’t a good thing.  For one, the book had been completely edited by an editor with over twenty years experience.  Secondly, I had gone through the first digital galley they emailed me and found only six errors.  I marked those and sent it back.  When the second galley came, I checked for the corrections.  All six had been fixed.  I okayed the novel to go to print.

Once my sister-in-law pointed out the error, I went back to the galleys.  Somehow between galley one and galley two, two and half paragraphs had vanished.  This was not on my end, so I called them.  They wanted to charge me another $149.00 to “fix” their error.  When I told them that I kept copies of the digital galleys and could prove the error was on their end, they were taken back but insisted that I needed to pay for the correction.  My reply was that short of legal action, I don’t know what else to do.  They fixed their error for free.

Another problem with the third book was the royalty rate I was receiving.  Both Beyond the Darkness and The Game of Pawns are ~80,000 words.  However, The Game of Pawns was almost seventy pages longer than Beyond the Darkness, which not only increased the price of the book, it lowered my royalty per book.  Thanks to CreateSpace and learning how to format paperbacks, I figured out what they had done.  Instead of 1.15 space between the lines, they used 1.5.  Sheesh . . .

In my situation with that publisher, and since their imprint was on my books, most readers faulted the publisher, not me.  This was before the Indie craze took flight and sales of Kindles and Nooks dramatically increased.  Now the majority of readers do fault the authors because we’re the ones that push the “Publish” button.  Not other publishers.

I learned about KDP in 2011.  I wish I had known sooner.

Since I retained the rights to all of my books, I pulled them from the POD publisher and decided to upload them after thoroughly editing them once again.  I’ve learned a lot in three years, and during that time, I also finished my MFA in creative writing.  I believe the more I write the more patient I have become as to when to release a book.  I have also grown pickier about the quality of my writing.  With most of my books, I try to read each page at least fifty times.  Excessive?  Yes.  Are there still errors?  Of course.  No one catches all of them.

Let me give you an example.  With Beyond the Darkness, I know I read the first page at least 100 times.  No exaggeration.  I handed the finished draft to my wife to read.  On the first page she caught a mistake that I hadn’t seen.  Instead of “reclining” chair, I had typed “recycling” chair.  After nearly a hundred times of reading that page, I had missed it.  That’s why it is crucial to have Beta readers, proofreaders, and editors.  My mind kept correcting the word to what I thought I had written, but we all do that.  Another set of eyes is essential to catch the mistakes.

Periodically, I have an author send me a request to read a novel and write a blurb.  One author requested friendship on Facebook and after I accepted, she asked me to write a blurb for her novel.  I told her that I couldn’t because I had not read the book.  She sent me a PDF of the novel, and I read a few chapters.  I politely mentioned that she needed to have it edited, which infuriated her.  I explained that I was only speaking from my own experience.  Suddenly she “unfriended” me on Facebook.

I am thankful for what Amazon and Smashwords have done for Indie authors, but the ease at which people can publish is like a two-edged sword.  It’s too easy to rush to publish.  However, here’s a formula to consider: Rush 2 Publish = Readers’ Rush 2 Judgment.  Quality should always outweigh the quantity.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Following Your Muse



Sometimes a writer’s muse will do unexpected things with a character or a storyline, but that’s a good thing.  Don’t ignore the gentle prodding.  Follow.  I give you two examples of how this has worked well for me.

First:

I’ve been asked if I use an outline when I write.  The answer is: “No.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to outline events well before they occur in my fiction.  When a great idea pops into my head, I immediately write it down.  That’s my writer instinct.  I may not know where the idea will lead, but I’m willing to follow.

That’s how the Darkness Series began.  In January 1996, when I laid down to go to sleep, the opening sentence came to me:  “Dropping a cat from the top of a ten story office building was not the best way to remain hidden, but it was necessary.”

I was intrigued.  I didn’t know where the story would go or why someone dropped the cat off the building, but I got up and wrote it down.  A few minutes later when I was trying to go to sleep, the next two paragraphs came to me.  So, again, I got up and wrote down the words.

The next day I sat at my computer and hammered out twenty pages in a few hours.  At the end of those pages, I found myself in a new dilemma.  I couldn’t add anything else to the storyline.  Anything I attempted to add didn’t fit, sounded too corny, or took away from the characters and the building plot.  I was stuck, and I didn’t know why.  I printed it out and set it in a box to work on later.

Two years later, during my final year at Morehead State University, I registered to take two creative writing classes in the coming fall.  During the summer I took out the twenty pages and thought I would see if any new ideas stirred to breathe life into this story.  Rereading the piece I realized something.  I didn’t have twenty pages of the novel.  What I had was the skeleton of a novel that needed depth, description, and more urgency to push the plot forward.

I took a yellow notepad and made a lot of notes.  When I was content with how I would flesh the book out, I sat at the computer and spent a week working and revising with the new ideas.  The last sentence of the original twenty pages now ended on page 100; but still, I couldn’t add anything else.  Frustrated, I set it aside.

Once the fall semester started, we met the new creative writing professor, Dr. Chris Offutt.  He stated that his class would be treated like a writer’s workshop, and on our designated days, we could bring in a short story or the chapter of a book we were working on to have the class evaluate it.  When my day came, I brought the first chapter (~32 pages) of Predators of Darkness: Aftermath in and gave each student a copy.  The next week they came back to critique and offer suggestions about what did/didn’t work.

After everyone in the class made their suggestions, the professor walked to the chalkboard.  He drew out a diagram on the board and said, “Leonard, you don’t have one chapter here.  What you have is five or six chapters.”  In a matter of minutes he mapped out five chapters.  I feverishly wrote down his suggestions.  The best part is that something clicked.  The fog lifted.  And I suddenly visualized my characters, their uniqueness, and their voices were audible in my head.

Eventually, Predators of Darkness: Aftermath grew into 340 pages, and there are four complete novels in the series.  Had I not written that sentence down, I do wonder if the series would have occurred.  After all, I didn’t have a plot or any characters.  All I had was the one sentence.  I never imagined the opening sentence would spawn four more novels afterwards (Yes, I’m working on the fifth book), which is why I suggest that writers follow their muse, carry notebooks, and don’t get chained to an outline.  If a character takes an unexpected turn into a dark alley, don’t stop him/her.  Follow.

Second:

A couple of years ago I published Devils Den.  Due to the characters in the fantasy realm of the novel, I thought that writing a novella backstory would be a good idea.  However, my muse had a much different idea.

The fantasy characters in Devils Den I’ve known—in my mind, at least—for more than twenty years.  The first novel I attempted was based on these characters, but the plot was too weak to develop, so I killed the story.  But the characters never died.  They didn’t speak a lot, but they were there in the back of my mind, maturing.

As I started the “Prequel” for Devils Den, something strange occurred.  The characters wanted their voices to be heard, and they weren’t shy about letting me know.  What I thought would be 40-50,000 words, came to life on a much larger scale.  Twenty years of maturing in my mind, the characters suddenly brought their world to life.  And thanks to Millard Pollitt, who drew an outstanding map of the realm, so many places can be explored.  The plotlines are endless.

The new novel is a 148,000 word epic fantasy novel (Name and cover soon to be announced). Since the events in this novel are twenty years prior to Devils Den, and so much occurs between the two, the new book has become the first book in its own series.

So, you see, my muse took me in a different direction and definitely farther than the novella I had planned.  Most often my muse knows more than I do, so I follow, take notes, and I write down what I hear and see.  If there’s a better formula than that, I don’t know it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014

It's late March once more.  In two days, my brother would have been thirty-one years old.  I think of him often, but more so around this time of the year.

TMNT always brings back fond memories of my little brother.  When he was about seven years old, he'd tie a cloth belt around his forehead and run through the house yelling, "I love being a turtle!"

His favorite was Raphael.  He watched the TMNT movie on VHS and practically wore the tape out.  At times, he wanted to wrestle and be Raphael while I, being the older brother, was the evil Shredder.  He loved that he always got to win, but that was just part of the fun.  He was so excited when he got the Raphael action figure, and he played with it all the time.

I remember when the second TMNT movie (The Secret of the Ooze) came out just days before his eighth birthday in 1991.  Each time he saw the movie preview on television, he was so excited that he raced through the house with his bandana tied around his head, shouting, "I love being a turtle!"

Sadly, he never got to watch the movie as he died on July 8th, 1991, almost three months after the movie's release.  Forever eight years old.  I have his Raphael action figure. I would never part with it.  In my brother's memory, my computer background is a picture of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I cannot turn on my computer without being reminded of him.  I truly miss him and wonder what he would have become had his life not been cut so tragically short.

A new TMNT movie is set for release in August 2014.  Will I be there?  Yes, and I hope that my brother is too, in spirit. Cowabunga, little bro!  RIP Bubba. I miss you.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Introducing Fellow Kentuckian Author: Mara A. Miller

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Hi all,

I'd like to introduce you to a new prolific (daily word counts are AMAZING) author, Mara A. Miller.  I've asked her to guest blog today and tell us more about her and how she writes.  Here's Mara:


"I’m weird about blogging. I can’t format anything since I’m lame at it so I haven’t made my own blog yet, but Leonard is a friend, so here we go.

I was going to go into this big long thing about how I got bullied and that drove me to reading more, but I’ll keep it short: I started reading a ton when I was nine, got bullied because I have dyslexia and was placed in “special education” classes.  Mom handed me my first romance novel when I was 11, and I was writing my first “novel” by the time I was twelve. I also discovered www.fanfiction.net and fell in love with writing it so it kept me busy until I started getting original ideas. I wrote and finished my first novel when I was 19, something I named The Ancients, but I’m not sure I’ll ever publish it. I participate in NaNoWriMo almost every year, and next month I’ll be working on my newest novel for Camp NaNoWriMo.

Having a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing helped me to start writing more original stuff. I read so much I can’t remember everything but The Solace of Open Spaces really struck me for some reason. I have an anthropology degree too but quickly learned that as much as I love archeology I didn’t want to be an archeologist.

P.N. Elrod and Nora Roberts are some of my favorite authors. I read so often I couldn’t possibly name all my favorite authors, though. Harry Potter is a favorite (J.K. Rowling is my idol), but I also adore Colleen Hoover and Jasinda Wilder. Colleen Hoover’s Slammed series is my favorite…those books made me cry. Hard. Fiction doesn’t do that to me too often. I’m not a crier (although my best friend might beg to differ). Jane Austen and Edgar Allen Poe are favorites too…oh! And I love Frankenstein. Mary Shelley also wrote my favorite short story, The Mortal Immortal.

I don’t really have a writing schedule or anything. I write when I feel like it but typically it’s early in the morning or late at night. I work at home and live with my mom, and I’m also single because I choose to be, so it frees up a lot of my time to focus on writing. I moved back home so I could save money on rent and something about living in this mountain in Estill has always driven my writing into overdrive. I schedule my work week around certain days to have off so I can write more. I never outline. Well, okay, I outline, but usually I end up not following it. I have a disorganized notebook I jot ideas down in that I never look at unless it was something really important.

Shortly before Maime, my dad’s mom, died she told me I needed to write romance (she and mom eventually started talking again). I was eighteen. Her reasoning behind it was that I was a good writer and sex always sells. I had my ups and downs with that woman, and so did my mom because of the way Maime treated her after my Dad died, but she couldn’t have given me better advice. And considering the fact I’ve read so many romance novels? Kind of a sign I should write it, don’t you think? I love writing romance since I finally decided to listen to myself and my grandmother.

I want to keep writing them. I want to touch people. An evil part of me might want to make them cry, but if my love of romance (both reading and writing it) moves someone, I feel like that is incredible. I’m moving away from fanfiction—and keep getting reviews from my readers there where they’re telling me to keep writing because they don’t care what I work on—and it’s been a hard, but good, decision.

I write a crazy amount. I just finished a 93k novel that I’m now going to soon rewrite in first person. I wrote 50,000 words this past November during NaNoWrimo (I’ve been participating since 2007). I have some of my fanfiction, All This Time (about 119k words) published along with my first novel, Cheap Guitars (a good 60k). Typically I like to write 4,000 words (if not more) a day. More if I write another chapter to a different story (and usually I do). 20/25 pages between two chapters for two different stories isn’t unusual for me.

The reason I was listing off my word counts from my work? Let’s ignore the fact that I’m a word count whore-I’ve written about 322,000 words since I started All This Time with my friend in late 2012. I can’t even begin to imagine how many pages that is (although Cheap Guitars is 240 pages, and Head Over Hoof, the story I just finished, will be about 490 pages). I was in a really bad writing rut before that, part in due to a marriage ending and the other being that I was so busy with school. I only had time to work on short stories. I truly believe that after a certain point something just clicks in a writer’s brain and then it’s hard to stop writing because it just comes so naturally (anyone who begs to differ? Go write a novel during NaNoWriMo and don’t give me any bad excuses about how you’re too busy because I managed my first one in the middle of taking 15 credit hours at EKU, having a pretty solid social life, a part time job, and the new freedom of being able to drink whenever I wanted wine since I had just turned twenty-one—keep going ‘til you hit that 50k). I tend to work on two stories at a time now and sometimes I’ll pull out two chapters for two different stories. Right now I only have Petrova Blood (All This Time sequel…gotta finish that one last one then that’s it for fanfiction) to worry about and it’s making me itchy. Since I wrote through that rut and work on more than one story a day I’ve prevented myself from having a really bad writer’s block by working on more than one project. It hinders me now if I’m only working on one story at a time.

You know, if I’m not procrastinating by knitting or playing with my rabbits. Or writing guest blog posts (haha).

And hey! Knitting isn’t just for little old ladies! I’ve knitted some beautiful stuff. And it gives my characters a hobby since I understand how it works.

Self-publishing wasn’t an easy decision to make. For the longest time I was under the impression I wanted to submit to Harlequin to get a publishing deal but then I realized how much more rewarding it would be to myself if I became my own publisher (not to mention you get far more in royalties). I think it’s changing now but some of the creative writing professors at Eastern Kentucky University frowned upon it (it doesn’t matter if they don’t think it’s a good thing; they have amazing writers teaching there nonetheless) so that was another issue I had to struggle through in order to finally talk myself into publishing.

Also sort of helps I have a fairy godmother whispering in my ear to publish (she’s an old friend of my mother’s). It was nerve-wracking, but so rewarding, and I getting ready to do it all over again. Mick (brother) won’t read my stuff, but he still snarked at me that I needed to publish, too. Well, I listened, and now I might become addicted to seeing my books on my bookshelf.

I actually should get to writing and hush.

No. Really. I’ve got Scrivener up and I’ve spent enough time babbling to people who don’t know me at all. I want to work on Cheap Tricks, my next novel in the Cheap series.

If you want to read Cheap Guitars you can find me on Amazon published under “Mara A. Miller.” Here’s the link: amzn.to/1gQn2OZ Cheap Guitars for Kindle is $2.99 and the paperback is $8.99. I’m planning to release that novel I just finished, Head Over Hoof, sometime in September or October (I have to rewrite some of it before it’ll be ready…and maybe find an editor).

Don’t make fun of the odd formatting if you get the physical copy of Cheap Guitars. I screwed up the page numbers on the physical copy (SO learned my lesson!)."