Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

You Are What You Write

It is said you are what you eat.  Well if that's true then I'm some weird mutation made of sushi, coffee, sweet tea, chocolate, and Special K protein cereal.  

But I believe we are what we write.  And I'm a nuclear medicine, Geiger-counting super mom, who can fling fiery sticks and knives into the air without blinking, and this must explain why I write thrillers.

Anyhow, your life is unique, you have lived it and it's your story. Nobody else's. You may have grown up by the ocean in a big city or perhaps you learned to fish in a small town in the mountains by a lake? You might be an amateur astronomer or an oral surgeon, or teach night school.  Or you could have the uncanny ability to whistle the Battle Hymn of the Republic while tap dancing.  

But what I'm trying to say is nobody else on earth has had the same experiences in life that you've had, and all of this plays into our outlook/voice/approach as a writer.  

Have you ever sat down and thought about the curious life experiences or talents you have?  Have any of these events wiggled their way into one of your manuscripts?  If I were a betting woman, I'd take those odds to  Vegas and bet that yes, you have written some of your own personal life experiences into your manuscripts.

If you haven't thought about this before, I double-dog dare you to dig down deep and think about your life right now.  What's unique about your background?  Are there any special skill-sets you possess?  What are your most vivid memories?  Which types of people make you irritated or mad?  What in your life has made you cry?  Have you ever witnessed injustice or endured a painful situation?  What's quirky about you?

All of these thoughts you can use to create your next manuscript, and to get you going we'll do a fun exercise that I hope can unlock some inspiration.  

Let's play "Getting To Know You"!

Tell us 3 wild and crazy facts about yourself we didn't know! Do you think these things helped turn you into the writer you are today?  How do these things influence your writing style or voice?  Have any of these deep, dark secrets made it into your manuscripts or inspired the type of character you create?

I'll get started first.  These are three wild and crazy things you didn't know about me.

1) I know how to use this device, and use it often.  As a writer, sometimes I write about unseen and deadly forces at work, which I guess, is kind of like ionizing radiation. It's all around you, but sometimes the characters don't see the danger.  But in case you're wondering, YES I will write about a character having to use this little contraption in the future, and YES it might find its way into the sequel for the manuscript I'm querying now.  Hopefully there will be a need for a sequel. 
This is a Geiger counter & I measure radiation with it.  

2)In college I used to twirl these at halftime as the featured twirler for the Univ. of Memphis.  I guess this says that in my writing I am okay with having my characters do dangerous stunts & take risks.  

Samoan knives and fire batons.  I would twirl 3 of them.
3)Also in college, I was in a few pageants.  It made my competitive nature come out even more and I loved that part.  It was fun winning scholarships, and one of the most difficult ones I competed in was a national pageant that I sadly lost, but made it into the final six. The winner was somebody you might have heard of, who was in a movie last year you also might have heard of. 

Yea, I was standing to the left of her (Roselyn Sanchez) onstage and was sort of p*ssed off.
Can I say that now after 19 yrs?  Hell yea.
I wanted to win. But then again, she was really nice & I liked her.  But I still wanted to win.  But if not me, then okay.

Looking back & thinking of my life's strange twists and turns, it's definitely no wonder I write the way I do. I've experienced love in my beautiful marriage and as a mother, have traveled (and want to do more), but I've also experienced  heartbreak, struggles, and many challenges during my forty-something years on this planet.

All of these things make us tell the stories we do, and each tale told is a part of you.  Cool, that rhymed! 

Monday, January 14, 2013

On Craft: Rise Up Writers! Take Your Reader on the Ride of Their Life!

It's time to get tough, folks.  No more whimpering about your query being rejected or that your request for the full from your dream agent went down the tubes.  It's time to write like a champ. Put on your game face.

But don't take my word for it, take the words of Samuel L. Jackson and pretend he's talking to you about your would-be writing career, and maybe in a few minutes, you'll see why I feel writing is very much like the game of football.

In our world as writers, there aren't any trophies for participation.  No contract is offered for mediocrity.  Not in our league.  Hell no.

But if you're willing to hang in there, fight for every word and chapter, you can win.

So buckle up buttercup, it's time to make it all happen.  Are you with me?

And what's winning for a writer you might ask?  Is it nailing the million dollar deal?  Or is it the chance to tell your story, the greatest story you can muster, to the world?  I'll leave that very personal answer to you.

Now let's move on and learn how we can improve our writing game, and trust me, it is very very much like a football game.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about me and how I developed this love for football.  As you know, I reside in the great state of Georgia and yesterday our N.F.L. Team, the amazing Atlanta Falcons, won a massive battle and will continue their fight for the Super Bowl title.  But here's something you might not know about me.  I've stood in the very center of the field in the Super Dome in New Orleans and performed both pre-game and halftime shows as the featured twirler for my college, and also performed  for two Saints pre-games and halftimes.  I know what it's like to hear the crowd roar and then for everything to go silent as you make your first move under the blaring lights.  I've watched many a college and two pro games from the sidelines, and I simply  I love the adrenaline rush of football and competition is in my blood.

Down south where I reside, Football is a way of life, and in fact, I'm a football mom to a fierce fourteen year old linebacker and tight-end.  That being said, I guess it's no wonder I write thrillers, because every fall during football season, I feel like I'm living smack-dab in the middle of one, because my heart leaps into my throat every time my son's team takes the field.  And for me, writing my first manuscript was much like the feeling I got when my son ran for his first touchdown last spring.  It also felt like the moment when I stood in the center of the field at the Super Dome performing for an N.F.L. halftime.  Surreal.  Was I really doing this?  Everything went quiet, and then I heard the sound of my fingers begin to pound the keyboard as I wrote the first action-packed scenes in my would-be book, and I knew I had to begin with a bang.  Or as my critique partners know all too well, it would instead begin with the threat of a bang and a few shots of scotch.

And yesterday's game made me love the sport of football even more, as a nail-biter for the ages unfolded before my eyes.  A clash of two titan-like teams took the field in Atlanta, but there would only emerge one victor.

Now I can imagine you're reading this post right now and shaking your head thinking,  "How the heck is she going to be able to pull off comparing football to novel writing?"  Well, bear with me and read on,  as I hope this post will inspire you to realize that the plot we weave is just like the game, and that our readers are like the fans in the stadiums, and we as writers, are the coach calling those plays.

So when beginning our manuscripts, we need to make the plot leap onto the pages with intrigue and action.  Kind of like this video from the game on Sunday.  Incidentally, my hubs & son were there, and they loved how it all began. There was plenty of swagger, hype, and cool flames shot up into the air as the starting lineup was announced.  This my friend, is your chapter one.  You hook the reader and bring them into the game.  It is your first challenge.

Next comes the meat of the story, and we try to make our characters become real to our readers and we present and set up the conflict,  then strategically place stumbling blocks in front of our protagonists so they're challenged at every turn.  Although sometimes it's okay to give our readers a few nice, happy, short scenes to lull them into feeling false security, we must remember our job as writers to not let them sit too long in their happy place, and start throwing those  challenges and dangers right back at the characters all over again.

And as our characters march forward towards the end, they find themselves up against their greatest challenge yet, and they meet the villain head-on and take their last stand.

How can you do this strategically?  Easy-peasy.  Make it seem all is lost for them, and then when you can't possibly think it's possible, you allow the characters to summon from within an inner strength or hand them the perfect weapon so they can beat the bad guy or win the girl in the end.  This concept works great for thrillers, romances, and just about every genre, if you think about it.

In fact, it's just like this next clip below, where we watch the last few seconds of the game.  As the clip begins, we see the Atlanta fans in the stadium in a state of almost disbelief as their team is losing with only mere seconds left in the game.  The quest for the Big Ring is over.  All is lost.  Or is it?

The spectators are eerily quiet (which is a rarity at the Georgia Dome) and subdued.  Their gridiron heroes aren't going to make it.  But suddenly, out of nowhere, Tony Gonzalez intercepts the ball and turns it all around, and time stands still as Matt Bryant kicks a Hail-Mary field goal.

In those tense milliseconds from when the ball was kicked until it soared through the goalposts we waited.  Our hearts in our throats.  Would we score or would we lose?  It was all or nothing.

Wouldn't it be awesome to let our readers experience that same kind of rush?

Now my dear hubs & son were at the game, but I watched this drama unfold from home and I was glued to the television holding my breath with crossed fingers in those last seconds.

I bit my lower lip watching the kick, then the milliseconds of silence, and then jumped with joy and screaming myself along with millions.  

In these next two clips, the fan reaction is universal to the excitement that unfolded in these last crucial seconds.  You see the Georgia Dome, and then the reaction at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and then at a neighborhood bar in Buckhead.  Even in my quiet little piece of suburbia, horns began to honk and celebratory fireworks were shot into the air.

But then something curious happened after the game as Falcons fans everywhere had to sit down and catch their breath.  As a medical chick, I know for a fact as my heart rate went through the roof.  With such a wild ride at the end, our emotions had run high.  I actually began to cry after watching this clip of the amazing Tony Gonzalez who was overcome with emotion and was crying with joy after his hard-fought win.

We all had to have that moment of emotional release, where our pulse would slow down and perhaps a tear fell from the corner of our eyes.  For me it came, and you know what?  It felt good.  We need to give this to our readers at the end of our story.  That fantastic, intangible emotional release.

So let's sum up this lengthy post down into a few easy steps.

How to take your readers on a wild ride:

1) Our readers want to see the excitement and tension build. You can make the feelings build slowly, or you can pile it on.  It's up to you and is dependent upon the pacing of the book and your specific plot. Make it good, make it believable.  And remember from my earlier posts to you, that making everything believable is key.

2)Throw stumbling blocks in front of your protagonists.  Make them sweat bullets as the story unfolds, and if you can make the action and plot seem real enough, the reader will be sweating right along with them. 

3)And then when it seems all is lost for our poor main characters, we give them the chance for that Hail-Mary pass or kick, and the day is saved.

4)Bring your readers to a fulfilling emotional close at the end of our manuscript and even if it's a sequel and has a cliffhanger type ending, still allow for that moment of resolution. Allow for reflective moments about the plot.  Make readers think about the story they've invested so many hours in reading.  Give your story a deeper meaning and heartfelt emotion at this most critical point and they'll be yearning for more.

Again, like football, we want our readers to be like the fans in the stadium on any given Sunday.  Sometimes they'll stand up and cheer, other times they'll hold their breaths after a decisive play, but sometimes they will be weeping with either sadness or joy after looking at the scoreboard.

As for me, I envision my readers standing and cheering at the end of the book, then hope they experience a deep emotional resolution after the action ends.

In closing this is all I have to say.  The post has been too damned long already.  So what are you waiting for?  You've been pounding on the doors, waiting for your chance. But we know what Soul & Sweet Tea Writers do when faced with a great challenge, don't we?  What do we do?  We rise up!

Now get going.  You've got a manuscript to finish.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

On Craft: Making the Impossible Quite Possible!

Writing wisdom is much like the bacon-y goodness in the photo above, 
in that we should take the advice we need.  I hope the concept of "info-faux-mation
discussed in my post will help you improve your writing.

"Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist, you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it."~Hunter S. Thompson

Happy New Year y'all and welcome back to the grind.  The sparkly lights and glittery ornaments, which diverted our attention away from our mansucripts,  are now packed away along with the other holiday decorations, so there's nothing to keep us from finishing our manuscripts in the new year.  

And today I'm going to teach you a little trick that some of the better Thriller and Syfy authors and screenwriters cleverly place in their works in order to get you to keep watching the flick or flipping pages, and I even have my own crafty name for it ~ "Info-faux-mation".

You might be asking, what the heck is it, so let me illustrate the concept for you in a few short paragraphs and through the use of another vintage James Bond clip. 

Info-faux-mation is the insertion of fake information into a well-known or widely-accepted thought or scientific fact that allows your villain or hero(heroine) to be able to create the wildest of inventions, whether it's a virus that will kill off every human on the planet, or a secret flower growing in the Amazon that can cure cancer, or a new weapons system that will defend our planet against alien invaders.  Or it could be a plot similar to this photo below.  

Could a giant shark attack an Olympic swimmer?  Perhaps, if the story is engineered to be believable.

I touched on this concept a few posts ago, and believe that just the right amount of info-faux-mation woven into your plot is what will keep people glued to their seats in a movie versus running to the theater manager and demanding their money back.  Info-faux-mation is what makes us believe that crazy plan could work.

Now as many of you know, I'm a huge James Bond fan, and one day, this writer-slash-fangirl has a secret dream of becoming the first female to write a Bond book.  Crazy yes, but we all have our diabolical little plans, don't we?  Anyhow, using this classic clip from "The Man With the Golden Gun" (1974) we have a perfect example of the insertion of info-faux-mation into an important scene.  I hope you enjoy it!  It's campy fun, and begins when Bond flies to the bad guy's  tropical island paradise and is greeted by the evil mini-henchman Nick Nack (also known to many as Tattoo from Fantasy Island and yes, it's spelled like that).  After the bottle of champagne is cleverly "popped", he meets the Man with the Golden Gun,  Francisco Scaramanga.  

By the way, you get a bonus point if you figure out why I think this villain has the  

Anyhow, what I want you to do is pretend it's 1974 and you are sitting in the movie theater wearing your leisure suit or  polyester color-block dress and go-go boots and are munching on popcorn while watching this movie for the first time.  How do you feel when you hear the villain tell 007 that his super-weapon, the solex,  is based on the concept of solar power? Do you think audiences back in the day would be totally mesmerized by this evil scheme?  Granted with today's technology,  everything from the "homing system" (a primitive form of g.p.s.) in the seaplane to the gargantuan computers in the evil control room are considered antiquities, but  try to remember when watching that back in 1974, all of this was considered cutting-edge.  

But what would have glued the audience to their seats in 1974 was the whole solar-powered energy concept of the super-secret evil weapon, and that would be because the United States was right in the middle of an energy crisis.

The whole meshing together of the country's energy crisis and the smattering of known science with regard to solar power, gives a  touch of credibility to the scene where Scaramanga unveils his evil plan.  

Side note:  Don't you love it when the villain pontificates in a lengthy description of how they are going to rule/blow up/scam money from all of the world's governments?  I sure do.

You can bet the screenwriters back in the day did their homework studying up on the science of solar power before writing this scene to give it a touch of realism, and that's exactly what we as writers must do for our plots when we create the fantastic.  

Now sit back and relax and enjoy this fun clip from "The Man With the Golden Gun".

Here's the formula they must have used to create the diabolical plot.

Massive energy crisis  + science of solar power + addition of evil weapon = fearful and somehow believable plot.

Now here's how I go about successfully inserting "Info-faux-mation" into my writing :

1)Dream up your amazing new idea/weapon/microbe/whatnot that is going to be integral in your plot.  
2)Whatever science it's based upon, do your research.  Study up on the principle upon which your item is based.
3)Find supporting facts that *could* be useful and apply that known science or theory to your invention and run with it in the plot.
4)Pick the right moment to unveil this new device and use good dialogue and action to make it all feel real and very believable.

What scenes from either a movie or a t.v. series do a great job of incorporating info-faux-mation into the plot?  What are your favorite examples?  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Writer's Resolutions for 2013

So what's on your writing agenda this year?

Okay, so I actually have a few writing resolutions for 2013.  Have you wracked your brain trying to come up with some too?  Try not to chuckle too hard reading mine if you will, but I intend to try to keep these going throughout the year.

My Writing Resolutions for 2013

1. Finish one more manuscript this year, but preferably two.  Props in advance to my patient c.p.'s. I tip my red Margaritaville baseball cap to you both.  You know who you are.
2.Try to keep my goals from nanowrimo, which is 1,500 words per day.  Minimum.  For either critiquing and re-reading my work or in new writing.  It's a lofty goal, but I'd love to do one chap a day when in new writing mode.
3.Paint my nails in shades with titles that inspire action or thrilling adventures. My latest shade and first of 2013 is "Casino Royale" by O.P.I.  Damn good movie.
Casino Royale-see resolution numero tres!

4.Try more iced green tea.  Keeps the writing going, even at late hours.
5.If I come across a word I haven't read before (which is rare), I shall immediately look it up to find out what it means.  Expanding vocabulary is good.  Dispels the old dog-new tricks myth.
6.When I'm stuck in a stalemate, I immediately will stop writing, and seek new inspiration or go for a run/walk, or do something else.  This was one thing I didn't do last year that became a sucking black hole with regard to making my time writing count.  As I've learned the hard way, writing cannot be forced, it must flow and when you've lost the flow, it's time to step back and go...go do something else until your mojo returns.  Then go back and write like mad.
7.Support other writers and read their blogs.  You might learn something new.  Or gain inspiration.  Or join a site (I adore !)  A.Q.C. is the bomb!  Met great writers who are now friends from around the world.  
8. Keep my membership in writer's groups & attend functions.  I joined the Georgia Writers Association and also International Thriller Writers.  Camraderie is good.
9.Attend another writer's convention.  Or two!  I attended two and can attest it truly upped my abilities.  Props to the Georgia Writers Red Clay Convention which was totally craft-oriented and also to the amazing and truly inspirational Killer Nashville, a convention for thriller writers.
10.To have a "killer" theme song if you will.  Ally McBeal had one which would always pull her out of a slump, so therefore I need one too.  Here's my thriller writer theme song for 2013! Feel down? Then boogie down.
The funk-tastic Robert Randolph & the Family Band's "Thrill of It"! 
Their music always makes me smile.

So what are your writer resolutions for 2013?  What do you want to do this year that you didn't do in 2012 (maybe besides get agent-ed or sell that m.s. for a bazillion bucks or become the new 0.99 cent millionaire on Amazon)? Let's hear from you and happy new year!