Tag Archives: writing

It’s All Too Much

Three years ago, I signed up to have my trilogy “traditionally” published.

Not traditionally as in one of the major, well-known publishing houses but a small press publisher who, at the time, only had a couple other authors on their roster, not counting those who had submitted short stories for their anthologies, which were actually the flagstone of their business. The executives of this press had been privy to the creation of my story and characters and felt like I was creating something they wanted to represent.

Fast forward three years and I haven’t finished a thing since the third book in that trilogy. I can’t. I just keep getting in my own way, criticizing the original trilogy, trying to find opportunities for improvement. As a result, I have compiled quite a wish list of things I want from and included in this next book [series].

  • More humor but also more darkness for contrast
  • Better mystery/better clues
  • Higher stakes for all characters
  • Tighter story telling

And the thing is none of these things were a concern of mine until publishing this trilogy. And it’s not even because someone criticized what I had already written. No one has told me my trilogy is bad. No one has said I should have done this or should have done that. No one has said much of anything, actually, and maybe that’s the problem.

Whatever it is, is paralyzing. I can’t write because I have set up too many hurdles for myself to jump, to many mountains to conquer. I am so accustomed to writing a publication-ready (though it could be better) draft on the first go that I don’t know how not to. And not knowing how to jump all these hurdles—without tripping—on the first go has made it impossible to even approach the starting line.


Can We Talk About the Shark in the Room?

I grew up with the original Magnum, P.I., in the 80s. So, of course I had to try the “reboot.”

And I have enjoyed it. I was disappointed to hear CBS had cancelled it and excited when NBC decided to give it a fighting chance.

But now, there is talk of a romance between the titular Magnum and his . . . Well, Higgins has a lot of titles. She is his property manager, his employer, and his business partner.

And apparently, soon to be romantic partner.

Unfortunately, this is a common “logical progression” in character development, both in television and books, and often done poorly.

The one that stands out most clearly in my memories is Booth and Brennan/Bones. Their character interactions were built around an unrequited sexual tension. And when that was quelled, and they inevitably coupled (then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage) to the detriment of the entire show.

Booth and Bones was the worst for me, I think. I greatly enjoyed the show before the writers (and maybe fans) started pushing the coupling issue and then there was schmalz and goo and overprotective husbanding, and it became too much to watch. Their new chapter was the beginning of the end for me.

And a lot of other people, from what I’ve heard.

And I am afraid that level of campy, overwrought goo will be next on the agenda for Magnum and Higgins, which upsets me.

I think this is also at the root of my hesitation to read the next book in one of my favorite series. After fifteen books, the author decided to mash the main character into a coupling with the only permanently available and age-appropriate woman in his orbit.

This is a pairing I’ve expected from early on and to be honest, dreaded. I didn’t mind him with other women or her with other men but together they are terrible. And it has made me not want to read the next book. And I hate that it has made me not want to read the next book.

While I may be in the minority, I can easily say the fastest way to get me to lose interest in any fictional media is to shoehorn in a romance where it doesn’t belong. I am a little more accepting if the characters have good chemistry but even then, I’m a pretty hard sell. You have to really earn my trust in that department. And the longer you keep them apart before pushing them together, the less I am going to like the results.

Jumping the Shark

I have had a book sitting on the sofa next to me for . . . more than a year. It is the last (so far) in a series I have loved for years, probably more than a decade. I have obsessed over these books, these characters, the stories of their lives, waiting impatiently for the next release.

Now, I have it and I don’t want to read it.

Not because it is the end (it’s not, I don’t think) but because the book before presented me with something incomprehensible. Something I have dreaded for several books leading up to this.

In media, the term is jumping the shark. This refers, literally, to a scene in the show Happy Days where Fonzi, the unofficial star of the show, literally jumps over a shark tank on his motorcycle. Looking back on that stunt now, critics and fans alike share the notion that was the beginning of the end for the show. It was never the same after that.

In the years to follow, that moment has taken on a life of its own and instead of referring to that one specific moment in the life of one specific show, it now refers to the moment any show begins its decline toward the end.

It is not used to talk about book series in the same way, but I posit that is because there are far fewer book series that continue on as long as a show like Happy Days (10 years, 11 seasons, 255 episodes) or that cover a similar span of time. Also, book series have a far narrower reach in audience. While a half-hour television show is easily accessible—and even more so then, before we had hundreds of channels providing hundreds of options for every timeslot—a book series, especially at the tenth, twelfth, fourteenth book, is only reaching its own fans, people who may be more likely to overlook the moments the plot takes a downward turn.

Today, jumping the shark, or the jump the shark moment, in media can refer to a lot of things but some red flags are bigger and redder than others:

New baby—Sometimes this is an actual new baby. The central couple (the parents of a family show) have teen or young adult children who have grown up on the show and then *WHOOPS!* mom is pregnant at 45! Other times it’s an adoption or a cousin comes to live with the family. Occasionally, it is when a member of the family who was an infant/toddler in the beginning, with minimal screen time and no contribution to dialog, suddenly starts stringing together sentences and adopts their own catch phrase.

New adult—Sometimes the new baby is a new adult. A long-lost sibling, an estranged parent looking to make amends. These additions can go one of two ways. Well, three, really, if you count writing them off the show as an option. They can blend in with the rest of the cast seamlessly and the show marches on without a hiccup. Or, for the purposes of this argument, they can throw off the entire ecosystem through bad chemistry, leading to the slow demise of the show.

Resolving unresolved sexual tension—This is another one that could go one of two ways. Typically, when a primary driving force of a show is unresolved sexual tension between two characters, the will they or won’t they, “why don’t you just screw and get it over with” sentiment, resolving that tension leads to discomfort for all involved, but mostly the viewers (readers). Sometimes they do and move on. Awkwardness abounds for an episode and then life goes back to normal. Unfortunately, this is more typical of secondary and side characters. Main characters, on the other hand, tend to become A Couple, with pet names and stolen glances, smooches when they think no one is looking, acting guilty when they find out someone was looking.

This is my least favorite of the jump the shark moments. Possibly because I don’t love romance and am terribly picky about what I do like. And gooey smooshy romance is not my cup of tea.

To the end that I am dragging my feet on reading the next book in this series that was once my favorite but resolving the unresolved tension between two main characters has given me a reason to cringe. I kind of hate it.

If you want to read more of my thoughts on tropes and writing

Measuring Success

“How do you define ‘success’?”

This is something everyone should take the time to consider, and reconsider because it will change. But it’s an especially important question for anyone trying to blaze their own trail. Authors, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs . . . all need to evaluate and re-evaluate our definition of success in order to ensure we are still working toward it.

For me, it is comfort. The ability to do things without worrying about them.

I happened to be visiting Denver at the time of the first game of the NHL Western Conference finals between the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers. I gave a moment’s worth of serious consideration to buying tickets, only to be sidelined by the price.

Success in my art would mean avoiding those moments. In most cases, I prioritize experiences over possessions and that opportunity to experience a playoff game on the home ice is one I may not get again. I want to be able to see those opportunities and take them, without hesitation.

One of my dearest friends is getting married in California in September. When she first announced her engagement (with a ceremony planned for 2020), I didn’t think anything would keep me from helping her celebrate. Now there is too much standing in the way. Success would mean not having to make that choice.

Success, for me, is not “all about money;” it is, however, about having the financial freedom to gain the experiences.

What about you? What does success mean to you?

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Addressing the Booktok Controversy: Returning Books

In recent weeks, the hot button topic of conversation has been readers returning books to Amazon for a full refund, after they have read the whole book. Now, up until a few days ago, this was simply a conversation I felt was accomplishing nothing but elevated blood pressure.

It is not as if the people manipulating the system are poor and can’t afford to buy the books they want. Not to generalize but people living in poverty know how to budget for things they want, they don’t steal unless it’s a necessity for survival (if you see someone shoplifting bread, eggs, or milk, no you didn’t), they don’t do things to pull other people down.

The majority of the questionable morals belong to the middle and upper middle class, or upper class, who don’t believe they should have to pay for luxury items, like books. They believe they are above the law and entitled to free things.

I don’t know where these attitudes come from, but they don’t belong to people with whom authors can reason. For the most part, these authors are expending a tremendous amount of energy and time begging and pleading with these system manipulators, hoping they can impart some kind of terrific philosophical wisdom and make them see the errors of their ways.

Frankly, I think it’s a waste of time and blood pressure.

But now, someone has taken a step that may actually head the conversation in the right direction–a petition to Amazon to change their policies. Do I think it will work? Not necessarily but it’s better than begging people who don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong to stop doing it. That said, if you would like to sign the petition, here is the link.

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Trigger Warning: Talk about Trigger Warnings

Following through on my promise to hash out the drama of TikTok and Booktok, let’s take a quick look at trigger warnings.

The problem is–at its root–one of semantics.

While some people are, in fact, asking for trigger warnings, most readers should be asking for content warnings, and I think that’s what is causing the rift between readers and authors–and simply between authors.

The difference is that content warnings address sensitive material that people commonly find sensitive. Content warnings are the blurbs you see at the beginning of primetime television–The following program contains subjects that may not be suitable for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised–and on movie trailers–This feature has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America.

These ratings and warnings are often accompanied by broad but vague bullet points: sexual situations, suggestive/harsh language, violence, fantasy violence, gore, bullying, self-harm, animal death . . . It is a list of subjects in the movie or television show that have been agreed upon by a wide variety of people as having an adverse effect on a large portion of the population.

Triggers, on the other hand, are neither broad, nor vague, and it is nearly impossible to address all potential triggers in a work of media. Triggers are sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations that bring to the surface negative physiological responses in connection to a person’s lived experiences. Fireworks are a triggering event for many military veterans who served in active combat. Raised voices can be a trigger for survivors of domestic violence.

I use my own triggers as an example.

Snakes, basketball, and Pearl Jam’s Ten.

I hide images of snakes on my social media. I don’t like them. I had what I believe now to have been a night terror as a child where I was surrounded by snakes (think Indiana Jones) but when I woke up, they were still there, covering my bedroom floor and I couldn’t do anything but scream for help.

Several years later, my cat found a nest of garter snakes and joyfully brought them into the house, one by one, and laid them proudly at my feet. To say I was paralyzed in fear would be melodramatic and 100% true.

I have not watched a basketball game in 20 years. I associate some of my worst experiences with bullying–by peers and adults–with basketball. I had teammates throw the ball at my face (in youth league/peewees and in middle school). I had coaches actively single me out, even when we weren’t playing competitively, and make me shoot free throws until I made one (while everyone else sat and watched). As a cheerleader for a school with no respect for cheerleaders, basketball season was excruciating. Now, just watching basketball on television makes me anxious.

I am in the process of figuring out what happened in my past between a “friend” and me and Pearl Jam’s Ten album plays a fairly big part in that historical reconstruction.

But those things don’t trigger negative responses in most people.

Maybe the snakes but I have yet to see them added to any of these lists.

The point is that we absolutely can–and should–add content warnings to media, but we need to call them what they are and not try to predict and address every single reader’s individual triggers.

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I Write for People to Read

I write for people to read.

I don’t know if it’s the extroverted side of me coming out through my creativity, but I never understood the point of writing something you never intended anyone else to read.

Naturally, there might be people I don’t want to see something or an appropriate time for something to be read. Not everyone gets to read first and second drafts. I’m not super excited about my conservative boomer family or conservative Gen-X co-workers reading my trilogy about condemned souls that has been generously seasoned with spice and F-bombs.

I also understand, once something is published, there’s really not a lot I can do to stop those people from getting their hands on it.

But at the same time, I never kept a diary when I was the age to keep a diary. I was fairly guarded with my words because I was a teenager and teenagers are guarded with everything, but I still didn’t write anything I didn’t expect someone would some day read.

Even in my thirteen-year-old brain, I was sure my summer scribblings would one day be on the library shelves.

But I am an extrovert. I struggle with the execution, but I love (the idea of) getting acquainted with people. I love sharing bits of myself, I love learning bits about other people. I’ve always been a little awkward doing those things in the meat space and find it much easier to communicate through written words but that no one said extroverts couldn’t be paralyzingly awkward.

And my writing is a bit of myself. It’s something I have done my whole life. I’ve never known any time when I wasn’t telling stories. I probably even told stories in baby gibberish.

I want people to read my stories.

Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, all of it. I put it out into the world with the hope someone will read it and enjoy it.

Sometimes, I’ll write something, just dump words out of my brain, and send it to my sister, asking where I would find the best audience for the thing. Should I capitalize on this thing by posting it to Vocal? Is it more suited to the blog? Where should I put this? Sometimes she’ll tell me. Sometimes I think she thinks I’m overthinking.

Most of the time, I know where something belongs.

That doesn’t always mean anyone reads it.

And therein lies my biggest struggle.

I am willing to share the words. I don’t see the point in not sharing the words. But I feel like so few of the words ever get seen.

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Crafting Realistic Dialog

I’ve never set out to instruct other writers on their craft. I worked as a writing tutor in university, helping other students become better writers (or just craft better essays), and through that experience, I learned that teaching was not for me.

But recently, I’ve been trying to find new ways to make writing a consistent thing which I can use to pay some bills and it seems like sharing my tools and tricks–and, I hesitate to say, expertise–with the masses of aspiring authors is a valid path toward that goal.

To that end, I offer you my thoughts on dialog.

I hate writing dialog. Let’s get that out of the way before we go any further. I love writing action scenes–fight scenes, sex scenes, doesn’t matter as long as it’s moving–but dialog bores me to tears.

Dialog is also one of the things about my writing on which I receive the most compliments. That it is so realistic and believable. That it is engaging and entertaining.

So, in order to share how I write dialog that elicits that kind of praise, I have to take a step back and figure out what really goes into a conversation.

Perhaps it stems from my own real life experiences.

I am not a small talk kind of girl. As an NFJ personality type with ADHD, I am far more interested in the mysteries of the universe than the mundanity of idle chit-chat. Got a story to tell? Jump in with both feet. Preface with, “Girrrrrrrl, you won’t BELIEVE what happened to me today,” and swim for the bottom.

And that comes through in my writing as well.

One of the most common bits of advice given on the topic of writing dialog is to skip the pleasantries. Yes, ten minutes of hello, hello, how are you, I am well, how are you is real life but it’s B O R I N G. Just typing it out was boring, imagine finding it within the pages of what should be a riveting page-turner.*

Instead, start conversations in the middle.

Seeing the caller ID name flash on my screen, I slid the green dot to the right and lifted the phone to my ear.
Sam started talking, almost before the call had fully connected. “I’m going to kill him. I’m going to pull his still-beating heart out through his nose with a coat hanger.”
“I gather the conversation went well?”

Another aspect of my dialog is I don’t always give readers what they are expecting. The expected answer to “how are you today?” is “fine, thank you.” So? Don’t do that.

Sheila rounded the corner of the island counter to find Jamie seated on the floor, legs crossed beneath his body, licking peanut butter from a spoon. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Have you ever considered the ramifications regarding the size differences between gummy bears and gummy worms? The gummy universe must be a terrifying place.”
“For the bears, anyway,” Sheila replied, grabbing a spoon of her own and joining Jamie on the floor.

Answering a question with a question is a good way to draw out the conversation without drawing out the conversation. Answering a question with a question means neither person is going to get an answer to their own question, at least, not right away.

There is probably a lot more I could say but the truth is, I don’t really know how to tell you to write dialog the way I write dialog. Like I said before, it is one of my least favorite things about writing. But I think my best advice is grab a couple of close friends and a bottle of cheap wine and go sit under the stars. Then pay attention to how you talk to each other when you don’t have to muck around with niceties and small talk. Because I honestly think that’s where a lot of this comes from.

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Award-Winning Author

I am an award-winning author.

What does that really mean, though? How long can I milk it? Does it have a shelf-life?

I earned the title, the first time, in 1992. I was 12 years old when I won my first poetry contest. It was sponsored by the D.A.R.E. program and open to middle school students in three states. And out of some ten thousand students, I came out on top. I got four tickets to a Colorado Rockies game of my choice and a suite at the Marriot in downtown Denver.

As a senior in high school, it was mandatory for everyone on the newspaper staff to enter a story in a contest run by the local college newspaper. I earned first place for a sports writing story.

The anthology that introduced the world to Fia Drake won first prize in the Feathered Quill Book Awards for 2019.

My publisher, the same publisher responsible for that anthology, wants to be able to add accolades to all of the titles under their umbrella. So they are encouraging me to enter Fia in other contests.

The thing is, I don’t care.

I care that they want that to be part of their reputation but I don’t care enough to do it myself. It is part of my contract that they will pay the entry fees for two contests; all others are at my cost.

I’m looking, casually, at awards contests where I think I could be successful but only casually because it is important to my publisher. And as a result, I have come up with a kind of wishlist for contests.

  • Voted on by readers (read also: would someone please enter me in the Goodreads award)
  • Favor given to indie or small press authors
  • Low entry fee or entry fee that goes toward prizes

Actually, that’s really it. But even with that being the extent of my list, I am struggling to find anything that meets my criteria. I don’t even care if it hits all three, but I would prefer it be voted on by readers instead of a panel of judgey judges.

Anyway, I guess this is all to say, if you find a contest that fits what I’m looking for, drop it in the comments. I’m hitting a wall here.

Starving Artists

Some days I feel like those singers they used to feature on American Idol. The ones who had been told their whole lives they had the “voice of an angel,” but when the angel sang it sounded like a wounded cat.

Except with writing instead of singing.

I read through these elegantly-crafted blogs and even just social media posts and I question whether I am capable of conveying emotions and meaning in the same way. I have been writing, professionally, for twenty years, casually for thirty-five. But there are still moments when I feel like I no longer control the words in my mind. I can no longer guide them to the page in the ways I once did.

I have never wanted anything more than to entertain people with my work, to give them an escape from the mundanity of their everyday lives. But then I hear people talking about books they have read, emoting over the prose, choking back tears at the beauty of the story, the tragedy of the characters, and I don’t believe I am capable of eliciting such a response.

I see other authors gushing their gratitude over the number of books they have sold solely to their Booktok community or their Bookstagram community and I doubt the potential for that to be me. Because I am not writing books that touch people’s souls or change their lives. I never wanted to. But is that the reason I feel like I am back in the third, fourth, fifth grades, listening to my teachers tell my parents, “She’s just not living up to her full potential.”

But, is this my potential? Am I only meant to watch from the outside while others succeed at the dreams I have had, both consciously and unconsciously, from before I even started school?

Without even knowing what was happening, I grew up in a generation compelled to create. Previous generations have all given birth to creative compulsives, this is not new. But somehow the Xennial/Millennial generation has reared ourselves flying a bold middle finger at convention. We saw futures as starving artists and said yes, please. We are bringing back the concept of “patron of the arts,” in the form of crowdfunding, pay what you want models, and subscription services. We are figuring out ways to forge our paths while bucking convention. We have chosen to be hungry and homeless in favor of creation, in hopes of one day “making it” with our Etsy shops and our Bandcamps.

And for some, it’s working.

Just not for me.