The Faces of the Crying Girl: Fiction (With a piece by yours truly)

April 20, 2015 at 6:15 pm (Book Review, Promo, writing) (, , , )

Back in February, Alex Nader posted about submissions for an anthology he was putting together, with proceeds going to a literary charity. The word limits? Anywhere from 500 to 5000. I figured it was worth a try. I finished my super short piece over a couple days, and sent it in. It grew over the course of edits, and the day has come for the anthology to be released!

Goodreads info: The Faces of the Crying Girl

The Faces of the Crying Girl

You can buy the ebook here at Amazon and the proceeds are going to Worldreader. I’m excited to be a part of this!

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Creating a Synopsis (Guest Post by Harry Connolly)

February 11, 2015 at 8:26 pm (writing) (, )

Everyone Hates Writing A Synopsis

And rightfully so. They are the least fun part of writing. I’d rather stand over my printer, begging it to do the one job I bought it for, than write a synopsis.

But they’re required, so I’ve done it. I have a little method, too.

Nowadays, when I write a synopsis, it’s for my agent to share with editors (or if we’re not at the submission stage, to read over while she slowly inhales through her clenched teeth). But a few years ago, when I was searching for agents, I looked at all their different guidelines with dismay. Some wanted a ten-page synopsis. Some wanted five. Some two. A custom synopsis wasn’t something I could just type up. It needed care and time, and I didn’t think I could do artisinal book summaries.

So I decided that I was going to flout the guidelines and create a single synopsis for everyone.

I didn’t make that decision lightly. One of the simplest ways to get rejected is to act like guidelines don’t matter. The agent asks for a query only, no sample pages? Send some anyway! The agent wants the first ten pages of the story? Send the whole book! The agent wants the first three chapters? Send a link to the website where the book has been posted in green text on a black background!

But for those who wanted a synopsis of some kind, I figured there would be flexibility in the length, and I was right. I decided I was only going to write two pages, on the assumption that the more I left out, the fewer reasons people would have to say no. Also, this method isn’t just for authors looking for representation. I still use it to create selling documents for my agent to send to publishers.

Note: this method is designed to work for books with a single protagonist. Using it for multiple protagonists will require some adaptation. I’ll get into more detail at the end.

There are only four steps, and they’re not particularly difficult although they do take a little time. Before I begin, I want to briefly establish what the synopsis is actually for.

Imagine someone sends you a story about a quirky family living in an old house in a charming little town. They’re doing their best to preserve the legacy that the house and the land represents, and there’s a large cast of unique characters, including a Hunky New Arrival who’s making eyes at the eldest daughter.

Then, after two hundred and fifty pages, aliens invade. Can the family (and Hunky) save their home from marauding space robots?

Basically, the synopsis is there to make sure the story doesn’t go off the rails and waste everyone’s time.

So: four steps for a solid single-protagonist synopsis, according to me:

1) Write down three sentences about your protagonist. First, what they’re like when the story starts. Second, what they’re like at the very end. Third, an important midpoint transformation.

The first sentence goes in the middle of page one. (Since it’s a synopsis, the top half of the first page will be taken up by the title, your name, and lots of white space—this two-pager is really only a page and a half.) The second sentence goes at the bottom of page two, the end of the synopsis. The third sentence should appear somewhere near the top of page two.

That establishes the protagonist’s arc and acts as a framework for synopsis as a whole.

2) Write out the events of the book, briefly, to join together those three sentences, but describe everything in terms of how the protagonist feels about them. Rather than write “Bob asks Susan for a divorce.” you’d write “Susan is overjoyed when Bob asks for a divorce.” Describe everything in terms of how they affect the protagonist.

3) Cut back. It really is best to make it short and sweet, if you can. Authors are very close to their work and often think individual plot points have to be included in detail rather than just summarized. After all, that thing with Gandalf and the balrog is crucial, right? Crucial.

The best way to trim back a synopsis is not to look for what’s necessary, it’s to figure out what isn’t. Find the one thing that is least important, and cut that one thing. Don’t look at it holistically, and don’t try to prioritize everything. Just find one thing you feel you should cut, then find one more, then one more.

I do this all the time for myself and my son. If I can’t make a decision between five or six choices, it’s usually easier to pick the least essential than the most.

4) Avoid “icebergs.” An iceberg shows a little of itself above the surface, but suggests something really huge underneath that you can’t see. Also, it can wreck you.

Say there’s a place in your synopsis that reads something like: “Then Colette transformed herself into radio waves to plead for assistance from the EM Parliament of Spongiform Vampires” the reader is going to stop right there and think where the hell did that come from? It’s just a few words on the page, but beneath that sentence is a whole lot of plot, world-building, and exposition that the reader is going to need.

And it’s not just sffnal story elements that will bump a reader; any line that encapsulates large amounts of detail without a setup can do it. The choice becomes a question of whether to cut it (do we really need to know that the protagonist has an uncle who’s a cop?) or set it up elegantly in a previous paragraph (which makes the synopsis longer). I usually find the former is a better choice.

That’s it. Four things.

The last thing to remember is this: there’s a difference between a synopsis you use to sell a book to a publishing professional and one you create for readers. The pros want to be spoiled because of potential alien invasions, so you absolutely should include the ending. Readers want to be intrigued without having the whole book spoiled, so you should only include the setup and the kickoff to the story, with a suggestion of the final stakes.

Taking this advice won’t make writing a synopsis easy, but it does provide concrete steps beyond “describe the book.” As for adapting it to a multi-protagonist story, there are several options: You could put the focus on one character (“The story follows several characters, but the main one is a Mr. Frodo Baggins, a hobbit* from the Shire”). Alternately, you can hang that three sentence structure on something that isn’t a single character: a nation, a war, a heist, whatever.

*Iceberg!

Curious to see an example of a synopsis that’s aimed at the reader, rather than a publisher? Well just slide your eyes over the image below…

The Way Into Chaos Cover

What a gorgeous cover!

And click on this link to see the synopsis for the first book in my new trilogy along with other pertinent information. Kat Richardson called it “Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller” and Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review. You can read the sample chapters I’ve posted on my blog.

I’m curious to see how many people read that link and then go on to buy the book.

Good luck with your synopses.

BIO: Harry Connolly’s debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it’s the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

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I Used to Write

February 6, 2014 at 6:42 am (writing)

I used to write. I’m writing now even, if this counts, while sitting on a bus, hoping to regain some of the heat lost to treacherous cold.

I used to write a lot, and I used to write often. That doesn’t happen anymore. There are a lot of reasons for this. I used to be a student, living at home, only working in the summers. If I wasn’t with my friends (though sometimes even then we were writing, stories or D&D sessions), then we were on the computer, playing MUDs or writing posts for a plethora of RPGs we belong to. Star Wars, the Wheel of Time, ones in worlds of my own creation (with far more world building than we ever needed). There were not a lot of things to get in the way. Now?

Responsibilities (and weather/stress induced headaches that result in my bus trip writing time turning into nap time, but that’s another story). For me, writing has always been a leisure activity and my brain is wired in such a way that I feel bad doing a leisure activity when I can think of any responsibilities I should be fulfilling.

I know I could never be a full time writer. As an emotive writer (a term I’ve heard Tee Morris use that I like much better than “pantser” because why would pants be involved in writing when we strive so much to be without them!) I rarely know where I’m headed in a story or how I’m getting there. There are dozens of unfinished stories laying around because my idea ran out of substance. Outlines are beyond me, at least at this point. I’ve tried and failed, but will try again. Someday.

Being an emotive writer means things take longer, at least from my view. (YMMV, as they say.) There’s a lot of fiddling around trying to find a path in the dark. Days go by without any new words because I haven’t discovered the right footing. Since I don’t know what lies ahead, I can’t skip and do a later scene then come back. This stretched timing was especially evident to me during a recent project for Lemorn Literary Works. I was to write a story to be included in the upcoming anthology (titled Next Year, Things Will Be Different), but I’m also in charge of editing the rest of the stories in that book. Things came to a head when my partner asked how editing was coming along and I said I could edit or write, I can’t do both in the same block of time. I suggested dropping my story so I could get the other work done. She agreed.

Part of me was upset at this and I haven’t written any more on that story, or any other since, even though my partner said we would include it in the next collection. My brain is still hurt by that rejection and there’s so much other stuff I should be doing that it has again decided writing is for personal enjoyment and therefore not priority.

I’ve been following some RPers on tumblr lately, and it has brought back memories of my own days at that game. I miss it. But how could I keep up with these students who are online the entirety of their day? In my time, we often waited weeks for the other person to reply, but now? People start commenting quite quickly about the frustration of waiting for their partner to respond. And again, this would be another activity that eats into the limited time of the day. (My day job coworker from a sister location promised me he would make sure I got 27 hour days, but he’s still working on it apparently.)

Sorry, had to switch buses. I’m not sure if this one even has heat. Distractions abound. There’s something else. The majority of my writing/editing time is on my bus ride to and from work. With editing, the fact that I’m taking two buses isn’t a big issue. With writing however, it provides a frustrating interruption at times. The noise and movement isn’t an issue (I need noise to focus well), it’s the getting up, walking and waiting. It breaks any flow.

So these are the challenges I need to overcome: mental blocks regarding what I “should” be doing, maintaining focus with frequent interruptions, writing a bloody outline. Maybe this can be the year I achieve it. Maybe there will be a finished something this year. Wish me luck?

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Original Flash Fiction – with Jakob Merrick

June 28, 2013 at 6:14 am (writing) (, , )

Chuck Wendig has regular flash fiction challenges on Fridays. I decided to participate in this one. This is an original work written this week for the challenge.

I rolled:
Grimdark fantasy
Occult detective
A hidden compartment
A pool of blood

Now I think I flopped on the grimdark, but using the character I did, I expected that. Words were coming though. A few people may recognize the characters from another WIP. I only hit 785 words out of the possible 1000. This is being posted unedited as the deadline is while I’m at work.

The day was not fit for man nor beast, yet we were both out in it. Doren, my St. Bernard of a bloodhound, and I were deep into trouble, but that was nothing new.

Around us lay a heavy fog that smelled of fire and ash, and old blood. Old blood that was somehow fresher than the pool that had been seeping from the secret compartment in my study. A compartment that turned out to hold the now desiccated body of the mayor’s wife. Needless to say, there’s a price on my head and as she was my last client and the mayor was in the room when the blood started seeping out… I’m on the run with no chance to examine the evidence to clear my name.

I’ve seen what’s in the papers: beautiful jewel of the town found murdered by local detective, her life drained by his forbidden magic. Forbidden. Ha! The chief of police just paid me to use my “forbidden magic” last week. Of course, there’s not really anyone left in town who is willing to defend me in public. Not when the mayor is involved. They value their heads, and their souls, and I can’t say I blame them one bit.

I think that’s enough of a trip down memory lane. Doren smells something up ahead and his raised hackles tell me he doesn’t like it. Which means I probably won’t either.

“Detective Merrick, so glad to see you made it.”

The voice felt familiar but I didn’t recognize it. It was coming from the ashen fog ahead. I could feel Doren’s chest rumble as he growled quietly. Another voice came, “Jakob?”

“Susan?” I replied. /Wait, who the hell is Susan?/

“Detective Merrick, if you please, continue up the road just a bit and meet us. It has taken a lot of work to get you out of that little town of yours. It’s amazing the protective power such a safe haven creates.” The voice still felt familiar. /Who the hell?/ I shook my head and started walking. Doren leaned against my legs. I scratched between his floppy ears. “It’s alright boy.”

“Ah, there we are.”

I could see them now. Susan was in a nightdress, stained with blood. Her head lolled to the side, barely held on to her neck by a visible and partially severed spine. Her eyes were still beautiful pools of ocean blue though, filled with a mix of fear and regret.

Beside her stood … Something. It made my head hurt to look at it. A mess of shifting colours and a strong smell of decay in a vaguely human shape.

“I’ve been waiting for you Detective Merrick. A very long time. You see, you took something that was meant for me when we first met, and I want it back.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

A sound not unlike a sigh came from the thing. “You didn’t remember the last time we did this either. That’s why I brought Susan along. I thought she might refresh the memories, so to speak.” It gestured to the girl and she started to slide forward. Doren stepped in front of me and snarled. Her movement stopped.

The thing looked (felt?) frustrated. “And how is it you always have that beast? That wasn’t part of the spell. Immortality was just supposed to be for me, and there you go, living over and over, with that beast at your side while I rot!”

“Look,” I began, slowly walking forward with my hands in front, ” I really don’t know what this is about.” Doren slunk along beside me, keeping pace. The old boy knew when I was up to something. The weight of my gun in the small of my back felt heavier, as it always did when I thought of using it. The weight of centuries. /Centuries? What the hell am I thinking?/

I saw Susan move out of the corner of my eye. Doren kept himself positioned between us. I kept my eyes on the thing. We were close enough now that I could make out more of its shape.

“Damn you Merrick, stop playing dumb. This will be less satisfying if you don’t remember. Should I kill Susan again? Would that help? The school teacher, Anna? Little Alice? Or maybe your good friend Matthew? I still have all their souls.”

Susan ran. Doren started to lunge but he realized her trajectory. The thing collapsed as she landed on it, thrashing. I pulled out my gun, but hesitated. I didn’t want to hit Susan.

“I’m already dead, Jakob,” she screamed, ” just shoot it!”

I did as she said. Right in the head. And it was over. Again.

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Writing with Others

June 12, 2013 at 7:23 am (writing) ()

Writing, for the most part, is a solitary activity. Sure, there’s Twitter and writing groups, but at the end of the day it’s usually just you, alone with your imagination. There are times though, that we write with others. Co-writing can be incredibly rewarding and insanely frustrating. Like everything with writing, there is no one way to do it.

Growing up, in my early days on the Interwebs, I belonged to several written RPG sites. One of the things you learn from that type of interaction is how to passably write someone else’s character. If you can’t manage that skill, you’re either faced with incredibly short posts where you’re constantly waiting for the other person to respond, or backlash from using their character in a way they do not like. One way to develop that ability was to start with those super short posts. Another is to work things out “in person” before the post with another player. A friend and I would meet on ICQ (wow, that was ages ago) and go back and forth to figure out what was going to happen. Then one of us would copy everything out and embellish before posting. This resulted in some very long posts, and a good sense of how the other person’s character would respond to a given situation.

When it came to writing with this person later, we did much the same. We sat down and discussed the characters and walked through bits of the story, one of us taking notes to type up later. Other times, one of us would start the story and when we got stuck, would pass it to the next person (for an example of this “pass the stick” type story telling, check out the Once Upon a Time episode of the Tabletop show on YouTube). As drafts progressed we would each read over what the other had written and make changes before we picked up. Sometimes you work on a chapter by chapter basis, passing it to the other person when you hit that stopping point.

Other times, each of you makes a character to focus on, and write the parts where that character is key, or their perspective is being followed. This can add some disconnect between the two characters, and if that different feel is not what you’re looking for, you should definitely have both writers go through each other’s section to help being the sections together. One of the big challenges is making it feel like one work at the end and not two separate stories.

With a recent project, the other writer and I are slowly hashing out the details and making an outline. We settled on a basic premise, then sorted out characters and places (because talking back and forth about “character A” can get confusing, and names are easy enough to change later). We’ll decide where to go from there, but probably whoever is feeling most inspired will start.

So what kind of problems can you run into when writing with another person? Well, really any of the problems that come up in any relationship on top of the typical writing problems. There will be times you disagree; sometimes about small things and sometimes about major plot points you can’t progress past until you agree. There will be deadline clashes as you learn that you write at different speeds and when someone loses steam to dreaded “writer’s block” or life throwing complications. When it comes time to edit, you will both have different darlings you won’t want to kill. There will be times you’re tempted to bargain, “leave my bit here in and we won’t cut that bit there of yours” but you must focus on what is best for the story. It is a good plan to know ahead of time what your plans are for the story as well. Is it just for fun? Are you submitting it somewhere with guidelines to follow? Are you self-publishing it and how are you handling that? If you’re creating a new world, are you allowed to use it later in your own works? Sorting this out ahead of time can save on heartache later.

So why write with someone else? For one, it can be really fun exploring ideas together. You’ll be able to see things from another perspective and grow for your own writing. Perhaps you have trouble with one aspect, such as dialogue, but thrive at another, and your partner has the opposite problem. There is always more to learn. There is a great deal of joy in sharing the process with someone, and in seeing that final creation that you made together. It can make for a very strong, multi-faceted story.

What are your experiences in writing with others? Is it something you want to try, but haven’t yet? What’s stopping you?

Cross posted to Samurai Scribes

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