Monday, January 31, 2011

Zombies on a Monday-What a Way to Start a Week

This weekend I finished Alan Goldsher’s fictional journalist romp into zombiedom “Paul is Undead”.
I picked it up off the shelf at B&N, intrigued by the title and premise and further convinced by the “Two Rotted Thumbs Up” from Jonathan Maberry, a writer I also enjoy and a player in the zombie fiction world. Check out his website:  

What does this have to so with the Hero’s Journey?  The story is one man’s quest to discover the “real” Beatles, in an alternate reality that includes Ringo as a Seventh Level Ninja,Yoko as a Ninth Level Ninja and Mick Jagger as a Zombie Hunter, among other clever twists.  It is terrific world-building wrapped in a pseudo Rolling Stone style interview. In definitely includes the call to adventure, the test, the mentor, and bringing home the elixir (sort-of J).

Beyond the quirky humor, puns and dead-on descriptions, Goldsher’s Rock and Roll world-building is part of an expansion of the zombie myth that intrigues me.  Of all the paranormals, zombies are a confused and often two-dimensional lot.  Until Romero, we had the Haitian-African variety, created and controlled by magic of some form.  They could be used in a focused manner without any seeming self control.  From Romero on, the zombie devolved further into shuffling (although recently they seem to have picked up the pace), mindless, rotting corpses suitable only as target practice for the lucky mortal or ravenous instruments of death or undeadness for the unlucky.  In terms of historical roots, neither type of zombie has an extensive mythology making them ripe for re-imagining.

Goldsher’s zombie’s are self aware, conversational and very deliberate in many of their actions.  They are more akin to their undead brethren the vampire, but with a different diet.  As a result they become interesting as characters themselves and are no longer props.

For anyone interested in the Rock and Roll and a new brand of zombie, I recommend it.  

What other zombie books would you recommend?  Who is taking it to the next level?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Frivolous Friday: Monty Python on Novel Writing

In yesterday’s post, I discussed the first phase of the Hero’s Journey and what it may mean for the opening of my novel and yours.  But today is Friday and it snowed again this week in New Jersey.  To add insult to injury, they are forecasting more snow this weekend AND next week, so I thought we needed ‘something completely different.’ 

We all have struggled with starting a new project, right.   So on a frivolous Friday, I share with you the beginning of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, as brought to us by the remarkable and disturbed minds of Monty Python.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Hero

“1.        THE ORDINARY WORLD.  The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma.  The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history.  Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.” C. Vogler, The Writer’s Journey
On the website,'s_journey.htm , Christopher Vogler does a terrific job of explaining the Hero’s Journey, as originally described by Joseph Campbell.  It breaks down into 12 phases.  The first phase is the Ordinary World, which he describes above.  I highly recommend you add this site to your favorites.  There is also a highly useful book and a DVD.  It helped me view my story structure in a whole new light.

Please understand the Hero’s Journey  is not a formula.  It is a reflection and description of the common traits that memorable stories have had since the beginning of time.  The key traits can be found in such extremes as The Tales of Hercules and Shrek.  Good storytellers have a deep rooted sense of the journey.  Where does it come from?  I believe it comes from read and lots of it.  Good books, bad books (bet you can pick the spots that don’t work) and everything in between.  In a good series, it is found not only in an individual novel but in the meta-arc.  Pick one of your favorite novels (or movies) see if the pieces are there.

So how do you start your novel?  Blow up a building on page one and risk that no cares that your intended hero (non-gender specific) is the only one who gets out alive.  Give too much backstory and you don’t hook the reader.  The craft and art or writing is finding just the right balance.  Something that tells us about your hero and engages and perhaps foreshadows what is to come.  This may feed into the debate over prologue.

That’s why I am on the umpteenth revision of my opening, sometimes for the better and sometimes it’s “what was I thinking!”

How about you?  Tell us how your opening fits into the Ordinary World.

How does this fit with your own journey as a writer?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Meditation, a Journey and a Gun Range

I started the Chopra 21-Day Meditation Challenge today.  I’ve tried to follow along several times before, but never finished the cycle.  So here I am putting it out there.  This time I will complete the cycle.  The parts I did previously were a great benefit personally and creatively.  Like many writers, I do not get to write full-time.  My days are chock full of (no not nuts, although…) family, work, household stuff, more family, more work.  Particularly after the holidays, I have had a terrible time refocusing. I have a manuscript to polish, queries to write, and several new ideas floating around in my head.  Let’s not forget platform/brand building, educating myself on the changing publishing and bookselling landscape and a new business idea.  Oh and I did promise to return to the idea of the Hero’s Journey in my last blog.   Over-achiever--- me?

To sort it all out and find the occasional quiet space where the muse might sneak in a thought or two, I return to meditation.   I’ll keep you posted as to how my journey goes.

Speaking of which, have you read or heard anything about the Hero’s Journey?  How has the idea impacted your writing?

Maybe I should take up yoga next.  Nah-I’m more the gun range type, seems like a better way to blow off steam after a tough week at work.

Note to self….FOCUS.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Guardian Writer: SAVE THE CAT CONTEST!!!

Fellow writer Melissa Dean has a great blog and is running this contest. I am a huge believer in Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces and the subsequent application to screenwriting and writing. Vogler's Writer's Journey was a big A-HA for me. So SAVE THE CAT and save your novel. Read and follow Melissa.

More on Hero's Journey later.

The Guardian Writer: SAVE THE CAT CONTEST!!!: "As writers, I believe whenever we find a useful tool, we should pay it forward to other writers. I have found such a tool in the SAVE..."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Selling Books in the Amazon (Age).

As readers and writers we live in a period more exciting than a 13th sign, a Mayan end-time, or a Zombie apocalypse—the expansion of publishing channels.  I have been for my entire writing life in sales.  I was an Investment Banker on Wall Street, the owner of a gourmet shop, a commercial banker and a teacher (try convincing high school students that learning Geometry is a good investment of their time and then tell me that’s not a tough sell.)  So, in addition to the craft of writing, I am a student of the business of publishing and, more importantly, selling books.  Writing a book that does not sell is, in my mind, akin to keeping a journal.

In college, I was a Biology major with a particular interest in evolution and physical anthropology.  Like mathematics, these areas of science are more about patterns and progressions.  Perhaps because my brain is wired a certain way, I like to watch, study and sometimes comment on patterns and change in other areas of interest.  The book industry is in the midst of something bordering on catastrophic evolution, as compared to the slower Darwinian type. Borders has hired re-structuring lawyers, small publishing houses and e-publishing platforms are expanding rapidly.  Amazon is a (or is it the) major player in book sales with over a gazillion titles.  Gazillion is a technical mathematic term meaning more than I can wrap my head around. Amazon also has its own e-publishing platform. Will we see the return of the small bookstore and what will it look like?

At the end of the day, the issue is how many books will I sell (someday) or how many will you?  And how will we do that?  One of us may write the great American Novel or just a really good read, but we need to stand out from the crowd.  It is not just the agent’s slush pile that matters anymore; it is Amazon’s slush pile. 

We are responsible for our own brand.  How do we create it and promote it to reader market?  The goal is to reach people who may never have heard of us and convince them to read our book.   What will the marketing channels of the future look like? Will there be any point in signing books in Barnes and Noble or Borders if foot traffic declines?  This may sound exaggerated now, but if current trends continue the book selling industry will be a very different animal before too long.

So as we sit in the Storytellers’ Grove like our ancestors who sat around the fire, please share your wisdom, ideas and thoughts.

For further interesting thoughts on the subject click on one of my favorite blogs Pimp My Novel to your right and read the Jan 13 blog called “A Lesson Brand Management”.

For new members of the blogosphere, click the tiny pencil to share your thoughts.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

13th sign on the 13th. Thank God It's Not Friday!

13th Sign?

My friends at Liberty State Fiction Writers, Caridad Pineiro, the originator, and Rayna Vause, have blogged their Thursday Thirteen.  Today I came home from working my day away as a psychic intuitive Pisces to find out I was now an Aquarius.  How does this connect to Caridad and Rayna…

Not only have the zodiac signs moved but there is a thirteenth sign, Ophiuchus.  Apparently the Babylonians skipped him since they liked 12 better than 13. So this Thursday the 13th we now have 13 signs of the zodiac.

So what does this really mean?  Do I read a different horoscope every morning? Should I have my chart redone? And what about those poor souls who are Ophiuchians (is that even the correct term), where do you go for your daily dose of celestial guidance?

Here are links to Paul Kunkle’s original interview and a list of what the zodiac dates are.  Boy does Scorpio get the short end of the stinger.

What do you think?  What if your new sign isn’t compatible with your mates new sign?

The interview.

New dates.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Words, Bread and Mark Twain

So today I was going to write about how I had to knuckle down to yet another round of edits for Dark Dealings.  Editing is so painful.  Some of those edits are undoing things I tried to change in response to the myriad of comments from others.  I find that I had revised the critical first 5 pages so many times that it had gone from okay to good to worse. 

But like others who value the written word I have been derailed by the growing debate over the revisions to Huckleberry Finn.  I was raised in Jersey City and heard what is euphemistically called the N-word more times than I could count.  It is an abhorrent word, but more important was my response to it.  I learned early on the power of words to hurt, heal and teach.  I also grew up in a family that liked to sweep things under the rug.  If you didn’t talk about divorce, death or disease somehow it would all go away.  But silence is a killer.  Do we sanitize language because it makes us uncomfortable?  Should schools not perform plays like The Laramie Project because it includes offensive terms and ideas about homosexuality?  What about The Diary of Ann Frank?  At the same time as I was listening to the N-word being flung around I was reading and discussing Huckleberry Finn and Richard Wright’s Black Boy in English class.   How different might my life have been if only the street talk prevailed, if the offending words had been erased from books, and there had been no discussion of the power of words?  Literature teaches us about who we are or were as a people, your response to it teaches you who you are as a person.

So what am I learning from the need to re-write? Writing can be like bread dough knead it too much and it becomes tough and unworkable.  It is time, experience and mistakes that teach readiness.   But like any novice, we need instruction and guidance.  Sometimes it is from beta-readers, sometimes it is in the form of rejection letters from an agent or editor.  But it is feedback that has been given to me to decide what to do with it.  And no one has yet to suggest that I a change the tone or message or my story.  And should anyone try to change them after I am gone, know that I am certain of the hereafter and will haunt you.

Where do you stand on revisionist literature?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

One year ago, I wrote an article for More magazine’s online edition about reinventing yourself.  You can read it here:

It may not go down as the best example of my writing, but it talks about a theme I keep revisiting and observing in my life and in others.  Deciding.

As writers, we are watchers.  We observer people and events and maybe, just maybe, they become the seed of our next story or character.  I am a character-focused author or maybe plot-focused.  It’s so hard to tell.  My writing mentor, Barbara Rogan, explained in one of her online classes, and I paraphrase, (any errors are my misinterpretations), that each scene puts characters in a position to make a decision, big or small, and that each decision changes the character and direction of the plot.

I watch people every day.  I see their actions and decisions, sometimes better than they do because I’m looking for them.  I wonder what they are thinking and why they are doing what they are doing.  Do they appreciate that even a seemingly small decision, picking up the dry cleaning now instead of later, has a ripple effect?  Have you ever made a last minute decision to stop for a coffee for the road, then after crawling along in traffic you pass a messy accident and wonder what-if? 

In the opening scenes of my paranormal manuscript, my main character, Micaela decides to use metaphysical gifts she has suppressed to help find a missing friend.  She really has no choice, since she already blames herself for the death of her parents because of what she did not do or say.  But this new decision opens a door she cannot easily close and draws the attention of ‘others’.  Events continue to require decisions that she must make, even if the decision is to run, and each is a step along a path.

What decisions do your characters make and how does it drive the story? 

As for me, I must decide everyday to keep focused on my goals.  Like our plots it is often easy to go off on tangents, to try to hijack our stories.  It may be the job or it may be the latest rejection letter from an agent or editor, the dreaded writer’s block.  How I react to feedback (this includes rejection) is a decision.  I can dismiss it, rail against it, or look for the learning.  I choose to look.  This is no easy feat, especially if I’ve also had the day from hell at work, but I give it it’s moment, take a deep breath and work to move forward.

New Year’s Resolutions are just decision.  This blog was a New Year’s Resolution.  The question is: how committed are we to those decisions?  What decisions have you made and how do you stick to them?  How do you know if you have REALLY made the decision?   

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kill your PITAs

So I sit here contemplating the murder mystery series I want to write someday.  Why you ask.  So I can murder my PITA’s.  In my family that’s not just a flatbread great with hummus, it’s short for Pain in the Ass.  I have spent years working in the corporate world and watched Performance Coaches make millions speaking and writing about leadership.  But, if a tree falls in the woods and no one is listening… I think you know where I am going with this.

Why is it that “leadership” still thinks that it is effective and appropriate to use negativity and threat to produce results?  There is some amazing literature out there on how to motivate for peak performance, to develop people by coaching and mentoring.  What leadership manual are they working from?

So I try to decide, who’s next?  How?  Maybe I could work it into my paranormal.  Weres and vamps are so handy that way. Have you ever been tempted to murder a PITA?  What about an ex?  In my current manuscript, one of the vamps killed his fiancĂ©e while a new vamp and out of control.  I gave her the last name of an ex.  Don’t get mad…

After all, they say you should write what you know? How about you?  No names needed, unless you want to share.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Novelists

Found this and had to share...hope I can stick to this better than the whole weight loss/gym thing  :-)

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Novelists

Leaving It On the Page

I have a completed manuscript and have shared pieces with a handful of agents, under the ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ rule.  Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that they have heard me say, at least once, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.  All they can do is say no.  Will you be any worse off than you are right now?”   Define worse?

Granted it is a very small sample, a testing of the waters.  But I received comments like “I didn’t fall in love with it” and “I didn’t find the writing as strong as I would have liked…”   Rejection sucks.  But, is it really the worst that can happen?  No, quitting is the worst that can happen.

Trust me, I know I am not the only writer to get rejected and have no illusion that this is THE Great American Novel.   I do not believe that millions will gnash their teeth and rend their clothes if I quit.  But I would be less of who I am, if I don’t keep going.  Truth be told, the little voice in my head whispered that it wasn’t the best it could be, but I had looked at it too long to see it anymore.  Or , perhaps it was just self-doubt whispering to my insecurities?  I wouldn’t know until I tried.  So, having nursed a slightly bruised ego, I asked myself how I could make it stronger, make it something someone would fall in love with? 

At the same time, something a family member wrote was shared with me.  It was not fiction, but an explanation of things past and the effect on the present.  It shared their pain and disappointment in others and how that changed their life course.  I was proud of their courage.  They left it all on the page and it was powerful.   

I write fiction, paranormals to be precise.  The kind of stuff that people read in the hope of disappearing into a world that is an escape from the everyday, whatever that may look like for them.  But, I learned a strange lesson from my family member.   Maybe what I need to do to make to make my story stronger  is not just eliminate backstory and murder my darlings but leave a good measure of myself on the page.

So back to the edits and, I hope, more feedback.   Bring it on!