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Entries in writers (48)


On Horror Writing: Stephen King's Danse Macabre

Y'all know I'm a writing book junkie. I can't seem to get enough. And typically, I gravitate toward books on structure because I'm always trying to convince my pantser self into being a plotter. However, this time I decided to pick up something a little different. 

I saw Stephen King's Danse Macabre mentioned somewhere on the interwebs and realized it wasn't a novel, but King's thoughts on horror. I needed to have it. See, I have a love of the horror genre, as that's a lot of what I grew up reading when I graduated to "grown up" books. And though I'm a big chicken in real life, I love being scared in fiction or through movies. Also, I haven't ruled out penning a horror tale--maybe even with some romance mixed in--one of these days. So I wanted to read this book.

Now, my thoughts...

King wrote this back in 1981 so it's dated and feels it. However, there is a fantastic 2010 forenote called "What's Scary" where King gives his thoughts on more recent trends in horror and lists the movies he thinks got it right. That was a great read and gave me a list of new movies to watch. 

If you've read On Writing--which is one of the best writing books out there--don't expect this to be that. This is not so much a book about how to write as it is a history of horror from King's perspective. This is a long book that goes off on a lot of tangents that feel a bit aimless at times. Someone on Goodreads described it as sitting down in a bar late one night and getting drunk with King as he riffs about the history of horror. That's exactly what it comes across like. So yes, there are nuggets of greatness in this book, but there's a lot of other stuff to sift through and it took me a while to read. Often too much time was spent on topics and examples that could've been wrapped up in many less pages.

So, if you're looking for Stephen King's advice on how to write, get On Writing and enjoy the greatness. Danse Macabre is probably more for die hard King fans and for those who grew up in his era and want to reminisce about horror movies and TV shows from the past.

However, like I said, there were some great nuggets in the book, and in the end, I'm glad I read it.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

On imagination in adulthood: "...whenever I run into someone who expresses a feeling along the lines of, "I don't read fantasy or go to any of those movies; none of it's real," I feel a kind of sympathy. They simply can't lift the weight of fantasy. The muscles of the imagination have grown too weak." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On the duty of literature: "...the primary duty of literature--to tell us the truth about ourselves by telling us lies about people who never existed." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On the definition of "gothic" literature (which I appreciated because the definition is often hard to pin down for me): "They are all books where the past eventually becomes more important than the present." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On horror involving homes/houses: "...horror fiction is a cold touch in the midst of the familiar, and good horror fiction applies this cold touch with sudden, unexpected pressure. When we go home and shoot the bolt on the door, we like to think we're locking trouble out. The good horror story about the Bad Place whispers that we are not locking the world out; we are locking ourselves in...with them." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On the role of power in fantasy fiction: "...all fantasy fiction is essentially about the concept of power; great fantasy fiction is about people who find it at great cost or lose it tragically; mediocre fantasy fiction is about people who have it and never lose it but simply wield it." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On Writers: "The novelist is, after all, God's liar, and if he does his job well, keeps his head and courage, he can sometimes find the truth that lives at the center of the lie." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

Our job as writers (he specifies writers of fantasy but I think this can apply to all fiction): "The imagination is an eye, a marvelous third eye that floats free. As children, that eye sees with 20/20 clarity. As we grow older, its vision begins to dim...The job of the fantasy writer, or the horror writer, is to bust the walk of that tunnel vision wide for a little while; to provide a single powerful spectacle for the third eye. The job of the fantasy-horror writer is to make you, for a little while, a child again." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

Good stuff, yeah?

Has anyone else read this one? Any other horror lovers out there?


My Promise When I Review or Recommend Books

Photo via chicagogeek (Flickr CC)Mondays are usually reserved for Must-Read Mondays, but today I wanted to talk a little bit about a related topic. There was a post last week on Dear Author called When the Personal Becomes the Professional and was about how authors approach giving negative reviews of other books. Some argue that it's professional courtesy not to tear down another author's book. Others feel that authors should be able to review like readers do and that the author on the receiving end of the feedback shouldn't get personally offended.

I'm of the school that anyone has the right to review my book and have an opinion about it. If another author posts a negative review about my book, I'm not going to think that author is being unprofessional. I can take it. However, having said that, I don't post negative reviews or talk bad about books publicly. Why? Well, frankly, it's not worth the drama--having an author take it personally, seeing them at the next conference and it being awkward, looking like you're being jealous or spiteful by panning a book in your genre, or offending readers who thought that book was the best book ever.

But, there's also this thought out there that if someone only does positive reviews, that their opinion is somehow not valid because they "like everything." But I disagree with that. I don't like everything--believe me. If I don't like something or have neutral feelings on it, you'll just never hear about. The books I recommend on Must-Read Monday or rate highly on Goodreads are books I honestly loved. I'm not going to "be nice" and give something a high rating or recommendation because I know the author or whatever. There are authors who I really like as people but I just don't connect with their writing. I'm not going to pretend I do just to be friendly.

So I'm saying all this because I want you to know that when you see me talking up a book, that means one thing--I, Roni the reader, loved the damn thing. I looked back at Must-Read Monday posts for this year. Almost all were books by authors I've never met or interacted with. None of them were given to me for review. They are just books I bought as a reader and enjoyed. Just because I don't post about the ones I didn't like doesn't make that any less valid. So you can feel confident in knowing I'm not blowing smoke or trying to sell you something on a friend's behalf. If I say I loved it, it means I loved it. : )

I'm curious, how do you view authors reviewing or recommending other authors' books? Do you assume they are just helping their friends if it's positive? If you're a writer, how do you feel about the debate on whether or not to post negative reviews?



Want a Query and 10-page Critique from Me?


*clears throat in preparation of dramatic infomercial voice*

Are you having trouble with your opening pages catching an agent or editor's attention? Or maybe it's your query that seems to be falling flat? Well, I may have just the thing to help you... of my detailed, sadistic-in-a-loving-way critiques!

For those of you who have followed my journey for a long time, you know I used to do critiques regularly on my old blog (Fiction Groupie). I really enjoy giving writers feedback because when I was starting out (and even now still), I know there is nothing more valuable than honest, unbiased, knowledgeable feedback. Having those types of critiques early on is what moved me from being the writer with a pile of rejection slips to a writer with a book deal and an ongoing series.

So, I believe in the power of feedback. And, honestly, I'd love to be able to help writer friends out with critiques like I used to, but things have gotten way busier for me. Putting out 2-3 books a year has required me to drop some things--like giving critiques. HOWEVER, every year I donate one critique for a fabulous cause--Crits for Water, which provides clean water to developing nations.

So now's your chance! I am offering a query and 10-pg critique TODAY at the Crits for Water auction. This means you'll get detailed feedback on your pages (the good, bad, and ugly), suggestions for what could make it better, and suggested resources (books, articles, etc.) you can tap to improve those things.

I'm open to all genres, but my skill set is probably most helpful to those who are writing romance, young adult, or New Adult. Bidding is only open until 9am on October 11th and starts at 10 dollars, so get to it. AND if you win, beyond getting the crit, you get to know you're helping people in need (plus it's tax deductible to boot.) : )

So go forth and bid! I promise to give good crit. ;)


Must-Read Monday: A Quick Inspiration Read for Writers and Artists

A pic of kidlet's toy at the circus this weekend

Hey, look, it's a blog! Like a real blog that's not just me giving you the latest news in between my crazed deadline state. ;) Thanks to those of you who have stuck with me over the last few crazy months. Nine releases over nine weeks straight all while trying to finish the next book before deadline proved to be quite a challenge.

I'm discovering that the writing life is a constant cycle between being insane and living in your cave (typing away frantically and neglecting all other parts of your life) and brief breaks where you blink into the light, realize life is still going on and that you'd like to be part of it again.

And part of those rare breaks for me has to be spent refilling the well. After working on a book and promotion and conferences for months, I get to the point where I feel like I've emptied all of the creativity I have onto the page and there's nothing left. So I need to take some time to fill that back up. That usually means reading a lot of books for fun, taking time to indulge in my new photography hobby, going to museums, or traveling to new places for a change of scenery. An inspiration vacation, if you will.

And so, during this process last week, I ran across a book I hadn't heard of before. It was one of the Kindle daily deals (and I'm slightly obsessed with those) and had a provocative title, so I checked it out. STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST by Austin Kleon is a very brief (took less than an hour to read & has fun illustrations) book about "10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative".

Blurb (from Amazon):

You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself. That’s the message from Austin Kleon, a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for everyone. A manifesto for the digital age, Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side.

When Mr. Kleon was asked to address college students in upstate New York, he shaped his speech around the ten things he wished someone had told him when he was starting out. The talk went viral, and its author dug deeper into his own ideas to create Steal Like an Artist, the book. The result is inspiring, hip, original, practical, and entertaining. And filled with new truths about creativity: Nothing is original, so embrace influence, col- lect ideas, and remix and re-imagine to discover your own path. Follow your interests wherever they take you. Stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring—the creative you will need to make room to be wild and daring in your imagination.

I don't know if it will contain anything you haven't heard before, but something about how it was said resonated with me. It made me even more jazzed to fill that creativity well again because the point of the book is that we (and our work) are a result of all the things we fill our lives with--our experiences, our likes and dislikes, what we spend our time doing, etc. Here's one of the quotes I highlighted:

"You don't get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to...and the books you read...the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences."

--Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist, Location 71 in Kindle version

So that's what he means when he says "steal" like an artist. Not plagiarize or copy. But study and absorb all those things that get you excited, that wake you up, that make you want to aspire to something more. Take those favorite authors of yours and study what they are doing right, what is it that resonates with you? Then mix that in with all your other influences from your life, music, the TV and movies you watch, whatever make you and your writing you, and then transform it into your own unique style.

This concept also reminds you not to get too incestuous in your influences, meaning if you never read outside your genre or see movies of a different kind or push your boundaries outside of your comfort zone, you may end up looking like a poor imitation of something else. So read widely, learn from all different mediums, experience life around you, be observant, and then mash that together and find your own style.

For instance, I write erotic romance. I read a lot of erotic romance because I love it. However, I grew up on horror and suspense books. And I love John Hughes movies. And I used to be a social worker. So if you read my books, you'll see all of that. I write erotic romance that often has dark themes, particularly in characters' backstories, which is probably from both my social work experience and my love of gothic/horror novels. But there's also levity in my books because humor is important to me in a story. Like in CAUGHT UP IN YOU, Kelsey has had a rough life--drug addiction, former stripper, rape victim--but then there are scenes where she and Wyatt are quoting The Terminator to each other or she's teasing him about owning the movie, Dirty Dancing. That is my style and a way readers would be able to recognize my books from someone else's. It's the mashup of my influences. So this book reminded me that I need to keep adding to the pot on those influences and not get too narrow in my book/movie/activity choices. Otherwise, my style will get stale.

So anyway, that's a long way to say that I liked this book and recommend it, lol. And not just for writers but for anyone who engages in a creative pursuit. I bought the ebook version because it was on sale. But be warned, it has illustrations, so unless you have a tablet or a Kindle Fire, I'd go with the paperback. Plus, the ebook, unfortunately, is no longer on sale so the paperback is probably a better deal anyway.

Has anyone else read this? What influences do you see in your own writing/art/creative pursuit? Do you read outside of your genre?


The Faster I Write, the Better the Book?

Sign at the New York Public Library (my pic)So a while back I talked about being a Slow Writer Reformed. After being a slow writer for years, I had a deadline that ended up being crazy tight because my editor and I changed the concept of the book at the last minute (a few times). Well, it resulted in me writing 97k in 55 working days and revising in 5 days. So basically, 60 days from start to finish (minus weekends since I don't work on weekends.) It was definitely a revelation to me that I could write that fast. But there was one LOOMING question. Was it any good? 

When you write that quickly under that intense of a deadline, you can't stop and think or analyze. You lose perspective and can't really tell if something rocks or sucks. You're too close. (And it's not like I had time to send it to beta readers to get feedback before I sent it to my editor.) So I was happy that I'd accomplished the goal of writing faster. But I was scared that the whole thing was a pile of crap and that my editor would hate it or require a total rewrite.

Well, this past week I went to NYC to meet with my editor and guess what? She loved CAUGHT UP IN YOU and said it was her favorite thing I've ever written. AND, get this, no big edits--she didn't even send it back to me, just sent it straight to copyedits (which for those of you who don't know, the copy editor is the person who doesn't change content but checks for grammar, spelling, and logic mistakes.) SO, the fastest book I've ever written and the one I was most insecure about turns out to be her favorite. (!!!)

And to give you an idea of what a crazed, fugue state I wrote it in, when my editor told me her favorite scene of the book, I couldn't even remember what scene that was, lol. I had to look it up later and was like--oh yeah, I DID write a scene with a such and such. o.0  Seriously.

And this isn't a one time occurence. Previous to this, I talked about losing perspective because with FALL INTO YOU (the book that's out now), a couple of major revisions had to be made on that book in a very short amount of time. It made me super insecure about the book because I had to just fix it ASAP and didn't have time to think over the changes. But then it came out and got the highest rating you can get in Romantic Times magazine (higher than my previous two books) AND it's by far, gotten the strongest response/reviews from readers--many declaring it their favorite of the series.

So what I'm coming to realize about my process is that my internal editor is a dangerous bitch. When I write slower, I over analyze, I overthink, and I suck out some of the magic of the creativity. When I don't have a choice but to keep writing, writing, writing, and not look back, then something wonderful happens and my right brain truly takes over. (And for the record, at the time, it doesn't *feel* like that. Even when I'm writing fast, it's always hard work. Rarely do words just fly from my fingertips with abandon. It's a very deliberate process of "must hit xxxx word count today" but it cuts out my inclination to go back and rework previous stuff to death. I have to keep moving forward to hit that daily number.)

Now, this doesn't mean that I'm going to wait until a deadline is close to start working (let's not talk crazy), but I am going to give myself my own self-imposed tighter deadline so that I work faster. And I'm going to stop worrying about if I don't feel super-confident about a book before sending it to my editor. I almost never feel confident about a book, and that's okay. I'm going to embrace that writer insecurity. It seems to mean that I've pushed myself and the story to a good (and maybe out of my comfort zone) place. It means I've taken risks. They might not always work--and that's what editors are for--but it's easier to dial back after the fact than it is to add.

So does this mean that writing faster is BETTER? For me, maybe. However, everyone's writing process is different. Some people write super fast but then have a mess on their hands and edits are overwhelming. Let's face it, most NaNoWriMo novels are not ready for primetime for a long while, if ever. Some people write slower and need that time to get the story the way they want it. If it's your first or second novel you've ever written, I can almost guarantee that a quickly written book is not ready. I know I needed my time with Crash Into You to get it right. But as you write more, you learn more and get better at craft. (Caught Up In You is the 8th book I've written.)

And most of all, realize that your current process isn't sacred or set in stone. Be open to trying new schedules or methods. If you had asked me two years ago, I would've said I was a slow writer who needed a minimum of 6 months to write a book (and that'd be pushing it.) I'd tell you that I was a pantser who could never do any pre-planning. I'd tell you I couldn't write a synopsis before writing a book. Now I'm writing 3-4 books a year, and though I'm still a pantser, I now pre-plan using the Save the Cat Beat Sheet and the Michael Hauge character profiles, which has been a tremendous help. And I write synopses to sell my books before they books are written (and kind of like writing them now).

Always, always be open to trying things a new way. If you write slowly and want to see if you can write faster, give yourself a do-or-die deadline, no cheating, and hold yourself to a daily word count. Train up like I talked about in the previous post. And don't let writer insecurity or that relentless internal editor stop you from writing. Just keep going. If you have a mess at the end, so be it--you can fix it in revisions. But maybe pushing yourself past your normal limits will inspire that one, shining scene that never would've come to you if you'd been painstakingly looking back at previous chapters deciding if her dress should be red or purple.

Anyone else discover interesting things about their own process? Do you feel like you're stuck being a "slow writer"?