Monday, December 30, 2013

How Reading and Watching Movies Makes us Better Writers

Watch Movies - When the movie ends pull out your phone or laptop and jot down notes about what moved you and why.  Remember back to which character you liked the most and why.  Think about what the director did to make you like this person.  What character traits do you remember?  What flaws did the character exhibit?  Recount the synopsis of the movie and what the major plot points were.  Think back and analyze the story taking note of what you liked and what you didn't. If you'd written the screenplay what would you have done differently?  Did you like the ending?  If not why?

Read Movie Reviews - Compare the reviewers description to what you put down in your notes after watching the movie.  Did your impression of the movie compare to that of his or her review?  If not what differed?  What can you learn from this?

Start a Movie Group - Invite friends to join and host a get together at your home to kick off the group. Ask a member to pick a film and host the group at their place for the discussion.  Make a rule that whomever picks the next movie will host the group at their home and rotate through the group with each member picking and hosting.  You'll gain friends and have a reason to go to the movies more often.  Prepare ahead of time for the group and introduce them to the basic principles of Plot, Character, Story Arc, 3-Act Structure, etc. I've been in a cinema group in my own neighborhood for the past year and it's a great way to get to know your neighbors and share a common interest. 

Read the Novels of Great Writers - Take notes as you read their books.  What stands out as a great sentence or paragraph?  Reread that section critically and figure out what it is about these words that invokes a response in you.  The more you read the better you'll write.  Our subconscious mind is an amazing tool.

Study the dialog of books - Read out loud. How does the dialog compare or differ from what you've written in your stories? 

Spend your free time reading - Carry a book with you in your car, on the bus, in your purse or backpack.  Always have something nearby to read. When your waiting in line at the bank or train station pull out a paper back or you kindle and read a few pages.

Read Genres other than what you write - If you normally read mystery, thrillers, and fantasy branch out and try some literary fiction, romance, or science fiction.  As writers we can learn from all types of writing.  Read books by foreign authors.

Support your local independent bookstores and libraries - as authors we all have a vested interest in keeping the institutions that exist to supply our written words to the general public.  While I enjoy reading books on my kindle I also buy books at the local bookstore and frequently check books out at our library.  Encourage your friends and family to visit their local bookstores.  Amazon is great, but variety is the spice of life.

Read before bed - Make a daily habit of turning off the television and reading for one hour before you go to bed.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Writers Cabin would like to wish all of you Happy Holidays!

Upcoming attractions for 2014

- More Author Interviews

- An interview with a business professional in the area of Author Promotions.

- An interview with a Private Investigator.

- An interview with a Professional Pilot. 

What would you like to read about here on The Writers Cabin?  Let us know in the Comments.

Friday, December 20, 2013

How do author’s maximize emotion when writing scenes?

A few years back while attending a writing workshop in intermediate fiction at Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop I learned a technique for writing with emotion. The instructor, Doug Kurtz, stuck out his palm with a stack of index cards and asked all of us students to take a card, read it, and place it upside down on the table. 

Each card held an emotion - anger, fear, sympathy, etc.  He gave us a scenario to write about and asked us to write for 10 minutes using the emotion that was listed on our card.

The exercise taught me to feel what my characters are going through while I write a particular scene. It is my belief than many of us author’s struggle with the concept of inserting emotion into our writing. In my chosen genre, thrillers, I read all the bestsellers and see varying degrees of emotion in their writing.

When I switch to literary fiction I find plentiful use of character emotions. Is this because in mysteries and thrillers the author is concentrating on action and plot, and to a lesser extent the emotions of the characters, or is it because in thrillers we are struggling to keep the content moving forward, and the use of too much emotion bogs down the pace of the writing?

What do you think?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

12/4/13 - My novel, VENGEANCE, is complete at 90,522 words.

12/4/13 - My novel is done. I have renamed it VENGEANCE and will begin querying agents in the New Year. The final word count is 90,552 with ninety-two chapters, including the prologue and epilogue. Needless to say I was a little giddy at work this past Wednesday.

I entered VENGEANCE in The Minotaur Books - First Crime Novel Competition. The winner will be offered a publishing contract and receive a $10,000 advance against future royalties. The winner will be announced at the Edgar Awards Banquet April 2014 in New York City. Wish me luck.

Now it's time to roll up my sleeves and get back to work on book two in the Reece Culver Series.  The thought of having free time to spend on just one book feels so good.  For months I've been jumping back and forth between Book One and Book Two.  Both manuscripts have been screaming for attention like children in a sibling rivalry wanting a parent's sole attention.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How to Back up your Writing

I saw a recent discussion on Facebook about how a writer's computer failed and she lost a whole years worth of hard work.  As it turned out after receiving lots of tips and tricks from her Facebook friends this person was able, for a fee, to recover the contents of her hard drive.

Because of this I thought I'd post today about different ways to backup your writing.

E-mail a copy of your manuscript to a second e-mail account every time you write.  This gives you two copies, but since your emailing the file you expose yourself to a small chance of it getting intercepted by some 2nd party.  Also it's possible to have your e-mail account hacked.

Pay for an automated web based backup service.  A recent Yahoo search brought up 27 plans ranging in price from $5.99 per month for each computer at sites like CrashPlan, Backblaze, and
Mozy.  The next tier of pricing was close to $10 / month for up to 10GB of space.

The site I've used for the past year is JustCloud which is now advertised at from $9.95 to $6.95 per month if you sign up for 2 years.  I signed up for a multi-year plan and use it on both of my computers. Since beginning this plan I've used a total of 11 GB of my allocated 272 GB.  I like the idea that I can access my files from any computer with internet access.  I also like that it's not backed up in the same location where the computer is located.  It's a pretty easy system an not easy for a tired writer to mess up.

What's this GB of space mean.  To put a Gigabyte into perspective a 90,000 word manuscript is about 575 KB's.  This means you could store 473,043 manuscripts on the JustCloud system.  While I like to write and have produced lots of stories over the years I highly doubt I'll use up my storage capacity anytime soon.

The nice thing about this type of arrangement is that it automatically backups anything new on the computer once a day as long as it's connected to the internet.  It can be configured to back up more than once a day if need be.

Burn your work to a CD or DVD.
This is as easy as inserting a disc into your disc drive and using your software to copy files.  The bad thing about this is if you experience some misfortune that takes out your computer it may destroy the discs too.  One work around is to store the back up discs in a second location.

Back up your computer to an external hard drive.
These devices are relatively inexpensive and can be setup to backup your computer daily.

Save your files on a flash media stick such as LEXAR.
These devices are very inexpensive and have the added plus of being portable. You can hang one on your keychain and always have your writing nearby.

 Do you have any other creative ways to back up your writing?  If so tell us in the comments.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What does a rocket launch look like up close and personal?

This is a photo taken during the launch of ORS 3 that blasted off on the evening of November 19, 2013 at Wallops Island located on the eastern shore of Virginia.
(Click on each photo to make them bigger)

The Minotaur 1 Rocket launched a record setting 29 satellites.  Not to be out done a rocket was launched in southern Russia a few days later carrying 32 satellites.

Here's a birds eye view of the launch.

This view lights up the surrounding area.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Writing to Done

A talented thriller author, Jennifer Hillier, recently posted on her Facebook page about when she knows she's done with a book and ready to give it to her editor. For Jennifer it was as follows:  

"When you get to that point in edits where you're no longer sure if anything makes sense and you've totally lost all perspective, then it's time to send the manuscript back to your editor. Because you're done.  Yay!"

For new authors one of the greatest challenges is learning to recognize when their manuscript is done. By done I'm talking about the point where the novel is polished enough to have a chance of catching and keeping the eye of a literary agent, or if the author chooses to self publish the point where it has the chance of selling thousands of copies to readers who aren't your friends and family.

As writers we all get to the point where we finished. With my current novel I've been there at least four times during the past year. It's the destination where your beta readers, friends, writing group associates, and your soul all tell you you're done. But is this really the point at which your novel has matured to the point where it's completed? Probably not. 

What's a new writer to do at this point in the creative process? 

You can pay an editorial service to critique your novel. One such service charges .008 per word for a manuscript evaluation.  They'll take it a step further and annotate your manuscript for .012 a word. To put this into perspective if you have a 100,000 word novel the first service will cost you $800 dollars and the second $1200. I'd suggest keeping your money to hire a freelance editor later on in your writing process.

If you have a friend or associate who works in publishing or editing you can beg, bribe, or convince them to read your manuscript and give you the naked truth about how good or bad your story is. At this point you don't want, or need someone to be nice to you, and tell you what they think you want to hear about your work. 

Stephen King says in his book "On Writing" to let it rest. He suggests putting it in your desk drawer and letting it sit undisturbed for a minimum of six weeks. Mr King suggests doing this after your first draft. I agree with his logic, but I'd like to take it one step further. Give your manuscript a six week rest at the point where you think your done.

During this time three things will happen. 

Number one is distance - you will distance yourself from your writing, your characters, and your familiarity with the story. This is a good thing. During the six weeks begin your next novel. If it's a sequel get it started while the protagonist is fresh in your mind. If you don't feel like diving into a whole new novel then write something entirely different such as a short story, blog posts, etc.  If you have the budget and time for it take a trip. If you don't have the budget go hiking or camping. I spent many weekends camping during my college days back in the 1980's. It's a great way to rest and rejuvenate one's soul for a few dollars of gas money.

Number two is self doubt - all writers at some point in the process face this. I thing it is a good thing because it is ego defeating. As writers we need to check our ego at the door occasionally. Otherwise it gets in the way and stifles our creativity and revision process. 

Number three is perspective - when you pull your novel out of the drawer in six weeks you will look at it with fresh perspective. Print it out on paper and with a pen and notebook sit down, and read as much of it as you can in one sitting. Leave the manuscript pristine and take your notes in the notebook.

PS: If you'd like to read more about Jennifer Hillier I interviewed her here on The Writers Cabin in the Author Interviews Section or you can read about her and her thriller novels here:  Jennifer Hillier Website

Good luck to all of you fellow writers out there.  Let's hope you write the next Bestseller.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What's new with my book?

What's new with my book?

It's in the hands of my freelance editor. He's doing his final edit and should be done in the next week or two. Then I'll review everything and the book will be done. 

Step 2 - Start querying Literary Agents. 

Step 3 - Get a Literary Agent to represent me. From what I've read this is usually much more difficult than writing the book in the first place. I've got my fingers crossed, so please cross yours. 

Step 4- Sell the book to a publisher. 

Step 5 - Wait a year for the book to come out for sale. 

Step 6 - Repeat.

In case you're wondering Step 6 has already begun. I'm about 20,000 words into book 2 which is a continuation of this thriller series.

Record third quarter earnings at Simon & Schuster

Simon & Schuster turned in a strong third quarter with sales of $224 million.  OIBDA hit a new third-quarter record high of $43 million, up from $39 million in 2012.
Yours truly is hoping this recent bullishness is an indicator that publishing is back on track with what it was prior to our economic troubles which took shape in late 2007.
Simon & Schuster’s parent company CBS attributed much of the increase to strong growth in eBook sales which comprised 27 percent of sales for the quarter. Up from 21 percent a year ago.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Self-Publishing Movement Continues Strong Growth in U.S.

Analysis of U.S. ISBN data via Bowker reveals that the number of self-published titles jumped to over 390,000.  This is up 59 percent over previous year, and over 400 percent above 2007 numbers.  
Ebooks comprised 40 percent of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, compared to sales of just 11 percent back in 2007.
More than 80 percent of self-published titles were brought to market with support from just eight companies, which include Smashwords and Amazon’s CreateSpace.
What direction are ebook sales heading?

Publisher’s Weekly posted an article about the possibility of buying ebooks directly from grocery, drug, and other storefronts in the coming months.  This is all due to a deal between Txtr, the German ebook company with backing from 3M and ReaderLink.  The plan is to sell the inexpensive Txtr Beagle ebook readers at stores such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens.

According to the Txtr Beagle website
the beagle downloads ebooks via Bluetooth from a smartphone and will have enough power via two AA batteries for up to one year, based on reading 12-15 books.

You can read up to five ebooks at any one time on the beagle. This doesn’t mean that you are limited to only reading those five books; you can store an unlimited number of ebooks on your txtr cloud library.

The Beagle weighs just 4.5 ounces; has a small 5-inch Electronic Ink screen; and has 800 x 600 pixel resolution.  The Beagle was originally announced as costing only $13 in the US, but now It seems that the $13 price is only being offered in Europe as a phone subsidy package.  The Beagle as of right now will be available in the US for $69.99.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Using the Subconscious Mind to Plot out a Novel while you Sleep.

A week ago I had a conference call with my freelance editor and at that time we decided the novel was ready for his final edit.  I took a few days off of my normal writing routine and then took a look at what I'm calling book 2 in the current series.  I'd previously written 18,274 words in the first draft and laid out the beginning of an outline.

After thinking through the plot lines I'd originally created I decided to go a different direction. After 5 days of work done mostly during early mornings before my day job, and a few evenings I'd gotten a good start on the next novel.

As luck would have it the day job  got increasingly active, and now when I arrive home from work I'm spent. I learned something in a writing class a few years back, that I've come to rely on when time does not present itself for the pursuit of writing.  What I learned is the use of my subconscious mind, while sleeping, to further develop the plot.

The way I go about using this technique is to engage myself in the story just before I fall asleep.  I begin by thinking about what I've written most recently and what areas of the book I'm struggling with. While I sleep and rest my mind my subconscious mind takes over.

It may be a day later, or a week, or a longer period of time, but the answers come. Often times it's while I'm in the shower with a clear mind after a nights sleep that the river of thoughts begins to flow.  Early in my writing career I used to rush to go write these thoughts down.  Now I trust my mind and know if they are good thoughts that are useful to the story I will remember them.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Peter T. Cormack the author of the Steel Souls series.

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter T. Cormack the author of the Steel Souls series.

Tell me about yourself.

I learned to read when I was three years old, and haven't stopped since. I was raised in a very small town called Lake Isabella, nestled in the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Like many of the young people in that area, I chafed under the perceived boredom of the extremely rural setting. While others turned to television, I found my solace in reading fiction. Eventually, in 2001, I escaped to the University of California, Irvine. After graduating in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science, I worked for Blizzard Entertainment as a World of Warcraft Game Master. I was eventually promoted to Quality Assurance Analyst (game tester), but quickly realized that was not my style. So, I tried something completely different. I went back to school, learned a little about teaching English as a second language, and found a job as an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan. That was interesting, but only lasted three months, after which I moved to Columbus Ohio, where I worked as a Geek Squad Agent (computer repair). That’s when I was introduced to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and realized I could write as well as read. Sadly, things didn’t work out in Columbus, so I ended up returning home, finding an amazing relationship with Jesus, the best wife in the world (Love you Shelly!), and a boring job as the “IT guy” for a local healthcare clinic. Due to a confusing set of circumstances where I thought we’d be moving again, but didn’t end up doing so, I find myself without a job, and two full-length novels. What else is a guy to do but jump in and become a full-time author? I’m really enjoying it so far, but it’s by far the most difficult job I’ve ever had - and that’s saying something!

When did you know you wanted to become an author?

Although I've been reading my entire life, and it is pretty much my favorite thing to do, I didn't seriously consider becoming an author until 2010. That year, I was talked into participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is a self-competition which challenges people to write 50,000 words about anything they like. I'd had a story idea bouncing around in my head for a while, so I decided to go for it. I completed the challenge, and that was the first time I realized that being an author was a possibility for me. It wasn't until this year that I decided to really take the plunge, though.

Is there a central theme to your books?

Although I wouldn't say I have a cohesive "theme" throughout my work, there are elements that I enjoy seeing in other books, so I try to put those in my novels as well. Technology is definitely my favorite of these themes. I'm fascinated by almost all areas of science, and I love to imagine how today's technologies can be pushed to even more amazing lengths. In fact, I write a weekly column all about the technologies I use in my books, and where they come from. It's called Monday Musings, and you can check it out every Monday at my blog! I also really enjoy what I like to call the "extra physical" factor. Some people would say "spiritual," others "metaphysical," but I simply think of it as anything that can't easily be explained by traditional scientific understanding. The Force in Star Wars, magic in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and the science of souls in my Steel Souls series are all examples of this. My current work, the Chronicles of Threa (to be released later this month), doesn't have as much of this aspect as usual, but my next novel (which I will be writing in November) is chock-full of it, so look forward to that! Finally, I think every story needs to have intense action. Although I do sometimes enjoy the more philosophical works, there's nothing like a good battle scene to move things along and draw the reader into your world.

What books have inspired you the most in your life?

Wow, that's a really difficult question, since I've probably read thousands of books over the course of my thirty years. Also, I read books purely for pleasure and entertainment, so I don't really look to them for inspiration, as such. However, there have been a few novels which have sucked me in more than the others, and that’s pretty inspiring to me as an author. Battlefield Earth is one of those. I'm not a big fan of L. Ron Hubbard's other work, but that one book really captured my attention from the first page and, over 1000 pages later, I didn't want it to end. Another body of work - a series really - has captured my interest lately. The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher has amazing action, great characters, and so much of the "extra physical" it's insane. As far as being an author goes, Jim Butcher has definitely been a huge inspiration for me.

What’s a typical day in your writing routine like?

I write at home most of the time, so my actual “work” time actually involves me sitting on the couch in my pajamas, with the television on in the background, tapping away at my laptop. However, since I am the “stay-at-home” half of my marriage, I’m also responsible for the day-to-day chores, so I take breaks to do dishes, take out trash, empty litter boxes, etc. Pretty exciting, huh?

What is it that you do to relax?

My biggest relaxer is still to kick back with an awesome book, though I also enjoy hanging out with my beautiful wife Shelly, especially when we play computer games together.

Do you use an outline or do you write organically?

Although I really like how outlines can help guide my writing, I don’t usually have a solid enough idea of the overall plot to use them. So, I’m mostly an organic writer. That being said, I am working to be more purposeful with my planning so that I have a better idea of how my characters should act, my plot can be more intricate, things like that.

Have you ever had writer’s block and what did you do to push past it.

I get writers’ block all the time. It’s very frustrating. I’ve tried all sorts of different things. Taking a break, reading another book for inspiration, watching television, isolation, taking a walk, and so many more. However, the best cure I’ve found for it is to just write something. Usually, I’ll have a vague idea of what I want to say, but don’t know how to say it. So, I just start putting words on the page that maybe describe what I’m thinking, and don’t worry about whether they sound good, or even whether they make sense. Just keep writing!

Is there a certain time of day when you are most creative?

I’m really not a morning person, so I don’t really get “started” until nine or ten in the morning. Beyond that, I haven’t found any particular time of day that gets my creative juices flowing more than any other.

How many drafts do you usually write of a manuscript and what is your editing process like.

It really depends on how much I can afford, and how much time I have. My currently published book was really a work of love, rather than money. I was able to hire an editor for a brief coaching session, but didn’t have enough money for her to look at the rest of the book. So, I did my best on my own. I read the book over myself, catching a lot of problems in the process. I also read it out loud to my wife, and caught a lot more problems that way. Finally, I went through the entire thing one more time, after the session with the editor, which helped refine it even more. It’s not perfect, and a couple more revisions might have helped, but at some point you just have to pull the trigger, so I did.

What do you think of the recent changes in the publishing world?

I’m actually really excited. As few as five years ago, I wouldn’t have had a decent chance to publish my work. As much as I believe in what I do, I don’t think my manuscripts would have made it past the slush piles of the publishers. The way things are now, getting “published” is the easy part. Now comes the hard part: reaching out to readers, letting them know I exist, and that my book is worth reading. I realize that these changes mean that “sub-standard” work has more chance to get on the market, but with the way Amazon works, I’m confident that more readers will be able to find more work they like, by more authors than ever before. Amazon recommends books in the categories that readers like, and the excerpts are an excellent way to quickly tell whether the writing is the style you want or not. The upshot of this all is that we authors are no longer writing to impress publisher gatekeepers, but to impress readers. On the other side of the coin, readers can now make their own decisions about what is worth reading, and what is not. Win-win, as far as I can see.

Out of all the books you’ve written do you have a favorite, and if so why?

All three of the books in the pipeline are very different, and I like all of them for different reasons. Steel Souls was my first effort, and I love the concept. Chronicles of Threa reminds me of one of my favorite series ever - Redwall by Brian Jaques. And my third novel is still in that wonderful phase where it’s all in my head, and so is totally perfect.

What are you working on now?

At this particular moment, I’m working really hard at making my currently published novel visible. However, I’m also in the middle of editing my next novel, which I hope to publish later this month. At the same time, I’m planning my third novel, and I hope to write it in November. Busy stuff around here; keep an eye on my website to keep up with the latest!

Where can we buy your books?

All of my work can be found on Amazon. I currently only have one book published - Steel Souls, Book 1: Life in the Machine, but I'll be publishing more, so keep an eye on my Author Page! At the moment, the novel is only available as an e-book, but I’m hoping to put it out in paperback - through Amazon’s Create Space - at some point in the near future.

Thank you again for giving me this opportunity. 


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sad News in the World of Thriller Writing

Tom Clancy has  died at age 66.  Best known for his novel turned movie - The Hunt for Red October - Clancy was a master of the thriller genre.  Seventeen of his 28 novels made it on to the New York Times Bestseller list.

Clancy was born in Baltimore and was a former insurance agent.  He will be missed.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Keys to Success as an Author

While looking through the MacArthur Foundation 2013 Fellows I came across a Psychologist by the name of Angela Duckworth.  Ms. Duckworth studies the role that intellectual strengths and personality traits play in educational achievement.  Her work examines two traits that she believes predicts success in life “grit - the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals, and self-control - the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses”.

Exploring these traits in regard to the endeavor of writing fiction it is clear that the best work comes from authors who possess imagination, character, and self-control. 

When Ms. Duckworth says grit she is referring to a person’s character.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Grit as: firmness of mind or spirit:  unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.

The act of writing in no way forces one to be strong in the face of hardship or danger, but it does require perseverance.  The act of sitting down to write day in and day out takes a firmness of mind or spirit.

Albert Einstein once said “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” He also said “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

It takes imagination and character to build scenes, construct a plot, and culminate the two into a great story.

One of the most challenging parts of finalizing a manuscript is editing and rewriting.  As an author matures he finds that his best work comes from rewriting.  It is in the rewriting that the imagination takes over, and over time the author molds a story that will entertain those that read it.

Self-control comes in when the author slowly becomes sick of their work.  They’ve read and edited the piece over and over, and are growing tired of it.  I’ve heard it said that by the time an author publishes their work they are over it and ready to move on to something else. 

Here’s a question to all of you fellow writers out there.  What do you think it takes to be successful as an author?