Writing Tip: It is OK to Change Course

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Hey,

Sorry I’ve been off the radar for about a month. I was super busy with teaching and freelancing, and of course, writing. Despite my crazy schedule, I still find the time to write, even if it simple editing or a paragraph or two. I am determined to finish my second book, and am enjoying the process while I’m at it.

Photo by Craig Chew-Moulding on Flickr via Creative Commons

That is not to say there hasn’t been bumps in the road. No, I’m not talking about this one and that one. I’m talking about the struggle to write at times. Working on this project has not been a free-flowing experience, nor has it been easy and fun. There has been doubts and overanalyzing over which scene should go next, or whether a scene works at all, or should this argument happen or not, and so on. Writing is both an art and a science, I believe. The artistic part comes when the muse does all the work and there’s stream of consciousness while writing. The scientific comes when you step back and wonder whether everything is working out just fine.

Recently, I was having problems with some scenes and even entire chapters. I felt what I had written was boring and dull, and the story was not going where I wanted it to go. As you might recall, I created a spreadsheet to outline my WIP. I had outlined the entire book with a spreadsheet, and I was trying to stick to it as loyally as I could.

But this weekend, I realized it is OK to not stick to the course, and to go off course with the outline. Once I did, I had a grand time writing – putting in 1800 words in a couple of hours, and thoroughly excited about where my story is headed. I still hope to get back on course, in terms of my spreadsheet, but I think what I’ve written has spiced things up, so to speak (no, I’m not talking about a sex scene at this point).

So, here’s my latest writing tip: it is OK to change the course. Sometimes the muse knows just what she is doing.

 

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Does Social Media Help Sell Books?

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If you’re a newcomer author, you probably have heard that you need to establish a social media presence in order to sell your books. It may seem daunting if you are unfamiliar with how social media works when it comes to selling something, but it can be easily be learned. It also can be easily learned that some of what you hear about selling books via social media may not be true.

Image by Blogtrepreneur via Flickr

During the five years since I released my first book, I’ve learned a lot about how social media works, in terms of business. So, in this post, I am going to give my thoughts and opinions on the whole social media thing. Remember, this is based on my experience.

First things first: no, you are not going to sell books via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all the others.

You might have heard people tell you to provide links to your books on these social media platforms, and constantly provide these links, in order to have success as an author. But that is not how it works. In my experience, very few people are going to click on a link on Twitter or Google+, and go to Amazon or Smashwords, let alone actually buy your book. Those social media posts may come across as spam for a lot of people.

In my opinion, the best time to ever provide links to your book(s) on social media is when you have a sale, a big promo going on, or something seasonal may attract people to that link. For example, it’s October, and my books is about vampires. Since it is the month of all things dark and spooky, I will tweet a few times a link to my book on Amazon or Goodreads. It may not work; it may come across as spam. But it doesn’t hurt. I just will only do it a handful of times.

In the meantime, I better do something else with my social media presence. I need to add more content to my feeds in order to draw attention to my authorship. And that is what social media is all about: drawing attention to something. Whether it is a person, a business, a promotion, whichever – social media announces, “I am here!” And that helps get word out about your books.

Remember, selling books is a business. Writing is a craft, an art. Selling the work is a business, and social media is a big part of how businesses sell their products.

It is a way to interact with followers that could lead to sales. It is also a way to meet other people in the same field. I’ve met quite a few other authors through social media. Eventually, word gets out about your book(s) and people may just pick them up and read them.

But no, social media does not sell books. Don’t count on it, don’t rely on it.

You are probably wondering if blogging – which is form of social media – sells books. Well, I’ve had a few sales that way, but not a lot. But that is not why I blog; I do not blog to sell books. I blog to get the word out about myself as an author. I blog because it is my way of talking to people. I blog to start conversations with other authors. I blog because it is fun.

That being said, I am going to start a new way of reaching people: starting next week, I am going to vlog – meaning video blog. I am going to set up a YouTube channel where I would be doing the same thing I do here, only I’ll be speaking rather than typing/writing. No, I won’t stop blogging altogether. I like this blog, and I want to keep it going. I’ll just be finding a new way to reach people as I continue on as an author. That will happen sometime around next week.

In the meantime, I will continue using social media to get the word about myself and my book(s). And you do the same. Fill your channels with content related to you and your work. Let others get to know you. That may help – just help! – sell your work.

 

Scenes of Brutality: What Are We Thinking?

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Before I get started, I know I mentioned that I would be writing my weekly posts on Mondays. However, it looks like Tuesdays work better for my schedule. So for now on, expect posts from me on Tuesdays.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

So, I am currently watching the Starz series Outlander on Amazon. For those who do not know, it is about a 1940s Englishwoman, Claire Beauchamp, who is transported back two hundreds in 18th century Scotland. Since this is the 1740s, there’s a lot of brutality going on, especially with a captain of the English army in Scotland, “Black Jack” Randall, who tortures the Scottish people left and right. There’s even a scene where Claire’s husband, Jamie Fraser, is tortured and then raped by Randall.

Now, I didn’t read the books that this series is based on, but I understand that the show is closely based on the books written by Diana Gabaldon. If so, it makes me wonder why she would put in a scene where a man graphically rapes another man. Yes, there are a lot of male-on-female rapes, floggings and beatings in Outlander, but it is easy to brush them off as that was the time period back then. But that scene has been haunting me. I guess it is because I’m one of those who has grown attached to Claire and Jamie, and couldn’t tolerate Jamie being tortured that way. Yes, Claire was raped or almost raped herself, but the show didn’t graphically display that as much as Jamie.

It also haunts me because last week, I was working on my WIP, which picks up where Claire McCormick and Daniel Poncher are in the trilogy. I was writing feverishly and in a stream-of-consciousness way. As a result, I ended up writing a part where Daniel graphically rapes Claire. Yeah, I did that. I went there.

Now, there are other scenes when Daniel does that, but it is not as brutal and more of a coerced sex way. But when I wrote that part, I was so bothered and disturbed that I had done that, and I ended up deleting it. Watching that scene on Outlander helped me do so.

Which has me thinking about why we writers write such graphic scenes, and just what the hell are we thinking? When I wrote that scene in my WIP, I was rattled and wondered if I have a sadistic side of me somewhere deep in my sub-conscious. I have to admit part of me felt truly satisfied with that scene, and was disappointed when I deleted it. I am now considering adding it back in.

Is there something wrong with me? Do I love torturing my characters? Am I sadistic somehow?

Heck, it makes you wonder if someone like George R. R. Martin, the author of the books that would inspire the HBO series, Game of Thrones, is sadistic. I mean, all of his characters go through hell, and some get brutally raped or brutally murdered. It is enough to leave readers and viewers shaken.

So, what are we writers thinking? Are we cruel? Or just going along with the muses in our heads?

I think the bottom line is whether these brutal scenes are worth it for the entire story. If it does not add something to the whole story, however violent it is, then it is pointless – and even sadistic. Perhaps what should be more disturbing is how violent human nature is, and we writers are just representing and expressing that in our work. If human nature were not so cruel and barbaric itself, then maybe we would not write such things.

But what of the satisfaction that comes with writing those parts? I think the reason why part of me was satisfied with the now-deleted scene where Daniel rapes Claire is because it flowed so well, from one action to another and another. The part before Daniel attacks Claire had me excited because there was so much emotion and action going on. But once I wrote the rape part, I was like, ‘what have I done?”

Is it worth having in the story? I don’t know yet, I’m still debating. But one thing I’ve been learning while watching Outlander, and even other shows, is that writers aren’t really sadists. Human nature is, and so are our muses. We’re just writing what works for the story and the characters, and what is streaming out of our consciousness.

But it is also vital for us to wonder whether all the violence is gratuitous and even worth portraying at all.

 

Writing Tip: Always Give Your Character Something to Do

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Years ago, I took a fiction writing course where the instructor regularly gave tips on how to write an outstanding novel. Among those tips were, always give your character something to do.

If only I had remembered that recently.

Click here for original image on Jim Delorey’s website

As I was writing the follow-up to “The Dark Proposal” a couple of weeks ago, I was hit a brick wall. I was totally stuck on where to go and what to do next with the story. It was so frustrating because I had written scenes that I was proud of, and I was delighted with where the story was going. But then suddenly, it wasn’t going anywhere. I had hit writer’s block after doing so much with my WIP.

After a few days of editing, re-writing and deleting scenes that just weren’t working, I finally realized what was wrong: the story had become boring. Why though? Why right after such powerful scenes did it suddenly take a downturn. Was it because those scenes were hard to follow? After thinking it over, the memory of that instructor came back and realized what was wrong.

Claire was not doing anything.

Right after a few good scenes, the main character of my story was doing absolutely nothing. She was practically sitting around, moping and feeling sorry for herself. She was not doing any activity, any action, nothing. Just sitting there.

Was that boring or what?

So, I erased that scene and re-wrote it, giving Claire something to do. Then I was satisfied with it.

Now I understand why that writing instructor made an emphasis on giving a character something to do. Without any action or activity, a character is just sitting there. Does that sound fun? Interesting? Enticing? Heck, if I was bored with it, chances are, so would a reader.

So lesson learned and a tip from me: always give your character something to do. It gives momentum to the story, and it keeps it flowing. A novel should be rolling effortlessly, and any stalls means a stall in the storytelling. No one likes to be bored writing or reading. Then again, so doesn’t your character! Give them something to do. They’ll thank you for it.

 

The Song That Inspired the Sequel to “The Dark Proposal”

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This week will be five years since I self-published “The Dark Proposal”. It was the first book I’ve ever written, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment and excited as I sent my baby out into the real world.

Five years since, I have grown so much as a writer and person. It’s hard to recognize myself during that time, honestly. That is why it has taken so long to write the sequel to “The Dark Proposal”.

But I’m not going to ramble on why and how the sequel has been delayed. I’ve done that enough times on this blog.

So, I’m here to present one of the inspirations behind the sequel. A few years ago, I was contemplating whether or not I wanted to write the sequel. And then I heard the song, “Lost in Paradise” by Evanescence, and it blew me away. For a while, I could see Claire saying the words to the song to her friends, Samantha and Monica. Or I could see Hilde telling Claire those words. Or any of the vampires. After all, my vampire trilogy is about the vampire world being in trouble with modern technology and surveillance threatening their existence. And also, there is a wonder among the vampires if their own existence is worth it. After all, what are they truly living for?

But that’s for a later blog post. For now, enjoy this beautiful song, “Lost in Paradise” by Evanescence:

TV Show Reviews: Summer 2017

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Hey everyone!

I hope you’re all enjoying the last days of summer! I certainly am, trying to enjoy the last bit of warm days as the cooler weather sets in.

I just want to make a note about a slight change to this blog. Earlier I said I would blog every Friday. Well, I’ve decided to instead blog every Monday due to my schedule. I do have a busy schedule, and I’m hoping Monday would be much easier for me to write on this blog. So let’s see…

Anyway, it is that time for me to review the TV shows I watched since the last TV review post. Like many, I prefer TV shows over movies, and I’ve been active on my TV viewing (or Netflix, or live streaming, whichever method). Here goes on my reviews…

WARNING: spoilers up ahead!

MASTER OF NONE:
I really did not like this second season. It started off being funny, but the part where Dev Shah started to fall in love with the engaged Francesca, I started to lose interest. That was the second time Dev got involved with a woman already taken (remember Claire Danes’ character in Season 1?), and I just felt uneasy with it. Yes, there was chemistry and love can be complicated. But, I just…I don’t know, felt uneasy. I kind of hope he and Francesca do stay together, but at same time I do not. Let’s see what Season 3 brings.

ORPHAN BLACK:

Image via Flickr via Creative Commons


The final season to one of the my favorite shows! Tatiana Maslany’s acting was great as always; it never fails here. I liked how there were flashbacks to when Allison and Helena learned they were clones. I’m glad Cosima and Delphine are still going strong. I also liked how at the end, they talked about the many clones all over the world, and the best part was the humbling of superbitch Rachel. The sad part was obviously when S was killed. I really like the actress, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and looking forward to see where she’ll pop up next. Heck, I’m ready to see where Tatiana will pop up next. This is not the last of her great acting. She’s got a lot to do in the future, and I’m looking forward.

HOUSE OF CARDS:

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Whoa, this show is something else.However, I felt this season, HoC got in over its head. There were too many deaths and “accidents” that can’t not be linked to Frank and Claire Underwood. Yes, it was obvious those characters would have met violent ends; that’s the way the show and the Underwoods’ work. But I felt this time it was overdone. And now the Underwoods are going to go against each other? Is Frank going to somehow kill Claire and make it look like an accident? Are these two going to kill each other in the end? Eh, it just seems like too much now. The psychopathy of the Underwoods just seems overdone. But that’s just me…

GAME OF THRONES:
What would a review post be without Game of Thrones? Like many, I obsessively watched and overanalyzed the show this season, and feeling devastated that it won’t be back until 2019 or so. But I’m glad Jon Snow’s parentage and real identity has been revealed in full, just as we take a look at the actors’ ass during an incestuous sex scene (sorry, I had to go there!). I’m also thrilled that Littlefinger has finally been killed off, by symbolically getting his throat slit. I, like many, got a little nervous with Sansa and Arya fighting. But I also read the many articles about those two, and was relieved to remember Arya had handed Sansa the dagger, and therefore was not going to kill her older sister. Whew!

But now there are only 7 episodes left for GoT. I can see the writers and producers cramming things into those episodes and not doing such a good job at it. I mean, I could see the final season for GoT be really rushed. If this past season was rushed, imagine what the next and final one would look like. But we’ve got a long wait…

SHAMELESS:

Image via Wikipedia


This is another show that I recently joined on the bandwagon. I binged on this Showtime show late last year, and this June, watched its seventh season on Netflix. I really like it, because the show is simply shameless. I mean, the characters have no shame! From Debbie raping a guy and then aimlessly getting pregnant, to Lip’s self-destructive ways, the characters live up to the show’s moniker. But it does it in a funny way! Like, there’s humor attached to the lousy behavior of everyone on the show. Amazing how that’s been worked out. I also like how the show brings to light bipolar disorder through Ian. Other programs, like Homeland and the movie Silver Lining Playbook, don’t treat bipolar disorder with much education and kindness. Shameless does, and I give it a lot of credit. I suspect next season will be the last, as it will be the eighth season. Looking forward to it!

 

 

As Stephen King Said, The First Draft is Yours…

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When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.

Wise words from the Master himself.

As a writer, I’ve noticed there is a balance between writing for yourself and writing for your audience. It seems like it is a delicate balance because a writer wants to please his/herself but at the same time, the audience must be kept in mind. We all write for someone when we write, and that someone isn’t always ourselves.

Image by Sideways Sarah via Flickr

Who do we write for? Is there a specific person in mind? Is it a specific demographic? Group of people? When I wrote The Dark Proposal, it was for people who wanted vampires to be evil again. The abusive relationship part was for me, I admit. But I did have an audience in mind when I wrote my first book, and have one in mind for its follow-up, which I’ll get to in a future post.

But I agree with Stephen King that when we first write a novel, it is to be for ourselves. Or else, it wouldn’t be fun. Writing to please someone the first time around is exhausting and takes to fun out, I think. It is when the actual work of a story, the editing part, is when it is time to get serious about the story.

I believe editing is where we all get serious about our writing work. We become aware of the mistakes and the things that don’t make sense. We become aware of what our audience really thinks, or at least, what we think they think. We become aware that our work is going to be read by hundreds or thousands of people. We realize this is serious business here. Enough of fun stuff, let’s get serious here.

That doesn’t mean rewriting and editing can’t be fun. You may be relieved to get rid of a couple of sentences or a whole scene that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story, once you read everything over again. And let’s face it, if we didn’t love writing, we wouldn’t mind the rewriting and editing parts. It’s part of the job, so to speak. And don’t we want our work to be as polished as possible?

Come to think of it, the first draft of a story is more than just for you. It’s a gift you give yourself. The final draft of the story is a gift to your readers.

Onward…

Where Have I Been?

Hey everyone!

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? I know I mentioned that I was going to blog more often, but that didn’t happen, did it?

So, you’re all probably wondering what happened to me.

Well, here it goes…

First off, I recently moved…again. I was living on Staten Island again for several months before moving back to Brooklyn. Looking for a new place to live, packing up and settling in to that new place is a full-time job in of itself. So that took up my time. Plus, I was teaching, writing, enjoying summer.

That is why I’ve been MIA on this blog.

But I’m back, and intend to blog every Friday as I originally planned. My WIP is still going well, and I get more excited by it as I progress with it. I can’t wait to share it with all of you! I may share another excerpt in the future, but we’ll see 🙂

 

R.I.P. Nelsan Ellis

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I know I am a few days late with this, but I have to say farewell to actor Nelsan Ellis, who was best known for his role as Lafayette on HBO’s “True Blood”. He died on Friday due to heart complications at the age of 39.

Wow, just wow. So young! And so talented! He was great at portraying Lafayette, who was sometimes the comedy relief on “True Blood”. His delivery of his character’s one-liners was often the highlight of each episode. Lafayette was a memorable character, and Nelsan Ellis portrayed him very well.

From what I understand, Lafayette was killed off early in the books the show was based on. But on the show itself, Lafayette stayed until the very end. I’m glad that happened because he was the funny, no-nonsense type of character that the show needed. And Ellis played him wonderfully.

Rest in peace, Nelsan Ellis. May you entertain all the angels up there as you did in life.

Here’s a YouTube video to showcase some of Nelsan Ellis’ Lafayette’s best lines:

Another Reason Why I’ve Delayed My Sequel…

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Before I start, I just want to make a couple of announcements:

First off, I will be blogging every Friday for now on. This is to gain momentum for the sequel to my first book, which by the way, is coming along smoothly. I’ve recently finished the first draft to Chapter 7, and have begun Chapter 8. That means I am about halfway, or more, done with the first draft! If all goes well – and I think it will – I’ll have the book published by February 2018.

If I do, it would mean I let five and a half years go by between my first book and its sequel. That’s a long time for an author to take a break between books within a series. I’ve written a lot about my insecurities with writing this sequel, as well as financial reasons for not going forward with it. But I had other reasons for not working much on this book.

It all started when I first moved to Brooklyn in May 2013. From there, I got busy adjusting to life on my own, and job searching. I mentioned on this blog that my job hunt was taking away from my writing, but I had to do with what I had to do. Eventually, I did find a job in the spring of 2014. At first, I was delighted with my new job at this small arts school. But very quickly, I soon realized I was in the job from hell.

And I mean, hell. Everything you can think of that can go wrong at a job happened. For starters, it was a shady place with rumors of grant money being pocketed, parents not seeing their money going where it was supposed to go, embezzlement, you name it. The owners of the school were abusive – verbally, emotionally and psychologically. There was also harassment and slander going on. The turnover rate was very high, and there was always a wonder when the IRS would show up. I was there for 15 months before leaving, or rather, running away from the place. Soon after, I sued my former employer in small claims court for tax fraud. We settled out of court, with me getting everything I asked.

Those 15 months took a huge toll on me. Everyday I would come home miserable, angry or even totally depressed. The strain of working at an abusive workplace caused me to have a mental breakdown. It also caused me to not have the energy to do any kind of writing. I believe that if I had not taken that job, I would have finished my sequel by now, and it would’ve been released by now.

So, that was 15 months taken away from writing. Granted, I was starting to have doubts about whether I wanted to continue writing anything fictional anymore when I first began the job. I was going through some personal changes and self-discovery, and was realizing where else I could point my writing skills towards. It is important not to put your talents or skills into a single box, and to know that your talents and skills could be used for multiple things. Basically, it is not the end of the world if you do not write a book.

But I still like creating characters, writing stories, making up worlds. It may not be the sole purpose to my existence, but it is a part of it. I have learned that I have other talents and abilities to add color to my life, and I intend to use them for places that deserve them.

At the same time, it is important to not waste your time at a job, or relationship, or anything, that sucks the life out of you. Life is short, and you are precious human being. There’s no reason to waste your self-worth on someone or something that doesn’t respect you.

And if you want to create, paint, dance, act…whichever, it is important that your mind is in the right place. Creativity is like a plant: If it doesn’t get sun, it withers. Bad energy blocks creativity, and it makes it wither.

So, there you go. One of the many reasons why my sequel to The Dark Proposal has been delayed. I hope what I told you here will be of help to you!