Monday, December 31, 2007

Writing Resolutions

I'm back from my brief hiatus, fully recovered from the flu, back from seeing family, and just in time for the writer's New Year's resolutions. I did it last year and like J.A. Konrath, I've decided to make it a tradition and add a few more:
  • Never Give Up Sure, there have been plenty of times when I've considered packing up my laptop, getting out my resume and searching for a real job. There have been rejections that hit below the belt, articles that were cut at the last minute, and books that haven't sold. But nothing worth having is easily obtained. You have to fight for it.
  • Be More Productive Maybe this New Year's eve, instead of going out and partying, you can spend it getting organized and coming up with a plan. It's a given that there aren't enough hours in the day, but the real problem is, how you spend those hours. Take some time and organize your desk, get a day planner, make a task manager and a set of future goals. If you spend less time trying to find a dictionary or trying to remember what article was due when, you can spend more time actually writing.
  • Submit Submit Submit Even if you don't have a book finished, you should still be submitting on a regular basis. Short stories, book reviews, magazine articles, anything that can put your name out there and earn you a publication credit. Never been published? Online zines don't pay, but they're a lot more likely to take a chance on a newbie writer. Once you get your foot in the door, you can go after the paying gigs.
  • Promote Promote Promote This applies to the newbies as well as the published writers. People have bad memories and even worse brand loyalty, so writers constantly have to promote in order to remind the reading public who they are. Don't have a book coming out? Blog, write articles, talk on a panel, make yourself known. Still getting started? Attend conferences, submit short stories, comment on author blogs, sign up for Backspace, put yourself out there as an aspiring novelist. The people you meet not only are the ones you'll be looking to for blurbs, but they're readers as well.
  • Team Up Two heads are better than one and ten are even better. This year, be a part of a writing community by attending readings, forming a critique group and going to writer's conferences. The act of writing may be a solo sport, but the rest of the job doesn't have to be.
  • Read and Write More As always, the more you read and the more you write, the better you get. Everyone, even Norah Roberts and James Patterson, could stand to read and write a little more. Did you write a thousand words a day consistently in 2007? Try for 1500 in 2008. Read about a book a month last year? Try to up it to two.

Have a wonderful and productive new year and feel free to leave your own writing resolutions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Point of View

Back in grade school, in your language arts class, you learned that there were three different points of view: first, second and third, I, you and he/she. Then in high school, maybe college, you learned that there were different types of third person: close third, third person omniscient, etc. If I remember correctly, though it hasn't been that long, most books I read picked one point of view and stuck with it. If they picked first, I was with one character for the entire novel. If they picked third, they could skip around between characters from chapter to chapter. If they picked second, their names were Chuck Palahniuk or Hubert Selby Jr.

Each had its benefits and limitations. First person allows readers to get close to the character, really get inside their head. But the reader can only see what the character sees, know what the character knows, which can be very limiting. Third person allows for more freedom. The reader can follow numerous characters in the book, often knowing more than the protagonist does. But because there is a narrator other than the protagonist, it can be difficult to get close to the characters and really hear their voices. I won't even touch on the benefits and difficulties with second person. Maybe on another post.

But the last few books I've read got greedy. They couldn't settle on just one POV. The authors told the protagonist story line in first person but then added chapters of third. They took the benefits from each point of view and got rid of the limitations. We, as readers, are close to the main character because we're in his/her head, but we gain bigger knowledge of the story because of the third person chapters and learn things before the protagonist does. Genius or cheating?

I personally lean toward close third person. I like using multiple view points to create a sense of sprawl, to indicate the story is bigger than just the one character. But the manuscript I'm working on seems to lend itself to first person. My main character, Dani, has a strong voice and I feel it's being hindered by the third person POV. But in order to make the story work, I need to include chapters from the POV of other characters. So why don't I take my cue from these novelists and have my cake and eat it too? Because something doesn't feel right about it. Personally, it feels like I'm cheating.

I had a professor tell me that a novel was a problem and it was the author's duty to solve it. I think that's the perfect way to put it. There is so much emphasis on conflict and raising the stakes, we put our characters through hell so it seems that there's no way they can possibly triumph. But it's our job to ensure that they do. In my mind, I feel that it is also the author's job to fix the problem within the realms of believability and without coincidence. I once read a horrible mystery novel that the killer had a woman trapped in a house and, luckily, she found a gun in the nightstand. How convenient.

The previous example is flat out cheating, the shifts in POV don't fall into that category. But to me, it's the idea of convenience. These authors had a story to tell and they wanted to tell it in a certain way. They wanted to get the characters' voices on the page, but they also needed to include scenes that the protagonist wasn't a part of. So they took the convenient route, the easy route and wrote two different viewpoints. Nothing wrong with that. They're not breaking any rules. But personally, I don't know if I can do it.

Disclaimer: the two particular books I have in mind were great. I really enjoyed reading them. I thought they were well written, interesting, and well thought out. My comments are not on the authors or the books, but on the technique itself. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this. Is it cheating to switch from first to third? Is it the easy way out? Or is this technique appealing and just as valid?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

My First Bad Review

Yes, I'm a nerd who Googles her own name once a week, but here is a perfect example why: I found my first bad review, probably my first review period. No folks, you don't need to write a book to get criticism; all it takes is a short story.

Ann, Florida educator and online poet writes (on Everyone Loves a Leo from The Queer Collection):

"A prose piece by Dana Kaye describes the dance of a cocktail waitress as an 'epileptic seizure,' using an analogy that might disturb persons who suffer from epilepsy. Again, no intervention by the editor."

Therefore, I would like to publicly apologize to all of the epileptics I have disturbed or offended. It is my fault, and apparently the editor's, for not being more sensitive. And Miss Ann, I would encourage you to read on to the second paragraph of the story where it says that Michelle is a 16 year old visiting Tulane, not a cocktail waitress.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Recently Read

After vigorously writing for 30 days straight, I'm finally getting a chance to catch up on my reading. While two of the books won't be out for another few weeks, they're definitely worth pre-ordering on Amazon or using all the Borders/Barnes and Noble gift cards you receive over the holidays:

Dave White's debut kicks ass and takes names as he introduces the Jackson Donne series about a widower PI who drinks too much and often is on the receiving end of a punch. This first installment begins when Donne's friend is a victim of a hit and run, setting off a chain of events that turn Donne's world upside down. The characters are flawed yet likable, none are all good or all bad, which I find interesting. He's not afraid to take risks, giving the characters less-than-honorable traits and breaking the mold of a typical PI novel. White is a great writer and a master plotter and something tells me, he can only get better.

Sakey's second novel blew me away and although it won't be out until January 22, it should be the first book you pick up in 2008, and I'm not just saying that. Discharged soldier, Jason Palmer, returns from Iraq to find a similar war raging in his south side Chicago neighborhood. When his brother is murdered, it is up to Jason to deliver justice, protect his nephew, and to grow up and be a man. It's gritty, suspenseful, and contains great social commentary on Chicago and the world at large.

Laura Caldwell got her start in Chick-Lit, inched toward Romantic Suspense, and although The Good Liar does revolve around a relationship, she has definitely crossed into the realm of espionage and international thriller. After a recent divorce, Kate Livingston didn't think she'd fall in love again so quickly. But when her friend Liza sets her up with a colleague, just to take her mind off her ex, they hit it off immediately and end up getting married. At first, the rush and spontaneity is romantic, but soon Kate realizes her husband isn't exactly who he seems, and neither is her friend. Another solid read, Caldwell kept me glued to my seat and flying through the pages, not letting up until the very end.