Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Building a Book: The Rejection

Rejection. No matter what you do, as a writer, you're going to experience it. Whether it's a short story or a full novel submission, whether it's to press or an agent.

It's not the end of the world.

Even though it will definitely feel like it.

For those curious, yes, my recent work "Hannah" was rejected from my first choice publisher after a 14 week wait. Which means, a few different things.

It was a pretty generic rejection, which means I may want to go through it again. This could be as simple as another quick run-through for any little editing nails that need hammering down, or it might be a good time to send it out to beta readers again and take a good, hard, look at their feedback.

I chose not to do a simultaneous submission, which would mean sending it out to multiple publishers at once for consideration. So, in this case, a rejection means starting the whole wait over from scratch after submitting it somewhere else. Even if I do several submissions this time, most have the same general waiting period, between anywhere from three to six months. Given wait times like that, just to see if your work is accepted or not, it's not surprising people have been turning to self-publishing. Under the old methods, working with presses and publishers, it can easily take years just to find a publisher, let alone get your work into print. (Yeah, a little upset, I must admit, and slightly prone to rambling. Enough of that for now though. I have pizza to finish.)

However, rejection, like bad reviews, is just part of the writing process; and many of the ways to cope are the same.

1. Remind yourself that every author who's ever lived has faced rejection at one point or another. Stephen King has stated that he had over 300 rejection notices before he finally sold his first piece. J.A. Konrath has reported on his blog that he had actually written seven other novels before his agent managed to find a publisher willing to take a chance on his latest one. The first Harry Potter novel, written by J.K. Rowling, was rejected by twelve different publishers before it was picked up, and even then, they told her it probably wouldn't make money. As those authors show, a rejection or two means very little in the grand scheme of things.

2. A rejection, like a bad review, is just one person's opinion. Yes, that one person has the power to say "Give that man a thousand dollars for his story, NOW!", but that is still just one person. It might be that they just didn't feel any attachment to your characters, or doesn't like your writing style on general principle. It could be that yours was the 13th out of 13 similar zombie apocalypse books they'd had to look at that day. It could even be something as simple and unfair as that your book got shuffled in front of them before they had their morning coffee. The point that remains though, is that this is still just one person's opinion. It doesn't mean someone else won't absolutely love it, or even that most other people will absolutely love it. It just means that one person didn't care for it.

The only thing a rejection means is that your piece MIGHT need some more work. It doesn't mean you should quit writing or that you should throw that story away.

As bad as a rejection letter or email might make you feel, the only one who can make you a success or a failure is you. It's a question of either taking the rejection personally and to heart, or tacking it up on the wall as someone you're going to prove wrong.

So how are you going to take that rejection?

~ Shaun

Monday, July 21, 2014

Who is your daddy, and what does he do?

Ten points if you can name the movie the title of this post is from. Fifteen if you can name another line. Points don't actually mean anything, but they're free for me to give out and you'll feel like you won something, so everyone wins, right?

So, other than bringing up a 1990's action comedy, what's the point?

Your characters' need jobs.

Yes, it seems like that would be kind of a no-brainer, but it's surprising how many new and aspiring writers (and occasionally even professionals) miss this simple detail.

Of course, if you're writing a variant of Lord of the Flies or Children of the Corn, you're not going to be too concerned about the characters having day jobs. Most of them are just kids after all. Even then, though, they're going to separate into groups and layers, with certain people being given certain things to do. Social tiers isn't exactly where I'm going with this though.

My point is, it's important in your character development and for the story itself, to know about your character's day job.

Character Development

Even if, during the entire length of your story, the character never actually goes to work, it helps to know what he does. It establishes a fair bit of your character's skill sets, after all, they do need to be kind of good at their job and every job has requirements. An accountant, for example, will be good with numbers, probably adept at using a keyboard, and know a bit about tax law; while a gym teacher will likely be in good physical shape, organized, and have good leadership skills.

A character's job will also have some effect on their appearance. An office worker will look much more professional than, say, a bartender or a landscape worker. Think along the terms of hair length, and how they usually dress.

Of course, neither of these really impact what a character might do or wear in their free time, but most people don't generally wander too far from their routine, even when they don't have to follow it.


Knowing what kind of work a character does tells us more about that character and gives us another aspect to bring up in the story. Things like why that character works there, why they chose that occupation, and maybe an interesting bit from working there. Or, you could go into what drove them to work there, and their true feelings about the place and career they ended up with if they don't like their job.

It's the little things about the characters that we discover on the journey through the story that makes them relatable and thusly, that makes us grow to like them and care about what happens to them. Things like having a job they hate, or love, or how they poked a hole in the bottom of their co-worker's styrofoam cup so their morning coffee slowly leaked out across the desk as a practical joke.

Story Plausibility

Huh? I know, I know. It goes like this. If your story is based on any kind of world like the one we live in, there is one constant. Money. And to get money requires work. How much money one gets depends on the kind of work they do. Money is how your characters afford their rides, their clothes, their houses, and their vacations.

Yeah. So what?

How often do you actually considering while writing, whether or not your character's job will actually provide for the lifestyle he has?

Your characters are in college, and can afford a month-long trip to Brazil on summer break, complete with a fancy hotel and boozing it up day in and day out. Are you really going to just go with the tired cliche` of the super-rich parents?

A struggling artist decides to go on holiday in Europe, traveling through Paris and Rome looking for inspiration. Not if they're actually struggling.

who wants to go to Paris anyway?

Get the picture?

It helps the plausibility of the story immensely when you can explain how your characters can afford the things they do. Even more so without the stand-by's of the super-rich parents or the secret agent with the credit card that has no limit. I'm not saying go into extreme detail, laying out their checkbook or budget or anything, but keep in mind, you might lose some readers if you have some kid that's six months out of high school flashing hundred dollar bills out the window of his super-souped up ride, and nary a mention anywhere in the book of where the money comes from.

We writers ask a lot of our readers for their suspension of disbelief, whether it be shadow demons in closets, true love on the Mekong River, or a hero that manages to dodge every round from a trio of machine guns. The least we can do is provide them with a believable background for our characters, and as I hope I've shown, the right job can go a very long way to do that.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recycle Bin, or 'Bits Box' ?

As a writer, the only thing that comes as close to devastating as writer's block is the sense that your story isn't working like you want it to. Somewhere you veered off the right path and got lost in the woods, which is never someplace that you want to be.

There are a couple different ways this might happen.

1. Your story doesn't stretch far enough.

Basically, this is when your idea that you thought was a novel or novella falls short. Usually by a lot, meaning several thousand words or more. Just keep in mind there's nothing wrong with writing a short story or a novelette. You probably won't be able to throw it up on Amazon by itself, but there are lots of venues still that do take short stories. Magazines, webzines, anthologies are all out there needing material and a lot of them do pay for them. Currently there are even some publishers that are willing to e-publish novella's. 

2. Point of View

You may start wading into a piece working with who you feel should be the main character, only to discover far more interesting things are happening to someone else. This can be extremely difficult to deal with, as a lot of times, changing the point of view (POV) can mean going back and starting over from the very beginning, and nobody likes having work that seems like it was a waste of time. Here's the thing though, it wasn't a waste of time because it led you to a place where you could see the right path. Start over from the beginning if you need to, but keep that first piece handy to remind yourself of what was going on that leads you back to the other character in the first place. Maybe your story will work with a mixed POV, back and forth between the two characters. Or maybe you could turn that first piece into an extra short story, to give the readers something that adds further depth to the main storyline for those who want to know more. 

3. False Starts. 

You revved the engine, hit the gas, and you've made it through the first thousand words when the engine dies. It's not writer's block, it's not a bad story or one that falls short. Something is broken, though, and you're really not sure what. Maybe you've just lost interest in that first thousand words. Maybe you just can't see how to get from point A to point B. It could be that this particular story hasn't quite "marinated" long enough. There's nothing really wrong with the story, but the inspiration for the entire thing hasn't quite struck yet and it's not one that's going to let you force it through. This can be frustrating because it feels like writer's block, even though it's actually subtly different. After all, you have the idea, the energy, but it still won't come out. Like your fingers are frozen just above the keys. What can you do? Well, try reading everything you've done already on that story. Read it from the start, go over your notes, see if something jumps up waving and screaming at you. If that doesn't work, you may just have to accept that it's not the right time for that story yet and set it aside for a while. Busy yourself with other things, start a new piece, maybe even meditate on the issue. It's not giving up if you come back to it later on with a fresh mind. 

The point I'm actually making here is that there are lots of reasons that a piece we're working on might stall out or not come out the way we anticipated. It can be extremely frustrating. It can also be temping to simply drag the files up into the Recycle bin and hit 'Delete'. 


Just because something isn't working out NOW, doesn't mean you won't have that "Eureka!" moment later on, and of all the things I've listed, few are really as demoralizing as having that epiphany and then remembering that you'd deleted all the work you'd done, rendering that new moment of brilliance useless. Even if you end up never finishing a story, you have the start there to play with, twist and mold. Pull it out and poke at it sometimes just for the hell of it. It might turn into a completely different story, or give you ideas or characters for others pieces that might be floundering a bit. Inspiration can come from some interesting places sometimes, and it shouldn't surprise any writer that the key to making one story work might be built from the parts of a story that just never got off the ground. 

So don't throw any of your broken works in the recycle bin. Throw them in the 'bits box' for later.

~ Shaun

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Top 10 Horror Survivors #5 - #1 (SPOILERS)

Welcome back. Once again, this blog post does contain spoilers for some of the most well-known Horror movies, so prepare yourself if you're a somewhat sheltered fan of Horror. (And in what world does THAT make sense?)

If you need a re-hash of numbers 10 - 6, check here.

Now, I think we all know what the deal is, so lets get on with it. My Top 5 Horror Survivors.

5. Ash - Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness

You ever have just one of those days? Ash has had several. From a possessed forest, to demons, undead, and a laughing deer trophy, he's seen most of it. While he does suffer from some issues because of what he's seen (Hey, nobody without issues is going to cut off their own hand with a chainsaw and then strap said chainsaw onto the bloody stump), by the end, he's calm, cool, collected, knows exactly what needs to be done and has no qualms about doing it. Very rarely will you see a character change from just one of the group, fighting to survive, into the quintessential action hero with a quick one-liner for most situations. Ash does it though, and he does it with a smile. So remember, shop smart. Shop S-Mart.

4. Sarah Conner - The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day

If you looked at #10 - #6 and wondered where the women are, they're all here. Enter Sarah Conner. The eventual mother of the savior of the human race in the face of an army of killer machines, she's the hapless damsel in distress to start with. She has no clue what's going on, is scared out of her mind, and has to be dragged out of harms way more times than anyone should be before they get the hint that there's more they can do besides sit there and be shot. She does figure it out though. Once the switch is flipped, there's no turning back and you have one of the most badass mom's on the planet. Lots of mother's go out of their way to provide their kids with the stuff they'll need once they get older. Most kids don't need rocket launchers, machine guns by the dozens, all the ammo to go with, and protection from liquid metal assassins though. Yet, she still provides, even after she's gone. Sarah Conner wasn't just a survivor, she made sure other people would be able to survive as well.

3. Jim - 28 Days Later

Most of the people on this list have two or three movies to turn themselves around in. Jim, however, lives in a world of rage zombies, so it's either learn quick or die. Now, to be honest, we don't really know what kind of person he was before the accident that put him in the hospital, so it could be that his transformation isn't all that big of a stretch. From the start of the movie though, where he's confused, scared, and running his ass off, he makes a couple different turn-arounds. After a while, he understands what he's going to have to do to survive and he makes the effort to ensure he has what it takes. In his fight for himself and his friends, though, it's not just what he learns from the people he's with that changes him. What puts him on this list, and so high on it, is that he also learns from the dangers around him. Not only do the rage zombies show him what other people are capable of, they show him what he might be capable of and he takes that lesson to heart in the process of rescuing his friends. So hat's off to him for making his enemy's strength his own.

2. Ellen Ripley - The Alien Series

Like Ash, Ellen Ripley starts off as just another part of the crew, finding herself thrust into a situation 99 out of 100 people would have no dream of surviving. Yet she manages to persevere, and eventually becomes a badass in her own right. Her companions that she outlasted in the first film were just a basic ship crew, nobody outstanding as exceptional. The second film, her companions are Colonial Marines, guys trained to be badasses, and who subsequently lose their shit one at a time, until Ripley finally steps up into (literally) boots five times any of them could hope to wear. She's no less of a badass in the third and fourth movies either, like her bitch switch not only got flipped, but ripped out of the wall so nobody could reset it. All that experience makes someone who is not just a survivor, but someone to follow if you want to live yourself.

1. Chief Martin Brody - Jaws

It's one thing to survive when it's the only choice you have, it's another thing entirely to throw yourself into a situation you're terrified of and in no way prepared for, just because it's your job. That's why Chief Brody makes my Number One slot for Horror Survivors. Scared of the water? Check. Facing a man-eating shark? Check. Riding with a boat captain that's completely certifiable? Triple Check. Brody had the chance to stay ashore and await the inevitable return (by towing of course) of Quint's boat, but he insisted on going, despite everything else. Then, between him, the captain, and the shark expert, it's Chief Brody that manages to put an end to the reign of terror, using information he just learned the day before. Not only that. Not only ALL that. The experience gets him over his fear of the water. He's not just swimming home after the boat sinks, he's enjoying the swim home. He's didn't just survive the encounter, he came out of it smarter, more experienced, and stronger personally to boot.

So there you have it, my top ten Horror Survivors. Do you agree? Disagree? Who do you think should be on the list? Feel free to offer up your choices in the comments and we can discuss it. 

~ Shaun

Top 10 Horror Survivors #10 - #6 (SPOILERS)

Seriously. Spoilers ahead, if you're a horror fan who hasn't seen a lot of the classics, don't even scroll down. Unless you don't care about spoilers. Personally, I've always been of the opinion that knowing something isn't the same as seeing or experiencing it. Eh, to each their own though, don't say I didn't warn you.

The greatest fear people have, is fear of the unknown. In lots of genre's and media, this translates to the fear of death. Death being that great unanswered... Ah, forget all the psycho-babble for now. What this all basically translates to is this. If you're in a horror movie and you survive, you got DAMN lucky. If you come out at the end stronger or better for the experience, you're a true survivor. That's what this list is. These are the people who faced real horrors, hid, battled, and ran their asses off to make it to the end, were still breathing and were (more or less) whole when the credits rolled.

Note, none of these are really in any particular order.

10. Billy Peltzer - Gremlins, Gremlins 2

Billy starts out as your typical college kid, a bit clumsy and irresponsible, he tries to do the right things in life, but always seems to get the short end of the stick. Enter the cute, fuzzy little pet nobody actually deserves to have. In no time, the whole town is overrun with monsters, driving snowplows through people's living rooms and shooting little old ladies out the second story window. There really aren't any deaths on-screen, but there are several implied, as well as more than a couple vicious attacks. Still, Billy makes the list because he accepts responsibility and faces the mass of angry little beasts. He manages to survive an assault of circular saw blades used as throwing stars and with a little help, saves the day. In the second movie, despite the passage of time, and that it seems like life still beats him with the short stick, he doesn't hesitate for a second to stand up to the menace that he faced before. He came out of the first movie more responsible and courageous, even if he still can't face up to his bosses.

9. Danny Torrence - The Shining

This kid is a survivor. At his age, in order to survive, he has to escape from not only the ghosts and demons of the Overlook Hotel itself, but his from his father who's been driven insane by those same spirits. While he may be scared out of his wits the whole time, and makes a few mistakes along the way that almost cost him dearly, he doesn't stop thinking and manages to get away by outsmarting his father in the hedge maze. He may not be doing so well by the opening of the sequel Doctor Sleep, but for his first brush with terror he learns about his ability, and himself, and uses what he learns to survive a situation that, let's face it, most of us wouldn't.

8. Graham Hess - Signs

While I have a few issues with the movie, only one of which being the "Everything is part of God's plan" bit, you can't deny that for a disillusioned priest, Graham Hess has some skills. A perfect example is the scene in his neighbor's house, where an alien is trapped in the pantry. Almost without hesitation, Hess grabs a knife and uses the metal blade as a mirror to try and see under the door. Then it quickly flips around in his hand, taking off the fingers that reach out for him. Top that off with the way he keeps a perfectly cool head in the final showdown after a night trapped in his own basement enduring an assault from all sides, and you have someone who could stare down almost anything. End it all with reassuring himself of his faith, even in light of aliens from another world, yeah, he's a survivor.

7. Dr. Lawrence Gordon - Saw

Well, okay, so the whole series is about trying to survive the traps. Dr. Gordon was one of the first, and his crime wasn't even all that bad compared to the others who found themselves in similar situations. He is also one of the few who beat Jigsaw at his own game, by not killing his opponent or consigning himself to death. He took the third option and he survived. In a series where people are commonly being frozen solid, having their chests torn out, or having their heads split open like pac-man, surviving under your own terms is a hell of an achievement. He also did learn the lesson that Jigsaw was trying to impress upon people about how precious life really is. So cheers to you Dr. Gordon.

6. Shaun - Shaun of the Dead

Really, you had to see this one coming. I mean, just look at the title of the blog. Let's be honest though, in the face of the zombie apocalypse, how many people would risk everything to protect the ex that JUST dumped them? In the beginning, Shaun is a slacker, low-level job, always sitting around playing video games. Bumming around and having a laugh. Which is why said ex dumps him. Throughout the rest of the movie though, he's pushed to be pro-active and take charge, even if he screws up a few times. Sure, he ends the movie pretty much the same was as he started, but by then he's earned it. He's proven that when it comes down to it, he has what it takes, and the end of the world is not going to find him curled up in a ball under his bed.

Sooo...I had originally planned to just do all ten in one blog post, but this is getting a bit long now, so I'm going to just break it in half. Check back next Tuesday to see who my top 5 horror survivors are. I'm sure you can guess who if you're fans of the genre, but hey, this is my blog and I'm going to go over them anyway. True, this means two weeks in a row some people might have to skip due to spoilers, but if that irritates you that much, hit up the Biography link above and send me a nasty email about it.

Of course, if you think I'm leaving someone out (keep in mind the top 5 are still coming), or you disagree with some of my choices, feel free to say so in the comments. :-) Always nice to keep the conversation going.

Edit: You can skip along to the top 5 now by clicking here. Enjoy.

Catch ya later.

~ Shaun

Oh, and if you missed my extra post for the week, check it out, the announcement for the release of a trio of my short stories you can get on Kindle.