Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Dragon in the Garden, by Erika Gardner

I am deep in the middle of working on a new novel - it has consumed every moment of my writing time and it is so easy to get lost in my own world, my own struggles, and miss the many great moments that others are happening around me. When someone I know has success, whether big or small, whether a close friend or a name that blurred by on my feed, it makes me a little happier. Happy for them and happy to know that one day my own moment will come. A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved; a joy shared is a joy doubled.

I'm happy to share the joy of  my friend Erika's new book. I met her a few years ago at the San Francisco Writer's conference and in spite of my best efforts to be a writing recluse, she's always kept in touch with not only me but the community formed at that event and beyond. She's one those people who doesn't get so lost in her own world that she forgets to look after her friends :)

Erika is a great writer - I've had the chance to read some of her previous work and can't wait to get my hands on this novel. You never quite know exactly where she's going to go but it's always a little further than you expect and lots of fun getting there. You can learn more about Erika on her blog.

The Dragon in the Garden

There is magic beneath the mundane and in The Dragon in the Garden, Siobhan Orsini witnesses it all. No lie can fool her, no glamour or illusion can cloud her Sight. She sees through them all and wishes she could close her eyes. Returning to face her past, Siobhan inherits her grandparents’ house in California’s wine country. She encounters a talking dragon, a hot fallen angel, a demon lord, a Valkyrie, and, oh yes, her ex-boyfriend. And that is just in the first twenty-four hours. 

Available for preorder now on Amazon and Smashwords- release date 2/19/16 everywhere!!! Special preorder promotional price 0.99! Preorder and the book will download to your device on Feb 19th.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My profile on Freshly Squeezed

I know it seems like I haven't been blogging as much as usual, but it's only perception. The truth is I have three different blogs and this one has been a little lacking in attention lately. That's because I actually just self-published a book (under my real name) and I've been buried in that and the blog that goes with it. I have learned a lot through my self-publishing journey and I'll be sharing that wisdom gained here as well - writing is writing and publishing is publishing.

But in the meantime, I don't think I ever mentioned the contest that I won for the first chapter of Synthesis. I wasn't the only winner - they had several categories. The contest had both industry professional judges and real-life teen readers (it was for YA and MG books), and I garnered one of the Professional Choice Awards. The full list of winners is at Freshly Squeezed.

The award is nice, and it's really good to hear from pros that you're doing something right. Another thing that I really like about Freshly Squeezed is that it provides a lot of feedback and even gives you a chance to incorporate it. It helped with my first page and it definitely helped with my first chapter. It was really nice to get feedback from actual young adult readers - so much of the writers network is made up of writers, which is great, but it's also not the same as the marketplace.

In addition to the contests, Freshly Squeezed does a really nice job of profiling a lot of the winners, their projects and their backgrounds. They did a nice little piece on me and if you want to learn a little more about who I am, here's the link to check it out:

Blair B Burke Profile

So I promise to be back shortly, with information on how to self-edit, tricks I learned from cover design, and the many ways that uploaded an ebook can suck up your time and sanity. See you soon,

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The importance of word choice

"Out of the way, lard-ass."

What do you think of that line? Completely out of context, who do you think would say something like that? Who would it be directed at? What does it tell you about the world and place where it was uttered?

That's a line from the opening scene of a new project I've started working on. The line itself is not an important one - it's definitely not the opener. It comes a couple pages in and has nothing to do with the plot. The speaker is a faceless person passing through, never named and totally irrelevant. But to a writer, every little word can seem like a pivotal moment that will make or break your story. We obsess over our choices, try a million different options and combinations, and can justify exactly why we ended up with the phrasing we did while the reader skims past it to get to the good stuff.

I thought I would break down how and why I ended up with that particular line and that particular insult. Writing this out forced me to really examine the process and I found it fascinating. Hopefully you will too.

I wrote the line the way most good lines come - it was in the moment and I didn't think twice about it. But afterwards I went back to consider it in more detail. I lengthened it, I changed the wording, I tried different insults. But in the end I stuck with what felt right. Those are the words that would come out of the character's mouth (even if that character is completely unknown to me). Here's why:

First, the setting. The story takes place in modern-day Northern California. Now, I know when most people think 'California' they think of Southern California. Warm weather, sunny beaches, people everywhere and everything popular and trendy. but Northern California is an entirely different beast. It's wet and cool. It's rural. It has much more in common with the Oregon coast and the people are quite similar to those I grew up with in a small midwestern farm town. I wanted to help draw that distinction right up front.

The scene is at a high school - one kid talking to another. He's trying to get to class on time and someone's in his way. It's a public place where teachers might possibly overhear, so the insult is going to be a mild one. Something that might get the speaker a reprimand but no real punishment. My main character is on the receiving end of the insult and she's a bit of an outsider. She doesn't fit in to any particular clique and is recovering from a traumatic accident that's left her a little shell-shocked. She sees everyone else continuing on with their lives while she's stuck in time. So 'out of the way' works on many levels.

The boy who casually throws the insult her way is part of the majority at the school. A white kid with a bunch of white friends who thinks sports are the only important part of school and life is about drinking beer and having fun with your friends. While my character is half Hispanic she's third generation American and passes for white, as opposed to the small but noticeable transitory immigrant farmer population that comes and goes in the school. She's lived there all her life and the locals view her as one of their own, if not necessarily a friend. The insult wouldn't have any racial overtones.

But she is a large girl. Normally strong and stocky, the accident has left her out of shape and she feels even more homely and awkward as a result. At the same time, she's been picked on for her looks for her whole life and one more insult goes completely without notice. She doesn't pay any attention to the words or the speaker since he isn't at all important. But I wanted to work in the type of thing she faces on a daily basis.

'Lard-ass' seems appropriately insulting and insensitive and does help create a proper picture of the character before much description has been given. It's also a rather lame insult. It doesn't scream cool teens - which these kids definitely are not.

Again, this isn't an important line. It quickly flies past the main character and she doesn't even consider who said it. I expect the reader will do the same. But it is the sum of all these little words, the ones that don't seem to matter, that make a story that's compelling and draws the reader into a world. It's easy to tell someone what happened. It takes a lot more to immerse them and let them feel it. As writers we strive for the latter. Sometimes it flows out effortlessly, sometimes we spend hours to get it right. The important thing is that we care. If we don't, no one else will.

"Out of the way, lard-ass."

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Constructive Procranstination

Procrastinating is inevitable. Not just among writers, but we seem to have elevated it to a higher level, even giving it a formidable name: Writer's Block. the fact that it seems to affect almost everyone and is such a staple in the artistic process makes me think it's more than the common 'I can't find the motivation to do this' which plagues everyone in the mundane details of life. I think it's actually an integral part of the creative process.

To create, our minds work on more than the conscious level. You can force yourself to sit in the chair and type, but that doesn't necessarily lead to creativity. We need to pull from our vast subconscious; we need to have a well of inspiration from which to draw.

But this is NOT an attempt to justify laziness or give anyone (especially me) an excuse to get out of working. If you want to succeed at anything, you need to be productive. Sometimes that means sitting your butt in a chair and starting to write even when you have nothing to give. It's surprising how often putting words on paper allows the mind to wander, to relax and find the hidden reserves waiting there to fill your quill. There's a reason that successful writers so frequently talk about writing every day, whether you feel like it or not.

Sometimes that works for me; sometimes not. However, as an aspiring author there is a lot more to success than mere writing, and that's where I've found the secret to constructive procrastination. When I lack the inspiration to create stories and characters, I turn to other endeavors. I edit past writing. I read - not just for pleasure but to learn from others about the craft of writing. I update my website. I research agents. I design book covers or review financials. There are so many aspects to being a writer these days that it's hard for me to imagine you can't summon the requisite energy to perform at least one of the tasks.

We all have so little time to get so much done. As a planner, I can come up a schedule and know how much time each little thing should take and the proper order to do them all in. I can block out time in my mornings and clear my calendar for a weekend. I can even set deadlines. But even my regimented mind rebels against such boundaries. If I give myself enough flexibility to let myself work on what inspires me in that moment I work much more productively, meaning I accomplish more over a given time span. Sometimes I blow past the artificial deadlines I set. Sometimes I feel like I have an unending list of next projects that grows faster than I complete them. But by using my procrastination time wisely I make the best use of my limited resources and prepare myself to do my best writing when the time comes.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Is realism a good ting?

from headdudebob on Flickr
My book Synthesis is a work of fiction. More particularly, it's science fiction. Not only is the story made up, but it has aliens, technology, and false history - things that don't exist and never did. But in every aspect of the story I tried to make it as realistic as possible. More importantly, I tried to make the characters real people. Not in the sense that they are modeled after actual, living people. But that they act and behave the way people really do. Therein lies my question: is realism a good thing?

Personally, I prefer realism in my science fiction. I know warp drives aren't possible yet, but they could be developed. Aliens might have visited our planet, and our government probably would want to cover that up and use any advanced technology they acquired for nefarious purposes. I want the basis for the story to be believable even if a little fantastical. When the science or plot get too far disconnected from reality (why do governments always use their best technology to turn teenagers into super-agent killing machines?) then it's harder for me to lose myself in that alternate world.

The same goes for people, but here's where I've run into difficulty. People are imperfect. They tend to be wrapped up in their own world and problems and don't see the big picture. They whine and complain, teenagers more than anyone. (at least, I know I whined a lot, complaining about all the things in life I didn't have control over). When people are taken out of their normal routine they generally flail for a bit before they can adjust, and they don't like it.

You see, my main character Emily whines a bit. She doesn't start out completely happy and satisfied with her life. When bad things happen she doesn't like it and lets the world know. She's passive. When things beyond her understanding start happening, she's lost and confused and relies upon others to take care of her. To use the parlance, she lacks agency. That's how I think most people are and what they would do.

At the same time, she does what's necessary to survive and tries to help others when she can (though she whines a bit while doing it). As the story progresses, so does Emily. She starts to figure things out. She tries to take control and make decisions for herself. She even risks her own life when she's given the chance to sit it out and let others do the work. Truth be told, she still complains a bit that life's unfair. But in the end, I find that willingness to be heroic while not feeling like a hero the essence of what her character arc is all about. If she got there sooner it wouldn't be as worthwhile a journey.

But I get feedback, especially from those who just read the first chapter, that Emily doesn't kick ass enough. She's not a Strong Female Character. They hate it when teenagers are depicted as whiny. How come the little teenage girl has to depend upon the strong men around her to do all the heavy lifting? Reality, that's why.

I know there's always a balance and everyone will have their own viewpoint and interpretation. But for me realism is good. Maybe it will be harder to sell a story that has a character who isn't perfect, who doesn't get things right at the start and isn't happy to be on her adventure. Maybe readers do want superhero characters who take charge right away and control their own fate. But that's not my story; it's not what I want to write. I've decided I'm happy with the reality I've created, the one that mirrors the world I see. That's what's most important to me.