Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Writing resources online

I've been writing for a while now but it's really only been about four months since I dove into the whole social media/social network side of things. Starting this blog, joining forums, tweeting, etc. I feel like I've found a few things that are quite helpful and thought I would list them out. These are the sites that work for me; maybe they'll work for you.

Writing Forums:

Absolute Write. I'm on several forums, but AW is the most active and has the most subforums for finding others with similar interests. From general writing advice to genre specific questions, to self-publishing and even blogging, there's a ton of great people on there to help. And it has a real community feel where everyone looks after each other, people argue and make up, and there's that weird guy in the corner everyone avoids. You can just lurk and learn a lot, but getting involved speeds the learning curve.

Publishing info:

Writer's Digest. Kind of commercial - they have webinars and books and services to sell. But still a ton of useful information on the industry.

Duotrope: Great resource for finding markets to sell short stories.


Querytracker. There are several sites to find information on Agents, but I like their search features and useful links.


Blogs are a varied breed, some are useful, some are entertaining. What's good really depends on what you're looking for.

Maybe Genius. Stephanie Sinkhorn, YA writer. Very knowledgeable in the field of YA with entertaining and thoughtful posts on writing and the industry.

Shannon Knight. Good book reviews if you like that kind of thing (I don't). What I like are her posts on myths in literature - rather scholarly but that's what I find useful and interesting.

Rachelle Gardner. An agent blog. Good industry information for aspiring writers.

Confessions. Agent Suzie Townsend. Her weekly Query Roundup gives a good insight into what people are submitting and, more importantly, what catches an agents eye.


I'm even newer to Twitter (@blairbburke), maybe a month in and still figuring out how useful it really is. It can be a huge time suck if you let it and it's hard to separate the signal from the noise. So far I think the best use is to follow agents, hopefully ones who represent your genre. You can get some good insight into their world and useful tips on the querying process.

Sarah LaPolla () tends to have a good amount of useful info without too much filler about cats.

There's probably a lot of additional useful sites that I haven't found yet, but these are a good starting place. Anyone else have any favorites that they'd like to add?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fighting convention

Like most writers, when I read or watch something that follows the normal rules of storytelling and the conventions of society's expectation, I always think: I would do something different. Wouldn't it be so cool to NOT to let the main character live, NOT to have the girl fall for the bad boy, NOT have a happy ending. Wouldn't it be great to do something different?

Well, not really. You see, those conventions exist for a reason. It's what people expect and what they like. Sure, we all like a new twist on the theme, but we want the same basic theme. We want the good guys to win at the end, we want the boy to get the girl. It's what the collective 'we' wants the real world to be like and ultimately we want that reflected in our stories.

What does that mean for you as a writer? Can you throw in that twist, kill of that character? Maybe. A little breaking of convention works as long as it works as part of a greater holding of the compact. You can't kill off all the characters, you have to give your protagonist some redeeming traits. You can go into left field but you have to come back to center before too long. Otherwise you'll make people unhappy.

In fact, all of this only matters if you want most people to like your story. If you write just for yourself, you can shake things up as much as you want. You might even win some fervent fans with your risk taking. Just don't be surprised when the result is not wildly popular.

When I think of stories I think them up for me. My endings are what I want. Then I stop and think about the reader. If I hope to sell the story, or even share it with random people, then I consider what they might want. My version is still in my head making me happy, but hopefully what I put down on paper will work for others. There's a reason convention exists and the challenge is to change it while meeting it as the same time.

On a side note I want to give a shout out to Story Addict, who not only has a cool and useful blog, but is kind enough to highlight self-pubbed authors (like me) just for the sake of being nice. Please check her site out: Story Addict.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Publishing - the real scary

My last post was about the otherworldly and why we like to be scared. We like to be scared by things we're not really afraid of in real life. But there is something going on that does scare me. Really. It's the world of publishing.

Writing is fun. Having other people read your writing is scary. But I can take that. It's the vast randomness that is the publishing world these days that I find frightening and confusing. Now, I understand the basics. I know how the traditional trade publishing system works. I feel I have a grasp of self-publishing, eBooks, and Print-On-Demand. But what actually works? Where are things going? What should I be doing? These things are harder to figure out.

Today there's a bunch of rumors of Random House merging with Penguin Publishing. Aside from the cute possibility of a Random Penguin imprint, the ramifications are scary. Instead of the big six we'd be down to the big five. And they would have about 25% of the market. That would give them to power to fight Amazon (something they seem to want to do). If two behemoths battle, it's the ants that get crushed underfoot (ants = writers).

On the other side of the coin there have been several revealing  reports that some of the best-selling self-publishers got that way through questionable means - paid reviews, gaming Amazon algorithms. How can an simple, honest person expect to compete.

In some ways, it's an exciting time to be a writer. There are more choices and possibilities than ever. But that also equates to uncertainty and frustration. Every time I think I have an idea how to move forward the target changes. In the short term, I think it's time to just write for a little while and come back to the publishing when I'm fully loaded. If I keep shooting, I'm bound to hit something.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

AbsoluteWrite Blog Chain - Otherworldly

Once again it's time for the blog chain from the fun folks at Absolute Write. Be sure to check out the other great blogs listed at the end of this post. This month's theme: Otherworldly. Being that it's October, and Halloween has become our favorite holiday, otherworldly goes with scary.

So what is it about ghouls and ghosts, monsters and mayhem, that are so popular in stories? Why do we like scary? In particular, why do we like scares from 'the other world'? Here's my thoughts.

We like to be scared because it's a powerful sensation. Fear triggers adrenaline. It gets your heart pumping (literally) and heightens your sensations. There's a physical response that's invigorating. People are simple that way - we like things that stimulate us. In any way.

Why do we like supernatural horrors so much? Because they frighten us, but they don't worry us. We like to be afraid only if we can put that fear behind us and move on. We don't want to live in a state of perpetual fear. That's over-stimulation. Otherworldly scares are temporary because we know that they can't actually happen to us. We don't have to live in constant fear that a ghost is going to grab us, or a vampire will suck out our blood.

There are lots of things in this world that are real and really scary. Cancer. Earthquakes. Gas prices. But you won't find as many stories about them - they exist, but they don't have the lasting popularity and comforting nature of supernatural horrors. There's a lesson to be learned there for writers.

If you are writing about something scary, you need to give your readers an out. While there is some power in the idea that bad things happen to everyday people, most readers want to believe that they are safe. You can make the location somewhere specific - most people don't live there. You can make the victims specific - the trashy girl is always the first to get killed, but that's okay because we're not trashy. You can stack the percentages in our favor - how many people can Hannibal Lector eat before he's full? Anything that allows us to feel frightened in the moment but safe when we return to our everyday lives will do the trick.

Or you can stick to the otherworldly. It offers many ways to scare us, and it's fun to dream up new variations (mutated zombie sharks that sparkle in moonlight?). But there's a built in exit strategy - we can just walk away. (unless, of course, you believe in land sharks)

Participants and posts:
Ralph Pines: (post link here)
randi.lee: (post link here)
Aranenvo: (post link here)
pyrosama: (post link here)
hilaryjacques: (post link here)
meowzbark: (post link here)
slcboston: (post link here)
areteus: (post link here)
dolores haze: (post link here)
SuzanneSeese: (post link here)
Orion mk3: (post link here)
Linda Adams: (post link here)
Alynza: (post link here)
BBBurke: (you're already here)
SRHowen: (post link here)
Damina Rucci: (post link here)
CJMichaels: (post link here)
wonderactivist: (post link here)
Lady Cat: (post link here)
xcomplex: (post link here)
debranneelliot: (post link here)

bearilou: (post link here)
bmadsen: (post link here) 

Road Trip Wednesday #153: You Oughta Be In Pictures

Taking part in YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday. This week's prompt:

What is it that makes some books seem ideal for a film translation?

Great stories are great stories, but some work better in a specific medium. When a story is translated from a book to a movie, a lot depends upon the translator. Just like in languages, you can't just translate the words directly. You need to translate the context, you need to use appropriate idioms, you need to capture the tone and feel of the original.

Sometimes this is straightforward, sometimes not. Books with few characters and lots of dialogue are easier to translate into a movie - but it may not be a good movie. The pacing of the words, the visual image that the reader draws, the picture they make in their head; these things may not match what the film produces. The hard reality of what is on the screen takes a way from the magic our imagination creates. The English Patient is an example that didn't work for me - the movie wasn't the book in my head - but it worked well for many others.

Long books, books with many characters and complex worlds, generally don't translate as easily. Movies are too short and need to be more linear than a book. The Lord of the Rings is a perfect example of this. Yes, I think the movies (plural) came out great. But it took hundreds of millions of dollars and three very long films to come close to doing the books justice. War and Peace is an example of where it doesn't work to simplify things into a shorter medium.

So any book can be translated into a good film. Some are just easier to do than others (I'm curious to see how Cloud Atlas turns out). The truth is that it's often the simplest stories that come across the best (Twilight). But the very complicated ones are the most rewarding when they work (Harry Potter).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Booking Through Thursday - Covers

Another Thursday another Booking Through Thursday question. Though they managed to sneak in multiple questions this week: What book(s) have your favorite covers? Something that’s perfect for the story, the tone, the colors, the mood…
And did you pick up the book BECAUSE of the cover? Or were you going to read it anyway, and the cover was just serendipitous?

I have to say, covers don't mean very much to me. I'm definitely attracted to titles, and when browsing in a store you mostly just see the spine of the book. When I pick up a book to examine it more closely I'll normally go to the blurb on the back, often without looking at the cover at all. Then I'll read a few pages - that's what does it for me. It's the words of a book that matter, not the pictures.

An example that comes to mind is Michael Connelly's A Darkness More Than Night. I love that title. It immediately sets a tone that strikes a chord with me. The story sounds interesting and having read Connelly before I know I like his writing. The cover is a yellow eye in the middle of all black. It does nothing for me. It's kind of obvious that even the publisher is expecting to sell this book off the name of the author more than the picture it shows.

But to try to answer the question - one book that I did pick up because of the cover was The Alienist by Caleb Carr. I had never heard of it or him. I found it stacked in amongst the thrillers at an airport book store. The old fashioned, out of focus photo on the cover is very different from most thrillers (so is the book). It caught my attention when the title did nothing for me. Just knowing it was set in turn of the (last) century New York was enough to make it interesting, so I gave it a try. It was exactly what I was expecting, but ultimately the reason I liked it was because it was good writing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


When I first came across a reference to NaNoWriMo a few months ago I had no idea what it meant. But it seemed to be a big deal so I checked it out. It's National Novel Writing Month and it's November. For anyone in the dark like I was, it's about trying to write a novel in one month. Really, it's about a lot more than that.

NaNoWriMo is about a social writing experience. It's about writers setting a goal and helping each other achieve it. It's about community and encouragement. It's a celebration of writing in general, be it for fun or profit. And it's about winning.

NaNo isn't really a contest (though there are sub-contests). The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. If you do that, you win. Doesn't really matter if it's one book, several stories, or just random words on a page (though what's the fun in that?). If you write 50k you win. It doesn't have to be polished, ready for publication. It doesn't have to complete the novel. And even if you don't quite reach 50k you'll still win. That's the point - writing itself is a win.

I'm participating for the first time and I'm starting to get excited about it (just finished up a draft of my WIP so I'm shifting gears now). I've chosen to write a Necessary Evil tale. My previous ones have been novellas around 25k. So for NaNo I've chosen an idea that has a little more meat on its bones. I've also chosen a new main character (though the unnamed man will still be there). Here's my novel:

Mockup Cover
A Daughter's Revenge: A Necessary Evil Tale.
Tarya watches from hiding while her entire family is slaughtered by an assassin sent by Lord Faromar. She flees for safety but her only thought is for revenge. But what hope does a sixteen year old Baron's daughter have of defeating a skilled swordsman and powerful lord? For that, she must transform herself into a weapon.

She seeks out the greatest fighter in the land, known simply as the Master. When he will not train her she finds other tutors: a street urchin who teaches her how to survive, a castle guardsman who trains her in swordplay and gives her his heart, a foppish prince who's a master fencer and cruel lover. Her journey is dark, but the light at the end is the death she holds for those who've wronged her. She will have her revenge if it costs her her life. Or even more.

Good luck to everyone who's participating in NaNoWriMo (including me). See you on the other side.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Booking Through Thursdays

Another week, another Booking Through Thursday. Here's the question: If your house was burning down and you could save just one book from your collection … what would it be? Here's my answer, but be sure to follow the link for what others are saying.

Hard to say, I don't feel all that attached to any physical books. The words are what I keep and the books themselves can be replaced. But I think I might grab my copy of The Portable Nietzsche. It's one of the only books that has some notes and highlights in it. Of course, I got it used, so most of that is not mine. But some of it might be, so I should probably hold on to it so I can figure out what I marked and considered important at one point. 

Repetition is okay

Let me repeat that. Repetition is okay.

I've mentioned before that writers are beset by 'rules', which are actually just stylistic guidelines. It's important to know these rules so you can understand where they come from. Once you know their derivation, you can break them - as long as you are true to their reason for being.

Once such rule is the repetition of words. We're taught that we shouldn't use the same word repeatedly. If he wants to have a cup of coffee, hold that cup, bring that cup to his lips, take a sip from that cup, feel the warmth of the cup and replace that cup on the table - that's a lot of cups. It annoys the reader. It makes them think that cup is the only word you know. You're suppose to change things up.

On the other hand, if he wants to have a cup of coffee, to drink some joe, have a taste of that morning jolt, the sweet nectar from the bean, the morning pick me up - that's getting awfully descriptive for coffee. Straining yourself to come up with a different way to represent a normal thing draws a lot of attention to it. Maybe that's good, or maybe he's just drinking some coffee.

Another repetition to avoid is the use of certain phrases or writing conventions. We all end up with our habits. I like to start sentences with 'and', things often happen 'once again', and my characters smile a lot. Nothing wrong with any of that in moderation, but if I don't consciously watch out for it my writings gets dull. 

When can you break this rule? When you want the reader to learn from the similarity. If Bob drops in two sugar cubes, a dash of cream, and stirs vigorously, then Sue drops in two sugar cubes, a dash of cream, and stirs vigorously, it tells us something about Bob and Sue.

So there are reasons to avoid repetition, but also reasons to use it. The important thing as you write is to be aware of what your word choice is doing to the reader. What feeling is it creating in them: boredom? understanding? awareness? Are you drawing attention to a limited vocabulary or emphasize the similarity of items in your story?

Knowing the repetition exists is the first step, and most writing software will help you with that. It will point out the occurrences, allowing you to use your judgment on what to keep and what to change. Understand the rule and break it only if you know why you need to.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Young Adult label

With a little trepidation over continuing a fruitless debate, and fear of accidentally marketing a book I know nothing about, I'm going to weigh in on a little debate on the intersphere: Is having your book labeled YA a bad thing?

To sum up the debate, an author of a popular zombie book complained that his novel was getting labeled as YA. Some YA authors and readers took offense at that. The whole thing gets deeper and twisted, because that's what happens when you debate things on the internet. I'm going to try to keep things relatively simple myself and shift the focus a bit. (for the inciting incident, check out this well written blog post at Read Now Sleep Later)

So, is it a problem if your book gets called YA? Let's define problem as something that prevents you from reaching your goal. So what's the goal for writing a book? If your goal is to write a literary masterpiece that raises the art form to a higher level - well, what do labels matter in that case? Writing a book is writing a book, whatever it's named or classified as is irrelevant. Every book stands on its own two feet (or hundred thousand words). So a YA tag doesn't affect the writing of the book whatsoever.

But if your goal is to sell books, what then? I can see how any book might have diminished sales if it's mistakenly shelved in the wrong section. Readers who like that type of book might have a harder time finding it, and those that find it may be disappointed that it doesn't fit into genre norms. That could hurt its acceptance and its sales. But truthfully, YA isn't a genre. It's a marketing category. And since over half of YA books are sold to adults, that categorization clearly doesn't limit the age range of potential buyers. Not to mention that YA is hot right now and on many levels out-selling adult-genre books. So if you want to sell books, it seems like you'd appreciate the YA tag.

To add to this point, it's important to note that the particular book in question was not getting sold as just YA - as happens with a number of books it was distributed as an adult novel and getting cross-listed as YA. Bonus: two categories. If you want to sell books, how can you complain about getting listed in more categories. I'm kinda hoping my book ends up getting labeled a YA, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, thriller mystery. That'd be sweet!

So if it doesn't affect your writing, and it will likely help your sales, why complain? Because some people think that YA is inferior. That it's been dumbed-down for teenagers and immediately suggests that the book isn't serious or well written. But who thinks this? Anyone that really matters? Some of the greatest classics of literature can be fairly labeled YA: Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye. Anyone that reads or just pays attention to the YA marketplace today (and apparently that's a lot of people - see above) knows that it tackles serious subjects and can do it in an incredibly thoughtful way. Whereas how deep and meaningful is an 'adult' novel like any of the Alex Cross books? (not knocking them - I've read and enjoyed several on long distance flights).

But there are people out there who have a prejudiced view of YA. So is it okay for an author to acknowledge that prejudice and try to avoid the association? Not because they're prejudiced, but they have to accept the nature of society. They can't fight it. They don't want to get dragged down with it. It's just being practical.

That argument has been used throughout history by everyone who has stood by and done nothing about discrimination. Now, I'm NOT saying that the YA stigma is anywhere near the importance of the other existing prejudices in our society, be it race, gender or whatever minority status. But the argument is the same and the argument is just as wrong for YA as it is for anything else. If some people are wrong for shunning something/someone of perceived lesser value, you are wrong for going along with it. I'm not going to condemn anyone to hell for dissing YA, but they will lose my respect.

I'm a writer. I write adult books. I write YA books. I write really bad poetry. I would love to write a literary masterpiece that makes the world weep with gratitude long after my time on this world has ended. But really, you can call my stuff whatever you like as long you read it. I won't take offense. Promise.

Friday, October 5, 2012

My first review

 Writing is hard. Really, it is. I like to think of myself as a strong person but when I quit my job to jump into the writing world I knew it was going to be hard. My friends were supportive but in a general sense. I didn't make too big a deal about it and they know I'm a strong person. So it's been lots of 'good luck to ya' and 'how's the writing going?', but no one seems overly worried about me. (Except my mother, but she always worries)

But I do have my moments of doubt. Writing takes place in a vacuum and we are the least qualified to judge our own work. I think my writing is good. I'm confident I'm improving. I've definitely learned a ton. I believe I will eventually succeed. But I don't know. Not for sure. I just try to hold onto my confidence in myself and keep moving forward. So far it's mostly working.

At the moment I am struggling with my Work In Progess. I love the story. I think I've found the voice. But my idea is not what it needs to be. It's not marketable, not for a first time author. I don't think I can sell it as it is. But I can change it. I know how to make it into what other people want. It would still be good. In fact, in many ways it would be better. I have to try to balance the confidence in myself with a practical knowledge of the rest of the world I have to deal with. We can't both always be right.

All of this being up inside my head has made it hard to write. I can see where to go, even how to get there, but I resist taking the first step. It's hard to commit when the outcome is so unknown.

When your own faith falters, sometimes it takes the faith of another to keep you up. Sometimes it's the smallest thing from a random source that tells you what you need to hear. I got my first review on Smashwords for my free novella. Someone liked my story (someone I don't know). And they took the time to tell me so.

Writing is hard. Bring it on.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Work in Progress

All writers have a Work In Progress, or WIP. They may actually have several. Even if they're not writing they are at least thinking about an idea, so that counts as a WIP. Or maybe they have a completed story that's sitting somewhere in the trunk waiting to be polished a little more. That counts, too. We always have something that we can claim to be working on, no matter how slow our forward progress.

At the moment I'm pretty happy with the headway on my WIP. I completed the rough draft about a month ago. After letting it sit for a little, I've now gone through a first edit and rewrote the ending to make it more of a stand-alone. (Originally it was the first in a trilogy. Technically it still is, but it wraps up a little better on its own now.) This is what I call the first draft - that means it's actually ready for people to read.

So I'm starting to look for Beta readers. (that's just fancy writers' terminology for someone who reads a draft and hopefully provides some feedback. Writer's like their jargon). So if anyone out there is interested in reading a Young Adult novel, contemporary in setting with some slight speculative elements, with a strong female lead, a little romance and a little more adventure, let me know. I may not have much access to email for the next week or so, but I'll be back before too long.

Here's a little bit more of a description:

Emily just wants to make it through high school and get out on her own, the same as everyone else. Her mom wants her to be perfect, wants to control her life. She even wants to set Em up with the new kid, the son of old friends. Not that Holden’s all that bad, he’s actually kind of cute and really smart. Too smart. And too strong. But that’s not the point – it’s what her mom wants so it’s the last thing she’ll do. Em only does what she wants.

But when strange government agents try to arrest her, everything spins out of control. Holden helps her flee, but not before the agents get her mother and his parents disappear. Em is on the run with a boy who is not what he appears. Everything she knows about her past is wrong. All history is a lie. If they can make it to San Francisco they hope to find the man who has the answers. The man who can help them find their parents. Em doesn't get to choose this time, she has to succeed if she ever wants to see her mom again.