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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Why do I suck SO much?!?

E.E. Cummings dedicated his book of 70 poems, “No Thanks” to well, ‘No Thanks.’

 

 Some argue that rejection is a part of the writing process. Personally, I've always felt rejection hinders creativity. Each and every single time I got my ‘No Thanks’ email from an editor or agent, my will to write and my fragilely accumulated self-esteem would wash away with my tears.

So when an editor replied to my full manuscript with, “yada, it’s great, yada, yada BUT…” I braced myself for the inevitable sting of rejection. And it was there. But she returned my manuscript lightly edited and gave me two pieces of advice.

  1. Remove as many passive verbs as possible – was, were, could, should, would, etc. She mentioned an easy way to eliminate most ‘was’s is to change ‘was <>ing’ verbs to ‘<>ed’ verbs. For example: He was walking à He walked
  2. Show don’t tell. 
Hrmf!

I know. I know exactly what you’re thinking with #2. Heard that before? Me too. I thought I’d done a great job of showing, not telling. But I was wrong. Very, very wrong. 

For example, in my original submitted manuscript, I had the following opening paragraph for a chapter: 
The disturbing pinch of gravel digging into my cheeks and the full body throb of pain were the first things I felt. The sweet tang of pine and fresh blood were the first things I smelled. The dirt, unfortunately, was the first thing I tasted. I heard nothing. The forest was silent—too silent.
There I was, patting myself on the back, thinking, “NAILED it!” and “Look at all the senses!” After I received my rejection email, I looked at it more critically. Look at all the passive verbs!
The disturbing pinch of gravel digging into my cheeks and the full body throb of pain were the first things I felt. The sweet tang of pine and fresh blood were the first things I smelled. The dirt, unfortunately, was the first thing I tasted. I heard nothing. The forest was silent—too silent.
So I rewrote, taking out the passive verbs.
I felt the disturbing pinch of gravel, digging into my cheeks. I smelled the sweet tang of pine and fresh blood. I tasted dirt. I heard nothing. The forest was silent—too silent.
But it felt flat. I scratched my head and wondered what I was doing wrong. Why do I suck SO much?

Why?

Then the answer hit me

Because I’m just telling the reader what she felt, smelled and tasted. I’m not describing it, I’m not showing it. I ended up rewriting this section as follows: 
Air scraped through my lungs as I sucked it in. The sharp tightening around my chest made breathing difficult. I couldn’t do it fast enough to fill the empty feeling inside. Slowly, I drew in more air. The sweet tang of pine and fresh blood flooded my senses and the clamp around my lungs loosened a little.
I pried my eyelids open, fluttering my lashes against the ground, trying to get the dirt out. Sharp pebbles dug into my face. I brushed them away when I lifted my head. And stopped. Blood covered my hands.  I sat up and held them out, spreading my fingers. The blood stuck to my skin, partially dried and muddled with dirt. Mine? Clint’s?
The dirt in the mouth part comes in a few paragraphs later:
A dank earthy taste filled my mouth. I turned to the side and spat out dark brown soil and pebbles, leaving my mouth dry and gritty. I ran my tongue over my front teeth and spat again.
Is it perfect? Not likely. But I definitely feel it has improved. The editor must’ve agreed, because when I resubmitted my revised manuscript, she offered me a contract. Shift Happens: A Carus Novel will be published by The Wild RosePress. Release date, TBA. 

So the point of this post, aside from sharing my debacles in writing? Every so often, one of the ‘No Thanks,’ might be accompanied with a tiny tidbit of advice or information that will eventually lead to stronger writing and a contract.

Maybe rejection IS a part of the writing process after all.

What do you think? Is rejection a part of the process?


J.C. McKenzie

P.S. For more fun dedications, read my previous blog post

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It's already been done!

In 'The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories,' Christopher Booker explains the seven (7) basic plots all novels have (Stevens, 2006). According to Booker, no matter what you've written, your book will fall into one of these categories:
  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth
A psychologist named Carl Gustav Jung outlined the twelve (12) common character archetypes, later known as Jungian Archetypes. According to Jung, no matter what main character you've written, if they're realistic, they will fall into one of these categories:
  1. The innocent
  2. The orphan
  3. The hero
  4. The caregiver
  5. The explorer
  6. The rebel
  7. The lover
  8. The creator
  9. The jester
  10. The sage
  11. The magician
  12. The ruler
By the logic of Gustav and Booker, that means there is a finite number of stories that exist, based on the main character and plot. How many, exactly? Let's do some math. Literacy and Numeracy: Together at last!


(12 archetypes) x (7 plots) = 84 story possibilities

Seems like a low number, and it is, when considering in 2010, the United States alone published 328,259 original novels & editions (according to UNESCO).

How long do we have before we run out of stories? Let's do some more math.

(84 stories) / (328 259 stories per year) = We're already out of time! It's very conceivable that every archetype main character has already been written into every plot


Sure there's holes in my argument. I know that. I definitely haven't accounted for books published outside of the states (and shame on me, I'm Canadian!). There are other English speaking nations. And let's not forget the publications in other languages. With those factors included, I think it's definitely safe to say every combination has been done, somewhere, at some time, in some language.


So how do you make a story unique?
  1. Just because it's been done, doesn't mean it's been done by you! Your story will be unique with your writing style and voice. There's more to a novel then just the basic plot and the main character archetype.
  2. I only accounted for the main character, not the villains or the supporting cast. That opens up more possibilities (more math!). Your story will be unique with your surrounding cast of characters and their interactions.
  3. Take the cliche and twist it. Sure your plot and main character have been done in combination before. So what? Use that to your advantage and add an unexpected ending.
  4. If you write urban fantasy, science fiction, futuristic or paranormal, the story can be unique in the world you set it in.


So if you're a writer, how do you make your story unique?
If you're a reader, what stories have you read that you feel were really unique, and why?

J.C. McKenzie
www.jcmckenzie.ca
@JC_McKenzie

*Coming Soon* Shift Happens: A Carus Novel

Stevens, Anthony (2006). "The archetypes" Ed. Papadopoulos, Renos. The Handbook of Jungian Psychology.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Humans are parasites

This blog post of mine originally appeared on Jo-Ann Carson's Lovin' Danger Blog on October 11th, 2013. (I wish WordPress and Blogger had a reblog button that allowed for reblogging WP posts on Blogger sites - if you know how to do this, please enlighten me).

I'd like to thank Jo-Ann Carson for the opportunity to be a guest on her blog. She's a writing colleague of mine, and also happens to be my mother! Her love for books and the craft definitely inspired me to take up writing.

***

Humans Are Parasites:


In “The Hot Zone,” author Richard Preston makes an argument that hit me hard. He postulates viruses are a part of Mother Nature’s immune system and human are really the parasites. After all, it's only when humans try to delve into uncharted territory or cultivate pristine wilderness, that we are exposed to extremely deadly viruses, such as Ebola Zaire, Ebola Sudan, Marburg Virus and Lassa Virus (to name a few). There are other arguments for why that is, but I like Preston’s:





Viruses are Earth’s natural defense against the human infection.

MIND BLOWN

As a biologist, I LOVE that argument. I sit around and think about it all the time, just geeking out by myself. I even made my husband read the book, so I could talk to someone else about it. Sadly, he liked the military side of the book more than the biological one.

As a writer, it got me thinking.

What a great premise for a new world! I write Urban Fantasy (with strong romantic elements), and in the world where my Carus Series takes place, all supernatural beings have been exposed after a period of time referred to as The Purge.
"During The Purge, a series of natural disasters and deadly viruses swept the world. As the fragile human population declined, the death defying presence of the supernatural led to one preternatural group after another becoming exposed—Werewolves, Vampires, Fae, Demons, Skinwalkers, Witches, Angels, everything from our dreams to our nightmares. Pandora’s Box had opened." (Excerpt from Shift Happens: A Carus Novel)
Essentially, Mother Nature got so pissed off with humans, she tried to kill a bunch of them off using what powers she could - natural disasters and deadly viruses.


Shift Happens, the first book in the Carus Series takes place roughly eighty years after the Purge, and it was a lot of fun to write.

Is there a book you really enjoyed that had an interesting premise or unique world? What was it?

J.C. McKenzie
Shift Happens: A Carus Novel will be published by The Wild Rose Press. Release Date, TBA
@JCMcKenzie

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The crazy little things...

I've been working on the third book to the Carus series. I've had a lot of fun writing the first two books and developing the world, especially paying attention to the little details, such as how emotions smell to supernaturals. I had to create an index for myself to make sure I kept all the details straight. What did anger smell like again? Oh right, burnt cinnamon.


Now that I'm two, almost three, books deep into my world, a lot of the little details have been taken care of--ironed out, but I'm not done with introducing crazy little things. One of the ongoing themes in my books is technology, and the inability for the older supes to adapt to the ever changing tide of new products available. Andy, my main character, is one such supe, but in book three, she learns how to give specific ringtones to her personal contacts. What fun!


What type of ringtone should Wick, Tristan, Lucien and Clint get? What about her best friend, Mel? Or any of the witches, who have a hankering for singing late 80s pop songs?

I guess you'll have to wait until the third book (working title: Debacle of Demons) to find out!


Okay, okay. Even I know that's a DB move. (DB = douche bag!)

So here's a clip of someone's ringtone:


Oh, ok, since you asked, here's another:


Which two characters do you think these ringtones belong to? You're welcome to guess, but I'm not telling.

Do you personalize your ringtones? How do you decide who gets what?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

I dedicate this book to...

As I skip down the road to getting published, I keep getting ahead of myself and my proverbial feet tangle up while I think of all the little things I need to do. Who do I dedicate the book to? Who should I thank in my acknowledgements? And how do I want to fill out the cover request form? All three of these questions had me paralyzed in fear. What if I chose wrong? What if I forgot someone? What if I don't put in enough information and I hate the cover, or worse, what if I over explain and kill the artist's creative process? The cover is important, after all, and in my opinion (with no marketing background whatsoever) directly impacts sales.

But the cover information aside, the acknowledgement and dedication questions got me thinking...and as it often happens, said thinking lead to Googling. What do other people do? I went on a search to find out.

Here are some funny ones I found along my researching journey:

1. The Heart of a Goof (1926), P.G Wodehouse
"To my daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time" 

2. Algebraic Topology by Joseph J. Rotman
"To my wife Margarit
and my children Ella Rose and Daniel Adam
without whom this book would have
been completed two years earlier"

3. Tobias Wolff, ‘This Boy’s Life’
"My first stepfather used to say that what I didn’t know would fill a book. Well, here it is."

4.  E.E. Cummings, 'No Thanks'


5. Pedram Amini, ‘Fuzzing: Brute Force Vulnerability Discovery’
"I dedicate this book to George W. Bush, my Commander-in-Chief, whose impressive career advancement despite remedial language skills inspired me to believe that I was capable of authoring a book"

6. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. There were 13 books, and each book was dedicated to the author's deceased girlfriend, Beatrice.
To Beatrice –
darling, dearest, dead. 
For Beatrice –
My love for you shall live forever.
You, however, did not. 
For Beatrice –
I would much prefer it if you were alive and well. 
To Beatrice –
My love flew like a butterfly
Until death swooped down like a bat
As the poet Emma Montana McElroy said:
"That's the end of that." 
For Beatrice –
You will always be in my heart,
In my mind,
And in your grave. 
For Beatrice –
When we met my life began,
Soon afterwards, yours ended. 
For Beatrice –
When we were together I felt breathless.
Now you are. 
For Beatrice –
Summer without you is as cold as winter.
Winter without you is even colder. 
For Beatrice –
Our love broke my heart,
and stopped yours. 
For Beatrice –
When we first met, you were pretty, and I was lonely.
Now I am pretty lonely. 
For Beatrice –
Dead women tell no tales.
Sad men write them down. 
For Beatrice -
No one could extinguish my love,
or your house. 
For Beatrice -
I cherished, you perished.
The world's been nightmarished.

7. Scheme Shell Reference Manual. Olin Shivers, Cambridge, September 4, 1994
Who should I thank? My so-called "colleagues," who laugh at me behind my back, all the while becoming famous on my work? My worthless graduate students, whose computer skills appear to be limited to downloading bitmaps off of netnews? My parents, who are still waiting for me to quit "fooling around with computers," go to med school, and become a radiologist? My department chairman, a manager who gives one new insight into and sympathy for disgruntled postal workers?
My God, no one could blame me---no one!---if I went off the edge and just lost it completely one day. I couldn't get through the day as it is without the Prozac and Jack Daniels I keep on the shelf, behind my Tops-20 JSYS manuals. I start getting the shakes real bad around 10am, right before my advisor meetings. A 10 oz. Jack 'n Zac helps me get through the meetings without one of my students winding up with his severed head in a bowling-ball bag. They look at me funny; they think I twitch a lot. I'm not twitching. I'm controlling my impulse to snag my 9mm Sig-Sauer out from my day-pack and make a few strong points about the quality of undergraduate education in Amerika. 
If I thought anyone cared, if I thought anyone would even be reading this, I'd probably make an effort to keep up appearances until the last possible moment. But no one does, and no one will. So I can pretty much say exactly what I think.
Oh yes, the acknowledgements. I think not. I did it. I did it all, by myself.

What about you? 
Do you have a favorite dedication or acknowledgement?