Birthday Shenanigans and Release Buzz

I know, I know. I probably should have mentioned all the birthday shenanigans over the last week but … Hey, I was busy doing fun things.

Like visiting Craters of the Moon and going to the movies and eating steak and having pie. (I maintain that pie is better than cake.)

But in the middle of all of that, I also have been reminding people about Persona’s May 1st release date. 

Persona took me over a decade to write.

That’s right, over a decade. I started writing it when I was 19-20 years old and then life happened and I stopped writing and while this could have been considered a “trunk novel” … I just couldn’t let it go.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a “trunk novel” I’ll go ahead and explain. You see, there are many professionals out there who say you need to write a couple of novels to get the feel of storytelling and learn the mechanics of the writing craft. These beloved little first creations are known as “trunk novels” because they are supposed to be buried inside a trunk and never see the light of publication.

The general consensus seems to be 5 trunk novels, with the 6th novel you write coming close to publication quality. And once those five are written, you bury them and/or burn said trunk, thereby assuring that your terrible first-tries never tempt you into touching them again.

Persona, whose title underwent many changes over the last decade, would have been my 2nd attempt at novel writing.

Now, I’m not vain enough to say that the early drafts of this book were any good. In fact, they were awful. So very, very awful. And if I were going solely on the plot concept, this book would have been burnt with the other trunk novels.

But … Megan was too compelling a character for me.

She is an independent, strong character without moving into the cliches of the woman-warrior. In fact, she doesn’t fight … not physically, anyway.

Her choices are what make her strong.

So, back in 2013, I decided to pick her up again. While I kept the novel based in WWII, 98% of the plot was altered. I kept only Megan and a handful of characters from the first work, which I imagine means I burnt the trunk novel after all.

I’m not sure what I did here could be considered a “rewrite” given how much of the story changed. Still, her beginnings were in my youth and I remember those first attempts with a great deal of fondness.

Writing Persona taught me quite a lot about being an author. I learned to cut things I held dear and to dig deeper into the minds of my characters – even the ones I never gave a true voice in the work.

I am proud of Persona, both because I love the story and because it is a clear map of my improvement as an author. I hope many other people can be inspired by Megan’s journey to understand herself and the world around her.

 

AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLYNothing is more important than who you choose to be, and for Megan Shepherd that choice has never been more important or more terrifying. In the middle of WWII, her ship is sunk in the Atlantic and all of her hopes and dreams for a new life translating papers for the JTLS in Britain sink with it. When she’s picked up by Germans she discovers that her understanding of the language is the only thing keeping her alive.

While under the scrutiny of the local SS, Megan’s plot to escape the country is derailed when escaped POW Sam Layton lands on her doorstep.  As the Allied Advance begins to box in the Third Reich, Megan and Sam make a mad dash for the Swiss border. But the truth never stays buried for long and those Megan has tricked are out for vengeance.

Marketing and Me

Recently I met with another local author and had one of those Zen moments where I had to decide exactly why I write. This author was very well put together, had her spiel (aka, pitch) memorized and gave every outward appearance of success. She looked, in a word, classy.

Flash to me … in my jeans and nondescript shirt, sporting a pair of Nike’s that are starting to get a hole in the toe. In my defense, this was a social function I’d taken my son to and a friend of mine decided I needed to make this acquaintance right then and there, so it wasn’t like I knew I was going to be meeting anyone in a professional capacity.

That being said … this other author had a much better handle on the business of writing than I think I’ve ever had, which is what brought about the Zen moment.

Driving home from the function, feeling not a little discouraged, I began to wonder exactly what set me apart from her and was not surprised when I came to the conclusion that she just plain knows how to market herself better than I do. She’s confident in herself and her writing.

I’m confident that I can get through anything the world throws at me but when it comes to my writing I know that I am constantly improving, so the confidence isn’t quite there. Sedition was fun to write but Saboteur was a more solid book because I had learned a lot about style and craft between the two books. (Even though fans seem to like Sedition more, which I find curious.)

Enter the Zen moment …

I made the decision a long time ago that I write because I have to write, because if I don’t write my brain will explode, because there are a zillion stories floating through my mind that need to come out.

I write because I love it.

It’s the process that I find fulfillment in, not the sales.

This doesn’t mean I don’t hope to sell a whole gob of books one day and secure a much brighter future for myself and my son, it just means that I will continue to do the minimum amount of marketing. Things like this blog and light conversations with interested readers, and memberships with organizations that don’t require too much money (Hello, single parent here) are all things that I can do without cutting too much into the writing time.

At some point I imagine I’m going to have to change this decision but for right now this is what fits for me.

The Querying World and Why I Bother

Alright, so I’ve edited another book nearly to completion. Persona will be absolutely, totally, and finally finished if not next week, then definitely the week after. Some of you will remember I started its major overhaul/re-write in the summer of 2013 by posting chapters once a week, but since then I’ve let the work get passed between not one but two editors – both of whom I am supremely grateful to.

In the wake of their suggestions I have had to dig deeper into the story itself and I confess, I’ve learned so much about theAJMaguire-PersonaCover-1280h craft of writing just from this one book that I honestly don’t feel ashamed by the length of time it’s taken me to complete it. I’ll probably write another “What writing Persona has taught me” post but for today I’m going to concentrate on the next phase in Persona’s journey … The Query.

Honestly, that word makes my palms sweat, and my palms don’t normally sweat.

Query.

It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve written a query letter and my brain is overwhelmed by all the do’s and don’ts you can find out there.

Introduce myself or the work first?

Work first, of course, they don’t care about me unless they like the work.

How the H-e-(double hockey sticks) do I write an elevator pitch again?

Oh, wait … wasn’t there a formula? (Blank) meets (Blank) in this (insert brilliantly creative jargon here) that will leave you …

Authors Note: I’d like to say I made that formula up but I’m pretty sure you can still find it on some movie pitches out there.

Suffice to say, I’m terrified.

Which is silly since the worst these people can say is “No thank you” or just plain “No” and really, I’ve got six novels out for sale now. You’d think I’d be over it or something.

But, as every writer who’s submitted their work before knows, “No thank you” somehow twists itself inside our heads to become … “You should never write another book.” “Your work is crap.” “Don’t bother anymore.” “Nobody likes you.”

Or my personal favorite; “You should go eat worms.”

Which … now that I think about it … probably reveals a lot about my childhood than anything else.

I need therapy.

But I can’t afford therapy so I write. And when I finish writing I have this crazy notion other people might want to see it, which loops me back to the Query Phase and the vicious cycle continues.

Why do I bother with this?

With the publishing industry the way it is, I can easily self-publish and move on. I did that with Tapped, after all.

But … I did that with Tapped because I didn’t want to compromise on certain elements of the novel. I wrote it, and I’ll be writing all of its series, with a distinct purpose in mind (to investigate and convey the affects of religion on a social and personal level) and I recognized at the very beginning that the concept was risky and likely wasn’t going to sell.

So my motivations with self-publishing Tapped were not because I simply gave up on the traditional market, which means … I can’t do that with Persona.

Which means I have to at least try with Persona.

Which means … I have to query.

Again.

….. Excuse me, I need to go eat a gallon of chocolate to prepare my fragile ego.

Round Robin Blog Posts – Social Issues in Fiction

I’m so happy to be joining the Round Robin Blog Hop this month. This month’s topic discusses social/current event issues that are important to me and how, when, or if I allow them to seep into my fiction. 

Deviation-510Let me start off with admitting that I definitely allow social issues to be addressed in my fiction. Anyone who has read my work, particularly my science fiction, will have noticed this for certain. Deviation, for example, has the very blatant conversation about women’s rights. Tapped is the start of a much larger conversation on religion that will be spanning several novels. The Abolitionist (which I’ll start later next year) is fairly self-explanatory.

All of these issues are very important to me and I believe that every author has the responsibility to Scornedsay something with their fiction.

However …

I also believe that every author has the responsibility to thoroughly research, understand, and clearly provide counterpoints to any social issue they address in their writing.

I shy away from making my personal opinions known here on the blog because honestly, I hate fueling the fire for these sorts of debates. They’re pointless and detract from the more important social issues that we should be spending our energy debating and attempting to fix … like homelessness, children living in poverty, the fact that some employment applications (or other legal forms) still ask for your “ethnicity” and therefore support a racist social structure, or the shameful amount of people going hungry everywhere …

But all of those things I can and do address in my writing. I “address” them, but I do not answer them because honestly, if I’ve written it right then I won’t have to.

Readers don’t need me to tell them poverty is bad, they already know it. My job as an author is to help somehow bridge the gap between the Reader and that poverty, to help them experience it so that they understand why poverty is bad.

This is terribly idealistic of me but I truly believe that we can change the world. Books can change the world. Stories can change the world. Authors … can change the world. Not by telling the world what to think, but by exposing these issues for what they are and bringing them forward in a terribly intimate way.

Have a look at what some of my fellow authors believe in and write about in today’s Round Robin Blog Hop …

Skye Taylor  http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Beverley Bateman  http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Margaret Fieland  http://www.margaretfieland.com/blog1/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/
Victoria Chatham  http://victoriachatham.webs.com/
Connie Vines  http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Bob Rich  http://wp.me/p3Xihq-vQ
Rachael Kosinski  http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Helena Fairfax  http://helenafairfax.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright  http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/

Missed Deadlines and Fighting the Muse

I know there are a lot of writers out there that just go with the flow, throwing out however many words a week at sporadic intervals, relying on their Muse to get them through.

Wait, you actually thought you'd be writing today?
Wait, you actually thought you’d be writing today?

I envy these people. I imagine their Muse sitting right beside them, nagging them at all hours of the day to get their work done because there’s sooooo much more to be done.

My Muse …

My Muse is that fat, lazy cat licking herself in the corner. She really couldn’t be arsed to move herself, let alone nag me about anything. If I relied solely on her, I would never get anything done.

So I have to make deadlines. Deadlines motivate me, force me to go to the corner and pick up the lackadaisical Muse and pester her until something resembling a plot starts to show up. This is why first drafts take me so long and why editing has become my favorite thing ever, because editing relies more on style and craft than it does on my capricious Muse.

This is also why a missed deadline drives me to hiding in a make-shift couch fort, gorging myself on chocolate.

Now then, I have missed several deadlines for Persona. At first this was because of the Great Avocado Incident of 2014 wherein I managed to stab myself through the hand.

Yes, I really did that. Yes, I lost feeling in three of my fingers on my left hand and the Doctor’s weren’t sure if I’d ever get it back. It was awful, I tell you; awful.

However, it is now nine months into 2015, I have full functionality with my left hand (hurray!) and I have still managed to miss nearly every deadline I’ve given myself with Persona.

Why?

Several reasons …

  1. Because I missed the first deadline.
  2. Because I MISSED THE FIRST DEADLINE.
  3. Because life happens sometimes and there were family issues I needed to attend to.
  4. BECAUSE I MISSED THE FIRST DEADLINE.
  5. Because this is the single hardest piece I have ever written.

I think you get the point. While there were other elements that got involved here, the main problem is that I let that first deadline slip away from me. I lost my momentum, my drive, and it took forever to get it back.

So if you’re like me and your Muse is a fat orange cat whose back is constantly turned to you, make deadlines.

And then KEEP those deadlines. Your couch fort and chocolate will only sustain you for so long.

Hurting Your Characters – Persona Version

Me: I really don’t want to kill Character A.

Internal Editor: Then you really should.

Me: But he’s so important to the main!

Internal Editor: Then you really, really should.

Me: Maybe he can just be seriously wounded?

Internal Editor: You know better. The very fact that you want this character to survive so badly proves the impact that their death will have on the novel.

Me: I hate you.

Writing While Unmotivated

I know there are lots people out there who just plain won’t write if they do not have the proper inspiration. They follow their creative muse and lean heavily on the concept of being an artist, and those things are true. Writing is an art and yes, sometimes you just plain don’t want to write.

I’m not talking about those moments when life steals your writing time. I’m talking about those moments when you sit down at the computer for your designated 2-3 hours of writing time and just don’t want to do it. The words feel stale in your mind, feel stale when you get them on paper, and you think that a thousand other authors could write this better than you are right now.

How do you push through that?

Well, I imagine it will be different for each person but I can tell you a couple of things I’ve learned about myself.

1) These moments do not last for only a day.

If I allow it, this feeling of drudgery can last for months at a time. So when I discover myself stuck in one, I have to take measures immediately. Sometimes this means going for a walk, cleaning the house, going to the gym or jumping in a pool. Anything where my brain can wander wherever it wants.

2) Rely On Craft

Yes, it does feel like I’m slogging through my work when I’m in this particular mindset. Yes, I groan and grump and get only a little bit of progress done on my manuscript. But the truth is, if I write anyway then I find myself looking at the work through the mindset of my craft, instead of the mindset of my muse.

Yes, it’s hard.

However, when I look at the work through the mindset of my craft I generally find a solution that would never have occurred to me any other way. It zooms the creative lens out and forces me to think outside of the character and onto the book as a whole, which produces a far stronger book.

The awesome thing about relying on my Craft, is that eventually something sparks and the inspiration snaps back into place. It might take several weeks, but it’ll get there and I’ve learned to have faith in that.

3) Read

When I start feeling unmotivated, I start reading anything and everything I can get my hands on. Fiction, Nonfiction, News, Poetry, literally anything in my path I will read. This not only stores new concepts and story ideas somewhere in my subconscious, but it makes me a better writer when that motivation finally does return.

4) … And this is going to sound terribly geeky … Play a Genre specific game

If I’m writing a science fiction, I will play wither Star Wars or Star Trek. If I’m writing fantasy, I play Dungeon Siege. Historical Fiction … well, I haven’t found a game for that one but I do watch tons of WWII movies and documentaries. My creative mind soaks up the visuals of those games (and/or movies) and often bounces me right back into wanting to write again.

And that’s it. Those are my four steps to getting back into the swing of things. Generally, I do all four. They aren’t a guarantee that my muse will start working again quickly, but I know that eventually it’ll come back. The main focus is that I keep writing regardless because I know that my Craft is capable of moving forward.