A More Textured Story

Stories are not just about the characters on the page. True, they hold the bulk of our attention, but they would not exist outside of the world in which they live. We’re taught as authors that in order to sell the books that we write, we have to have character and conflict.

There are even formulas we are given while attempting to write query letters that focus solely on the character and the plot. But when push comes to shove, a lot of us aren’t reading a novel to see character and plot.

No, we’re there to experience a new culture. We’re there to meet more than just the protagonist, we’re there to see the kind of world that only the author could dream up.

We want to explore big ideas, such as the Trappist system that was just discovered by NASA. How many people are already imagining what it might be like to live there?

I certainly know I am.

But then, I did the same thing with Gliese – which is about 20 light years away from Earth and has several little planets orbiting it.

Gliese became the “shadow of the Big Bad” for my book Tapped. Rather than Earth being the host of civilization, I moved humanity to Gliese and made Earth a backwater town.

I have plans for Gliese. Big plans. Epic plans that I’m excited to implement in the coming novels. (And with Trappist just being discovered and all, you can bet I’ll be finding a way to nudge them into the Tapped series too.)

But beyond exploring new places, novels are also supposed to highlight the complexities of human nature. We read them to help us understand ourselves and the world around us. We just get to do it while jumping from planet to planet or befriending a dragon.

The texture of our stories is what makes them memorable. Harry Potter would not be nearly as memorable without Hogwarts and its talking paintings, moving stairwells, and history. Sure, we got a story about good vs. evil, but we got on broomsticks and with wands.

So how do you create this texture in a novel without info-dumping or making the book so long nobody will dare pick it up?

Well … I can tell you what I do.

I write the first draft.

And I don’t think about how long it is. I just write it. Anything and everything. Flashbacks, lengthy info-dumps, whatever I need to understand the depth of my own story.

And then … I edit.

 

Outlines, Deadlines, and NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year again! That moment when I start really pushing the writing stuff and getting words on paper and all that. National Novel Writing Month begins in just a few short weeks and I’ve been happily fixing up my outline for a horror/supernatural novel.

If you’ve never heard of National Novel Writing Month then I encourage you to check them out. The contest is basically against yourself and the clock, trying to get 50,000 words written during the month of November. I’ve participated for several years now and have loved it every year … even if I often fail.

Witch-Born was written during NaNoWriMo in 2008, actually. (It’s on the side bar!)

But wait! I’m still working on Dead Weight, the sequel to Tapped. Will I be done in time for November 1st?

Why yes, yes I will. Because I am sitting at 10 chapters left in that rough (so very rough) draft. And because it is a rough draft I can totally put things like “Good Lord, Aimee, edit the crap out of this section” in the margins and move on.

So worry not! I will undoubtedly meet my deadline.

And while I’m at it, I’ve been working on the outline for the NaNo project, which has been titled Ashwood.

Pardon me as I do an excited squeal about this particular project. Ashwood is a horror/supernatural/romance thing and I’ve already done the second pass on the outline for it. I’ve been collaborating with another writer, Brendon Mann, who has helped shape the outline of this book and will be aiding me with all the male POV scenes.

Speaking of Brendon, he acted as a bit of a last-minute Beta Reader and Copy Editor for Persona, which I had scheduled to be released in December of this year. However, after he finished the novel he insisted I try another pass at the traditional market, so I’ve sent out several more queries with different publishers and agents.

We’ll see if any of them request a full manuscript. If they do, the projected publication date of Persona will obviously be put on hold until said publisher has made their decision. (Thank you, Brendon, for forcing me to try again. I seriously hate writing a synopsis and things, but at least I can say I gave it another go.)

In the meantime … I’ve got a list of things to help me survive National Novel Writing Month …

  1. COFFEE. Lots and lots and lots of coffee.
  2. Creamer to go in the coffee because, let’s face it, black coffee is gross.
  3. A new coffee mug, only to be opened and used after I make the mid-way point of the novel. (Reward systems are important.)
  4. Ranch flavored Corn Nuts – because I’ll make sure to feed my kid, but I’m likely to forget to eat myself.
  5. Notebooks, note cards, pens and pens and pens – so that I can write the last line I’ve typed down and then carry it with me to work and things. That way I can get more stuff down on my lunch break and whatnot.
  6. … I have to buy all the Thanksgiving stuff now, because I will be a bit of a zombie through the month of November and am likely to forget important things like pie. (Seriously. If I forget the pie this year, my son might flog me.)

I’m sure I’ll think of some more things between now and November 1st, but for the moment this list will do. If you’re going to try NaNoWriMo this year, I’d love to hear what tricks you do to keep yourself productive, awake, and somehow function as an adult at the same time.

The Countdown

I am now exactly three months away from Persona’s publication date.

What does this mean for me?

AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLYWell, it means a lot of work, actually. I have a list of things that need to be done like … hunt for virtual space (AKA – look for people online who wouldn’t mind me commandeering their blog/site for a day) and prepping advertising spots and getting reminder letters ready for all the wonderful people who agreed to advance review the book and … so much more.

SO. Much. More.

Side Note: Thank you so much to all of my advanced readers. I’ve heard from most of you already and I really, really appreciate the time it takes to sit down and read a book these days. You’re all awesomesauce on toast and I uber love you.

What happened to the Kindle Scout Campaign?

As predicted, this was not the right fit for me. Kindle Scout is made for people who really don’t mind shouting over and over and over again that their book is up and needs votes. I am not that sort of person.

Granted, if I were that sort of person it is entirely possible that I would sell a lot more books. The tactic seems to work very well for a lot of people. For my part, I cannot justify being that much of a pest. And if I spend all my time promoting, I get no writing done. (I am a single parent. My time is limited.)

Having re-read the manuscript hunting for any last-minute errors and the like, I have to say that Persona is a favorite of mine. While I may have bemoaned all the research I had to do writing a historical fiction, it is still one of my favorite stories. Megan is a gentle hero, which I believe to be one of the more common and less noticed heroes in the world today.

In any case … the countdown has begun! Three months and two days and this novel will finally be out for sale. It’s been a long but very satisfying road to see it get to this point and I’m excited for the next step.

 

 

Round Robin Discussion – Scarring your characters

This month for the Round Robin topic we are talking about emotionally scarred characters. The questioned posed is; “What mental, physical or spiritual wounds or scars have you used in your stories?”

The truth is … we all have scars. Whether they’re big or small or whatever, we have them. They define us as people. And the same should be said of any fictional character.

Now as a writer I don’t sit down with a particular “scar” in mind for the characters I’m dealing with. It’s really a discovery process for me. But once I’ve discovered that particular “wound” in my character’s personality I make sure to highlight it during the editing process and really draw it out.

Because being a writer is really being a student of humanity. We’re here to show what it is to be human and touch on subjects, both painful and joyful, that are often too complex to be fully expressed.

But which scars have I actually used?

Well, Trenna Dyngannon (Sedition series) had a serious issue with her mother that was really brought out in the second book of the series; Saboteur. Basically there was neglect and self-worth issues that Trenna had to battle through, which I found very interesting given how very strong Trenna is as a character.

One wouldn’t expect someone like Trenna Dyngannon to feel a sense of inadequacy, but due to close contact with her mother she finds herself struggling to remember that she isn’t actually defined by what her mother does or says.

In the Tapped series, both Seach and Jorry are deeply scarred by the fact that they had to abandon their former Captain. Relo’s absence is a deep burden for both of them given that they know exactly what has been done to him at the clutches of the government.

On top of that, Jorry and Seach are haunted by things that happened during the war. Moments that they wish they could forget, and truly traumatic orders that they found themselves bound to follow. This particular scar carries through the whole series (I’m in the middle of writing the second book now) and, inevitably, will come to a crisis point where they have to make a decision to either fight again, or try to find some other way to change the galaxy as they know it.

But perhaps the most noticeably scarred character of mine is Reesa Zimms from the book Deviation. Reesa is a science fiction novelist who has used her writing as a means of therapy for herself (no, this is not even remotely autobiographical, I promise) and in the book … well … let’s go ahead and give a snippet. I haven’t done one of those in ages.

“I’m dying, Matt,” she whispered.

She felt him move to her side, felt his knuckle graze her cheek, and heard him sigh.  “David is very good at what he does.  You should have a little faith,” he said.

Opening her eyes again she met his gaze. “And why should I be spared from a fate I forced onto the whole female race?”

He frowned, gently pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, and made a thoughtful hum.  She waited for his answer, praying it would be right.  She needed him to have an answer, to have some form of redemption for her.  Perhaps justice was served in her death, but even death-row inmates were given a chance at clemency, weren’t they?

A final prayer, a last wish, she thought.

“I think we’ve come to the matter of your own motivations, Reesa,” he said. “Tell me why you really wrote the books.”

Her heart might have stopped at the sudden wash of pain.  She certainly wished it would.  Fixing her gaze on the juncture between wall and ceiling above them, she was transported through her memory, to the small clinic exam room when she was eighteen years old.  Her mother’s voice rang loud in her ears, calling her irresponsible and thoughtless, convincing her that a child would ruin eight years of modeling competitions and progress.  And in her hand, Reesa could still feel the coarse, politely brown paper bag of contraceptives she’d been given after it was all over.

Matt made a soft, soothing sound and wiped the tears from her face.  Reesa closed her eyes, unwilling to look at him as she made her confession.

“I wrote a book where everyone was as ugly as I felt.”

Take a look at what others are saying about scarring their characters!

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2016/08/27/the-wounded-healer
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

The Versatile Writer

One of the most important traits a good writer has is versatility. And I don’t just mean in life, but in the writing itself.

Yes, authors who want to see their books completed have to be versatile in their lives just to squeeze writing time into a day. Parents have to find times that don’t clash with the whole parenting regime (get ready for school, take child to such-and-such event, help child with homework, get child ready for bed.)

Those of us with day jobs obviously can’t write while at work, so there’s that obstacle to get around. And then most of us with children also have a day job, compounding the aforementioned things that take up our 24 hours.

So yes … writers have to be versatile.

But that’s not what I’m really talking about today.

You see, once upon a time I did a lot of interviews with a lot of different writers and I started to notice a somewhat alarming trait in most of them.

A lot of them, not all of them but the vast majority, were very stuck in one particular genre. It’s all they read. All they write. All they pay attention to.

I can only imagine that this mindset comes from the “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” or “Why mess with a good thing” mantra that we’ve all heard. They found one genre that works for them. They like it. And they don’t see a need to expand further than that.

They “know what they like” and it made me just a little sad.

A book is a whole world, a whole life for the reader to live. By limiting yourself in your reading and writing habits, you’re limiting your readers too. Not only that, but you’re missing out on some really awesome learning experiences in regards to your craft.

Every book is like a cat. They have different personalities and different needs. Such as my cat versus my son’s new kitten.

IMG_0051

Pest. The Grandpa Cat.

My old grandpa cat (Pest) likes to laze around, talks to me while I’m on the phone, and lets me know I’ve been on the computer too long by attacking my head.

My son’s kitten (Nuisance) has a lot more energy, runs about, attacks anything that moves and recently chewed right through my headphone cord because apparently it looked really tasty. (Bad Kitty.)

I can’t approach Nuisance they way I do Pest. He attacks my hand when I do. I have to wait for him to come to me, curl up on my neck in the middle of the night and start to purr before I can really pet the creature.

It’s the same with books. You have to adapt to each one.

DSCN5896

Nuisance. The Kitten.

It’s alright if you really love writing in just one genre, but every genre has elements of the others in it. There’s mystery, romance, crime, adventure, and history in just about every single book you pick up. So if you’re not reading those genres, you’re missing out on seeing it done really well. (Or really poorly, depending on which book you pick up.)

So … versatility is more than just how you manage your time and adapt to your life, it’s about how you approach your craft. Are you willing to try something new?

Read a book you normally wouldn’t.

If you normally write in first person, try third. And vice versa.

Be a chameleon, you know? Your book is going to be versatile, or it should be, and how you approach it should change to match.

Kindle Scout

Alright, so we’re sort of in a mid-way point with the Kindle Scout campaign for Persona and I figured I’d do a little update to give you the sense I’m getting of this thing.

If you didn’t know already, I’m pretty awful at marketing.

Let’s just be honest with that one. I’d rather go to the dentist and have teeth pulled sans Novocaine than market myself. I do the bare minimum by announcing book releases and sales on FaceBook and here on this Blog.

I don’t know why that is, it just is, which makes this Kindle Scout campaign significantly harder for me.

Why?

AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLY

Cover Art by Chris Howard, who is absolutely amazing.

Well, because if you want to win this campaign, you’ve got to market it. You have to blast your friends, neighbors, strangers on the street, EVERYONE with news about the campaign for the entirety of the 30 days your stuff is running.

30 days of me shouting to check out my campaign and please, please, pretty please vote for it?

Yeah, no. I can’t do that.

It’s not that I’m not confident in Persona.

I love this book. I love where it started and I adore where it ended. It is a solid book. My style has grown and my understanding of the craft has become such that I know it’s better than anything I’ve written in the past.

So it’s not that I don’t think the book is good enough to be marketed. It is. It really, really is.

The problem is that, in our virtual society today, shouting at everyone for 30 whole days to nominate your campaign is … well … rude.

I know I get annoyed when someone is telling me the same thing over and over again. That little snarky judge that needles at my brain says; “Geez, vain much?” Or … “Ugh, I heard you the first time.” Or … “There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, my friend. Be careful cause I think you’ve crossed it.”

She’s a mean voice. I really try not to listen to her.

But she’s also a voice that I’m pretty sure exists in everyone’s head. So if I’m thinking that about other people … well … Obviously other people are going to think that about me should I start following suit.

Which leaves us to the problem at hand …

How do you market a Kindle Scout campaign for 30 whole days, keeping it fresh in everyone’s heads while not becoming that annoying, arrogant voice that everyone wants to shut out?

…….. I have no idea.

But then, I also have no idea how to really market my books either. So if you, brave author, already have a marketing plan in place and know how to use it, then Kindle Scout might actually work for you.

Because I’m like … 95% sure it’s not working for me.

Doesn’t mean I won’t try it again in the future, just means that next time I’ll know what I’m walking into and how to prepare for it.

Oh … and … um … here’s the campaign again. (See? Told you I was bad at this.)

 

 

Novel, Novella, Novelette

In 6 days my novelette “Torven” will be released for sale. (That’s August 2, 2016 for anyone wondering.)

For those unfamiliar, this is my little fairy tale about a man named Torven who has been cursed into the form of a wolf and how he defeats that curse. It was written primarily for my son but given that it is a story and I am an author, I have opted to put it out for sale for as cheap as I possibly can.

Readers will be able to get it for .99 cents on Kindle OR for those who really like the feel of paper under their fingers, the paperback will be 3.99.

However, I feel the need to warn everyone that it really IS a novelette. Which means it’s a mini-book. A baby book. A teensy-tiny book.

Seriously.

It’s only eight chapters long.

Which brings me to my discussion of lengths.

You see, my original intention was to write a novella. 25-30 thousand words at the most, nice and easy for an eight-year old to consume.

But as I was working on the Outline -since I took James Patterson’s Master Class and have been playing around with the way I do this writing thing – I began to realize just how much of the story I had planned out was fluff.

So I started cutting scenes.

I started focusing on making sure each chapter drove the story forward, on eliminating all those scenes that only showed character development or world building, and then combining all that character development and world building into the chapters that were essential to the story itself.

15 chapters fell to 10 … which then fell to 8.

By the time I had finished the first draft I knew I wasn’t looking at a real Novella.

But it wasn’t a short story either.

So what the heck was it?

As embarrassing as this may sound, I actually had to research it. I’d never heard the term “novelette” before so it was a fun little surprise to learn that these little stories actually exist. (Well, maybe I did hear it in High School once but I obviously forgot.)

In any case, writing this little novelette taught me some extremely important things. You see, I’ve had a lot of editors over the years and there’s always been this fight between wanting to “live in the work” and to “experience life on a space ship” and therefore to have those extra scenes in a novel that create color and perspective … versus the need to drive a story forward and make sure your pace doesn’t snag.

It’s … really hard.

(No, seriously. Writing is hard. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different.)

In working with Torven’s outline and then watching that outline come to life on the page, I was able to understand how every chapter and every scene really CAN drive a plot forward while still allowing me to live in the work and showcase the world. And I could do it without sacrificing forward momentum.

So for any writers/authors out there, I recommend trying to write a novelette. Limit yourself to 10 chapters or less. Cut out the “fluff” chapters and add all that color and perspective to the essential moments of the story. Believe it or not, it works.