Day 25: Face Yourself

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from going dark, is that there’s a lot I can learn by talking to other people about their experiences with social media. This time, that insight comes from Ann Voss Peterson who recently conducted our local writer’s workshop about characterization. Ann and I were talking afterward about social media, in part because she has co-written a thriller novel with J.A. Konrath entitled Flee and I was wondering what she was doing to promote it. We were talking about my 100 days experiment and I mentioned I’ve noticed a positive impact on my writing. She said something to the effect of: Well, of course. Because you wind up facing yourself.

Ever have one of those moments where everything starts swirling and you wind up in a scene from Mortal Kombat?

Yeah, okay. I did.

What does that mean? Face yourself. Shutting out social media means turning the mute button on two types of voices. First, you turn off other people’s voices that sing/yell/whisper across your screen. By doing so, though, you are automatically shutting off a second voice. YOURS. The one you use to interact with people on these tools. Which is not the same as your author’s voice, but a separate one. (And before you ask, I view blogging to be yet another voice.)

Just how profound is this? Well, I feel understanding what this means is crucial to self-promotion, time-management and good storytelling. After all, if you don’t have any words on the page, then you have nothing to revise. If you have nothing to rewrite, you have no manuscripts to polish. If you don’t have any finished manuscripts, then you don’t have any stories to submit or hand in for your deadline.

Sure, every writer is different. Some can write fast; others not so much. Still others have no problem pounding out the words, connecting with people, and making it all work. For me, though, I need to have a foundation. I have to figure out what time I need to process my work, to wrap my head around my story, article, etc. I need to listen to “the Monica voice.” To do that, to listen to that crazy girl, I had to tone down the number of voices and have a care to what she’s saying. The more voices I jam into my head, the less I can hear my gut instincts. My inner girl o’ awesome.

Is there some truth to this? That in order to be a better writer you need to face yourself?

For me? Yes, yes it is. Many other things have changed for me during this lights out period, because I wanted that silence to work on other goals. I feel like this simple phrase (“Face Yourself”) sums up not only why I needed to do this, but also solidifies what is happening all around me as well. More on that later!

About 100 Days: From April 4th to July 13th I’m turning the lights off on Facebook, Twitter and IMs for personal use. Read 100 Days: Turning off the Lights on Social Media for more information. You can also read the 100 Days post archive.

Need a Little Help from You (My Readers)

Hi,

So after being poked and prodded I’m finding I need to come up with a banner ad to promote The Queen of Crows. I feel I’m a little limited because I don’t have Photoshop and I don’t have the patience to learn GIMP. Instead, I use Paint.net. With various plug-ins and whatnot, there’s a lot I can do with the software, but there are some very real limitations with it.

And before you ask… No, I can’t afford to buy Photoshop right now. I know I’ll need it eventually, especially since many of the positions I’ve been looking at require knowledge of the software. It’s been a while since I’ve used it. At the moment, though, I’m teaching myself how to use CS5 and want to finish that before I move on to something else.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. So I can’t create an animated *.gif file and think it’d be wholly ridiculous/unprofessional to use a free compiler. Most of those won’t work for the size I have or they’ll put a little thingy on the bottom portion of the image.

So my challenge is trying to figure out what to convey in a short period of time. Here’s a few images I came up with.




Now, if you’ve read this e-book, you know that there’s more than just a short story. I’m not sure if I mentioned this in my The Queen of Crows retrospective or not, but there are several points I could bring up in an ad. Historical dark fantasy. Illustrated. Enhanced. Well-reviewed. Etc.

That’s where you come in. I need your help to figure out what should go into an ad promoting The Queen of Crows. What would entice you to download The Queen of Crows? Is it price? Something new? Because I wrote it? What?

I thank you, in advance. You can either post a comment or e-mail me directly at monica AT mlvwrites DOT com.

If you haven’t seen this and need some more information, take a peek at The Queen of Crows trailer to see how I’ve promoted it in the past.

Favorite Couple in a Genre Novel

Can’t believe I’ve been talking about genre for the past week. Today’s post is the end of a seven day run, and after today I’m going to take a short break because all the books I’ve read are starting to run together. Which is never a good thing, to be sure!

So what is my favorite couple in a genre novel? Tricky question. Tricky, tricksy. In my head, I automatically separate a romance novel (including paranormal) from any straight-up adventure novel. Why? Well, because I view romance novels as being heavily focused on relationships. For dark fantasy, which is the genre I like to read, I enjoy a good romantic relationship if there’s other things going on in the story. My answer today may surprise you. And I’ll tell you why in a minute.

My favorite couple in a genre novel is…

Wait for it.

Wait for it.

Wizard's First Rule by Terry GoodkindRichard Cypher and Kahlan Amnell from the first book in Terry Goodkind’s series called “The Sword of Truth.” The book is dubbed Wizard’s First Rule.

To be clear, they’re my favorite couple — until they get together.

Okay, let me back up for a second and explain this little Gordian knot before your heads explode. The reason why I like this romantic relationship is because it’s one that, from the start, is never supposed to be consummated. They cannot touch one another. In this book, we don’t know how uber-powerful-rare either one of them is. We know they are battling evil and we know they are falling in love in the midst of all these chaotic things.

But they can’t touch. No smooches. Not even a little peck on the cheek. If she did, she would turn Richard into a mindless slave that did whatever she wanted.

To me, that’s impressive worldbuilding and great conflict because there’s a tangible reason why these two kids shouldn’t be together. Kind of like Buffy and Angel. They get happy, Angel loses his soul and changes back into Angelus. So they can never be happy. Ever.

The reason why I said only the first book, is because although this premise is inventive, they eventually get married and discover they’re not as limited as they thought. (If at all.) The first book is, by far, the strongest one in their relationship because their love happens gradually, highlighting how they get together and how they’re vested in one another. As the series continues, the characters become more and more powerful, and the relationship arc begins to look the same, even with the obstacles and other women thrown in their way. The minute they become oh-so-powerful, my interest wanes because of the type of reader that I am. To connect with the characters, I tend to get into those that don’t evolve into (for lack of a better word) gods.

Now, what’s funny about all of this, is that Wizard’s First Rule is Terry Goodkind’s first novel. I thought it was a solid first for his characters and for his work. The story does teeter more on the dark side, so this is more of an adult novel than one I’d recommend for kids.

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Day 22: A Video about the Value of Time Off

Today I’d like to share with you a video Wil Upchurch (Thank you, Wil!) had sent me in an e-mail. This talk was given by Stefan Sagmeister and discusses the value of time off. Every seven years he takes a one-year sabbatical to refresh and rejuvenate his creativity.

I really enjoyed the video not only because it resonates with my social media experiment now, but because there’s a lot of truth to what he’s saying. Constant production — whether it be words or art or whatever — takes its toll. Add deadlines on top of that or some other kind of pressure (e.g. marketing, promotion, social media, other people, etc.) and the quality can (and will) suffer.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize when that quality takes a dive. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand why or to catch it before it does. In a way, this video reminds me of a mantra I’ve once heard: Americans live to work; Europeans work to live. Here, Stefan shows how the work can be more fulfilling if you take time off to pursue personal projects. Powerful stuff, because he’s not advocating that you stop doing whatever it is you love, but to redirect your talent into a different direction to help your baseline grow.

In my case, I’ve removed social media because I perceived its effects on me. Have I learned anything from this? On that “deep” personal level? I’m starting to. The reason why I am didn’t come from me, though. That insight came from another author and I’ll be writing about that later this week.

Take a minute and check out this video of Stefan Sagmeister: The Power of Time Off at TED.

Most Annoying Character (Type)

Well, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. Today I’m supposed to talk about my most annoying character, but I’m going to alter that slightly to “type.” It’s not any one particular character, but it’s the way that they are portrayed.

Yeah, okay I’m not a fan of Jar Jar either…but let’s not go there.

There’s a particular thing that bugs me about characters. Useless characters bother me to no end. You know the kind. They’re the ones you wonder why the author threw them in the book when they have no bearing on the plot or feel like an add-on just to get killed. They’re there to highlight the pretty world or culture, but don’t do anything except turn into meat shields or make the main characters look more competent than they really are. They’re a pet, a token, a staple. But you feel nothing and every time they show up you skip through that section to get back to the main plot.

Mind you, I have no problem with a red shirt. Yes, sometimes the pawns-to-the-slaughter are necessary, but I like to have an emotional or a vested interest in the character. Adding in a character to be killed without characterizing the meat shield doesn’t horrify or scare me. It tells me very terrible things are happening, but not to anyone I care about.

Sheesh. I feel like I’m not making any sense. Okay, let me try to explain it another way. Take the news for example. Say a tsunami hits. Terrible thing. Bodies washed up on the beach. People starving. Yes, this is an emotional gut punch. Now, watch an interview the little girl who lost her puppy or the grandmother who managed to survive. Right there, I feel something because I identify with them. I may not have experienced their specific pain, but I relate to them. And it sticks.

Does that make sense? Meat shields for the sake of having meat shields doesn’t do anything for me — even if it’s to express the terrors that lurk in the night. I’m not a fan of gore porn or gratuitous violence for the sake of having it, nor am I a fan of exploring setting for the setting’s sake. I like my plots tight and my characters to have a purpose.

Er… Something like that.

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