Monday, November 26, 2012

Your Characters - Get to Know Them!

Do you talk to your characters? Really get to know them? You should.
Keith Kreager stops by with a very interesting take on knowing your characters.

How well do you know your characters?

I bumped into Chloe Horton the other day when I was picking up a plunger at CVS. Chloe is one of the main characters from my soon-to-be-finished novel, and she looked exactly as I thought she would: maybe five feet tall, long, brown dreadlocks, big, green eyes. She wore a backwards DC cap and had a couple Mountain Dews tucked under her arm. I got a quick whiff of cigarettes and perspiration as she passed.
“Chloe,” I said, “it is so nice to meet you.”
“Hey,” she replied. (I knew she would say that.)
“I’m so sorry for all the stuff I’ve put you through. I know I’ve been kind of tough on you at times.”
She shrugged and set her sodas down. She eyed the cigarette display behind the counter and then counted the change in her hand.
“Listen,” I said, “can I maybe take you to lunch? I want to thank you for all you’ve done, and I’m just so tickled that we bumped into each other. Do you like Mexican?”
She gave a wad of coins to the cashier and gathered up her Mountain Dews. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “You never told me.”


I didn’t really meet Chloe at the drug store, nor did I buy a plunger. I did, however, realize that there is quite a bit I don’t know about her. Does she enjoy Mexican food? What is her favorite color? Does she own a dog? Maybe a more important question: do these types of details matter?

I tend to be a very functional writer, almost too functional at times. Characters are tools, I would tell myself, and their purpose is to advance the plot. While there is some truth in these words, I have discovered the hard way that characters are much more than tools. Their words, actions, and characteristics move the story along, but those characteristics must be interesting and real.

I’ve been working on my book for a little over three years, and I thought I was close to finishing. Two of my sisters-in-law read it last summer, and each gave me similar feedback: I like the plot, I like the way things move, but I feel like I don’t know your characters. WHAT?!

After I un-friended them both on Facebook (I grudgingly added them back a few days later), I sat down and thought about my characters. My readers don’t know them. How well do I know them? Are they people, with lives and problems, or are they a bunch of cardboard cutouts?

My challenge was to give my characters some depth, put a little flesh on their bones. So…just add a few random characteristics, maybe? Chloe wears Channel No. 5 and is engaged to a British prince. She and her family hunt bison, sell the meat, and donate the proceeds to PETA. Is that enough? Do these details make sense? Who should I ask?

I did some searches and found an interesting article by Tina Morgan. If you want to know your characters better, she said, then you should talk to them. Interview your characters, and find out what makes them unique.

The first step is to answer some background questions about each character. Next, go through a series of probing interview questions with them. Finally, compare the answers with what you already know. Are the answers consistent with their personality? Did the interview reveal some things you didn’t know?

Here is part of my interview with Chloe:

Where do I find this person when the interview begins?
I find Chloe at a skateboard park in suburban Detroit. She is wearing a GreenDay t-shirt that is ripped in a few places, and she smells like the perfume counter at Macy’s. She kicks the end of her board and catches it in her left hand.

Do you like your job? Why or why not?
“It’s OK, I guess. I work at The Bean Press in Ann Arbor, but I’d rather be outside, skating.

“I get to drink a lot of coffee, which I like, but sometimes it gets pretty busy and there are lots of things to do. Too much to do. I like seeing the people, though. That’s my favorite part. There’s the morning regulars – older guys, mostly, and then the younger crowd comes in after school. The old guys are nice. Most of them tell me I should ‘fix’ my hair. I just smile and tell them that I’ll think about it.”

What is your idea of success?
“Just getting through the day, you know? My parents, we never talked about college or anything like that. My dad…he doesn’t like me much, and my mom does whatever he says. I’d like to go to college someday, I guess. I don’t know if that would make me successful, though. I don’t think about the future very much. Having a place to sleep every night is success in my book.”

What do you hate?
(Eyes well with tears.) “I…hate that my dad…doesn’t accept me. I’m a lesbian. Not sure if I mentioned that before, and he just…can’t accept that. He wants me to…be different, you know? Not be myself. I just wish that he…could love me. Not even for who I am, but just love me.”

What do you do in your spare time?
(Wipes her eyes and laughs.) “Skate! My friends and I spend every day in the summer at the skate park. I love it! I love being outside, picking up speed. I like going to concerts and clubs sometimes, too, but this is what I love to do.”

What did you have for breakfast?
“Um…I think I had some toast. Bread, really. The toaster is broken. Some coffee. I took a few beans from work. That really got me going today.”

These questions helped me to gain some good ‘Chloe insights’. I knew quite a bit already:
- She works at a coffee house.
- She loves skateboarding.
- She lives a very ‘day-to-day’ existence.

Some of the more subtle stuff did not occur to me at first, though.
- Chloe is a very sensitive, perceptive person, and there are times she almost knows what people are thinking. This characteristic is very important, and I use this to advance the story.
- She can be shy, and in spite of her memorable appearance, she sometimes disappears in a crowd. I use this as a baseline for Chloe, and I then move her through some changes throughout the story.
- She survives by avoiding conflict. Whether the regulars at the coffee house are making snide comments about her hair, or she’s dealing with her overbearing father, Chloe survives by not making waves. This skill has served her well, although it has also been a barrier to intimacy. This changes when she meets Maria.

I’ve interviewed most of my main characters, and this has really helped me to gain some important insights. The trick now is to weave this newfound depth into the story in a meaningful way.

If you would like to find out more about the character interviewing process, please visit the Fiction Factor website. A link is below.


Chloe and I went our separate ways a few minutes later. Being the enabler that I am, I loaned her a few dollars for cigarettes, along with my Visa card and the keys to my wife’s new Ford Focus. As Chloe drove away, I told myself that we would meet again. I’ll make sure to ask her about Mexican food next time, and I’m positive she’ll know the answer.

A little about me:
When I’m not writing or spending time with my family, I play video games like a fiend. Time permitting, I go to the office and keep the email flowing. I’m a big fan of Google +, I got married on Halloween, and I can still play “Stairway to Heaven” on the guitar.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Marketing 101

Today, Shen Hart, the prolific and unstoppable force behind Literary Plus, joins us to talk about a subject near and dear to all of our hearts.


Marketing 101

Hello all, I'm Shen Hart. I am the founder and leader of Literary+ and also an Indie Authorial Agent.
Today I am here to give you a bit of an overview of marketing and how to market your self-published book via social media and the internet.

I’d like to start at the very beginning, there is no point in putting your time and effort into a well constructed marketing campaign if your final product isn't up to par. This may seem obvious but it has to be said. To give you a brief overview of what I consider to be a good quality final product I'll pull apart the things which made me pick up the book I am currently reading. This is a book I have absolutely no professional affiliation with. I posted on Google+ asking for book recommendations, the author gave me his elevator pitch and a link I then proceeded to buy it because it looked good. I won't deny that I am a very fussy reader but that's for another post, another time.

The book in question is Hexcommunicated by Rafael Chandler.

First impressions count. In the case of books the very first impression a potential author is likely to get of your book is that of your cover and the title. Is your cover good quality? Does it give an idea of the contents? Here you can see that the author has brought in a professional and the investment will no doubt pay off (if it hasn't already). The title caught my interest too.
Once you have brought the reader onto your books page you have to grab them with the blurb. You all know how this works so I won't go into too much detail. Make sure it's sharp, interesting and free of grammatical errors and typos! In the case of this book Rafael actually used his elevator pitch instead which goes something like this:
A vampire, a werewolf, a few hundred zombies, and terrorists who deploy Lovecraftian WMDs. The vampire is a federal agent who likes fried chicken and cold beer. He's just learned that he's going to die in 8 hours.

Finally the writing itself needs to be the very best it can be. I have lost count of the number of books I have walked away from because they were horribly written. I don't mean just personal taste here, I mean stupid grammatical errors and other things you shouldn't have in your work. I’d highly recommend you bring in a professional editor but again, that's for another post another time.

Now that you have the very best product you can possibly put out there, you need to make sure the world knows about. First things first, who are your target audience? There is after all no point in trying to marketing a gory horror to fans of soft romance. I'll use Hexcommunicated again as it's already right there. This is a contemporary fantasy, it's fast paced and action packed. It is then logical to say that the target audience is people who enjoy contemporary fantasy, perhaps softer thrillers, you may be able to use the vampire card as well due to the main character.

Once you have your target audience figured out you need to think like them. What is it which makes them enjoy that particular set of characteristics within a book? Which boxes does your book tick and how does it do it better than the other similar books on the market? You have to play to your strengths. There's a place for brutal honesty and negativity, this isn't it. With this book there's a small range of people and points of appeal there. This means we can implement a broader spectrum of language usage and bait. For example, we could appeal to the vampire lovers. For those we would use focus on the main character, how he's a new take on the old vampire myth and something very different to the Twilight sparkly wannabes.

You now have some ideas about your target and how you're going to pique their interest. What now? This is where you need to get a little creative. Don't use spam. Just do not go there. An advert for your book on social media once in a while is perfectly acceptable if you hit the right tone and keep it t a lower frequency. It soon becomes white noise and irritates people though, don't become one of those people. To keep things simple we'll follow the vampire lover route for the moment. Google+ is my primary base so I'll use that as an example. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, Google+ is about fostering discussion, debate and interaction. This is absolutely fantastic for authors. Interaction and engagement are really important and will help get your name out there. Word of mouth is after all the best form of marketing.

Sticking with the vampire idea, use that to spark discussion. You could bring up something about mythology on vampires around the world, the differences and how it has changed over the centuries. Bring in people who are interested in that particular archetype, talk to them about why they love it so much. Don't shove your book down people's necks, you want them to come to you. Make sure that you have easy to access links to your book on your profile and it's clear that you have written it. When people get curious about you they will go and look. Once they have become used to your presence and are happy to talk about those topics you can gauge an appropriate time to casually and politely mention your book.

Let's break this down into the key points:

Produce a very good quality book. There's a lot of competition out there.

Make sure you know your target audience.

Do NOT spam!

Interact, engage, and be polite.

You can find me on Google+ here:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

This week, Sofia Essen has graced us with a guest post. It's hard to imagine taking the steps she has taken. I would love to visit some of these places, but to pick up and move there? There's no other way to say it... it takes balls. Enjoy!

Island Inspiration

If you were to ask me where I get the inspiration to write from, I would without a doubt say it comes from living in Crete. The idiosyncrasies of the island provide plenty of inspiration and ideas for characters and stories to write. Just finding a place to live was quite the adventure when I moved here almost four years ago.

What Real Estate Agents in Crete call a “Renovator’s Dream” is a homeowner’s nightmare in reality. A “Fixer Upper’s Delight” is far from delightful unless you have limitless funds to allocate to the endless amount of fixing up it requires. And a “Bargain Villa” is more often than not a ruin without a roof and indoor plumbing.

Here on the island, Real Estate Agents prey on hapless summer vacationers who pause to gawk at glossy photos of “Authentic Greek Houses” pasted to their office windows. The Agents paint a charming picture of living simply in traditional villages, making it sound idyllic and stress-free. They even suggest the hapless vacationers can do a lot of renovation by themselves – any fool can learn how to mix up a batch of plaster, can’t they?

I’m embarrassed to admit I was once such a hapless vacationer, charmed by the island and a well-practiced tale of tranquil living. I fell in love with a beautiful wreck of a house. And I was indeed convinced I possessed previously dormant carpentry skills. Oh yes, I was almost certain I was one of those people who can build you a shopping mall if you hand them nothing but a length of rope and a Q-tip.

Let’s suffice it to say I was quickly brought back to earth with a resounding thud when I fell off a ladder while trying to change a light bulb… so I hired a contractor.

Three days before Mr. Manolis, my contractor, was supposed to begin turning my ruin into a habitable dwelling, I came home from a jog on the beach to find a three-man crew lined up in my driveway.

“Hello,” I puffed. “Are you starting today? Did I get the date wrong?”

The three men looked at each other, shrugged, and then stared blankly back at me. I took a moment to catch my breath and regain my equilibrium before asking the same questions in Greek. They looked at each other and shrugged again before staring down at the ground this time.

“Okay,” I sighed. “No Greek.”

The almost scarily tall and scarecrow thin man on the left shook his head.

“And no English,” I stated needlessly.

The considerably shorter and much wider man in the middle nodded.

“Italiano?” I tried.

The average height man of normal weight on the right cleared his throat and said, “Bulgaria.”

“Great,” I muttered. “Just great.”

I began the process of opening my very warped wooden front door. I had to unlock it, back up and get a running start, and then throw myself against it in order to open it up wide enough to let me and the three Bulgarians into my hallway. Out of breath again from the battle with my door, I headed to my study to call Mr. Manolis. After having called his cell phone a dozen times, paged him and called his office just as many, and finally talked to his wife who had no idea where or how to reach him, I gave up. I returned to the crew of three who were shuffling aimlessly around the hallway and said, “You can go.”

“Go?” they parroted in comical unison.

“Yes.” I pointed at the open door. “Go.”

I watched in silence as the three of them whispered to each other for several minutes. Finally, the human beanstalk said, “Okay. Go.”

I smiled in relief. “Good. Thank you.”

I went back to my study and booted up my laptop. Just as I was about to settle at my desk with a hot cup of coffee, an earsplitting creak followed by a thud sent me bolting back into the hallway where I found Larry, Curly and Moe standing in a gaping hole where my massive wooden door hung only minutes earlier.

“What?” I gasped. “What did you do?”

The vertically challenged and rotund barrel-like man grinned in triumph, gave the front door that was now laying on the floor a kick with his booted foot, and said, “Go!”

Now, almost four years later, I've sold the house to another tourist with more optimism than sense... and I'm nearly fluent in Bulgarian. ***



Facebook page:!/essentially.sofia


Amazon Link:

Sofia Essen » What do you do when you get dumped, fired, and turn thirty in a single unfortunate week? You book the last available ticket on the next plane to Greece. Or at least that’s what the normally unadventurous Anna Cox does in a moment of uncharacteristic spontaneity. Visit the Greek island of Crete through the pages of Sofia Essen's novel Change of Pace… but first, take a look around this website to learn a little more about the novel and its author.

Sofia Essen spent twenty years as an expatriate in Southeast Asia and the Middle East before moving to the island of Crete in Greece. Living in Crete is what made Sofia pick up a pen and start writing. She was sitting in a café in a small Cretan village one afternoon, watching a couple of tourists desperately trying and failing miserably to order a cup of coffee, and said to herself, “This place would be a great setting for a book.”

Change of Pace is Sofia's first novel. All royalty payments from the sales of the book are donated directly to PETA.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Editor's Note: Hurricane Sandy knocked out the power of yours truly for a bunch of days. This post was supposed to appear on Halloween, Oct. 31. A.M. Jenner has posted it elsewhere, 'cause I couldn't do it. Kind enough to let me repost it, A.M. has allowed it to appear here today. Your welcome...

Cover Art

Last stop on my international blog tour, New York State. Thanks so much to JD Savage for hosting me; it’s good to be here.

My friend Paul Carroll recently posted on my blog about the technical aspects to creating cover art for novels. He did a very good job, so I'm not going to cover that part of creating cover art.

I read an article which shared the different aspects of what writers and marketers feel cover art should be. The writer wants the cover art to include specific details from the novel. They want to tell the story of the entire novel in one single photograph. To the writer, it’s extremely important that the details be exact. If the heroine has red hair and green eyes, the cover model had better match! As I read through this part of the article, I found my head nodding. "Exactly! This is what covers are all about", I thought.

Then I got into the second half of the article, explaining what marketers feel about cover art. Apparently, the purpose of cover art is not to tell the story. In fact, if the ratio is "a picture is worth a thousand words", then it would take a hundred pictures to express the content of most fantasy novels.

The cover of a book has four purposes: to identify the author, to give the title, to give the genre, and to get the browser in the bookstore to pick the book up and turn it over to read the description on the back. In online bookstores, clicking the link to go to the books page is the equivalent of picking it up and turning it over to read the back.

Identifying the author and giving the title are obvious. There have to be words on the cover with the author's name and the book's title.

Identifying the genre of the book is not something readers think about. However, both the font chosen for the author name and title, as well as the style of picture, identify the genre on a subconscious level. For example, if a book cover has an old-west wanted poster font, and a picture of a man with his horse, the reader automatically identifies the book as a Western and is either interested or dismissive depending on their opinion of Westerns.

Books with starfield backgrounds and planets floating in them are automatically categorized as science fiction, while anything with a dragon, or a large sword is usually a fantasy. A man and woman either caressing or gazing into one another's eyes is obviously a romance, and in many cases the steaminess level of the romance can be determined by how much clothing the woman is or is not wearing on the cover. Finally, the hardest element to include is creating in the reader the desire to pick the book up and turn it over. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is by making the cover pose a question to the reader.

The front cover of my novel Deadly Gamble shows a stretch of asphalt with a chalk outline of a body. Obviously, someone is dead. The cover poses the question, "Who died and what were they gambling on?"

On the front cover of Fabric of the World is a piece of fabric. The center of the fabric has an image of the world on it. The edges however, are frayed, and some of the strings trail off in different directions. The question here is, "How is the world coming apart, and what can be done to fix it?"
On my newest book, The Siege of Kwennjurat, the cover photo is a castle courtyard, with some kind of mist or dust outside the walls. Is it morning fog coming off the river? Is it dust raised by the besieging army? You'll have to read the book to find out!

Book Plug and Bio

The Siege of Kwennjurat is the second book in the Kwennjurat Chronicles. Alone in Kwenndara, Princess Tanella cares for the refugees from war-torn Jurisse, while she worries about her loved ones’ safety. Her new husband Fergan is two days away in Renthenn, coordinating the business of two kingdoms. Kings Jameisaan and Fergasse join forces in Jurisse to pursue the war against the Black Army. They know Liammial hasn't played his last card, and are willing to give their lives to protect their people and their children. Who will triumph and claim the throne of Kwennjurat?

A M Jenner lives in Gilbert, Arizona, with her family, a car named Babycakes, several quirky computers, and around 5,000 books. A self-professed hermit, she loves to interact with her readers online. Her books are available at, as well as most major online retailers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Best - That's Right, I Said It.

I saw an ad for an independent book awards web show thing. “The Best Indie Books” available, or something like that. My first thought was “How do they decide what’s “best”? Is it the number of sales? The amount of money made? Anyone who has read any of the most “popular” books out there these days can attest to the fact that the books that are the most popular, or the books making the most money aren’t necessarily the “best”.

Best written? Okay, still subjective, but, there are certain criteria one can point to as indicators of high or low quality work. To do so, however, threatens to come perilously close to the “Best Edited” category. The other part of being “Best Written” becomes subjective because it is based on the reader’s emotional response to the work. Few would argue that George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones isn’t a piece of really well written work, (ok, I know someone has to pipe up now and say they hated it), but to someone who really dislikes the genre, or doesn’t read much to begin with, or only reads magazine articles or whatever, it may be simply another drafty castle epic. Hardly the “best”, in their eyes. They may be able to appreciate the quality of writing, if they read it, which they won’t, so it doesn’t matter.

The same goes for “popular” music and the other things that get dragged along with it, like late night TV appearances, Greatest Hits collections, comeback tours by guys that look more like my dentist than the rock stars I grew up with, etc.

In the past, the song that sold the most 45’s, (kids, ask your parents), was declared the Number One Hit, and received more radio airplay because people obviously liked it, which in turn caused more people to buy it. This didn’t last long, though. The public would soon turn its attention to the next big thing.

Today, the next big thing is hyped months in advance, marketed as a smash hit single, book, TV show or movie long before anyone outside of the focus groups has seen it. Its earning power is secured by front screen splashes on iTunes and clandestine promotion by “fans” throughout social media. It has to truly and wholly suck out loud to stand against the machine that demands it make money. And, even then, it’ll cover the spread overseas.

The marketers have decided for us. “Best” equals “most money made”.

Independent authors, and those who read and review their work, haven’t made it there yet. They haven’t been completely corrupted by the system that demands a high percentage of the population‘s favor be indicative of value. Aside from the occasional review of one’s own work under an assumed name, and the pay-for-stars game that has sprung up now that Amazon has all but defined success for indie publishing, it’s still real. The people who read and review indie books are doing it because they love new and undiscovered talent. They love literature and they love the idea of being respected as a source for quality work. They put together these hit parades of “Best of Indie Publishing” because they want to build their own credibility by promoting quality work.

And that’s a good thing.

So, check out the recommendations you see on the web. Take a chance on an indie author and read and review them honestly. Soon, your friends will be coming to you for your recommendations. Who knows, you may be posting your own “Best of Indie Publishing” awards soon.
If you do, don’t forget where you got the idea. I’ve written a book you’re going to love. I haven’t sold many copies, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great, right?

Friday, August 31, 2012

The “Ardor’s Bridge” campaign is over.

This post also appeared on my "I'm On It" personal blog. It appears here as a reminder to authors that writing a thing is just the beginning. You still have to sell it. Sometimes, a great idea just isn't enough.

It has been a stressful month. Between the people supporting the idea of “Ardor’s Bridge” and the stress of watching our contribution numbers creep too slowly toward our goal, I feel torn.

I’m relieved to at least know the outcome. I’m sorry that I couldn’t drive this project home.

Here is the letter that I sent out on my social media and email channels today:
The “Ardor’s Bridge” campaign is over.
We didn’t hit our target goal. No one that pledged a contribution to our kickstarter campaign will be charged. The campaign is done.
We didn’t make it.
We tried to develop an idea and raise funds to see it through. We raised about 20%. To the 18 people that did contribute, and those who wanted to do so but couldn’t for a variety of reasons, I want to say “Thank You”. Thank you for taking the time to read what this project was about. Thanks for reaching into your own pocket in a time when we all feel the economic pinch. And, thanks for believing that every kid deserves to be part of the dialogue that helps to change the culture they face every day.
We didn’t make it. We’ll pull back, regroup and explore some other options. If we can find a way to bring this about, we’ll let you know. I hope we can count on you again in the future for your support.
Thanks for all of your belief and support. I appreciate it.
For my first play, it wasn’t a bad effort. Sure, it’s not Shakespeare, but, it was written in the right spirit. It was written as a tool for positive change. I wanted to do my small part in helping schools change the culture of indignity and bias that faces every kid that doesn’t feel like they “fit in”. When you realize that the kids who don’t fit in vastly outnumber the kids that do, you start to see the frustratingly stupid way we as humans treat each other, and allow ourselves to be treated. You start to understand the frustration and fear each kid faces, to varying degrees, every day in school.

My play/video project didn’t raise enough funds on kickstarter to get it off the ground. That doesn’t mean the problem goes away. Kids will still be bullied. Kids will still be mocked for who they are perceived to be instead of who they are or what they do. But, since enough of us haven’t taught our children not to punish others for having the audacity to be themselves, the state has stepped in.
The state government has passed a law that charges schools with changing the culture in their buildings.

Laws mean consequences for those that run afoul of them, and punishments for the offenders. But, you can’t change fear and ignorance through punishment. That can only be done through dialogue. Understanding between kids is the only thing that will start that change. Schools will need your help.

For those parents who do not teach their kids to hate, your kid is going to need your guidance. Singling other children out for being different is a common way for kids to act on their own fears. This can get out of hand pretty easily and surprise those parents who teach tolerance at home. Schools will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to bigotry and will err on the side of caution in the early days of these new laws. Please make sure that your kids are aware of the new guidelines, even if they seem outrageous to you. They are still real, still laws and will still be enforced. Change will come as common sense takes hold, but for now, remember that administrators, teachers and your kids are all going to need you to be involved. Dialogue, understanding on all sides and tolerance for the views of others is what is needed, now more than ever.

For those parents who still feel that LGBT kids should be mocked, made fun of or brutalized, be aware. This is just the beginning of change. The days when it’s acceptable to openly and actively discriminate against another American based on their sexual orientation are coming to a close.

I wanted to help by writing a play with a story about tolerance and acceptance, filming it as a movie, and then making that film available to schools to be used as a way to get those dialogues going between students and their peers. That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t expect to change the world or cure the ills of society. I just wanted to help. To that end, I gathered together a bunch of people who also felt that this was a worthwhile cause. Still more saw the value of it and contributed funds. Even more planned to do so but couldn’t for a variety of reasons. We all knew that we weren’t going to single-handedly fix the world. We just wanted to help a little. If we all help a little, that can add up to a lot.

We’ll find a way. As the creative and generous people I brought together for this project move back to their regular lives, the dream lives on. We will all find ways to help. And, who knows… maybe we’ll find another way to produce “Ardor’s Bridge”. If it’s a good enough idea, the universe won’t let it die.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

For Mature Eyes Only - When Does Romance Become Erotica

Firstly, thanks to JD for hosting me on my blog tour and thanks to the Literary+ team for offering such a great opportunity, and especially, Paul Carroll, who organised the tour.

For Mature Eyes Only - When Does Romance Become Erotica?

As a slash writer, I've been creating erotica and romance stories for a lot of years. However, with the advent of the term 'Mommy Porn', I started mulling over my own experience of sex in fiction and the line between erotica and romance and considering if there even is, or should be such a line.

Sex in fiction isn't new. I first came across it at age 13 or 14 when I bought a couple of cheap books, one from a jumble sale and one from Woolworths. Neither of them, by any stretch of the imagination, could have been called mommy porn, since one was a hard-noised spy novel and one was science fiction, but both contained graphic sex scenes. Neither of those books could have been called romance either, but then, some people would argue that is also true for the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey. I will state up front, I haven't read Fifty Shades and don't intend to, not my type of book at all, so I won't be making comment. However, the debate about whether Fifty Shades is porn, erotica, or romance does highlight how blurred the lines are between these genres.

So, let's start with a few personal definitions. This is what these terms mean to me, this is purely in my head, there is no legal definition intended, just my opinion, so when I talk about them, you know what I mean.

  • Pornography: well, for me, porn is devoid of emotion, it's describing rod 'a' into slot 'b'. I don't like reading porn, it offers me no connection to the characters and therefore no satisfaction in the book. Some romance/erotica writers set out with good intentions but end up with porn if they don't spend enough time with their character development and, importantly, interaction. :)
  • Erotica: this is much more difficult to define, because, just like romance, this genre deals with emotion for me. Okay, there's probably going to be humping involved :P, but, as I mentioned above, if there is no connection to the characters, it's porn. For me, character involvement and growth is the most important thing about erotica. The same rule applies to erotica as applies to any other writing, if a scene is not important to plot/character development, then it should not be in the story, so if a sex scene does not develop the story at all, then there is no point for it being in the book. That is the challenge of good erotica, how to titillate, but tell a story at the same time. The plot does not end at the bedroom door.
  • Romance: definitions get a bit grey here, because a lot of modern romance can be very explicit and overlap with erotica, but, for me, romance is the PG13 end of the spectrum, a little bodice ripping, some heaving bosoms (male or female), but fade to black in the juicy bits.

Okay, so these are my instinctive definitions, but it gets a lot harder for me when trying to apply them to actual books I've read or written, especially since other opinions vary so widely. This is particularly difficult when sites only allow you to stick your book in one or two categories. For example, I have a science fiction, fantasy story out called Bonds of Fire. I put it into sci-fi and fantasy categories, because it's main story is about dragons and a dragon-warrior, Drekken, who has to help a group of dragon hatchlings and their carers, two empaths, through a war zone. However, alongside the action, I have a developing romance. Now, in my head, it is firmly on the romance end of 'sex in fiction', because there's a growing friendship, a little bit of nudity, but nothing explicit, and some kissing. Sound like a romance to you? Me too. However, add into the mix that the relationship is male-male, and that there happen to be three of them and, well, one reviewer slammed the whole book, despite admitting to liking the story, because, 'the gay sex was terrible'. Other folks loved the saucier side of the romance. So, should I have defined this as romance, or erotica, I mean, there was a little nudity, I described an arse or two? ;) Personally, I'm still firmly in the it's a sci-fi/fantasy story with a side order of romance camp for this one, but I have since listed explicitly on the book description that it contains a male-male romance. I do think m/f romance writers can get away with a lot more of ye olde bodice ripping than m/m or f/f romance writers and still call it romance, simply because there has been more exposure (literally) to male-female relationships.

Bonds of Fire was complicated by the fact that I didn't class it as either romance, or erotica on the book site. However, I do have several erotica books out as well. They're explicit, so, instantly erotica in my head, however, I would say some of them also fall into the romance category as well. See, even I can't get my head around my own definitions! Maybe I should qualify that and say, they are also romantic, i.e. the characters are falling in love. Some of my erotica isn't romantic. That doesn't mean it is porn (my definition remember), it's not just describing sexual activity, there is emotional attachment, just not romance. In one case, The Need In Me, there are in fact two romances in the story, but not between the parties involved in the erotic part of the action. However, this book does follow the rule that the sex has to develop the story. I don't write what are termed PWP's, which means, Plot-What-Plot, which are sex and only sex for titillation's sake. That's not to say I haven't tried, just for fun in some of the slash fandoms I'm in, but somehow, they always grow a plot :).

For me, the important thing about a story, be it explicit or non-explicit, is the intent behind it. I don't find a person treating another person badly at all romantic, whatever their gender. This was my problem with the Sharon Green Terrilian novels. The Warrior Within and The Warrior Enchained were another couple of books I read in my teens, I had no idea quite how sexually driven they were when I opened them, but the power dynamics in them and the implication that subjugation to a man made the female lead 'complete' really made me uncomfortable. I never got as far as The Warrior Rearmed. I didn't even consider them romances, although others do, because the dynamic was so skewed that I couldn't see any romance in it at all. Wuthering Heights as well, definitely not one of the greatest romances of all time as some have dubbed it. It's a brilliant novel, but it's a tale of obsession, not love, in my opinion, Cathy is too selfish and Heathcliff too damaged for there to be any romance.

Seems I find it easier to define what romance is not, than what it is. As you can tell with me wavering between definitions, the journey from romance to erotica is not a simple one. There are many shades of grey along the way and distinction will be different for different people. Personally, I don't really care about the distinction, because explicit description of sex doesn't bother me unless it's done badly. What I'll leave you with is that, there's not really a line between romance and erotica, it looks more like this:

Sophie Duncan

Sophie was born with the writing bug in her blood, boring her primary school teachers with pages of creative writing and killing her first typewriter from over use when she was thirteen. She began publishing her work on line while at university where she discovered the internet and fanfiction. It took another decade for Sophie to realise her long-time dream of releasing her own original fiction as an author through Wittegen Press.

Death In The Family (Heritage is Deadly #1)

Leaving a good London school with solid prospects, Tom Franklin has the world at his feet. Yet one thing has always haunted his perfect life: his dreams. When Tom discovers that the nightmarish images of dark places and even darker instincts are in fact repressed memories from his early childhood, he must face the heritage from his birth-father, a savage vampire known only as Raxos.

Realising his memories are his only hope of controlling his awakening instincts, Tom returns to, Coombedown, the sleepy, Cornish village in which he was born, unknowing that the night-breed in his veins will lead him into danger.

Death In The Family is a young adult, paranormal novel.

Death In The Family Literary+ Blog Tour Schedule:

  • 27th August 2012: Is it the teeth? - vampires and why we like them. Host: Brooke Johnson
  • 28th August 2012: Scare me, Shock me - paranormal fiction vs horror. Host: A. K. Flynn
  • 29th August 2012: For Mature Eyes Only - when does romance become erotica? Host: JD Savage
  • 30th August 2012: There were 3 in the bed... ménage, ewww or gimme gimme! Host: Tressa Green
  • 31st August 2012: The Sidekick - plucky, loyal and just a tad annoying :) Host: Paul Carroll
  • 1st September 2012:Feedback - Taking It - Giving It - Enjoying It. Host: Leonard Suskin
  • 2nd September 2012: Mad With It - The Highs and Lows of A Writing Imperative Allisyn Bridges

Literary+ is a marketing initiative which was founded and led by Shen Hart. This is a time of evolution and progress, the market is being opened up to e-books and self-publication. As a fellow writer, Shen understands that self-publication is a hard and often lonely road. She started Literary+ to bring together authors and related creative specialities with the goal of helping each other. With a tight knit, friendly and welcoming community at its core, Literary+ holds a strong focus on marketing. As Literary+ continues to grow and evolve it will use innovating, original and experimental marketing methods and schemes to get its member’s books into their reader’s hands.

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm Worried

With only a few days to go, I have to admit, I’m getting worried. For the past three weeks, I’ve been trying to raise money for a project. I’ve raised about 10% so far, and that’s not without a bit of spamming and shaming my friends and family. I live in a reasonably stable section of the planet. The amount I’m trying to raise shouldn’t be too big a deal. I have two meetings coming up where I’m hoping to convince some people of the importance of my ideas, but, one never knows how those things will turn out.

Perhaps a little background is in order.

A few months ago, the local school district where I live hosted a meeting outlining the latest ruling from the state. It was actually bigger than that. A law had been passed, outlining the steps schools had to take to ensure that bullying, discrimination and general assholery would no longer be tolerated among the students. No more shoving the geek in a locker, no more marginalizing the fat kid. The real thrust of it, though, was tolerance. Kids that identified as gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual were to be treated as if they deserved basic human dignity. They were to be treated as if they should be judged by their actions instead of being judged by how far they were from “normal” or “typical”.

Excellent in theory. Impossible in practice.

Rules and laws, by their definition, require punishments and consequences. But, you can’t legislate intelligence. You can’t punish someone into believing something they don’t believe. If you have a kid who delights in pushing around a smaller kid, no amount of punishment will change that. The only option is to try and reach that kid through meaningful dialogue. The only chance to change that kid is to prove to him that there are no “groups” or “communities” of people except the one we all share.
Schools are going to need tools that they can use to get those kinds of conversations started.

So, I wrote a play. I plan to produce it and film it. I want to make the subsequent film available to schools to be used as a way to help get those conversations started.

After I wrote it, I took it to a school administration official. I asked him if he thought I’d hit the right tone. I asked him if I had gone too far, or not far enough. I picked his brain and made sure that what I had on paper was what was needed to make a difference. He assured me that this was a worthwhile idea, and my script was definitely something that could help.

My confidence bolstered, I sat down with some really creative people and asked them to help me. I asked them to read it and consider directing it and handling the musical direction. Gracefully, they agreed. So, I started a campaign on one of the online crowd funding websites. After a few fits and starts, I got my project up and running.

More creative people signed on. I secured the actress I wanted for the lead role, and another that I had written a pivotal role for as well. Through my director friend, I am excited about the choreographer that has agreed to be involved. My wife has agreed to manage the project, and no better project manager can be found. My friend who will be in charge of costumes is second to none in terms of tenacity and brilliance under fire. It is all coming together. Now I just need to secure the rest of the funding.

If I don’t make it, the project may be shelved for a while, while I try other sources of funding. More likely, though - this project will die.

Please help. Follow this link to contribute. Dance Play project.
I could tell you the story, I could tell you all about my childhood and how I got to where I am now. I could tell you why this is important to me and why it should be important to you. But, the bottom line is that these kids need to be able to go to school and learn without fear or having to smile through the indignities other kids visit upon them. I want to help make that happen.

I was telling a friend about this project and how worthy it is and he said to me, “Hey, what are you going to do? The world is a cruel place.” I thought about that for a minute, and replied, “No, it isn’t. It’s just full of cruel people.” But to his question, I indicated my project and said. “This is what I’m going to do. What are you going to do?”

And so, I ask you the same question. Will you help? If so, thanks. If not, thanks for reading this far. I hope you find a way to make a difference, too.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Guest Post - Book Trailer Videos!

Today, you lucky devils, Paul Carroll,
author of Balor Reborn joins us to lay out his speedy quick ways to build a video book trailer. Paul joins us from Literary Plus, the wonderful new talent house of authors, designers and creators of independent literature, led by Shen Hart.

Your Book in Film

When it comes to promoting your book, the next event of the Writing Olympics is exactly what you need to get beyond the writing desk. Making a book trailer allows for people to spread the word about your book easily, to find out about the feel of your book quickly, and to get an idea of what they can expect. There are some simple things I picked up from a module in college to help make this process so much easier, and while I could write a whole book on making simple videos like this, let’s focus on the basics instead.

Your book trailer should be planned, first. You’ve warmed up your creative juices, you’ve gotten everything you need to do for the cover done, and you’ve written your book, so this shouldn’t be a problem. For Balor Reborn, I knew my book was focused in Dublin; I knew I had something coming back from the dead; I knew what would happen in the book. So I planned accordingly.

My images are all from Dublin. Ideally, you should take your own photographs if you’re using them. I would have, too, if I’d been able to get out of the house to do it. However, if you’re stuck for time and resources, head to websites such as, and follow these simple steps.

1. Specify your search options. On Flickr, click on Search. Don’t bother typing anything into the search bar beforehand. When the page loads, click Advanced Search. This will bring up the new page of options for you to choose from.

2. Specify your search terms. The first option available to you is to enter key words to find your images. You can also choose to exclude some images. For me, I wanted photos from around Dublin, so I typed ‘Dublin’ into the search bar. I was getting images of celebrities who had come to Dublin, too, so below the search bar in the Advanced Search page, enter in terms you want to exclude. (For me, ‘Gok Wan’ was one I had to enter.) You can enter more than one word to be more specific.

3. Choose between photos and videos. The next step is simple. Choose to look for photos or videos to use. You’re better off keeping it at photos for the purposes of your book trailer, based on the later settings you need to apply to your search.

4. Search by date. If you want photos from the Olympics, and you simply type ‘Olympics’ into the search bar, you can choose to look at photos from a particular range of dates. This isn’t always necessary for your book trailer, but it’s useful to note.

5. Creative Commons options. Before you click search, look at the Creative Commons section of the Advanced Search. It’s the reason you’re here. Click ‘Only search with-in Creative Commons-licensed content’ to begin with. Because you’re making a video advert, click ‘Find content to use commercially’. If you plan on changing the image at all, which I did, even if it means just adding text over the photographs, click ‘Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon’. With that done, click Search.

When you select your images, be sure to note the licensing on them before you save. If you need to attribute the photograph to somebody, find their name and jot it down. You’ll need it later.

When I had my images, I slotted them into my Story Board. A Story Board is simple to create: decide on what you want your trailer to look like, plot out images on the page and specify an order and where the text will go.

You may wish to write the text for your trailer, beforehand. I went for something simple, to give a feel for what the book is about. My text was broken into four lines:

In a peaceful city
a long dead evil
will rise.
There will be blood...

This was the basis for the feel of the trailer. Decide what images the text will span across; you can have the same text continuing across multiple images if you wish. With that done, you need to find music.

I use to find my music. Specifically, I use the royalty free music. Kevin MacLeod provides hundreds of free tracks to use, even commercially like this, with one simple rule: you attribute it to him. Again, note his name and get picking your music. You can search within a genre, which is useful; or by key-word, which I found to help in certain instances; or within the ‘feeling’ of the music. For the purposes of a book trailer, this is the most useful, and allows for you to find exactly what you need. You can listen to the music before you download.

When you have everything you need, open up a movie maker. I use Windows Movie Maker. The most recent version works better for putting text in different locations, but the 2007 version still works fine. Add your images and music to the files to use in your project, and follow your storyboard closely. I chose to have two different tracks for my trailer, breaking at the final line of the text.

I finished the trailer for Balor Reborn with an image to tell people when it’s out and where they can get it or find out more information. However you choose to end, publish the file for your computer (the default setting) and head to YouTube or another video hosting site. Upload your book trailer file, and head to the description. Here, you will need to include the names of the photographer(s) and the composer(s) of the music used. You can also include your book’s blurb, which is helpful, and a link to where people can get the book. This information can be edited whenever you want. You should also add in tags, before sharing your video.

A final piece of advice: get feedback from people before you make it public. And there you have it: my simple process for putting together a book trailer. It’s an excellent way to get some more publicity for your book, and if you followed my advice to the letter it won’t cost you anything to do. Can you afford to say no to a free marketing tool?


Paul Carroll is a writer from Dublin. He is studying to be a teacher of Religion and English at second level, while working in a bookshop at weekends. His 'free time' is divided among assignments, fiction, poetry, articles and blog posts, as well as college Drama and almost weekly trips to the local cinema.

He has been writing since the age of twelve, with a love of words going back further than he can remember. When he isn't reading or writing, he likes to make use of social media, bake, and talk to friends. Often, he'll watch a horror film alone in the dark for the sheer joy of it.

He can be found online at

About Balor Reborn

Old Ireland is returning, as an ancient evil arrives in Dublin. A single glance from his eye is all it takes to kill.

Stephen Fox is haunted by the memory of his wife, and suffers from guilt at abandoning his new-born son. The spirit of the tyrant Balor has come back to take his vengeance on the country. A hero must rise in the unwilling form of Fionn Murray, a university student with a mysterious past.. As a world of wonder unfolds around him, and with no one but his house mate Michael at his side, he’s left with the choice of running, or facing the evil that could consume the world.

Based on the old Irish myth of Balor of the Evil Eye, Balor Reborn is the first in a series that seeks to revive the magic of Ireland. It was written and published in one week.

It's available to buy on PDF, Epub and Mobi through

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tolerance - Walking the Walk

I did something for the first time the other day. I launched a campaign to ask people I know, and some people I don’t know, for money. This is not something that comes naturally to me.

But, it is a good idea.

For the past few years, I have been teaching myself how to be a niche video maker. My niche is educationally-minded stuff that makes a difference. My very first effort was a Photoshop-based project tutorial. Screen captures and voice-overs. That was interesting. I had learned to use Photoshop and wanted to teach others.

Next was a cooking video featuring a woman who made specialty cookies and desserts out of her home kitchen. That was fun. The following year, I created a DVD set for preschoolers, and that went click in my head. This was a use of my talents that I could get behind. I got to plan, shoot, edit, create graphics and do the whole thing. I loved that project and still do. It was called Noodle Boosters and you can still buy a set today.

Since then, I’ve created a few different educational pieces of work for different grade levels, K-12. I like doing this stuff. I’m a big kid at heart and I think kids need stuff that doesn’t talk down to them, but still gets the message across. RU Listening was one of my favorites, a short film about cyber bullying. You can see it on YouTube here.

On weekends, I usually videotape the performances of a local children’s theater for the parents. You meet a lot of great, like-minded people when you volunteer. I highly recommend it. I’ve done a few video projects with the folks who run the theater, and they even appeared in Noodle Boosters as the puppeteers. I’ve met some wonderfully talented kids there as well. Singers, actors and dancers with amazing talent. Kids from 2nd grade right on up through high school. My family has been involved in this particular theater for four or five years now, and we’ve seen little kids grow into some pretty talented young adults.

Even though I’ve acted on stage, I prefer being creative at my desk. Writing, editing, etc. To that end, I wrote a play that is told through different styles of dance. No, I don’t know anything about dance. What I do know, however, is that dance is probably the purest form of human expression. And the young dancers I have met are probably the most dedicated and driven people I know. The physical work involved is second to none, and the mindset needed to make a human body do those things on command is something that I just don’t have. Hence, I have a tremendous respect for it.

So, I wanted to do something that brings together all of my skills, all of my experience and all of my creative friends and do something that will serve up a good message for kids. Such a project needs to move me, awe me and provide a chance to do something worthwhile. Tolerance, respect for the differences in others and a story that can illustrate different styles of dance was the way to go.

Ardor’s Bridge is that play. It’s a story of a young fairy who falls in love with a wood sprite. Their two cultures don’t get along, and these two kids have to figuratively build a bridge between their two families. The fairies are defined by their traditional ballet style. The wood sprites are rougher and more unrefined. These two styles of dance, and a few more, will tell the story.

Of course, I will design the sets, collaborate on the costume design and generally drive everyone crazy with my attention to details. But, the folks I work with are used to me, and while they may roll their eyes and plead with my wife to reign me in, what I say usually goes and gets done.

I usually have a customer lined up for such a project beforehand. This time, I don’t. I believe in this project so much, I decided to take a big risk and put it all on the world of the web. I started a kickstarter project to raise the funds for Ardor’s Bridge. You can find it here

If I reach my goal, we’ll go into auditions and first rehearsals in September. If I don’t reach my goal, the project may die.

I don’t want to do this unless I can do it right. I’ll do as much of the work myself as humanly possible to save on costs. Many of the folks who will be involved will be working gratis or close to it as well. I think we can do it. I think we can raise the money we need. I think it’s important and I think the world will see it that way.
What do you think?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Today, author A.K. Flynn will be providing her unique take on things as part of the Literary Plus Blog Tour!

Literary+ is a writer based project brought together and lead by Shen Hart. It brings together passionate, quality self-published writers to help each other promote their work, bringing more readers to every member. It was sparked by the simple fact that there are many top quality self-published authors being over-looked because they do not have the time and resources to efficiently and effectively market and promote themselves. With ambition and passion, Literary+ will take its members to the heights they deserve through a tight-knit community of like-minded writers.

Character Creation Conundrum
There two different kinds of writers: plot writers and character writers. For plot writers, you first come up with a story, and then make a main character. For character writers, you come up with the character first, and develop a plot for the character. I am for one a character writer! I need to figure out my characters and then the world I will plop them into; for me this makes sense and works out better for me, but to each their own.

You've heard the old maxim before... “A character can make or break your story.” Okay, okay, so you want to write an interesting character. You've got some plot ideas, you know a little bit about your world, but now you need your characters. And not just any old characters - no, these have got to be the most original, most interesting characters your reader will ever come across.

Ah yes, such is the desire of all writers. And yet, how is it that in classic fantasy we see the same heroes and villains generated over and over again? We've got the rugged wanderer who keeps to himself, the kid who's suffered amnesia and just happens to be royalty, the elf who despises the dwarf (and it's mutual), the reluctant hero who's handsome, brave, and self-sacrificing, the girl who's very beautiful but never gets along with the hero until the end of the story, and the evil overlord type of villain who cackles maniacally whenever things are going his way; this is your typical entourage of characters, and for the most part it works just fine. However, what does it take to create such enthralling character personalities that we grow to love?

Coming up with a character is a long process, and even though the “typical” character read by many seems familiar they usually take on different forms and personality of the writer. No two characters are the same regardless if the plot or character is similar, as the traits of the writer are infused with the main character. When a writer intertwines their personality into a character, the character becomes more personable and will form a rapport with the reader. This rapport is crucial as it will ensure that your audience does not start yawning after chapter one. To help in the process of original character formation, I've gleaned from just about everywhere some tricks and tips to share with you , and so with no further adue here they are.

The first rule of creating fictional characters: Make the readers care. Make them care if your characters... Win or lose. Succeed or fail. Live or die.

Second what kind of personality do you want your character to portray? This is the most important part of your character this is where you will be building rapport with your reader. My current list of personalities are mostly a list of imperfections, as these types of characters are easier for the reader to identify with, and I can create humour out of them in the process. There are many different personality types and it is impossible to go through them all, so here are some of my favourites.

•Sarcastic or cynical. Maybe it's just me, but I'm a sucker for guys who are constantly insulting everyone in a very funny way. Try to decide why the character is sarcastic, though... What makes him moody or bitter in his humour? What happened in his past to make him insult everyone now? Is he afraid of relationships or wary of trust?
•Egocentric. Let the character think she's better than everyone. If other people can do something, she can do it better. She's also much more intelligent than everyone, and, of course, the most beautiful. She's fun to write and fun to read, because you love to hate her.

•Easily fascinated. I just love a character that will stare at balloons forever and delights at a passing butterfly. They're flaky, they're shallow, they're generally useless, but they're so funny to watch. They spout off the most random pieces of knowledge and don't know when to shut up.

•Fierce or hot-tempered. This one is becoming a bit overdone, but I still enjoy a girl who's more likely to knock you out than allow you to rescue her. If you go for the gender-role-reversal thing, a fierce girl is a lot more fun to write than the usual damsel-in-distress. Hot-tempered guys can be great too. He may be easily provoked or loses his temper at the mention of his father. But don't overdo it. How many people got really annoyed by Harry's constant angst in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix?

•Mysterious. You have to be careful with this one, but sometimes it's interesting to have a character who you can't predict and whose thoughts and actions you don't understand. It can get annoying, if the character knows more than the reader. So be careful.

•Hyperactive or flamboyant. A character that never seems to run out of energy or questions can be amusing. Maybe he has an obsession with trying to get the other characters to dance with him. This is a fun one if you like gender-role-reversals. Guys who are easily excitable and like to give big sloppy kisses don't come along too often, and we love to laugh at their antics.

•Melodramatic. The drama queen (or king). This is a character that exaggerates everything and makes tiny events seem like huge catastrophes. She's fun to write and even more fun to read. This is the character that jumps to conclusions and thinks everything is way funnier than it is.

•The bully. Personally, I like the guy that pushes everyone around. He thinks he's cool, but maybe he's secretly really insecure. A good example would be Sirius Black and James Potter from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

•The nerd. Okay, so it's fun to have a girl who rattles off physics equations in the middle of battle and tries to predict events based on scientific calculations... Especially if she's wrong or no one ever listens to her. Another variation of the nerd is the kid who's rather the swot and always likes to be right.

•Accident prone. She screws things up because she trips over her own feet. She's clumsy. She gets in the way, and she can't be stealthy no matter how hard she tries.

•Forgetful or absent-minded. He's sort of dim, gets teased a lot, and puts his shoes on the wrong feet. Perhaps he's brilliant but can't remember more than two things at once. He can't remember why he's in the kitchen or where he put his glasses.

•Compulsively lies. She rarely tells the truth. Lies are so much more interesting and it's not really lying, it's just a form of acting. She may give her companions wrong directions and after a while they may not trust her very much. Useful if you like the boy-who-cried-wolf type of story, where she doesn't tell the truth until it really matters and then no-one believes her.

•Awkward. He's nervous and a little paranoid and doesn't know what to do with himself when a girl is in the vicinity. He may trip over his own tongue or be fearful of revealing anything about himself.

•A hypochondriac. She's convinced she's dying. A splinter becomes life-threatening, and she cannot travel if she has bruised her knee. Occasionally she crashes into hard surfaces “on accident” and sustains grievous injuries. She always thinks she's ill or coming down with something contagious.

•A kleptomaniac. He compulsively steals things. His companions don't understand why their shoestrings and coins seem to disappear. Most of the time, he doesn't either.

•A pyromaniac. It doesn't get much better than a fire-obsessed girl who likes to experiment. Whoever knew that the hero's boots burn such a strange shade of blue? Or that unicorn hair won't burn unless you douse it in beer?

•Anything that ends in -iac. Noticing a theme, aren't we?

Thirdly what I find helpful in building characters is choosing a name with meaning for them. It helps bring forth the personality traits. If you still not sure of how to figure out their personality then interview your character, ask it questions, build a profile for your main(s) what hobbies they like, what their favourite food is and so on; these aspects of your charter are important so that your readers can relate to your character by building empathy for them.

Adding quirks and originality to your characters can be a challenge, but it is definitely worth the time it takes. So, go forth and write! Spend sleepless nights tapping away at the keyboard, write notes to yourself on your arms in permanent pen, and daydream in class. Do what writers do. Write your characters, listen to their suggestions, and allow them to take on their own life so they may jump from your pages and enthrall the minds of people they touch. Also keep in mind “A procrastinator’s work is never done!”

Monday, July 16, 2012

That One Thing

I watched a video the other day, (yeah, like that doesn’t happen every day!). This particular video was an interview with Warren Littlefield, the NBC exec who greenlighted Seinfeld.

He talked about how cool it was to give the go ahead for a show that had no precedent, with a star who was barely out of his comedy short pants. How thrilling it was, so glad he said yes, yadda, yadda, yadda.

At the end of the piece, where the gushing interviewer undoubtedly asked him about the secret to success, Mr. Littlefield gave a very pat answer. He said that the secret of success was to caffeinate, (because you’re going to have to keep going) and, and this was the part that made me take notice, he said to “pick one thing.” Pick one thing, focus on it, and make it happen. Find your strength, that thing you really like to do, and do that. And keep doing it until someone is willing to pay you a ridiculous amount of money to do it, I guess was the point.

Well, that got my attention! It wasn’t the fact that it was the most over-used piece of advice in the history of advice-giving. It wasn’t even the fact that he couldn’t have been safer if he had told me to look inside myself and go with my heart. No, what made me take notice was the fact that I don’t want to do just one thing.

I started reflecting on how many “secret to success” books, articles, videos, etc. I have absorbed. Let’s just go with “a lot”. They all say the same thing… pick one thing and do the crap out of it. I never do this, hence, I have not achieved what they describe as success.

To do one thing, day after day after day and get rich doing it would KILL ME… no matter how much I was making. Even if it was something that I loved doing, like writing, I don’t think I could do it exclusively day in and day out. I would be homicidal, (Note: not suicidal. Homicidal).

I want to paint and draw and act and write plays and novels and snarky magazine pieces and build shit that barely works and videotape other people doing the cool stuff that they like to do, and then edit it, add music to it, create graphics for it and then paint some more. Then read to my kids, have them read to me, go shopping with my wife and roll my eyes when she asks me if I like something. Cook a steak, plant some flowers and then cut them and put them in a vase and take pictures of them and use all of the settings on my camera. Play with puppets and make them say really stupid things until my kids laugh and squirt milk out of their noses, which makes me laugh and squirt milk out of my nose.

If you are the type who can focus and do one thing, more power to you. I wish you success and big piles of money. I cheer your success, but, I don’t envy you. Perhaps it is a lack of discipline on my part. Maybe I should want to strive to make more, be more, acquire more.

Maybe I’ll never have the big yacht or the Lamborgini, but I’m ok with that. I’m too busy living anyway.
Today, author Len Berry will be providing his unique take on things as part of the Literary Plus Blog Tour!
Literary+ is a writer based project brought together and lead by Shen Hart. It brings together passionate, quality self-published writers to help each other promote their work, bringing more readers to every member. It was sparked by the simple fact that there are many top quality self-published authors being over-looked because they do not have the time and resources to efficiently and effectively market and promote themselves. With ambition and passion, Literary+ will take its members to the heights they deserve through a tight-knit community of like-minded writers.

Len Berry
Vitamin F: Genesis to Revelation

Several years ago, I stood behind the third register of the bookstore, trying to think of new short story ideas. At the time, I was convinced that the only way an author could make a name for themselves was to write lots of short stories and then approach an agent and say, “Please represent me.”
Clearly, it was a different time.
In my pondering, I came up with a notion. I thought of a world where things were the opposite of what they are now, where there are more homosexuals than heterosexuals. I thought of a world that had a great deal more women than men. I thought of a lead character who would have to hide things about her life from the rest of the world.
It seemed too controversial, so I decided not to go with that particular idea.
Still stuck behind the register, I started to work on other ideas. In a little while, I had another idea, one that was so much better. I would have a totalitarian society, one built around genetic controls. There could be a catastrophe that altered the makeup of society, changing who was in the majority and who in the minority. I thought of a lead character who would have to hide things about her life from the rest of the world.
Once I had that thought, I realized two things. First, that I had come to discover the same idea from a different angle. Second, and more importantly, that I had to write this story, whatever it might turn out to be.

Any story requires thought and planning. To make sure I can actually build the tales I write, I’ll work through scenes and plot threads over and over. There’s nothing I write down at this point, everything is still internal, still part of my imagination alone.
As I plot and ponder, there’s one thing I quickly realize. This story isn’t a short story. It’s a novel.
Being of a mindset where I needed to write short stories wasn’t best frame of mind to start a novel, but this was an idea I discovered from two different directions.
I found myself soul searching at this point. I thought about all the different groups my new idea might offend and I had great difficulty making peace with the thought that I might offend someone with my story. Eventually, I had to decide if I was motivated to write the story or if I was more motivated to remain silent.
I’m a writer, that’s my motivation. When I’m down or I’m up, being a writer motivates me. That’s why I decided to push through with the story.

A few months later, I started to put together enough chapters to show coworkers. Yes, I was writing a story where the world was mostly female and the male population had to stay trapped inside sensory deprivation tanks to have their reproductive fluids farmed from their bodies. As I started showing my work around, one of my coworkers described my story as taking place in an Amazonian society.
That observation made everything snap into place for me. I was able to instantly accept what I was doing, casting aside all fears of controversy and offense. Having someone look at my work and see what I was doing was a godsend, especially since she was able to see what I was doing better than I could.
Clarity works wonders. It spurs inspiration and motivation. It can even make a writer like me work faster and with more determination than I’ve ever worked on anything before.

It took about a year to get through, but I finally finished a draft of this twisted story. By this point, I’d gone through two titles, eventually settling on Vitamin F, a reference to the medication the main character, Bridgett has to take each day. Getting through a draft of Vitamin F made me realize I could get through a draft of anything.
I knew I needed to let Vitamin F sit off to the side before editing it, so I did the next best thing: I started working on another novel. I became convinced that I could be a novelist, that I didn’t need a laundry list of short stories to my credit beforehand. I kept writing and eventually threw in some editing too. When the dust cleared, I’d come up with an assortment of story ideas I could work on, along with three novels that had at least one full draft finished.
I started in on query letters, trying to get the attention of an agent. I knew nothing of the publishing world’s internal workings, so I knew I would need someone to speak on my behalf. I made very little progress.
Vitamin F was too different, too daring. I got plenty of compliments on my concept, but not enough to make an agent want to take me on. In all my efforts, I was only asked for one partial and I was told my writing wasn’t quite ready.

Another year passed and I learned how to improve my writing. I fought through another draft and began to really contemplate something new: the e-book. In its infancy, the e-book was something I didn’t feel could go anywhere. I had no patience for it, since I thought digital approaches were peripheral at best. As the market for e-readers evolved, so did my opinion of the product.
Now that e-books have become a gateway for so many to get work published on the path to something more. Some authors use e-books to spread stories that clash with their regular publishers. Whatever the reason, e-books became something more than the new independent. They became the new gateway to a writing career.
Pushing through one last edit, I committed myself to making Vitamin F into an e-book, if only to get my foot in the door.

Last week, I stood behind the third register once again, this time with a piece of paper in my hand. On the paper, I read the information for an e-book anyone could order.
The author was Len Berry. The book was Vitamin F.


Len Berry a lifelong resident of Missouri studied biology before turning his imagination toward writing. In his spare time, Len enjoys drawing, watching anime, and playing an occasional video game. He is the author of the dystopian e-book Vitamin F, now available for Nook and Kindle. Since Len is an active blogger, you can find out more about him and his projects at

Len's Blog -
Buy it for the Nook: Nook version
Buy it for the Kindle: Kindle version

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dead? I Don't Think So

I wrote a one hundred thousand word novel on my phone.

Seriously? No. Of course not. Can't be done.

Now, I realize that as soon as I wrote that sentence, someone will have already written a two hundred thousand word book on their phone, and will soon be appearing on Ellen, the View or some other TV show. All in the effort to drag out the familiar, "The Desktop is Dead!" song.

Just as the previous generation wondered out loud, "Why would anyone need a computer?", some people of my generation wonder how anything meaningful can be done with just a phone or a tablet. Granted, many parent-aged people are living just fine with checking their mail, downloading apps and watching movies on an eleven inch screen. Even more are enjoying turning their barely reasonble photographs into Polaroid-like shitty ones with Instagram. But, some of us have work to do, and like the familiar feel of sitting down at the same location
"Slaves!" the modern hipsters cry, (are they still called hipsters? I don't know, I'm... well... not old, really, but...). "I can take my devices anywhere! Be connected wherever I go! Stay in touch, see the world and have lots more fun than you because I'm not chained to a desk!"

Bite me.

I do lots of creative-type stuff. When I'm not editing video, I'm working on a novel. When I'm drained of that, I work up sketches and color models in Photoshop for paintings. I might be building a website, or doing maintenance for those I've built for clients. I just wouldn't like doing any of that while constantly turning from the sun, trying to avoid eye-contact at Starbucks or going back inside, again, for any of the hundreds of reasons that crop up each day.

Years ago, I began my design career at IBM. Hence, I have PCs all over my house. I have three in my office, along with two laptops, (one of them is a MacAir, which is nice, but the software is too expensive and doesn't do anything more than the PC versions... sorry). The only time I use the laptops is when I have to go out and pitch a client, or I go on vacation. Both of these scenarios are rare.

So, when Microsoft released Windows 8, declaring, yet again, that the desktop is dead, I get a little perturbed. I don't need Windows 8, (truthfully, I was fine with NT, thanks very much). I don't need more cost for less functionality. I just want to sit at my computer and create. Oh, the Metro look is okay, I guess. But, what does it do that I can't do now? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But, the companies that control stuff like this are going to move us all, kicking and screaming, into a world of watching more and doing less, until we all look like the people on the spaceship in Wall-E.

There are many good, solid reasons for desktops to be the staple of the workflow. Most have them have been written about in depth, to the point of being sick of hearing about it.

But, few things make me happier than the click of the keys as I type. I'm a terrible typist, by the way. My wife calls me Schroeder, because I keep my head down, staring at the keys as I hunt for the next one. I never learned to type because someone once told me that if I learned to type, then that's what I would end up doing all day. Gah! I said at the time. Not me! And now, if I don't find time write via keyboard each day, I just don't feel whole.

So... No, I say. You can't have my desktop. I'll buy into your e-readers, your smart phones and streaming entertainment. I'll pay my monthly fees and consume like a good little puppet. As long as I can boot up my machine at night, when the house is quiet, and get a few thousand words down, I'll be happy.

But, if you come for my desktop, beware! Beware my impotent rage! I may be so pissed off that I'll... I'll... I'll blog about it!

Yeah, that'll show 'em!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Just Want to Kill Him

Is that so wrong?
I’m working on a novel. It’s a follow up to my wildly successful first effort, “The Seeds”, (and by ‘wildly successful’, I mean ‘not really’ but I like it so I’m writing another one). I’ve finished the first draft of the first chapter, and I gotta tell you… I really want to kill this guy. Not because I don’t like him… I do, it’s just that... well…

It’s fun.

It’s a blast to kill off a character. In the world of “The Seeds”, where the characters are only a foot tall, there are lots of ways for people to die. In the first book, they died in droves. Bee stings, battles, war… the list is endless. I put together an unending stream of nameless people to get gobbled up by the environmental hazards they faced. Not to mention the damage they did to each other.

In the second book, the one I’m planning now, there is to be considerably less killing. The drama will come from the interactions, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the characters piss each other off, make each other happy and generally get through to the end, (in which I reserve the right to kill off somebody!). It’s ridiculously interesting to me to explore these characters and find out what makes them who they are.

Like Angus. Angus is the eyes of the reader. It is through him that the reader gets to experience this world. He’s a good guy, a bit conflicted, but generally a decent sort. I can’t kill him. He saw so much death and destruction in the first book, it’s a wonder that he hasn’t committed suicide, (Hey! There’s an idea!)

No. I tell myself. You can’t kill Angus.

As an author, the feeling of playing God over this world is intoxicating. With just a few key strokes, I can invent an insurmountable enemy, and wreak havoc at will. It’s almost like being an Olympian god, coming down to screw with the lives of the little people whenever I get bored or the mood strikes me. Then, after I’ve surveyed the carnage I’ve wrought, I can drift back up to the mountaintop and await my next whim. Maybe toss a few lightning bolts in the interim. It’s quite a kick for us mortals to engage our own minds in this way.

Logic dictates that there must be a story. A beginning, a middle, an end. That’s an amazing part of the craft as well. One in which an author can learn much about themselves and the world around them. This is how one engages a reader, draws them in and creates a fan of one’s work.

No one likes an incoherent rambling treatise of characters being bumped off at every turn. But, oh man… that would be fun to write!

What about you? Do you play God with your characters? Dangle a carrot and then pummel them with the stick? Tell me about it!