Tuesday, May 28, 2013

All My First Lines

I originally did this post for a guest blog, but I thought I'd re-post it here. It's about those oh so important opening lines and I took a trip down memory lane at all of mine.

A lot can be expected from the first sentence of a novel. You want to capture the reader right off the bat and draw them into the story; not wait two or three chapters to get the momentum going and hope the reader sticks along. But it’s not the easiest thing to come out with a first sentence so dynamic it will knock the reader’s socks off. As I writer, when I’m starting a new story I always think about what I want the reader’s first foray into my novel to be like, the first sentence can definitely set the tone, and you want it to be the right tone. There can be too much pressure put on how to start a novel, but it gets easier the more you write. There was a time when I thought starting with dialogue was a good idea because you were starting in the character’s voice, but I no longer think that’s the best way to start a story.

I thought it would be fun to look back at all of my novels and their first lines, and share them, not because I think they are all knock out stellar, but because I think it’s a good way to show a little bit of my writing evolution. I'll start with my first book and end with Affairs of the Dead.

Shadow RealmThe night was midnight black.
Devil’s Night – The slap of her bare feet against the ground stirred up soft echoes that cried out to the cold, empty night as she walked
SanguinariusIt was a forest of black dreams.
NytIf he finds me now I deserve to die, Kymora said to herself as she stared at the dilapidated building in front of her, hoping it only looked like crap for the purposes of being inconspicuous.
Seasons of Magick – “Now you’ve come to help me?”
Broken NytEveryone get down here now!
Nyt III – Even with her mother’s arms tight around her, Kymora could hardly believe she was standing here with her
Black Eden – “I have a clear shot.”
Blood Cherry – “Well Christine, your medical history looks good.”
Wasteland Rhapsody – “You lose and still want a kiss?”
Graveyard Phoenix – "Mrs. Tillar, if you spill the canister of blood before I begin the resurrection, it will be a wasted night for all of us."
Ravenous Dusk – The room was spinning, no wait, maybe I was the one spinning.
Ravishing Midnight – After a three month leave I was looking forward to going back to work, even though that involved dealing with demon politics that made being stuck between a rock and a hard place look like a vacation paradise.
Immortal Unrest – In less than twelve hours I’d be embarking on a career where following the rules was an absolute requirement, and here I was breaking the rules for the sake of that career.
Trickster’s Renegade – Days like this made me regret my decision to open a deity trinket shop instead of a liquor store.
Black Widow Witch – Today was the anniversary of the worst day of my life, and I was trying to forget about it by consuming a vast amount of alcohol.
Affairs of the Dead – I was in a strip club trying to help a ghost get laid, which was challenging, but not impossible.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Surefire Way Blog Tour - J.T. Block

Today I'd like to welcome author J.T. Block as she stops by my blog to promote her new release, A Sure Fire Way. There were technical difficulties with being able to get this post up during the tour dates, but up it goes nevertheless! Enjoy the interview and be sure to check out A Surefire Way.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a child. I started out with “whodunit” plays for my friends and I to act out in my grandmother’s basement. Then I wrote short stories for my classmates where they were the main characters. In college, I majored in graphic design  (a lot of jobs in that field) but minored in writing to continue learning the craft. For fun, I wrote short stories in my spare time until twelve years ago a friend suggested I try writing a full-length novel. I wrote two novels and then finally found my voice with A Surefire Way.
What was your inspiration for A Surefire Way?
I’ve always been a fan of superhero, romance, action/adventure, and sci-fi stories—so I found a way to mix all my favorite elements together in A Surefire Way. I wondered how it would work if a few people gifted with supernatural abilities formed a crime-fighting organization, how would this work within the confines of our government? This question was knocking around in my head when a scene popped in my mind of a woman chasing a man along the rafters of a warehouse. I had no idea who they were or why she was chasing him, so I began writing it and let the story form itself.

What is your MC’s personality like?
Surefire is strong, direct, focused, intelligent, and athletic. She has a good sense of humor, enjoys grabbing a beer with friends, and hates the dating scene. She is an average late twenty something trying to find her place in the world, who happens to have a sure shot ability. Deep down, she struggles with uncertainty in her ability and a lack of confidence, especially living in the shadow of her successful twin sister. She wants to succeed in her career as an UltraAgent although she is doing it for the wrong reasons—to please her father, not herself. Surefire’s journey is to find the courage to do what is right for her even if it means not getting what she thought she wanted in the first place.

Do you like writing your characters into trouble or out of it?
I like doing both. It is fun to torture my characters and see what I can reasonably throw at them and have it not be too unbelievable for them to overcome. Of course, once I throw everything but the kitchen sink in their way, it becomes a puzzle trying to figure out how they will escape the situation. I love it when I can reach back into the beginning of the story or into a character’s background and use some small kernel that had been planted in the story to help them out of a jam. For me, there has to be a good reason for them to get into trouble and a believable reason for them to get out of it, which is a great challenge. I love it!

Do you do a lot of research and plotting or do you just start writing?
For A Surefire Way, I just started writing to get the story down on paper. The first draft was essentially a very long outline of where I thought the story should go. However, during my second revision, I started filling in the details and researched Aztec mythology, ballgame, language, and civilization. I mapped out areas in DC and Baltimore, and I went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History where several scenes take place to make sure I knew the layout. I even downloaded a floor plan for the condominium high-rise in which Surefire is living with her sister. There were many small details that I double-checked such as gun types and law enforcement practices and airline flight times. I tried to be as thorough as possible. Though I’m sure someone a lot smarter will find something that I missed. ;)

Do you have any writing rituals?
No rituals, I just need quiet and coffee. Remember that scene in The Shining where Jack is trying to work and he gets upset at his wife for disturbing him? I can be a bit high-strung like that when I’m writing an intense scene, except I’m not working in a haunted hotel or losing my mind–yet.

Can you share a favorite sentence or scene from your novel?
Upon hearing that a former ballplayer’s head is inside the rubber ball they are about to use for the Aztec ballgame, my hero Raven quips, “It’s always good to get a head in the game.”

What are a few of your favorite books?
It is hard to narrow it down to a few books but here are my top ones (all very different styles) and why I chose them:
A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood—Stark, relevant, post-apocalyptic, and her descriptions read like poetry
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton—Taught me how to “stay gold” and was the first book to make me cry at the end
The Stand by Stephen King—Diverse characters engaged in an epic journey and final battle kept me hooked to the end
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton—Strong female heroine, unique world building, and a page-turning action adventure
Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice—She invented a new history for vampires with an eye for detail in character and setting

What’s the last book you read and what did you think of it?
I just read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and the story and writing was top notch. He has a direct writing style that isn’t overly descriptive yet he conveyed the feelings of the characters and the setting so well that I felt as if I were there. Both main women were strong in different ways in a world where their liberties were slowly being stripped from them. It made me angry, cry, and yell out with joy. I learned about Afghanistan and the beauty of their country and people. Plus, in the end, it was a romance and offered a message of hope.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?
I want to be a female version of Indiana Jones. I would love to have his adventures, hunting for lost treasure in exotic lands and being tough enough to fight off the bad guys to save the artifacts from falling into the wrong hands.

If you could have any supernatural power, which would you choose?
I want the ability to travel through time and space. I’d love to travel back in time and experience important events in history to see how they really went down. And then I’d travel through space so I wouldn’t have to wait in airport security lines anymore. :P

 Find out more about JT through the links below, and be sure to grab A Surefire Way!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Do you have to like my Main Character?

When I was writing Affairs of the Dead I was very conscious of the type of character I wanted my MC, Selene, to be. I wanted her to have a more carefree, humorous personality rather than a serious one, I wanted her to have a reckless streak, and sort of just march to the beat of her own drum. I also gave her a skewed way of dealing with men. I wanted to build these aspects in her for the purpose of having them get her in trouble that she would then have to try to get herself out of, because that's the point of a novel after all, you don't want a character who figures everything out easily and makes all the right decisions off the bat.

Because I molded Selene, wrote her story, and spent so much time in her world, of course I am going to carry a bias for my character that makes me want to defend her to others. Now people who've read Affairs have told me how much they like the story and Selene, but I've also had feedback along the lines of...gasp...disliking Selene! How could this be? How could a reader not like this character that I think is so awesome? I'll admit, at first it made me sad to hear a friend of mine tell me he hated Selene, I was of the mindset that if you hated Selene how could you enjoy the novel? Surely that must mean you hate the book too? But then I thought on it, and I realized that isn't necessarily true. You don't have to like the main character to like their story.

Some of the feedback I got about Selene is not understanding her actions, why she does the things she does when it would make sense for her not to, as well as not understanding her attitude with men. I was told by my friend that while he did not think Selene was a very likeable character, he loved the story and actually read it twice. At first I thought, well if a friend hates Selene, what will other people who read the book think? They will hate her too! My book is horrible! But then I let the crazy subside and I understood things differently. Like her or hate her, having a strong reaction about her is a good thing. I think someone telling me they were indifferent about her would be worse than hearing they did not like her. To me it means I made her a strong enough character for the reader to connect to; I just can't control how the reader connects. And I think if you are able to enjoy the novel even if you don't care for the main character, I can't call it a failure.

I thought maybe I had made her too flawed to the point of being unlikeable, but that's not necessarily true. The reader may not agree with her decisions, may think she's stupid for the way she acts sometimes or the things she does, but that's their prerogative and I can't let that make me feel like the story over all is not good. To me, Selene is a character who is not perfect and who encounters a lot of obstacles and tries to do right to fix things even if things don't always end up fixed, and I definitely don't agree with everything she does, but I never set out to write a character I was always in perfect agreement with. So I think my moment of panic is over.

This was definitely a learning moment for me as a writer. I'm no different from other writers or artists who are sensitive about their work or who take critiques like an arrow to the heart, but hearing things like this is good, and needed, because it helped me see perspectives about my own character that I did not see before, and as I delve into writing book two I can keep these things in mind as Selene's journey continues.