The Barrels of Your Skull

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WHY WE WRITE

We never have a problem coming up with ideas for our stories. As Taylor correctly points out in another post, sometimes we have too many ideas for our own good. Nevertheless, there’s never a shortage of imagination and inspiration. Writer’s block is non-existent around here. The main reason for this is we’re inspired by true masters of the pen. I’m not talking about Stephen King or Shakespeare, although I take nothing away from either.

We are always inspired by true lyrical masters. I’m talking about the artists, poets and writers of another medium.

Try this on for size: “He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how you like to be kissed. He’ll put both his arms around you; you can feel the tender touch of the beast.” These lines were written by Bob Dylan, one of the preeminent poets of the 20th century. The words are lyrics to the song, Man Of Peace from Dylan’s 1983 album, Infidels.

These words inspire the visual artist and the writer alike. People try to decipher a deeper meaning behind the lyrics of Dylan, but I say, why? Enjoy the picture he’s painted with his words and use the words to inspire and motivate yourself. Consider these:

“But all the while I was alone. The past was close behind.” Hmm, “The past was close behind.” Simple, but powerful lyrics from the song, Tangled Up In Blue on Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks album.

“…Shakespeare, he’s in the alley with his pointed shoes and his bells, speaking to some French girl, who says she knows me well.” Picture that. These lyrics come from a song with a provocative title, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, from Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde.

Some will suggest there are better examples of Dylan I could use. On this point, that doesn’t matter. Two people could argue Dylan for days. After all, it’s inspiration, nothing more complicated that that. Get your inspiration from wherever you want. Bob Dylan’s lyrics are sometimes deep, sometimes fun, but they still motivate and inspire.

So, what about more contemporary artists, you ask? They write good stuff, too, you say. First, I agree. I can (and probably will later) give you many examples of contemporary artists that inspire us. Second, you read this far because you’re learning stuff you didn’t know.

One last point, from Dylan’s Man of Peace: “Well, he can be fascinating, he can be dull; he can ride down Niagara Falls in the barrels of your skull.”

That’s badass.

Trains, Aliens and Radar Guns

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Recently, we got stuck… we were discussing where to take a certain character in a certain scene, and one of us had a mind blowing idea. “What if we did this…!” Oh man, it was awesome! We started discussing twists, turns, and scenarios, talking over each other, each eager to share the newest thought. It was fun and energizing…for a while.

All kinds of ideas started flying out of our heads and onto the computer screen. Antagonists in our story went from humans, to mutants, to actual aliens from a dying planet. We talked about radar guns, human fertility prisons, trains, you name it.

It seemed the more we added and changed our original vision, the more complex the story became. We had more questions than answers, and were having to come up with more twisted ideas to explain the curvy ones.

Ultimately, we figured out the best thing to do was go back to our original vision, our dream, our story. It worked. We came up with an easy explanation to a really not-so-difficult question. Long story short, we stopped trying to make our story and our characters something they weren’t. Maybe down the road we’ll rethink the trains, aliens and radar guns – not that they won’t be in there somewhere. Or maybe we’ll get even crazier.

Heavy Breathing and Panic Attacks

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The whole process of writing and publishing a book is hard. No, seriously. When someone says “I’m writing a book,” you might think, “Yeah, and?”

It’s not easy. It’s very fucking hard. Sure, anyone can write a book. You can, your mom can, your best friend can. Hell even the creepy neighbor next door can write a book. But then what?

Being this close to publication has really thrown us off a little. I mean, we’re this close! We’re super stoked, but at the same time wondering “now what?” Um, we go to publication. So when do we publish? Oh, the by the end of the year of course. Seems simple enough. We’ve still got two months. Wait…two months…? TWO MONTHS? Ok, we won’t panic. That’s not cool.

So heavy breathing and panic attacks aside, we’ll turn to our Handy, Dandy Google! (Admit it, you thought Notebook. Blue’s Clues really sticks with you.)

So for the next month, while one of us is editing, rewriting, and editing and rewriting some more, the other (me) will be researching. Asking questions like:

  • How to find the perfect book editor.
  • What’s an ISBN, and how do I get one of those?
  • What’s a book launch campaign?
  • Do I have to come up with the book cover?
  • Do we have any more 805 by Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, California?

You know, all the important stuff that needs to be answered. We’ve found some cool resources, guides, forums and mentors we’ll be telling you about in future posts. In the meantime, if you’ve got any tips, tricks or 805, let us know.

Puppies and Posting

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A litter of eight German Shepherd puppies has been keeping us busy for the last several weeks. They’re ever so cute, but boy are they full of shit. Literally. We haven’t been neglecting the Changers project, but we’ve neglected posting. This is a quick update.

Feedback from a few of our beta readers is trickling in. One of our readers was in the middle of another book, so she had to finish it before turning her attention to Changers.

A co-worker is anxious to get his hands on our latest manuscript. Knowing this guy, he’ll be an honest beta reader. Some of the feedback we’ve already received is prompting some re-thinking and editing. We’ll make a few changes before giving it to the new guy for feedback.

Still having fun, whatever is happening!

Limiting Details

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details

When I read a book, I have to be able to picture people and things in my head. I have to be able to kind of play a movie in my head with the book’s description. However, I don’t want the author to give me too much detail. I’d like to be able to add my own spin on the characters and places.

This begs the question: How much description is too much description?

You’re probably thinking “the limit does not exist. Use all the description.” I think this is a mistake. When you give the reader too many adjectives and start describing the irrelevant details, that’s too much description.

One thing my dad and sister had on their side when they started Changers is that they’re both avid readers. They know exactly what they want in a story. They know what they look for when starting a book. There wasn’t one time during my editing of Changers where I said “There isn’t enough detail here” or “Okay, I don’t care what her freckles would make if you played connect-the-dots on her face”.

I’ve read books where I’ve actually had to go back and find the original description of a character to realize that there is a huge continuity error. In the first chapter, someone will be described as having straight, black hair and by the end of the book, it’s curly and dirty-blonde (in Changers, this could happen *wink* but in books not about Changers, it’s not right).

The authors of Changers have made it so I can imagine the characters but I’m also allowed to make up details to complete the picture. If/When this gets turned into a movie *fingers crossed*, they won’t have a hard time finding the cast.

 

 

Editing Babeesty

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babeesty2

Sometimes editing is a bitch. Damn! Even at this late stage in the game we’re finding issues with continuity and spelling.

About spelling: Watch out for ‘global search and replace’. I think we really did have all the spelling issues covered. We’re good spellers, so all the spelling errors we found were either fat-fingering or light-fingering. Then I just had to go and do a ‘global search and replace’ on a specific word I didn’t like. While reading through what I thought would be one of the last – if not the last – edits, I come across the word “babeesty”. So I’m going, What the heck did we mean by that? Never mind the details, it was irritating. It’s bad enough to catch accidental mishaps. But the self-inflicted errors are trying my patience.

About continuity: A character is last heard from at a particular location. Two chapters later, the same player appears 370 miles away with no mention of how she got there. It would have been optional rather than mandatory, to just have the player in the new location, because that kind of thing happens all the time. The reason we thought this might be an issue is because the events in the three chapters at issue were taking place concurrently. We had to insert a short scene to justify this player’s presence elsewhere within the three-to-four-hour timespan. It actually worked out neatly. We like the addition.

I read a critique online where a reader said, “Gosh, didn’t you even edit this?” We don’t want to come off with, “Thank you for reading our book with typos and continuity errors. We’re hoping you don’t notice, because we didn’t.”

So back to work. You know what they say about babeesty!

Chapter Chat

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chapter chat

There came a time when we took a look at what we had named our chapters. The book-writing software we used made it easy to keep things organized. Looking back, it seems we may have taken for granted how easy it was to create new chapters, and create new scenes within the chapters. It was so easy in fact, we found our 89,000-word book had sixty-three chapters. What?! How’d that happen?

This became one of the editing phases of the book, just like finding problem words, or renaming our players. We had to ask ourselves if the story needed so many chapters. After trying to keep our thoughts organized, and trying so hard to keep the story itself organized, sixty-three chapters gave the book a feeling of disorganization. Wow, that’s the opposite of what we thought was happening.

We discussed the issue. We were split. Sixty-three chapters seemed high, but if it made sense, why not? As long as each chapter stood on its own and was relevant to the flow, okay. We also talked about how having fewer chapters might be less distracting to the reader. Ultimately, we trimmed the number to twenty-three chapters, with five additional no-name mini chapters that were phone calls between players. It actually tightened things up, and tight is good in this case.

In the end, we rolled Chapter Forty-one, “Drew and Sydney Go to Visit the Punks and Try to Convince Them to Help Find Out About the Disappearances”, into a scene within Chapter Fifteen, “Two Joeys”. Sounds about right.

 

 

I’m in the Mode

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Juke Box, 1965 Rockola Starlight

We never actually have to be in the mood for writing. Writing is creating, and at least one of us is always in a creative mood. Whether it’s writing or painting, pencil drawing or making creatures out of clay or tinfoil, someone’s in the mood. However, we really feel like the tone – or the mode – matters.

Setting the mode is different from setting the mood. We like to have specific things within reach when we create. Depending on the mood, munchies are optional. Chips, M&Ms, peanuts or popcorn. A drink is never more than arm’s length away. A drink is essential. Cold beer, hot coffee, diet soda or ice water. One of these is always present. Call it a security blanket if you want, but that’s the way it is.

The must-have-never-create-without-it is music. That’s where the real variety comes into play. The mood for “what’s-on-your-iPod” varies like the wind. For the record, this isn’t an iPod family. We have iPods, but nothing beats the freedom of Android, satellite radio and the ever-faithful turntable. Right, the one that actually plays vinyl records. More often than you’d think, we fire up the 1965 Rockola jukebox.

In our house, at any given moment you could walk into Rancid-Transplants-Tim Armstrong; Led Zeppelin-Deep Purple-Doobie Brothers; Coldplay-Dreamers-AM Taxi-Young The Giant; Tyrone Davis-Tavares-Harold Melvin-The Spinners; or The Archies-Monkees-Partridge Family. It could be Ska, Punk, Indie, Alt, Rock, Pop or Steely Dan.

There’s always something on, but it’s the audio that matters, not the video. Nothing beats a cold beer on the table and some Tim Armstrong on the stereo. That’s the good mode.

 

 

Beta Readers

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beta readers

Yay, we found some beta readers and sent out semi-final drafts of Changers. And we’re still looking for more. Calling people beta readers, or beta testers – or beta anything – brings to mind a room full of people sitting around a huge table, all reading the book, taking notes, making red marks, and tapping on their tablets. Or a bunch of robots lined up in a row, all perched in front of computer screens with the words of the book scrolling upwards a la The Matrix.

There were a few instructions we gave to the readers. 1) We welcome feedback, and 2) It’s a Young Adult novel. We don’t want anyone to be shy about telling us what they think, or how the book makes them feel. We’re pretty sure we snagged most, if not all the typos. We’re looking for things like pacing, whether things make sense, timing and timeline issues, etc.

Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” We put a lot of effort into trying to know what we’re talking about. Facts are important, even in fiction – we didn’t want to distract the reader by playing loose with facts. For example, we have a scene where someone is going through a candidate diffusion. In this scene, the Changers wanted to erase the character’s short term memory, but they didn’t want to eliminate (kill) her. So they went through this process to erase her short term memory. To make it credible, we researched how that would be possible. One of our beta readers has both a bachelors degree and masters degree in nursing. If our research is wrong – if we used the wrong drugs, if our character didn’t act appropriately in the moment – hopefully our nurse beta reader will let us know.

We also don’t want beta readers from our immediate family, for obvious reasons. So far, we have six readers. They look like this:

  • A 17 year-old male high school student with a 4.5 GPA.
  • A 17 year-old female high school student who excels in sports.
  • A 21 year-old female college student majoring in medicine.
  • A 28 year-old married woman in the mortgage industry.
  • A 40 year-old married nurse with bachelors and masters degrees.
  • A 41 year-old male telecommunications engineer with a bachelors degree.

Yes, Changers is YA, but people of many ages still like YA novels. It’s all in the story. We’re still anticipating more readers – we need all the feedback we can get. We’ll post the comments and feedback when received. This is getting exciting!

Novel Writing Software

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UPDATE, 9/2/17: We switched to using Scrivener. It has many more options and is better suited to our writing style. That said, we take nothing away from the good review we posted about yWriter below.

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It was kind of a pain in the butt trying to write a book using Microsoft Word. It took about 20 minutes of writing to figure out that wasn’t the way to go. We figured there must be some book-writing software out there somewhere.

So yeah, we looked around on the internet – how else? There are a few to choose from that we’re pretty sure must be badass. We found some that cost money to buy. We even found some that make you pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee to use. You can find them by surfing the web, or just do the usual google search. But this isn’t about reviewing, comparing or rating novel writing software. There are plenty of articles on the web that rate and rank that stuff. We’re just saying we found a book writing software program that we use and like.

yWriter5, by Spacejock (Simon Haynes) is cool. It’s what we use. One of the biggest benefits is it’s free to download and use. It gets updated regularly, so we know it’s not a piece of software someone wrote and abandoned.

The ‘pros’ include:

  • Awesome editing and structuring capabilities.
  • The ability to drag and drop scenes and chapters.
    • This helps when you’re putting your story in order.
  • Create as many chapters as you want.
    • Merge/combine chapters if you decide two chapters would be better as one.
  • Create scenes within the chapters.
    • This also includes the ability to merge/combine scenes.
  • Global search and replace.
    • This came in handy when we changed character names.
  • Daily word count.
    • You can even set daily goals for word count.
    • Word count reports.
    • Set up a work schedule.
    • Set goals for completion, outline, drafts and edits.
  • You can include images in your story/book.

yWriter5 allows you to export your project to html, RTF, text, LaTeX, ebook, Nanowrimo obfuscated text. You can also export chapters, scenes, characters, etc. There is so much more we could say about this software. But once you click on the link below, you’ll find out all you need to know.

The main ‘con’ we’ve found is the spellchecker isn’t really all that. It finds misspelled words, so it’s good for that. But if you click on your misspelled word to get the proper spelling, it opens your web browser to dictionary.com.

We like yWriter5 a lot – enough to have sent a donation (that makes our version ‘registered’). We also recommend it. If you’re looking for a novel-writing software program that’s easy to use, up to date and free, yWriter5 is the way to go.

Here’s the link –> yWriter5 by Spacejock

In case you’re wondering, this is not a ‘paid for’ review. None of our reviews or recommendations are.