Pitch Perfect?

Genny and Malcolm Mercer are moving to Breaker, Texas. They hope living in a small town will alleviate Genny’s insomnia and the dangerous hallucinations it causes. As they look for a house to buy, the Mercers check into Breaker’s only hotel, eat at the only café, and discover there is only one little girl in the whole town: their daughter.

Prentice Feyerbach has a good imagination and lots of time to spend dreaming up a life he doesn’t have. He arrives in Breaker with a gift for his imaginary fiancée, a suitcase full of new clothes, and a debilitating illness he wants to hide. Prentice is forced to choose between the safety of his pretend life or a deadly reality when he overhears plans to abduct the Mercers’ daughter.

Helena Makepeace is more than just a strange girl with a maimed face. She is also the human incarnation of the Goddess La Zalia. This gives Helena the power to heal, but not without a price to pay for using the Goddess powers for her own purposes.

As Summer Solstice nears, Breaker prepares for the ritual Treeletting ceremony to offer a new human vessel to La Zalia. The ritual will spill a mother’s blood, invoke a father’s lament, and ensure the continuation of ancient ways. Until then, carnivorous vines are growing out of control, the sacred orchard is dying of blight, and it isn’t safe after dark.

~ STOLEN CLIMATES ~

Mother Nature is Real

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I want to thank Ania Ahlborn for her suggestions on how to get past my mental block on writing this blurb.  She suggested that I read the product descriptions for books I like on Amazon and use those as a guide.  If you’re not familiar with Ania, check out her blog and read her debut novel SEED.

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Pitch Imperfect

Imagine:

This past weekend, you watched a movie that presented a fresh take on the story of  beautiful people besieged by evil. You have a friend you know will enjoy the movie, even though he isn’t typically a horror fan. When you meet for your weekly Monday martinis, you try to describe the  movie to him. You flounder. You sound increasingly uncertain of yourself as you explain the movie’s  premise of Nazi zombies attacking a group of camping med students. You wish your glass wasn’t empty so you would have an excuse to stop talking. Your conclusion is a mumbled, “It’s much better than I make it sound!”

Magnify the feeling you got reading that scenario by a factor of ten and you’ve just experienced what it feels like to bungle your book pitch.

Light Painting #10: Violin

Image by whertha via Flickr

As an indie writer, I stopped thinking about my book pitch when I stopped thinking about writing agent query letters. For some reason, I conflated the idea of representation with the idea that I will need to represent my book. Just because I do not need to officially Pitch My Book, I still need to entice potential readers.

I’m uncomfortable talking about my writing. Sure, I can talk for hours about the craft or about my creative process. Yet, ask me to discuss the content of my work and I clam up. It’s frustrating to know every detail of a story, but to be unable to verbalize it in a way that doesn’t sound confused, stock, or lame. I get panicky, thinking that I better hurry up and say something (anything!) because I’m the author. Not being able to respond adequately makes me flustered. It makes me feel like a fake. Worst of all, it makes my story sound uninteresting. It’s bad alchemy that turns a good story into an embarrassment.

This past weekend, prior to actually watching that movie about Nazi zombies,* I had an hair appointment at my usual salon. My regular stylist is out on maternity leave and my appointment was handled by someone new to the salon and to me. She moved to Austin two months ago to pursue her musical career. She told me that not only is hair more interesting in Austin than it is in Dallas, but also that her neighbors are part of a mariachi band, and she is often awakened by them practicing out on the patio. I told her about the bagpipe player in my neighborhood that practices every Sunday afternoon and we both agreed that her mariachi band trumped my bagpipe player. Then there was a lull before she said, “What do you do?”  I said I’m a software developer, which is how I pay my bills, but I knew that was a cheat.  After all, she had shared both her vocation (stylist) and her avocation (singer).  That’s when I told her that I write.

“Really? That’s neat! What do you write?”

“Horror.”

“Have you published anything?”

“I’m in the process of getting my first novel ready.”

“A novel! “

“Yep.”

“What’s it about?”

After a pause, I started to tell her. I’m not going to repeat what I said because I would like you to want to read my novel. It is far better than I made it sound.

Publishing is new to me. I’m wearing my novice boots and beginner’s hat. I’m finding sharp edges, hidden passages, and sidewalks that end nowhere even Google Earth can see. I am making mistakes. More importantly, I’m working on my pitch!

*The movie is DEAD SNOW.

 

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The Adventure of a Writer Reading

vino drinker seeks good read.

Image via Wikipedia

In the novel IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER, Italo Calvino writes about a woman who is a pure reader. The act of being immersed in a story is the totality of the experience for the pure reader. According to her, “There’s a boundary line: on one side are those who make books, on the other side those that read them, so I take care always to remain on my side of the line. Otherwise, the unsullied pleasure of reading ends…”. Later in IF ON A WINTER’s NIGHT, Calvino introduces a writer who echoes the pure reader’s sentiment, saying “Since I have become a slave laborer of writing, the pleasure of reading has finished for me.” In Calvino veritas, indeed!

A writer reads to learn how to write. The psychological distance presupposed by the act of analysis is what makes it difficult for a writer to be a pure reader. To be a writer is to inherently dull the ability to read for reading’s sake.

This doesn’t mean that being a pure reader is impossible for writers, just that they’ll have to be reading an incredibly well-written work to get into that zone. Even then, once the afterglow of the read wears off, the writer will be picking through passages to try and understand how it’s possible that a story as seemingly bloated as Joyce’s THE DEAD can deliver such an emotional climax. Works of lesser quality do not even transport the writer; she will observe the story rather than be absorbed by it. The analytical chatterbox in her mind will note every infraction of grammar, characterization, and symbolism. More egregious than badly written books are books where the author makes the decision to include heavy-handed metafiction or some other self-conscious and purposefully precious element. Authors who do that break the sacred contract with the reader by eliminating any chance at the transcendental experience of becoming a pure reader. I’m with Calvino’s pure reader. All we want is to read a novel that “pile[s] stories upon stories, without trying to impose a philosophy of life on you.”

We want to be absorbed, subsumed, enraptured.

It has already been two years since my last experience as a pure reader. The book? AFFINITY, by Sarah Waters. I was skeptical at first because I tend to find books written in diary format to be too contrived to enthrall me. However, Waters’s writing is amazing, and AFFINITY had enough supernatural, sexual, and mysterious elements to keep me coming back, despite my initial reluctance. I read the end on a lunch break; I was sitting in the kitchen at work, seething with emotions. Fury. Betrayal. Horror. Stupidity. Shock. Sadness. The sense of having been used. I was gasping for breath and in tears – in the company lunch room. I didn’t care. In fact, because Waters did her job very, very well, I became a pure reader. There is no lunch room or co-workers for the pure reader. There is only the story.

AFFINITY had serious wow-factor. I was awed, and not certain that there was any place left for novels to go, since perfection had already been achieved. Then the writer in me took charge. She decided that what the world needs are more books like AFFINITY. She started the analysis. She sent the pure reader packing.

What about you, when was the last time you experienced being a pure reader? What book did it for you? The holiday vacations are coming up, and I would love, Love, LOVE to have to have a stack of juicy reads!

  • All quotes are from the 1981 Harcourt Brace & Company (Harvest Book imprint) edition of IF ON A WINTER’s NIGHT A TRAVELER.
  • I cannot take credit for my the phrase ‘In Calvino Veritas;’ that’s all over the web.

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Oh, The Tools We Will Use.

car repair toolkit

Image by Brenda Anderson via Flickr

“It’s not a challenge; it’s an opportunity!”  At a previous job, whenever the team encountered a technical obstacle, that phrase was part of the general call and response in meetings. The severity of the ‘opportunity’ determined whether the response would be groans or laughter.

Crises sneak up on us. Even the ones we expect are a surprise when they happen, if only in the sense that we didn’t know it would happen so soon, or when it was raining, or when we were about to leave for happy hour. The good thing about obstacles is that they give us stories to tell. For example, I used to drive an older model Chevy. It had a lot of personality, where by ‘personality,’ I mean quirks, and by quirks I mean things that would break at inopportune times. For one thing, the gas tank had a tiny crack in it. If I got too exuberant at the gas station, I’d fill it too high and gas vapor would escape and do fun things like get me kicked out of parking garages.

One rainy afternoon, a section of the tailpipe popped lose from the undercarriage and started dragging on the road.

If you’ve never experienced this, let me assure you that a tailpipe throws off a lot of sparks as it drags across pavement.  It also makes a lot of rattling, clanging noise.  Should this happen, I recommend turning down your music and taking a peek in the driver’s side mirror.

You’ll see what looks like a lot of pretty fireworks. Red and yellow sparklers! And then you will remember your gas tank issue.

When this happened to me, I was miles from home. I was alone and this was years before I gave in and got a mobile phone. I pulled over and got out of the car. The pavement was wet from the rain shower that had just started, and it was starting to get cold. The tailpipe was still held in place at the end of it closer to the middle of the car, but whatever held it up near the bumper was broken. It was clear I wouldn’t be driving with the car as it was. Even if I didn’t have to worry about spontaneous explosion, all the dragging wasn’t improving the tailpipe. How was I going to overcome this particular ‘opportunity’?

The tailpipe was much too hot to touch, so I decided I would walk to a payphone. The first payphone was out of order. The second pay phone was just one cross street away when I tripped over my shoe lace!  As I knelt to tie my shoe, I had an idea. I tied my shoe, called my husband to let him know what happened, and went back to the car. I used the shoe lace to tie the mostly cool and still dangling, tailpipe back up to the chassis.  It wasn’t pretty, and it probably wasn’t safe, but it worked.

Not only did the crisis give me this story to share, but it also illustrates that useful tools can come in unlikely forms. It is like going to a friend’s house, drinking a lot of red wine, and then discovering that the block of imported honey candy needs to be broken with a hammer before you can eat any of it. If car repair can be done with a shoelace and candy can be divided with a hammer, there is nothing to stop us from coming up with inventive solutions to literary ‘opportunities.’

A good way to learn new writing techniques is to read. Then read some more, and make sure at least some of what you read is not in your chosen genre because you may find a shoelace or two you can apply to horror writing in poetry, romance, or science fiction. Notice where you get the biggest payoff for your reading and then go back and try to figure out how the author did it.  When you have a guess, give yourself a writing exercise to apply that technique. My debut novel started as a writing exercise. Sylvia Plath wrote THE MOON AND THE YEW TREE as a writing exercise. Not every practice session will net a publishable work, and not every technique will work with your voice, but every exercise teaches you how to control a powerful craft that is difficult to wield effectively. Most of us start out as hammers smashing candy, but those who are diligent and dedicated gain finesse, confidence, and the ability to conjure miracles. How’s that for turning a challenge into an opportunity?

We Are What We Say.

Me : “They age fine wines and some good whiskeys in oak caskets.”

(pause, thinking back on what I said)

Me: “Wait! Oak casks, not caskets!”

(giggling)

I love conversations.  I love the natural ebb and flow of a spirited discussion.  I love the accidental humor, the unintentional ‘tell’ of verbal slips, the pauses that give a more honest answer than words ever can.

Hello!

Dialog for Snail & Apple, Minor Key

I’ve always had a compulsion to record snippets of overheard conversation. One evening back in my early college days, I sat at the word processor*and typed out a conversation in real time, or as close as I could get.  I don’t know what happened to that transcript, but I bet it would be impossible to decipher now; my friends and I used a lot of code names for people and had many inside jokes.  As important as it seemed then, more than a decade of time dulls all memory, and details that aren’t exhumed often tend to be forgotten.  Even granting that I won’t know what the hell we were talking about, I wish I could read that conversation because it would be a snapshot of who we were at that time.  Our meat is what we eat, but our spirits are best represented by what we say. Yes, there’s what we do.  But before doing, there is talking.  And in the talking we learn who we are, or at least who we aspire to be for those to whom we speak.  There’s a reason the phrase, “I give you my word” is so powerful. It’s the same reason people who say one thing and do another are deemed untrustworthy. We are our words, and we are delightful, infuriating, beautiful, harsh, surprising, insightful and endless.

I remain captivated by the spoken word. At work, I carry a notebook everywhere and while it does contain technical notes, the margins are filled with captured phrases. I have recorded hundreds of linguistic gems. They are evidence: I was there, this is what was said. This is who we were.  Many studies and not a few pieces of literature explore the efficacy of scent in recalling memories. For me, phrases are more evocative than scent.

It seems odd, then, that dialog is one of the toughest parts for me when I am writing. I find it very difficult to get the way we talk onto the page. Once I do get up the courage to get my characters speaking, I have to be very careful that they are not all talking in the same ‘voice.’  It helps me to picture a person I know or a character from a television show, and use that as a model for the verbal behavior of my character.  I do not try and make my character “be” the model, just use some of those particular verbal mannerisms. To prevent copying a character (bad!) or a real person (worse!), I combine multiple models. Then I throw in my own oddities and revise, revise, revise. I don’t stop until the character I’ve created speaks as herself and no one else. She is what she says.

When I wrote the script for the STOLEN CLIMATES trailer, I got to experience dialog incarnate. It was my first experience with writing words explicitly intended for someone else to speak. Whether by conscious decision or by accident, the actress modified what I wrote; the sentences morphed as she acted them. In almost every case, we went with her changes because they flowed better. For example, there was one bit of dialog that had the cadence of the American ‘Pledge of Allegiance.’  I didn’t notice that while writing or revising, but it became painfully, horribly evident upon voiced repetition. It was an excellent reminder that all work must be read aloud to weed out the unintentional rhymes and rhythms that can lurk in the printed page. We wrapped the trailer project with a greater appreciation for the hard work that goes into acting, filming and scripting.  I also came away with an invigorated appreciation for Joss Whedon’s dialog .  If you are unfamiliar with Whedon, check out DOLLHOUSE, FIREFLY and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Each of those series has amazing dialog, and each has a ‘dialect’ and ‘timbre’  distinct to a particular series. If I could write dialog like Joss Whedon, get to the electrocuting heart of imagery like Plath, and scare you like King in THE SHINING, I’d come close to my own writerly Nirvana.

*I attended college from 95-99. In the first couple of years, more than 50% of students had word processors and not computers in their dorm rooms.  I was a member of the word processor camp and can recall writing first and second drafts by hand to save on the cost of ribbons!

 

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