Avoiding the BPP

Did you ever have a less than enjoyable reading experience? One that left you just a bit disgruntled? Yeah. Me too, often as a result of my Biggest Pet Peeve. My BPP, literarily speaking at least, is a novel that reads like a rough draft.

You know the ones.

My BPP, literarily speaking...
My BPP, literarily speaking…

Those books that could have been mind-blowingly fantastic with the help of a few additional drafts and a good editor/critique partner, but instead fall into the dismal realm of the underwhelming? Novels that, well, to be frank, have one or more of the following foibles:

The over-tell. When I read a good novel, I literally see the story in my mind as if it were playing out on a movie screen. When the author peeks around the curtain and tells me what a character is doing/thinking/feeling or worse, why he’s doing/thinking/feeling it, I want to shush him. (The author, not the character.) Show me what is happening and then be quiet and let me watch the movie.

Poor voice. Every character should have a unique voice and manner. The reader should be able to tell the difference between a child and an alien by the way they talk. Nothing takes me out of a story quicker than a four-year-old talking like a physics instructor. Unless the child is an alien, which would explain everything. The same goes for the character’s actions. If a hero who has been stalwart and stoic through the first three chapters breaks out suddenly into an unprovoked temper fit, I’m not just going raise an eyebrow. I’m going to put down the book.

Mono-voice. This is a form of poor voice which occurs when all the characters in a novel sound and act alike. Unless you are writing about the Borg, everyone needs to be an individual, and that difference needs to go beyond their names and hair color.

White-Washout. I need the characters in a book to reflect the diversity I see in the world. Not everyone is a Straight, White Male with huge biceps and a Razor-Sharp Wit. I love seeing strong female leads, POCs, folks with disabilities, LGBTQ characters, and any combination of the above. I enjoy reading these characters because my real world experience is populated by people just like them. I know a few SWMs too, so they can stay, but let’s not be exclusive, ok? Oh, and any character with an RSW is fine by me. RDJ? Step into my parlor.

So much for the negative. What makes reading a novel my favorite form of entertainment? Writing that shows rather than tells, solid settings that ground me in place and time so I can relax and enjoy the story, empathetic characters (I don’t have to like them, but I need to be able to understand them), a plot where something important is at stake, and voices that I recognize as real.

If you want to write more diverse characters and aren't sure where to start...
If you want to write more diverse characters and aren’t sure where to start…

One other thing – If you want to write more diverse characters and aren’t sure where to start, there’s a mini-conference coming up June 22 – 23, 2019 at the Hilton, Orlando/Altamonte Springs. They have four presenters, including an advocate for persons with disabilities, professional authors and a literary agent. You can find more information, including prices and a registration link here.  I’m going and you should join me. It’s hosted by the FWA and is sure to be a dynamite event.

Three Ways to Fill the Well

We – meaning the family and I, but I’m sure the statement can be applied universally – have been busy lately.

We had visitors, and took a trip to Disney. Both great things and I enjoyed them very much, but neither was conducive to keeping up with a weekly blogging schedule. Add in doctor appointments and the regular everyday routine, and I’m sure you get the picture. 

The long and short is, not a lot of writing got done. As in, none. Zero. Which I could sit around feeling bad about, if I wanted. 

Don’t worry. I don’t want. 

Because the truth is, it’s good to step away once in a while. The mind and the soul need to rest on occasion, and it’s smart to pay attention to that.

A lot of writers talk about “filling the creative well,” and there are a couple of ways to do that.

Way #1:

Take a day trip to a new place, or revisit a favorite. One of my faves is Saint Augustine. This is the oldest continuously occupied city in the U.S. At various stages of its long history, it has belonged to no less than three different countries, including the United States,  and it teams with history, art and culture. Not to mention a number of ghosts. 

Way #2

Indulge in a different art form. I know it sounds counter-intuitive to say to create in order to refill your creativity, but it works. I love quilting. The fabrics, the colors, the myriad designs one can use to make something beautiful as well as functional – these elements appeal to me in a fundamental way. And working with my hands refreshes my mind. Whether you enjoy painting, photography, pottery or something that doesn’t start with a P, you will find that it does the same for you.

Way #3

Read. Your genre, or something else, but for pleasure. Reading resets the mind and nourishes the soul, enhancing creativity and adding inspiration. 

You can also take time with friends, in nature or enjoying some entertainment such as a movie or a concert. Anything that you enjoy which gives your mind and spirit a break. 

Whatever you choose, make it a priority. Your soul, and your writing, will benefit from it.

Please Refrain From Imploding

Every profession has its issues. For writers, one of the issues is distractions. Even necessary things like eating, interaction with family and research can, if allowed to reign unchecked, wreak havoc with a writer’s work ethic. Because let’s face it, distractions are fun, usually, while writing can be a large load of hard work. Most authors prefer not to implode, and therefore they write.

Most authors prefer not to implode, therefore, they write.

The option of chasing a distraction can be a welcome respite. If one can convince oneself that the distraction is actually a part of the writing, as in the case of research, well, that’s a bonus, isn’t it?

Still, in the interest of getting more words out of your head and down onto the page, it might be a good idea to structure your time.

Some possibilities for that structure?

Schedule your research time just like your writing time. This can be one day a week, one hour a day, in the evenings while schlumping in front of the TV, etc. Instead of chasing that research rabbit in the middle of a writing sessions, insert a placeholder such as: <research ancient cosmetics>

Stop looking at the adorable bunny and finish reading.

Later, after you’ve researched the issue at the proper time, you can search your manuscript with the search feature for “ancient cosmetics,” and place your information, all without unduly interrupting your writing time.

Social media and marketing can be handled in a similar fashion. Schedule an appropriate amount of time for routine jobs such as setting up ads and scheduling social media posts. Again, that evening schlump can be put to good use without straining your writing schedule.

The point is to schedule the time and handle the work then, rather than allowing it to intrude on the words you need to transfer from your head to the page, hence preventing author brain implosion.

Just for fun: Did you know that the ancient Egyptians used ground up carmine beetles to make lipstick? Kind of makes you want to rethink your beauty regimen, doesn’t it?

Rethinking the beauty regimen?

Avoiding the DNF Pile

I generally choose a book in the following manner:

  1. Does it have an intriguing title? Minor considerations such as author and genre have an effect, but it has always been the title that gets me to pull a book off the shelf.
  2. How cool is the cover? The title can be nothing short of interdimensionally mind blowing, but if the cover is blah, or worse, looks unprofessional, back the book goes to the shelf.
  3. Does the blurb on the back make me want to start reading right then and there? Items one and two are what catch my eye, item three makes me pull out my wallet. In the blurb I expect to be told what is at stake for whom, where, and who doesn’t want the protagonist to succeed. Hardcovers without dust jackets don’t even get picked up.

I realize that most people choose books the same way I do. Some even dispense with step one and move right to the cover shot. I don’t understand how that works, really, because most books are displayed on shelves with only the spine showing and no one without x-ray vision can get a good look at the cover from that angle. Still, enough people insist say that’s how they do it that it must be so.

Right?

My point is this – what happens when the outside looked like a five-star roller coaster and the inside reads like a rickety swing-set in an overgrown backyard? I’ve had this infuriating experience several times recently and it has moved me to write the following:

Don’t do it. Don’t promise something on the cover that you don’t deliver on the inside. There are a couple of authors that I will never read again because they lied to me. Worse yet, they sold me that lie under the guise of awesome entertainment.

This warning is especially apt for indie authors. Traditionally published authors usually have the reputation and backing to overcome one or two rickety swing-set books but an indie author has only her reputation. Ruin that and you are done. Word of mouth will pull out its samurai sword and hack you to bits before you can say, “get an editor.” Which brings me to my last point.

Use whatever means necessary to hone and polish your work to white dwarf brilliance BEFORE you dare to publish. Putting your name on a book equals putting your reputation on the line, and when it comes right down to it, as authors our reputation is the only thing standing between us and the DNF pile.

So, what’s your favorite white dwarf polishing cloth?

You may have noticed…

You may have noticed that I’ve made some changes to the site. Sometimes, even though it’s painful, change is necessary. I hope to create a space here for writing and publishing tips useful to the Indie Author.

Thank you for your patience while I get things figured out.

Fighting Words

I’m a mess. I am sad and horrified and scared and ANGRY. I watch the posts flooding social media and my hands clench. I hear the politicians mouthing platitudes and my teeth grind.

I watch the NRA pour money into political pockets and I want to scream, “Enough! When are our children going to be more important than your agenda?”

I want to fight. But I don’t have a fighter’s physique or mindset. Nowhere in me is the desire to hurt anyone. All I have are my words.

 

My fighting words.

Here they are.

Violence in schools has to stop. We have a responsibility to our society to make it stop.

Saying that a person should be required to have an appropriate level of training, maturity and mental stability before they are allowed to own a gun is not a strike against the second amendment. It is a reasonable precaution against tragedy.

The solution will not be a single mandate or one-size-fits-all action. It must be a nuanced, carefully thought out collection of positive actions.

Screaming “my side is right and your side is stupid,” helps no one, fixes nothing and makes you sound like an idiot. Stop it.

We have to have a license to drive, to pilot an airplane, both potentially hazardous endeavors that people do every day quite safely. We must be a certain age to drink, to drive, to vote. Why is owning and operating a gun (the purpose of which is to kill, whether the target is game or assailants) any different? And do not trot out the target shooting excuse. Yes, some folks use their guns exclusively for that, but it isn’t the original purpose of owning a weapon. Target practice is the responsible gun owner’s way of ensuring that they can hit what they are shooting at, rather than spraying bullets and praying“.

The sole purpose of AR capability is to kill more targets, faster. No homeowner or hunter “needs” an automatic or semi-automatic weapon. The purpose of civilian gun ownership is to defend a person’s home or put food on the table. The responsible civilian gun owner doesn’t need an AR anything for that.

There are those who would like to see the second amendment repealed. This is true. Stop trying to deny it.

There are those who would like a return to the wild west where guns were ubiquitous. This is also true. Stop trying to deny it.

Americans are guaranteed the right to bear arms by the U.S. Constitution. Deal with it.

Americans are guaranteed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Rampant, uncontrolled gun usage is a threat to that right. Deal with it.

Thoughts and prayers have been offered by politicians after every mass shooting to no avail. The divine is tired of us having the tools to affect change and doing nothing but sit with our hands folded, thinking or praying about it.  The solution may start with thinking and praying but it cannot, for the sake of all that is holy, end there.

In the end, we gain nothing be entrenching our positions, plugging our ears and yelling imprecations at the other side.

 

America is great because her people govern together. We haven’t done a great job of that lately. We need to start, and we need to demand that our governing bodies put the needs of their people before the needs of their wallets.

 

 

Our kids – the same ones who have been called immature, lazy, apathetic, clueless and worse – are standing up. They are leading, and we adults should be ashamed if we aren’t standing on the front lines with them, demanding change. We have the vote, most of them don’t. We need to lead from the front until they can catch up.

Book Review: Outsystem by MD Cooper

Synopsis:

In 4123, the greatest colony ship ever built is leaving the Sol System, and Major Tanis Richards has secured a berth.

Demoted by the military and hung out to dry, the media calls her the Butcher of Toro. However, despite her soiled record, Tanis still one of the best military counterinsurgency officers in the Terran Space Force.

The backers of the colony mission need her to stop the terrorists trying to destroy the GSS Intrepid, while in the final phases of construction at the Mars Outer Shipyards.

Getting the job done will be her ticket out of the Sol system, but Tanis discovers she is up against more than mercenaries and assassins. Major corporations and governments have a vested interest in ensuring the Intrepid never leaves Sol, ultimately pitting Tanis against factions inside her own military.

With few friends left, Tanis will need to fight for her life to get outsystem.

Review:

M.D. Cooper’s Outsystem is a fast paced, high tension power ride with vivid, multi-dimensional characters and an intriguing plot line. I was hooked from page one and fully invested by the end of the first chapter.

Full disclosure – I haven’t read sci-fi in a long time. Recently, most of my reads have been fantasy and/or young adult. But Outsystem made me rethink my trajectory. A lot of the reason for that had to do with Cooper’s protagonist, Tanis Richards.

Female characters in sci-fi stories, especially those with a heavy military angle like Outsystem, tend to be either frail princesses waiting to be saved, or hard-assed – erm, boiled veterans with little or no emotional side. Tanis is different. She is smart, savvy and more than capable of defending herself against the enemy, but Cooper also manages to provide her with a heart. Rather than shoving her into the mold of the male warrior as is so common, Tanis is presented to us as a fully-fledged, multi-faceted character with the same wants and needs of any normal human being.  She has been through rough times, and she carries that baggage, but she doesn’t come across as fragile or weak. Tanis is a hero anyone, male or female, can relate to and appreciate.

For this reason, plus a strong plot and an outstanding supporting cast of characters, Outsystem gets 4.5 of 5 stars. If you enjoy military sci-fi, this is a must-read.

Author Bio:

M.D. CooperMichael Cooper has been writing since he finished Return of the King and had to have more. Lately, he has turned toward science fiction and is working on a series of books which surround a colony ship leaving the Sol system for 82 Eridani.

When he’s not writing novels or software he can be found spending time with his wife and daughter or in his wood shop building furniture.

You can find out more about Michael and his books here:

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