Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The More Things Change...

First some exciting news! I submitted Screwing Up Time to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. And I found out that my novel made it to the second round!! I’m very excited. (The winners of the next round will be announced March 20.)

More good news. I’m over 75% done with the second big edit of the sequel to Screwing Up Time. I’d love to have it done by the end of next week, but I’m also having some editing burnout. And even chocolate isn’t soothing it.

Besides fixing plot holes and tightening up the words themselves, I also use the second edit to verify facts. I like to have two sources for each fact. So I’m reading sources that I didn’t read the first time. And I’m always amazed that sometimes ancient texts could have just as easily been written by my next-door neighbor.

The SUT sequel is set in an ancient, but fairly literate, society. Which means that there are a fair amount of primary sources. Though this doesn’t mean that they all have tremendous historical value, they do teach us a lot about people. For example, I was reading the translation of a particular tablet—a loose, condensed translation is “Several years ago we loaned you a certain amount of money for your travels. We have yet to see one coin of repayment.” The translator of this tablet and many others went on to say that he’s translated many tablets where parents complain about their children, businesses try to collect on loans and purchases of goods, etc. The translator comments that while times change, people stay the same.

I think that’s the reason that historical fiction, time travel fiction, science fiction, and even fiction in general is so popular. We see someone in very different circumstances—a king, a concubine, and a soldier who may live under the rule of Amenhotep, Alexander the Great, Henry V, or Genghis Khan—but their concerns are still the same. They want to take care of the people they love. They may be heroes, and sometimes even villains, but they have the same motives and desires that we do. Perhaps that’s why when we read, we can become them for a little while. After all, we’re really not that different. They may eat goat, drink date wine, and wear tunics, but they still want to get the girl and live happily ever after.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Years ago there was a line of children’s clothing called Garanimals. Each piece of clothing was tagged with a particular animal, and the idea was that if you bought all “hippo” clothing everything you bought would be interchangeable. The ideal mix and match clothing line. Of course, I’m not sure why this would be important. I’m pretty sure most people can figure out how to match a pair of pants and a shirt. Perhaps it was so parents could be sure that whatever their kids picked out to wear would match. But honestly I like it when my kids chose to wear mismatched clothes. I’d say, “Just so you know, most people don’t wear plaids and stripes at the same time.” My child would say, “I like them.” And I’d say, “Fine. I just wanted to be sure you knew.”

Of course, not all tags are silly. Some, like Amazon’s book tags, are very useful. Lately, I’ve been talking to people and discovered that a lot of people who buy books from Amazon aren’t familiar with book tags. Here’s a screenshot if you’re not sure what I’m talking about. (The tag section is located after the "Meet the Author" and "What Other Items" sections.)

Those tag boxes can be checkmarked. (A single book can have lots of tags. And if you as a reader think it should have a tag that you don’t see there, you can add it.) When readers checkmark the tags it helps other readers and authors. It helps readers because they can search for books with those categories. For example, if you like time travel books, you can find a whole host of time travel books by searching for that particular tag. Tagging books helps authors because tags are part of Amazon’s algorithm to present books to readers. The more tags (as well as purchases) a book gets the more the book gets recommended to readers. So go tag your favorite books (and my book too).

BTW, a lot of people have been asking how the sequel is going and when it’s going to be available. I’m not sure when it’s going to be available. (I’m hoping for early summer. I was hoping to have it available sooner, but my family has had one nasty sickness after another since August.) But I’m over halfway through the second big edit. Next, it will go to beta readers. Then I’ll make more edits. After that, I’ll proofread it and it’ll be good to go.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Guy's Perspective

When I first started writing Screwing Up Time, I realized that I wanted to write it from a guy’s perspective. I’d read enough young adult and teen literature to know that there were very few books written from a guy’s perspective. My thought was that guys would appreciate seeing themselves at the center of a novel and girls would like seeing from a guy’s perspective. Being that I have three sons aged 21 to 15 and they have lots of friends whom I’ve gotten to know, I thought I might be able to do them justice. One of my favorite compliments on the novel is when someone said, “Wow, this is just like a guy wrote it.”

So, ladies/girls, if this Valentine’s Day you’d like to see what life and love are like to a guy, give Screwing Up Time a try. As a Valentine’s Day treat, I’ve included this YouTube file. It’s the song “Boomerang” by Plain White Ts. My oldest son calls it the “The Atom Love Song.” Imagine that the electron is singing this song to the proton--keep in mind the quantum mechanical model of the atom--you know, the 3D version of the atom that shows how the electrons move. (Yeah, he’s a chemistry geek.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sequels, Part Two, Taking Joy in Writing

Two weeks ago, we discussed sequels. Why they’re hard to write, how to avoid sophomore novel pitfalls, etc. And while it was great to hear everyone’s thoughts, I still had a lot of anxieties. But that’s where a good writing friend helped, and I thought you all might benefit from her wisdom. (Thanks, Sharmon.)

As I listed all my worries about having my readers like book two as much as book one, she said, “Of course, not all your readers will like it as much.” That stopped me cold. Of course, I knew that in my head that people have different favorites, but to have her say it aloud really made me stop and think. Then she asked me about all the big series I’ve ever read from the Chronicles of Narnia to The Lord of the Rings to the Harry Potter books. She asked me if I had favorites. I did. And they weren’t the same favorites that others had. For example, I thought The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was okay. But I really didn’t like The Last Battle. On the other hand, I loved The Magician’s Nephew and The Horse and His Boy.

She reminded me that certain stories appeal to certain readers and there’s no getting around that. I can’t write a book that will make everyone happy. (Oh, right. You’d have thought that I already knew that.) She reminded me that the best thing I can do is to have fun as the novelist. If I have fun with the story and take joy in writing it—that is the thing that readers will latch onto. That’s what they crave. A good story.

I think that’s the lesson to writing anything from a short story to a novel. We must take joy in the telling. And when we lose sight of that, we begin to lose our ability to write.

What about you, readers? Can you tell when a writer is taking joy in the telling? And writers, what do you think?