Friday, April 27, 2012

Profanity in Dialogue? @#*@ yes!!

I have a lot of Christian friends. I know a lot of them have delicate sensibilities about certain topics. As a service to them, I hereby issue a warning about the novels I write. They will draw an R rating, and some chapters will have a very hard R rating.

I don't do this to shock people. I do it because I want my characters and situations to be real. Do people have things in their past of which they are embarrassed? Of course. We all do. I put some of those things into my novels. Do we do things now that are morally ambiguous? Some people do; I try not to be one of them. Do we live in a world where those around us are obscenity-spewing louts? Yes we do. I put some of those things into my novels. Are there horrendous actions done that make even jaded people wince? Yes, and I put some of those things into my books.

My main character in my second novel is a squeaky clean guy with the exception of the things he does that are at the very center of the action. Does he swear? He makes it a point not to do it. Is he sexually immoral? No. (Well, there is that final chapter of the book.) Does he hide behind his squeaky clean image and do things that would be considered sinful by a Christian audience? Well, there are definitely situations of moral ambiguity. He steadfastly forges ahead on one road in those situations because that is part of the foundation of his character. He rarely stops and questions his actions because he has answered all those questions before. Why relive old internal arguments?

I will center only on the use of obscenity in this blog entry. OK, my main guy makes it a point not to swear. Where's any potential problem then? It's because I put him into a real world where he is surrounded by real people. Some secondary characters are f-bomb-dropping folks who occasionally include references to body parts. Do I have to do that? I feel I do. I want my readers to feel the grit and the grime, partly to become a counterpoint to my main character. Are these f-bomb droppers bad people? No, but they do have what I consider a bad habit. So do people I work with. So do pastors I know who hit their fingers with hammers. So do I. I don't forgive them by cleaning up their language. I forgive them by realizing that every human has flaws, and I let the characters be very human. Whether my readers extend forgiveness to the people I create isn't an issue for me to worry about. I expect a certain amount of criticism. OK, so welcome to the world of the writer.

A Christian might ask me: Are you honoring God with your work? I think I am by creating characters and situations that are as filled with moral hurdles as everyday life is. God watches real people face those issues every day. I think he understands. I hope my readers will understand my characters and why I create them that way.

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Favorite Words: Maass, Lansdale, Deaver, Crais

I could go on and on about things I gleaned from my weekend immersion in the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs. I met great agents such as Evan Gregory and Paige Wheeler, a genial and talented editor for Titan Books named Steve Saffel, gracious romance writer Susan Wiggs and a bevy of published and aspiring authors who are as committed to their love of writing as I am. But four mentors stand out, and I talk about them in no particular order of importance.

Donald Maass, head of his own literary agency and the man who literally wrote the books on how to become a great writer. (I purchased "The Breakout Novelist" and will drink in his lessons like I am on a feeding tube.) Don's greatest attribute is his burning passion for great writing. He brought challenges to every writer in the room during a lunchtime keynote speech about his view of publishing and its impact on the future. I also sat in on his teaching session of Agenting in the 21st Century, which ended with an educational give-and-take between Don and Mark Coker, the creator of Smashwords, about traditional publishing vs. e-books.

Joe Lansdale, a raw-talking east Texan and prolific writer of novels and short stories. Joe is an absolute hoot to listen to as he rolls out his lessons. He does work I almost never read, about things like spirit-draining demons, but the core of his craft resonates with me. His best lessons: Be your own writer and shove away influences that say you shouldn't do things that way; and embrace the love of great writers by reading constantly. One of my credos while I am writing is to put away all novels because I don't want to be influenced by another author's style, pacing, use of dialogue, etc. Joe told me that is absolute b.s. because great writers teach you how to become a great writer. He says you have to learn those lessons daily. I will change my ways.

Jeffery Deaver, veteran writer of thrillers and the choice to write the latest James Bond novel, "Carte Blanche." He held a session on writing thrillers and gave his pupils pointers on plotting, character development, rewriting and more. Like everything else I took away from the conference, those are treasured lessons. I went up after the session and asked him a question. One of Deaver's points is that he spends considerable time developing an outline for his novel before he types even the first word. (Many other authors don't do that but develop plot as they go, and I fall into that category.) I asked Jeffery if despite his outline he ever took out entire chapters or big chunks of his story while doing his rewrites. He said he has lopped off big chunks, but never an entire chapter. Then he did something that impressed me: Although I am one of probably 10,000 potentially published authors he meets at similar conferences, he reached out his hand and wished me luck. It wasn't window dressing. It was a genuine gesture. The man understands I am where he used to be.

Robert Crais, veteran author of police mysteries. A lot of the women in the audience made reference to Crais' movie-star good looks, but he left me with his greatest impression during a panel with fellow authors. He said he loves to spend time each day with his characters because they are characters he loves. I understand that, especially in creating the protagonist for my second novel. I enjoy Daniel Pace and the reasons for which he does certain unsavory things. I respect Pace's reasoning and his commitment to his work. I share Pace's love of the home he owns, which is on a bluff in Mukilteo, Washington, and looks down on Possession Sound. I can't wait to spend time with him. I feel sadness as I prepare all the side projects for selling and publishing this first book in the series rather than writing the second. I will find time to blend both projects in the next few days.

I must give a tip of the cap to another gracious person I met this weekend. He is Antonio Salinas, who is still active in the military and has published a book, "Siren's Song: The Allure of War," about his days as a platoon leader in Afghanistan. He offered to help me with authentic bits when I reached matters of military operations in my novels (making him the second man with extensive experience in combat zones to offer such help in the past week). His commitment to his job and his writing strike a chord with me. I will add one funny story on Antonio: He did the first and probably last bathroom signing of his book for me. I think I need to explain. There are about 450 attendees at the conference, plus faculty members and others. You might see a person in a class or just passing in the hall, and you might not see them again for the rest of the day. So, when I went into the men's room and saw Antonio on the last day of the conference, I didn't want to let an opportunity slip by. I asked him if he would sign the copy of his book I purchased. We both laughed about the setting, but he signed the book and wrote a nice note.

I don't necessarily have a desire to go to a bunch of writers conferences, but I crave interaction with the men and women familiar with the craft of writing like those I spent time with this weekend. I learned many great lessons, but I was left with one overriding impression: I have to get better. I will keep that standard in front of me until my dying day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pikes Peak Writers Conference Is A Blast

No, I am not overhyping the event with my title. This will be my second Pikes Peak Writers Conference, and if this one comes close to the quality of the first one I will be a happy man. But here's the secret. I think this one might be even better for me.

My first conference was a beginner's experience. I focused a lot on the proper ways to do a pitch session, which is an eight-minute, face-to-face meeting with an agent during which you try to sell your novel and gain representation. I went through one pitch session and received a request for a partial manuscript. OK, that's not extensive experience, but I am comfortable with the format. I have a pitch session this weekend with Evan Gregory, an agent for Ethan Ellenberg in New York City. Evan is an intelligent and thoughtful young man, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet.

My focus this year will center more on the business of being an author. I will center on subjects such as the branding of a writer, increasing traffic to blogs, etc. There will be one carryover subject ... writing a proper query. It still is the entry point for most writers who are looking to lure an agent, and any tips I can get will be greatly appreciated.

There will be chances to talk to some top writers in the business. Jeffrey Deaver, the man who was selected to write the latest James Bond novel, will be the guest speaker Friday night. I hope to speak with Jeffrey because he started out as a journalist, so maybe he can give me friendly tips. (I met author John Hart last year, and he has helped me a time or two since then in understanding the business.) Robert Crais, a veteran author and screenwriter, will speak Saturday night. One of the top agents in the business, Donald Maass, will attend. He literally wrote the book on Writing the Breakout Novel. I follow him on Twitter because he often gives tips on character development, scene setting and injecting drama. He has helped me more than he might ever know.

Meeting some of the big names is part of the fun. I was just as intrigued by learning about the writers attending the conference, many of whom are trying to land their first publishing contract just as I am. There are those who center on steampunk, romance writers, Christian writers, crime writers, dystopian writers (those who picture a future broken society), young adult writers ... the list goes on and on. It is amazing to see the diversity of writing styles and the creativity involved.

The toughest part will be working Thursday night then getting up early the next morning and driving to the Colorado Springs Marriot, the site of the conference. Keep brewin' the Starbucks, folks. I am going to need considerable amounts of caffeine to make it through that first day. But I think I can guarantee one thing: I will walk out of the conference being better prepared for this author's life than I was before. What could be better than that?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Silence Means Production

I am not one of those people who can blog while I am going full-bore on a writing project, which explains my silence over the past couple of weeks. Well, going full-bore is part of the explanation. Taking eight days of vacation and spending a wonderful time with family in South Carolina explains the rest.

I left my computer and flash drive behind. That doesn't mean I stopped working on my book. Several of my quiet times in the Carolinas were spent going over scenarios and rethinking ways I approach a certain scene. I juggled ideas. I spent middle-of-the-night time going over plot twists. I hit the ground running when I returned to Colorado. The past several days were spent rereading, rewriting and tightening. I love the work.

My goal of having the novel ready to pitch will be met. I have a pitch session scheduled during the Pikes Peak Writers Conference later this month. I will be ready. I can blog later.

Thanks to my friends who have sent me notes of encouragement. Your support is appreciated more than you will ever know.

Now, back to work.