Monday, September 23, 2013

A special guest post by fellow 47North author, Stant Litore!

Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Heard

Hey, thanks for welcoming me to your blog. Hi, everyone. I’m Stant Litore. I write The Zombie Bible, which is far darker/more serious than it sounds—a retelling of biblical tales as past risings of the hungry dead.
Someone asked me recently what advice I’d give to writers who are just starting out, and that started me thinking about the advice I’ve received over the years that has proven really meaningful. Admittedly, there has been a lot of absolutely awful advice—from “don’t self-publish” to “don’t write genre fiction,” in fact, a whole lot of Do Not’s, which rarely tend to be useful—but there has been some really good advice, too.
Here’s some of the best advice I've received as a novelist:
  • "Be fearless."
  • "Write for yourself. Then find out who you want to read it to. Know those people inside and out."
  • "Don't jump into bed with the first publisher who winks at you just because you think you need a relationship, any relationship. Figure out what you really want, what your goals are. Then go get it."
  • “When editing, cut everything you can. If you can't cut it, don't."
  • "On that first page, invite your readers to have an adventure. To be adventurous."
I am especially fond of that last piece of advice because it did not come from a real person. Or rather, it did, but it’s complicated. It was my favorite author—the dream version of him. It was around 3 a.m., I was fast asleep, and we were sitting together on a porch watching the rain. And that’s what he told me.
Yes, that sounds pretty loopy to me, too. But I take great advice where I can get it.

What I’ll Add
Now that I have several novels out, I’ll add my own advice to the list. Here it is. Listen to it if it’s good, chuck a tomato at it if it’s bad. But it’s the best I know how to give.
Your novel needs to tell the truth and take no prisoners. You’ll hear all the other advice from other writers, agents, and editors. Advice about discipline and perseverance. Advice about plotting and pacing and character. So I won’t repeat it here. What I will say is find out who your characters really are, let them show you, and find the truth your novel has to tell. Nothing matters more than that. Do not compromise or take shortcuts. Do not chicken out under pressure and write the easier path for your story. If that means you find out two thirds the way through that a near-complete rewrite would give you a story nine times as powerful, you do it. If you won’t have the courage to let your story dig deep into the heart, you’re wasting your time.
There it is. I hope some of this advice that has been great for me will be great for you, too. Maybe not. Writers aren’t cookie cutter people.
What advice has been great for you?

Stant Litore

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Danger of Not Learning about the Creative Process
or How a Degree in Literature Nearly Caused Me to Scuttle My Writing Career

I live just down the road from one of the finest small colleges in this country.  Summers are always quiet, but each fall brings a brand new batch of bright minds, eager to learn, ready to turn dreams into reality. About a billion years ago--and a little over two-thousand miles away--I had my turn at being one of these hopeful kids.

At 17 I knew I loved books. When I showed up on my own campus I came carrying 150 or so pages of a manuscript. My first novel. I knew I wanted to write.

But I can't say that at 17 I knew myself well enough to walk around saying that I wanted to be a writer.

The other kids, the ones who showed up with spiral notebooks crammed with poetry, and reams of dot-matrix printed short stories, the ones who knew themselves from an early age, the ones who had either the conviction or the hubris to apply the heady label "writer" to themselves, they found their way into the creative writing courses. 

My writing did not stem from a conviction that I was meant to be the next Hemmingway; It was a by-product of my love of the written word. So I instead chose to study comparative world literature. I learned how to dissect, how to critique, how to delve into the hidden meanings of the greatest writers' works. I studied their completed masterpieces, but I never studied the creative process that lead to these masterpieces.  I never learned what it was like for these greats as they wrote: the uncertainty, the dead ends, the joy and pain of invention and reinvention. I never learned how many of these hidden meanings found in the great works bubbled up during the creative process, not necessarily as the result of some master plan.

I judged my own nascent abilities by the finished pieces of others. One warm and sunny day [Bulwer-Lyttonism intentional], I pulled my manuscript from my backpack and tossed it into a garbage can on the path between my dorm and the library. And then I walked away, convinced that I would never be able to create anything worthwhile.  My stories would never be literature; I would never be a writer.

To be continued...

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Good Day Writing

After a few false starts, I believe that The Void, third installment of the Witching Savannah series, has finally begun to write itself.  It was only after I became willing to let go of my high concept (read as "convoluted") opening, a beginning that threatened to eat up three or more chapters with its emphasis on nearly forgotten Savannah history and introduction of a cast of brand new and hopelessly inessential characters, that I was able to ask myself what The Void was truly about.

Beyond the magic, outside the mystery, the third part of the series is about the love of a young woman for her family, especially for the sister she has alternately adored and feared, but for whose redemption she has never given up hope. And suddenly with that answer all of my characters, the ones I know, the ones I love, have come back and are ready to play.  Even Oliver, who still keeps on telling me I need to drop at least 10 pounds.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Third Charm is the Time

The first two books in the Witching Savannah series are safely in the care of my publisher.  The ARC of book one, The Line, should be in my sweaty little hands in the very near future, and book two, The Source, has been shipped off for copy editing. 

However, it is with growing angst that I must report that The Void, the series' third installment, remains nothing more than a gleam on my computer screen.  Well, that isn't exactly true.  I know how it ends.  And I should know how to get there. Really, I should. I know my characters by now.  I know how they think.  How they act and react.  The problem is none of them seem to want to come out and play with me right now.  They are sitting back politely and waiting for me to set some interesting events in motion. 

Well, all of them are polite except Oliver, the heroine's uncle, that is. He keeps tapping his watch and saying "Come on, fat boy.  Let's get this show on the road." I remind him that if he thinks that attitude is going to land him a happy ending, he is sorely mistaken.  But then he flashes me his patented smile, and all is forgiven. 

I did have a great beginning.  One so chock full of Sturm und Drang that Mercy, the series' heroine, told me no.  She would meet me there if I gave her a nice stretch to warm up, but there was no way--well, no way in hell is what she actually said--that she was starting out there. 

So I came up with a second great beginning.  One that provides an opportunity for both intrigue and pageantry. Oh, and a bit of a history lesson to boot.   I offered my characters a chance to attend a party trapped in time: the wrap party for Stolen Moments, Rudolph Valentino's last turn as a bad guy before his breakout success in The Four Horsemen of the ApocalypseStolen Moments was filmed in Savannah's once renowned Greenwich Mansion.  After a fire in 1923 reduced the grand home to rubble, its grounds were repurposed as a cemetery.  The Greenwich Cemetery shares a boundary with its much more famous neighbor, Bonaventure Cemetery.

Oliver is happy as he gets to wear a vintage tux.  Mercy does not share his enthusiasm as the party takes place in 1920, a full five years short of the dawn of the flapper.  I've been offering Mercy designs by Paul Poiret and Callot Soeurs, but she is not impressed enough to trade it for the ripped SCAD sweatshirt I swear she has been wearing every day since the end of The Source.

She keeps complaining that she won't even get the chance to meet Valentino since his participation in the filming was wrapped up early so that he could move on to his Four Horsemen role. He didn't hang around for any stupid wrap party.

There will be jazz, I promise her, and a chance to hear Marguerite Namara sing.  She pushes the sleeves of her sweatshirt up.  "Marguerite who?"  Mercy's Aunt Iris, who loves all things historical, begins to explain that Ms. Namara was an accomplished soprano, star of both stage and screen, but the look Mercy flashes her causes Iris' voice to trail off.

I point out that we could always go back to the first beginning I had planned, but her response is a simple "Let's see you do this one without me, fat boy."  I think Mercy has been spending far too much time with her uncle of late.

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