Saturday, February 18, 2012

Setting Up for Success

Three of my all-time favorite movies, Dark City, Labyrinth, and The Neverending Story, all have one feature in common:  The setting that the stories take place in is such a part of the story, that it inhabits the place of a character.  One of their best features is that there is no yellow-brick road.  In fact, the entire purpose of these worlds is to discourage the protagonist and, in some cases, destroy them.  Yup, I cried like a baby when Atreyu's horsey died too.

It was a dark and stormy night...

and other fun cliches.  Setting in its purest sense is used to set the mood.  I know I know... 'Duh', but you'd be surprised how many people DON'T take advantage of this.  One of the writing assignments I make my students do is to describe the same setting at different times of day.

Example:  A street may be busy in the morning with the white collared individuals honking their horns in backed up traffic, sipping their lattes and regretting that spur of the moment breakfast burrito decision.  Come mid-day, it's the hustle and bustle of pedestrians flooding the sidewalks.  But when the witching hour has come and gone, those streets are privy only to wind-tossed litter, drunks stumbling home and a WHOLE lot of no-good.

Just from this example, you can see the potential moods from each.  This can be applied to most settings.  Imagine a beach, crowded at day, romantic at evening, lonely at dawn.  A farm is a host of activity all day, but eerily quiet in the evening.  Even a single location throughout a story has the potential to bring on the entire spectrum of mood and emotion.

Romancing the Scenario

One thing to remember about any location where people (or sometimes other creatures) live, is that every location has its own level of charm for somebody.  I love the stories of people who are at one with the city, because that's never been me.  Or the rustic southern comfort of a small town where everybody knows everybody else.  While some people will strive to get away from their hometown and pursue other ventures, there will always be those that find indescribable serenity in their habitual ways of everyday life.

Work it, Baby!

So how do you make this work for you?  Simple.  Spend just as much time (if not more) creating the environment as you would on the main protagonist(s).  If you're creating a fantasy world, you'll need to understand government, commerce, imports, exports, trade crops and the various tasks of the everyday people.  You might not ever write any of it into your story, but it should be there for you to reference.  If a civilization doesn't work, the landscape will look painted on.

If you're writing about a place that already exists, research research research!  Get to know the citizens, the folklore, the superstitions, the happy places and the dark ones.

Remember: Readers want to dive into a story, submerge themselves and get lost in it.  Shallow waters lead to some major headaches.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

100mph With No Seatbelt

I have a pretty bad habit of running myself ragged.  For this reason, my intentions this year were to decrease my workload and work on dealing with stress better.  It just makes for a happier person.  And while my intentions were good, I think I'm just laying asphalt on my way to a dark place with twin hockey-sticks.

There's A Light!
One of the biggest factors in my constant headache has been the bucket-full of fail I've been dragging along behind me.  All of my efforts and hard work only lead to more effort and hard work with barely enough pay-off to put some new tread on my tires.  This week, however, has been awesome on so many levels.

Emma Trevayne, a YA cyberpunk fiction writer whose work I'm eager to get my greedy little hands on, recently hosted an antagonist writing competition with the prize being a query critique by none other than Brooks Sherman (aka Paul Rudd's evil twin) from the Fine Print Literary Agency.  If anybody's read my query, you know it's pretty awful and in desperate need of fine tuning.  While I didn't win, I did get an honorably mention as "Most likely to dissuade me from seeking physical affection ever again", and the opportunity to submit my wretched query and the first three chapters of my book, Doors!  I'm not getting my hopes up on this one, but getting a partial request after nearly a year of editing and revising is enough to have my doing the Muppet Dance through my living room.  (Thanks for bringing back that era in my life, Emma)

Last night, a company I've been ghostwriting for finally agreed to renew my contract at the price I was asking after nearly a month of trying to low-ball me.  I had pretty much written them off, but having them accept my demands was a huge ego-boost for the quality and professionalism of my non-fiction writing, something I normally never touch.  Let this stand as an example to all freelancers... don't sell yourself short.  If they love you, they'll come to you.  (BTW, I consider $0.02/word a fantastic deal, up from just about a dollar per page)

Probably one of the most unforeseen opportunities of all, Mary Ann Loesch liked my artwork enough that she asked me to help design a new cover for her book, Nephilim.  I can understand why, the cover is a complete turn-off, but the premise of the story is INCREDIBLE.  Seriously, can't wait to read it, though I'm not sure I can make myself until there's a different cover =X  I'm such a sissy sometimes.

Tack on a day job, three daddy's girls, a manuscript I've barely touched this past month and my steady struggle to shoulder my way into online literary circles and I'm trying to figure out when I'm going to have time for anything.

I don't see myself easing my foot off the accelerator anytime soon and certainly no rest stops, but I have the world's most supportive wife and enough success in the past few days to put a little gas in my tank.  Words to my fellow writers:

"Just keep chiseling at that wall.  The writing world is hard to break into, but efforts are not, it would appear, in vain."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Clive Barker

I remember when I was in grade school, Clive Barker was a name synonymous with Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  All I knew about him at the time was that he was a horror writer.  Lucky for me, I loved to read horror.

The first Clive Barker novel I picked up was Weaveworld, an unusual story where a magical race of people attempted to escape adversity by weaving an entire portion of reality into a rug, where they hid for centuries.  The concept was so bizarre, and even writing it out now I can never do it justice.  The characters, the world, the descriptions... it was beautiful, as I'm certain was the intent.  I learned very quickly that my previous theory was outrageously far-fetched and the gap between genres grew by horizons.  You see, Clive Barker doesn't write horror fiction.  He writes art.

I became a ravenous reader, grabbing every piece of literature I could get my hands on.  Libraries, bookstores and Amazon, wherever I could hunt down the next experience, the next window into the fantastic worlds in Barker's mind.

The most recent book I read was Sacrament.  While Weaveworld will always be my favorite, perhaps because it was my first, this book is unlike anything I have ever read.  While some people will horde over romance novels looking for some glimpse of what they believe is missing in their lives, Sacrament is a different kind of love story and, in my opinion, the purest of its kind.  While Clive Barker's stories are never without a healthy dose of lust, often in awkward and horrific ways, Sacrament deals with love in the sense of relationships and how those closest to us build themselves into our lives and create who we are.  Sure it wasn't the main theme of the book, but it's what I took away.  I'm a grown man now with a wonderful wife and three beautiful daughters, and it's this type of love that feeds me in the dark times.

For those who don't know, we almost lost Clive this past year.  While he's recovering, it's a slow process of regaining strength and achieving minor victories each day that the rest of us would take for granted.  I am eternally grateful for the extra time gifted to us to have such a marvel of the literary world.  In all my years of reading, I have never found his equal and want to personally thank him for being my inspiration in all things writing and art.

I feel that my work pales in comparison, and always will.  One thing that I've taken from Mr. Barker is the understanding that all characters, good and evil, are conflicted.  There's a balance to each of them, a darkness and a humanity, even in Mister B. Gone.  This complication has never failed to intrigue and delight me in every page I've turned.

So to Clive Barker, I would like to say thank you for sharing your gift with the world.  Thank you for having the strength and will to overcome finality.  Thank you for your unique visions of art that can only be described as hauntingly alluring.  Thank you for being my muse and inspiring fantastic world, characters and ideology.  But mostly, thank you for being the wonderful man that you are.  All my love and support.

-Matthew Bryant

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Haunted: Literary Tragedy

I took two steps out of the room and stopped, turning on my heels to retrieve a stack of papers I'd left on the desk.  There was an unnatural silence within the steel and concrete confines, soon followed by a hushed sob.  Within the time it took to cross the five feet to where the stack of papers lay as still as the pairs of eyes following me, the cry took on an unearthly tone.  The boy, just at the cusp of manhood, had opened his throat and all of the pain inside released in a torrential flow of fear and regret.  I quickly grabbed the paper, did my best at a reassuring smile and walked away.  Not because I wanted to; there was nothing I wanted more than to take the boy in my arms and coddle him like one of my own children - to tell him that everything was going to be alright, whether I believed it or not.  Anything to bring the subtle hint of comfort to a tortured soul.  But there are strict rules against that kind of behavior.

To quote my favorite poem, T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men", This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.  This is where we have failed.  Not on a personal level, not even on a social level, but as a species.  I can say this in all honesty because the above isn't non-fiction, it was the last thing I saw before I left work yesterday.  Nor is this an isolated event.  I work in a juvenile detention center.  I watch kids between the ages of 10 and 17 be marched in with lost, hopeless looks shaded by red, puffy eyelids down long, blank corridors.  They're sent into a pod, pointed towards a steel door with a tiny window.  They walk in to find a stainless steel sink, a toilet, and a thin green mattress with all the comfort of a sleeping bag.  They put down the thin linen blanket, step out of their room, and take their place in a green chair.  What's next?  Nothing.  Nothing but time.

There isn't a child in my care who doesn't belong there, regardless of what they tell me.  We get the occasional rich kid with a good home life who got mixed up with drugs.  They're the biggest criers most of the time.  The rest, however, fall into that horrid Nature vs. Nurture argument.  Kids turned out by their parents for being too much trouble, kids put on the street to earn money to support their mother's meth habit, kids who have been in and out of the foster program their whole lives, hoping the sexual appetites of the next home aren't as prominent as the last.  These aren't fiction... these are my kids that I see every day.  These are the ones who panic when they're released and return to prison with a smile.  A smile to see a friendly face who cares about them.  A smile to let you know that, for the first time in weeks, they feel safe.

This is where we have failed.

I watched a kid grab his linens, making his way out of prison with a more hopeless look than the way he came in.  CPS became involved in his case, and he wouldn't be returning home.  They found him a new 'home' within the foster care system.  And while we see it as beneficial, maybe it'll be better than the life he left behind, that abusive, coked-out mother that he's leaving behind is the closest thing to love he's ever known.  Despite their faults, my students cry themselves to sleep at night, calling desperately for their parents.

This is where we have failed.

I don't work in the ghetto... I work in the suburbs.  I work with kids that play on the same playgrounds and attend the same schools as your own.  I work with kids that sit in the back of the class.  I work with the kids who refuse to do work because they see no point in it, they have nothing to look forward to.  I work with the kids that most teachers would breathe a sigh of relief to know that they've been sent away and they're not their problem anymore.  No child gets left behind, they get left with us.  I work with the kids our society condemns, and I love every one of them.

I wrote a piece not long ago about building antagonists.  I won't call myself an expert, but I watch them grow every day.  The majority of my students will rotate in and out of the system their whole lives.  I hate to say it, but it's a losing game.  I get letters from prison from former students, not accusing or apologetic, just voices reaching out to say, "Hey, how you doing?"  Very rarely do I get a letter from a former student in college, a wedding invitation or a sonogram picture saying, "I want to be a dad like you."  These are the moments we pray for.  This is the 1 percent.  As for the 99 percent....

This is where we have failed.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

On Flirting

One of the people I follow on twitter brought me to change my pace for a moment.  Please take the following advice with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila.

The Birth of Flirting:
In ancient Babylonian times, it was customary for tribes to bestow their beloved with one final and ultimate gift of appreciation.  Martyring was seen as a blessing from God, one final sacrifice toward the kingdom of heaven.  The honor of being bludgeoned to death by rocks was later incorporated into child's play of younger boys chasing the young girls around and tossing pebbles to get their attention.  Over the centuries, this has reached an evolutionary peak and is seen as the first confrontation of argument in a healthy relationship.  Unfortunately, the times have changed and with women in control, this time-honored tradition of abuse to show one's true affection has been ruled out-dated and more specifically, vulgar.  Thus the rant of flirting begins.

Initiating conversations with the sex of your choosing is, in many ways, comparable to walking on egg-shells with roller-skates.  The reasoning for the target's excuses of not buying what you're selling can range anywhere from vanity, a conflict of interests, or you're simply barking up the wrong tree.  While none of these should discourage a person from initiating the conversation, the legislative society has made it far too easy to pull out a lawsuit in that bag of goodies you're reaching for.  So please remember these key features towards flirting.

The Rules of Attraction:
Everybody loves attention, it's not sexual harassment if they think you're cute.  Always know the limitations of your own appearance before suggesting a beef injection.  While a less attractive person may find themselves unemployed, hospitalized, or imprisoned for such actions, the pretty people, even if not stirring the interest of the harassed, will more likely be threatened by nothing more than a smile that can only be translated as 'I'm not that desperate, yet.'  For the more tenacious suitors, always look for signs of 'yet' in all actions.

Subtle Flirting:
Beating around the bush can be fun, but it will only hold interest for a little while.  Sure you can touch on a few sensitive areas, but after the stimulus wears off, the recipient of your attention will either be demanding you plunge in, or turn cheek to you for one of the other stimulators.  If you think you're the only one pursuing, I would recommend doing extensive research on the word 'fiction' in order to discover more of the world you're currently residing in.

Competitive Flirting:
Unless you have finally given in to the concept that you will never find true lust and are settling for looking for that single person you wish to be with for the rest of your life, you must realize that sometimes you have to suck it up and listen to the whimsical babble escaping from the lips of your target that can only be described as chronic diarrhea of the mouth.  Utilizing the chunks picked from the mess, you can create a better idea of what defines the person you're 'listening' to.  If you do not fit the description of what you gather to be the current ideal of a partner, and I promise it will change before the next full moon, there are two paths that may be taken.  You may either lower yourself to the level of pretending to be that person, or you may simply walk away and find somebody more interesting.  If you feel the urge to change yourself for the purpose of fornication, please remember to keep all changes temporary until such an event has been achieved.  If you are looking to change yourself for something more perpetual than a night of exchanging blasphemies, then stop reading because there is no hope for you.  See also: Convent/monkhood.

The Faces of Flirting:
There's more than one way to skin a cat.  While the previous expression is completely untrue, it is true that there are many ways to flirt.  Facial expressions and body language are generally the best form of pre-flirting.  If used and read properly, it will allow the next few actions to take their course without threat of legal ramifications.  These range from a casual brush against the arm, suggesting that skin on skin contact is a possibility, to smiles and winks.  On a side note, those attempting to act or view while under heavy influences of alcohol should be aware that there are only few subtle differences between a flirty smirk and an evil sneer.  Please take all possible scenarios into consideration before going into operation.

Obnoxious Flirting:
If you can get away with this, you need to do one of two things; set higher standards or enjoy it while it lasts.  Beauty is fleeting.  Examples of obnoxious flirting are as follows:
Hanging out of a car window while your buddy honks.
"Tripping" into grabbing a person's package of gender.
Using tactless and yet still unfunny pick-up lines.  There is a difference.
Using signs of body language (pre-flirting) on yourself.

As you can see, the world has moved quite a ways from the origins as far as flirting is involved.  In my opinion, the ancient Babylonians would be distressed as their entire message has been ruined:

"If you love someone - kill them.  If they come back to you - run."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Elance at a Glance

My dear friend and El Presidente to our Super Awesome Secret Special Club of Awesome (yes, we have decoder rings) recently blogged about whether or not it's prudent to label yourself as a writer if you've never actually made any money from doing it.

Tactless as it may be, I label people as 'assholes' for being such and I'm pretty sure it's a community service that they do free of charge.  But for those of you who desperately need to bring in some income, becoming a freelance writer has never been easier!

Elance offers the ability to bid on jobs, just like a real writer!  If you win your bid, which has you competing against Yugocambodiasacredcownation, then you've just taken your first step into the wonderful world of online freelance.  Or as I like to consider it, getting underpaid to hate something you love to do.

I know the tone is all cynical.  Truth be told, I've made some great contacts over the past couple of years and can at least say that, while most of my time is spent writing marketing copy or software reviews, at least I have a few nonfiction ebooks ghostwritten under my belt.  The trick is to use your best judgment.

First of all - look for a topic that interests you.  If you can't find a topic, wait a day and try again.  There's generally at least one new post every 5-10 minutes. 

Second of all - Don't spend too much time stressing out over writing a clever bid.  You're not pitching to agents here and they honestly don't care how many purple hearts or four-leaf clovers you have.  The first ebook deal I won consisted of "I'm your guy.  Nuff said" with a few examples of my work attached.  Two hours later, I'd beaten out the other 24 bidders.

Finally - Don't expect anything big overnight.  This is NOT a social media outlet and friends and family won't flock to you.  (I know... big talk for a guy with so many followers)  You build your reputation one job and one review of your work at a time.  Make sure you ONLY deliver your best.  You only keep 5 stars if you only HAVE 5 stars.  The more you build, the more people are willing to take a chance on you.

I know that my fellow writers feel the pressure of getting their own work published.  But it never hurts to work the market a bit first. 

And for my adoring audience, since I know you love romance so much, be sure to check out a few authors and pass the word along.  After all, any author is only as good as their last reader. ;)

  • Deborah Camp (A mix of contemporary and Old West Historical romances...over 40 coming in the near future, but here is a list of 10 or so available now)
  • Lorena Dureau (Historical Romance: American Colonial South and West. )
  • Dan Streib (thrillers with a James-Bond-meets-Anderson-Cooper main character)
  • Barbara Keesling (her too-hot-to-blog nonfiction is here, here, and here)
 And if you haven't checked out The Maria Paradox yet, you're doing yourself a great disservice!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Maria Paradox

THE MARIA PARADOX, written by Drs. Rosa Gil and Carmen Vazquez, is a unique self-help guide for Hispanic women and the men who love them.

The authors challenge the machismo-reinforcing idea of “marianismo,” a centuries-old belief system that in effect tells Latinas: "Don't forget a woman's subservient place; never put your own needs first; sex is for making babies.”

Filled with self-help exercises, this clearly written manual offers practical advice on how to build support networks, overcome passivity, forge career paths, change or get out of abusive relationships and increase sexual fulfillment.

Filled with real-life success stories and wise, compassionate advice, THE MARIA PARADOX details how Latinas can enjoy the best of both worlds.

The book can be purchased from all major online retailers. The authors can also be found on Twitter and on Facebook.