Monday, 21 December 2015

Top 50 curious facts

Christmas is almost upon us. Promoting a book online during this time of year is hard work, mostly because book sales comes from the book stores. Nobody can get a book to you by the time you're wrapping your presents under the tree. It's impossible to compete with the big publishers.

So I thought I'd do a fun post this week.

Top 50 Curious facts.

BUT, I can't let you know the top 50 curious facts without telling you the reason for collecting them. My three YA novels were bundled together last Christmas. As part of the forthcoming promotion I searched for 50 curious facts.

So here they are. Which fact is your favourite curious fact?

1.      Cats can’t taste sweets

2.      Winter lasts for 21 years on Uranus

3.      A speck of blood contains about five million red cells

4.      In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan’s name is Turkish for lion

5.      Many cave-dwelling fish don’t have eyes

6.      One type of wildflower smells like chocolate (Great to know but which one?)

7.      The human body contains a tiny amount of gold

8.      Popsicles were invented by an eleven-year-old

9.      The creator of Pringles packaging had his ashes stored in a Pringles can after he died

10.  Bubble wrap was originally invented as wallpaper

11.  Q is the only letter in the alphabet that does not appear in the name of any of the United States of America

12.  New Yorkers drink almost 7 times more coffee than other cities in the US

13.  Cats recognize owner’s voice but seem too cool to care, studies show

14.  Barry Manilow didn’t write his song called ‘I write the songs’

15.  When two lovers gaze at one another’s eyes their heart rates synchronize

16.  The Dark Knight is the first Batman film not to have ‘Batman’ in the title

17.  We can only dream about faces we have already seen, whether we actively remember them or not

18.  We share 70% of our DNA with slugs

19.  Before being an actor, Bruce Willis worked as a private investigator

20.  Roald Dahl was a spy and World War II flying ace

21.  Alice in wonderland was originally banned in China for having talking animals

22.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the first book written with a typewriter

23.  Leo Fender, inventor of the Stratocaster and Telcaster, could not play guitar

24.  It only takes up to 4 minutes to decide whether you like someone or not

25.  None of the Beatles could read music

26.  A song that gets stuck in your head is called an ‘Earworm’

27.  Sharks kill 12 people per year, while people kill 11,417 sharks per hour

28.  There are more than 400 distinct phobias recognized by psychologists, and phobophobia is the fear of having a phobia

29.  You can change your language on Facebook to ‘Pirate’

30.  Anatidaephobia is the fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you

31.  In Korea and Japan there is a cat café where you can go to drink coffee and hang out with cats for hours

32.  All polar bears alive today can trace their ancestry back to one female brown bear who live in Ireland 50,000 years ago, and under their fur polar bears have black skin

33.  After watching Star Wars, James Cameron decided to quit his job as a truck drive to enter the film industry

34.  A cat has been the mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska for 15 years

35.  Swearing on the Bible is forbidden by the Bible

36.  There’s more bacteria in your mouth than there are people in the world

37.  In Greek mythology it was believed that redheads turned into vampires when they died

38.  When Montenegro became independent from Yugoslavia its internet domain when from .YU to .ME

39.  Reincarnation is forbidden in China without government permission

40.  The CIA reads up to 5 million tweets a day

41.  Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was Moon

42.  The lighter was invented before the match

43.  The inventor of the chocolate chip cookie sold the idea to Nestle Toll House for a lifetime supply of chocolate

44.  Humans and dogs first became best friends around 30,000 years ago

45.  The brain treats rejections like physical pain, according to scientists

46.  The moon is not round, but egg shaped

47.  Earthquakes turn water into gold

48.  There are more cars than people in Los Angeles

49.  If the human eye was a digital camera it would have 576 megapixels

50.  When you fall in love you lose two close friends


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

2015 highlights by author D L Richardson

Hello and welcome to the end of the year.
Each end of year I like to read over my diary and have a look at my achievements. Why? Because one of the easiest ways to stay inspired in this writing game is to CELEBRATE THE SMALL WINS. So here goes:
January 2015
  • Little Red Gem went on a book tour. Do book tours work? The jury is still out on this one. They're a lot of work for little exposure. But they're also very cost effective and for an author without a big budget they do get you a small amount of exposure. So for $60 you can do a virtual book tour where something like BookBub is $270 with no guarantee of acceptance or sales. 
  • The Bird With The Broken Wing and Feedback were given makeovers with a new cover. This was due rights reverting back to me and the publisher owns the cover.
  • Website was overhauled. Yes this is a part of the job. Updating the website. I try to do it monthly to stay on top of it.
February 2015
  • Short story "Slip Stream" was submitted to an anthology.
  • Edited book 2 of Apocalypse series and chased up publisher for status on submission of book one. Answer: still in the pile.
March 2015
  • Feedback went on book tour. Got a little bit of extra interest.
  • Conducted a writer workshop for ACT writers Centre. Very excited by this. I love presenting workshops and this was like the door opener for me.
  • Got asked to launch the anthology for the Eurobodalla Fellowship of Australia Writers anthology at the Batemans Bay Writers Festival in June.
  • Noticed a spike in sales on Amazon and can only assume it had to do with the two back to back book tours.
April 2015
  • Came up with a ridiculous writing plan to finish 2 novels and write one novella which would have seen me write about a million words a day. Hah! Worked on the novels, still haven't gotten around to the novella.
  • Oh, my birthday. I turned 45.
  • Feedback still on book tour.
  • Short story "Slip Stream" accepted for anthology.
May 2015
  • Saw Kate Forsyth at Moruya Library give a talk on her writing career.
  • Made sales flyers to hand out at workshops.
  • Book 1 of Apocalypse series was rejected by publisher. Began re-writes.
June 2015
  • Launched the anthology for Eurobodalla FAW at writers festival.
  • Conducted a writer workshop for Queanbeyan Writers Group.
  • Sent queries to agents for Apocalypse series and got a request for a partial.
July 2015
  • Conducted a writer workshop at Merimbula for Writers of the far South Coast.
  • Did a radio interview for the workshop.
  • Heard back from an agent and went into re-write mode for book 1 of Apocalyptic series.
August 2015
  • Attended the weekend writers retreat with the Writers of the Far South Coast.
  • Learned that this is dead month so you don't submit to agents. So I didn't.
  • Got busy on the rewrite of book 1 and began edits for book 2 of Apocalyptic series.
September 2015
  • Was invited to a local book club to speak about my books. Got a free dinner.
  • Attended OzComicCon for the pure personal pleasure of being amongst my kindred spirits.
  • The Bird With The Broken Wing was reviewed as part of a Goodreads Review Group.
  • Still doing re-writes of book one of the Apocalypse series.
October 2015
  • Conducted a workshop at the Conflux writer and reader spec fic convention.
  • Sat on the panels of the Conflux writer and reader spec fic convention.
  • More re-writes. Then husband had a bike accident and the rest of the month was spent writing and playing nursemaid.
November 2015
  • Lots of edits on the Dystopian series.
  • Submitted the updated version of book 1 on the Apocalyptic series to agent in New York. (I never grow tired of saying that).
  • Wrote an opening chapter for the novella our writers group is putting together.
December 2015
  • More edits for Dystopian series. giving myself a deadline of end January.
  • Attending the ACT Writers Centre Christmas party.
Well, that's it for this year. It's been busy and productive. Each year I do this to see that I've improved on the year before. So I'm on my way. The journey is a long one but it is immensely rewarding.
Have a lovely Christmas if I don't speak to you before then.
DL xoxo

Friday, 11 December 2015

Why you don't quit writing, author Christmas message

Through certain circumstances, for the past four months I've been a full time writer. I began by doing a major edit of a novel and resubmitting to an agent and launched myself into the waiting game which comes from querying. But there's no holiday for me, I immediately picked up another novel and started editing. It's been like this all year. Every day I write. Every day I do a little promotion via blogs and social media. Earlier this year two of my books went on a virtual book tour. I've presented at a few writer workshops. I've taken my books down to the local markets to sell them to tourists and locals. I'm always doing something!

Yet I'm still not earning enough to do this writing gig full time. In a few weeks the savings will have run out and I'll be looking for a part time day job. No biggie, a lot of writers also have day jobs. But I was asked if this delay in achieving my goals was frustrating me.

I paused to consider this. Of course it's frustrating. Yet while it is frustrating, it's not a reason to consider quitting. And I found the analogy to explain why I don't quit.

It's true, isn't it. If we wanted to lose weight and weren't seeing any results, we'd assess our exercise and food plan and change it. And we'd take up the exercise a notch, instead of three sets we'd do four, then five. Instead of walking half an hour we'd walk an hour. But we wouldn't just quit. That would be worse than maintaining the current weight we have.

So my friends, whatever your end goal, however frustrating it becomes, even if you're not seeing the results, DON'T GIVE UP. Do what marketing people do. Implement. Trial. Evaluate. Keep going or change. If changing, Implement. Trial. Evaluate. Just keep going.

I might even make this my Christmas message to you all. As this year ends and another begins, keep going with what you were doing. If you start a new project, give it time to develop and grow. If life gets in the way, don't be afraid to let it for a while because life is the ultimate research a writer can utilise. Most of all, be kind to yourself.

Have a safe and merry Christmas.

D L Richardson

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Fake it till you make it in publishing

Anyone who has just finished NaNoWriMo this year might be tempted to think that self publishing is a short cut to publication. And it isn't. Your book needs to be edited properly. It needs to be structured. Needs a great cover. Character arc. Compelling narrative. Engage readers. The list is long.

NaNoWriMo is timed perfectly in November, so writers can then use the dead months of the publishing industry to edit. December and January are so busy at agencies and publishers with them wrapping things up for the year that there really isn't any point in pitching until mid January of the following year.

So you write your first draft in one month, spend two months editing, and then some writers will choose the long road to publication by pitching to agents and publishers. I say this is a long road because I've walked it and I'm still on it, it can take anything from 2 weeks to 12 months for a reply. But I want to do the top down approach. For me, self publishing is the final option.

However, there are many writers are so eager to be published that they'll skip this part entirely and go straight to self publication. By the way, I would not advise this for anyone who has not experienced the proper editing process provided by a publisher, whether they are small press or a major publisher, the editing process sis similar. It's the hard work that takes the book from what a writer thinks is 'finished' to making it a real book that is 'finished'. I've done the editing process twice with a publisher and I would never consider self publishing without having had this experience. Because I want people to buy and enjoy reading my books.

So what is this post about? When a writer decides to self publish they're effectively saying that they have done all the work. There are some preconceived notions about self publishing. So a writer who wants to separate themselves from these preconceived notions might adopt the 'fake it till you make it' ploy and create their own publishing house.

It's easy to do. You set up a website, Facebook account, Twitter account, you enter these details in the 'Publisher' section on Smashwords and Amazon and voila, your work is perceived as no longer being self published. Reviewers who state they don't accept self-published novels - not any more. Book stores state they don't take self-published novels - not any more.

This 'fake it till you make it' attitude is ploy sometimes used as a therapy technique for depression. It can boost confidence and happiness. It can also act as the buffer for rejection. Many of us do this every day, put on a brave face and head on out into the world. Job interviews are probably the most common area a person will se the fake it till you make it ploy.

But does it work? In getting a job interview? Most likely.

In publishing? I'm not so sure. Amazon is littered with self published works disguised as author created small press published novels - i.e fake publishers. It has now become one of the things I search for when I check out a book these days. I'm fine if an author claims a SP novel is a SP novel, but I get a little put off when they use a fake publisher. In a way this is cheating because they're not giving any other writers a foot in the door or help with the editing and cover design process. They're just slipping on a mask and calling themselves Batman. The cheating by creating your own publisher makes me wonder what else the writer is cheating about. Are they cheating with their writing as well and not giving me indepth characters, a well structured and well written book? Are they cheating on the cover and internal structure of the book? Are they cheating on the character arc and ending?

What do you think about authors creating their own publishing houses? Does it make a difference to the way you purchase or review books? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Avoiding cliches when creating fictional characters

Today's post is about avoiding clichés in characters. Publishers and editors receive a stack loads of unsolicited manuscripts, and they need only one reason to pass on your novel. Poor writing is one reason. A saturated market is another. But perhaps one of the major reasons for a rejection is that you have clichéd characters. Why give them any reason to pass?

What is a cliché? It is a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

A cliche isn't just phrases such as 'old as the hills' or 'sent a shiver down my spine' or 'love at first sight'. While these expressions may be true, they're overused and a writer of creative fiction ought to be able to come up with something more creative. Or we fail. It's as simple as that. Give the reader something that isn't creative, and you've failed as a writer of creative fiction.

Character traits and situations can also be overused. These also signal that the author is struggling to come up with something original, or if not original at least not overused. I'm not just talking about 'reluctant hero' or 'femme fatale' or 'mad scientist'. (Note: I have used a vengeful scientist as a character and he and his science were integral to the plot.) The point is, if you can use something else, do so. If you can't, it had better be so important to the story that if you take it out it impacts the story.

Here are two way to avoid some of these clichés.

The eyes that change color when you're about to go wolf

It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Science discovers this to be true because the iris pattern can give an indication or emotion - neurotic, warm, trusting, impulsive, for example. This is possibly why many authors give their characters the ability to rely on showing emotion or change in personality through the eyes. In Supernatural, all the demon's eyes go black. This is to tell the audience that this person is a demon. It's a tad overused because we all get it, but once you start a trait you gotta keep going with it.

This might work on TV where the camera is placed directly in front of the action, but using the eyes to move the story along is flawed in oh so many ways. Let me explain:

1. For any change in the eyes to be noticed, a second character has to notice, or the main character has to be standing in front of a mirror.

The character can only see what they can practically see. Nothing can happen at night. Nothing can happen with this character's back to another character. We can only report on what we see and if you have a shape shifter whose eyes change color to indicate he's about to go wolf, you are limiting the how and where.

2. How many people do you know avoid eye contact?

I know heaps. Some people talk with their eyes closed. Most people hold contact for a second and then flick their gaze away. So for a change to be noticed, we have to suspend belief and accept that people walk around staring at other people's eyes. Humans are predators and too much direct eye contact kicks our primal gears into thinking this is a challenge. We just don't do it.

3. All the action has to happen within two feet of the character.

I dare anyone to stand on the other side of a room and see a character's eyes shift from brown to purple. Without a pair of binoculars this is a physical difficulty. So your character has to stop what they're doing, someone has to stand two feet away, this someone also has to maintain eye contact, and the main character cannot take the action further away or even turn their back. It's too limiting.

4. What color are my eyes?

Seriously, I have a photo on my website and facebook. Take a quick look and then tomorrow, without looking, tell me what my eye color is. I can't even remember what my best friend's eye color is, and I see her often. In all honesty, she could turn up tomorrow with emerald green eyes and maybe I'd notice, but maybe I wouldn't. Remember what I said about eye contact. Humans typically give a casual glance then look away.

When writing characters, we need to move beyond hair and eye color. I've gone whole novels without describing the hair or eye color because it's not integral to the plot. I've had to go back in and add them during edits because I mentioned hair color on the final pages and had failed to mention it in the beginning. The point is, I could have left it out altogether and it wouldn't have made a bit of difference. The character's actions defined him, not his hair and eye color.

There are four other senses - smell, touch, sound, and voice that can better prepare a reader for when a character is about to go wolf.

The only child with one dead parent

Novels typically have fewer characters as this leads to less confusion when multiple characters are talking at once. But this doesn't mean that our characters all have to be the loner, the orphan, or the only child with one dead parent. While characters need to have wounds, there are many types of wounds a writer can use, such as divorce, separation, long distance work, absenteeism.

For me, YA novels featuring the dead parent/s aren't creative enough. It's too simple a way to avoid complications that would make a character seem more real. One of the cheat ways is Batman's backstory. Bruce Wayne's parents are killed in a dark alley so he takes up a life as a vigilante to hunt down their killer. It's a neat way to explain the backstory but in today's competitive environment, it lacks the depth that readers are seeking.

The truth is that characters can be surrounded by family and still feel alone. However, if we are setting the book in an era other than today, we need to look at that era's family structure and family breakdown to be able to give our characters believable and creative wounds.

1. Post 1950s:

In today's society, we're no longer ostracised for getting divorced, most countries have a welfare system (of sorts) and there is greater access to support for single parents. There is child care so a single parent can attend work. Not all single parents lead miserable lives because someone died or left them to raise a child. Many raise a family quite successfully.

As well, and this is not always the case, quite a few grandparents assist with the rearing, and in some cultures aunts and uncles play a vital role. There are also a lot of programs that assist single parents by setting up activities with third party 'adoptive parents' if you wish to call them that.

It is harder today to be truly alone, yet we often have our characters living in total, clueless isolation simply because we can't have too many characters in the story. Often, a few lines peppered throughout the novel can explain the absence of other people. They don't need to be major or minor characters. And as a writer who grew up in a house with lots of family, the thing I sought most was isolation whereas friends with fewer siblings often sought friendships. We writers can use this to develop our characters.

When writing young adult, it could be a good idea to look at families around you in order to make the character's home life more believable in today's society. The modern family raises some pretty well-adjusted children, so why are we giving them a family history set in the medieval ages?

In my novel Feedback, I purposely wrote characters with normal lives because they then have an extraordinary event happen which throws their normal life into the spin cycle. My female main character is one of five girls and has happily married parents. Another character has two older twin brothers and both parents working. The third character is the only with a prior wound, his mother is missing and his aunt is helping his dad raise him and his sister.

2. Pre 1950s

The nuclear family consisted of two or three children, a boy and a girl, a happy home, a father who worked, a mother who stayed home and cooked and looked after the house. The reality was that even though there was birth control, in this society, women didn't get divorced because they didn't have jobs and it was still considered taboo for a wife to leave her husband. If a husband died, a widow would most likely find it necessary to remarry so she could support her children. There was a limited child care system; it was only created from the world war for women's whose husbands had died in active service.

The war devastated the finances of many countries so a lack of jobs saw the decline of the large family. But there was also issues around birth control and that many people were still opposed to it. In this scenario, an only child with one dead parent might exist and be a believable character. Isolated by lack of technology could explain the insular storytelling.

Children could leave school earlier, they got jobs at a younger age, signed up for armed service. They led adult lives yet were only learning to become adults. So this is plausible but how many books are set in this time period?

3. The medieval family:

In the olden days, children were born as a means of bringing income into household. So yeah, you needed to have ten children. If a wife died in childbirth, the sad and undeniable truth is that she would have been replaced to help the father raise the other nine children. It happened in Snow White and many other fairy tales - hello evil step mother - and created many an interesting plot line, so if your novel is based in medieval time or even has a fantasy element that mimics medieval life, then replacing the wife can work in your story.

Look at the era in question when writing your character's backstory. Throughout history, the undeniable truth is that most men went off to work and most women tended the home. There are cases where women were warriors, but for the majority the man and woman co-existed with each performing their separate roles because they had to in order to survive.

On the other hand, if a husband died the woman was typically straight off to find a new husband or she and her children would starve. She also needed protection for the family home. It was a sad an undeniable truth of this period of time that single women were workers, typically teachers or governesses. Now, I'm being cliche in this generalization, I apologize for that, but I'm just highlighting that as I said a bit earlier, you need to look at the structure of the era.

You can play with the circumstances and add intrigue and jealousy and anger and spite into the scenario as happened in many fairy tales where the step mother was jealous of the daughter.

Now that I've pointed these out, I hope that by avoiding these two clichés, or at least offering a strong case for them appearing in your work, will help improve your character development and overall story.

I'm always happy to hear your thoughts on my writing tips, so if you have anything to add please let me know.

Till next post,
D L xox