Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Author Interview with MJ Pullen

A big thank-you to MJ Pullen, this month's featured author.  MJ is the author of The Marriage Pact and the sequel Regrets Only.


1)      What were your favorite books growing up?
I think we were the last house in my neighborhood to get cable, which of course happened when I was in grad school. So I can literally say that as a kid I read everything I could get my hands on. When I was really young, I read Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and (I’m blushing to say this) Sweet Valley High. Then while babysitting at a neighbor’s house I discovered a copy of Hitty, Her First Hundred Years and the complete works of L. Frank Baum. I think those really expanded my ideas about what authors could do with perspective, place, and their own take on reality. After that, I started raiding my parents' room for books that were, honestly, completely age inappropriate. I think I read The Godfather at 13, as well as 1984, Atlas Shrugged, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. My mom was a voracious reader; we went to the library at least once a week. From her, I borrowed everything from Agatha Christie to Pat Conroy to various biographies and poetry. It’s funny, considering what I’ve written, but I’ve never really read romances. I’ve always been more interested in the story and the characters than in genre. 
2)      Now that you have, let’s say—some life experience, what would you tell your younger self?
There’s so much. I wrote a blog about this recently, and a lot of it was “quit worrying about how you appear to others, worry instead about what and whom you love. Take risks. Find your passion, follow it.” And sunscreen, obviously.
3)      Describe your typical day.
I don’t really have a typical day. Every time I think I’m going to have one, someone in my house gets a fever or projectile vomiting. I have a four-year-old and an almost-two-year-old, and I do a little consulting work in addition to my writing, so no day looks like another. For someone as, er… distractible as I am, the variety is nice. Of course, that same personality trait probably means I would benefit from more structure. I do try to set goals each week for a number of hours spent writing, exercising, etc. Sometimes I even meet them!
4)      Who is your favorite character in your books?
So far, each of my books has had a different main character, and I’ve thought each of them was my favorite in turn. Marci is the most like me in real life, probably, and Suzanne with her Southern drawl and list of conquests was great fun to write. My third book centers on Rebecca, who has been sort of a villain in the earlier novels; it’s been fascinating to explore her character and find out what makes her tick. 
5)      What do you do when writer’s block shows up, settles in, and makes itself comfortable?
I probably sound like my therapist self here, but I have this belief that writer’s block usually means something. Either I’m working on the wrong idea, or it’s not ripe yet, or worse, I’m trying to force myself to write something readers will have to force themselves to read. I try to honor the block by allowing myself to do something else for a bit – take a walk, fold laundry, wash dishes. No TV or internet (!!), but I do let myself go blank. If that doesn’t work, I let myself write the scene I’m dying to write, rather than the scene that comes next in the book. If I have to re-write or toss that scene later, that’s still better than staring at a blank screen for hours.
6)      Do you find yourself pulling details from “real life” or does your imagination rule the roost?
A little of both. Imagination is so freeing, and it allows you to see even familiar places in a different light. Sometimes it’s hard to ignore the allure of reality, though, and all its delicious weirdness. I try to use my imagination when it comes to plot and scene, but draw from what I know about human nature when I write characters, so that they can lead me to believable, immersing moments.
7)      What was the first manuscript you wrote (even if it never saw the light of day)?
When I was a kid, I wrote a little book called Against the Wind, about a girl who is orphaned in the mountain wilderness with only a herd of wild horses for friends. Did I mention we didn’t have cable? Since then I’ve also started several manuscripts and tossed them after a few thousand words. There was an early iteration of what later became The Marriage Pact that I abandoned with about 30,000 words finished. I scrapped it and started over, but I learned so much from writing it.
8)      Have you ever pursued traditional publishing? Or did you go straight for indie publishing?
I went straight to indie. I’d done a bit of freelancing for magazines and websites, but when I decided to write my first novel, the prospect of spending years running to the mailbox to get the next rejection letter sounded too daunting. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional route, of course, and those rejections are great teachers. But with a new baby and another career around, it was too easy to imagine getting discouraged and giving up. For me, indie publishing was a great fit.
9)      What Works In Progress are brewing?  Any target dates for publication?
The third book in The Marriage Pact series, called Baggage Check, is targeted for publication in November 2013. I’m also mulling over a couple of new series, both with strong female leads. One is definitely more YA/paranormal, the other I’m not sure about yet. I have a couple of single romantic comedies on my list as well. Plus, I may be collaborating with a girlfriend of mine who’s a health coach on a non-fiction work about weight, health & body image. Now all I need is more hours in the day!
10)   How can fans reach you?  
@MJPullen on Twitter
Thanks, Faith!!!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Where's Your Match?

No, I'm not trying to set you up with Mr. or Ms. Right (or even Mr. or Ms. Right Now).  I'm talking about the little things in your manuscripts and stories that make all the difference.

One of my favorite movies is The Fifth Element. It's got action, romance, humor, a futuristic setting...a little bit of something for everyone.  I've watched it countless times, but I recently was struck by a particular scene and how it relates to writing. I've tried to find the scenes on YouTube, but they don't seem to be there, so you'll have to put up with my descriptions instead of the visuals.

Korben Dallas is just waking up to an annoying phone ringing.  He fumbles around, answering the phone and trying to wake up.  He grabs his cigarette ("to quit is my goal" intones the computer voice) and, putting it in his mouth, starts searching for a match or lighter.  He picks up one match box, shakes it and because it's apparently empty, keeps searching on his shelf.  While this goes on, his mother (in that tone that only mothers can use) harangues him about calling, visiting, and anything else she thinks of to harp on.  Finally, he gets to a match box that has something in it.  He pulls open the cardboard box.  You see two matches.  He uses one to light his cigarette (which, by the way, is one-fourth tobacco and three-fourths filter) and tries to get his mother off the phone and start his day.

And for the next two hours or so, Korben is off to save the world.  (I don't want to give away all the action, on the small chance you haven't seen this sixteen-year-old movie {Holy Crap! Sixteen years!})

So here comes the important part.  {Spoiler Alert - here's how Korben saves the world}. Korben needs to ignite a fire to complete the ultimate weapon - the Fifth Element.  And lo and behold, no one has any matches.

Except Korben.  He has that matchbox in his pants pocket.  He has one match to save the world.  If it blows out, the world (the universe, too, just for good measure) is overcome with death.  If it doesn't light because it's wet—poof! Game over.  If the head of the match breaks off, finis

This being a movie, of course Korben saves the world (and gets the girl).

All of that is a long way to ask: what is your match?  What have you put in your manuscript—what little throwaway line of dialogue, what little gesture, what little character flaw—that really completes the story?

Just Call Me Ishmael

Looking for some help in naming your character?  Want to give the name a hidden meaning?  Check out this anagram generator

Maybe Luke Skywalker would have been Weakly Skulker

Maybe Bruce Wayne would have been Yawner Cube

Maybe Annie Porter would have been Ani Preen Ort

Maybe Holly Golightly would have been Gill Go Holly Thy

Using this website, you can call me:

Mafia Shill Wit

Fishtail Awl Mi

Fails Mail Whit

A Fail Whim Slit

Aha Film Wilt Is

Or, you know, just plain ol' Faith Williams.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I Have Spoken

One of the basic dialogue tags is said (he said, she said, they said). Now, some people are of the opinion that the most evil thing you can do is overuse said (here, here).  But others are equally adamant that said is the best way to write dialogue (here, here, here, and here).

You might be tempted to use an alternatives to said and pick spoke.  This would seem to make sense: they both refer to using one's vocal cords to impart sound.  It's talking, right? But it's not a blanket alternative. 

Let's use an example.  I'm not a writer by profession, so bear with my examples (this is what my brain thinks about at three thirty in the morning and I'm wide awake).

Option 1:

He said, "I am not going to eat that slop."
"It's not for you anyways," she said, trying to hide the hurt in her voice.  "Melvin is coming over for dinner."
"Poor fool," he said under his breath.

Here is what we'll call the traditional method of writing dialogue.  Simple and easy to follow.  Note the punctuation: comma before the opening quotation mark in Sentence 1; comma between the end of the spoken words and ending quotation mark in Sentence 2 and Sentence 3.

Option 2:
He spoke, "I am not going to eat that slop."
"It's not for you anyways," she spoke, trying to hide the hurt in her voice.  "Melvin is coming over for dinner."
"Poor fool," he spoke under his breath.

This is the same as Option 1, but I replaced said with spoke (no punctuation changes). This is incorrect and should NOT be in your manuscript.

Option 3:
He spoke slowly, sending bullets to her heart with each word.  "I am not going to eat that slop."
"It's not for you anyways." She spoke defiantly, trying to hide the hurt in her voice.  "Melvin is coming over for dinner."
"Poor fool." He spoke under his breath to avoid any more hysterics.

Notice that in Option 3, spoke isn't involved in the actual dialogue.  It's part of a dialogue beat, not a dialogue tag. And the punctuation has changed as well, because spoke is in its own sentence.

Looking in the dictionary, the word say has a past tense of said, a past participle of said, a present participle of saying, a present first singular of say, a present second singular of say, and a third singular of says. Nowhere does it list spoke as a part of say's tenses.

And likewise, in looking at speak, it lists spoke, spoken, speaking, and speaks.  Nowhere does it list say as part of speak's tenses.

So please, be careful how you use spoke in your manuscripts.

I have spoken.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Everybody Gets Their Own

As a kid, I'm sure I'm not the only one to say: It's mine!  Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!

But there are times you have to share, even when you don't want to.  Sometimes, it's your parent making you share with your siblings.  Or your teacher making you share the glitter with your art partner.  Or at the playground, everyone has to take their turn down the slide.

But there are times, oh-so-special times, when you get everything to yourself.  Maybe your older brother isn't home, so he doesn't get any pie. But you do.  Or maybe your teacher has enough supplies that you can create the most awesome, spectacular rainbow of glitter that ever graced a refrigerator door.  Or maybe no one is at the park, and you can slide down that slide time after time without interruption or waiting in line.

But what does this have to do with writing, you ask.  Well, let me tell you:

Every person speaking or acting gets their own sentences and most of the time, they get their own paragraphs, too!  It's how readers keep track of who's talking or who's doing something.

Let's take this example:
Wrapping his arms around her, she snuggled in closer.  

Here you have 1) a guy wrapping his arms around a woman and 2) a woman snuggling in closer.  These are two separate actions by two separate people.

The better sentence construction is:
He wrapped his arms around her; she snuggled in closer.

Using the semi-colon and adding a subject (He, in this case) gives the reader a clearer understanding of what is going on.  Remember that each side of the semi-colon is a complete sentence (subject + verb).

You could separate the sentences like this:
He wrapped his arms around her.  She snuggled in closer. 

But because these sentences are so close in action/reaction, it's perfectly acceptable to use a semi-colon.

(Not that I'm pushing the use of semi-colons, but hey, that's what they are there for!)

Most of the time, though, you'll have a paragraph with each separate characters actions and dialogue.  Let's keep using that earlier example:

He wrapped his arms around her.  He thought he would never get enough of holding her like this, and kept his eyes closed, inhaling her scent.  He felt her snuggle in, as if she, too, could not bear to be out of his arms.  

She sighed, knowing that she shouldn't cling to him.  But...he was there and she needed his strength to get through the next hour.  Just a little bit longer, she told herself.  Then she would let him go.

See how easy it is to know who is doing the thinking in each paragraph?

So if your characters are "sharing," be sure to make sure your reader can tell who is doing or saying it. But don't be shy about having your characters be selfish and have sentences or paragraphs of their own. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Take the Survey!

So I've been collecting proofing goofs this year (watch the video here).  Some are from the authors themselves and some—well, let's just say they were too good (or too bad) to pass up.  Because I have more than fifteen for you to vote on, I decided it would be best to have a mid-year point to start the voting process.

So, take the survey.  It only takes a few minutes (it's only one question, after all) and feel free to pass it along to friends, family, and fans.  You can vote for more than one goof, but you can only vote once.  (At least, you can vote once from your computer.  If you have a smartphone with your email or a tablet, you can vote once from those devices as well.)

And fear not, my author friends.  I have done my best to change the sentences so it's not entirely clear what author's work is being featured: no author names, no real character names, no plot reveals!

I'll post the results in a few weeks and let the semi-finalists know they are in the running for a nice surprise in 2014!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Little Did He Know

Over the last week or so, I've run across a movie late at night that I couldn't help but watch and re-watch: Stranger Than Fiction.  If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

For you author types, it's an interesting idea: what happens if your character isn't just a character, but a real person?

Would your character...I mean, this person be happy with what you've done with his or her life?  Sure, all the experts tell you to inject an obstacle for your main character, but what if a real live person had to overcome that obstacle? Is it real, or just outlandish? Does it ring true in this person's life? And do the relationships this person have come across as real and genuine or are those people just stereotypes who fall flat?

One of my favorite scenes is a great play on words.
Anyone for some flowers?

And whenever I hear this song, I can't help but think of this movie: