The Value of Writing in Groups

I am a Weakling.

For those of you who don’t know, I belong to a writers group called the Weaklings. This group was created by a shared interest, then bound in the flames of the 3-Day Novel Contest. We began that first 3-Day Novel experience as friends and emerged as brethren. And we’ve been writing together ever since.

I know that some of my friends and readers are participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those of you who have thrown down the writing gauntlet this month, I have two pieces of advice.

  1. Write with other writers.
  2. Stop reading blogs and get back to writing your novel.

And since you are ignoring the second piece of advice, let’s expound upon the first.

Here are some of the advantages of writing in groups:

  • Writing can be a lonely time. It’s good to have humans around to remind you to be human.
  • It takes a lot less time to bounce a plot idea off someone in the same room. If you venture online to get your interaction, you are likely to get sucked into a social media vortex and lose hours on your novel project.
  • It is fun to shout out word counts and random times with other writers to spur each other on.
  • You are more likely to sit and write when you are surrounded by people who are sitting and writing. No one wants to feel like the outsider.
  • Other writers won’t judge you for asking advice on how to murder one of your characters. Other writers understand.

So for any local friends who are participating in NaNoWriMo, here’s a link to some gatherings in the Grand Rapids area. Don’t hesitate to go just because you don’t know anyone there. You’ll have at least one thing in common with even the strangest of them, and you’ll be ignoring their presence for most of the time anyway.

And if you aren’t doing NaNoWriMo this year, the rules still hold true for writers who want to get some writing done. I know how thankful I am for my fellow Weaklings. I hope all of you can find a group of writers like mine.


Book Review | The Hero’s Lot

9780764210440In novels, as in life, no good deed goes unpunished.

The Hero’s Lot, second in The Staff & The Sword series, picks up right where A Cast of Stones left off. Fresh from rescuing the kingdom, Errol Stone is arrested and given a likely death sentence. Compelled to travel deep into enemy territory and kill a nearly-omniscient foe, Errol assembles a band of Illustra’s finest warriors. Adventure ensues.

Author, Patrick W. Carr, has hit his stride. Having developed the characters in A Cast of Stones, Carr is free to expand the scope of the story, revealing new races and ancient history. The tension grows throughout and readers will grow to love the world that Carr creates. This book could easily have been twice as long and no one would have complained.

In fact, my only complaint is that I have to wait until February 2014 for the next book (A Draw of Kings) to release.

Though published by a Christian publisher and with specific theological parallels, The Staff & The Sword series stands on its own merit as worthy of reading. In fact, some conservative folk may have issue with the amount of violence and substance abuse within these books. But readers willing to take a chance on this new author will be rewarded with a tale of redemption fraught with true-to-life struggles against the powers that control us. All without being preachy, which is nice.

If you haven’t read A Cast of Stones, do that first, but follow it quickly with The Hero’s Lot. Chances are good that you will have just found a new favorite author.

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Read my review for A Cast of Stones here.

The Allure of the Ghost Writer

I was thinking the other day on my way to work about some of my unfinished novels. You see, I’ve got these great novels inside me, but I struggle to get them out. I just want to read the finished copy, because I really like the stories and the characters. I want good things for them. And I want other people to love them like me.

uploads_2013-05-09_4_2973_e-1iMQSOPjIcVaO_JVFrxhpEa9o_s3ul194_ghost-writerBut I’m such a bad finisher of novels. I sometimes think of how nice it would be to have a ghost writer. I’m not talking about dead writers who haunt the living, putting words in their mouths, although it is something like that. A ghost writer is the person who actually writes the book, but gives the credit to another person. A lot of famous people who “write” books use ghost writers (pretty much every sports celebrity uses them). You can tell because these books are always co-written with the famous person’s name in large letters on the dust jacket with the real writer’s name in a tiny font directly below.

I just don’t know if I could accept a ghost writer. I mean, I really want to read the stories that are rolling around in my head, but I would feel downright lazy if someone else were doing the work of writing them down. That and, if I didn’t actually write the words, is it my book? Sure, they are the characters that I imagined, living in a setting that I created, and dealing with the plot points that I came up with, but if someone else puts the flesh on those bones, whose book is it really?

Also, first time authors, unless they are famous, should not have ghost writers. Perhaps needing a ghost writer as a first time author is a sign that you should not be a writer at all.

And so, I have no choice but to plod on, putting one word in front of another until one of my novels are finished. And then another. And then another. But that also means that I have to stop myself from starting new novels and new projects.

And I love starting new things.

Maybe I’ll get myself a co-writer. That’s different from a ghost writer, right?

Work In Progress Challenge

I was just tagged by both Bob Evenhouse and Roger Colby in a book interview of sorts. Thanks to both of you and to everyone who is taking an interest in me and my writing!

1. What is the title of your book/WIP?

The working title is Daniel O’Ryan and the Tree of Life. It is a direct formula title inspired by the Harry Potter series. Some would call this a rip off. I call it an homage.

2. Where did the idea for the WIP come from?

This was my second submission to the 3-day Novel Contest. For those unfamiliar with the contest, it is held over Labor Day weekend and participants have only three days to write their novels. Most entries average around 100 pages (novellas, really), but at the least, it is a good start to a first draft.

My first year, I wrote a dystopian piece about a world where sound was illegal. It was a wonderful idea, but at the time, no one was into dystopian lit (my, how the times have changed!). I decided for my second time through the contest to go in the opposite direction and write in the most popular genre of the day, “magical orphan stories.” I have the most connections within the CBA market, so I decided that rather than outright magic, I would write something with angels, specifically, half-angels (or Nephilim)

At first, I approached the project tongue-in-cheek, but after I started into some serious research, I grew to like my characters and the story more and more. One book turned into the first in a trilogy and now I can’t wait to finish the book if only to read it myself.

3. What genre would your WIP fall under?

It definitely falls into YA fantasy. Most likely in the CBA market, but I honestly believe that it could make it in the ABA market just fine too.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Daniel O’Ryan – Josh Hutcherson (Peeta from Hunger Games)

Ian Langston – A young Jack Black, only heavier

Abdiel the Angel – Daniel Craig (James Bond)

Mr. Stockton – Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid from Harry Potter)

Hunter Garrison – Taylor Lautner (Twilight)

Audrey Fairfax – AnnaSophia Robb (Soul Surfer)

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your WIP?

After a peculiar set of events place Daniel O’Ryan and his best friend and fellow orphan Ian Langston at the prestigious Blackwood Academy, Daniel has just discovered that he’s half-angel and that the father who he though was dead is now depending on him for salvation.

6. Is your WIP published or represented?

Nope, no such luck yet. Anyone want to change that?

7. How long did it take you to write?

I’ve been working on it on and off for 4 years, but most recently it has been my focus for the last year.

8. What other WIPs within your genre would you compare it to?

Jerel Law, a first time author, just had a half-angel story published by Thomas Nelson, but his audience is a bit younger than mine (see my review of it here). Zondervan also recently published some half-angel novels (the Halflings series), but they are aimed more at the Twilight crowd than the Harry Potter fans.

9. Which authors inspired you to write this WIP?

Definitely J. K. Rowling. I’ve also been influenced by the Steampunk movement.

10. Tell us anything else that might pique our interest in this project.

I’ve done a lot of research on the extra-biblical sources on the Nephilim and came across a whole new reason why God had to destroy his creation in the flood. Much of my plot and the characters are inspired by these new perspectives on the Biblical account. I also had a lot of fun developing the abilities of a modern-day Nephilim, but you’ll have to read the book to see them in action.

One last thing…

Tag, You’re It:

As a final step of this Work In Progress blog post, I’m supposed to tag other writers who are then “it” to make a blog post of their own.

Here’s my list:

Andrew Rogers

Matthew Landrum

Guest Post by Bob Evenhouse | Advice for the Writer’s Struggle

My good friend Bob Evenhouse of the blog Part Time Novel was kind enough to send me a guest post while I am trying to catch up on my sleep (new babies are cute little time vampires). Enjoy!

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Writers struggle. It’s our most consistent state. We struggle for the correct word. We struggle for the proper word. A word that is rhythmic, fitting, mood setting, decisively explanatory, and altogether perfect. Doing this once can be exhausting. Doing it one hundred and sixteen thousand times can be debilitating, especially when you are at the bottom of that hike looking up at the grand snow capped Himalayan-like climb that is your first draft.

This is why the writer needs goals. Just like climbers work in stages. The state of defeat lingers so close behind us that we must have a target on which to fix our eyes and it cannot just be the end, but a good healthy check point.

Here are some ways to do just that.

  • Set Reasonable, Yet Achievable, Goals: I have trouble conforming to the idea that my life is lived within the confines of time. My wife often accuses me of trying do too much in a day. When I get home from work I’d merely like so spend quality time with her, my daughters, watch a movie, do a blog post, write 2000 words, maybe write another blog, read and comment on my friends’ blog, start a business, and sail around the world. It’s difficult capping myself, most of the time, but realistic goals are especially necessary for the part time writer.
  • Set Time Specific Goals: As a part time writer it is easy to be sprinting through life then realize you have not written on your book for a few days or weeks. It is important to stay in the rhythm of writing or your novel will never get done. Make it a goal to write every day. Stand by it with a this-has-to-get-done-before-I-sleep-every-single-night mandate. Writers are sleep deprived manics. You must know this by now.
  • Reward Yourself: In the words of the employees of the parks department of Pawnee, Indiana: Treat Yourself. When you reach a goal, say 5,000 words, do something fun. Writing is draining and your mind will be happy for the repose. It’s healthy and fun to reward yourself for slaving over your baby. If you are out of ideas, see below. There are some great ways to Treat Yourself.

Turning Around | A Novel Perspective

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when doing arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start again, the fast I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake.

– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I recently deleted a good portion of the novel that I have been working on. It was sad to see my word count drop, as that is one of the things that helps me feel like a writer. But as Lewis says, sometimes progress means going back and trying again.

So I went back. The scene I thought was needed was a scene that must wait. I feel that I am on the right track again. And that is a refreshing feeling.

How often it seems that I need to turn around in order to get closer to the place that I really want to be…

Creating Characters

I love characters. I love coming up with their names. I love discovering their quirks. I love finding out how they act when thrown into a problem that i have invented for them. It is a powerful feeling to determine the destiny of a character. It is godlike.

Names | When deciding what a character will be called, I consult a few different sources. If you don’t have a good Baby Name Book, it is a worthwhile purchase. Just be careful not to leave it laying around if you are of an age or situation where getting pregnant will cause undue concern or excitement.

In addition to a name book, I have a name journal where I write down good names that I hear.

If you are at a complete loss, try a phone book (the phone book companies just keep cranking them out for some reason, so we might as well use them for something, right?).

Quirks | Sometimes, a character’s name will suggest the quirk. When I came up with the main characters for my anthropomorphic flash fiction series, Thom and Tom, I was focusing on the different spellings of the shortened name for Thomas. In Thom, the h is silent, but not invisible. In Tom, I decided that the character would be the opposite, invisible, but not silent.

For other quirks, I just let my mind wander. I have a tendency toward the pairing of disparate things. One character that hasn’t found a story yet is an Amish man with a pacemaker. I don’t know why, but I find that sort of thing funny.

Another approach is to take a normal feature and exaggerate it. Maybe someone is abnormally tall, or super smart, or like Kurt Vonnegut sometimes gave his main characters, they have a large phallus (You never know who’ll get one).

Last, you can always base characters on real people, or a mash-up of different people that you actually know. Just make sure that they either don’t mind you using their likeness, or that they will never see your fictional treatment of them.

Situations | Once you have a group of characters, invent a situation for them. I know that everyone’s writing practices are different. Because I am character focused, I let my characters determine my plot. Others will come up with the plot and then let it determine which characters are needed, often coming up with the characters at that time. I don’t do that. I like coming up with characters too much.

The one on the left is me.When creating a situation, sometimes I just pick a few characters from my list and imagine them in the same room. How would they react to each other? What are they talking about? Is one of them the odd man out? Which of them could be a main character and which are the supporting cast? Which one is your favorite? What actual place in reality could you find this collection of people?

Once you decide on a basic setting for your characters, they will need a strong problem to overcome. Once you have setting, characters, and a problem to solve, you just have to decide how long and complex to make the story. Is it flash fiction? Short story? Novella? Novel? Maybe a Tolkien-esque tome?

Things to Remember | After they are created, let your characters surprise you. I didn’t understand this advice until the opportunity arose for me to use it. If, when writing, one of your characters says something or does something that seems unlike how you originally intended, go with it. It will likely make your character richer and more memorable, and your story will be better for it.

How do you come up with characters?

Breathe Rachelle, the Baker Can’t Be Older than Jesus – or – Links

Link and Report Card Day! I hope you are as excited as I am. I’ve scoured the internet in search of the best, and I’ve come back with 4 links that won’t disappoint.

Breathe Christian Writer's ConferenceFirst is the website for the Breathe Conference. It’s a writers’ conference organized by The Guild, a group of published ladies who live in West Michigan and gather regularly to support each others’ writing. The Breathe Conference is unlike other writers’ conferences in how incredibly supportive it is. When other conferences leave you feeling intimidated and unfit to write, Breathe encourages while it teaches. The conference is in October, so there is plenty of time to sign up. There are even scholarships available, so if you want to check it out, try for one of those.

Older Than Jesus is the blog by Alison Hodgson, a member of the Guild and one of the organizers of the Breathe Conference. Alison’s writing captures her personality well, both the funny bits and the more serious bits. She’s one of the nicest and snarkiest people I know, and she holds a special place for me as a reader in that she was the person who introduced me to the writings of Jasper Ffrorde.

Rachelle GardnerI learned about Rachelle Gardner’s blog from my coworker Chris Jager. Chris runs the fiction department at Baker and writes for the store’s fiction blog as well as the online magazine, Family Fiction. But back to Rachelle’s blog… Rachelle is a literary agent with a lot of great information for writers about the world of publishing. If you are a writer, do yourself a favor and check out her blog.

The final link is for the academically-minded Christian. My friend and coworker Louis McBride started the store’s academic blog, The Baker Book House Church Connection, at the behest of Andrew Rogers as a way to connect to churches in the area and inform the pastors about the newest and best books available to them. I remember Louis being skeptical, but like he does everything else, he grinned and gave it his best effort. Now, it is a well respected blog among Christian academic circles, the influence of which spreads far beyond the West Michigan church arena. Louis is always insightful, and if you don’t feel smarter after reading his blog, you may not be able to read (how are you reading this right now then?).

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Now for the report card portion of the post. I only added about 500 words to my novel this week, so I could have done better there. On the upside, my blogging is going like gangbusters. If today’s post goes over like last week’s post, I’ll get pushed over the not-at-all-important-in-the-long-run number of 1000 all-time visits, which is still a pretty cool thing. Overall, I’m going to give myself a B- for this week’s writing. Better luck next time, me!

Two last plugs, if you somehow missed the contests that I am running, this one ends Monday and is super easy, and this one ends at the end of the month and is considerably more difficult. Either way, I’m giving away books, so check it out and share the news with your friends. Thanks for reading this week!

PS – I’ll be continuing my Bookstore Symbiosis series next Monday, in case you were interested in such things.

Meet the Cast Tuesday | Ian Langston

Last week, I introduced the main character of my WIP, a teen boy named Daniel who finds out that he is half-angel. This week we look at Daniel’s roommate and best friend, Ian Langston.

Ian is the only child of only children. His parents died in a house fire when he was very young. In the blaze, Ian’s dad carried him outside then ran back in for his mom. Neither came back out. Without any living relatives or friends to take him in, Ian entered the system and wound up at Stockton’s Home for Disadvantaged Boys.

In spite of a traumatic beginning, Ian has the best sense of humor in the story. I know that I shouldn’t, but I laugh out loud when I read what Ian says. Here’s a sample:

            Daniel turned to see if Ian was still in bed, but it was impossible to be sure, as the bottom bunk was home to the cleanest of the piles of clothes. The question was answered a second later when Daniel overheard Ian’s voice coming from the kitchen.

“I’m pretty sure that Daniel would want me to have his strips of bacon, Mr. Stockton. He’s very giving that way.”

“No, I’m not!” shouted Daniel from the top of the stairs outside his bedroom. “Touch my bacon and I’ll stab you with a fork!”

“Easy Tiger!” Ian shouted back defensively. “We need to work on that temper of yours. I’ll accept your apology in the form of bacon.”

Remember when this was the best that digital cameras had to offer?

Look at that hair. Just look at it. It's hair. Ah, the good, old days.

Ian is probably based on how I remember myself in high school. I wasn’t big in sports, but I was big. I was more of a band geek than anything. I enjoyed being the funny guy. It worked for me. And that’s how I’ve tried to write Ian’s character.

Of course, in order to have some depth, we’ll learn more about Ian’s past and the truth about the fire that killed his parents. But I won’t go into that here. You’ll just have to pick up the book when it is published.

Any publishers out there want a surefire hit with a half-angel lead and a witty best friend?