WIP Wednesday: Facing the Publishing Demon

Writers are plagued by hundreds of demons, and I don’t mean the ones I’m featuring in my book. Self-doubt, writer’s block, fear of failure, fear of success and criticism are fingers on one hand of the demons that have us in a stranglehold.

One of my biggest fears is publishing—and I’m not even there yet! I have so much work to do before I have to make a choice between the Big Six and Indie and self-publishing, but I find my thoughts drifting there often, especially as I type the next chapter heading on a blank page.

I am not going to debate the merits of any of these methods over another. I whole-heartedly agree with Kristin Lamb’s post today, and I recommend you check it out if you’re interested in current unstable publishing climate. The only thought I might add to her statements is that if a change in industry is coming (and obviously it is) then we, the writers, should be manning the sails on this ship.

Don’t tell New York what to do; show them by making choices for the publication of your work that cater to the market trends we support.

The more writers stand up for themselves, the more we all benefit. This includes the artists, both Indie and mainstream publishers and most importantly, readers. That’s who we do this for, no? I don’t write because it’s a good mental exercise. I write because I love stories. Whether it’s the biography of Jim Beam or essays by Sloane Crosley or the latest trendy fiction tale about shape-shifting marsupials, good stories are written to be enjoyed by others.

The readers are what keep me focused on my WIP. How I choose to publish when I’m finished will reflect my gratitude for their readership. (Hint: it will not be in a dusty corner of a brick and mortar house and it will not cost more than my cell service.)

That’s really the only conclusion I’ve arrived at so far on this journey. It’s hardly specific, as there are still so many options for me to pursue, but at least I can say with some certainty what I don’t want for my published work. I’ve deduced this because I’m a reader, too. I know what I like and don’t like about the books I buy, and if I don’t want certain things to happen to my book, then I need to take control of those aspects (smutty bookcovers, anyone? the Fabio days are SO over).

The publishing demon will not defeat me.

In a way, I’m glad I am where I am in my life and career as this storm rolls through. It’s a fascinating study, really. Like Jim Cantore standing on a pier shouting through the wind, “This is a Cat-5, folks, we can’t stress this enough, you must evacuate your homes immediately!” and yet in the background a family paints “Go Away, Hurricane X” on their boarded up windows and holds up a beer as they settle in for the show. Hey, traditionalists, consumer forecasts have been warning you for years.

I’m posting this on WIP Wednesday because the imminent crash and burn of traditional publishing affects all of our WIPs, not just mine. I don’t need to beat this to death; there isn’t a writing blog out there that hasn’t addressed these issues. But this is what motivates me to write today, to strike the keys and build my story, because my story deserves to be told and delivered the way I want to deliver it, the way you want to receive it.

Ride out the waves with me, writers and readers. It’s going to get a little crazy around these parts, but just remember the generosity, love and strength of community that develops after the storm has passed.

DH

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Samuel Clemens’ Mistress

Are you sitting down? I have an announcement.

At least make sure there are no sharp objects within bonking distance.

Ready?

Ok, here it is:

My name is not Danielle Heath.

It’s true, “Danielle Heath” is just a pseudonym. But I’m not using a pen name to hide my identity, I promise. You may even be reading this post from a link on my Facebook page (my actual Facebook page, though I have created a fan page for Danielle Heath), in which case you are well aware this is not my name.

To prove that I’m not hiding, I’ll tell you my real name: Danielle Therrien.

A lot of people I’ve referred to this blog are asking me why I’m not using my real name, and that’s a very good question, so here is the explanation.

One for the money: I have a full time job that has nothing to do with being a writer. In fact, I work in the Finance department of a healthcare company. I work with wonderful, lovely people who are all very good at what they do and are surprisingly supportive of my writing addiction. However, healthcare and paranormal romance are two very different things. It might be ok for me to dabble in writing contests while I work there, but someone could feel entirely different about a book where blood-drinking, shapeshifting, or witchcraft play a prominent role. I like working there. I plan to continue working there. Better to play it safe than to someday have those worlds collide and face unemployment or worse, legal fees.

Two for the show: My real name is not easy for everyone. Unless you’ve known me for a while, you probably don’t know how to pronounce it (or you think you do, and I just haven’t corrected you in the last 15 years). I can’t escape the mental image of a woman standing at the Barnes & Noble help desk, snapping her fingers, staring at the ceiling for an answer, telling the clerk, “It’s by Danielle whats-her-name, you know, that book about the vampire who falls in love with the human?” Yeah. That lady is not going to be leaving with my book. Heath is short, pronounceable, easily memorable. I’m doing this for that lady’s benefit. One day she’ll thank me.

Three to get ready: I’m a writer and one of the goals of starting this blog is to build an author platform. I’m not published yet (not that it makes me less of a writer, but that whole “writers write” definition has been done to death, so let’s save it- I am a writer, damnit, now keep it moving). If I plan on publishing under a pseudonym, then I better make sure my fan base knows how to follow my work. Therefore, this is Danielle Heath’s blog. This is a professional blog to showcase my work as well as what I’ve learned/am learning about the craft and industry of fiction writing. When I do finally publish a full work (and I will), my fans/enablers will know which book is mine and agents/editors will see a committed writer with an established brand they can sell.

Four to go: I didn’t pull the name Heath out of a hat. A pseudonym shouldn’t be chosen simply because you think it’s awesome or it just sounds better than your name. I toyed with several names before settling on this one: my mother’s maiden name, my grandmother’s maiden name, anagrams of my real name, etc. I chose Heath because every time I use it I’m reminded of why I love literature, of who my influences are, and of what I want to accomplish. Heath is the nickname of one of the characters in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (Heathcliff, of course). It just happens to be my favorite book and the reason my undergrad Lit degree has a concentration in Victorian literature. I like to think that in a small way, I’m paying homage to the great writers who’ve come before me, especially women like the Brontë sisters who had a much harder road to publication than any of us in today’s age of technology and self-publishing.

So there it is, the explanation behind my pen name. There are many reasons why a writer might choose to do what I’m doing, but if you’re thinking about it yourself, make sure you’re doing it for the right ones.

DH

PS- Dean Koontz has somewhere around 11 pseudonyms. Bonus points if you can name at least 3 without a Google search!

Fiercely Fresh Flash Fiction

I had a blog all planned out today but as I sipped my double spice Chai tea this morning, I came across something better. Something great. Something that gets me flustered and sweaty and cooing with pleasure.

No, I did not meet Ryan Reynolds.

I found a flash fiction prompt! Even better, the challenge is hosted on Chuck Wendig’s blog, which I mentioned only yesterday.

What is this flash fiction thingy-ma-doodle, you ask? The simple answer: it’s fiction in a flash. You may have heard it called microfiction, postcard fiction, or short short.

Flash fiction is defined by word count rather than pages. It is typically restricted to 1,000 words or fewer, though no one seems to have a definitive number. It’s unique to other types of blurbs in that a flash fiction story is complete, meaning it has an arc, a protagonist, a conflict and an ending. The story compels the reader to feel something and engage in the story. Take Hemingway’s example and notice the weight six small words can have: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

A flash fiction piece can stand on its own, but I personally use the medium for other helpful purposes.

An exercise for concise prose: Many writers, novel writers in particular, expend a lot of energy conveying their ideas and sometimes go overboard with descriptions. Flash fiction forces the writer to find poetic cadence without bogging the reader down with extraneous space-eating words. Genevieve the Great Beer-Wench fluttered her long, tapered fingers in harrowing grief as the tumbler of ale meant for her long-lost love, Sir Kralich the Goblin Slayer, crashed to the stone floor littered with cigarette butts and wasted wishes might sound poetic, but isn’t nearly as effective as The tumbler of ale Genevieve the Great Beer-Wench carried fell. Sir Kralich the Goblin Slayer was gone.

Unblocking Creativity: Some days writing doesn’t flow naturally. You can stare at a blank Word document with Chapter Ten written at the top for hours, but nothing happens. On those days, writing isn’t fun. It’s fucking work. Setting smaller goals can help break the ice encasing the creative gland in your brain, and flash fiction is a wonderful tool for doing just that. Step outside the current WIP and write a 250 word story about the Life and Death of the Frog King of Venice, or How to Macramé a Pumpkin Centerpiece, or wherever that one little flicker of hope takes you.  

Add Dimension to Your WIP: This is my favorite use for flash fiction. I care a lot about character development in my work and in the beginning, I occasionally got stuck because I didn’t understand who I was writing about. I could write the scene forward and backward, but if I didn’t understand my character’s motives or personality quirks, the writing fell flat. I needed to get to know the character better, so I chose a moment in their past, one that wasn’t part of the current project, and focused on what they were thinking, feeling, doing. When the Dr. Pepper exploded in Edgar the clock-maker’s face, did he calmly clean up the sticky mess? Or did he erupt in a violent rage and destroy the grandfather clock he’d spent months meticulously building from scratch? One quick conflict, and Edgar’s reaction tells me a lot about how he reacts under pressure. I can use that insider knowledge on his character when writing his scenes for the larger work.

My contribution to Chuck’s challenge this week has nothing to do with my current WIP, but it sure was fun. Here it is, in all its 100-word glory. Enjoy.

DH

He fisted the red silk scarf. It was all he had left, save for her powdered remains covering his clothes.

If there’d been a way to save her… but her addiction was too great, and the more blood she’d consumed, the more haunted she’d become by the memories stolen from her victims.

So he did it, and he refused to think of it as anything other than a mercy. The stake he’d used fell to the floor and settled into a crack.

The sun ascended and he welcomed the burn as his flesh, too, turned to powder.

 

Keep Your Voice to Yourself

When I was in sixth grade, my English teacher had us read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Our homework assignment was to take a chapter from the book and write a new story mimicking Cisneros’ voice and keeping with the themes of the book. Eleven year-old me was so successful that when I stumbled across this assignment in a file of old writing samples (printed on a dot-matrix printer), I had to track down the book to see if I’d truly written it myself or just copied Cisneros for my homework. Not only did I complete the lesson in plagiarism as instructed, I repeated it with other books. I later parroted Hemingway, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and others just for the hell of it. Just to see if I could write like them.

I could, and well.

So what did I learn from that experiment? I learned a lot about structure and pacing. But most importantly, I learned about voice.

Having a unique voice in your writing is, in my opinion, equally as important as the depth of your characters or having an interesting story to tell. It makes the author memorable and makes their work distinctively their own.

Some of my favorite writers with unique voices:

  • Hemingway- Concise and clear, his writing is language with all the flowery bullshit cut away. It’s a solitary diamond engagement ring, timeless and beautiful without needing a detailed engraved band or little bastard diamonds crowding the spotlight: “He was not in love yet but he realized that he was an attractive quantity to women, and that the fact of a woman caring for him and wanting to live with him was not simply a divine miracle. This changed him so that he was not so pleasant to have around.” (The Sun Also Rises)
  • Tom Robbins- You can’t read a Tom Robbins book without becoming completely engrossed in the world he creates. He compels your attention with all five senses, so you not only read the words, but you feel them, smell them, taste them, even when he’s describing the most mundane objects: “A zipper is where the Industrial Revolution meets the Cobra Cult [sic]. Little alligators of ecstasy, that’s what zippers are.” (Jitterbug Perfume)
  • Beverly Cleary- Her books cross generations of readers because not only does she capture the pivotal moments of childhood with incredible insight, but her voice is so vivid, the words become real, warming the tongue and heart of the reader as they pour from the page: “Ramona did not think she was a pest. No matter what others said, she never thought she was a pest. The people who called her a pest were always bigger and so they could be unfair.” (Ramona The Pest)

Since the experiments of my youth, I’ve made developing my own voice an important part of whatever writing project I’m currently working on. For a long time, I read technical books on voice, scanned multiple Google searches, asked questions of Lit and Writing teachers, only to find that as well-intentioned as these sources were, I didn’t need the help. My literary voice just is.

When I realized that, it was a definite epiphany, complete with golden rays of light and angels singing choruses on high. Hello, me!  My writing was suddenly unburdened. I was free! I used to worry that if I read books by my favorite authors while I was writing that my work would start to sound like theirs. Chapter Three would be J.R. Ward but by Chapter Seven I was Oscar Wilde and Chapter Nine was all David Sedaris (what an odd book that would be). But once I let go and allowed myself to write without focusing on what might happen I realized that my voice couldn’t belong to anyone other than me.

There’s peace in that knowledge, and I’ve come to love my unique voice for what it is. I hope other people will like it, too.

DH

 

What about you? What authors do you love who have standout voices? Have you come to terms with your own unique writing voice?

To read a blogger with an extremely unique voice of his own, check out Chuck Wendig. He’s descriptive, knowledgeable, vulgar, and downright hilarious.