Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays & Blog Hopping

It's Friday again!  I had such a great time exploring the blogosphere through Parajunkee's Follow my Book Blog Friday last week that I decided to do it again today.

Parajunkee's Follow my Book Blog Friday's question of the week is:

"What are your plans for this fabulous day?"

My answer:  Today I plan to avoid panicked, last-minute Christmas shoppers and headache-inducing traffic by pursuing instead (as I will for the rest of the weekend) good food, good company, a good book and lots of rest and relaxation.  It may sound boring to some, but -- after a long, busy, chaotic year -- sounds absolutely blissful to me!

What about you?  Planning on braving the last-minute shopping crowds today?  Have any special plans for Christmas?

I hope everyone is having a safe and happy holiday season and will continue to do so through New Year's!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Things That Go Bump in the Night

One of the secondary characters in Darkness Dawns is very well-acquainted with things that go bump in the night. Namely ghosts. And well he should be. Marcus, who is the only friend of Darkness Dawns’ reclusive hero Roland Warbrook, has been seeing them for almost nine hundred years, though they still manage to catch him off guard periodically.

General interest in things that go bump in the night seems to have risen sharply in recent years, though that wasn’t the inspiration for Marcus’s “gift”. Numerous shows that revolve around ghosts, ghost pets, ghosts stories, ghost hunting, etc. have popped up on cable/satellite television. Movies like Paranormal Activity have received enthusiastic responses by viewers. I suspect the popularity of such stems from many people being either unnerved or fascinated (sometimes both) by the concept of things unseen invading their lives and physically affecting their world.

I had my own “things going bump in the night” experiences this summer on the set of an independent feature film on which I worked. (I provided special effects and special effects makeup, served as script supervisor and am now editor.) Shortly after production began, I learned that the building in which much of the film was shot had spawned numerous ghostly encounter stories over the years. During the many long pauses characteristic of film production (relighting, blocking, wardrobe changes, meal breaks, etc.), I was regaled with tales by men and women of varying ages who worked in or frequented the building. (Film production tends to lure curious onlookers.) Some cast and crew members seemed fascinated by the stories. Some were uneasy, if not frightened.

And over the next few weeks, things did go bump in the night several times. I heard a violin playing in a supposedly haunted room and couldn’t locate a source for the music, since no one was in the building except cast and crew. This particular room had apparently inspired stories in the past of doorknobs rattling, music playing and voices speaking when no one appeared to be present.

On another night, I was able to spend a couple of uninterrupted hours editing Book 2 in my Immortal Guardians series on the set. (I took a copy with me every night and worked on it every chance I could get.) I was alone in an office with a desk, filing cabinets and bookshelves full of books. After at least an hour and a half of silence broken only by the scribbling of my red pen, some of the books on an upper shelf shifted and fell over for no apparent reason. I had used the office on and off throughout production and those books had been in the same position, untouched, for three weeks. They weren’t precariously balanced. The office next door was empty, so no one had bumped the wall or otherwise caused it to vibrate and disturb the books. There just really didn’t seem to be any reason for them to move.

Oftentimes the director, the director of photography, a production assistant and I were the last to leave when production wrapped for the night. (It took a while to pack up our various and sundry equipment.) And there were several nights when, alone in the building, we heard thumps and what sounded like doors opening or closing. But there was never anyone there when we looked for the source to make sure no one had snuck inside while the doors were unlocked.

Now, some of the cast members got a kick out of it all and, on more than one occasion, dared each other to walk down darkened hallways or spend so many minutes alone in the haunted room. Others were uneasy and avoided such. Much to my amusement, I was called upon a few times to accompany a crew member down dark hallways because of more mysterious thumps and bumps that stretched nerves tight. (As long as the thumps and bumps weren’t caused by some nefarious person breaking in for criminal reasons, I wasn’t overly bothered by them myself.)

So, have you ever had any encounters with things that go bump in the night? Do you find such things frightening, fascinating, amusing or not much to write home about?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. And, as always, if you’d like a Darkness Dawns cover flat, leave a comment below, then email me your snail mail address. My email can be found in my profile and on my website.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Doing the Blog Hop!

It's finally Friday and I'm trying something new.  I'm exploring the blogosphere through Parajunkee's Follow my Book Blog Friday.

Parajunkee's Follow my Book Blog Friday features Carmel @ Rabid Reads today.  The question of the week is:

"What did you study in college, or are currently studying and did it lead to your current 9 to 5 or are you doing something totally different?"

My answer:  I majored in English in college, which helped me tremendously with my writing.  But my current 9 to 5 is very different:  I work in the independent film industry (pre-production, production and post-production).  The two aren't totally unrelated, however, because studying English and creative writing made me a better script editor and I made some interesting contacts in the playwriting class and the drama department in which I took it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Roller Coaster Weekend

This weekend was a real roller coaster ride, featuring lots of ups and downs.  It began with good news.  My editor likes Book 2 in my Immortal Guardians series!  Woohoo!  I was very pleased to hear it.  And her response came quickly, so there was no long, nail-biting wait. 

Then . . . catastrophe struck.  I tried to install a new operating system on my computer and my hard drive crashed.  The computer shut down and would not start up again no matter what I tried.  It would just give me a blue screen for fifteen seconds or so, then shut down again.  Needless to say, I was very upset because I couldn’t remember what I had and hadn’t backed up recently.  (It’s been a very busy few months.)  I thought I had backed up my writing folder, but couldn’t remember if I had backed up the filmmaking and other recent files. 

Well, the computer tech guy told me I needed a new hard drive.  I was incredibly relieved when he said they could back up everything on the hard drive for me before sending it out.  But that was crushed the next day when he retracted that and said they couldn’t.  Well, I wasn’t ready to abandon and, thus, lose those files that may not have been backed up and returned home with my crashed computer.  Over the next few hours, a borrowed laptop and several Google searches yielded instructions on how to start up the computer in single-user mode, then enter a series of commands that ultimately restored my hard drive to the former operating system.  The good news:  Now it appears to be working fine.  (I immediately backed up everything, of course.)  The bad news:  I can’t install the new operating system without first purchasing either a new hard drive or a new computer.  And I really need that new operating system so I can update my film editing software.  *sigh*

There were other ups and downs, but they were minimal in comparison.  So, how was your weekend?  Comprised of more ups than downs I hope.

As always, leave a comment and email me your snail mail address if you’d like me to send you a signed Darkness Dawns cover flat.  (You can find my email in my profile or on my website.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

There's a Method to the Madness

I didn’t blog last week because I was engrossed in editing my manuscript -- Night Reigns -- Book 2 in my Immortal Guardians series.  I’m pleased to say, I finished my last read-through of Night Reigns and sent it off to my editor.

Once I expelled a sigh of relief, it occurred to me that editing might be a good topic for a blog.  After all, not one of the creative writing courses I took in college tackled the issue.  (Nor did the books I read.)  Instead, the classes focused on other aspects of writing.  The playwriting class centered around plot.  The fiction writing classes focused on character development.  And the poetry writing class focused on language.

None addressed the process of editing:  how to decide what to leave in, what to take out or what to add.  I’ve always been pretty obsessive compulsive when it comes to editing.  Some would say anal.  I just don’t feel like I have a finished product until I’ve read through the manuscript at least half a dozen times, focusing on a new aspect of editing with each read-through.  This may seem extensive . . . crazy even.  But there’s a method to my editing madness.  I’ll use Night Reigns as an example.

With the first draft, I focused on getting the story down and didn’t worry about word choice or chapter divisions.  So when the time came to edit, I focused on plot during the first read-through.  Was the exterior/action plot fully developed and satisfactorily resolved?  What about the romance plot?  Did the relationship between the hero and heroine develop too slowly?  Did it feel rushed?  Did one scene flow into the next smoothly?  Did I include all of the information I needed to in the story in order to make this a stand-alone novel as well as a sequel?

With the second and third read-throughs, I added tentative chapter breaks and started cutting.  I always shoot for 100,000 words, but my manuscripts more often than not come in quite a bit longer than that.  Night Reigns was no different; so I scrutinized each and every scene and -- even if I liked them -- cut those that didn’t specifically advance the plot (action or romance).  This is always difficult.  So much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in the future, I added a page on my website that provided some of these deleted scenes, much like DVDs often do in their special features section.  But I firmly believe cutting these scenes ultimately makes my manuscripts stronger by keeping the pace from lagging.  It’s always important to maintain forward momentum.

With the fourth read-through, I looked for passive writing and rewrote any sentences that contained it to make them active.  Passive writing involves telling instead of showing.  What exactly constitutes passive writing is widely debated (sometimes heatedly) in the writing community, so I’ll save defining it in greater detail for another day.

With the fifth read-through, I concentrated more on language, checked facts and continued to whittle away at length, eliminating a sentence here, a paragraph there.  Such small deletions can add up to a surprisingly large reduction in length.  I also read all dialogue aloud (mangling foreign accents) to see if it flowed naturally and made necessary adjustments if it didn’t.

During the sixth read-through, I made any necessary changes to chapter divisions and focused primarily on language.  Did I use this word too often?  What about that one?  Is there a better word or series of words or sounds I can use to make the scene more vivid and enhance the mood?  Did I employ all five senses?

By the time I reached the seventh read-through of Night Reigns, I had a tighter, stronger, more well-written manuscript and pretty much just looked for typos, though I continued to keep an eye out for words that popped up too often and changed them.

Sounds tedious, doesn’t it?  I know some writers find editing laborious, if not torturous.  But I actually enjoy editing my manuscripts.  I like knowing that when I’m finished the stories will be stronger and, thus, appeal to more readers.  And I probably shouldn’t admit this, but . . . I also like the stories themselves and enjoy rereading them.  The first read-through is usually the best because there are always scenes I forgot about that surprise me.  :-)

Well . . . that’s how I do it.  Very methodical.  And, thus far, very effective.  It worked well for Darkness Dawns, the first book in my Immortal Guardians series.  Hopefully the same will hold true for Night Reigns.

For the readers out there:  Do you like it when authors offer readers glimpses of deleted scenes on their websites, in newsletters, at the ends of books, etc.?   

For writers:  How many times do you read through your manuscripts before you’re satisfied that they’re ready for submission?  And how does your editing process differ from mine?

Thanks so much for stopping by!