Thursday, September 30, 2010
copyright Aaron Paul Lazar 2010
What motivates you to write?
Is it a yearning to connect with humankind? To share your cherished visions with readers? To breach that lonely cold gap stretching between souls? To reach into someone’s heart, and really, truly make a difference?
Or do you simply write for yourself? Do you need to control a parallel universe that performs at your command, whose heroes are vivid and alive in your brain, and whose villains bow to your will? Is your own life so out of control that this writing thing, this whirling, compelling, demanding art form does wonders as a coping strategy?
Maybe you don’t care if your books ever get published; you just need to satisfy that inner drive to write. It itches until you scratch it, lures you like a lover, and enslaves you like a drug. And it’s very unforgiving. If you don’t get your daily fix, you get grumpy. Supremely grumpy.
Some write to purge demons from a childhood trauma, or to escape painful reality. Others create romantic relationships that fill emptiness in their own life, or invent critters to help heal the ache after losing a beloved pet. Some imagine bizarre aliens in a world so unlike ours that tantalizing characters and stories are born into new galaxies. And there are those who create scenes with characters strangely like their dear departed grandparents.
Writing can be comforting, thrilling, romantic, and scary.
But under no circumstances should you write simply to sell a book. That kind of motivation will only disappoint you, and writing for money is often a surefire way to guarantee disappointment. Instead, write from your heart. Write to soothe your spirit. Write to instill order in a chaotic world. Write to entertain, to create twisted plots that electrify or shock. But don’t write just to sell. Because in the end, you may be selling your writer’s soul.
Let’s say you’ve written your heart out. You’ve pumped out a few great books. Suddenly you go dry. What motivates you now?
Look around you. The world is crammed with topics. Watch your favorite movies. Dissect them, list the ideas that stir your imagination, and make an inventory of your favorite themes. Is it unrequited love? Time travel? Gentle giants falsely accused? Delicious twists that shock and surprise? Spunky lady cops who save the day? Heroic animals? Fantastical fairies? Gritty city secrets?
Keep your ears open. Listen to news stories. The often unfathomable, sometimes horrific accounts will stir your creative juices. Imagine a twist on them. Then twist it again and change its literary color or scent. Don’t worry if it’s been done before. Just put your mark on it and write it with passion.
Tune in to real life dramas at work, church, or school. Think about your friend whose wife died from a rare complication of a cardiac virus, your cousin who suffers from depression, your daughter whose college boyfriend from Albania is suddenly deported. Real life is fertile and rich. It’s full of angst, splendor, terror, and adventure. It offers a mosaic of ideas, and waits for you to pluck your new favorites to mix and match into a dynamic storyline.
Last of all: read, particularly from your genre. Read incessantly. Read in the grocery store line. Read at the doctors. Read at the Laundromat. Read while you wait for the kids after soccer practice. Read before you go to sleep at night. It’s not only the best way to charge up your imagination. Sitting at the virtual feet of the masters of the craft is the best way to learn to write.
Life is full of material. Sometimes the hardest part is choosing your themes. Pick a few, and toss them around to coat them with new variations. Make your time traveler a dog, instead of a boy. Put an alien in your tear jerker romance. Create cute little cockroaches instead of bunnies in your children’s book. Or stick to cliché themes, but shake your own writer’s salt on it. Mix up your hat full of ideas and see what falls out.
It’s all up to you. Now go get ‘em.
Aaron Paul Lazar
DOUBLE FORTE' (2004)
TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON (2007)
HEALEY'S CAVE (2010)
ONE POTATO, BLUE POTATO (2011)
FOR KEEPS (2012)
Preditors&Editors Top 10 Finalist * Yolanda Renee's Top Ten Books 2008 * MYSHELF Top Ten Reads 2008 * Writers' Digest Top 101 Website Award 2009 & 2010
Posted by Aaron Lazar at 7:57 PM
Friday, September 24, 2010
Author: Elizabeth Brundage
Publisher: Viking Adult (August 5, 2010)
Genre: Literary Mystery/Thriller, 272 pages
Publisher's Address: Penguin Group USA, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
ISBN number: 9780670022007
Price: $25.95 (hardcover)
Publisher website address: www.penguin.com
Author’s personal website: www.elizabethbrundrage.com
Hugh Waters: Bad marriage. Boring life. Bottled dreams, now smashed. Big problem.
Denny Rios: Unloved child. Unraveling psyche. Unsung hero.
Hedda Chase: Privileged. Powerful. Professional. Pitiful.
When Hugh Waters, insurance agent, takes a screenwriting class and miraculously sells his salacious thriller to Hollywood, his drab and unhappy life takes on sudden meaning. But when a Hollywood executive dies, the successor, Ivy Leaguer Hedda Chase, denounces the script as chauvinistic and unbelievable, resulting in a cancelled contract for Hugh.
Hugh snaps, flies to LA, and stalks Hedda with a vague plan to convince her she’s wrong about his story. Instead, with no qualms and with the calculating, level-headed insanity of a true sociopath, he submits her to the same quandary the character in his film endures, to prove that his plot is plausible. Hedda is locked in the trunk of her vintage BMW and abandoned at the airport, keys dangling in the ignition.
On another path, Iraq war veteran Denny Rios, pushed and berated by a group of decadent soldiers, was forced to half-heartedly join in the horrific rape of a young Iraqi girl when on duty overseas. Haunted by the experience, sickened by guilt, never free of the girl’s face in his nightmares, Denny flees when the cops approach his aunt and uncle’s home and steals the car with Hedda still bound and gagged in the trunk.
I know, it’s an intriguing plot. But it’s not the storyline that captivated me in this novel. It’s more the Dostoevsky-like telling of the tale.
Although A Stranger Like You is billed as a mystery/thriller, I’d prefer to see it classified as literary psychological fiction. The “literary” tag comes from the pure poetry that infiltrates Brundage’s well-written prose.
As a boy, he’d gone to the Jersey shore in summertime, but this was the Pacific. There was something about this ocean. In the distance, the air looked brown, like an old-fashioned sepia print, the water copper in the sunlight. The sea was calm, the air smelled of fish. Savage birds dove and fought.
Here’s another passage:
They would smoke pot and make love, her skin the impenitent green of old bay leaves, her nipples like the smudged rubber thimbles of a bookkeeper, and then she’d make him tea with mint that she grew on her windowsill. Compared to his wife, Jolene was easily satisfied, uninhibited about her nakedness, her smells, her moody breath. She moved with the unhindered heft of a wrestler…
Brundage showcases very long and winding passages that contain little dialog or action, aside from the running stream-of-consciousness thoughts of each character. Layered over and between each other, these passages of inner thoughts, often told in present tense, second person, lend kaleidoscopic views to the story, hopping back and forth through time and focusing on the unique angle seen by each character. It’s the use of second person (“you” POV) that brings the intimacy to these segments.
Death is something you fear, and you can never gauge its proximity. Sometimes you sense it encroaching upon you like some thief in the night, looking into your windows. Sometimes you lay in bed, brittle, waiting for evil to find you. Images sprawl through your mind, arbitrary scraps of terror that have become all too ordinary. To some degree, you have been nurtured on fear.
Maybe you are just tired after the long flight, but you feel conspicuous, profoundly aware of your middle class American roots, drawing attention to yourself as only an American can, in your schlumpy sweat suit, your clunky bag of indispensables (vitamins, pills, and medications for any possible problem, dental floss, makeup, Tampax, Nikes, your favorite Patagonia cap), and the way you move, with carbonated overflow, in comparison to the serene aerodynamics of the locals. As a female, you are sensitive to the feverish curiosity of strangers. Their eyes coat your body like paint.
Of course, there’s suspense that draws the reader to the finale. We need to know what happens to Hedda Chase, locked in the trunk of that blue BMW. But it’s the intense character profiles and the disturbing intimate lives we glimpse through Brundage’s unique approach that were most riveting.
Following are some favorite lines from A Stranger Like You:
He didn’t tell them the stars were like the teeth of the dead.
He carried the stories around in his pockets, in his fists, like stones.
Doubt is your compass.
…Sunrise like the smeared rouge on a whore.
A bruise floats over his eye like a jellyfish.
Brundage digs deep inside her characters’ heads. In addition to the primary characters above, we peek inside the lives of a disillusioned screenwriter (Tom Foster), an escaped and ill-fated Iraqi student (Fatima), and a young homeless waif of a girl (Daisy). All of Brundage’s well-rounded characters play to an unusual backdrop of a seedy vision of Hollywood interwoven with images of the war in Iraq, told through Denny’s thoughts.
This is not a fast read. It’s not a Patterson, or Hoag, or a quick thrill ride that you’ll devour in one sitting. It’s a study in human nature, and you’ll have to work your way through it. But I guarantee, you’ll enjoy the ride. The characters–all who move masterfully through their arcs of development–will haunt you long after you finish A Stranger Like You.
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Watch for his upcoming release, FIRESONG, coming in 2011.
Posted by Aaron Lazar at 7:41 PM
Thursday, September 02, 2010
FREEBIES: Clever Marketing or Foolish Folly?
I’ll never forget the article I read on giveaways, written by a successful author who’d climbed his way to the top with sheer sweat and brains. Well, to be honest, I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget his advice. He recommended that every author give away tons of books to spread the word. Of course, this is if you haven’t already landed a publisher with deep pockets who’s promoting the hell out of your work.
Some folks recoil with horror when they hear this. “After all I’ve gone through to GET here? After all that agony of rejection after rejection? After finally getting into a good publishing house? After the years I’ve spent perfecting this book? And the years beyond I waited for it to come to print? And ESPECIALLY since I only make a ridiculously tiny profit on each book? You want me to give them away? Doesn’t that invalidate the whole thing?”
No. It doesn’t. It helps grow your readership.
I’ve given away quite a few books in the past five years. To friends who helped with the books, to the gals in the dentists office, to friends’ grandmothers who had no money but loved mysteries, to the English teacher I met in Monroe Muffler who taught grammar for twenty years… I give many away on impulse and quite a few more with careful planning.
But the author who wrote said article would encourage you to buy at least 350 copies and strategically give them all away.
He suggested donating a book to every single person in your life who likes to read. And to those who don’t, or who have spouses who do. To doctor’s offices, to the local fire department, to hospitals, friends of friends… you name it.
Of course, we’re talking big bucks here. Three hundred copies of a typical $17.00 trade paperback could cost an author almost three grand, if he gets a good discount from his publisher. Three thousand dollars! That’s more than many small press authors make on one release.
Sadly, I never got to the point where I followed this fellow’s advice, but I still impulsively give my books away all the time. The way he explained it, and the way I figure it, nobody ever bought a book by an author they don’t know, or that wasn’t written up with glowing of accolades in major publications. So let them read your stuff, fall for it, and maybe they’ll buy your other books, too.
I ran across another blog this week that touted the same principles, but using eBooks instead of print books. Much less outlay was required by the author and publisher, and a great deal of savvy marketing was involved in the whole process. You can read this brilliant article by J.A. Konrath, here.
As luck would have it, I’ve recently seen a few examples of how this works.
When I was hired into my new firm in June, I wanted my coworkers to know me. To really know me. And you can’t do that unless you read my books. I’m not just the friendly guy who loves his family, smiles a lot, is willing to help at the drop of a hat, who sometimes might even seem a little too nice. There’s the real me, the guy who writes all the time, who loves nature to the extreme, who harbors fears, who’s been through hell and back, more than once.
In order to do this, I signed over a copy of Double Forté to my colleague and to my boss and his wife, who both work there. Then, I brought one copy of each of the rest of my books into the office and set them on a shelf, plus sent a duplicate set to Germany to our R&D team, for the members who read English fiction. “Help yourself,” I said. “These are for you and your friends.”
I was thrilled when Bill brought home the books for his elderly mother, who reads 3-4 books a week. She loved the first one. Said she devoured the second. And so on. Within a week and a half, she’d read them all. The other day, she told her son she wanted her own copies of each of them – she’s buying all five books. Neat, huh?
I never expect anything back when I give away books. To be honest, I love sharing what’s inside me with these people. Maybe it’s a latent case of needing to feel loved and validated. But a tiny part of me hopes that maybe someday, the mother of the brother of the gal who works in the dentist might know the son of the Hollywood producer who hears about and then reads my stuff; then realizes the potential he holds in his hands for a blockbuster movie series. ;o)
Okay, so we can all dream. Right?
I can’t be too specific about this next instance, because I promised not to tell that I received something phenomenal for free. But after donating several years of my time to an online writers group (managing submissions, mentoring, teaching and donating about 3-4 hours a week before I pooped out), I was given the equivalent of many hundreds of dollars of free promo for my newest book, Healey’s Cave, without even asking.
Wow. What goes around comes around, and all that. ;o) Nice to know it can still be true!
Next time you grow pale and shudder at the idea of giving away your books, think again. Or rather, if you have some on hand, don’t think. Just do it. You never know what will come of it. And if nothing tangible comes your way, at least you had the joy of sharing with another human being. Right?
Don’t forget to take pleasure in the little things… and write like the wind!
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and www.mooremysteries.com and watch for his upcoming release, FIRESONG, coming Winter, 2010.
Posted by Aaron Lazar at 2:18 AM