Wednesday, February 27, 2013

When Writing Goes Bad

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Confession: My husband and I watch Merlin, that BBC remake based loosely on Arthurian legend (and I do mean loosely).

We started because we were looking for new TV shows we could watch via Netflix or DVR - something to kill the winter weekdays because watching a 2 hour movie when you have to go to work the next day is not practical, especially since we often wouldn't get to start until 9:30 at night or later. And we typically enjoy programming from the BBC.

At first, the show was in that "so campy it was enjoyable" category. Yeah, this is not Mary Stewart's Camelot. I mean, Merlin and Guinevere started as servants, and magic was a crime punishable by death under Uther. Well, um, that's going to prove awkward. But we looked past that and just focused on the 40 minutes of mindless, campy entertainment.

When Uther finally died, we thought, "Okay, Merlin is going to start to come into his own now." No such luck. Okay, Arthur has found Excalibur, the Sword in the Stone. Here we go. Nope.

And for the past season and a half, the writing has just gotten bad. I mean, beyond bad. We're talking atrocious.

As a writer, the flaws just scream at me. Merlin isn't so much a powerful sorcerer as Morgana (whose abilities have been amplified in the TV show) is incompetent. What could be really clever plot twists fall into a rut - Morgana will be overconfident, causing her to overestimate the abilities of her allies and underestimate her foes, while Merlin fumbles his way to success. At least once a show, she gets the upper hand against Merlin and knocks him on his ass.

Speaking of Merlin, the awkward boy coming into his powers was cute at first, but now it's just annoying. He's the most powerful sorcerer of all time, the Druids have foreseen his coming and a new age for Camelot (they've even got a name for him, Emrys), and he's the last freaking Dragonlord, with the ability to command dragons. Yet Arthur routinely treats him like a half-wit, and he's more often dopey than dangerous. As I said earlier, Morgana's plots fail more because of her own incompetence than Merlin's power.

Oh, and Excalibur? Yeah, there's a show where Arthur's sword is enchanted so he will fall in a duel. Okay, this cannot possibly be Excalibur because don't tell me that Morgana has the power to enchant a sword forged in the dragon's breath. And if it isn't Excalibur, just what did Arthur do with it anyway?

The latest travesty is that Guinevere has been brainwashed by Morgana (okay, a stretch but I'll play along) and she convinces a visiting ruler to assassinate Arthur - after about 30 seconds of conversation. Say what? I  know that things have to be compressed for TV, but come on.

The characters have gone from being two-dimensional (which is bad enough) to one-dimensional, if that is even possible. We can fast forward through the boring parts and pretty much tell each other what happened and what is going to happen. Wasn't there an author who said something about trying to skip the boring parts? The dialog is flat, the premises outlandish, and the audience is being asked not to just suspend belief, but toss it out the window. Plots are foiled through coincidence and bumbling, not through any real actions on the part of the players.

All in all, it's become a brilliant example of what not to do as a writer - in any form and any genre. For that reason alone, I recommend suffering through an episode or two. It'll be painful, but you'll see exactly why it doesn't work. And hopefully you'll learn to avoid it.

But really BBC, please - when are you going to release Dr. Who Season 7 to Netflix?

Photo courtesy of ChibiChiii and used under Creative Commons

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Goal Setting 101

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I recently attended a webinar with author James Scott Bell about how to make a living selling ebooks (something near and dear to my heart, of course). As I listened, it reinforced something that I think a lot of authors overlook.

While writing may be art, publishing is a business.

Now, I've never started a business in the traditional sense. But I do know one thing: If you start a business venture without a plan, you are sunk. Dead in the water. Okay, you might get insanely lucky, but in general, going in without a plan is madness.

Part of a plan is something that a lot of people think they are really good at - setting goals. The problem is, most people set "pie in the sky" goals that are really more of a dream. A goal is something that is achievable and within your power. A dream, well, anyone can dream. Consider the difference in the following:

I'm going to get published in a magazine three times this year.

I'm going to submit to at least three magazines this year.

The first statement is a dream. I want to be published, sure. But can I make that happen? At the end of the day, no. The editors of the publication make that decision. I may have penned the next Hemingway-esque piece, but if it's not right for a publication, the editor will say "no."

But I can control the second. I can polish my story, study my craft, and put the work in the (e)mail. After that, about all I can do is cross my fingers.

Some writers may find this intimidating. But I like goals - all sorts of them. Setting a goal - and making it "public" (that is, sharing with others) - keeps me accountable. I set a goal to complete the sloppy first draft (SFD) of the third Hero's Sword book by the end of January and to get my Black Orchid novella ready for beta readers by the end of February.

Since I don't have an editor or a contract breathing down my neck, I needed to set those goals - and share them with my writer friends - to keep me honest. Otherwise, I'd spend my weekends watching horrible TV and thinking, "I can write better than this." And I'm glad to say that I met both of those goals.

But what now? Well, after last week's webinar and reading a lot, I realize that I need new goals, goals that are going to help push me toward my dream of making money off of this fiction thing. And the two most important things (for me) are going to be continuing to write and upping my craft game.

So, in the spirit of planning and goal setting, I announce my goals for the year, in no particular order.

Submit my second Laurel Highlands Mystery story. 

It's written, it's been edited, and it's probably ready to go. Now it's just a question of where (okay, not much of a question since the first is going to be published by Mysterical-e, I'll probably start there). Exactly when I submit will be influenced by...

Read at least one craft book per month.

Any writer who says she's learned all she needs to know is probably full of, well, ca-ca (to put it nicely). That's not me. I'm starting with Mr. Bell's Fiction Attack. And I will pick up his Revision and Self-editing so that I can...

Complete revisions of Hero's Sword 3 by tax day (4/15).

Based on the time from when I submitted Power Play to the publisher to when it came out, I'm guessing the publication cycle will be a couple of months. I sent Storm Clouds off in January, so it'll probably come out this spring. I actually think I can pull this one off earlier, but since a goal should be achievable, I'm going with something I am very confident in (a stretch goal would be to complete the revision by the end of March).

Complete the SFD of Hero's Sword 4 by May 31 and first revisions by July 31.

Based on experience, I can write the SFD in a month. This will also include a treatment for book 5 (since I like to plan at least one book beyond what I'm currently writing).

Complete and submit two more Laurel Highlands Mystery stories by the end of summer.

These are generally between 8,000 and 15,000 words (long story story to novelette). I've got at least two ideas sketched out. If I can get two more complete and submitted by fall, that gives me four. A fifth is scheduled to come out in an anthology at the end of the year. That allows me to...

Plan an anthology release of the Laurel Highlands Mysteries by the end of 2013

This is not to say that the anthology will be released at the end of this year - but I will have a plan. I've got decent hopes that I can get the next two sent to Mysterical-e and since they say they like series, there's a decent chance they'll be accepted. If so, the anthology may include a brand new story. Timing of the release TBD, but I can have a plan by year end (especially since one of my targeted craft/business reads is exactly how to make a plan).

So there you have it - some 2013 goals. Of course, things change, life happens, and goals need to be reset. And that's okay. Because that only means that I am approaching things with intent and purpose. These goals may change. New goals may come up. I'm staying flexible.

I believe it was Eisenhower who said no plan survives first contact with the enemy. But by starting with a plan, I feel like I'm ahead of the curve.

Image used under Creative Commons courtesy of Sean MacEntee

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Laurel Highlands Mysteries

Yeah, yeah, I know. Didn't I do this already? Yes, I did here, but when Sisters in Crime Sib Annette Dashofy put out the call, how could I say no? And I've got a new book (long short story really) to talk about.

You can read all about Annette's work here.

Without further ado - round two of The Next Big Thing.


1. What is the working title of your book(s)?

This story is called "An Idyllic Place for Murder." It is the first in my Laurel Highlands Mysteries series.

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

In October 2011 I attended my first "Escape to the Woods" writing retreat with the Mary Roberts Rinehart chapter of Sisters in Crime. It was my first writing retreat and I was going with a group of people who were virtually strangers (I had met two of my sibs exactly once). The retreat was held in Confluence, PA which is in the Laurel Highlands, the area that gives the name to the series. Well, we stayed in a rental house, not quite a cabin, but definitely not a hotel. As we read the guest register, there was mention of "be careful of the Creeper." Apparently, the gentleman who owned the trailer neighboring the rental property was a bit cranky. Well, I was with a group of crime writers, so of course we couldn't resist talking up the potential story lines for a character known as "the Creeper." I conceived of the victim, a woman escaping a messy divorce, and my protagonist, a PA State Trooper. And of course the suspect, a slightly crazy old man known to locals as "the Creeper." And voila! a story was born.

3. What genre does your book come under?

This one is pure crime fiction, a police procedural  (not what I intended to write, but I fell in love with my State Trooper Jim Duncan and my feisty public defender Sally Castle, so I was stuck).

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

Oh, that's easy. Jim Duncan is a younger Mark Harmon, no question. And Sally Castle looks exactly like Angie Harmon. I've known that from the minute the story was finished (as I talk about in a previous post about character love).

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

The Laurel Highlands become anything but idyllic for PA State Trooper Jim Duncan when the body of a young woman is found in a local rental house - but was she the victim of the crazy Creeper or someone else?

6. Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

I'm thrilled to say that the story will appear in the Spring/Summer issue of Mysterical-E, an online crime fiction magazine. Since I have more stories for these characters, I can see an anthology being published someday, probably self-published (since very few markets do reprints for this particular genre/length).

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I think it honestly took longer to plot it out than write it. After the story line and characters coalesced in my mind, I wrote the first draft in maybe 7-10 days.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think it's a pretty standard police procedural story, so maybe LJ Seller's "Detective Jackson" series or maybe Diana Stabenow's "Liam Campbell" series (not that I am comparing myself to either writer - at least not yet!).

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Well, apart from the entry in the guest book, I think I'd have to credit my sibs in the Mary Roberts Rinehard chapter. I've loved reading mysteries for as long as I can remember, and this group of fantastic "sisters" (and "misters") really taught me a lot about how to write and plot crime fiction. And I have to give thanks to Ramona Defelice Long who read an early version of the story, clued me in to the fact that I had unwittingly written a police procedural, and gave me the confidence to keep polishing and submitting it.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Aside from the crime fiction/police procedural aspect, I think anyone who is familiar with the Laurel Highlands, either from pictures or first-hand experience, would enjoy the local references. Turns out there are a lot of good places to find bodies in and around Uniontown. Who knew?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Diving in at Wattpad

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

A couple weeks ago I sat in on a Twitter chat for Author (R)evolution and learned about Wattpad, an online author platform service that allows you to upload excerpts, chat, and connect with readers - that last being extremely important for any author, not just debut ones.

So, today I took the plunge, created an account, and uploaded the first chapter of Power Play: Hero's Sword Volume 1 for reading. You can see everything here.

If you or your tween is a Wattpad member, stop on by. With more books to come in the Hero's Sword series, I'd love to know what you think!

Wattpad logo courtesy of Wattpad.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Blog Posts and News

by Mary Sutton / mary_sutton73

In case you missed it, I had a couple of guest blog posts published on To Be Read Books last week.

On Tuesday, I wrote about my list of books for reluctant readers. With a one kid who is a lukewarm reader at best, I know about trying to find a book to entice those kids who would rather do anything other than read.

On Thursday, I talked about my first adventure in Mallory and how I got into writing Hero's Sword.

If you missed the announcement, I have signed a contract to write the next three books in the Hero's Sword series. In addition, look for my story An Idyllic Place for Murder, the first in the Laurel Highlands Mysteries series in the spring/summer issue of Mysterical-e, an online magazine. See you in Mallory!