Real Talk, Growing As A Writer

Okay, real talk here.

After reading over my first draft of the Alliance #3, I went back to book one to fact check a few things for consistency. I cringed when I read parts of Bloodlines. I won’t say it’s terrible, but it’s my first book and will never be my best. I’m still proud. And, hey, the reviews are strong so people are still enjoying the story despite the imperfections!

When I decided to get serious about writing the Alliance, I was straight out of high school with little understanding of sentence structure. Sad and surprising, I know. I had an imagination and could be descriptive, but I never really learned or retained all the rules of writing. I pretty much struggled throughout high school. I scraped by with low grades, and honestly, I copied off a friend’s paper when I got too behind. I cheated myself out of learning because I felt I couldn’t catch up. I absolutely didn’t learn well in classroom environments.

I slowly improved my writing with the help of some grammar savvy friends. Plus, I read a lot and just paid closer attention to the way other authors wrote. I did my research and got critiques were I could. I kept learning. I’m still learning. I think that’s an important thing to remember regardless of what you’re trying to achieve in life. Never stop learning.

Almost every author I’ve ever loved and followed has said that the first book you write will be crap, so I already knew I couldn’t expect Bloodlines to be perfect. Regardless, I was still shocked at weak description and poor structure.

I’ve learned so much since writing my first novel. My structure has improved and my descriptions are stronger. Drakon is much improved, and I think book three will surpass them all. Hell, the first draft of book three is stronger than the final draft of Bloodlines.

It’s amazing what you can achieve if you don’t give up.

If you read Bloodlines I hope you enjoyed and will give Drakon a chance. The Alliance sequels may surprise you. Click here to see what readers are saying about The Alliance: Bloodlines on Amazon.

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The Lack of Diversity in Comics and Who Gets It Right?

I grew up reading comics littered with straight, white characters—predominantly male heroes. The biggest diversity I can remember was seeing Storm and Bishop in X-men comics. The lack of diversity in literature definitely hasn’t helped the world’s struggle for equality. People need to see and read about the lives of all people and cultures and not succumb to one majority. I think by now many of us have learned that fear is created by what we do not understand, and how do we understand the marginalized groups if no one will give them a voice?

In fact, I personally struggled with this as a young adult because I lived in southern state crammed with religion and homophobia—a typical haven for “White America.” So I fought myself for years before I accepted my sexuality. The 90s weren’t nearly as diverse as 2016, and yet we still have so far left to go on the road to equality. So reading books and comics with those straight, white, male protagonists didn’t help my struggle because there was so much hate towards the LGBTQIA community and our voices weren’t recognized.

Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the first show I saw properly recognize LGBTQ characters, but we were still nowhere to be found in any literature I was reading.

So as I discovered Brian K. Vaughan’s comics as an adult, I was quite pleased to find much more authentic diversity. He wrote strong female characters, provided racial diversity, and gave me the LGBTQ characters no one else seemed to be writing. Hell, BKV was writing sundry characters before everyone else realized it was the right thing to do.

My heart melted when I discovered Karolina Dean’s sexuality in Runaways and followed her journeys through romance. She was the character I needed in comics when I was younger. She’s the character many LGBTQ readers needed. The entire Runaways series offered a diverse team with characters such as Alex Wilder as an African-American, Nico Minoru who is a Japanese-American, and Xavin who served as a gender fluid shapeshifter.

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Marvel comic series created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona.

Just like Runaways, Y: The Last Man stands as one of my all-time favorite comic series. The series might revolve around Yorick Brown, who is dubbed the “Last Man on Earth,” but my favorite characters were Agent 355, who was an African-American badass and Dr. Allison Mann, who was of Chinese-Japanese decent and also an awesome LGBTQ character. Honestly, Y: The Last Man had several same sex relationships, and I felt the entire series authentically depicted the craziness and diversity of society thrown into chaos when almost the entire male population dies off.

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Vertigo Comics series created by Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra. Cover by J.G. Jones.

 

Combine diversity with BKV’s witty dialogue—best compared to Joss Whedon’s writing style—and it’s easy to see why two of my all-time favorite comic book series are Brian K. Vaughan creations. BVK has earned several awards for his creations, including Saga and Ex Machina.

I look forward to reading the next BKV creation because I believe he will continue to create the authentic and diverse worlds more in tune with reality than many other stories offer. We must further diversify our stories if we wish to do break down the barriers which still prevent equality.

The Music That Fueled The Alliance Part 1

Some writers prefer quiet and solitude while they write, but I enjoy music for added inspiration. I turn on a playlist at various stages of the writing process. For the brainstorming and early drafts, I do enjoy songs I’ve collected which fit the mood of my current WIP. So, as I continue to hammer out the first draft of the third Alliance novel, I thought I would share the music which played while writing the first two novels. Kicking things off with The Alliance: Bloodlines inspirational music, I’m listening to this playlist as I write this post with all the nostalgic feels.

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The Alliance: Bloodlines playlist:

“End of the World” by Cold

“My Letter” by Flaw

“Strong” by Flaw

“I Hate Everything About You” by Three Days Grace

“Never Too Late” by Three Days Grace

“Animal I Have Become” by Three Days Grace

“Hero” by Skillet

“Monster” by Skillet

“Awake and Alive” by Skillet

“Take Me” by Papa Roach

“Scars” by Papa Roach

“Black Clouds” by Papa Roach

“So Far Away” by Staind

“Fade” by Staind

“Forget to Remember” by Mudvanye

“Becoming the Bull” by Atreyu

“Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed

“Bodies” by Drowning Pool

“Somewhere I Belong” by Linkin Park

“Numb” by Linkin Park

“So Cold” by Breaking Benjamin

 

There were probably more songs than what shows on this list, but these tracks are what remains of the original Alliance playlist. The rest of the songs are for the Drakon playlist which i’ll post next week.

 

 

Don’t Be Scared to Change Your Story

I decided to re-write the first chapter of Sacrifice because it’s the only section of the book I’ve been unhappy with. I always grimace when I have to provide that section for queries. Every time I submit to an agent I catch myself saying, “Ugh this isn’t the best part.” Well why isn’t it? Why would I keep an opener that isn’t strong enough to be a good selling point? If i’m not fully happy with the first chapter, why would I expect an agent to enjoy it?

Trust your instincts and don’t be stubborn with your drafts.

If something feels wrong or weak, you can always get another opinion or test a different scenario out.

Ask yourself questions. How could this part be more interesting? What is the weakest part? Is it the dialogue? Are the first few lines not catchy enough?

For Sacrifice, I asked myself what I thought was weak about the first chapter. I asked myself what parts worked and what parts weren’t helping the flow of the story. I came to the conclusion that I had all the information I needed to convey, but I needed to change my execution. I brainstormed different ways I could change the first chapter to better introduce my character. I decided to keep important dialogue bits, but i’m completely changing the setting. Instead of a boring phone conversation, my main character will be on the job and battling a supernatural creature. I’m currently testing different creatures and settings for this particular supernatural encounter.

So remember, don’t be scared to go back and make further revisions to your story. If something isn’t working, it’s best to improve the areas before making the plunge into queries. Sometimes I think we mentally tell ourselves the manuscript is done because we want the story to be finished, but not always when it’s actually a polished final draft. I wish I had thought to fix my “final draft” sooner. Lesson learned. (;

Writing Tip: Play 21 Questions with Characters

I like to play a little game when new characters pop into my head for a story. Maybe you’ve done something similar with a new friend or romantic interest. I play a game of 21 Questions, but the game doesn’t always require a total of twenty-one. Using more or less questions, you can get to know the characters living inside your head.

Here are 15 fun questions I’ve used, and hopefully you can use these suggestions to inspire even more.

1. How old is he/she and what’s the maturity level?

2. Where did he/she grow up? (Is your character a city loving NYC native? Or from a military family and relocated a lot?)

3. What kind of childhood did he/she experience?

4. What words would you use to describe him/her? (loud, fun, sloppy, clumsy, hermit?)

5. If this was a love interest, what kind of emotional baggage would he/she confess?

6. Biggest fear? (Zombies? Commitment? Heights?)

7. What are his/her strengths and weaknesses?

8. What secrets would he/she keep from friends and family?

9. What are his/her passions? (Art lover? Looking to save the environment?)

10. Favorite food?

11. Optimist or pessimist?

12. Preferred style of clothing? (Casual dresser, dapper suits, or high maintenance always in heels?)

13. If your character could have lunch with one celebrity dead or alive, who might they choose?

14. If your character showed up at a party, how would he/she act? (Would they be the life of the party? Looking for a hook up? Sitting in a corner hiding?)

15. If he/she could travel anywhere in the world, (or perhaps even out of this world) where would he/she choose?

Hopefully these questions helped someone further develop their characters, and feel free to share other questions which might be fitting. I would also recommend keeping character Q&As on file with any other bios or notes you might use.