Happy (Almost) New Year!

After a holiday hiatus, I’m back!

First, a piece of shameless promotion: through Saturday, my book, The Historian, is FREE as an e-book on Amazon! http://www.amazon.com/Historian-Rachel-Bohlen-ebook/dp/B00OZ85SI2/ With this free e-book promotion, the book has jumped to #66 in its subgenre! (Science Fiction – Dystopian) Go check it out, and I hope you like it.

Second, I am absolutely ready for 2014 to be over. Looking back, it was a strange year. I moved to a new place, transferred to a different job, and published my first book, which are great things. But on the other hand, my father passed away, as did a friend of mine. I spent most of 2014 feeling like I was in some sort of haze.

I don’t really want to do a list of New Year’s resolutions. Like most people, I never fulfill them. But I do have general things I’d like to do – I’d like to live my life with a better sense of purpose. I’d like to be healthier (meaning, I know that I need to drink less and eat better). I’d also like to push myself out of my introverted shell more.

And of course, I’d like to write more. I’m proud of myself for how much I wrote during 2014 – in total, across all projects, it was over 110,000 words. For the new year, I started using a great website to track my word count: WordKeeperAlpha. I really love it – and it has charts! I’d highly recommend it to any writer who needs the extra incentive of organization to keep going.

Happy holidays to all, and here’s to a wonderful 2015! If you are doing resolutions, I’d love to hear them (and how you plan to meet them)!

Book Update: Available Now on Kindle

Good news!  My book, The Historian, is now available on Kindle here: http://www.amazon.com/Historian-Rachel-Bohlen-ebook/dp/B00OZ85SI2/.  I’m hoping to have the paperback version available later this week.

I’m trying to balance being proud of myself for developing a finished product and constantly reminding myself that it’s “just” self-published.  No matter what, I’m still proud that I actually finished a book and polished it to the point where it’s acceptable for people to read, but I still find myself correcting my friends when they say congrats on publishing — “It’s just self-published,” I tell them. “Not really published.”  I know that I shouldn’t say that, but I do.

I’ve never been someone who is eager to have other people read my work. This may seem counter-intuitive for someone who claims they want to be a writer, but I think that other writers out there may understand.  Of course, a part of me wants people to read my work (and, I hope, love it), but the potential for harsh criticism has held me back.  That’s even held me back from putting myself out there and telling people that I enjoy writing at all. Creating this blog and my Twitter account were huge steps for me.  Saying to the world, “Hey! I love writing!” gives the world the chance to say, “You? But you’re not good at it,” or, the worst, “But you’re not a real writer because you’re not published by a traditional company.”

My expectations are realistic: this is not going to make me money. I don’t expect to be the next Hugh Howey or A.G. Riddle, those wonderful self-publication success stories.  I just want to be proud of my work, and I want to feel motivated to write more.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying, my book is available, and I’ve been told it doesn’t suck. Hooray!

NaNoWriMo 2014: The Aftermath

Ah, welcome to December.  Normally I’d write something in about cold, dreariness, and snow, but it’s shockingly warm in my part of the world.  November is done, and with it, another wonderful month of NaNoWriMo.  My final count was 56,315, which is less than I wanted (I was hoping for 60K), but better than 50K, so I can’t complain to much.  As I’ve said on here before, I still have a long way to go in the story.

The most recent message from the powers-that-be at NaNoWriMo asked writers the following three questions, and I think it’s a good exercise to actually answer them.

What are you most proud of achieving this month?

I’m proud that I wrote almost every day, and that my daily word count was consistently over 1,667.  Even while I was on vacation, I made time to write.  I think that none of us really have time to do anything–we make time for the things that we prioritize.  I’m proud of myself for sticking to my plan.  I’m also proud of hitting 50K.

What did you learn about yourself as a writer?

Writing non-linearly really helped me this month (thanks Scrivener).  When I got stuck on scenes, instead of forcing myself to write crap, I could just switch to something else.  That’s not something that I used to really allow myself to do.  Part of that was because my brain used to go crazy if I didn’t work linearly.  But using Scrivener helped me make sure that the parts were still organized enough that switching scenes or even complete parts of the story worked out well.

What excites you about this draft of your NaNo-novel?

It’s a LOT different than anything I’ve written previously.  I found myself browsing the Science Fiction forums because I missed writing that kind of story.  This is solidly more in the Fantasy genre.  It’s a challenge, but it’s interesting to see what I can do with this new world and what the characters can do in that world.  There’s something pretty great about being about to tailor the world to whatever it is that I want.  I’m also really excited to see how this story ends.  I had an idea in my head, but now I’m not so sure–there have already been some twists that I wasn’t expecting.

Overall, I definitely think this was a successful November.  Looking forward to continuing my daily word count into December and beyond!

Day 18 – Anybody out there?

Well.  I sort of fell off the blogging world.  Sorry about that.  I have no excuses other than (a) I went on vacation, and (b) I’ve been deep in NaNoWriMo.

It’s Day 18 of NaNoWriMo, and my word count is 37,588.  Pretty good!  I’m proud of myself for getting beyond the minimum word count goal.  That’s the good news.  The bad (?) news is that I’m almost at 40K, and I don’t think I’ve hit the halfway point of my story yet.  I think I’ll definitely be able to hit 50K and “win” NaNoWriMo, but I’m not sure I’ll actually finish the project by the end of November.  That bums me out a little bit.

I did a very rough outline before this month started, and damn, did it help.  Last year I was just sort of floating around in my mind, thinking, “Welllll, now what will happen?”  I never thought outlining would be my thing, but it’s kept me on track.  Plus I’m using Scrivener, which is amazing.  It allows you to write non-linearly, which, again, was never my style, but it’s helped me so much this month.  When I get fed up with one of my two main characters, I just switch to the other one.

I’ve found some surprises this time around.  The basic set-up of my story is that part 1 includes setting up the two MCs, and weird stuff starts happening to them.  In part 2, the MCs unite and end up traveling to the other world.  I haven’t even really hit part 2 yet.  I don’t even know what’s going to happen (for sure) when they get the other world.  This could be a very long project.  I didn’t think it would take me so long to set the characters up, but it turned out that there was a lot that I wanted the reader to know about them before they really embarked on this adventure.  Plus, writing the weird/creepy stuff is fun, so I threw more of that in that I expected.  I also have one secondary character who I wanted to have a bigger role, but he’s turned out to be useless.  In contrast, a secondary character who was going to disappear fairly quickly is actually going to be a critical link.

So, in short – NaNo is awesome, and I like my story, but it’s going to be more of an endeavor than I thought.

Hope all of you participating in NaNo are having a great time!  What have been your accomplishments and challenges?

Days 1 and 2 – NaNoWriMo

It’s official!  November is here!

I stayed up until midnight on the 31st to kick the 1st off right, and so far, I’m off to a strong start – over 5,000 words in the past two days.  I might write a little bit more before I head off to bed tonight.  I’m trying not to applaud myself too much, because I know from last year that these are the easy days.  When the project is fresh and exciting, it’s easier to find the words and the ideas.  I know that soon, I’ll hit that wall of “what do I write now?  what should happen next?”

So far, nothing crazy is happening with my characters – my main character’s mother is a little more intense than I originally planned, and my main character is turning out to be slightly more introverted than I wanted (I tend to write introverts – probably because I am one), so I need to work on that.  Also, found a way to make my prologue creepier than intended – so that’s a win.

I hope everyone is enjoying their writing so far, and I hope you all are meeting your word counts!  Keep typing!

Book recommendation: The Straw Men

Earlier in the summer, I started watching Intruders on BBC America.  It immediately hooked me because (1) Glen Morgan, from The X-Files, is a writer/executive producer on the show, and (2) it was weird.  Like, really weird – I had no idea what was going on for quite awhile.  It was also genuinely creepy – not in the kind of way where something jumps out at you, but an uneasy creepiness that stays with you and pops into your head at 2 a.m.

Anyway, I found out it was based on a book by the same title by a man named Michael Marshall Smith, who also writes as Michael Marshall.  I decided to try this author out by reading The Straw Men.  That was a good decision on my part.

How do I even explain what this book is about?  There are basically two simultaneous primary plotlines:  one follows an FBI agent and a former cop as they try to track down a serial killer whose made his first abduction in years.  The other follows an ex-CIA agent whose parents died suddenly and under mysterious circumstances.  Amazon labels The Straw Men as a thriller, in the categories of “serial killers” and “conspiracies.”  It’s so much more than that.  Like Intruders, there is a subplot lurking under each of the main storylines that just makes you feel uneasy.  When everything comes together at the end, it’s wonderful.  More than that, I was impressed at the depth of the characters.  I love psychological thrillers and crime dramas, but let’s be honest – characters tend to be somewhat cliched and often fairly shallow.  This book was different.  By the end of it, I wanted to know what happened next in the plot, but I also just wanted to keep following these characters around.

Luckily, Mr. Marshall wrote two more books in the Straw Men series, so that will be my next endeavor.

If you’re interested, you can buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/Straw-Men-Michael-Marshall/dp/0515134279.  Highly recommend.

Tackling writing distractions, part 1 – Other lingering ideas

Well, we are down to less than a week until NaNoWriMo! I think I’m going to stay up on Friday night and churn out some words at soon as the clock hits midnight (I know, I know – nerd alert). I’ve been less than enthusiastic about this upcoming month for a few reasons – delays in the self-publishing of my first book, getting a serious cold/infection that put me out of commission for awhile, etc. So, I’m trying to stay positive. One thing I’m definitely concerned about is handling distractions.

As weird as this might sound, I get easily distracted by other story ideas. I often have a few projects in process, and when I get bored with one, I’ll switch to another. I don’t want to do that during November, because I think it’s important to devote all my time to the NaNoWriMo project. But I already know that my other 4 outstanding projects are going to be lingering in the back of my mind, insisting that I write them.

I also get distracted by new ideas. New ideas pop up everywhere, and I love the process of developing an idea. Sometimes I think I like it better than actually writing, which is why I probably take so long to finish stories.

But not this month, fellow writers! This month, I’m vowing that I won’t let undeveloped, unwritten ideas distract me from completing my project. If an idea won’t go away, I’m going to write it down in my notebook, label it “December,” and put it away. Likewise, if I get an idea for a scene in an existing project, I’ll outline it in a few words and put it away.

What about you? What things distract you from finishing projects? And more importantly, how do we stop that?

Horror movies and the fear of the unknown

We’re nearing the end of October, and in addition to nearing the beginning of NaNoWriMo, we’re also getting closer to Halloween.  I love Halloween–if it were up to me, I would spend all day on Halloween eating candy and watching horror movies (unfortunately, work gets in the way this year).  I l’ve had an unhealthy love for horror movies since age 11.  Around that time, the movie Scream came out, and I watched it, despite the fact that I was way too young to see that movie.  It terrified me, but it also fascinated me.  I became obsessed with what scared people.  In fact, the first thing I remember writing to completion was a terrible yet awesome screenplay about a serial killer in the middle of nowhere.  I say “remember writing” because I can’t find any record of it on my computer – I probably deleted it during angry teenage years.  But I did find my second complete writing project, which was another screenplay, but this was more in the horror/comedy genre (think more Cabin in the Woods than Nightmare on Elm Street).

Wes Craven is quoted as saying, “Horror films don’t create fear. They release it.”  I think he’s right, and I think there’s something very interesting about the underlying reasons why we watch horror.  Why do we like being scared?  It’s an adrenaline rush, forcing our minds to enter the fight or flight stage without any real sense of danger.  We can live vicariously through the hero’s fear and accomplishments, imagining ourselves in the central role, finally defeating evil.

And in addition to why we want to be scared, I think it’s interesting to examine what scares us.  I’m particularly thinking about this lately because of my upcoming project.  What is scary?  What truly terrifies us?  I’m not a huge fan of the recent torture porn genre (Saw, Human Centipede, etc), because these movies focus on shock value.  It’s not necessarily scary when Jigsaw sets up his latest puzzle – it’s just disgusting.  When we compare these more recent movies to classic horror movies–I’m thinking, for example, Halloween, Alien (and yes, this is a horror movie), The Thing, The Shining–there’s clearly something missing from the new crop.  In the classic movies, the biggest fear comes from the unknown.  In Halloween, there’s no explanation for what Michael Myers does what he does.  He’s just evil.  Where did the xenomorph come from?  Who knows.  Likewise, where did The Thing come from?  When Jack and Danny see things in the hotel, are they ghosts?  Is the hotel causing a hallucination?

Contrast that again with Saw – we don’t need to know Jigsaw’s back story to make the story better.  I would argue that it weakens the story’s impact.  Jigsaw goes from being an unknown entity to just being a really weird dude who once had a tumor.  Once the audience knows that, it lowers his status as a villain.  Again, compare with Michael Myers – what is he?  What is Jason?  Are they human?  Supernatural?  Just evil?  The lingering question is what haunts our nightmares.

The original Alien movies led to a discussion among fans about the origin of the xenomorphs.  Fans debated and theorized what was really going on with the “space jockey” on the crashed ship.  What was he doing with the eggs?  Were they weapons?  When it was first announced that Ridley Scott was making Prometheus, a quasi-prequel, fans, myself included, went crazy.  “Finally,” we shouted, “maybe some answers!”  But it turned out that the story in Prometheus didn’t satisfy a lot of fans.  It didn’t present a true origin story, and what answers it did provide were embedded in a story with a lot of holes (sidenote: I actually liked Prometheus and found it incredibly entertaining, but I understand its faults).  The take-away?  Again, sometimes giving audiences more back-story/answers doesn’t serve the ultimate story (another sidenote: I’m sure R. Scott would argue that Prometheus isn’t necessarily supposed to further the ultimate story of the Alien universe, but come on, man, you had a xenomorph burst out of an engineer at the end of the movie).

Today, a lot of movies and novels answer questions that nobody even asked. I think that when we’re writing, we should ask ourselves why we’re giving the audience answers.  Do they need the answers to further the story?  Could we withhold the answers and keep more mystery?  And is the answer one that the audience deserves?

What do you think about answering/not answering audience questions?  Do you think I’m completely off-base about recent horror movies?