Thursday, August 28, 2014

We've all heard of method acting, where actors live and breathe the characters they play for the duration of filming, even when the lights and cameras are off. But what about method writing? Does such a thing exist?

Allow me to answer that with a story.

A story about johnnycakes.

Mormon Johnnycakes, to be exact.

For those who do not know what a Mormon Johnnycake is, it's basically dense, sugarless cornbread. And not the fluffy kind either, more flatbread-esque. Quick trivia: this particular variety received the name "Mormon" because many Mormons traveling west in the nineteenth-century would partake of johnnycakes on the trail, as long as they had a source of fresh buttermilk to use in cooking. The food was, of course, not exclusive to them, but rather originated with the Native Americans. As for why it's called a johnnycake, there's some disagreement on the etymology. One camp says it was African American slang for an Indian corn cake; others think it's derived from Shawnee cake.

No crazy writers were harmed in the taking of this photo.
Now, being that I am currently writing a novel set in the American Old West, I've been rather obsessed with all things relating to that time period. I've read books, listened to music from that era (allow me to recommend this rendition of The Old Chisholm Trail; you're welcome for that ear worm), received a replica Marshal's badge for a gift, and even bought a hat (seen: right). Because of course.

What can I say? When I commit to learning about a historical time period, I commit. (I also end up watching a lot of Hell on Wheels and Deadwood but I digress.)

Add to my obsession with the Old West my newly discovered love of baking and you have a recipe for... well, food. I thought it would be fun to try to make something that my main character would have ostensibly eaten while out and about, and settled on the johnnycakes since they seemed relatively simple to make. And they were.

Mormon Johnnycakes, as made by me
Unfortunately, they also tasted terrible. Well. Terrible is a strong word. They were edible. With butter. A lot of butter. To be fair, I have a rather... let us say, distinguishing palette. So they were probably fine, and I was just being picky. But still. I am not a pioneer. I am spoiled by modern day preservatives and corn syrup. Sweet, sweet corn syrup.

Which brings me back to the title and topic of this blog post. Method writing.

When I get really into a story, I like to get to know my main characters as best as possible. I get intimate with them (not like that, get your mind out of the gutter), trying to understand their every facet and what makes them tick. Sometimes this close empathy bleeds over into real life, either inspiring fashion choices or prompting me to bake horrible cornbread. But this is one of the things I enjoy most about writing: the opportunity to experience things I wouldn't normally experience. Feel things I wouldn't normally feel. Think about the world in a slightly different way. And be grateful I don't have to subsist on johnnycakes (my MC is much tougher than I am!).

I don't ever go as deep as most method actors, thankfully. I'd probably lose my marbles, and they're in short enough supply as is, but getting to take my story/characters into the real world with me even in such a small way is great fun, and I like to think it also helps me add authenticity to my writing when I finally return to my own fictional nook.

How about you? Do you indulge in any kind of method writing? Do you find your characters' likes, dislikes, or habits ever bleeding over into your own?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pitch Wars: Ask Me Anything!

Today I'm doing an AMA (ask me anything) as a part of Pitch Wars, courtesy of E. G. Moore who tagged me. Go check out hers, if you haven't already!

For those who don't know what Pitch Wars is, it is an amazing contest that will make your writerly heart soar with hope (yes, breathe in the fresh air of possibility, there you go) and also probably inspire a bad Twitter habit. You may also experience some nervousness, doubt, and resort to baking in order to avoid stalking your potential mentors' feeds. What? Just me? Okay then.

(All kidding aside, here is a link to the page that describes it in a more concrete way. It really is a great opportunity to not only improve your manuscript, but also network with other writers who are experiencing the same highs and lows as you on this crazy publishing journey.)

Now onto the questions!

@Eris0303 asks: What is the one thing you absolutely cannot leave your house without?

Boring answer: Keys, cellphone, wallet, the usual stuff one might carry in one's purse

Slightly more writerly answer: While I tend to take spur-of-the-moment notes on my phone, I still like to carry a small moleskine and pencil/pen with me whenever I leave the house, just in case technology fails me. There's nothing worse than being caught out and about by an excellent piece of dialogue or story idea and having no way to record and preserve it for later!

Weird answer: An extra pair of socks. Wait wait, hear me out! The reasons for this are twofold. First, have you ever gone to an amusement park and been on a log ride and gotten your socks wet? I am pretty sure there is a circle of Hell that simply consists of being stuck in wet socks forever. An extra pair of dry socks solves this problem (mostly; if the inside of your shoes are wet, I'm sorry, may God have mercy on your soul). Second, I suffer from a condition called Raynaud's Phenomenon which sounds a lot cooler than it is. Basically, I have poor circulation, so my feet are constantly cold if I'm not actively exercising. I bring socks with me to slip on at a friend's place, if I've left the house in flip-flops or some such.

@AmyKiddAuthor asks: How will you celebrate if you are chosen for #PitchWars mentee or alternate?

Good question! I'll probably jump up and down, shouting "YES YES" in a totally uninhibited and slightly less than dignified manner. Then I'll text one of my best friends (who coincidentally is also participating and I hope also gets a mentor!) and let her know, because we're in this together. Victory for one, victory for all!

And then I'll probably play this song to psyche myself up for the revisions.

@raballard asks: What advice can you give those who aren't chosen by a mentor?

First off, I know a lot of mentors themselves have said this, but I feel it's worth repeating: it's not personal. Just as with querying, it's highly subjective. There may be nothing at all wrong with your story; it's just a matter of taste. The right person for your work is out there. Believe in that, and keep going.

Second, if you haven't already, get back to writing ASAP. Rejection in any form stings, and the best salve I've found is to keep writing. Keep working at it. Try to find your weak spots (we all have them) and see what you can do to improve them. Struggle with plot? Read a book on narrative structure. Have difficulties getting your dialogue to sound true? Try writing a scene that is only dialogue and then read it aloud, listening for any artificiality. Study and learn and improve, and be forgiving toward yourself. Writing is a lifelong effort, not some imaginary summit you reach only once you're published. We are all Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill; you can either let it crush you, or build some literary muscle along the way.

@ChadTastic92 asks: What, to you, is the most important aspect of world building for a sci-fi or fantasy story?

Verisimilitude. For me, it's the little things in a world that draw me in and suspend my disbelief. Petty annoyances, attitudes, or whatever is considered a mundane occurrence in that world can say a lot about it. Stacking these small details on top of one another provides a relatable sense of the world. Big, grandiose settings are great, but you'll lose me if the characters don't behave in a way that is sensible to their environment. More specifically, I particularly love seeing how religion and myth are handled in sci-fi and fantasy, since the presence or absence of religion has such a major impact on our own world, and can profoundly change who a person is and how they behave. For better or worse.

And lastly, I think language (such as slang, profanity, and the characters' daily vernacular) also plays a large role in convincing me of a fictional world. If your characters are speaking in a modern way, I'm not going to believe it takes place in a pseudo-Medieval or Renaissance setting.

@ELWicker asks: Regardless of the outcome, what do you feel you will take away from the #PitchWars experience?

Oh, man. So much. So, so much. One of the biggest things Pitch Wars has given me is the confidence to open up and talk with other people, even virtual strangers! For a long time, I've wanted to get more involved with the online writing community and connect to other writers, but I was frustrated by how. Overwhelmed. I didn't know where to start, and I didn't realize just how vast the writing community was on Twitter, particularly. Pitch Wars provided the perfect springboard into this wonderful pool of brave and determined writers. My kind of people!

The other thing I will take away from Pitch Wars is the necessity of overcoming fear and self-doubt. Of beating down that ugly voice in your head that says, this is worthless and no one will ever want to read it and you're kidding yourself if you think YOU can be an author. Pitch Wars gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get back out there and fight for my novel, fight for the chance to share myself and my work with the world.

Because my novel isn't worthless.

Someone out there is going to love it.

I'm not kidding myself about becoming an author.

And if you share this attitude, then you're my kind of people, too!


Hope you all enjoyed that! And now I tag @AmyKiddAuthor! You're on deck for #PitchWarsAMA! Let me know when you post your answers, I'd love to see them! :)

New blog!

The act of starting a new blog is always exciting. I can tell you this because this is my second time creating one and so obviously that makes me an expert on the matter. Obviously. A new blog is so shiny and clean and full of potential. Kind of like beginning a new novel. The world is your oyster. Crack that sucker open. Or something. I'm not sure where I was going with this analogy.

But writing a blog also makes me nervous. Will I have anything interesting to say? Will anyone want to listen? Am I just shouting into the void? HELLO IS ANYBODY THERE HELLO? YES I'D LIKE TO TELL YOU SOME THINGS

But you know what? That's okay. Because I'm a writer. And writers write. Also, we tend to have some experience with writing in a vacuum, without an audience. John Green once compared the act of writing a novel to a lengthy game of Marco Polo, where you spend a large amount of time going "Marco Marco Marco" all by yourself in your room, hard at work on a piece of fiction, writing and rewriting and editing and (let's be honest) suffering, until finally... one day in the future, a reader gets a hold of your work. And they reply, "Polo."

That's what it's about, in the end, isn't it? Connecting to a reader. Connecting, period.

I hope with this blog I can connect to all you readers and writers out there in the wild blue yonder of the internet! I hope we will become great friends.

I hope, one day very soon, when I call MARCO, you will answer "Polo."

(And I'll try not to lead you into the edge of the pool when it's my turn. Agreed?)