Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In The Dark - Reader Questions Answered

Check out the embedded video below for what will hopefully be a series over the next while. I get the occasional question about a specific issue in a book or about how I work and I thought it would be fun to do some short videos to explain bits about the stories or about my writing process. There will be some fun questions and answers but I hope to provide some actual insight too. (Hint: this first one is light on the insight).

Maybe the title of this new feature is absolutely perfect as viewers might be more 'in the dark' after watching, rather than being enlightened.

The first short edition of "In The Dark" has me looking at a question about insights into female characters. Have a look and please feel free to ask a question in the comment area or by Twitter or email (jason @ thefarthestreaches.com) and who knows, maybe I'll be able to give you a personalized video response just like this:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reader Reviews Revisited

While compiling some of my best reader and critical reviews for a new section on this website, my thoughts returned to a previous post about what I think makes a good review. The gist of that post was this: Short reviews are fine for average readers and they can still do a ton to help with the credibility of a book, helping an audience find that book and making the author aware of how they're doing in terms of producing stories people want to read.

Certainly, critics and bloggers need to go a little further than sharing only short, snappy reviews because their readers appreciate having a more robust explanation of why a book was good or not. But readers rule the roost. Most often, in this digital age, a potential reader will happen across a book page on a seller's website and peruse the reader reviews long before they'll stumble across a review at their local newspaper's website or even on a book blog.

I'll highlight a recent reader review of one of my own novels, a short one that I find hits the mark, even though it isn't very long or involved. This one's for my latest novel, THALO BLUE and I felt it captured the spirit of the book, explained why the reader liked it but didn't re-hash any plot for potential spoilers:

You WILL get hooked, and be begging for more...Here is why you should read this book. If you can handle paying attention to detail, and you like a book that's a little complex, you will enjoy this. If you like a story that stays with you throughout the day, nagging at you until you can sneak back to read a bit more..You will LOVE this! If you crave a story you cant figure out two chapters in...Baby, this story will drive you WILD! I think Jason McIntyre is just what you need...what we all need, when taking a break from reality. Thalo Blue, Get it, read it, thank him when you're done. :-)

For me, this is an effective, short, to-the-point review -- aside from the fact that the reader loves the book and that, as its creator, makes me feel like a million dollars. Again, this kind of reader review can be approached in a much different way than a critical review or a blog review because it's done by a reader. There are no rules for this kind of short, snappy, eye-catching review and this reader took the opportunity to have fun with it but still cover a few basic things that potential readers will probably appreciate:

1. It has a title that is more than just the name of the book. This reader wanted to catch other readers' attention and did so.

2. It begins with a very simple invitation to learn more: "Here's why you should read this."

3. It explains how the book will appeal to you IF you like certain things. ie. Complexity, intrigue that pulls you back to keep reading.

4. There is no re-statement of the plot. If this is on a website like Amazon, Sony or Apple's iBookstore, the book will already have a blurb written by the publisher. If it's done well, there's no need for Joe or Jane Reader to even touch plot details.

So, what do you think makes a good reader review? If there's some interest here, I may come back and do another post on blogger reviews and how they can be different and informative without offering spoilers or heaping praise that make it sound like nothing more than the review of a book by the blogger's best friend.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Refreshing the Writing Momentum

We've all been here, in this spot: just starting a new book or other long story. You're finished the 'beginning' part of writing and have a sense of who your main characters are, where they might be going and what's going to befall them. You start with a great idea. You blast off with ten thousand words. Maybe twenty. You don't hit a wall. You're not blocked. But there's fatigue. Maybe life gets in the way. Or maybe the 'doubt monster' starts creeping in about whether this is the story you want to spend the next life of your limited nine on. Whatever the case, you're not in-tune right now. A friend of mine used to call it "out-of-sync". You're still able to squeeze the juice, but it's not as sweet right now.

It's no secret. Keeping writing momentum is difficult. Especially on long projects.

You're anything but losing interest in your characters or the story. But, damn. It's tough. You're working at it every day. This might be a one-hundred-thousand-word story. It might be longer. You might be at it and at it and at it, living inside this world for six months or more. It's a long stretch of time, especially when the landscape of the world outside your window, seems to change on a minute-by-minute basis these days. You need a short break. Plain and simple.

What do I do? I give in. I stop for a while.  I do something else, like hammer out a blog post (yep, that's what I'm doing right now) or I turn my attention to a short story -- something I can draft in a day or two. Then I come back to the longer work -- hopefully refreshed.

Other diversions can offer sanity and hope, too.

I spend some time trying to write an entirely different genre or type of work for a day or two. If I'm in the midst of a big, scary, dramatic thing, maybe I'll use tomorrow's writing time (if I'm lucky enough to have any) on a lighter, travel piece. Or maybe a silly comedy retelling of a dorky road trip I took ten years ago.

Sounds simple enough, right? Just switch gears, do something different. Yes, but easier said than done, in my experience. I get so invested that it's hard to step out of something: writing or otherwise. I want it to be perfect. It takes real courage to step away for a while and not stress that you might lose the mojo. I've lost it before. Most of the time it comes back. Sometimes it doesn't. In those cases, I know that I probably need to adjust the whole project or scrap it completely. Again, this is easier said than done.

For me, though, I need a reprieve from time to time. I need to go for a mental walk...or a literal one. It's usually just the right distance to realize I was on the right track and that I should head back to see what's what it that big ol' world I created.

And, more often than not, I come back and discover that I missed my characters something fierce. Then I have to ask their forgiveness, because, in all likelihood, I might have left them in a dark room or slung over the side of a literary cliff.

Monday, March 7, 2011

On The Gathering Storm // Audiobook is Available!

On The Gathering Storm
by Jason McIntyre
Narrated by Jeffrey Kafer
Running time: 6 hours, 15 minutes

For a sample, or to buy:

SpringBrook Audio

This is a creepy, eerie narration by Jeffrey Kafer. He pulls out all the stops with his performance, giving the characters and the landscape the power and raw, focused clarity they deserve. This production is top quality.

About the Book:
At 29, Hannah Garretty is pursuing her lifelong dream of being a paid photographer. But in a curl of circumstance, she’s snatched from her bohemian life on the island and vanishes into a forest lair where unspeakable things have happened…and will continue to happen.

As Hannah grapples with her captivity and the knowledge bestowed to her by a special gift, we catch glimpse of her past life, before the abduction, through the lens of her childhood on the mainland and the last time she came face to face with her own mortality. The story is visceral and powerful, exploring the duality of our consuming lives versus our feeling lives, our purpose in being, and whether there is a scrap of light in anything as dark as Hannah’s ordeal.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Meaning What You Say; Saying What You Mean

I'm no expert and, quite often, when I craft a story it's much less about craft than it is about feeling. I'm basically a blind man in a room with lots of buttons. I get feedback (a whistle or a buzzer or a bell) when I press the right button at the right time. I get a shock when I press the wrong one a second too late or maybe a little too hard.

But I do know a few 'rules of the road' when it comes to crafting a sentence, a paragraph, a whole story. I was an editor for a number of years and still do it regularly for other writers, in addition to gutting my own work and striving to make it better.

A few minutes of your time is all I'll take to discuss a few small writing tweaks that will, in my humble opinion, make your sentences smoother, more meaningful and waaaaay more powerful when a stranger sits down to read them.

When editing, I try to pick up on the phrases that, at least on the surface, mean something, but underneath, either have a flaw or don't really mean what they're intended to mean. Here are a few examples and my thoughts on them. These are not exact phrases I've found while editing manuscripts from other writers, but they resemble some that I've seen and are used here to illustrate a few of my ideas.

Word choice leads to ambiguity

"Her heart was beating like a hammer."

Uhm. A hammer doesn't beat. It pounds. But it doesn't really beat. Also, what's with the passive verb choice? "Was beating?" I would offer this revision for the above sentence, making it clearer, more correct, and more forceful:

"Her heart pounded like a hammer."

It still borders on cliche, though, so I might suggest finding a different way to say the same thing. Although, in a bestseller on the rack at B&N, this sentence might be the perfect fit. It would come down to knowing your audience. If your audience is a "heart-pounded-like-a-hammer" kind of group, then you might be done and shouldn't mess with it further.

Using bad metaphors when similes would do

"Her hair was oleander blossoms."

Do you mean that her hair smelled like oleander blossoms? Or do you mean it looked like oleander blossoms/ If you mean look, then that's probably a botched trip to the hairdresser. Do I really want to be sorting these things out as I'm reading? It will probably slow down my enjoyment of a passage if I have to think too hard about what is being said and the intended meaning.

Saying things that are wrong, even though they read 'cool'

Now, I've been accused of ratcheting up the metaphors a few times myself. It's the kind of writing I do, and for the most part, my audience enjoys the word portraits I paint. But there are limits and they will slow a reader down more than just conveying action, plot or character.  Metaphors are mood or motif but they are still additive. Unless they are used badly.

Metaphors need to make sense. You can't really say that a "man's skin was leather". That sounds neat, and on the surface, is a striking image. But, unless you are trying something new age or poetic, it's simply not literal. A man's skin is skin. It's not anything else. If it was leather, that would mean he is dead.

Now if he's dead, well, that's a new and interesting angle on the story, but I digress. Maybe you'll see my take on that one in a future tale. Simply put, if he's up and moving around in most fiction, it's really hard to believe that his skin is also leather since leather is, by definition, flesh that is removed, hairless and tanned. Tough to do with a living, breathing character unless we're reading the novelization of "Saw 842".

In this instance, if the writer wants to draw a comparison between a man's flesh and the leather that we, as readers can all picture in our minds, then he has to switch over from metaphor to simile, and say that the flesh was like leather. Or, leathery. Or, even more descriptive, "His skin reminded her of an old leather purse her mom would toss into the passenger seat of their Buick when they went to the store."

That last passage has a bit of heft to it, and can be used to draw in character details and the history of a family moment, but don't go overboard. If you want to keep the pace up, maybe it's just better to say, "His skin was leathery," and keep the action going.

Rounding up: Say what you mean to say, but don't confuse

I suppose my bottom line is, when you're writing an idea, it often sounds perfect in your head, or it sounds like how one might say it out loud. When you say it out loud to someone, they're right with you and can glean your meaning from you as a person, your mannerisms and more. But on the page, they might not have those things to go on. You want as few stumbling blocks between the words and their true meaning as possible.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dispatches From the Farthest Reaches

Busy, busy! Here's an update on what's been going on lately: a couple new interviews, an eerie new book trailer and a surprise.

Creepy Book Trailers Are All the Rage

THALO BLUE, my latest novel is available on Amazon.com, Sony, and Smashwords and will be coming on line at all the other retailers in the coming weeks. Here's the teaser trailer:

I talk with my hands but you can't see that on radio

I recently sat down with Giovanni Gelati for his G-Zone radio program to discuss the writing process, e-book marketing, and polar bears. Yes. I said polar bears.

Okay, NOW you can see me talk with my hands

A week ago I did another interview regarding THALO BLUE with EZread.com, this time on video, and must mention that no little white dogs were harmed in production or post-production. Seriously. She's fine. In fact, she lives in the lap of luxury. And I envy her free time.

On The Gathering Storm: Audio book 

Coming soon is the audiobook version of my debut novel "On The Gathering Storm" narrated by the talented and suitably creepy-sounding Jeffrey Kafer. The audio book will be available at all the biggest retailers on the web very shortly. Watch this website for links to this exciting version of my story when they are available. Here's the new cover art for those of you who salivate over these kinds of things.

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