Author Archives: Ace Jordyn

It was disgusting ….

It was disgusting. I don’t usually mind going to hear a once popular band, a relic from the rock “n roll era. I mean you’ve got to give these guys credit. Some have fallen from grace, face first, some withered away when music changed, while others simply went on to do different things. Some of the come backs have been less than stellar while others, despite their aging voices do a fabulous job.

This last come back dream should have been classed as a nightmare. The bass player, the only one who could hold a beat, competed with the drummer whose tinny cymbals accented the pitchy lead singer who was drowned out by the cacophony of screams forming the background vocals. And to think I paid to see them! I never want to imagine that I could ever disappoint anyone, let alone a total stranger, so badly …

So, how do you know if your writing is good enough to put out there? Where is the honest feedback? When do you abandon the dream? How hard do you need to work to make it good?

Traditionally, poets, novelists and short story writers have relied on the feedback from publishers (aka the dreaded rejection) to know if their writing is acceptable. Workshops, classes, writing and critique groups are all good sources for feedback – honest feedback which lessens the chances for rejection. Yet, I read that popular novel The Help was rejected 60 times (and had sold the movie rights) before it found a publisher. Go figure ….

Then there’s indie publishing. Scares the bejeepers out of me. Why? Because so many neophytes remind me of the comeback bands. They don’t know what’s good or bad. At least the come-back bands have an established following to prey upon. Aspiring writers don’t. Some writers have ventured forth on their own and have done well. Others have failed miserably.

Failing because marketing, promotion and distribution are tough things to handle for creative spirits is understandable and eventually can be overcome. Learn to do it yourself, join a writers marketing cooperative, find a small publisher to increase your chances, we can do whatever it takes to get our books out there. But, what if it’s because the writing wasn’t quite there? It’s critical to find people who know what they’re looking for, who can help with plot holes, logic gaps, grammar, etc. Find those people. Even traditional publishers, due to staffing, time and money constraints, want only the best written work.

And it’s the failures which concern me.

So whether you’ll be self publishing or approaching a traditional publisher, take the time to get it right. Time is on your side. A reputation for poor work is never on your side.

Oh and the comeback group, who shall remain nameless, announced they were laying the last track on a new CD. Seriously? After the bomb dropped, they expect me to trust their artistic sensibilities? Never.

So all I can say is, when I decide whether I self publish or woo a traditional publisher, my work will have survived feedback that I can trust. If I ever put a product out there that isn’t well crafted I don’t expect readers to give me a second chance. Publishers either, for that matter. I will only send out my best revised work because when you’re starting out, you have nothing to fall back on. No one to say I’ve seen her do it better.

Your record stands for itself – and if it’s your first shot, make it the best otherwise, that’s all there’ll be!

And the winner is …..

And the winner is ….

Not you!

What happened? You’ve worked on your craft for tens of thousands, hundreds of hundred thousand words. You’ve gone to workshops, read every blog, every book on craft you can find. By now you know what the pros say and you can teach the writing courses just as well. And yet, the podium still eludes you.

Then there’s Writer X gracing the podium. Her writing isn’t as crisp. Her wrinkles of profound thought aren’t as deep. And she’s much newer at the game. So why was her work chosen over yours?

As co-editor of the Shanghai Steam Anthology, I’ve had to read well crafted and poorly crafted stories. Some writers had great ideas but needed to hone their writing skills. Others wrote prose well enough but the story lacked tension, the story arc was incomplete, the dialogue didn’t work, it lacked theme/focus or the historical homework wasn’t done.

Then there were the stories which survived the first round of cuts. Those which had that extra something. Some would need some revision, others editing while the best ones required no work.

What!!!!!! you exclaim. Some needing revision are in the final round? What about the ones with the well crafted prose that you denied? Why weren’t they chosen for editorial revision?

The answer is simple – besides being decently written, these stories are memorable. Despite their flaws, I was engaged to the end. Every story in the last round evokes an emotional response whether it’s of laughter, amusement, bitter sweetness, feeling defeated, cheering a hero, being horrified, melancholy, elation, and so on. It may be quietly engaging as in a romantic tragedy or a simple rendering of a thought provoking moment.

The emotional response I’m describing is not about liking or disliking a character. It’s about the story itself. Am I left feeling optimistic, laughing, amused by the clever turn of events or am I saddened, horrified, forced to reflect on the human condition? And does that story stay with me long after I’ve read it? Does it have emotional resonance?

The story, like every character in it, has its own voice – its own drama, its own growth, its own ability to draw readers in and not let them go. That voice carries the story’s emotional resonance which is framed by the promise made at its beginning and is concluded or addressed by the end.

We understand that the story arc is an important backbone for a story with a beginning, middle and end which includes challenges, climax and denouement. Characters cleverly doing their thing without purpose or meaning is not enough. How do you want the reader to understand the world you’ve created when the story is done? How do you want him to feel? Happy? Sad? Thoughtful? Hopeful? Depressed? Scared to death? Satisfied for running a marathon? Cheering that the good guy beat the bad guy?

Once you understand what emotions you want the reader to experience, your writing voice will be clear and the story’s emotional resonance will reflect that. Emotionally, the reader is compelled to read the story through to its bitter, joyful, triumphant, tragic or thoughtful end. You don’t want them feeling emotionally flat and wondering so what?

 Good writing counts for a lot in submissions for contests, anthologies or publishing. But no matter how well crafted the words are, how strong the plot and characters appear to be, without emotional resonance the story isn’t memorable. It’s the little aha! I get it! or what a ride! feeling a reader experiences that makes it memorable. That aha! may be a good chortle, a reflective moment, celebration of the protagonist’s victory or grumping at a character’s stubbornness. Whatever the aha! is, every reader craves it and every story needs it to be memorable.

 Now when you revise and edit your work or when others critique it for you, ask them: How does the story make you feel?, Does it stay with you after you’ve finished it?, If you had strong feelings about the story, tell me why. If not, what does it need/why does it feel flat to you? These are hard questions to ask and answer but knowing this will take your story to the next level and make it resonate with readers.

8 Things to Keep You Writing

You are a writer – whether you write something every day or not doesn’t change what’s in your soul. Deny it all you want. Procrastinate, make excuses, let life control your agenda, but deep down inside you know you’re driven to write because for you every written word is oxygen. Denying yourself oxygen is silly, even stupid, because to do so kills you. So here are eight things to do to keep you writing:

1) expect to rewrite

Perfect prose isn’t achieved with the first tapping of the keys. Good writing is complicated and may take a few tries to get all the aspects right and that includes things like grammar, the plot, character motivation, character interaction, voice, point of view and the hook. Writing is a creative process and creativity evolves and grows. Nothing is ever perfect the first time so get over it and write!

2) don’t get frustrated by your responsibilities

Family and work are responsibilities we all must honour. On that ride to work dictate your thoughts to a recorder. Go to work a half hour earlier and spend that extra time writing – every word counts! Don’t watch TV to relax after the kids have gone to bed – read a book (that’s research), work on your story or write a blog. And when the kids are doing their homework, do yours! There are days and months when demands are high and you can’t write but that’s not a reason to totally abandon your passion!

3) set goals and celebrate

Set realistic goals. 50 words a day, a week? Research and brainstorming for a month? Meet the deadline for a workshop or submission. Goals can be a moving target and that can be frustrating. But no goal means nothing to strive for and nothing will be achieved. Always celebrate when you reach a goal be it small or large. You’ve done something no one else has and that’s worth celebrating!

4) write what moves you

Don’t put off writing the novel because you’ve heard there are more markets for short stories. Don’t limit yourself to a novel when it’s a trilogy you want to write. And, write what moves you. If it’s the current popular fiction which sparks you, write that. If it’s something way out there, write it. If you’re not passionate about your story, the reader won’t be either.

5) don’t worry about the publishing industry

If you have a finished product, research the options for selling your work. BUT, if you’re still working on the first draft, don’t worry about it. The industry is changing and what you figure out today may not apply tomorrow. So write now. Worry later.

6) conquer your fears

Fear of failure, fear of sounding stupid, fear of being criticized because you’ve put your heart and soul into your creation and someone may not like it. Everyone has an opinion (including you) and it’s valid. For whatever reason, a publisher may not want your first book but that doesn’t mean it’s not publishable. Sometimes it’s the second or third book which gets published first and then the rest follow.

7) keep learning your craft

Expressing our creativity is a lifelong learning skill – that’s what makes it so exciting! Every time we learn another trick to hook and keep the reader, we’re closer to achieving our goal. Every new piece of information on craft, background research, on the publishing industry keeps our grey cells spinning and the oxygen flowing.

 8) love the kid in yourself

Sounds corny, I know. But remember, we’re just grown up kids with responsibilities. Using our magnified lenses called imagination and twisting our heads this way and that, we writers explore our world with wonder and excitement – just like kids do. And we have a fantastic tool, the written word, to relay that wonder to the rest of the world. So cherish that kid inside and let your imagination build those new and wonderful worlds.

And most importantly, have fun! Creating new worlds and sharing them with readers is the greatest fun any of us can ever have!

Keep writing!

My Alien Being

I’m sitting on the beach in Essouira, Morocco. No bikinis dot the Sahara-red sand. There’s just kids playing soccer, tourists declining barkers carrying silver trays of delicate sweets rebaked in the afternoon sun and camels carrying giddy riders through sea side dunes. Surf’s high – so high the pulsing ocean is blood red with a ribbon of frothing foam and the sea monster’s mouth snaps shut on the shore. A shard of light spears roiling storm clouds. Awestruck, I gape, ignoring the stinging sand in my eyes and the salty spray turning my hair prematurely white. I want to fall to my knees in reverence knowing that if I wasn’t a child of science, this moment would be my moment of truth because I’ve seen the Angel. From this point forward, my writing would no longer be of fantasy but of prophecy and revelation.

Walking through the Medina, with store keepers cooing enticements of shared tea or special deals for pretty women or special Berber massages, I’m reminded that I’m not simply the observer, I’m the alien being observed. No matter how modestly I’m dressed, how respectful I’m being, I’m still a foreigner in a country where I don’t speak the main language. And I love it. I laugh at the offers, banter with the best all the while noting my reactions and theirs. But then I’ve had enough. Enough of the smells of sweet spices teasing my nostrils which have just been assaulted by heaps of raw fish. Enough of chickens squawking while docile rabbits nibble grass in the butcher’s stall. Enough of brightly colored linens carefully displayed, leather goods spilling into the street, metal workers hammering out bowls. Enough of watching the ebb and flow of tourists pushing, vendors enticing and arms desperately flailing about to secure a good deal.

Alienness overload. That’s what this is.

Somewhere deep inside, we all try to understand the alien within ourselves otherwise, we wouldn’t be writing fantasy. But writing is a safe way to practice the alien experience vicariously through the new worlds we’ve built, through plot twists and every character’s angst. Sometimes it’s too safe and our writing suffers for it. When we’re too familiar with something, we lose the rawness of wonder. We need to remember that rawness, that excitement and fear when our character enters a new world. We can’t let our familiarity overshadow the character’s experience.

That’s why I like to travel to countries where I don’t understand the language and the customs are totally new. It’s raw. It’s exciting. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. But always, it reminds me that my characters have their own points of view about the world they’re experiencing. I know that when something so familiar to others is so new to me. It’s safe but it isn’t. It’s fun but it’s scary. It’s awesome and it’s overwhelming. Those feelings are what I must hold on to because my characters can never be as comfortable as I am about the new world I’ve created for them.

I am their interpreter. Bringing their experiences to life on the page. Finding that raw edge, the vulnerability that makes them spin out of control or struggle for control in the alien landscape. I challenge them by committing the cultural faux pas which forces them to take desperate actions to survive.

Understanding the alien within never gets any easier – it only gets more exciting. Our need for belonging and security heightens our awareness yet when those needs are our memories of alienness drift away. So I travel the roads unknown taking care to note the alien nature, the creeping comfort of familiarity and to translate that to the written word. Somewhere in those gems of observations are not only the feelings my characters will have, but the sparks of ingenuity for inspiring deeper, richer worlds where angel swords pierce the heart, sea monsters snatch unwitting victims from the shore and someone falls in love with the alien.