Author Archives: Kristin Luna

About Kristin Luna

Kristin Luna has been making up stories and getting in trouble for them since elementary school. She especially loves young adult literature, fantasy, Nic Cage, literary fiction, magical realism, and wouldn’t even be opposed to reading yeti erotica. She has written book reviews for Urban Fantasy Magazine, writes for this very blog your eyes are glued to at this very moment, and her short stories have appeared on Pseudopod and in anthologies about unicorns and dragons published by WordFire Press. She lives in San Diego with her husband Nic and eats way too much Taco Bell. Learn more about Kristin at her website www.kristinleighluna.com.

The Thin Line Between Memoir and Realistic Fiction

“When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.” – Stephen King, Joyland

imgres-3In the summer, my brother and I would walk to our small town library. Sometimes, we’d cross paths with a man walking his mountain lion on the sidewalk. One time, the mountain lion bit my arm, and I needed fourteen stitches.

It’s crazy, but it’s actually mostly true. I was afraid for my life when I saw the mountain lion, but it never actually bit my arm. But it’s plausible, and who’s to say I’m wrong? It’s my memory, after all.

I technically could sell this story as a memoir. But when someone starts digging into my history and finds that, although there was a man in my hometown that had a pet mountain lion, there are no hospital records of me getting stitches.

This sort of thing is nothing new to the literary world. The most recent case of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces brought this to the public’s attention. Frey’s gritty, gripping tale of addiction was marketed as a memoir, although years earlier, Frey had tried to sell it as contemporary realistic fiction. When no publishers picked it up, he pitched it as a memoir. When Clifford Irving received a three-quarter million advance for The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, he delivered. Only, Hughes proved he had never met Irving, and Irving spent 17 months in jail for his lie. Misha Defonseca wrote a harrowing tale of her childhood during the Holocaust, only to be disproven by a genealogist who found that Defonseca was Catholic. “Ever since I can remember, I felt Jewish,” said Defonseca. “There are times when I find it difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world.”

These transgressions were surely career-killers, amiright? imgres-1

Well, not exactly. James Frey became a household name. His book Bright Shiny Morning, released after the scandal, was a bestseller. His lie only seemed to make him more popular.

I can understand how a reader would feel betrayed. I felt a twinge of it. But here’s the thing. I don’t expect most memoirists to tell the truth. I expect embellishment, because our memories are dirty liars. A Million Little Pieces is still one of my favorite books, even after The Smoking Gun revealed factual inaccuracies. Because a good story entertains or reveals some truth. And if it’s a really good story, it does both.

While I don’t care if a memoir’s facts are proven false, many people do. Like, say, publishers. Readers. Higher ups in the publishing world. While A Million Little Pieces sold even more copies after the scandal, you can bet that no one wants to publish another “memoir” by Frey, unless it’s about how he lied.

imgres-2Remember the story I wrote at the beginning of this post? Here’s an interesting experiment. What is the first thing that you remember about it? I doubt that the first thing you remembered was that part of the story wasn’t true. And that is the power of story. A story doesn’t necessarily tell the truth, it just reveals it.

It’s a Business

I graduated college in May 2007. I had no idea what to do next. Luckily, I landed a job interview with a well-known publishing company, and it turned out to be one of the best, hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

Annoying young business people being way too enthusiastic about business.
Annoying young business people being way too enthusiastic about business.

Dear Kristin circa May 2007,

Oh you beautiful, delicate flower, you. I know you think you’re really good now. Your writing isn’t bad. Really! I like how you use poetry-like metaphors that only a few people seem to understand, and your interesting paragraph structure. It’s all about the self-expression amiright? Yes, I am right, and so are you.

Like the Terminator, I come bearing news from the future. In a month or two, you’ll have an interview at a big publishing company. Yeah, I KNOW. Good job!

But you will not get the job. Wah wahhhhh. And it’s important that you don’t, so don’t go trying to change it. One of the most important life lessons you will learn happens in that interview.

In the interview, you’ll have a short conversation with the Associate Editor. She’ll tell you that after leaving college, she was idealistic. She was after changing the world. “Cool, me too!” you’ll think. And then she’ll drop this bomb on you. “But this is a business. Yes, it’s a publishing company, but it’s still a business.”

At the time, you’ll wonder why she’s trying to crush your spirit and decide she hasn’t had her coffee yet. In the months after the interview, you’ll understand.

No matter the cause or mission statement, every organization is a business. Every business needs to make money. If they happen to make dreams come true along the way, that’s cool. But the bottom line is that a company needs revenue to continue.

This is where you come in. You love writing, and you do it pretty well. Keep doing it. Keep getting better, keep making friends who are professionals. But also remember this: a publishing company is a business. In order for anyone to read those flowery prose pieces you like so much, you have to make sure they are sellable. Make sure the story is compelling, new, unique. You love experimental writing, and I’m not saying you should stop writing it. But you should also hone your skills on telling good, tight stories that publishers will want to buy.

The future is bright. Hone those skills. Write sellable stories while staying true to yourself.

Oh, and stop with the flowery prose. No one seems to like those but us. Er… me.

Hugs and Kisses
Love

Keep on keepin’ on,

Kristin circa August 2014

 

Growing Pains and Progress

You may hear authors reminisce from time to time about their awful earlier work. While I can agree that some of my oldest short stories are not as interesting or polished, I relish looking through them. Why? Because I can see how far I’ve come.

Growth in one’s craft is only sexy in movie montages. Definitely in Rocky III, amiright?

For everyone who isn’t Sylvester Stallone, growth looks like hard work, tears, inevitably a day of not showering here and there, and a hefty dose of self-loathing. Sometimes, it seems like you aren’t getting anywhere. You’re running in a constant hamster wheel, praying for something to break your plateau. You care too much to give up, even after seeing rejection after rejection.

When I hit one of these plateaus a few years ago, I spent time in serious reflection. I received a few rejections, and knew that my writing wasn’t quite up to par. I desperately wanted to improve and get better, but how? I had a BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. I have read many books about the craft. But I needed someone to dive deep into my writing and give some personal advice.

I hired Joshua Essoe, a friend and freelance editor, to line and content edit my YA fantasy novel, The Bond. While it was a bit scary to have my book picked apart, I couldn’t believe how much I had learned from the first few edited pages alone. Joshua Essoe pointed out things I do stylistically that no one else had before. Those observations helped me make my story more compelling and clear, and streamline sentences by taking out unnecessary or implied text.

Paying a professional to edit my work has been some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Working on the second book in The Bond series, I can see how much my work has grown, and how much tighter and precise my prose are.

Let’s face it. Editing is not fun. But editing your book in order to make it better is worth it. Looking back at your previous works need not make you groan. Instead, it should be a celebration of just how far you’ve come.

Personal note: If you’re in the market for a professional, detailed freelance editor, I highly recommend Joshua Essoe. He’s edited books for many well-known people including fantasy author David Farland, and Dean Lorey, the writer and producer of the television show Arrested Development. http://www.joshuaessoe.com/

 

 

A Failure’s Guide to Self-Examination

Ah, June. When the weather’s nice and Costco is selling too many good ice cream bars. Sure, you had told yourself THIS WAS THE YEAR you won’t give in to temptation. But it’s, like, hot. And ice cream is good.

Four ice cream bars later, you sit on the couch, lamenting your own existence and wonder why you can’t just stick to your goals.

Don’t worry! I’ve brought your misery some company. Did you know just 8% of all people who made a New Year’s resolution succeeded? That means 92% of us failed and secretly want to trip the other 8% who are still hard at work on their marathon training regimen. Because tripping people has consequences, let’s figure out where we went wrong instead.

 

A Failure’s Guide to Self-Examination

1. What was your goal?

Let’s say you recently took a quiz online that led you to believe that your father isn’t proud of you. After three glasses of whiskey on December 31st, you decided 2014 was the year you’d make your father proud. Your father has a lavish assortment of horrifying animal heads on his wall. “This is how I’ll do it,” you tell yourself. “I’ll go kill an elephant in the wild and give him the head to hang on his wall. He will be so proud of me then!”

The issues:

    1. So many issues here.
    2. First, this goal is not necessarily for you. This goal was made in hopes of gaining favor with someone else.
    3. Poaching elephants is illegal.
    4. Whisky is bad. Don’t do ANYTHING if you are under its influence.
    5. Take a better quiz. That quiz you took online was a joke.

2. Was your goal realistic enough to obtain?

Let’s say your New Year’s resolution was to get a book published. You hadn’t written a novel before, but your prison inmate pen-pal told you you’re a great writer.

The issues:

    1. Again with the issues.
    2. Understand the work your goal will entail when you make it. How many hours will it take to complete a novel? How many days a week will you dedicate to writing? What’s the next step after you’ve written it? How difficult is it to get published?
    3. Ooooo I’ve always wanted a pen-pal! Hook a girl up!

3. Were you under the influence of whiskey or prescription medications when you made your goal?

Well, were you?

If yes, ignore your goal and/or reevaluate.

If no, then wow! Okay.

4. Did you make plans to support succeeding at your goal?

Successes takes planning. It takes a lot of time, dedication, and focus.

The issues:

    1. If you needed help defining any of the words “planning,” “time,” “dedication,” or “focus,” maybe goal setting isn’t for you.

5. Did you fail at your goal?

Let’s say you wanted to tear up the hardwood in your house and replace it with sand. As you pried up the third floorboard, you realized that you hate sand. You hate all those tiny, tiny rocks. Besides, there’s a Real Housewives of Atlanta marathon on E!.

The issues:

    1. You’re right, sand sucks. No issue there.
    2. It’s okay to fail. Failing teaches you, if you’re open to learning the lesson.

 

The reality is, we all fail sometimes. Failing might hurt, but it doesn’t have to matter unless you make it matter. If you let failure dictate your future, you’ll never meet any of your goals.

Resolve to make one pragmatic, well-planned goal a reality. Make it your focus, and be dedicated to that goal. Carry that success with you and remind yourself of it often. Because here’s a secret: you will probably fail again. The only way to combat it is to make another goal, and achieve it.