Tuesday, January 29, 2013

BECOMING HUMAN, by Eliza Green

I met this author via Twitter--she writes a great blog, Eliza Loves Sci Fi, and it covers everything from writing tips to science, science fiction, movie trivia and other things. Her first book, BECOMING HUMAN is a great science fiction novel that just debuted on Amazon.

For a chance to win your own copy, write the name of your favorite alien (made up ones are fine too) in the comments section!
Contest is now complete!

Eliza's Bio:
Eliza Green writes down-to-earth science fiction that has stemmed from her lifelong obsession with science fiction stories.

She has worked in many industries from fashion to sport to finance, but caught the writing bug several years ago and has now released her first novel, BECOMING HUMAN, part one of the Exilon 5 trilogy.

Since Eliza was young, she has always been a fan of science fiction television shows and films and is bringing that love to her new trilogy. She hopes to capture the imagination of readers who shy away from the genre with her new novel, set on Earth and Exilon 5.

She is currently working on ALTERED REALITY, book 2 in the Exilon 5 trilogy.

BECOMING HUMAN is available in print and Kindle ebook format (exclusively until mid March). Afterwards, it will be available in several other formats through Smashwords. 

Two worlds. Two species. One terrifying secret. In 2163, a polluted and overcrowded Earth forces humans to search for a new home. But the exoplanet they target, Exilon 5, is occupied. Having already begun a massive relocation programme, Bill Taggart is sent to monitor the Indigenes, the race that lives there. He is a man on the edge. He believes the Indigenes killed his wife, but he doesn’t know why. His surveillance focuses on the Indigene Stephen, who has risked his life to surface during the daytime. Stephen has every reason to despise the humans and their attempts to colonise his planet. To protect his species from further harm, he must go against his very nature and become human. But one woman holds a secret that threatens Bill’s and Stephen’s plans, an untruth that could rip apart the lives of those on both worlds. BECOMING HUMAN, part one in the Exilon 5 trilogy, is a science-fiction adventure that you won’t want to put down.

Here are Eliza's answers to some of my questions:
Your website bio states that you have "a healthy (although not obsessive) love of technology and sciency stuff." How do these interests influence your writing, and can you tell us more about your journey toward becoming a writer?

Well, I say I have a non-obsessive interest because I don’t want people to think I’m an expert or anything! I can’t fix computers and I don’t read New Scientist religiously. But I love technology (I’m pretty good on a computer I’ll have you know!) and I’m fascinated by how things work, like how the human body sometimes cures itself of cancer or how we might be able to combat ageing in the future.

My own journey began four years ago when I hit a difficult patch in my day job. I was seriously considering quitting, but I told myself to think about it rationally. It was a knee jerk reaction, something else was happening in the organisation that had nothing to do with me. During that time, I started to think about other things and I suddenly wanted to do something I enjoyed. I’ve always been creative. I can sing (in private!) and I have an eye for colour. But you can’t really make a career out of that unless you study for years. I’d already tried my hand at interior decorating years before, but I didn’t stick with it. I was never good at the drawing or rendering element of it, which you had to do by hand as part of the course. I stumbled upon the Stephenie Meyer Twilight Trilogy having seen the first film and I devoured the books. While I was impressed with her story telling ability, I was equally frustrated with how she wrote some of the scenes. I began to ask myself ‘How would I write this?’ That was it. That was the beginning. A week or so later, I took out my laptop and wrote 3k words on the first thing that came into my head. It was the start of another project I’m working on. I felt giddy, knowing that I had complete control over how the story began and ended.

We've had similar experiences! A difficult time in my day-job motivated me to finally write my novel. Sometimes the best things come out of bad circumstances. You say that BECOMING HUMAN was an idea that "just had to come out." Where did the idea come from, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished reading it?

At same time I wrote the 3k words for my other project, the idea for BECOMING HUMAN came to me. I am a huge (!) fan of science fiction, but I prefer to devour TV shows and movies over books. I don’t know why. I’m not against reading the books and I’ve enjoyed a few (Orson Scott Card’s ‘Ender’s Shadow’ comes to mind), but the movies and TV shows are faster paced and I find I can sit there and think of a whole string of ‘what if’ ideas as I watch them. Even though I had decided to start with the other project first (women’s fiction), I was itching to pitch the idea of the science fiction book to my partner who is a ‘hard core’ fan of the genre. I wrote a short story, about 10k, and showed it to him. The short story centred on the chapter in the book where the Indigene, Stephen talks to the young boy for the first time. There are so many alien movies where the alien is always trying to kill everyone. I’m bored with those. I wanted to do something different. I wondered what an alien might actually say to a human if circumstances suddenly brought them together. My partner was intrigued when he read it and told me to keep going.

First and foremost I would like readers to enjoy it, but there is an underlying message: We are complex creatures and we make mistakes but do we have the capacity to learn from them?

I feel the exact same way--I write lower fantasy, and can barely stand to read some of the high fantasy available on the market. I'd much rather watch--and like you, dream up scenarios! You write a blog on your website: Eliza Loves Sci Fi. Is it difficult to balance the blog with other writerly tasks? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers wanting to start a blog?

Yes it is difficult and I have to be practical. With a full time job I can’t post every day, and I don’t want to. The blog is fun and a great way of getting to know your potential readers and it also breaks down barriers. Many writers follow me because I blog about my experiences as a writer. I think it’s quite therapeutic to talk about the problems you’ve been experiencing and to get advice or feedback from others. I don’t believe in being precious or secretive about how I edit, format or market my work. I’m only competing with myself and I know that writers will use the advice how they see fit. If it helps, then great. I also seek advice in some of my posts and I find other sites really useful for tips.

Bottom line is I need to write books. That’s what I want to do as a full time job. If I have to excuse myself from my blog every now and again, I will.

Aspiring writers wishing to start a blog: try to decide what you want to write about. I’ve seen some writer blogs that talk about everything, but there’s no focus on what the blog is about. It’s not clear if they’re writers because they don’t discuss their writing work. I’ve seen other blogs that only promote their work, and I find that a little annoying to be honest. I can think of one (nameless) author, who posted once a month and only about his upcoming books. I thought to myself, why do I want to follow this guy? Maybe he was doing really well with sales but I didn’t care. I wanted to know how he became a traditionally published author. Then there are the blogs you follow because you like the fun posts, or you’re a writer and the blogger is sharing good information. I follow those sites on Google Reader and I share it with my Twitter followers.

I agree--with a blog, focus and direction are especially essential. BECOMING HUMAN is your first self-published novel. What advice do you have for writers interested in self-publishing? Is there anything you wish you'd known sooner?

Advice first. Go into self publishing with your eyes wide open. Prepare for a ton of work. Do not say, ‘I’m only doing this because traditional publishing didn’t work out for me.’ Do say,’ I’m as good as any traditionally published author and I’m going to prove it by producing a quality product.’ Readers can smell desperation a mile away so always be professional in everything you do, as if you had a publishing house and agent behind you.

I would like to have known a few things sooner, like deadlines for book covers don’t mean much if you still have to finish a final round of editing so you can give them your page count. Just when you think you’ve formatted your ebook correctly, Kindle Fire comes along and screws it up. These are minor issues and you will pick up many things as you go along. Don’t be too hard on yourself but be realistic about deadlines.

Excellent advice! If you were stuck on a desert island and had a choice of two movies and two books to take, which would you choose?

Ooh, good question!

Movie 1: I would take Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. To this day, I still get a laugh out of Verruka and her “I want a golden egg.” song.

Movie 2: Weird Science. I loved it when it came out first and it features a very young Robert Downey Junior. I grew up with John Hughes movies (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club) and this one is very funny. Then there were those important lessons you had to learn in all of Hughes’s movies.

Book 1: Mockingjay (Book 3 in the Hunger Games Trilogy). I haven’t read it yet and I want to see how it all ends.

Book 2: I’m not going to say BECOMING HUMAN, because I would only discover some annoying error in the book and without a laptop or internet connection, I would have no way to fix it. Grr. So, I’ll say anything by Michael Connolly and the Hieronymus Bosch series. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

365 Days of the Query: Lessons Learned

So about a year ago, as I started querying my ms, I decided to keep track of my progress over a one year period. Am I repped by an agent yet? Well, no. Am I much further along than I was when I first started? You bet. Am I going to stop querying? Absolutely not. In fact, both my query and my novel feel a lot more ready than they did at this time last year, and I'm optimistic moving forward.

So, in no particular order, here are some things I've learned so far:

1. Stop hurrying.

There's a panic that would set in whenever I read articles that said, "the traditional publishing world is dead" or "paranormal (dystopian, sci-fi, or pretty much any other genre) is no longer selling." Whenever I read things like this, it would put me into hyperspeed, worried that if I didn't pitch my idea soon enough, either the publishing world wouldn't be there to see it, or it would be un-marketable.

But here's what happened: I was in such a hurry that I forgot some of the basics. I sent a query without a greeting. I sent quite a few with glaring typos, even after I'd perused them multiple times. I sent others without all the agent's specifications. There were so many that I sent with one or two things missing or wrong that it (almost) got comedic for awhile.

A very helpful published author passed along some very wise advice. A slow querying process is best. Concentrate on writing, and reading. That's where the bulk of your energy should go. Still query, of course, but take your time with it. The most important thing isn't getting there first--it's getting there correctly.

2. Pitch comes first, and everything else comes second.

A webinar I participated in indicated that a compelling pitch is the most important thing in a query. Even more so than the bio, in some cases. Because the story is what matters most.

When I look back at the query pitches I've posted to this blog, they make me want to laugh and cry at the same time. They're so long-winded!

But when a critique partner showed me the Pitch U website, it totally changed my outlook, especially Lesson 4: Where's the Beef? It really helped me cut out the chaff. And now, my query pops off the page much more than it used to.

My bio was pretty long-winded too. I even sent one agency the longest letter about how I'd followed their blog, and their webinars, etc., thinking this would make me stand out somehow--and all it got me was a very nice form rejection.

3. Contests, contests, contests!

While I did get some really great agent feedback on partials I'd sent, I think I learned the most about what was and wasn't working in my story by entering contests. A lot of these are online, and can be found on author blogs, agent blogs, and through organizations (particularly RWA). I even finaled in a few, which also gave me the motivation to keep going.

4. You are never done learning craft.

Once your novel gets to the querying stage (it's completed, and you've revised the crap out of it), it doesn't mean you're done growing as a writer. Yes, keep querying. But also keep improving your craft. Here are some books that have helped me a ton:

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King
Writing 21st Century Fiction, by Donald Maas

5. The agent who loves your work is the agent that is meant for you. Period.

I need to thank Janet Reid for this one. She has a great feature on her blog called the "Question Emporium," where aspiring writers can send questions. And this post really caught my eye, because I was really concerned about it: "What if my dream agent rejects me?"

In the post, Janet says, "Your dream agent is the one who loves your work with a passion and begs you for the chance to take it on submission. Thus you don't know who your dream agent is until YOU GET AN OFFER."

And so, with these tools, I move forward. 365 days may turn into 730...or even more. But I'm going to keep on, keep growing, and keep learning, no matter what the future holds.

Question to all: What are some lessons that querying has taught you?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Write With Intent: A Helpful Example from Wreck-It-Ralph

As I'm celebrating the completion of my third manuscript (with many edits to come), it makes me reflect on how much I've learned since I started writing in 2008. Including some things I'd wish I'd known sooner.

Probably one of the most important aspects of craft that I never considered in the first blazing hours getting my words onto paper was the actual purpose behind those words, and whether they were strung together in a way that made sense. My uncle, a great artist and writer in his own right, was the first to point this out when he critiqued a short story I'd written about angels. They read like carbon-copy characters to him, because the purpose of their circumstances was unclear. One character, Seamus, was left in the alley in a bunch of garbage, giggling incessantly, oblivious to his former angel stature. And while this may or may not have been amusing to a reader, it ultimately fell flat because Seamus was a mere victim of his circumstances, and nothing more. There was no intent, no path for him. No way out. And it was because I was seeing the story from a line-by-line point-of-view rather than considering the overarching plot, that I missed his overall payoff.

The next iteration of this lesson came when a published writer spoke to me about the importance of character motivation. I found out: what your character wants has to be crystal clear, right from the beginning of the story. It was then that I began to look at my first novel, and insert whys instead of hows: Why (not how) does she go to this world, and what does she want from it? Why (not how) does she interact with this other character? And, most importantly: Why (and how) does all this relate to her overall motivation to be free?

You know what makes your character unique. But without a clear motivation, even in a scene by scene basis (what does she want in this scene and why?), it is very difficult to convey a character's purpose to a reader. And without a clear purpose, a character becomes infinitely less memorable.

This really crystallized for me when I saw the movie Wreck-It-Ralph. Pixar really knows how to do storytelling well. For proof, here's their 22 rules of storytelling. From the trailer, it's obvious what Ralph's motivation is--he wants to be the good guy for once, and win a medal. But as the plot develops (spoiler alert), he realizes his initial motivation has become empty, because he didn't receive the payoff he expected.

This also demonstrates how a story can be enhanced when the character's motivation changes. And when a new motivation outweighs the old one, the character demonstrates growth.

This featurette goes into a bit more depth:

So as I finished this third manuscript (Book Two of the series I'm querying), I really tried to make the motivations clear. Why my villain has created the world she has, and for what purpose. And why it's so important to my protagonist that the captured people in this world are saved. And what the main purpose of all that is.

So when you write, try not to get too caught up in the line-by-line view (ooh, I like what this character's doing, it's so darned amusing!). Go further. Ask yourself what purpose the character has, and what might be the purpose behind the conflicts they face with others, or the circumstances they find themselves in. That will help your character grow and change, which will help your story develop into what you intended it to be.

Question to all: What are some important lessons you've learned since you began writing?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bad Librarian and Writer Habits (as seen through Bad Radio Guest Mistakes)

I recently came across a post on Jane Friedman's blog entitled, 5 Things Bad Radio Guests Do (And 7 Ways to Rock on Radio). If you don't yet follow Jane's blog, do--it has very useful information for writers, especially regarding the publishing biz.

The post was guest-written by Brad Phillips, who also wrote a great book that anyone looking to market themselves should read:

 So as I'm reading Brad's post, I study the five things bad radio guests do, and find I can substitute the phrase "bad librarians do..." with each. Heck, this can also apply to "bad ways to pitch to an agent."  And I'm guilty of almost all of them.

So here are the five bad habits, reproduced and adapted for writers and librarians: 

1. Long responses.

Librarians are very good at seeking information, but some get too stuck on the "discovery" process to where they overload and muddle what the patron was looking for in the first place. I've walked past some of these consultations, in which the student (or patron, or whoever) is staring up at the ceiling while the librarian is talking, looking like they'd asked for directions and ended up in the wrong part of a bad neighborhood.

Same goes for agents--they aren't looking for a long explanation to your story or novel. They're interested in quick, and to the point, because you're probably the umpteenth writer they've seen that day trying to pitch them something.

In the interest of keeping my own answers short, let's move along.

2. Ideas that are too complex.

I learned a great deal in keeping library stuff simple when I worked with the IT department at my last job. One person was kind enough to tell me, "You tell us what time it is, while everyone else tells us how the watch was made." Some librarians I've worked with also like to make their sentences complex--maybe they think it makes them sound smarter, or they're trying to accomplish a lot at once, or perhaps that's just how some of them are built. But no one is actually listening (see #3).

Same goes in a pitch session with an agent. In one instance, I started rattling off into my sequel, and the agent very kindly directed me back by saying, "Okay, let's focus on this book." You don't need to explain the entire universe your book is set in. Just give agents a few nuggets to taste, and entice them to ask you more questions and keep them talking about your book.

3. Boring presentations.

Delivery and presentation of ideas counts too. If I'm instructing a bunch of students on how to use a library resource, and if I bombard them with a lot of well-informed details without presenting them in an interesting way, I'll lose their attention.

Same goes in getting people interested in your book. Yeah, you know a lot about it, because you've been living in it for the past few months (or years). People aren't interested in how much you know about your book. They want to know how your book can benefit them and other people.

4. Alarmist speculations.

I've worked with some alarmist librarians who've blown their stacks at some pretty major non-issues. One particularly paranoid former co-worker was convinced that everyone was "out to get her" and "sabotage" all the efforts she made, when in reality people just wished she would calm down already.

I've had the same paranoid delusions as a writer. What if someone steals my ideas before I get a chance to publish them? What if my story idea isn't marketable by the time it's ready? While it's good to ask yourself hard questions, it isn't helpful to get consumed by them.

5. Lack of humor. 

This equates to that scowling librarian at the desk who yells, "What?" even before people approach. Some librarians have been in the system so long that resentment oozes out of their pores, and they aim to bring everyone else down with them. Definitely not helpful.

And whenever I've lost the humor in regard to my writing, or my writing career, I should consider myself finished. Many agents I've followed online say how much they appreciate when an author can make them laugh. But that also goes for laughing at yourself, something I'm still striving for.

Are there any I've forgotten? Feel free to add your own! And thanks to Brad and Jane for the inspiration!

And for those who would like to purchase Brad's book, click on the link below:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

ALIEN VS. ALIEN, the newest from Gini Koch

First post of the New Year! It was a wonderful holiday season, with lots of revelations and new developments that I'll be happy to share as time unfolds. Until then, get a load of the latest release from Gini Koch!

Jeff and Kitty Katt-Martini and the rest of the American Centaurion Diplomatic Corps are still recovering from their introduction to Washington D.C. politics, parties, and conspiracies. So when compromising pictures arrive, no one’s too surprised. They’re also the least of anyone’s worries.

Evil androids running amok, birds of all kinds and from all places creating havoc, a Senator trapped in an ever-tightening web of intrigue, and escalating international tensions all seem tough but manageable. But the disappearance of Jeff Martini and Charles Reynolds during the International One World Festival signals more than the usual nastiness -- and it looks like even ACE can’t help them.

Then new trouble arrives in old packages and even with the best hackers in the world, beings from near and far, the full might of Earth’s military, and the Wonder Twins on their side, Centaurion Division’s outmanned and outgunned.

Now Kitty’s racing against the clock to find not only Jeff and Chuckie, but to keep the peace between Middle Eastern countries, all while searching for the bases of supersoldier operations -- to stop them or die trying.

To get your own copy of ALIEN VS. ALIEN, click on the link below:

I hope everyone had a Happy New Year!