Hi Josh. Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog today. I’ll start by telling your readers a little about myself and how I got my “break” into publishing. I’ll include some of my thoughts on writing and publishing, with tips for aspiring writers. And I’ll wrap things up with a bit about my YA fantasy novel, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, with an excerpt.
I’d like to say I’ve loved books my whole life, and I’ve wanted to be an author just as long. But I’m a terrible liar, and it’d be obvious, even in print, that a falsity had been issued. I hated reading as a small child. I read slowly and I didn’t read aloud well, so I didn’t like to read. In junior high (do people still know the term, I think it’s middle school just about everywhere now), two important things happened: a friend introduced me to Stephen King, and one of my two favorite literature teachers introduced me to Edgar Allan Poe. Nothing changed overnight. I didn’t get up the next morning and read Moby Dick or War and Peace before sunset. But I did start reading for fun. And soon I started entertaining the idea of writing a story.
Over the next several years I wrote some plot ideas, but I never sat down and started writing a story. The closest I came was writing and drawing a comic book in high school, but I have no artistic ability. Do you want to know how far from an artist I am? Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger doing ballet and you’d be close. Now I don’t know, maybe the former Governator is an understudy for the Sugar Plum Fairy every fall, but I doubt it.
In college my writing picked up--a little. I had a professor who hated me, and I reciprocated. Of course, our relationship could have been worse. I won’t get too detailed; you can read more about it here. He told me I was a horrible writer, so I intended to have something published to prove him wrong. Unfortunately I no longer think being published and being a horrible writer are mutually exclusive, but at the time I did, and that’s what counts.
I wrote the first few chapters of a book about a family hiding some deep, dark secrets. But I lost the notebook (yes, I wrote it by hand with a ballpoint pen--still one of my favorite ways to write). If anyone finds the notebook, I’d be happy to pay $2 or $3 to have it back. I think it was green. I also wrote a detailed scene of a carnival. No dialogue, just two characters. It still pops into my head every few months. I’d like to insert it into a larger work, but I haven’t found the right fit for it yet. I wrote a few more items, some chapters, characters, settings, and plots I’ll probably never use because most of them are garbage.
After college I met and married my wife. I still didn’t write a lot, but I started carrying a small notebook in my pocket and I’d write short poems as they’d come to me. I don’t even remember why I started doing this. I never liked the poetry units in school. I didn’t write mushy love poems for my new bride, either. I’ve always been more comfortable with apocalyptic doomsday than heartfelt emotion. I really didn’t know much about poetry, so I got some books on writing poetry. The books taught me I REALY didn’t know much about poetry. I have no musical ability (see above about artistic ability), and I think metered poetry and music are related. I do have one published poem, but it’s free verse. I still struggle to “get” poetry, but I’m working on it, and I’m improving. Every once in a while when I read a poem it hits me like an eight pound sledgehammer. Usually it’s a classic like Whitman, Dickinson, Poe, Lawrence. When it happens I think there’s still hope for me.
When I saw a flyer for the Institute of Children’s Literature, I took their test, got accepted, and completed the course. One of my assignments ended up being my first published work of fiction, “Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast,” a spooky tale aimed at older children about a haunted bed and breakfast. I had heard to expect rejection letter after rejection letter before finally getting an acceptance letter. I was also told most of these rejection letters would be generic form letters: “Sorry Chump. It’s not that you’re not good. You’re just not good enough for us. Better luck next time. Sincerely, the editorial department.” I have gotten some of these, and I collect them for motivation. Yet my first rejection letter was nothing of the sort. It addressed me and said, “I really like ‘Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast,’ but the ending doesn’t have enough punch to it. If you’d like to rework the ending, I’d be happy to take another look at it.”--or something like that. I did, she did, sold.
Just before I sold the story, I was selected to write a quarterly column for my local newspaper. I had always heard it’s easier to publish nonfiction than fiction. I’ve certainly found it to be true. The problem is, after writing over 30 columns and articles, I’ve realized I don’t enjoy writing nonfiction the way I like the escape into fiction. I’m a firm believer if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it will show. So I quit writing articles to focus on a project which I had moved to at least three computers, but I lacked the confidence to submit it. A short manuscript for a novel once titled “The Stargazer’s Son” and “Dispelling the Wizards’ Shroud.”
I wrote it for the second course I took with the Institute of Children’s Literature: Writing and Selling Books. I gave it a quick revision, changed the name to Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, and started searching for a publisher. I sent it to Muse It Up. They said they liked it, but it needed work. I reworked it and they gave me a contract--much like my first published story.
So here we are. I’m working with my content editor at Muse It Up to make Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud even better. I’ll tell you about the novel, but first I promised some writing tips for aspiring authors.
1. Read. If you don’t read, you can’t write well. I once read, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” I cannot stress enough this truth. And to take it one step farther, read what you want to write. If you want to write a historical romance, read historical romances.
2. Don’t revise, rewrite. An editor told me this after noticing some mistakes I had made cutting and pasting. She told me when she started writing, in the days of typewriters (younger readers can enter “typewriter” in Google or Wikipedia or something), authors had to retype the entire page or manuscript. Oh, the HORROR! It’s a lot of work, but I do notice a difference. On the second go round I use more concise wording and the careless mistakes are gone. Since then, I can’t tell you how many books I’ve picked up, many of them bestsellers, where cutting and pasting has led to noticeable mistakes.
3. Don’t be afraid to let your characters lead the way. I believe strong characters make for a better story than strong plot. So I spend a lot of time drafting my characters, then I spend a little time jotting down key elements of the plot. As I start writing, and the characters take on their own “lives,” they often behave in ways I did not foresee, do things I didn’t know they’d do, and go places I didn’t intend for them to go. I have a piece on creating characters on my website, you can find it here. Check back often as I intend to have more writing tips soon.
Now, let’s unveil the shroud, shall we?
Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud--Coming November 2013!
Owen is the illegitimate son of Kendrick, king of the Central Domain of Wittatun. It isn’t that his father fooled around, he couldn’t marry Beatrix for political reasons. You’ll have to read the book for more details. The king has a big surprise planned for Owen at his fifteenth birthday dinner--the year Owen becomes an adult by law. Owen has no doubt his father intends to name him heir to the throne. But there is nothing Owen would like to be less than king, except perhaps a magician.
Just before King Kendrick can make his surprise announcement, he collapses. Owen and the king’s sorcerer, Cedric, rush to his side, but they are unable to revive him. Cedric insists he and Owen need to leave the castle immediately in search of the cure for Kendrick. Owen hates the idea of traveling with a magician, especially the one he holds responsible for the death of his mother, but he eventually agrees to accompany him.
The party of two becomes three when Owen’s best friend, Yara, catches up to them just in time to get them out of a tight spot. As the three seek the aid of a much older and more powerful sorcerer than Cedric, they battle strange beasts and harsh climates to reach their destination. Along the way, Owen learns more about the Wizard Rebellion--a band of renegade magicians, and the attack which led to the murder of his mother. He will have to put his own prejudices against magic and magic users to the test if he intends to save his father.
And did I mention the story has dragons?
Here’s a brief excerpt.
The setting sun glared in the young warrior’s eyes. Squinting, he could just make out his opponent’s outline. His ever tightening leg muscles cried for a reprieve with each step; yet he continued to circle, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. After a long day of sword dueling, with little downtime between rounds, Owen's whole body needed a rest. But he wanted nothing more in the world, at this precise moment, than to win the championship bout.
Owen knew Edward must also be tired. They had each fought four previous matches, and every contestant entered in the tournament presented a worthy challenge. Edward, Shield of the King--the commander of the King's Sentry, the strongest army in all of Wittatun--received continual praise for his skill with a blade. Owen, already defeating two Sentrymen earlier in the day, hoped to beat one more. But to overcome the King’s Shield would require more skill than besting a Sentryman.
The fighters continued to circle one another. Sunlight gleamed off Edward's brilliant metal chest plate and helm. Now facing the westering sun, Edward squinted; Owen saw his opportunity and sprung. He feinted a slash attack toward the commander's shield hand. When Edward raised his shield and braced for impact, Owen redoubled his attack.
He spun and sliced his blade at his opponent’s neck. The loud clang of steel on steel resonated throughout the courtyard as Edward raised his sword to parry. The vibration transmitted up Owen’s arm, but he finished his compound attack by kicking the Sentryman in the chest plate. The judge blew a whistle to signify the landing of the first blow in the best-of-three veney.
Edward wasted no time mounting his counterattack by gaining the measure and reestablishing just distance. He made several quick jabs at Owen’s head and chest, which the defender parried away with ease. Owen countered with a testing jab. Edward sidestepped, moved back in line, and raised his sword to the en garde position. Owen noticed Edward’s shield drop ever so slightly. The tiny gap in defense may have provided the opening needed to finish him.
Owen lunged. But his forward motion could not be stopped when he recognized the move as a mistake. The tip of the sword slid between the hinge where the chest plate met the shoulder guard and dug into the muscle. Sharp pain shot through Owen’s left shoulder, and he barely heard the judge blow the whistle through the anguish. Edward lowered his shield as an invitation for Owen's attack. When the younger fighter took the offering, the elder’s stop-thrust found the only week point of the armor.
Owen, large for his age, still stood six inches shorter than Edward. The Shield’s muscular forearms resembled Owen’s thighs. The chainmail armor on his forearm, formfitting on most solders, clung tight to Edward. His muscles rippled as he pushed the sword tip a little deeper into the meat. A thin stream of blood trickled down the blade and dripped to the ground.
Edward sneered as red drops splattered the trampled grass. “I wish we fought to first-blood. I hope the king doesn't put me to death for injuring his son.”
Thanks again, Josh, for having me on your blog.
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