Monday, September 29, 2014

Congratulations, teens. You've ruined my life.

Haha. Just kidding. They haven’t ruined my life, but they sure have complicated my writing career. Remember a really really long time ago—like the beginning of this year—when I posted about how I was just the slightest bit weary of writing about teenagers? They make for some really good stories, but they are exhausting. The angst. The drama. The melodrama. Good grief. I found myself turning into one: “Honey, what’s going on?” Aidan asked. “Get off my back! IDK!” I replied. IDK, people.

It was time for a break, and really that had to do with the fact that my closet was filled with more Love Culture clothing than normal, 34-year-old mature woman clothing. Thankfully Bailey from LoveLines spoke up and offered to give me what I thought would be a well-deserved break from high school. The only problem with that was that my fans weren’t ready for me to switch gears. They weren’t ready for Bailey. Bailey didn’t fit with Brooke or Cadence. Bailey was an adult. What the hell was I doing writing about adults?

It never once occurred to me that people stick with specific genres, not authors. I don’t know why this never occurred to me since I’m one such reader who chooses books over authors. I’m going for what interests me. I’m not picking up every single thing Diana Gabaldon writes. Haven’t touched her Lord John Grey series. Probably never will because his character and story don’t interest me. The other thing I failed to consider was that I’d already rooted myself in this weird, indefinable YA/NA crossover genre about teens and their not-quite-adult lives. Readers liked that I wrote these stories. They liked my teenagers because I gave them the best of both worlds: I let them remember adolescence (maybe fantasize a better version of those years), and I still threw in adult themes/situations.

I have a point to all this. And here it comes. I just read an insightful article on author branding, and it included advice on everything from what picture you want to use to represent your author self to how social media is vital to being noticed (I get it already. Jeez). Probably the hardest bit of advice for me to swallow was choosing a genre and sticking to it. See? Here’s the point. When I read that piece of advice, my writer self bristled—chest out and feathers ruffled like a little banter rooster. “No!” I crowed. “No no no! I will NOT be pigeon-holed! I will NOT be made to write in one genre for the rest of my writing career! I will NOT write in a prison of my own design!!!!!!!!! Or one others want to make for me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

(See? Total drama because I write about teens too much.)

And then once I calmed down and thought about it rationally, I realized that choosing a genre and sticking to it was actually beneficial for me. It doesn’t pigeon-hole. I can still write whatever the hell I want to, just under a different name. Don’t you ever see those “T.L. Comma writing as Comma Sutra” bylines on books? That chick just went from clean YA to trashy erotica in the space of a single book. AND she took her audience with her. She’s damn good. She did it right. She let her audience know, “Hey, it’s still me, but I’m going a different direction with this book. I don’t wanna confuse you, so whenever you see me as ‘Comma Sutra’ now, you know it’s one of my sex books.” *sigh* If only I’d done that: “S. Walden writing as Summer Love” and my life would be completely different.

So authors, don’t be like me. Learn from my LoveLines mishap. Figure out your genre, stick to it, and write under a different name when you’re itching to tell a story that veers from your chosen path. Remember that you will have the diehard fans who will read anything you put out there—including tampon instructions, Amanda—but most readers expect a certain type of book from you. It’s your duty and privilege to give it to them. Much like voting. Voting is not a right, FYI; it’s a privilege, but that’s an entirely different subject.

Once you choose your genre, embrace it. Embrace it hard. Have lots and lots of sex with it because this is it, baby. This is your area of expertise. You own it. You love it. You expect it to take you places. And if you’re committed to it, you’ll solidify your place in the writing world—that teeny tiny space in the upper left-hand corner that’s alllllll yours. How do I know this to be true? Well, haven’t you heard? S. Walden writes the “controversial teen stuff.” ;)


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Employing Grammar B to Make. A. Point.

Okay. I confess I’m guilty of doing the one-word sentence thing when I want to emphasize. It’s okay in small doses. But when you’re telling someone to Read. This. Book. Now. or you have No. Idea. What. You’re. Missing. . . well, it becomes a bit much, eh? Fragments are good. Every now and then ;)

Actually, the sentence fragment is just one of many devices that make up what’s called the alternate style of writing, or Grammar B. I researched and wrote my graduate thesis on Grammar B because when I taught writing to middle and high school students, I discovered they were using it. On purpose! Well, let me back up. Some were using it on purpose. Some really thought their sentence fragments were whole sentences (“Where’s the predicate?” I ask. Blank stare). In any case, I learned about Grammar B (without knowing it had an actual name) as an undergraduate English major long before my teaching and post-grad days.

So what is Grammar B? Some call it Standard English’s evil sister. Spawn of Satan. The most dangerous thing to happen to formal schooling since the advent of Montessori education. (I’m not knocking Montessori education. Calm down.) In any case, Grammar B is most often viewed as the antithesis of Standard English, but proponents of this alternate style urge educators and other writing professionals to see the two as friends, not stylistic enemies. Equals. Working together. Each purposeful to the audience it's addressing. (Are you digging these fragments? Hey hey.)

It’s a style of writing that breaks the rules of Standard English, coined by Winston Weathers in his now out-of-print book, An Alternate Style: Options in Composition. Think of it as everything your English teacher would slash, cross out, draw lots of exclamation points beside on your essay. With an angry red pen. It's rogue. So, naturally people like it. Where once a sentence fragment was looked on as a careless writing mistake, now writers (both aspiring . . . whatever that means, and professional) are employing it for purpose—to enrich the text by adding stylistic flavor. Same goes with other devices included under the Grammar B umbrella. I won’t name them all, but here are two of my faves (in addition to the fragment):

1.      The Labyrinthine Sentence – Really long ass, run-on sentence that twists and winds and curves and spins and goes up and down with the purpose of taking you on one hell of a literary ride. It doesn’t emphasize. It enriches. It lets you roll around in the description until you believe you are, in fact, that dew-dropped blade of grass that’s been dipping toward the earth for the last five minutes of your reading time.

2.      Repetition – Repeating a word or phrase over and over again. (That’s an easy one.) I tend to employ this at the beginnings of my sentences. You can see it all throughout my novels when I want to include a little extra emphasis. Usually repetition won’t be as abrupt-sounding as a fragment. It can be quite lyrical, actually. Like a literary orgasm. Example: “The leaves are falling. Falling away from their bluish-gray twiggy fingers. Falling away to a singsong, side-to-side rhythm of the wind. Falling away with a twirl and bow before floating to a graveyard ground.” A little extra goodness in that example? The fact that a different word was purposely employed after each “falling away”: from, to, and with. And there’s some alliteration thrown in as well for good measure.

The cool thing about Grammar B is that it’s not just restricted to creative writing. The alternate style is being utilized in professional, informational, and academic writing, too. There’s nothing wrong with that because it's not an inferior style of writing. However, the writer must consider and understand her audience and employ Grammar B devices effectively and correctly. No one wants a long ass, run-on sentence in a grant proposal. Fragments may be okay.

You probably come across Grammar B in a lot of the literature you read. Now you can identify it, and that’s kind of fun. Next time you pick up a book, be a Grammar B sleuth. Look for fragments and how they're utilized. Look for the labyrinthine sentence and repetition. Are these devices used well? Do they enhance your reading experience? You’ll know if you read and think, “Hot damn! This is some goooooood writing!”

If you’re interested in learning more about Grammar B, I’ve included the Works Cited from a past research paper. Not my graduate thesis. This paper was an experiment in whether it was a subject I was interested in researching. Turns out it was.

Further reading:

Atwell, Nancie.  In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and LearningPortsmouth: Heinemann, 1998.

Kline, Charles R. Jr., and W. Dean Memering.  “Formal Fragments: The English Minor Sentence.”  Research in the Teaching of English 11 (1977): 97-110.

Lanham, Richard A. Style: an Anti-Textbook.  Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2007.

Noden, Harry R.  Image Grammar: Using Grammatical Structures to Teach WritingPortsmouth: Heinemann, 1999.

Noguchi, Rei R.  Grammar and the Teaching of Writing.  Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1991.

Romano, Tom. Writing with Passion: Life Stories, Multiple Genres.  Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1995.

Schuster, Edgar H.  Breaking the Rules: Liberating Writers through Innovative Grammar Instruction.  Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2003.

Weaver, Constance.  Teaching Grammar in Context.  Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc., 1996.


Monday, September 22, 2014

What's in a name? Apparently nothing.

*This is really a post for writers, but anyone can read it and hopefully gain something from it.

God, where do I even start? My majorly sarcastic side is about to come out and I may offend, but it’s the chance I have to take because I’m tired of guy writers being the only ones allowed to dish out sarcasm and deprecation (including self). I mean, I get it. I know why. When a guy is sarcastic, he’s awesome and witty and hilaaaaarious. He’s a cool guy. When a chick is sarcastic, she’s a total bitch. So just pretend I’m a man.

Before I dumped my old personal Facebook page (that I used for my business), I had a lot of contacts and “friends.” This is because someone much cooler than I am set it up for me, and she had loads of friends and was deeply connected to the indie writing world. Anyway, because I had lots of “friends,” I saw lots of stuff in my newsfeed. And I noticed a trend emerging among authors that gave me pause to think. And the more I thought, the more I realized that this particular trend was dangerous. (Not to mention complete bullshit.) And no one would say anything about it! No one would call out this trend for violating some very important, inherent rules of writing.

The trend? Name My Characters! contests. Sometimes not even contests. Sometimes just, “I’m too fucking lazy to think of a name, so just give me one” posts. People, this is scary, and here’s why:

1.      It’s deeply offensive to the creative writing process.

No self-respecting writer worth her salt would stoop to this type of writing collaboration. Writing collaboration is fine in a critique circle with other like-minded writers—writers whose purpose it is to call out your bullshit, expect you to tighten it, and help you strengthen your writing skills. Yes, skills, because as a “writer” you should have skills. Example: you should be able to identify some literary devices and actually use them in your novels. But let’s be clear: these like-minded writers in your critique circle are not naming your characters for you. If you asked them to, they would politely ask you to leave the circle. It’s your job to name your characters. That’s part of the writing process. Yes, just like writing the actual story.

Here’s something to make you chuckle. Out of all my characters’ names thus far, Cadence is the most important to me. It was deliberately chosen because of one major detail in the Too Good series: Mark’s obsession with music. It represents an important part of his life and acts as his therapy. Hence, I wanted the girl he fell in love with to have a name that means “rhythmic.” Cadence was, after all, “his song, his life.” In essence, she became his music therapy. Now for the funny part: half the reviews I read (when I still read reviews) called her Candace. Candace. *pausing and blinking* And that’s okay! Yes, it’s okay because not every reader will find meaning in your characters’ names (or remember what they are, for that matter). But guess what? You should. And also guess what? Some readers will. And they’ll message you about how clever you are. Isn’t that worth putting in the effort?

2.      It’s a cheap marketing ploy.

We all want to sell books. Hello. Most of us don’t look at this writing thing as a hobby. It’s a job we take seriously. It’s painstaking and oftentimes terribly depressing. One step forward, five steps back sort of thing. It’s a part of us—a skill and passion deeply rooted in our weird brains that house weird dreams and desires. So treat it seriously. And have a little self-respect . . . and respect for the profession. I’m not suggesting a writer shouldn’t devise clever, fun ways to market her books. I’m saying that when authors use cheap tactics to sell their work or garner new fans—“Name my character and you could win my book!”—it completely devalues the sacredness of storytelling. A character’s name should matter to the author. It’s just as important as that plot twist or decision to make the hero go right instead of left. If it doesn’t matter to you, then you’re probably not a writer. Not to mention it makes the rest of us writers look like assholes: “Why don’t you run a contest like that, Summer? You need to be connecting with your audience.” Well, I guess because I want my stories to sell based on the merit of the writing style, plot, character development and choices I make, since, you know, it’s my story.

3.      It’s a subversive power play.

The clever ones know what you’re doing. You want to be the really cool author who connects with her fans on a level none of the rest of us could ever hope to understand. You want your fans saying, “Look how creative she is! I just feel soooo connected to her.” Guess what? Simply writing your story and having the guts to put it out there for all kinds of critique (both constructive and just plain ridiculous) makes you the cool author! Yes! For real! You don’t have to try to compete. Your fans may think you’re being uber creative, but the other writers out there know that shirking the responsibility of naming your characters isn’t creative at all. It’s just lame.  

4.      It screams, “I don’t care!”

Look it: we all want to get that book finished so we can move on to the next one. We all want to publish every two to three months, but newsflash: if you’re publishing every two to three months, chances are your stories are shit. Take a breath and relax. Go on. You can do it. Relaaaaax into your story. Feel it. Be consumed by it. Live in it for the appropriate amount of time. What is that? It’s however much time it takes you to get 90,000 words on the page and then revise it ten trillion times. Let everything about your story be important to you. Make deliberate choices. YOU make them, not someone else who is not emotionally and intellectually invested in your story. They haven’t read it yet, so how can they be? But you’d let them choose your heroine’s name? Ugh. No. No no no. You’re better than that. Don’t be a lazy writer. Care about your work.

5.      It makes the indie writing world look stupid.

Are other professional writers doing this? Doubtful. I have a hard time seeing Stephen King asking his fans to name his next hero. I do, however, see him telling a writer who employs such ridiculous tactics to go fuck herself.


For the record, I have absolutely no idea if this trend is still . . . trending. I have about five friends on my new page, so I see nothing. I’m just going to assume that it still pops up every now and then to make this post sound relevant. And that’s really because it took me so long to write it.


Friday, September 19, 2014

The Great Communicator

Yeah, so that was Reagan, not me. I’m a terrible blogger. Okay?

I subscribe to a writer’s blog—a writer who posts nearly every day, sometimes multiple times. And I think to myself, how does he do it?? How does he read, and write, and take care of a family, and walk the dog, and feed himself, AND write meaningful posts? Now granted, he will feature a lot of guest posts, but so what? He still has to organize all that stuff. I can’t imagine what his blog calendar looks like. Mine? Well, it looks similar to this:

The thing is, I want to be an awesome blogger. I want to share awesome things with you. I have lots of ideas, lots of stuff I run across on a daily basis and would love to discuss, but I can’t seem to get them down. And then when I start, the self-doubt creeps in: “No one cares about this, Summer. When is your next novel coming out??” Yeeeaaaah . . . I really can’t discuss that right now. How lame is that?

When you’re trying to break out of the indie world, everything about the way you approach a novel, write it, and share it drastically changes. You have to look at the book like it’s not yours. You don’t own it. You don’t have the freedom to publish a release date. You don’t get to share teasers or a kickass cover you know is, well, kickass, or let your audience know a damn thing you’re doing. This is probably why many indie writers stay indie—for control. They continue to do it on their own until they’re approached by a publisher. Not the other way around.

I’ve discovered, though, that being approached by a publisher is a rarity. Going under contract takes enormous effort and a willingness to kick it old school—just like writers had to before the self-publishing platform exploded. Combine that work with novels that break the norm, and I admit to standing at the base of a huge mountain. It’ll be a long and arduous climb. It may end with success. It may end with me having to self-publish yet again. *sigh* Either way, I want you to know that I’ve not abandoned you. I’m still writing for you, but now I simply can’t tell you anything about it. I know. It’s total bullshit.

I wish I could be the great communicator, and have active Instagram and Pinterest accounts and update everyone on Facebook and tweet all day. May I be honest, though? I fucking hate social media. I am a writer living in the wrong era. I think I would have been much more successful in the 1970s when writing was a solitary endeavor. I could be a writer hermit and that would be perfectly acceptable. In fact, that would be expected. It's not acceptable now. Social media has essentially torn down those protective walls, allowed authors and readers to hold virtual hands and connect in ways that are both brilliant and scary as hell. They're mostly scary for me. I barely let my husband get that close. But I adore my fans, and I know I need to talk to them. Talking = Promoting. Talking = Staying relevant. Talking = Happy Audience. And I dearly want to make you happy.

I’ll try to be more like Reagan. Obviously he wasn't nicknamed the Great Communicator because he kept up with his social media accounts. It was because he could deliver one hell of a speech. His words mattered just like I want my words to matter to you. So I'll try. And when I fail (which is inevitable), I’ll try again. How about this? I do want to discuss with you the “Name my Characters” bullshit FB contests I see on occasion. That will be in my next post. You hold me to it, okay?

I love you all. xo