Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quoth The Ravin'

I'm finalizing a manuscript I started writing many years ago. It's a novel set in 1982, a murder mystery that takes place in a town remarkably similar to Santa Cruz, California. The main character's best friend is the lead singer, bass player and songwriter in a rock band called "Bertha's Attic." The band would love to play only their own original tunes, but they are still at that stage in their musical careers where they are often forced to play cover tunes. Music, in general, is an important element in the tale.

Which brings up the tricky deal of quoting song lyrics in a novel. If you search "quoting song lyrics in a novel" on the internet, you will find some people say no (actually, it's more like NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!) and some people say maybe. Both sorts like to throw around phrases like "fair use" and "public domain." Not to mention "lawsuits." Some folks seem to think it's OK to quote as long as it's not more than seven words and some people say that's horse puckey.

I (like you, Dear Reader) have read many novels where song lyrics were quoted. Sometimes I see the song title, composer and publisher listed in the tiny print up front. Sometimes not. Maybe the publisher paid the song's owner big bucks for the use of the quote. Maybe not. The first two hundred and ninety three drafts of HEAVENLY MOVES included a dazzling array of sparkling song quotes, mostly from '80s rock tunes. They were witty or romantic or incisive - perfect for that moment in the story. If you know me at all, you know that I love music and I love rock'n'roll. (Wait - that's simply my honest opinion there, I'm NOT quoting Joan Jett! And if I were, it would be something about buying me a roast... whew, this quote stuff is tricky! And please don't call Edgar Allan Poe's estate either - that's an "i", not an "e" in the title of this blog post.) So, back to those song quotes I had in my novel - they were wonderful, relevant and really added to the story. Unfortunately, they weren't my words. Somebody else wrote them. Somebody else owns them. Somebody else might get all huffy and sue me if I use them without their permission. And permission might involve a fee.

What a drag! So, draft #294 proceeded without the quotes, unless the lyrics were written by me. Music still pervades the story, though. It's fine to mention the song titles and the artists when you're writing a novel - just not so fine to quote the lyrics. There are even ways to evoke the lyrics without literally quoting them. As I refine my manuscript, that's actually become sort of a fun challenge, to MAKE those lyrics pop into your brain even though I can't put them on the page. (while not annoying readers who aren't familiar with the tune)

A sort of related piece o' trivia: did you know you can't copyright titles? That's why you'll come across books, songs, movies with the same titles that are totally different in every other regard. HEAVENLY MOVES was originally titled THE LUCKY STIFF until I realized there was a published novel (by someone else, obviously) with almost the same title (sans THE) in the exact same genre! A genre that is a teeny tiny little slice of the publishing world. What are the odds?! Well, I could still call it THE LUCKY STIFF since the other author doesn't have exclusive dibs to that title, but that might end up being confusing for all of us. Hmmm... eventually I came to the conclusion that HEAVENLY MOVES would be a better title anyhow for the first book in a possible series about my protagonist, whose name is Heavenly Wilcox. Plus, in the meantime, I'd started thinking about the sequel to SHADOW POINT which I want to call LUCKY. So, a non-lucky, heavenly title seemed like the better choice. (see... always thinking! :-))

So, to recap:

  • Huffiness, lawsuits, horse puckey, talking birds that bring up your old girlfriends - BAD

  • Random Jane Eyre references, creativity, Joan Jett, roast beef - GOOD

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"You don't always get to have a good day. Enjoy them when they come along."

Edna Scafe

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"I want to believe, but, baby, I'm dry."

Aimee Mann

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Madison McPeake: In Her Own Words

If you've already read my novel SHADOW POINT, you're swell. :-)

If not, I'd like to introduce you to the protagonist, Madison McPeake. Perhaps the best way to do that is to share her thoughts on a variety of topics:

On organized religion: "Religion was definitely not the answer for me, seeing as how all the church people I knew skipped right over the "love thy neighbor" stuff to get right down to the "let's stone her in the village square" stuff. God Bless America."

On ears: "A nearly perfect ear, I noticed. Good--nothing worse than funky ears. Maybe it's just me, but the sexiest woman in the world gets downgraded from a ten to a one instantly if she's got weird ears."

On kids: "She'd be walking, talking, probably have strong opinions and bad habits. All the same disagreeable things I dislike about grown up people. Plus, be prone to the high-pitched noises and overall stickiness I associate with small children."

On staff meetings: "Following a bulldog butt uphill was not adding to my experience, but on the scale of unpleasant things, it was better than a staff meeting, I guess."

On sin: "I was already freaked out because I'd committed no fewer than four of the sins cited by the preacher in his interminable and agitated sermon that very morning. And that didn't even count speeding, chewing gum on Sundays, and listening to devil music, all of which I'd further accomplished on the drive to the church."

On nudity: "I didn't really care that she wasn't a natural strawberry blonde, but the knowledge that those freckles were ALL over was more than I needed to know. I'm selectively in favor of female nudity...if I'm doing the selecting..."

She's a wee bit opinionated, that Mad!

When Outlines Attack

An outline is an essential tool for me when I am writing a novel. I have heard of writers who don't use them, but I can hardly believe it. (And I would think twice before setting out on a road trip with such a person unless I really didn't care where or when the journey ended.) (shotgun!)

Which is not to say I start with an outline. I start, of course, with an idea and after letting that idea stew in some creative juices for awhile (usually a very long while), I write several pages. These are often, but not always, the first pages in the story. At that point, I normally have a pretty good idea of how the story starts and ends, but I may be a little sketchy on what happens in the middle. (darn you, ya pesky middle!) So somewhere early on, I feel the need to create an outline.

For one thing, writing a 300ish page novel means writing LOTS of words and LOTS of details. For me, without an outline, I'll be lost in The Swamp quite rapidly. Who can remember what color hat our heroine was wearing on page 32? Did she drive to the club or get a ride? Call in sick or go to work? Seemingly minor details can derail your story down the line if you don't keep it all organized somehow. And if you change something in chapter 14, beware! This can have significant ripple effects all the way from page one to the end. If you want your story to make sense and not have dumb mistakes in it, an outline is your best friend, I say.

Not that it has to be pretty! When I sat down to write my first novel - which is HEAVENLY MOVES, the one I'm still (yes) editing to this very day, more than 10 years later - I quickly reeled off the first 15 pages and then had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. (it was fun, though!) The first outline I wrote was an assignment for a writing class at UCLA Extension. What a thing of beauty it was! I think it was something like 40 pages and immensely detailed.

And what an anchor it was around my neck! As I continued to write - actually write - the rest of the novel, I felt trapped by that outline, bound to it. Which was stupid since I had created it. The outline said my character should do A when I really wanted her to do B. Or Q or X. I finally threw out that beautiful outline and went back to the drawing board.

The outlines I use these days are short (often 1 or 2 pages), exceedingly ugly and probably total gibberish to anyone other than me. For example, here is what the outline says for Chapter 1 of HEAVENLY MOVES:

chapter 1
more intro:
meet jd
public defender

Got it? :-) (And in case you're wondering why Chapter 1 calls for "more" intro, I should tell you there's a prologue.)

Here is the outline for chapter 2 of ROMEO FAILS, my Midwestern tale which will be published in February 2012:

d has brunch with mm, s & mm's mother at the café (blue bird café? blue duck café? uh...)
vandalism is the big talk at the café
(places to eat in town: bowling alley? pizza hut, sizzle'n'shake, blue duck café, hotel/motel?)

bar scene leads to encounter with mrs. gargoyle

You can see the tentative nature of these notes. Where to eat? What to call the eatery? I don't know! Or rather, I didn't know, but the outline provided me with the bare bones of the structure of the chapter: It's Sunday, 4 people are having brunch, vandalism is the talk of the town and later there's a bar scene. The outline is sort of like the architectural plans for a house, giving me the dimensions, the walls and the floor. Later on will come the interior decorating with all the details.

Just so you know: I settled on the Blue Duck as the name for the café. And the bar scene did NOT end up leading to an encounter with Mrs. Gargoyle, which is not the character's real name, just her unfortunate nickname. :-) So lots of things changed as I did the actual writing, but the outline kept me on track with the basics.

I'd be lost without an outline. All three of my novels incorporate a mystery element and you have just GOT to be organized when you're writing a mystery! You as the author know what's a clue, what's a red herring, what's important and what's not, but to have it all make sense, be entertaining, flow and seem effortless to the reader - that's the trick. A trick I could not pull off without an outline. I highly recommend the use of one - even if it's just scribbled, uncertain notes - to the aspiring novelist. It's just as crucial to keep track of where you've been as to have a plan for where you're going. Embrace the fact that the plan will change and you'll need to make adjustments. Your outline will save you when that time comes.

And now I'm going to do something else that I highly recommend to all writers - go outside! :-)

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"Here comes the sun."

George Harrison

(I'm always excited for springtime daylight savings time to roll around, but this year I am STOKED!)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I'm mentioned before there are some other Amy Briants out there in cyberspace who are not me. (SO not me!) There are other Shadow Points out there, too - oddly (not to mention alarmingly), one of them is an apartment complex in San Diego county of which I had no knowledge prior to writing the book. (probably not haunted) (probably)

And of course there are streets in various places out there called Shadow Point Drive or Way or whatever. After all, even in the book, the name "Shadow Point" was cooked up by realtors who wanted something prettier and more marketable than a Point named after that notorious scoundrel and malevolent phantom, Conrad Bly.

Normally, I wouldn't waste (much) (more) blog space on these Others. But one of the Shadow Points I came across out there in cyberspace is a dog breeder and OH MY GOSH LOOK AT THAT FACE!!!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"How many times have I pictured you here?"

Edna Scafe

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Well, do ya, punk?

I have a (ridiculous?) (and yet self-amusing) habit of creating faux covers for my books before I write them. So here's the sequel to SHADOW POINT:

Doing things in the proper order is so boring, don't you think?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Barmy? Ain't! (Or: Thoughts on Pseudonyms)

A pie chart showing what writers do should devote the largest slice of pie to, well, writing. But a tiny (and DELICIOUS) sliver may be apportioned to some things that aren't really that important - but an author who agonizes over every little detail and nuance in her story may find herself agonizing over the non-writing bits of writing as well.

Like - what's your name, Author? Shall you boldly, brazenly use the name your parents bestowed on you, discounting the fact that they never in a million years (at that point, at least) thought you would write a novel, let alone actually get published and thus failed to equip you with an awesome writerly name like, you know, Shakespeare McBrontepants or Prousty Dickensian.

Many writers, of course, use their real names. Some go with a pseudonym, which (if you're fancy) is also known as a nom de plume or (if you're unfancy) a fake name. Why a fake name? (I am decidedly unfancy. And yet not fancy-free...) On a serious note, some writers use a fake name because real harm will come to them if people know they wrote those words. Physical harm, emotional harm, economic harm, political harm... the list goes on and on. I would guess that many LGBTQ writers have thought about using a pseudonym for that reason. Some do, some don't.

Some authors may choose to write under a different name not because they fear harm, but because they don't want people to know they wrote that particular book. Ah, if only their parents had had the foresight to name them Porny O'Pornstein.

Other authors may choose one or more nom de plumes for marketing reasons. They may want to clearly separate their works in one genre from another. My second book, ROMEO FAILS, is so different from my first, SHADOW POINT, that I actually did think for a minute about using a different name. But no - I'm too in love with ROMEO FAILS! :-) I want my name on that book. And despite its differences (no ghosts, 3rd person, a protagonist who's not so much like me), it's still an "Amy Briant book." Whatever that is!

One more reason an author might create a pseudonym is also marketing-related. Just like all those Hollywood stars who started life with "too normal" names like Norma Jean Baker or Marion Morrison (Marilyn Monroe & John Wayne, respectively), some authors have "simplified", altered or flat out changed their monikers so their author names would be... what? Easier to remember? Easier to say? Sexier? Cooler? Something like that.

So, assuming that Amy Briant IS my real name... :-) If I ever do decide to use a pseudonym, it will be just for fun! Who wouldn't want to have a cool secret identity, at least once in awhile? Why not embrace the full author experience and use a nom de plume on a book or two? Although how would that work if I actually had a public reading or some other event to attend in person? Trenchcoat, wig and fake moustache? (I assure you it would be fake.) Hmmm... Phantom of the Opera mask? In which case I'd only need half a fake moustache?

And what name would I choose? Because I have clearly have entirely too much free time, you will probably not be surprised to learn that I have given this way too much thought already. :-) Of course, I could just make up something completely out of the blue. (I'm ruling out O'Pornstein now, just to let you know.) But I'm a big fan of obscure double meanings. If I went through SHADOW POINT with a highlighter to show you all of those, there'd be a whole lot of yellow going on! So, perhaps I could take other names that have meaning for me and construct a new one for myself. Or, better yet, take my own name, mix up the letters and see what happens. (I love Scrabble!) With my vowels and consonants and "sometimes Y", there are a lot of real-sounding names I can create with a-m-y-b-r-i-a-n-t. (don't send me suggestions, please - I assure you I've already been through all the permutations and combinations)

And even more unreal-sounding ones. My new favorite: Aint Barmy. Maybe that could be my Lemony Snicket name, so to speak... I'll save that one for a series of odd picture books for children. Aint Barmy... I like the sound of that. :-)