Company Girl: An Original Short Story For Download

A week or so ago I talked about how a short story of mine was published through a company called Ether Books. Well, today it’s available for download!

How do you download it? If you have an iPhone, it’s a simple as searching for Ether Books and downloading their app for free. If you don’t have an iPhone you can go here to download the app via iTunes for your computer. Once you have the app installed, just search for “H.T. Sundance” or “Company Girl” and download the story for only $0.99!

 

 

Not convinced? Well here’s a little teaser.
 

He’ll kill you, Johnny.

The asphalt felt like jagged teeth against the balls of my feet. Clawing, digging, biting at my bare calloused flesh with each hurried footfall. The chill breeze nipped at my skin, goosebumps pouring down my spine. How long do I have? I couldn’t see the moon in the sky. Clouds veiled the luminary like shadowy fingers—as if someone jumped me from behind; a bag thrown over my head as they pulled me into the darkness. I could hardly see my own hands in front of my face. How did I get myself into this mess?
    The rustling obsidian walls at either side exhaled a devilish howl, the icy wind clinging to my bones …

 
It’s only $0.99 to read the rest, so what are you waiting for?

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Sick Again, Seriously?

Apparently no matter what bug happens to be going around, I’ll get it. Last time it was the stomach bug, and I got that. Then a cold went around, and now I’ve got that. I still feel pretty terrible, but it’s getting better as time goes on. The last few days I’ve literally felt like a zombie. Everything hurt and when I walked around it was more like “trudging”, complete with the occasional grunt and moan. My skin might not have been rotting off the bone, but it sure felt like it.

The worst thing about being sick is that my brain seriously does not work. Most would think “Hey, you’re sick, you have nothing better to do, you can write!”, and I can’t. I try, but nothing comes. I just can’t think well when I feel like that, and the most I can do is force out an article for my job. Even then, that probably looks like crap, but oh well.

So what do I do while I’m sick? I lay on the couch and watch things on TV that I would never watch otherwise. On the worst day, I watched about 3 hours straight of The Next Great Baker and Cake Boss. And I wanted to eat cake all day. I got really sick of loud Italian voices though. It kept me busy though, so I can’t really complain. When it wasn’t on anymore, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Sad, right?

The one creative thing I’ve been doing is some drawing. I’m terrible at it, but I’m on a friend’s art forum and they’re doing this little “Feb-A-Thon” thing where you upload something you’ve drawn everyday. It’s fun, and I decided to play along, even though in comparison to the other artists there my stuff looks like a 3-year-old drew it. It’s better than nothing though, because I need to keep my brain working somehow.

Since I know you’re wondering how badly I draw, here. It’s a character from something I’m working on, so while it’s garbage, at least it helps me visualize and keep writing.

Yes, I draw like a 7-year-old girl. Sue me.

 

Writing Communities To Watch I: WritersCafe.org

When I jumped into the writing world, I immediately sought out a good writing community. In the past I wrote a lot of fanfiction, and a lot of it found its way to fanfiction.net, a popular site for that sort of thing at the time. However when I woke up one day and decided “I want to be a writer (more so than I have been before),” I knew that writing fanfiction wasn’t going to get me anywhere. A swarm of ideas buzzing around in my mind, I sat down and wrote two pieces of flash fiction that would lead me towards the start of my first original novel: Children of Solus.

That wasn’t long ago, and that novel is still long from completion, but the fact was that I needed to get myself out there. I needed to join in the hunt for new opportunities, all the while honing my skills and seeing what others thought of my work. To do that, I needed to find an online writing community to give myself an applet to show people what I could do. After all, sitting alone in a house writing silly stories that only I read to myself isn’t exactly the recipe for inspiration, encouragement, and personal success. No, I needed to put myself out there, one way or another. I plopped down on the office chair, spent five minutes or so searching for somewhere to upload my work (a long time for one with such a short attention span), and came across WritersCafe.org.


The site looked great; clean, well organized, eye-catching, and developed with writers in mind. I signed up and got right to work. First off, there is a high level of categorization when it comes to putting your writing where it needs to be. The list of genres to choose from and file your work under is extensive, and I think that’s an important thing when you’ve got a massive public database of writing. From metafiction to lyrics, WritersCafe has it all, and the upload system is simple to use and pretty self-explanatory. The site does not support file uploading, instead forcing you to copy and paste your work, but that’s not a big deal in the grand theme of things.

Once you’ve got your text in the editor and ready to submit, you have to option to tag your piece with keywords as lightly or as heavily as you’d like. You also can upload a picture with each piece of writing, which when clicked on later will popup in a fashion similar to when you click on a photo in Facebook. It’s a nice touch, and the site doesn’t force you to use only certain dimensions for your images. In addition to that, you can upload photos to an album, and even manage a simple blog all within the website, both of which can be viewed and commented on by others on the site.

Something nice about WritersCafe is its “newsfeed”, which is basically a simplified clone of Facebook’s newsfeed. Any other writers who you have added as friends will see when you upload a new piece of writing, photo, blog post, or even when you receive a comment on something. In return, you’ll see their activity. It’s smart to create a lengthy friends list, that way more and more people will see what you’re doing and read your work. As with most writing communities, there are a lot of common courtesies that come with this. If someone comments on (reviews) something of yours, it’s polite to review something of theirs. A sidebar on the main page will create a list of the last six or so people who reviewed your writing, suggesting that your return the favor. This easy access list and constant reminder creates a pleasant atmosphere where most will trade reviews without being asked.

The newsfeed is a nice feature, and very easy to use.

If you do want to ask for reviews or anything else more specific, WritersCafe also has a well categorized forum. The forums aren’t very active, but you’re likely to get answers to your questions sooner or later, and many are always looking to trade reviews with their fellow writers. If you want a bit more socializing, writers are open to create groups, complete with their own private message boards, and most groups are always looking for new members. On a similar note, writers are also allowed to create contests, customizing them to accept only certain types of writing (such as poetry, screenplays, or books), or anything and everything. Usually these contests follow a certain theme, allowing anywhere from one submission per writer to nine separate submissions. Most of the free-for-all contests become bloated with way too many applicants, but some of the more theme oriented ones find a reasonable number of applicants, giving everyone a fair shot at winning fun little awards.

The last unique facet of WritersCafe that I personally think is a great addition to the site is the presence of a section dedicated to writing courses. Anyone is allowed to upload courses, which within them hold a number of separate lessons. For example, I have my Breath Life Into Your Writing! course on WritersCafe, with each of its various installments uploaded as lessons such as “Part I: Personification, Part II: Metaphors & Similes” and so on. Readers are then able to go through the lessons at their own pace, with the option to subscribe to the course, which gives them a notification when the next lesson is uploaded. While much of the courses might be coming from novice writers, you’re sure to find a treasure trove of free writing tips and tricks.

There are courses on many different subjects, all at your fingertips.

WritersCafe sounds like a dream come true, right? Well, with dreams usually comes nightmares. WritersCafe isn’t perfect.

The most annoying aspect of WritersCafe is its server. During any given day, you will probably find yourself trying to load the homepage to no avail. Sometimes I can use the site with no problem all day, while others I can hardly load the main page once or twice. The site goes down way too often, and it’s been going on like that for years. Odds are it will continue on this way for some time.

Besides that, there aren’t too many negative points about WritersCafe. It has a few quirks that can be annoying, for example when you copy your writing over into the editor and upload it, the site will break all of your em dashes. For some odd reason, the site doesn’t like em dashes, and it turns then into quotation marks. This can be annoying if you—like me—do that a lot. It’s easy enough to fix if you just go through your writing in the editor and change your em dashes into two hyphens, but that can be time-consuming and a major annoyance when it comes to long stories and novel chapters.

Something else that can be frustrating is finding readers for longer pieces of writing. Poetry gets a lot of attention on WritersCafe, while books get almost none. It was months before my novel began receiving a good amount of attention, and only after I had a pretty large friends list, but that’s an issue you can focus effort into and conquer yourself through communication with other novel writers (who are also looking for readers) as well as groups dedicated to longer pieces of fiction. It takes effort to find the right people for this sort of thing, but at least you have a good community with similar interests and goals.

It’s time for a list now. Pros and cons, anyone?

Pros:

  • Clean, organized, easy to use.
  • Effective use of categorization and tagging for uploaded pieces.
  • Easy access newsfeed that most writing community sites do not have.
  • Friendly atmosphere encouraging review trading.
  • Easy to use forums.
  • Groups function complete with private message boards.
  • User created contest section.
  • User created courses section.

Cons:

  • Server constantly goes up and down.
  • Submission process breaks your em dashes.
  • Little attention paid to long pieces, with most of the attention paid to poetry.
  • $99 monthly subscription.

Just kidding on that last one; the place is free. I just felt like there were too many pros as opposed to the cons, so I decided to try and balance it out a little bit.

All in all, WritersCafe is a really great site. I’ve found the community to be pretty friendly, and the usability to be very high. It’s simple enough to figure out your first time using it, and detailed enough take time mastering. It’s got a lot of features, and they all work very well. I’ve been using it for awhile now, and I’m hardly ever disappointed (except for when the server goes down for six hours).

As for a rating, I give it a:

8.5 out of 10.

High praise? I guess it is, but I think WritersCafe.org deserves it. It might not be the most popular writing community out there, or the most professional, but it works. It was created with writers in mind, and as a writer, I think it’s a great way to get yourself out there, bolster your confidence, and hone your skills among fellow writers.

I couldn’t talk about every facet of the site, so go ahead and try it out for yourself. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I Got Published

Someone pointed out to me that all of my blog posts are like 500+ words long. Perhaps some people like that, but I imagine most of you sit down, start reading, and then say to themselves a few moments later “I don’t have time to read this, forget it.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but either way today I have a very short announcement: I got published. It’s nothing major, but it’s also not just something unimpressive like an online zine that is practically begging for submissions and will take anything with proper grammar. I talked about Ether Books before (check the link to my review on them below for more info), and that’s who accepted a short story of mine. It took about a month and half for them to get back to me, but that’s not too bad considering that they are a pretty big company, and are always growing.

Within two weeks my first published piece of fiction will be available to download through the Ether Books app on your iPhone (or smart phone?) or through iTunes. You can download the iTunes app to your computer here. The story is not available for download just yet, so in the meantime I’ll give you a short taste of the story “Company Girl”. Enjoy.

 

He’ll kill you, Johnny.

    The asphalt felt like jagged teeth against the balls of my feet. Clawing, digging, biting at my bare calloused flesh with each hurried footfall. The chill breeze nipped at my skin, goosebumps pouring down my spine. How long do I have? I couldn’t see the moon in the sky. Clouds veiled the luminary like shadowy fingers—as if someone jumped me from behind; a bag thrown over my head as they pulled me into the darkness. I could hardly see my own hands in front of my face. How did I get myself into this mess?
    The rustling obsidian walls at either side exhaled a devilish howl, the icy wind clinging to my bones …

 

Want to read more? I’ll be posting as soon as the story is available for download; I’d much appreciate your support!

The Tale of a Poor Garage Salin’ Boy

Once upon a time, I told a girl I liked going to garage sales. She laughed at it and made fun of me. Why am I telling you this? Well, first I’m trying to make you pity me just a bit (to soften you up a little). And second, I’m hoping that same garage sale discrimination won’t happen again.

(This is a long post, and I apologize in advance, but I think it’s interesting [although that’s coming from someone with what might be considered a very boring life].)

I’ll be frank here—I’ve never had money. I’ve grown up in a lower middle class family, with the occasional hand-me-down and trip to the thrift store. Not a privileged life, but not a terrible one. Get it? Good. Point is I’ve grown up driving around with mom and dad on Saturdays hitting all the garage sales. We don’t do it all the time (especially not anymore), but when we do, it’s awesome.

Awesome? Well, maybe that’s a little too dramatic, but it’s cool. Some people think that paying full price for something is some kind of privilege. Those people are stupid. I’ll buy something lightly used and a fraction of the price over something brand new and full price any day. You’re saving money, being green (whee), and it’s fun.

It’s fun because of the hunt. You never know what you’re going to find. I’ve been looking for a stand-up CD case holder (you know, like tower with all the little slats to store your CDs) lately, and I haven’t found it. It’s funny, because I used to see those all the time at garage sales when I wasn’t looking for one. That’s the fun part about garage sales. You can’t anticipate exactly what you’re going to discover, and it becomes sort of a treasure hunt.

As a child, most of my “cool” toys were from garage sales. Maybe the majority of my clothes were purchased new, but the toys were all garage sale finds. If you’re a parent, then you know how expensive toys can be. Go to a garage sale and you can get the same thing for 25¢ instead of $15. Worried about germs? Use a Lysol wipe. See how much you can save? You can thank me later.

But why did I mention toys? Well, as a kid I said most of my toys were from garage sales. The truth is that most of my toys now are from garage sales. Yes, I’m twenty and I still have “toys”, but then again I’m talking about my video game library. Listen, I have a lot of games. Since I was little, I don’t (or hardly) get rid of games. Therefore my collection has become something of a literal library. I’ve got games for the NES, SNES, N64, Wii, Genesis, Dreamcast, PSX (Playstation), PS2, Xbox, and Xbox 360. I had a PS3 as well (as well as games for it), but I sold it.

I said it before, I’m a gamer. I don’t play as much anymore, but I’ll always be a nerd. Don’t like it? Tough. Thing is, I’ve gotten most of my games from garage sales or thrift stores. The only things I didn’t buy secondhand are my Wii, PSX, PS2, and Xbox 360. Buying so many games used means they were dirt cheap and I have a lot of them. I’ve never counted, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had 50 NES games, or 100. That’s the beauty of garage sales.

So now that you get the idea behind me and my garage sales, I can continue with this little story. I haven’t been garage saling (yes, that’s the proper term) for a very long time. Months and months, I don’t know. Well this past Saturday I convinced my parents to go and we struck off on the adventure at 7:30ish. People are crazy about garage saling, so you’ve got to get a pretty early start if you want to find good stuff. 7:30 is good, but 7 is better. Either way, we were off.

 

Exhibit A: Sale

I made three “large” purchases that day. I hardly find much most of the time when I go. My dad ends up finding all sorts of crap, while I find very little. This time it was a bit different. The first garage sale we hit, I came across a big cardboard box full of game consoles and a tangle of wires. There was a PSX, PS2, and an Xbox inside. I’ve got two of those three, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it, but just out of curiosity, I decided to ask how much they wanted for the whole box. The little boy it belonged to said $10, so I figured why not. Were all the wires in there? Did the consoles work? It was cheap, so I just bought it, threw it in the car and moved on.

Exhibit A: Aftermath

It’s ridiculous how I’m organizing this post, right? Oh well. Once I got home, I began untangling the mess of cords and cables. First up was the Xbox, and I quickly found it had all the proper cords, one controller that looked worn but usable, and another controller that was broken. Armed with nothing but kitchen wipes, I sent off on cleaning it up.

All of this stuff was dirty. I’m not talking a little bit of dust, I’m talking dirt. A fine layer perhaps, but the cords had that nasty thin layer of mold on them, and the consoles were covered in a fine dusting of slightly caked on red dirt. Not cool, but kitchen wipes can clean anything. I cleaned it up nice, plugged it in, and it worked like a charm. One down, two to go.

Next up was the PS2. It received the same treatment, and it was just as dirty as the Xbox. The only controller it came with was broken in half in the back. It looked like it worked, but yeah. I have PS2 controllers, so I wasn’t too worried about it. I cleaned it up and turned it on, no problems. Two down, one to go.

Last up was the PSX. It wasn’t as dirty as the others, ironically, and only took a bit to clean up. All three of these consoles were in good shape, but this one looked the best even for being older. Unfortunately, while it turns on fine and seems to work, it has a very hard time reading games. It acts like your discs are too scratched to play, and when they do play, they freeze on loading screens way too often. It seems like—while it works—it has a difficult time reading the actual discs. I’m not sure how to fix that, but at the moment it seems like the only bust in the buy. Do you know how to fix it?

So in the end, I nabbed two working consoles for 10 bucks. PS2s go for around $40 on eBay, and I think Xboxes are about the same. I’ll probably end up keeping the Xbox, and a friend of the family had his PS2 break, so I might give him a deal on it. Point is that the $35 or so I spent all day is pretty much completely made back with just one item. Isn’t garage saling cool?

I may have a problem.

Exhibit B: Sale

The next item I came across is a little weirder. Like you see above, there’s a picture of it at the bottom of this section. I tend to buy weird little things, so this odd little straw basket with tiny people in it came into my possession for 50¢. Why did I buy it? I don’t know, but I did. It’s interesting.

Exhibit B: Aftermath

Aftermath? There is no aftermath on this one. It’s tiny and weird and maybe someday you’ll see it on some obscure little item in my hypothetical Etsy shop. I collect these trinkets, you see. This isn’t the first time. Will I ever do anything with them? Probably not, but who knows.

Sorry, it's a bit blurry.

Exhibit C: Sale

This was probably the coolest buy of the day. The odd thing about this day of garage saling was the lack of music CDs. Usually whenever I go garage saling, people are selling off their old CDs. At any given sale, they’re there. It’s so common, that most days when I can’t find anything, I at least get a CD or two. However this time, there were none. None at all, all day. Instead, it seemed that everyone collectively decided to get rid of all their old PSX games.

Usually I don’t find those at all, so it was fun I suppose, but at one sale I found a whole book of them. You know the CD case/books? I don’t know what to call them, but you get the picture. It was full of them, so I just decided to ask “How much for the whole thing?” Bundling up had gone well so far, so why argue with success? The lady thought about it, and said $20. That probably was fair, technically speaking, but half of the games in this thing I didn’t even want. I offered $10, and she said “It’s too early, maybe later.”

That might sound silly, but you’ll find that sometimes when garage saling. Things sell good in the morning, and as the day wears on, it’s smart to price things down, because fewer and fewer people start showing up. That’s what she was thinking, so I just asked “When can I come back and buy it for $10?” Rude? A little, but it was all in good fun. She laughed and said after lunch. Fair enough, so I went and put it back. The thought crossed my mind to hide it, even though it was doubtful that anyone would buy it, but before I could decide to be a douchebag about it or not, she called out “Okay, $10.”

Exhibit C: Aftermath

This purchase was hit and miss. A lot of the games inside, I don’t even want. Is there anyone looking for the 102 Dalmatians game? I didn’t think so. Still, there were quite a few cool games inside, and many that I haven’t even checked out yet. So far I’ve been impressed with a game called Einhander. Sounds like sound crazy German word, but upon playing it, it’s a side-scrolling shooter (like Xevious).

The biggest disappointment was Legend of Dragoon. It’s a pretty epic RPG, and I think it’s worth a bit of money, but upon closer inspection I found that the CD book only had disc 2, 3, and 4. It happens, and who knows, maybe I’ll go back to the same garage sale and get lucky, unless anyone’s looking to sell disc 1? In the end, I know I could get a couple bucks out of a lot of the games. There are 50 or so of them, so at $10 that’s like each disc was 20¢. I think that’s fair.

Ah, the smell of used games. (They don't actually have a smell, but hey.)

Exhibit D: Sale

Last one—promise. At one of the last sales we stopped by, I came across a little appointment book looking thing; the ones that zip up and whatever. It caught my eye because it looked like it was leather, and it was Fossil. Cool, but it had a $20 price tag on it. Thinking that was ridiculous, I opened it up and found a palm pilot inside.

I’ll admit that palm pilots are so outdated, but they’re still cool. My dad has one (that he used to use for work), and looking at this one, it looked exactly the same. Unfortunately it didn’t have a charger, but it looked like it was in amazing shape, and it also came with a few SD cards. I talked the lady down to $10 and bought it.

Exhibit D: Aftermath

Even though it didn’t have a charger, it looked the same as my dad’s one and he agreed. The idea was that I could just use his charger. No sweat. Once we got home and check though, we discovered that mine was one model newer than his (the Tungsten E2, as opposed to his Tungsten E) even though both models look identical to each other. His charger didn’t fit for mine, so I was up a creek.

On the bright side, I looked everything up on eBay and picked up a data cable/charger (along with some universal USB adapters for wall charging and car charging) for $6 with free shipping. Altogether, I spent $16 on it, and it looked like Tungsten E2s are still going for $30-$40 on eBay.

I feel like I'm carrying around a pager when I hold this.

So what’s the moral of this story? Garage sales are awesome—that’s what. Half the fun is reselling things and making your money back so you can do it all over again. You’re jealous now, aren’t you? Well in that case, go out there and do it yourself!

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? Well get out there and find some treasure.

Writing Communities To Watch, Prologue: How Can The Internet Help Your Writing?

As an unpublished (or even published) writer, the internet can be a very useful tool. That thought may come across as “the internet will help you find job and/or get yourself published”, but while that can be true, that’s not what I’m referring to. Getting published and making money doing something you love is great—wonderful even, but something comes before that, in my opinion.

What am I talking about?

Writing + Internet = ?

It’s not a cement concept I’m talking about here, but in simple terms, the internet can help you grow as a writer. How exactly? That’s where the idea gets murkier. You have to choose wisely where to “train” your skills, so to speak, on the internet. When you’re uploading your own material for others to critique, anyone can say anything. In spite of that, as a writer you should be able to take positive points even from the most wantonly negative feedback as well as the positive. Some people may simply pat you on the back for what you’ve written. There’s merit in that sort of thing, but it’s rather small. Encouragement is key for new writers to grow. After all, if you don’t have faith in your writing yet, having someone tell you it’s good is a vital step in the growing process.

Of course, what you really want to find is good constructive criticism. This can be difficult to find, but odds are that if you’ve shown your writing to anyone before, it’s been your friends and family. Sometimes that can be great, but it’s hard to get unadulterated feedback from your personal acquaintances (unless your personally know a writer or editor). Whenever my mother or grandmother happen to read something of mine, there’s a disproportionate amount of positive as opposed to negative. That’s natural, and that’s why it’s key to find unbiased, educated feedback on your work.

If you write unopposed, you’ll never grow as a writer.

That sounds like an odd term to use, doesn’t it? Unopposed. I thought for a moment when I typed that, and I think the word fits perfectly. As a writer, you are trying to convince your readers that you’re good at what you do. It’s a battle of personal skill, and it never ends. Even established authors receive terrible reviews. The aim is to convince the majority of your readers that you know your stuff. You can never get everyone. Look at someone like Stephanie Meyer who wrote what is probably the most influential and popular book series of the modern generation. Some people absolutely love the Twilight saga, and some think it’s absolute rubbish. I don’t mean to argue for or against how skilled of a writer Stephanie is—the point is that she hit her audience hard. There will always be haters, but in the end, if the majority of your audience loves what you’ve done? You’ve succeeded in what you set out to do.

But what’s all this business about your writing being “opposed”? Like I said above, you’re fighting for your readers’ respect in a way. To be successful in that endeavor, you want to bulk up your writing muscles. Any skill is like a muscle, and writing is no different. You practice continuously—and eventually the muscle grows. However, if you want successful exercise in this sense, you need resistance, tension, something pushing back against your effort. This is where the internet can come in.

You’re not alone out here. There are thousands upon thousands of people who want to do exactly what you want to do. That’s a blessing in one way, and a curse in another. It’s a curse in that it’s difficult not to become lost in the flood; you have to fight to stand out. It’s a blessing in that you have many, many peers who are helpful and willing to aid in your growth as a writer. This input comes in many forms, but one of the strongest applets you have available to you is the public writing community.

If you noticed the title of this post, what you’re reading is a prologue. This will be a series, highlighting different writing communities across the web and the pros and cons of each of them. The purpose of this first post is to explain the merit behind using writing communities, while the installments following this will review various writing communities. Simple, right?

The difficult thing is using the internet in general correctly as a tool to improve your writing. It’s going to take effort and intuition on your part to find useful beta readers, critique, etc. On any given writing community, you can very well find a fellow writer who might be willing to read over your work in order to give you many forms of constructive criticism. Everyone is at a different writing level, so while one person may be able to help point out grammatical errors and minor things, another might be able to give insight into much deeper matters, such as character development and plot. It’s up to you to find the right person, and that can be a challenge in its own right.

I once talked quite a bit with a fellow writer—a young guy about a year younger than me. As soon as I met him, I could tell he thought quite a bit of himself. I can see that in people, because while I may not think “I’m hot stuff”, I can be relatively hardheaded and opinionated. I know how to be tactful, but at the same time, I have no problem telling people what I think. I’ve done a lot of critiquing myself for other writers, and I think I’m fairly helpful in that sense. I can sit down and tell someone “This is off”, but at the same time I can see why they wrote what they did. I can see the merit in it, regardless of execution. I always try to do something when I read over someone’s work to give them constructive criticism; I highlight how they can take the idea they are trying to convey to their reader, and make it stronger and more relatable.

This may or may not be him, but the idea of the attitude is clear enough.

When it came to this young man I was in contact with, like I said, I could see the kind of personality he had. Still, he wasn’t a terrible writer, and I’m open to all the criticism I can get. He read over a chapter of my novel Children of Solus and gave me some reasonable thoughts. At this point I thought “Hey, this guy is cool”, and a month or so later he messaged me, bored and wondering if I had anything that I wanted read over and criticized. Since he offered, I sent him a couple short stories. Awesome, right?

Not quite. In a setting where he had the Word document in front of him, and the ability to type his comments beneath each chunk of written story, his true colors were shown. I understand some critics are quite harsh, and I’ve received relatively harsh feedback. In fact, I like harsh feedback, because when I read it, I have to argue with myself why each comment against my writing is wrong. Sometimes those arguments in my head aren’t very strong. Sometimes they have holes. That’s when I have to take a step back and say “Okay, that’s actually a really good point”. In the end, it augments my writing and makes it better.

However when it came to this guy, he basically tore open every point he could possibly convince himself was “wrong”. To illustrate how petty he was, he wrote an entire paragraph bashing the fact that an eight-year-old said thank you, claiming that the simple phrase of “thank you” didn’t fit that age, and that it made the reader think the character was a teenager. He even ignored the fact that the child had a strict upbringing. No child says thank you, huh? All the while, he was so terrible at interpreting the simplest concepts that he didn’t even discern that the “thank you” he ranted about so much was said in a sarcastic manner. It was an incredibly simple concept within a story that was written in a very dumbed down fashion from a child’s perspective.

Still, any insight can be useful, and a few of the things he brought out I did consider into an ongoing second draft. Funny enough, the next criticism he brought out basically told me “You’re stupid and wrong” concerning the title of a certain therapist in the story. Little did he know I’ve personally been to psychologists and psychiatrists too many times to count, yet here he was telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, and to do some personal research before I make things up. From this point alone, I could tell he was a know-it-all.

Still, like I said, even the most uselessly cynical of criticism can aid you in your writing—you just have to grow some thicker skin. I replied to him, explaining certain points that I did not agree with him on, explained my personal experience with therapists, and I thanked him for his effort and the points that he did bring to my attention that I agreed with (even though after the first section of the story, he decided “This sucks, you need to rewrite the whole thing” and didn’t even read the last three quarters of it). He came back at me swearing and generally being an ass, telling me my story was Jr. High level at best, along with a slew of other needlessly hurtful comments. The fact that I even slightly criticized his criticism just made him flip out. I can’t imagine how this guy takes criticism on his own stories.

Don't let overly negative feedback affect you.

Obviously I found someone who was not a very good critic. I knew my story had issues (I wrote it over the course of a single night), and certainly needed cleaning up, but the points he picked on were terrible. I could have read it over myself and created better arguments with myself. Still, the entire thing kind of shook my faith in myself. I know I’m a pretty good writer. There’s a lot of room for growth, but I know I don’t write Jr. High quality work. Regardless, I felt like crap for a few days after until I showed the story to a trusted friend of mine who not only writes, but also is a talented comic artist. She’s tough too, and she pulled apart things as well, but they were useful things. Through her input, I know that when I do sit down to create the second draft, it’s going to be a lot better.

That’s the thing when it comes to this subject. You have to glean good criticism from bad, and negative doesn’t equal bad. Odds are that facets of your stories suck. When someone points them out, hopefully they do so in a tactful way, but even if they don’t, you need to take their input with a grain of salt. Your writing will benefit. All the while, look for markers in the personalities of people who criticize you. If they’re acting like a holier-than-thou know-it-all, you’re probably not going to get very useful criticism. Looking back at my bad experience, the only written material the guy had online were political rantings and mediocre poetry. It’s smart to look at written work of someone who might review your writing. If their writing sucks, they might not be able to help you much.

In the next installment, I’ll talk about a writing community that I have quite a bit of experience in, called WritersCafe.org. Be sure to follow me or check back soon for an in depth review on the first writing community in this series!

2012 Hits!

Yesterday (I think) the Sundance Press reached total 2012 hits.

Sweet.

I think that’s pretty cool, and I just wanted to say thank you to all my subscribers and readers. When I started this blog little more than a month ago, I didn’t expect much. I’ve never, ever written a blog. The social media game is kind of something I got sucked into as I realized the necessity of it for writers trying to break into the industry. I wasn’t too keen on jumping into Facebook and Twitter. That’s just not my thing, but what can you do? I also knew I needed to create a blog, and the Sundance Press was born.

Since then, I’ve grown to enjoy maintaining this little blog. I’ve put a lot of effort into it, and even created my own graphics for the site (another graphical update is coming soon). Once upon a time, I updated it everyday. Unfortunately through sickness, laziness, and lack of constant ideas, I don’t do that anymore. I try my best, but I put a lot of time and effort into my instructional posts. That takes time, and it’s all off the top of my head and a product of my personal experience. Some people use other teachers’ publications as a basis for their posts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I personally try hard to give all of you unique tips and tricks. I’m no expert, but I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I can impart some of my own wisdom to fellow writers. It takes time to think lessons up though, so that explains why I might not post as much as others.

Anyways, I didn’t mean to go on and on about this. Simply put, thanks for reading the Sundance Press, and keep coming back please!

Tekken: Movie Review

A movie review? Yes, I don’t know. This isn’t a movie review blog, but I warned you that I can be random. This is one of those times.

The other day, I caught the movie Tekken on TV. It was never in theaters (at least not in the US), and it’s adapted from the classic fighting video game, so I really didn’t expect much. Movies based on video games almost never work. Still, I had nothing better to do, so I sat down with my dad and watched it.

Simply put, I didn’t hate it. I was a child who played Street Fighter, Fighter’s Destiny, and Marvel Vs. Capcom. I never once played Tekken, and I while I immediately recognize the old dude with his white hair spiked up on both sides, I’m not familiar with the game or the story. As is typical with most movies adapted from existing stories, Tekken was not original to the game’s storyline. I’m sure it generally was, but when it comes to details, it only took a two minute search to find people complaining “That’s wrong!” Personally, I don’t care about that. That’s how movie adaptions are. If you judge them based on how different they are, you can never give a fair rating.

Still, the movie wasn’t amazing. The story is very cliche: Evil totalitarian militaristic “factions” take over a post-apocalyptic Earth, slummy terrible environments ensue. A massive fighting competition is endorsed by Tekken (a prominent faction) because… that’s what you do when everything goes to pot I guess. The main character lives in the slums, and was taught by his mother the ways of karate and whatnot. Violence ensues, the bad guy kills his mother, and he enters the Iron Fist (the fighting competition) to kill the bad guy ruler and avenge his mother’s death.

I won’t spoil anything. Even though the movie was full of weak dialogue, corny flashbacks, and a plot-hole here and there, I’d still recommend it to anyone who just wants to sit down to a heavy helping of good old fashioned badassery. The fight scenes might be corny sometimes, but the stunts aren’t bad. It’s all very entertaining if you come at it from the right perspective. You’re not going to find a gripping, well written, emotional movie that will leave you thinking. You are going to get a lot of sweaty bleeding dudes, revenge, and a couple scantily clad young ladies thrown in for good measure.

It’s a guy movie. It accomplishes that role, but not much else. I give it 3 bloody fists, because bloody fists are cool.

Old Habits Die Hard

I’ve been writing for a pretty long time; I’ve brought that up before. A problem I always faced as a young writer was lack of focus and commitment. One day I want to write about something—and I’ve got the ideas all up top—but the next day, I’m bored. Maybe not bored with the idea, but bored with writing it. Something else would steal my interest, and I’d move onto that.

It was hard for me to focus on a single project, basically. I start something; I don’t finish it. I did that a lot, if not always. A lot of people have that problem. I know I have that problem, but I thought that I grew out of it a bit.

Seems I haven’t quite ditched the habit. It’s difficult, because while I am able to embark on a project and focus on it, I have so many ideas! I’m working on two novels and one serial. Those are all time-consuming projects. Amidst those things, I need to update this blog more often. I need to sit down and write articles for my job. When I do take the time to work on a personal writing project, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know which project to work on. Then the thought comes to mind that I should start writing something entirely new. A short story, or flash fiction. Something I can submit to places and possibly get published and paid for.

As much as I talk on this blog, and try my best to help people (mostly with their virus problems, as it seems from my 100+ hits a day on my “System-Check” Virus post), I have problems myself. I know I have the skill and ability to do useful things, but more often than not I just don’t know where to direct my figurative blows.

Old habits die hard, and I’ll still have to grapple with them for control. In the meantime, it’s good to take a step back and remember that everyone is always learning. As a writer, you never stop growing, and I’ve only just begun my journey.

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part IVb: Dialogue

If you just sat down to read this and haven’t read part A of this installment yet, please click here. This installment will talk more about how you can use dialogue to augment your writing, while the last part explained how to create strong, believable dialogue.

So how can you use dialogue to your advantage? Dialogue is just dialogue, right? You need it one way or another; it isn’t an extraneous addition. That’s completely true, but that doesn’t mean you’re required to think inside the box. Like anything, dialogue is a tool, and tools are there for you to use in a variety of ways. Before I get into anything fancy, though, I want to bring out one more point that I believe is key to creating quality dialogue.

First off, note that what I’m going to say here isn’t what your writing teacher told you. It isn’t what the “experts” will tell you. In spite of that, I’m right. That sounds more than a little conceited, but I’m deadly serious here, and I’m by far not the only one who holds the same view on this. What am I talking about?

“When writing dialogue attributions, almost always use said.”

It’s likely you’ve heard that before. The argument behind this “staple writing rule” is that said is invisible to the reader, and that using other verbs for dialogue is distracting and useless to your reader. There is merit behind this mindset—I don’t deny that. However, it’s a very robotic way of thinking. How should you look at it? Well that’s up to you, and in the end, your personal writing style is what matters. Let’s dive into this a little deeper.

There are pros and cons behind using only said. I’m not going to draw up a list here, because it’s not that clear-cut. When you use said, it is generally invisible. It’s the simplest attribution there is; it’s telling the reader who just “said” the last chunk of dialogue. There’s nothing wrong with that, however as a writer, you should never overuse a word. It doesn’t matter what that word is—said is subject to that rule just like anything else.

Said is not invisible when you use it too much.

Some might argue against that train of thought, but you can’t argue against what a reader sees when they read your work. I was a reader before I was a writer, and when I read a “well respected” author and saw said used over and over and over… I saw those attributions. It bugged me, and that was back when I was fairly young. It bugs me even more so now. It’s lazy. It’s a cop-out that uses the “expert opinion” as a fallback crutch.

Apologies to whoever this old gentleman is, but the experts are not always correct.

But what if you don’t use said? What if you use screamed, or cried, or whispered? What if you take into account what’s happening in the scene before choosing what attribution to use? There’s nothing exactly wrong with that, however you don’t want to be redundant.

If your story just read … “What’s wrong with you? I know you did it!” Sally accused. … you’ve got a problem.

Why? Because there was no need to tell the reader that Sally was accusing someone of something; she just said “I know you did it!”, so why do you need to state that the dialogue there was an accusation? You don’t, and that’s a prime argument that any writing teacher will give you for the exclusive use of said.

That’s only looking at one side of it, though. It’s perfectly possible to find an attribution in most cases that isn’t redundant, and isn’t spelled s-a-i-d.

If your story just read … “It’s okay, I believe you.” Sally whispered. … do you have a problem?

No, you don’t. If you simply put said in place of whispered there, the true intent of the dialogue wouldn’t have been portrayed. There are a lot of instances where this is true, and sadly that’s something that a lot of teachers completely ignore in their discourse. I argued quite a bit with an instructor of mine about this subject (I can be a bit too difficult for my own good), and after a long discussion, he basically backed down and said that there are many different ways to write.

The fact is, you can indeed distract your reader if you continually force a synonym for said into your dialogue. As with anything, you need a balance. Your writing should flow and incite your reader’s interest, so just the same as using synonyms of said again and again, using said again and again is not going to make your reading flow. Striking that balance between the two can be difficult, but in the end it’s usually pretty apparent what attribution fits each piece of dialogue. If someone asked a question, asked is a perfect attribution. If someone said something in a harsh, quick tone, barked is a workable attribution. If someone just said something… you can still use said. You know your writing better than anyone else, so make a concerted effort to piece your dialogue together correctly.

How can we break this all up though? Well, we of course do not need a “he said/she said” after every spoken phrase. In a two-way conversation, it’s often clear who is saying what after you’ve established who is speaking in turn. This might seem like a very basic principle, but it’s a key component of writing dialogue that is enjoyable to read. Make sure you don’t confuse your reader, though.

What I want to talk about more deeply here is something called a beat. Beats are very simple, but at the same time, when you utilize them correctly, the effect is drastic. Let me illustrate.

 

“What am I supposed to do?” Tom asked.

“Well I don’t know,” Mary replied. “Have you tried talking to her?”

“Absolutely not! She doesn’t even know I exist, Mary.”

“That’s the problem, silly. It’s up to you to change that!”

 

There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, pick up a book off the best seller rack and you’ll likely read a passage of dialogue that is structured just like this. That’s just lovely, but it’s boring. It’s weak. It’s lazy! How can we use beats to make it better?

 

“What am I supposed to say?” Tom asked.

“Well I don’t know,” Mary shot him a knowing look. “Have you tried talking to her?”

“Absolutely not! She doesn’t even know I exist, Mary.”

She laughed and slugged him in the shoulder. “That’s the problem, silly. It’s up to you to change that!”

 

See how that works? There’s only one attribution in that exchange. A beat is extremely simple, but it goes a very long way towards livening up your dialogue. The first example was boring, simple, and told you very little about either character. Even though this is an extremely short example of dialogue, in the example above you can at least immediately see Mary’s personality a little. There’s more life in your dialogue when you use beats.

In technical terms, a beat is a sentence of a character’s action, before, after, or in the middle of a line of dialogue that shifts the reader’s focus to that character. It eliminates the need for an attribution, and it gives us a much better image of the scene.

The key is to use balance. Don’t become a mindless drone of the “expert’s” creed. Pull from each practice, mix it up, and make your writing flow. That means you shouldn’t be afraid to use said, synonyms of said, or beats. One thing I will suggest is that you make pretty heavy use of beats. Don’t be stingy with them. It’s much cleaner to the eye to read actions than it is to constantly wade through he saids and she saids, including any synonyms thereof. It might take a little bit more effort, but you should never sacrifice quality for ease of writing. That’s another thing I’ve heard from teachers. “Just use said. It’s invisible to the reader, and it’s easier on you.” Easier on you? I think the silliness behind that idea speaks for itself.

We’ve finally come to the end of this installment of Breathe Life Into Your Writing! I hope you were able to get a good idea of how you personally can create strong, well written dialogue. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

There will be more to come soon, but in the meantime, be sure to read up on the other parts you might have missed!