When to Murder Your Darlings

My current manuscript is almost finished, yet I have a most onerous task before me—one which must be completed before anyone sees it. Some of my darlings must die, sliced from the story in a ruthless culling of extraneous words. In and of themselves, the passages convey interesting and useful information, or so I thought at the time. Looking back, I now realize they do nothing but distract from the plot and slow the action. And so, my precious, imaginative darlings, you must be sacrificed for the greater good.

While I have done this with other books, I did not know there was a term assigned to the difficult process. You may know it by the phrase “Kill Your Darlings”, but where did it originate and what did it mean?

“The phrase ‘kill your darlings’ has been attributed to many writers over the years, but the earliest known example comes from Arthur Quiller-Couch, who spread it in his widely reprinted 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures “On the Art of Writing.” While railing against “extraneous ornament”, he said:

“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

“He went on to describe extraneous ornament as inauthentic, like a man who hires someone else to write an exquisite love letter for him. His point was that beautiful and expansive writing was not necessarily good writing.”

Over time, the phrase has taken on additional meaning to encompass more than Quiller-Couch intended.

“To kill your darlings is a common piece of advice given by experienced writers. You do so when you decide to get rid of an unnecessary storyline, character, or sentences in a piece of creative writing—elements you may have worked hard to create but that must be removed for the sake of your overall story.”

Darlings may include any of the following:

  • Redundancy or over-explanation
  • Overly cute or witty turns of phrase (purple prose)
  • Unnecessary or distracting plots or sub-plots
  • Characters without a clear purpose or point of view

So, once the manuscript has been pruned, what happens to your darlings? Are they lost and buried forever? Not so fast! You may yet find a use for them in sequels, other books, or stand-alone works. If necessary, cannibalize the verbiage for pithy turns of phrase, quirky character traits, or sentences that fit better elsewhere. It’s your work—do what you want with it! Just remember this before you hit the delete key:

“The beauty of creative writing is that one project can often inspire the next.”

So unless your darlings are utterly wretched, save and repurpose them. It makes the unpleasant task of killing them easier!

Winter Blues

A little poetry for the frost-bitten

The wind is howling,

There’s lots of snow,

The temperature’s dropped

To one below.

No point in going out today,

In fact, I’m staying in.

I think I’ll run a bath instead,

Submerged up to my chin.

Later on, when darkness comes,

And supper is digested,

I’ll take a look outside to see,

If weather has corrected.

A frozen wasteland is the view,

Aghast, I slam the door.

If winter’s going to be like this,

I’m home forevermore.

When Fiction Meets Real Life

Once in a while, authors hear from readers who can personally identify with something they’ve written. Perhaps a character who reminds them of their sibling or a plot that eerily mimics an experience they’ve had. Whatever it might be, the story brings two strangers into the same orbit for a brief moment in time, allowing a connection neither of them anticipated. Magical!

I enjoyed such a moment recently but I need to share some background first.

In my current manuscript, I have intentionally included a person of color. As a white male, writing about a community of white shifters, I wanted to push my own boundaries a little and be more inclusive. Sounds straightforward, yes? Perhaps – if I knew how! I wanted to do it right, so I searched WordPress looking for advice and hit paydirt when I discovered a post entitled “So You Wanna Write a Black Person?”. Here’s a taste of what the author had to say.

“So, you’re a writer, huh? You, as a non-black author, want to write outside of your comfort zone and explore someone black, but you don’t know where to start…. Regardless of race, culture, sexual identity, or gender, we are all unique. However, there is a stigma in the writing community that writing black folks is hard. Writers cry out saying, I don’t wanna get it wrong! I don’t wanna offend….. I believe if you write any person with respect and empathy, you’ve done your job.”

Turns out, this is exactly what I was looking for! With suggestions from the post in mind, I went back to the very first paragraphs of the MS where I introduced the new Black character. There were numerous cringeworthy mistakes, but I set about rewriting and expanding the Prologue to correct them. In the end, I not only fixed the character, but I also improved the overall tone of the story. It felt good to have done it right and avoid offending my readers.

As work on the book continued, a desire to thank the writer of that post grew until it couldn’t be ignored. I wrote to her, explaining why and how her words helped me launch a Black character with confidence. When she responded with appreciation and interest, I sent her the Prologue and asked for some feedback. In those paragraphs, I introduced RJ and his mother, who was about to tell her son that she’d been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. By the end of the Prologue, she had died, leaving RJ to begin life on his own.

Now remember, not only was the post written three years ago, but we were total strangers. I knew nothing of her life or circumstances and had no idea my story would touch her personally. Her response floored me.

“I really enjoyed this. It hit a little close to home since my Mom is in stage four but it sounds like it will be a great book.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading! What were the chances her real-life experience and my fictional story would have included the same sad circumstances? My heart went out to her of course, and with a final exchange of messages, she encouraged me to let her know when the book published.

I realize in the grand scheme of things this might not seem like such a big deal—but it was to me. I’m reminded again we live in a small world, that words have power, and that my stories will touch the lives of people I will never know. The entire episode left me encouraged and feeling as though my writing made a positive difference in some small way. I’m not sure it gets much better than that.

Note – the MS mentioned is Forbidden Moon, Gladstone Shifters book four.

Welcome 2021!

It’s not often I crave to see the backside of a calendar year, but between Covid-19, political hijinks, and personal issues, 2020 was something of a dumpster fire. Good thing the pandemic kept me in the house, or I might have been tempted to run into the street screaming. Oh, be honest – many of you felt that way too! The year wasn’t a total loss, so allow me to share some of the good stuff.

Health. I was very fortunate to have remained healthy throughout the year, along with my sons, extended family, and close friends. (Good thing, too, as I am still without health insurance.)

Finances. The mask requirement in my state cost me my job in early July (long story), but I found a temporary position that met my financial needs until recently. My new job starts tomorrow!

Writing. I released two books in 2020, and my royalties more than doubled for the last nine months of the year. My current MS is roughly 75% complete with a tentative February publication date.

Looking ahead, I still have many of the same goals I set last year and never achieved. There’s only so much I can do while still working full time, so I have to be realistic about what can be accomplished without giving myself a guilt trip. Some of the snooty know-it-alls out there would say I am “not serious about the craft” or that I need to make more sacrifices. I don’t accept that kind of shaming, as every writer labors under different personal circumstances and limitations.

Instead, I choose to use my limited time to focus on writing and publishing new material, with a goal of four books per year. No classes, social media, daily blog posts, or other things that steal precious time. I will, of course, incorporate anything new I happen to learn along the way—something I have done from the beginning.

Eventually, when my circumstances change, I hope to be well-positioned with a generous selection of back titles. Once I’m able to devote more time to writing, those books will help drive sales and get me where I want to be in retirement.

Like you, I have no idea what 2021 will bring. I hope we get the pandemic under control and return to some semblance of normalcy. Regardless, I am blessed to have my writing as a creative outlet, to keep me busy and productive, to bring in a bit of cash, and to provide stories for others to enjoy.

Wishing you and yours a blessed and fruitful year!

Thanksgiving Musings 2020

Uncomfortable. Challenging. Scary. Uncertain.

These aren’t normally the words used to describe Thanksgiving, but the pandemic has turned the world on its head and it seems nothing will ever be “normal” again. Personally, things are not going as well as I might like! I am in the midst of an extended search for work (long story) which has caused a considerable amount of stress and financial worry. My youngest son and family have all been exposed to COVID-19 and are awaiting test results. Some dear friends have lost relatives or are waiting for their loved ones to recover. Writing, my one true joy, has been spotty and difficult during all this turmoil.

Still, I am thankful for so very much! I have what I need, most of my large family is doing well, I’m still healthy, and slowly but surely, the book I’m working on is coming together. As always, God has been good to me, prompting a heightened awareness of my many blessings. I do not know your circumstances, but I hope you will take a moment to look for the good and give thanks. And please, take the recommended precautions to keep your self and others safe!

Writing Reviews

It’s an established fact that indie authors need book reviews, yet statistically only about two out every thousand (0.2%) readers take the time to write one. If you want to encourage your favorite author and help potential readers make a decision, spend a few moments sharing your thoughts after reaching “The End”.

NOTE—some find it beneficial to wait a day or two, allowing their thoughts to settle before submitting a review. Jotting down notes as you read may also help you remember all the things you wanted to say.

DON’T:

  • attempt to re-tell or summarize the story.
  • include spoilers unless you warn the reader first.
  • be unnecessarily harsh or destructive (if it’s really that bad, write directly to the author with your concerns instead).

DO:

  • ensure it is well-written and free of spelling and grammatical errors (or you risk not being taken seriously).
  • review the book that you have just read, not the one that you wish the author had written.
  • make sure your criticisms are justified and are offset with praise about what you liked.

WHAT TO SAY/QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

The review doesn’t have to be very long; anywhere from few sentences to a paragraph will do.

  • Focus on what most appealed to you about the book and/or about some glaring faults in it that hampered your enjoyment. Be sure to say WHY it mattered to you, as authors are keen to hear your reasons and doing so personalizes the review for the reader.
  • Be specific. Was it the story, the writing style, the characters, the drama, the plot and how it was contrived, the pace, the humor, the climax? Share things that spoke to you personally.
  • Did the book cover the content as described? Did you get your money’s worth? What could the author have done better? How does it compare to other books in the genre? Feel free to cite other books you’d compare this one to.

Keep in mind that a good review is not a diatribe against the author or an opportunity to present yourself as an all-knowing book critic! Share your thoughts as though you’re having a pleasant conversation with a friend. Be honest, be fair, and be kind—the author expended an enormous amount of time, commitment, and creativity to produce the book for you and others to enjoy.

You might want to look that one up!

Everyone has a slip of the pen (or word processor) from time to time, and we’ve all seen them. Read enough books and you’ll discover weird or wrong word choices, misspellings, or zany phrases. Some of them are caused by upbringing—because mom and dad always said it that way, so it’s assumed everyone says it that way! Other boo-boos are the result of poor editing, senior moments, or mistakenly choosing a sound-alike word which has a completely different meaning. Here are some noteworthy blunders I’ve found that still make me laugh.

an eradicate heartbeat (erratic)

rot iron fence (wrought)

shutter (shudder)

woken up (awakened)

absents (absence)

champing at the bit (chomping)

try a different tact (tack)

wooden stove (wood stove)

tit bit (tidbit)

slither of information (sliver)

dumbie (dummy)

homely (homey)

cumber bun (cummerbund)

Silicone Valley (Silicon)

latter (ladder)

indigent (indignant)

distress (de-stress)

eatable (edible)

abstracted (distracted)

ascended through the crowds (descended/clouds)

made of led (lead)

boaring (boring)

conceded (conceited)

seizes to amaze me (ceases)

Anything you’d like to add? While I found these funny, they also made me cringe. I don’t want to be guilty of such obvious mistakes, yet I know I’ve made some, and will make more in the future. So just quit trying? Not on your life! Wrangling words into submission, creatively or otherwise, is my job. The goal is continuous improvement, not perfection. Good thing, too, or we’d all have to give up!

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What’s been keeping me busy….

I’ve spent the last seven weeks making repairs to Expectant Moon—book one of my Gladstone Shifters series, published two years ago and in need of some TLC. Yesterday, I uploaded the new edition to Amazon! It was a labor of love (emphasis on labor), but needed to be done. With that out of the way, I’m free to begin writing book four, Forbidden Moon.

This one promises to be a challenge, with a new pot-stirring character no one will be expecting. Jonah’s going to have his hands full with his long-awaited mate, and the pack has some lessons to learn. Hopefully, my readers will appreciate all the effort it takes to throw a monkey wrench into the works after three books! I’ve got some really cool ideas to present, along with humor, drama, and steamy romance. In other words, this will be a fun book to write!

If things go exceptionally well, I hope to publish this one by year’s end. After that, I intend to write another collection of shorts for a sequel to Rise of the Draman. I must admit, in the back of my brain is a niggling fear that those two series will go on and on, leaving me no time to write all the other stories waiting in the wings. If only I could clone myself. Hmmm… even that could be a cool story!

I needed to hear that!

I’ve spent the last month+ going over my first Gladstone Shifters novel with a fine tooth comb. The book was published over two years ago and I’ve learned a great deal since then. A number of issues needed attention, including a re-arrangement of the opening chapters, a thorough search for crutch words, and the correction of wordy sentences and unclear phrasing.

It’s been a frustrating slog, taking much longer than I ever thought it would – not surprising for a manuscript of over 110,000 words! The good news is, I’m almost done! The bad news is, I’m not finished yet! My next novel is nattering away at my writer brain to GET STARTED ALREADY.

One of the discouraging things about this process is that realistically, very few readers will notice anything different after weeks of hard work and significant improvements. So why go to all the trouble? Is it worth it? Wouldn’t my time be better spent on the next book in the series, rather than fixing book one? As I’m sure you’ve guessed, nagging doubts and questions don’t improve motivation!

In the midst of all this, I ran across a wonderful passage in scripture I hadn’t noticed before, and found it incredibly encouraging.

“For the ear tests words as the palate tastes food.” Job 34:3

Isn’t that great? When people read my stories, they test/taste the words, parsing out the various flavors and meanings. The effort to improve my book hasn’t been wasted at all! Rather, it will leave future readers with an even better sensory experience than before. After all, enjoying the dish doesn’t require knowing the recipe.

Even so, as soon as I finish the current project, I intend to get busy writing book four (rather than fixing book two in the series). Since my readers aren’t complaining, I can start that project down the road when I don’t feel so pressed for time. When it’s all said and done my stories won’t be perfect, but they’ll be the best I can make them.

My Publishing Anniversary – Three Years and Counting

It’s time to celebrate!

Somehow, another year has come and gone and I’m still doing what I love. Despite personal setbacks, financial concerns, and the pandemic, the last twelve months have been fruitful ones.

Three books published, for a total of nine

Added a new genre (fantasy)

More interaction with readers

New author biography

Improved marketing and sales

Added “the writing of” and reading samples to each book page on my website

Records reveal that in the last three years my books have sold over 52,000 copies in thirteen countries (96% FREE), along with over 917,000 kindle pages read, generating 59% of my income. Though the numbers look great, I’m not making much money, and all of it goes right back into publishing and promoting. I’m fine with that for now, as the goal is to build my brand and a broad reader base (hence all the FREE books). It feels as though I’m turning a corner here as my backlist grows, and I’m excited to see what it means for me professionally.

Last year’s goals never materialized for various reasons. My new ones, I hope, have a better chance of being accomplished.

Focus on writing new material

Three to four new releases

Set up my books for print on demand and broaden distribution

Make some author-to-author connections

Join at least one writing group or professional association

With each new book, I incorporate what I’m learning about the craft, marketing, and a thousand other things. My long-term goal is continued growth, better writing, and a broader reader base. I’ve seen some encouraging progress lately and anticipate another great year!      

The Writing of Abundant Moon

I never intended to write this story. Book three of the series was supposed to be Forbidden Moon, written right after publishing book two in February of 2019. I hadn’t counted on the mental fatigue resulting from an arduous writing journey of nine long months. In short, I was sick of the series and desperately needed to do something else for a while.

I’d been toying with the idea of trying my hand at short stories and had a really cool idea regarding a little orphan boy and a dragon. Just what I needed – something quick and different to focus on before diving back into the series, right? Nope. The sneaky little kid and his dragon friends got into my blood and I couldn’t stop writing! The result? A five-story collection published as Rise of the Draman in April of 2020!

Meanwhile, 15 months had gone by and I’d been receiving polite demands from readers, pleading for book three – the one I should have published already. What to do? If Forbidden Moon also took nine months to write and publish, my readers would have skinned me alive! I decided on a shorter, interim story to plug the gap, and then start working on the full length novel I’d promised so long ago.

After rereading books one and two, I decided to write about the birth of all the babies conceived towards the end of Traitor’s Moon. Perfect! Throw in a romance with a new character and you have Moon Pups – Book 2.5. However, once I got working on the manuscript, the story developed into a novel of its own! So, I changed the name to Abundant Moon, designated it as the new book three, and buckled down to write the thing as fast as I could. Three months from beginning to end is warp speed for me, and required many changes and personal sacrifices to get it done.

Part way through the manuscript, I hit a bump in the road which slowed me down. It also scared me! At first, I wasn’t sure I could fix it without starting over completely. You see, Robert’s character, who is involved in the major romance of the story, simply wouldn’t work the way I’d planned. He needed drastic changes to his personality, career, attitude, and integration into the pack. A ripple effect caused adjustments to other story threads, requiring a lot of rewriting. I’ll admit, the end result is much more pleasing and fits the overarching idea of the book better.

This story was intended to be less heavy and emotionally charged than the first two books, allowing Gladstone a bit of a breather. My characters and their experiences needed to match the happier themes of family, pups, and new mates. Fortunately, balancing this with essential drama and action wasn’t as difficult as I expected it to be, and the book contains all the elements my readers have come to expect. The wild journey between books two and three is one I wouldn’t enjoy repeating, though I’m happy with Abundant Moon and believe my readers will be too.