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     Last Friday, was my deadline; time for me to submit my novel for a peer review so that I can get some feedback on what I’m doing right and what I need to work on.  It is the first time I have done something like this and it is both frightening and a relief.  The plan was to stop writing for a bit, read a novel written by a fellow author to provide my own critique and to catch up on my reading list so that I don’t fall behind on my reading goal for 2013.  But as anyone who has been paying attention knows, plans and I don’t mix well.

     A series that I had attempted to write several years ago, even before my first foray into NaNoWriMo, has been gnawing at me lately.  It first started just before this year’s NaNoWriMo but I put the thought aside to focus on my NaNo project.  These last few weeks though, it has been difficult to ignore.  “You’ve ignored me long enough,” it says.  “I’ve waited quietly and patiently while you began your new series, but it is my time now,” it insists.  “Write me before you forget!” it pleads.  Refusing to be ignored any longer, it has been increasingly persistent, getting louder and louder each time and so, I can no longer push it aside.  I must give in to the story before it consumes me and I can think of absolutely nothing else. 

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     Yes, I know how that sounds.  And no, I’m not certifiably crazy; no need to call for the padded wagons, I don’t actually hear voices in my head.  But, if there is one thing I have learned over the last several months, it is that there are plenty of people out there who understand exactly what I am talking about.  Any author that has tried to ignore a story knows that you can only do so for so long before you are compelled to write it.

     Thus, began my latest project, book one of The Butterfly Stages, a four to five book series that is a coming of age story for young adults.  It will follow one girl’s journey from her last days of eighth grade to high school and finally until she reaches adulthood.  It is completely different from The Eye of the Vampire series that I have been working on for the last three or four years and it is for this reason, that I have been thinking about the use of pen names (See last week’s blog).  I’m still not sure where I stand on that, but my projects take me from one genre to the next pretty frequently so either I need to use a pen name to distinguish the different genres or I will need to do one hell of a job of marketing my novels to the right audiences.  This is where an agent and a publicist would come in handy, but I have neither of those at the moment.

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     For now, it looks like the new plan is to keep reading (always keep reading) and work on this new series until I get some feedback on Lila’s Choice.  I’m pretty sure that even after I get feedback, I won’t immediately begin editing.  Knowing myself, I will beat myself up for any shortcomings that are pointed out and not want to touch it for a while.  Eventually, I will pull up my big girl panties and get back to work, keeping the feedback in mind, but in the meantime, it’s time to set the stage.

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     For most people, our names are already chosen for us before we’re even born.  There are those few exceptions where parents wait to see their child before deciding on a name that suits them.  But for the majority, we are blindly assigned names that will identify us to the  the world for the rest of our lives.  In some cases, the given name doesn’t suit the person we grow to become.  Have you ever met someone and thought, you don’t look like a Dwayne, you look more like a Marcus so that’s what I’ll call you.  Okay, so that was a very specific example, but that actually happened to someone I know.  At times, people are so disconnected from their names that they choose to legally change it when they are older.

     Then there are those whose names suit them so perfectly, you couldn’t picture them being named anything else.  I like to think I fall into this category and because of this, I have a difficult time wrapping my head around using a pen name when I write.  It would make sense if there were already someone famous with my name and I wanted to distinguish myself.  Fortunately for me, although there are a large number of females in the world with my name, there are none so famous that they are a household name.

     Maybe it is my pride speaking, but I have been known by my name all my life and it is a part of me.  I want my work, which is also a part of me, to be associated directly with me and how can I do this using a pen name?  People that have known me at various stages in my life wouldn’t immediately think, oh, yeah, I knew her! when reading my work if it has another name on it.

     What is the meaning behind the use of pen names?  They made sense back when women used to pen their work under masculine names in order to be taken seriously.  But in this day and age, this is no longer a concern.  Do pen names still serve a purpose in today’s society?

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     Some would say yes.  In today’s society, authors use pen names to distinguish their work in various genres.  One of my favorite authors, Anne Rice, used the pen name A.N. Roquelaure to write a romance trilogy that is very different from her usual supernatural novels.  This is done quite often with authors that write across multiple genres so that their fans know what type of story they can expect.  But is this really necessary?  

     Personally speaking, I am an eclectic reader so I welcome a good story from any genre.  If I enjoy an author’s writing style, I will read their work regardless if it is a thriller from an author that typically pens romantic comedies.  My book choices depend on my mood and I would never be turned off from an author’s complete body of work just because they switch between genres; especially, as long as their signature style still comes across.

     Again, that could just be my pride talking since my eclectic reading tastes are turning into eclectic writing habits.  Given that pride is the biggest of the seven deadly sins, perhaps I should take a cue from Shakespeare’s Juliet and adopt the “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” attitude. 

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     Karen Woodard’s blog F. Scott Fitzgerald On The Price Of Being A Great Writer opened up a great discussion on whether or not writing can be taught.  And even if you can teach someone the technical skills needed to become a writer, can they be great without digging deep into their emotional well and offering up a little piece of themselves in order to connect with readers on a deeper level?

     Before answering that question, we must stop and ask ourselves, do we even want to be great writers?  Or are we content with just being good?  After all, not everyone can write timeless, classic masterpieces that can withstand the test of time.  But does this mean that there is no place for “lesser” novels in the world?  Of course not! There is an audience for everything; our job as writers is to do the work and provide readers with a choice.  The choice to do the heavy reading that the classics require, prompting us to think and feel.  Or the choice to read something light and fun, solely for entertainment purposes.  Or the choice to read a grand adventure that lets us escape the day to day monotony.  You get the idea.

One of these things just doesn’t belong here…

     Do I think that my name will ever be find a place amongst writers like Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, William Shakespeare, Jules Verne or H.G. Wells?  Absolutely not!  But, you know what,  I’m okay with that.  I’m okay with my work being a “fad” that has it’s moment in the spotlight and then fades away or only appealing to a niche market rather than the masses.  My goal is not to have everlasting fame, it is simply to write the stories that are asking me to write them and to share them with the people that want to hear them.

     My advice to fellow aspiring authors, never use another author’s work as a basis for whether or not you are good enough to pursue writing if that is what you really want to do.  Sure, you can use it as a guide to see where you might be able to improve upon certain things or to learn new tricks of the trade.  But never doubt your own worth simply because you don’t live up to someone else’s standards.  While you may not be a “great” writer and have the appeal of another author, you may find that you are a “good” writer and attract an audience all your own.  And isn’t that what it’s all about, doing our best at what we love and finding people who can appreciate our effort?

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     Reading is FUNdamental.  But what happens when you get a little too enthusiastic and become backlogged with your list of books to be read?  If you are anything like me, for every book you read and take off your “to read” list, you add another two or three in its place.  What do you do when your list gets so long, you think there is no way you will be able to get through them all?  Thorin Klosowski answers this question in an article on ( Can I Learn to Read Faster and Get Through My Backlog of Books? )  

     Thorin offers five suggestions on how to quickly get through that back log of books.  The first suggestion is to increase your reading speed.  Learning how to speed read will ensure that you reduce the time it takes to read a single book, but you will retain less information using this method.  Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, the whole point of reading is to get pulled into the story.  If you are reading so fast that your mind can’t handle all of the information, aren’t you losing some of that magic?

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     The second suggestion Thorin offers is to skip parts or even whole chapters.  He suggests that you accomplish this by reading the preface or introduction, followed by the final chapter or conclusion and then going back to read the first and last paragraphs of each chapter.  For those chapters that you find more interesting than others, feel free to continue reading.  To me, this is like watching the preview for a movie and counting that as having watched the movie itself.  It leaves so much unknown, so why even bother?

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     The third suggestion is to listen to audio books.  While driving in your car, working out or sitting in front of a computer working all day, listen to the book, leaving your hands free to take care of business.  Okay, so I have to admit that this one is not a bad suggestion at all.  I never really saw the benefit of listening to an audio book, maybe because when it comes to reading, I prefer to have something tangible that I can see and feel.  But I can definitely see situations where I would be able to listen to an audio book.

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     The fourth suggestion is to read more than one book at a time.  This one entails the combination of several suggestions.  Listen to an audio book when you can’t read; when you can, skim through the book, skipping parts or even whole chapters.  In order to keep track of the books and differentiate the stories, Thorin advises that it is probably best to read/listen to different genres so the stories are distinct and don’t blend into one another.  Again, I have to say I don’t think this is a tactic that I personally would find useful, but then, I am easily distracted and having too many stories to think about at once means that I’m not focusing on any of them.

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     The fifth and final suggestion is to abandon a book that just isn’t working.  If you can’t get into the story or you can’t connect with the characters to the point that you are not enjoying it, just stop reading.  I’ve had trouble with this one in the past.  No matter how much I don’t like a story, I feel an inane responsibility to see it through to the end.  But Thorin doesn’t suggest that every book you abandon, stay that way.  He reasons that perhaps it isn’t the right book at the right time and there may come a time where it does fit the bill.

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     Although I don’t think I will personally be using many of these tactics to get through my back log, I did find the article to be informative enough to share with you.  I think I have too much of a love affair with my reading to not give it my full attention every chance I get.  But I can definitely say during my earlier years, when I was forced to read books that I hated during school, I would have jumped on each and every one of these suggestions.  So for those of you, trudging through books where it feels more like a chore than an escape, you might want to check out the article to get more in-depth information on each of the suggested tactics and find what works for you.

     How would you feel about being immortal-ized as a fictional character?  Would you like to know about it?  I saw a post the other day of the picture shown on the left and it made me laugh, because this is something I do all the time; I’ve even addressed it in a previous blog (Fiction Mirroring Life or Life Mirroring Fiction?).  I believe that the best source of inspiration for any artist, is the world around them, so it is only natural that a painter would paint people they see around them or that a writer would create a character based on those around them.

     If someone were to base a character on you, would you want to have some say or would you prefer to give the novelist creative license?  I personally have created characters based on friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers.  When writing about people you know, it can be easy to translate them true to form.  The tricky part comes when you base characters on people you know next to nothing about.  People that you see, but never really speak to; the cashier at the mall, the manager of your favorite coffee shop, the girl that works at the movie theater, etc…  You see these people, but you don’t know them on a personal level.  How much can you really know about their lives from the minimal interaction you have with them, if you even interact with them at all?

     Once you base characters on them though, you start to feel like you know them.  You start to feel connected to these people in a way that you never were before.  Any author can attest to the fact that their characters become as real to them as their own friends and family.  We grow to care about them the same way we would any important person in our lives.  And that’s when the fun really starts to happen, when the lines between reality and imagination blur and you see your character walking around before your very eyes.  You know deep down inside that they are not the character that you created them to be, but the very sight of them does things to you, that you can’t even explain.  

     There have been times, when struggling with writer’s block, that I made a point of stopping by a particular place where I knew I would run into such a person.  I don’t even need to speak to them and yet, the very sight of them fills me with excitement and inspiration.  But no matter how much I would like to get to know them better, the fear of shattering the illusion I have created prevents me from doing so.  What would happen if the reality was nothing like the illusion?  Would it be forever ruined?  But then, what if the reality is even better than the illusion?  Is it worth taking the chance?

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     How would you react if a complete stranger told you they were a novelist and based a character on you?  Would you be flattered or would you be looking for the nearest exit to get away from the crazy person that you now believe has been stalking you?