Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New beginnings


My Independence Day is coming two days early—as of today, I will be a writer without a day job.

The last sixty days have been painful: shutting down the companies I work for, laying off friends, and trying to keep my sanity. I hope that everyone can land on their feet, and find a new job that will be more fulfilling, more promising, and more secure.

As for myself, I haven’t had much time to think about my future, until now. I feel a wonderful sense of freedom, and am not sure that I want to go back to lawyering any time soon. I’m looking forward to fall semester and getting to know new students, and reconnecting with prior students in my upper level classes.

In the meantime, my husband gave me a “honey-do” list (clean out the berry patches, put wells around the thousand-plus trees, and dig out weeds in the pasture), and I have a pile of books to read and a few unfinished manuscripts that are crying for attention. I’m looking forward to spending more time at my keyboard in a creative way instead of a work way.

I hope to find the fountain of prolific writing, that magical place where I write with wild abandon, and the words, sentences, paragraphs, and scenes easily flow out of me. I hope to power through the tough days when the fountain is dry, and keep writing whatever terrible words, sentences, paragraphs, and scenes find their way onto the screen. I hope to produce something every day, instead of a little here and there every few days.

I have the good fortune to be able to see what’s behind new doors, take on different adventures, and discover what I’m really made of. This is a chance for me to see how strong I am and how patient I can be. It’s an opportunity to reinvent my life.

Where this journey will take me is unknown. But I am ready to walk down a different path and see where it goes. If it dead ends, I’ll find a new trail to blaze. If a compelling attorney position or full-time teaching position comes along, I’ll weigh the pros and cons with my husband. I will do what makes sense.

I’m incredibly blessed to have this option, so I don’t want to waste the opportunity. It’s exciting, and a little scary, but it’s “life”. Onward I go!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What is Your Story About?


If you tell someone that you’re writing, or that you’ve written, a book, the inevitable question is always, “What is it about?”

I have a manuscript that I finished in 2006, but it’s a really terrible first draft. It goes all over the place and lacks focus. If someone asked me what it’s about, I’d have several different answers. I may never revisit this manuscript, unless I can figure out what the main point is.

Since writing that mess, I’ve read The Novel Writer’s Toolkit, by Bob Mayer (see my review here). I learned something from his book that I apply to everything I write—I condense the entire story down to three words.

My dusty manuscript has a main character who is na├»ve. She is married with teenage children, and is a God-fearing woman. Her best friend has never been married because she is caring for her ailing mother, but may as well be part of the family because they do everything together. One day my main character loses her job, and must go to work in another town that is much larger. She is only qualified for entry-level work, so she becomes a file clerk. She meets some edgy people and starts to change. She’s never seen this side of life before, and it’s intriguing.

Of course her family and best friend are wondering about her change in personality. She starts ignoring them, and her best friend sort of takes her place in the family. The main character is infatuated with someone she works with, but he may or may not be interested in her. Her co-workers think she’s odd, and they try to make her what they are. In the end, are they her friends?

What I’ve boiled the entire 90,000 words down to here seems semi-coherent, but if you had to read all 90,000 words, you’d see what muddled chaos is. I can’t tell you what the main point is in three words. It could be that “change isn’t good”, she should “stick with family”, it’s a “mid-life crisis story”, “friends are flighty”, etc. The only one that has any truth with me is the mid-life crisis, but that is so vague and doesn’t bring in the essence of the whole book.

As I said before, I may never go back to this manuscript. But who knows? Maybe I’ll have a great epiphany and it will all come together for me.

 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Characterization


I have a friend who is recently divorced. Last December when she told me that she and her husband were splitting up, I was shocked. They seemed like the perfect couple, but she told me that I only saw what was on the outside and not what was going on at home.

She seemed lost, and having to start over with a new mortgage, car payment, and furnishings made it that much more difficult. Being downsized to one income means picking and choosing what is a need, and what is a want.

Over the last few months, however, I’ve seen quite a change in my friend. She is branching out, and trying things she never would have before, and doing activities that she never showed interest in before. I was amazed when she emailed me and said she signed up for a blood drive. I’ve been telling her for years what a benefit it is to donate, but she’s always shied away from the needle. After her blood drive, she emailed all the details of how much she thought it hurt, and how queasy she felt, but said she’s going to sign up again.

Last night when I talked to her, she told me about the hikes she’s been going on with her co-workers, and the girls’ weekend they’re going on in a few weeks. She’s also going to drive part of the Alaska Highway with her dad this week.

This is a complete change of character for her. But she told me, that instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for herself, she decided that she deserved to have fun and get out and see what else was going on in the world.

I thought about how my characters change from the beginning of the story to the end. My characters have to make choices, sometimes good and sometimes bad, in order to grow. I have to put them into situations they must get out of and create tension that readers will care about. I have to show not only what is going on externally, but what is “going on at home” behind closed doors, or internally.

My friend is a great example of characterization in real life. So far, she’s making good choices. Even though she’s having great adventure and is happy with her life, for a reader, her story will get boring after a while. You can look at the tabloids or newspapers for examples of those that are doing more controversial things. Whether they change for the better or not remains to be seen, but those bad acts make for more interesting reading.

My point is that characters need multiple dimensions in order for a reader to care about them. Mix the good with the bad, and show how they change over time, despite the odds. Make them relatable so they have issues, that at their foundation, everyone can understand and connect with. If your reader doesn’t care about your characters, they won’t keep reading.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Kindle Direct Publishing

I saw an advertisement in Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers newsletter (read my review here) that caught my attention. It was a free report to teach writers how to make their book number one on Kindle. The lead says:

Did you know that with Amazon’s Kindle you could become a worldwide known bestselling author in 10 days or less?

Of course that piqued my curiosity, so I downloaded the free book, How to Sell 100 Books a Day, by Ryan Deiss. My first thought was, some of the self-published books I’ve read are full of typos and grammar and punctuation errors, and that harms credibility for the author, and may one day cause readers to distrust all writers in general.

But cynicism aside, I watched Mr. Deiss’s video (noting some typos), and then read his report (also with typos). The short report includes basic information about Kindle Direct Publishing, and I learned about writing short nonfiction pieces (although this apparently works for fiction as well) to sell for $2.99 a copy.

Over the next few weeks, I received several emails from Mr. Deiss. There was another report to download, How to Create Your First Kindle Book This Weekend, and three more videos. These demonstrate Mr. Deiss’s method for writing books, complete with 3x5 notecards, which works well for many writers.

Mr. Deiss formed “The Number One Book Club”, and opened it up for membership. It appears to be a community of writers who have joined his “Kindle Revolution”, to support each other as they publish these Kindle books. I’m not saying this is going to happen here, but I’ve seen other authors who have published books on how to succeed at Kindle Direct Publishing get “fake” reviews that push the books to the top.

Does every author ask friends and family for votes to push their books to the top of lists? Absolutely.  Do people write reviews without having read the book? Absolutely. Do authors pay for reviews? Absolutely. These are some of the reasons that Amazon no longer allows authors to write book reviews.

Although I declined to join Mr. Deiss’s club, I find Kindle Direct Publishing intriguing. I have saved the information page as a favorite, and plan to read it and see if I’m interested in pursuing it any further. Maybe my concerns are unfounded, and the books that are available through Kindle Direct Publishing are quality books that don’t dilute and damage the publishing industry or the authors who work hard to put out excellent, error-free books. All I know is this: I will keep working hard to be a good author, no matter where I sell my work.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stonger than the Struggle


On Father’s Day, I spent time thinking about my dad. He’s been gone for three years now—some days it seems like it’s been much longer, other days it seems like a fresh wound. Either way, he’s not here and didn’t get to see my first book, 2012: The Rising, published.

Speaking of that first book, I started writing it in 2009. It should have been out to agents and publishing houses in 2010. But when my dad died in May 2010, my life stopped. I didn’t run well that year and I didn’t write much that year. 2010 was the only year since I started NANO that I failed to make my fifty thousand words.

I kick myself for not persevering. Since my book is specifically about whether or not Earth would end on December 21, 2012 (which it obviously didn’t), I should have given it the attention it needed so it could have been published earlier and not on December 14, 2012. I often wonder if sales would have been better, had I not shut down.

I remember all the times in my life when I wanted to quit. My dad told me that the Hirase mind is stronger than the struggle, so I must keep going. That’s why I kept taking swimming lessons,  that’s why I’ve never had a DNF (did not finish) in a race, that’s why I finished law school, that’s why I completed my book in 2011.

Thanks to my dad’s advice, I am a strong athlete, I have a satisfying career, and I am a published author.

“Stronger than the struggle” is a great mantra that lifts my spirits when I’m ready to quit, and keeps me driving forward.

Thanks, Dad.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Writing Nonfiction


I love to read nonfiction: how-to books, biographies, autobiographies, and true crime. How-to books give me information about topics I’m interested in and want to know more about. Some are better than others, but I have yet to read an informational book that hasn’t taught me at least one thing.

As for biographies, autobiographies, and true crime, I also learn from them, but what I’ve been trying to learn lately, is the craft of writing nonfiction. A well-written nonfiction book seems effortless, although I know better than that. A lot of work goes into producing nonfiction, and maybe that’s one reason I don’t write more of it.

If I think about all the research and interviewing that takes place, it’s enough to make my head spin. I had to do a lot of research when I wrote The Internment of Japanese Americans: The Constitutional Threat Fifty Years Later for the University of Utah’s Journal of Contemporary Law. I spent months reading books, articles, and court cases (the topic was interesting to me, however, because my parents were interned in the relocation camps during World War II).

I’m talking about digging and digging and digging even more to find those interesting and colorful nuggets of information. After finding those nuggets, it was about discovering whether or not they were true or legend. Items get lost, minds fade, and every avenue must be explored to find the truth, if it exists. The truth may be different for each person who experienced the event because of bias or perception.

So how do you know what to write? Whose truth do you tell? How much can you leave out? How much should you put in? What is the actual story you want to write?

One of the best how-to books on writing nonfiction that I’ve read is Writing for Story by Jon Franklin (see my review here). I used Mr. Franklin’s techniques when I wrote “Give Caring”, for the Voices of Caregiving book published by LaChance Publishing in 2008. Because the story was personal, I didn’t have to delve into deep research or conduct any interviews, but I had to find the story I wanted to tell. There were so many thoughts running through my brain, and I couldn’t focus on one thing. Once I narrowed my thoughts down, the story flowed.

I’m not saying that fiction requires less effort than nonfiction, because fiction writers also do research and conduct interviews. However, I enjoy writing fiction more because I can make things up to produce a better story. I can’t do that with nonfiction. Nonfiction is about truth, and about humanness and the emotions that come from being human.

Writing a nonfiction book about a topic that intrigues me is on my “one-day-before-I-die-to-do-list”. I hope it happens.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Wonderful Moment


My pit bull has an eye disease called pannus, and goes to an eye specialist in Salt Lake City. When we arrived the other day, I was surprised at all the cars in the parking lot. Zeb loves going to the doctor, so he ran for the door.

Now, most people are probably frightened when they see a pit bull running straight for them. He’s a happy and friendly dog, so I don’t worry much about what he’s going to do as I worry about the reaction from others. He whined and cried when I wouldn’t let him explore and make new friends, so he rolled on his back and wagged his tail. At least he made people smile, and a few came to pet him, telling me they’d never been that close to a pit before.

I asked what was going on, and found out that the vet was having an animal blood drive. People were bringing their dogs in to donate blood for animal emergencies.  Amazingly enough, a lot of the dogs coming in to donate were pit bulls (that are much better behaved than Zeb, I might add!)

A television camera was there, so I watched the interview as they taped it. The doctor was so passionate about his love of animals, and the need for blood in emergencies. I never thought about that need, and would never have known that they have a blood bank for animals. The requirement for donation is that the dog be between the ages of one and seven, and weigh at least fifty pounds. Zeb fits the criteria, but because he didn’t eat before we left, he didn’t donate (he will at his next appointment).
 
My point is really not that I have a wonderful dog, but it’s this: I had one of those moments that every writer loves—finding something new, interesting, and unique. I may never use this information in my writing, but it’s there if I want it. And now it’s there if you want it as well.