Wednesday, August 18, 2010

MORE News & The Silver Cord & Don't Despair, Delena

A half hour after midnight:

Well, on the 18th (yesterday by a half hour, I mailed out the last of the prizes for the Twin Fox Ring Contest and the Forbidden Game Contest. The last of them are sent, now, except for one person who lives in England. Abbie R., I have written to you about clarifying your address.

It's so sad . . . but what with customs forms and possible custom charges to the winners, I may have to confine my contests to the USA and Canada. I'd hate to do that, but I'm running into brick walls with other foreign countries.

I'm already thinking of a contest, to see who wants who to pair off. I mean, should it be Delena? Stelena (okay, I made that up, but it's what my publishers want), or Bonnie and Damon? Don't send in your entries yet, because I want to make a real contest of this.

I had a serious fashion attack and went out and bought all sorts of clothes. I don't know why I'm writing about this, but it seemed important when I started.

Again, anybody who comes up with a name for the new arc of Vampire Diaries books (the three after The Return) will get not only a book, but a lovely ring with one black and one white flower, from Eve's Addiction. It's no toy ring, either! But better yet I got a real black and white diamond ring for those who are stuck between Circle Daybreak and their ties to the Night World. Gotta do a contest for those!

Okay, one more thing: Delena fans, you are depressing me. Read my lips. You have NO REASON to think that Stefan will win the girl. But this is a series, and with three new books coming you can understand that I can't have Elena choose one of the boys just yet. There wouldn't be much of a love triangle left if I did. So be patient, continue to be polite (thank you for the fact that nobody's being snarky), and smile. I can't make promises, but you have no cause to be sad. Hooah? :) Smile! :)
I woke up today feeling efficient and romantic. I have no idea what that means, but I thought I'd put it together by putting up the answer to a question I got not long ago about how I had used the "silver cord" image in many of my trilogies. I searched what's left of my memory and tried to trace the usage.

By the way, for those of you who are still entering The Forbidden Game Ring contest (or, dear me, The Twin Fox Ring Contest) the winners have been randomly selected, informed, and have written back. I hope to mail the Forbidden Game rings (with Tiffany chains and a personal note from me) out today. Then I'll post the winners' comments.

And if you're wondering why I've been too busy to mail them yet, I've just emerged from a very intense session of negotiation with the result that, barring my publishers rejecting Midnight, there will be a new arc of three books in The Vampire Diaries series. My choices for titles are Phantom, Evensong and Eternity, but first thing this morning my agent informed me that they are looking to me for suggestions for a name for the entire arc (the last one they called The Return). If anyone has a nice title and no use for it, email me. The books are about Elena and Stefan et. al. starting at Dalcrest College, and finding themselves playing the role of Spirit Hunters (already suggested by me) or just plain hunting serial murderers who may or may not be mystical. If you do think of something, and we use it, I'll send you an autographed book!

Here's the email I sent:

Hi R.--

You pose a very interesting question about the origins of the silver cord and the soulmate principle. Back in the 1990s when the first four Night World books were written, I took two legends and put them together. One was the myth (prevalent in the Far East) that all people in love have a red string that connects their little fingers together. At the same time, in the western countries, a New Age idea had come up that people who have out of body experiences are connected to their bodies by a silver cord. I thought that the silver cord sounded more romantic than a red string, and that it should connect the lovers from heart to heart instead of pinky to pinky. So the soulmate principle was born--but I didn't know it yet. I actually don't remember if I used it way back in 1990-91 for the first four Vampire Diaries books--I don't think so. But I did use it in Shadow Souls, the second of my new trilogy of Vampire Diaries books, the arc called The Return.

As for the Secret Circle, that was supposed to be a one-off usage of a metaphor for Adam and Cassie's love for each other. That may be when I actually created the silver cord for the first time, and it was connected to the chalcedony rose that Adam gave to Cassie. The two were connected, so that the person who had the rose was the true person Adam loved.

Still back in the 1990s, I wrote the Night World series, and there everything came together. I wanted to have the silver cords bind only soulmates together--not just lovers, but those who were born to be like half of a puzzle piece that could only connect with another half. So the soulmate principle was born. You can love your soulmate, as Poppy loved James, or fear your soulmate, as Hannah did Thierry, or even hate your soulmate, as Mary-Lynnette originally did with Ash. But the soulmate principle will bring you together, regardless of your everyday feelings. Imagine how Sarah Strange of Strange Fate, the last, LONG overdue Night World series when she sees two silver cords connecting her to the two guys she loves best in the world. Can I say confused? Maybe flummoxed is better.

And the silver cords have an additional function that won't be explained until Strange Fate finally comes out--I hope and pray in 2011. Something that may make it all make sense at last.

Thanks, R, for a question that led to a whole new blog. I'd never really thought it through before . . . and watch me get two hundred emails the day after I post this saying that I did too use it in the first Vampire Diaries books. So much for my memory.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How does a writer keep a large number of characters distinct and accurate?

I got a question from a very eloquent adult writer who wanted to know how to keep her many characters straight as she wrote her book. My answer: this is a monstrous problem, especially if you're writing a series. I often copy ads off the Internet that look somewhat like the character they represent. For Shadow Souls, I even carefully picked out real clothes from expensive prom offerings so that I could visualize the dresses on the girls more clearly. I may post them on my website. Of course the girls aren’t perfect in representing my characters, but some of the dresses were!

The traditonal method used to have you make up an index card for each character and write a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual etc. description for them on the index card. I tend to do my work on the computer--it doesn't get lost or fade over the years. I write for each book or series a list of characters and a table that shows what color eyes and hair they have (so that I don't end up with two unrelated mink-brown-haired violet eyed girls). I do a mini character bible for new characters (like the index card bios). I already have bios for my main characters that tell me where they live and what their bedroom--or wherever they tend to hang out--looks like, and the like. Sometimes I do maps. I tend to be longwinded so my entry for Elena Gilbert is about five single spaced pages long.

And nothing keeps me from making huge bloopers. Just as I'm writing you now, at 5 a.m. my time, I tend to do a LOT of writing each day. I get confused and sometimes use my memory rather than my Guide, which is like using a sieve instead or a pot to cook with. The copy-editor is supposed to catch such mistakes if the editor misses them, but I know of at least two that they didn’t in the last couple of books. One was out and out my fault, but never caught—that was referring to Tyron in Nightfall as Dr. Alpert’s grandson, and then in Shadow Souls as her son. Solution: I gave Tyrone a divorced mom who died young, so that his grandma adopted him. Not a very good fix but the best I could pull off by the time I was writing Midnight.

There is also software out, like New Novelist (which I haven't tried) that is built so you can write in character descriptions and traits and leaf through them whenever you like. It also claims to help you write. I'd take that with a grain of salt.

If you can draw, the index card method may work best for you. You could just flip through images until you got the right one. Otherwise, I'd recommend a computer . . . and a lot of rather tedious typing. But you can also gain new insights into your characters if you do a Guide entry on them--they open up to you and often show you that they have hobbies or habits that you never knew about before. Matt rattles his change in his pocket when disturbed. Stefan pinches the bridge of his nose. Damon just smiles like an archangel.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I've been answering some emails lately, and . . .

I've been answering some emails lately, not exactly because I have free time, but because I've been overwhelmed by guilt, and because some of them I'm going to post as blogs (my answers, not the whole emails or my guilt). I wanted my faithful subscribers to know that if they have a question, now is probably a good time to ask it.

Only please no more "I'll die if so-and-so and so-and-so don't get together in Midnight, or "Promise that you won't kill so-and-so"--which I completely don't understand. Neither I nor my assistant ever threatened to kill anyone, not even to get leverage with my publishers (although I have to assume they read this and it might be a tactic worth trying). Elena and both boys commit lover's suicide the real Japanese way--and I don't have to worry about writing any more books! (Although I do have to worry about whether readers are close to a trash bin or toilet and how fast they can run. And I suppose about hate mail, which I don't get from Twilight fans anymore. I wonder if, like John Doe, they did finally look at the copyright dates?)

Ground rules: I won't give away the plot of Midnight--I never do with the ends of trilogies--and even I don't know if there will be any books after Midnight. I'm still trying to negotiate a contract for more books, although it's been a harrowing experience that I think has scarred me for life. Hate mail or snarky criticism will be weeded out by my assistant before I am allowed to see the Inbox. Anything else is fair game, and I know anyone nice enough to have subscribed to my blog won't deliberately try to upset me.

By the way, my website is in the middle of a complete redesign by a real whiz of a wizard who, unlike Lightmaker or Nikimedia, actually understands what I want. And this blog page will be the first page after the new (short) movie. So from the time it's unveiled I will be able to do my own updates, and blog my little loving heart out.

Plus, there will be new Vampire Diaries stories, the end of Ash and ML's story, new art, an updated book list, and new contests for ever bigger and more expensive prizes. If I can get it approved there will be a section for things that my publishers had me cut out of my books (for length or other reasons). And I also hope all my old blogs will stay . . . no, I promise they will, one way or another. So stick around, please. And please keep reading--and writing.

Oh, and finally, if you haven't been able to find me on Facebook, I'm authorljsmith. Another gift from my publishers. Hoorah? Hoorah.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

What Do You Care What Others Think About Your Story?

Here’s my answer to a reader who sounded a bit sad.

I'm so happy that you decided to write to me, and that my books actually inspired you to write a story. As for your question about whether you should be concerned about "nobody seeming to be interested in the stuff you write about" and should you care--the answer is . . . NO! I'd make that bigger, but I think you get the idea.

I once made a picture book for my niece who was worried about turning her short story into a contest. The book was called Who Cares? and in it, my niece Lauren called her Aunt Lisa (a published writer but a rather headstrong person) and said she was worried about what others would think of her story. Aunt Lisa replied shortly "Who cares?" Who cares what others think of your story or if it wins a contest, as long as you enjoy it? And the end of the picture book says "And did Lauren's story win the contest?" And on the last page . . . WHO CARES? That's really the end. You never find out. (As a one-time teacher--and of special ed to boot, I know what gets a discussion rolling. A cliffhanger that's never resolved. The book was meant for teachers to get kids talking about the subject.)

I've often thought of offering the words to the picture book (my art's atrocious) to be published, but never gotten around to it. Maybe I should try.

Tell your brain to stop worrying about what other people think, anyway! That’s what the genius scientist Richard Feynman thought, too. He actually wrote a book called What Do You Care What Other People Think?

Hope this helps someone.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Forbidden Game Ring Winners

The Forbidden Game Ring winners were randomly picked today after the cut-off date of August 1. I will post their names and comments after they have answered the emails informing them of their prizes. Thanks to all who entered the contest!

The Twin Fox Ring and Book Winners

The Twin Fox Ring and Book winners have been sent their prizes. If you received an email from me that said you were a winner and requested your address, you should get your prize soon. If two weeks pass (three for those in Canada, and four for those out of the USA) and you do not get your prize, please email me at info@ljanesmith.net with "LOST BOOK?" in the Subject field of your email. Then I'll check the list of winners and send you a new book. The ring was won by Victoria M. of Virginia, USA, who says "My brother thought that I was going to faint" when she received the Grand Prize Winner's email. Thanks to all who entered this contest!

How to Get Your Book Published

I get so many emails asking me how to get a book published that I’ve decided to blog it, once and for all.

First of all, is your book really finished? Or is it a rough draft or missing any chapters or reading through and editing? The first thing is to have a finished book. For new writers, that's imperative.

Second, you should be able to find books at any bookstore or on Amazon, such as the Writer's Market or Writer's Guide, that list agents who send books to publishers. Or do it the easy way and google "agents for authors."

Never EVER take an agent that asks you to pay them for sending your book to a publisher. These people are running scams. A real agent will ask to see some part of your book, such as the first ten pages or the first chapter. They will probably also want you to give them a short synopsis or query that describes the entire book in one page or five pages. Find out what the specific agent you pick requires. Then do your best to describe your book in exciting terms, to interest the agent in representing you.

Different agents have different specialties. Make absolutely sure you're not wasting your time sending your book to an agent that only works with adult books, if your book is YA, or an agent who specializes in romance books, if your book is urban fantasy.

Reputable agents will have websites that tell their specialities, and what they're looking for. Make sure that you send exactly what they ask for, and nothing more or less.

Third, cross your fingers. If an agent takes you on, you don't have to do any more work (unless the agent asks you to). The agent will send your book to different publishers and try to get them to buy it.

If an agent refuses you, but gives you criticism, that's good! Think about their remarks, change your manuscript if you feel that their criticism has merit. (It probably does. I know it hurts to be told your book needs to be changed, but agents know what publishers want--and you want your book published.

Fourth, if you have tried 10 agents who specialize in your book's type, and they have refused you, you can try the slush pile. This doesn't sound very good, but it just means the place where publishers put books that have been sent to them from the authors who don't have agents. Some books get do published from the slush pile! After I had written The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening for Harper, and before it was published, I got a very excited phone call from a young assistant at Harper. Somehow she had gotten hold of the manuscript for The Awakening and she thought that it had come from the slush pile. She wanted to publish it. I had to explain that it was already coming out. We both ended up laughing.

Fifth, there is also the self-publishing or "vanity publishing" method. Google these terms, since I don't know anything about the process. I believe that you can sell self-published books on Amazon, but it's best to check that information with Amazon.

Hope this helps any new writers!