Alycia Christine

Enchanting Tales, Intriguing Art

Tag: nonfiction

What’s the Best Weapon against Writer’s Block? Find Out Now!

Rivulets_AC4x6Sometimes writing isn’t fun; sometimes it’s a real chore. I guarantee that you’ll have to trudge through episodes of writer’s block just as much as you’ll skip past easily-crafted scenes. But never fear because we authors have a few weapons in our arsenal to help us break down those ugly creative barriers to get to the beautiful prose on the other side.

One of my favorite personal siege engines against writer’s block is research. Now calm down before your collective groans start drowning out my sentences. Research can actually be a ton of fun because it helps satisfy our natural curiosity as human beings. The other reason research is fun is because it makes our jobs as writers much, much easier.

Imagine this: you are writing a scene where two characters are eating in the middle of a deli-style café, but you’ve never actually set foot inside a deli. It’s going to be very difficult to accurately describe what’s going on around your characters or even what they’re eating if you have no experience in a similar sort of setting, isn’t it?

We writers have words as our only essential tools for building a story, so we must describe everything to our readers. That is extremely difficult to do if we don’t understand how something works or the way an object or person looks. This is why research is so essential to writing and why it becomes one of our most important weapons against writer’s block.

There are essentially two types of research. One is what I call focused research and the other is called ambient research. Ambient research is a type of research that most people don’t even know they are doing when they do it. Ambient research usually happens while writers learn something new about a subject while they are doing something unrelated to an actual focused study of that subject. This could be anything from learning a piece of trivia while playing a game or experiencing a new place for the first time while on a vacation. Ambient research is very different from focused research.

When most people hear the word “research”, they immediately think of hours spent studying dusty volumes in the stacks of a local library. Library reading is part of what I call focused research and it is quite useful when authors need to answer specific questions in their writing. However, focused research is much more than simply wading through library bookshelves. Focused research also means that an author might need to interview a key expert in a particular field or participate in a certain activity in order to “really get a feel” for a specific aspect of his or her story such as its plot, setting, or characters. While focused research seems to happen more often for nonfiction writers, I promise that fiction writers will find it just as useful no matter their genre.

We’ll use me for an example dealing with the two types of research since I am an easy target. Like any good author, I write what I love. I am a fantasy author and I also love watching movies and reading books in the fantasy genre. I learn a lot from fellow speculative fiction authors, but I principally read their stuff because it’s highly entertaining. Keeping all of this in mind, let’s say that while I’m watching the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie for the thousandth time that I suddenly become interested in reading more about pirates. I pick up Tim Powers’ book On Stranger Tides, which loosely inspired a couple parts of the movie. After I read that book, I go on to Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes novel because I’m still interested in reading more stories about 18th Century buccaneers—both real and fictitious. This is called ambient research because I have learned more about a particular subject through various forms of entertainment without doing a serious study of it. Some of what I have learned will be inaccurate because the information that I learned came from entertainers instead of scholars; however, some of my new knowledge—like the basic parts of a ship—will be accurate. However, if I suddenly decide that I want a deeper knowledge of the actual pirates who lived in the 1700s, my interest is now intently focused and so my research will be specifically directed toward nonfiction sources such as The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard with the specific goal of gaining a deep understanding of my subject. Hence my research will become focused research.

Because I write what I love, I don’t mind doing research of either type because the research that I do—whether ambient or focused—is about subjects that I find genuinely fascinating in the first place. I often like to approach writing a specific story by reading fiction and nonfiction books of a similar nature or subject-matter before, during, and after the writing process. This constant flow of focused research, ambient research, and general inspiration helps me more easily work around those writer’s blocks caused by a lack of knowledge. I also love to use photographs from my and other people’s travels as a guide to help me describe certain scenes more easily. I use focused research in the form of personal experience, expert interviews, scientific journals, and full-on, library-haunting study sessions for those more persistent blockades.

Whatever research you do, please remember that the key to getting the most out of research is to always make sure your stories reflect your personal interests. Making your stories personal and your subject matters interesting will help drive your passion toward them and your passion will help you ensure that your stories are written accurately. Accurate research is one of the best ways to create high quality writing that readers adore, so make it count. Your readers will pay attention to your story’s details and they will complain when something is incorrect. The last thing you want is to be remembered as a lazy writer, so get your details right before you share you work with the world.

For instance, if your story is set in downtown Chicago, make sure that you know what downtown Chicago looks, feels, and smells like. If your story is set in early 19th Century Montana where horses were the main form of transportation, then talk to cowboys about how they care for their steeds. Study horse anatomy, western-style riding, and tack terminology. Then give subtle hints of your new-found knowledge to build your story’s accuracy. Even if your characters set foot in a completely imaginary realm, you should do some research to find out what realistic place and time period most closely resemble the fantasy world you are trying to build. Remember, good writing drops the reader smack-dab into the middle of a story’s scene. Good research should do the same for the author.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

How Life Has Changed Since Publication Day

Palm_Fans-4x6ACSince the Musings Publication Day on June 20, I have given my first interview and spent much of my time trying to wrap my head around this whole crazy thing called marketing. For someone like me, who quite prefers a life lived behind the curtain rather than in the spotlight, the idea of giving interviews, autographs, speeches, etc. is horribly daunting. I am beyond flattered when people ask me to sign copies of their books, but there is also a severe amount of shock that washes over me when I see someone holding my work in their hands. Even after all of my hard labor, it’s still difficult to believe that my writing is finally public. Because my writing is so personal, the bizarreness of that fact hasn’t worn off yet.

It also seems that publishing a book is, in many ways, the real beginning of the work’s true existence. Now that its packaged and made public, I have to find ways of getting Musings into the hands of more readers and making those readers excited enough to talk about the work themselves. Readers often get excited about a book because they hear how awesome it is from someone else. That means that I need reviews and press coverage, which means I need lots of people to read the book, which means I need to entice readers to read the book without any reviews already given. For a new author, this circular marketing circus is quite overwhelming.

So what have I done in response to this challenge? Well, two of the things I do best: research and writing. I’ve written over 10,000 words in new fiction material in the past four weeks, which is completely unrelated to Musings. That being said, I have also researched as many review outlets as I could, so that I know where best to spend my marketing budget. I’ve done small amounts of marketing already. Now, however, I plan to throw some serious money and time into the game in the next couple of weeks to help spread word of mouth and drive up book sales. Thanks to a few readers, a couple of reviews have already started to trickle in, but I still need many more. If you’ve read the book, please post a short review on Amazon, GoodReads, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Smashwords, or another great book seller. I will be forever grateful! Thank you!

In the meantime, here is what else I’ve been doing to occupy my time.

Since the last full update in June, I have:

Writing:

Continued writing Thorn and Thistle. My original assumption that this story would be a novelette was completely wrong. As of yesterday, I’ve jumped into novella territory with 17,700 words written and still going strong. I’m working steadily toward the story’s climax, but have yet to reach that final act. The tension keeps building with every scene. I’m actually on the edge of my seat as I write because I desperately want to know what happens next even though I already have the story’s ending in mind. Writing is so much fun!

Sent a query letter about Skinshifter to a publisher. I’m still waiting for a reply.

Photography and Graphic Design:

Posted new art photography on my website: “Marbled Patterns”, “Palacio del Rio in Christmas Colors”, and “Palm Fans”.

Photographed pieces of real estate for several clients.

Photographed plants and wildlife while in South Texas. The “Palm Fans” photo at the beginning of this post is from the South Texas shoot.

Finished my graphic design project for the West of the Pecos Rodeo. Despite the fact that we had to go back to black and white ads this year, the program turned out great!

Reading:

Continued reading Jesus Today by Sarah Young.

Continued reading the Bible. I am almost finished reading the Gospel of Luke. I love Jesus’ advice in this particular book. He is so straight-forward and to-the-point with his examples, parables, and explanations.

Continued reading Duty by former Secretary of Defense Dr. Robert M. Gates. I seem to be stalled on this book. I read voraciously for a few minutes and then get distracted by some project that must be done. I fault myself far more than Gates for this since political memoirs are not my usual choice of reading material. I’ll keep working on it.

Finished reading the From the Indie Side anthology. It is a very entertaining and well-written collection of short stories boasting a wide range of voices, styles, and themes. Anyone who thinks that self-published authors can’t write as well as traditionally-published authors will be pleasantly proven wrong by this book. 4 out 5 stars.

Finished reading On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. On the whole, I found this pirate book to be a mixed bag. Its unique blend of historical figures and places in combination with fictional characters and magic was certainly interesting and well-developed. Powers’ action scenes are also great. Overall, though, the book’s pacing and character continuity just felt off. Several action scenes of serious swashbuckling proportion are followed by lots and lots of drinking and lazing about on the beach. Our protagonist is gung-ho about righting the wrongs in his life and protecting the damsel in distress and then he isn’t until once again he is. The main character’s mercurial attitude and wishy-washy motivations confused me. I found myself relating better to the book’s villains (who were absolutely horrible people) more than the hero because I at least understood their motivations and could clearly see those motivations inspire their actions. I also wish that the voodoo magic system had been a little more spelled out in terms of the loa and how they interacted directly with the characters and the world. We find that one loa in particular favors the main character, but we’re never really told why. This book was well-written in terms of grammar, spelling, imagery, and world-building, but it felt like the story needed more developmental editing to tie all of the sub-plots together better and clarify some of the characters actions. I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.

Read all of Getting Life by Michael Morton. This was one of those rare nonfiction books that I devoured over a single weekend. Morton’s account of his wrongful conviction for the murder of his wife and then his subsequent 25-year incarceration in some of Texas’ scariest prisons is riveting and, seemingly, quite accurate. Throughout the work Morton’s dry humor helps to propel the story forward and defuse some of the angst in his account. I found his writing style both honest and well-balanced. 5 out of 5 stars.

Gaming:

Played Jumbline.

Played Munin. This is a puzzle game that is based on Norse mythology. The puzzles are challenging, but not stupidly so. So far, I’m really enjoying this game.

Played Peggle Deluxe. Peggle Deluxe and Peggle Nights are goof-off games in the best sense of the phrase. They are somewhat similar to a pinball game. The main objective is to hit and destroy all of the orange pegs on a particular level of the game before you run out of balls to shoot. Sometimes this can prove quite easy; many other times, it’s the most frustrating thing in the world. I love it!

Other:

Enjoyed the MUSINGS Release Day on June 20 with my friends and family.

Took the full weekend of June 21-22 off to help celebrate Musings publication.

Accidentally glued my eye shut while trying to repair a car headliner. Don’t worry, after four days of warm water compresses, my left eye was thankfully back to normal with no damage done. There are still traces of superglue in my eyelashes though. Next time, I absolutely will wear safety gear!

Talked with my husband on the phone a lot while he was his three-week-long business trip.

Volunteered during the West of the Pecos Rodeo.

Took a short road trip to South Texas to visit family.

Had to repair my broken car door window. Thanks to the West Texas heat (110+ degrees F in summer), the rear passenger door window motor quit working. Consequently I had a local auto repair man work on my vehicle this morning. Not only did he fix the window for a reasonable price, but he also restored my headlights. My car looks almost brand new!

My goals for the next four weeks are to:

Continue work on the rough draft of Thorn and Thistle. I would love to see this story finished by the end of August, but that depends on the story’s final length. At this point, I have given up on word count estimates. I assume that the story is a novella (a story that is somewhere between 17,501-40,000 words in length), but that is all I’m willing to assume.

Find out more about how to set up book readings and signings for Musings around my local area.

Begin marketing Musings in places online.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

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