Monthly Archives: July 2014

The need for professional editing and cover design

I’m new to the indie author world. I feel sometimes like I’ve jumped off the top of a 50 foot waterfall into a pool below that could be 5 foot deep with rocks so I break my neck, or 500 feet deep and I drown trying to get back to the top. Fortunately I have other indie authors, with much more experience, to act as my lifeguards and spotters and make sure I can survive this sometimes overwhelming process.

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There are a couple of major things I’ve learned thus far in my journey to being a published author. I’m sure I’ll learn more as I continue through this trip, but right now I can share what I have learned.

Don’t edit your own book. I don’t mean to leave it as a first draft and then send it to an editor. She won’t even look at it past the first horribly written paragraph. Revise, revise, revise, and THEN send it off. Because by the time you’ve revised it again and again you can no longer see any of your errors. You skim through it because you’ve read it and know what happens. An editor has fresh eyes. She has eyes that have learned what to look for. I know what I’ve written, but I’d be willing to bet that even though I’ve revised and re-revised At Death’s Door four hundred times, it still has continuity errors, grammar snafus, and myriad other issues. I’m paying good money for someone with a professional eye to take my work and help me to polish it into something worthy of asking strangers to read it.

We’ve all read a book that we could hardly make it through, or have put down completely, because it was apparent that the author never took the time to have a professional scour their work and make it right. Don’t fall into this trap.

Another lesson I’ve learned is not to skimp on a book cover. Unless you are a professional graphic designer, don’t try to create your own book cover. Confer with someone who does it for a living, discuss what you want, let him or her make a cover that compliments your book and draws in potential readers. As much as we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, we all do it. I have refused to even read the blurb for a book because its cover is so horrendous. Maybe that’s shallow of me, but I guarantee I’m not the only one to do it.

When my cover designer finished with my cover and sent it to me I literally got goosebumps. I’ve stared at it a million times in awe and excitement. I can do some basic graphic design, I know my way around photoshop, but I never could have created something that will get the attention that a professionally designed cover will.

Sure these are only two small lessons, and I know for a fact I’ll learn many more as I go, but these two stick out in my mind. Next time I’ll talk about PR and marketing yourself as an indie publisher.

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Setting in fiction writing

The holy triumverate of writing a story: character, plot, and setting (although some would add theme, and style and I don’t necessarily disagree), is familiar. It is the flesh and bone of your creation. Your setting is the loom upon which you weave your tapestry; the characters are the thread and the plot is the pattern you are using. In many ways, setting is a character of its own, interacting with the people in your story, changing their decisions and affecting their personality. Pauline Hopkins, author of Contending Forces wrote: And, after all, our surroundings influence our lives and characters as much as fate, destiny or any supernatural agency.” So what are some of the keys to writing setting well?

Setting is comprised of many things. It includes geographical location, historical period, culture, and physical surroundings. If your setting isn’t just every day life in the world we currently live in it could be any number of other places and times. It could be in the dystopian (or less used, utopian) future; it could be in virtual or simulated reality; it could be a mythical world you created or another planet. And each of these places and times have their own multifaceted reality.

Setting is more than just a backdrop, it is a living, breathing part of your story. If there is a chair, does it just sit in the corner? Or does your character sit in it, or smash it agains the wall in anger, or block the attack of a vicious animal with it? If it’s hot or rainy or foggy, do you just describe that, or does your character experience it and move within that environment?

Your setting should envelope all five senses – although not necessarily all at once. I’ve heard the rule that you should engage two or three senses when describing setting. Let’s use the idea of a fire for example. I’ve seen so many writers use the cliché of a “small, cheerful fire”. Why not be more in depth? What does the fire look like? Are there hungry crimson flames devouring the one large log on the hearth? Or has it nearly died and only a few blue flames tentatively glow from the embers? What does the fire sound like? A low crackle or a threatening roar? Smell? Depends on the kind of fire, but at least describe the smell of wood smoke or burning rubber, which might be the first indication your character has that there is a fire at all. Less used senses like touch and taste are sometimes my favorites. Does the fire warm the chilled skin and make your character drowsy, or is it such a large and hot fire that it’s uncomfortable to stand too close? Is there the acrid taste of smoke on your character’s tongue, or maybe she can almost taste the rabbit roasting over the fire and it makes her mouth water.

Another good habit is to sprinkle your setting throughout your story. Rarely does a real person stop when they get to a new place and mentally catalog all the sights and sounds of their environment. They notice it only as they interact with it. So as your character does his thing, intersperse interaction with his setting as you go. Stubbing his toe on the leg of a kitchen table here, getting dripped on by a leak in the ceiling there, smelling burnt toast, whatever part of your setting is most appropriate and interesting at the moment.

When you’ve written your story and you’re going back over your rough draft with setting in mind, ask yourself a few questions. Are my characters acting in a void where the effects of the setting (if I’ve described one at all) are almost completely ignored? Did I write one setting but have the characters interact with or describe something else? Was the setting accurate to the time and place I’ve set the story? If you’ve written a dynamic, tangible, and interesting environment that your characters interact with instead of moving in front of, then you’ve reached your goal. You will be able to draw your reader into the story because they won’t just have an idea of where your characters are, but they’ll be able to imagine it fully and be interested in all the ways your character is wrapped up in it. 

 whereami

Endings vs Conclusions

Have you ever read a book and gotten to the end and then flipped back several pages to see if you missed something? Or closed the book and said “REALLY? That’s all?” Or wondered if the writer just got BORED with the story and ended the book rather than serving the characters and their struggles to the actual conclusion of their story? That’s not to say that a story can’t end with some ambiguity. Wondering what might have happened to the protagonist after the book is through doesn’t mean it didn’t conclude where it needed to.

 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” The trick though, is to make sure that both your beginning and ending are connected. Not just by the middle – the journey between start and finish – but by the overarching theme of your book. George Orwell said thatI write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.That lie you are exposing is your overarching theme. If you haven’t exposed it, if you haven’t given it its day in court and come out with a verdict, then you haven’t finished your book. The question you have asked of your protagonist must be answered, and in a satisfying way.

 

The conclusion of your story is your final resolution. You have placed your characters into a conflict. They need to resolve that conflict. Don’t shortchange them on that resolution either. This begs the question, is the climax a part of your conclusion? It can be. As long as it’s satisfying.

 

Colin Greenland (author of the 1990 book, Take Back Plenty) wrote that Plotting is like sex. Plotting is about desire and satisfaction, anticipation and release. You have to arouse your reader’s desire to know what happens, to unravel the mystery, to see good triumph. You have to sustain it, keep it warm, feed it, just a little bit, not too much at a time, as your story goes on. That’s called suspense. It can bring desire to a frenzy, in which case you are in a good position to bring off a wonderful climax.” If we think of our story like great sex, then it’s all about timing. We want our reader to ‘get off’ in the best, most mind-blowing, way possible. And your conclusion is the post-coital glow, the cuddling, the morning after. Nobody wants to get rolled out of bed after an amazing romp between the sheets and told to hit the road, especially if the climax was spectacular. They want to bask, to revel, to understand what just happened instead of going over it in their head the next day and deciding they hate the jerk who kicked them out after a half-assed goodbye. (Of course, nobody likes clingy either – don’t draw it out!)

 

Now, this isn’t to say you have to have your stereotypical happy ending. Your characters don’t have to get married and have a baby and do whatever else is considered part of ‘happily ever after’. Lots of books choose not to do this at all (look at The Fault in Our Stars by John Green for example). Your happy ending doesn’t have to be fortunate circumstances. It can be some sort of moral resolution, an understanding of the world around them and acceptance of that world – at least until the next book, if you happen to be writing a series.

 

Joss Whedon says, “You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.When you finish your book, have you revealed who the character really is? And more importantly has the character realized who he or she really is? They’ve made their journey, they’ve faced whatever insurmountable odds you’ve put them up against, but did they learn a lesson or reach a goal beyond just killing the big bad? The monster they have to defeat isn’t as important when all is said and done as their internal demons. And that is where your story should conclude. Not when the dragon lies vanquished, or when the princess is saved, but when the hero or heroine says, “Now I know who I am. Now I know what’s important.”

 

Mickey Spillane (best selling crime novelist) had the best advice concerning finishing your book: The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.”

 

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Cover Reveal – At Death’s Door

 My new book, At Death’s Door, might not be coming out until the end of August, but you don’t have to wait until then to get a peek at the cover. I’m thrilled to share with you the outside of the first book of the Freefall series. I hope you like it and it makes you excited enough to pick it up when it’s officially released in less than two months.

 

 

 

AtDeathsDoorEbook

At Death’s Door – Freefall Series #1

 

 The world is a pretty straightforward place. Even for medium Sara Stone things seem pretty simple, aside from the whole talking to spirits bit. But when the spirits get too hard to handle and Sara ends up admitted to a mental hospital, the world starts to seem a lot less straightforward. First her family disappears, including her four year old son. Then she gets the sneaking suspicion that not only are the staff at the mental hospital somehow connected, but they also have no intention of ever letting her leave the hospital.

Everything changes when Sara has her first visitor in three months. Daniel is handsome, friendly, and a complete stranger. When he promises to spring her from the hospital and swears that everything she’s experienced is completely real, Sara has no choice but to believe him. But once she reaches a run-down Victorian house in the tiny Alabama town her rescuer calls home, the last thing she expects to discover is that every memory she has is a lie.

Daniel reveals a world filled with angels, demons, and an impending war humans know nothing about. Sara wants to ignore her role in the whole mess – all that matters is solving the mystery of where her son has gone. But the forces of Heaven, Hell, and the Heart have other plans for her. Can she find her child before the world comes crashing down?

atdeathsdoorcover

 

Looking for ways to follow me?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorastridvtallaksen
Twitter: @astrid_writes

The Genesis of a Villain

Good friend and fellow author Bridget Blackwood and I had a good discussion today about villains and what makes us love to hate them. Check it out.

Bridget Blackwood

“Who is to say who is the villain and who is the hero? Probably the dictionary.” – Joss Whedon

Author Astrid V. Tallaksen and I spent hours discussing villains this morning. Movies like Maleficent took a character we believed was wholly evil and retold the story in a way we could sympathize and even like her. Astrid pointed out that Game of Thrones watchers love Arya but hate the Hound, why are they so different? What makes a character sympathetic, either as a villain or a hero, so that we will forgive them anything? I’ve touched upon the idea in the past of villain not being simply black and white. Like all people, villains are three-dimensional and possess the capacity to express the whole spectrum of behaviors. We’re a species of contradictions. What motivates a villain to act? Is it on the orders of another, to gain something, revenge, a misguided sense…

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A little bit about Astrid V. Tallaksen

Since I’m new around here, I thought I’d give y’all some random facts about me.

1. What is you middle name? V is for Victoria
2. How old are you? Old enough to know better…
3. What is your birthday? June 25
4. What is your zodiac sign? Cancer (and I’m the stereotypical Cancer)
5. What is your favorite color? It depends on the day, I vacillate between periwinkle and turquoise. (My office is turquoise) 
6. What’s your lucky number? 32?
7. Do you have any pets? I have two dogs (Muffin and Harley aka “little black dog” and “big black dog”) and two cats (Rhapsody and Fugue aka “gray cat” and “black cat”)
8. Where are you from? I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama
9. How tall are you? 6 foot even
10. What shoe size are you? 10
11. How many pairs of shoes do you own? I’m so not going in my closet to count. Probably a dozen…
12. What was your last dream about? I honestly can’t remember my last dream – maybe something Tom Hiddleston or Supernatural related…
13. What talents do you have? Well, obviously writing. I’m a good singer. Also, sarcasm. I’m the queen of snark.
14. Are you psychic in any way? Does mommy clairvoyance count? Because I have eyes in the back of my head. It drives my kid crazy.
15. Favorite song? A tie between Walking on Sunshine (Katrina and the Waves) and Three Libras (A Perfect Circle)
16. Favorite movie? A tie between Dream for an Insomniac and The Last Unicorn
17. Who would be your ideal partner? Tom Hiddleston. No, but seriously my husband’s pretty ideal.
18. Do you want children? I have one and he’s plenty!
19. Did you have a church wedding? Nope. Got married in my mom’s backyard.
20. Are you religious? I believe in God. But I am definitely not religious.
21. Have you ever been to the hospital? I just recently had my gall bladder out.
22. Have you ever got in trouble with the law? Yeah I actually got arrested once for outstanding warrants for driving without a license. I missed my court date because I was in the hospital having Aidan, so the next time I got pulled over for speeding they took me to jail. I was so humiliated!
23. Have you ever met any celebrities? I volunteer at Dragon*con every year, so I’ve met a good many. My favorites have been Grant Wilson from Ghost Hunters, Kris Holden-Ried from Lost Girl, and Sylvester McCoy (the seventh Doctor)
24. Baths or showers? Baths if I want to relax, showers if I want to get clean
25. What color socks are you wearing? Mismatched Doctor Who socks! (one has the TARDIS, the other has K-9)
26. Have you ever been famous? I was once listed on Wikipedia as the origin of the word ‘sarcasm’.
27. Would you like to be a big celebrity? It would be amazing if my books got big.
28. What type of music do you like? A little bit of everything. Some rock, some country, some pop, some folk.
29. Have you ever been skinny dipping? Nope.
30. How many pillows do you sleep with? Only one.
31. What position do you usually sleep in? I usually fall asleep on my side but wake up on my back.
32. How big is your house? 5 bedrooms, but two of the bedrooms are offices.
33. What do you typically have for breakfast? I’m not a fan of breakfast.
34. Have you ever fired a gun? Nope.
35. Have you ever tried archery? I have and really liked it.
36. Favorite clean word? Squish – you can’t say it without smiling.
37. Favorite swear word? Gosh, I swear like a sailor. Picking just one is hard! I guess I’d have to choose ‘FUCK’.
38. What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without sleep? 36 hours or so.
39. Do you have any scars? I have lots of scars. I have a couple on my face from a dog attack when I was four, a big one on my knee from when a sofa bed attacked me, and then scars from various surgeries.
40. Have you ever had a secret admirer? Well, it must have been a really great secret because I have no idea.
41. Are you a good liar? I think all storytellers have to be.
42. Are you a good judge of character? Not even of the characters I create.
43. Can you do any other accents other than your own? I like to think so. One time I woke up with a British accent after falling asleep watching Bridget Jones’ Diary…
44. Do you have a strong accent? It probably depends on who I’m talking to. I’m a bit of a mimic.
45. What is your favorite accent? Mmmmmm… Scottish.
46. What is your personality type? Temperamental introvert, cynical idealist
47. What is your most expensive piece of clothing? If you don’t count my wedding dress, probably one of my amazing dresses from Modcloth (I love retro clothing, especially fifties era)
48. Can you curl your tongue? Yes.
49. Are you an innie or an outie? I assume this is talking about my belly button – innie.
50. Left or right handed? Decidedly righty
51. Are you scared of spiders? Strangely no. But I’m terrified of insects, especially ones that fly or jump.
52. Favorite food? Lasagnaaaaaaa (yep I’m Garfield.)
53. Favorite foreign food? Gyros
54. Are you a clean or messy person? Very messy.
55. Most used phrase? Oh my god.
56. Most used word? Awesome.
57. How long does it take for you to get ready? If it’s just to run to the store or an appointment, 15 minutes. For a date night, at least an hour.
58. Do you have much of an ego? I have very fragile self-esteem.
59. Do you suck or bite lollipops? Yes. Both.
60. Do you talk to yourself? Yes. And sometimes I answer myself too.
61. Do you sing to yourself? I sing to whomever will listen. And sometimes to people who don’t want to. I’m pretty much always humming something.
62. Are you a good singer? Not as good as I used to be, but yes I’ve been told I’m a good singer.
63. Biggest Fear? Being buried alive.
64. Are you a gossip? I try not to be.
65. Best dramatic movie you’ve seen? The Last Unicorn (also an amazing book)
66. Do you like long or short hair? On whom? I have long hair right now. I think it all depends on the person wearing it.
67. Can you name all 50 states of America? Do they have to be the correct names? Yes I can name them given enough time.
68. Favorite school subject? I always LOVED English. Which is probably why I’m a writer.
69. Extrovert or Introvert? I used to be an extrovert but I’m definitely an introvert now.
70. Have you ever been scuba diving? Nope – I’m claustrophobic.
71. What makes you nervous? Not being in control. Waiting for something to happen after I’ve handed it over to someone else.
72. Are you scared of the dark? Nope.
73. Do you correct people when they make mistakes? Yes, it’s a bad habit. I’ve slowly stopped myself from correcting grammar on Facebook. It tends to piss people off.
74. Are you ticklish? Sometimes.
75. Have you ever started a rumor? Not on purpose.
76. Have you ever been in a position of authority? Yes. And honestly I hated it. I was a manager at a retail store and it was horrible. I’m a mom now though so I guess that counts.
77. Have you ever drank underage? Is there anyone who hasn’t? Yeah, I drank underage.
78. Have you ever done drugs? I had an experimental phase. Nothing hard though. Cocaine, heroine, meth, all those scare me.
79. Who was your first real crush? A boy named Seth in fifth grade. He was cute and he could do backflips. And he defended me once against bullies.
80. How many piercings do you have? I still have holes for a belly button ring and two holes in each ear. Plus I used to have a tongue ring.
81. Can you roll your Rs? Yes. And I can also do the back of the throat soft French R
82. How fast can you type? About 75 wpm
83. How fast can you run? Not fast. Because I don’t run. Period. The bear will just have to eat me.
84. What color is your hair? I literally cannot remember my natural hair color. I’ve been dying it since I was 14 years old. I think it might be a dark blondish brownish color. Right now it’s brown with sort of ombre beachy highlights.
85. What color are your eyes? Dependent on mood. Somewhere between blue, gray, and green.
86. What are you allergic to? Insect stings, fire ant bites, and hydrocortisone cream
87. Do you keep a journal? I’ve tried unsuccessfully. I do good for a few days, then taper off to like once a week, then I forget about it all together.
88. What do your parents do? My mom has been a stay at home mom, but is now an empty nester, my dad and stepdad are both engineers.
89. Do you like your age? I don’t really think about it that much to be honest.
90. What makes you angry? Stupid people. And people who hate and treat other people as if they are less. These are usually the same people.
91. Do you like your own name? It’s nice to pick your own name.
92. Have you already thought of baby names, and if so what are they? I have a kid. So no more baby names for me.
93. Do you want a boy a girl for a child? I already have a little boy and that’s enough for me.
94. What are you strengths? Writing stories, being sure in my beliefs but being wise enough to consider changes, reading out loud.
95. What are your weaknesses? I’m super impatient, have a bad temper, and I hate cleaning and cooking (I’m a HORRIBLE cook)
96. How did you get your name? My dad’s side of the family is Scandinavian.
97. Were your ancestors royalty? Many many generations back, I have an ancestor who was Queen Elizabeth I’s great uncle.
98. Do you have any tattoos? I have 6 tattoos. 3 on my back, one on my right forearm, and one on each foot.
99. Color of your bedspread? White with red, orange, and turquoise mandalas
100. Color of your room? Beige but I want to paint it gray.

 

So that’s all about me. What else would you guys like to know?

At Death’s Door – Book One of the new Freefall series

Sometime around the end of August (fingers crossed) I’ll be releasing book 1 of the Freefall series. Here’s the description:

 The world is a pretty straightforward place. Even for medium Sara Stone things seem pretty simple, aside from the whole talking to spirits bit. But when the spirits get too hard to handle and Sara ends up admitted to a mental hospital, the world starts to seem a lot less straightforward. First her family disappears, including her four year old son. Then she gets the sneaking suspicion that not only are the staff at the mental hospital somehow connected, but they also have no intention of ever letting her leave the hospital.

Everything changes when Sara has her first visitor in three months. Daniel is handsome, friendly, and a complete stranger. When he promises to spring her from the hospital and swears that everything she’s experienced is completely real, Sara has no choice but to believe him. But once she reaches a run-down Victorian house in the tiny Alabama town her rescuer calls home, the last thing she expects to discover is that every memory she has is a lie.

Daniel reveals a world filled with angels, demons, and an impending war humans know nothing about. Sara wants to ignore her role in the whole mess – all that matters is solving the mystery of where her son has gone. But the forces of Heaven, Hell, and the Heart have other plans for her. Can she find her child before the world comes crashing down?

So keep your eyes peeled for this release when it hits the shelves. I’m hoping for a cover release soon! 

Welcome!

It’s a brand new day in the world of being an author. At least for me. I’ll be posting here with tips about writing (mostly to do with mechanics and style), tricks I’ve learned on the road through publishing, and of course the requisite rants and gripes that come with being a writer.

A little about me (straight from my author bio):

Debut author Astrid V. Tallaksen grew up with a heart for stories of creatures and places outside of this world. Her love of reading quickly became a love of writing. She spent several years creating content and helping writers to improve their craft on the online world of Althanas, a creative writing workshop in the guise of a roleplaying forum. A self-avowed nerd, Astrid loves science fiction, comic books, and eighties fantasy movies in the vein of The Princess Bride and Labyrinth. Her geekiness extends to annual volunteer work at the massive sci-fi convention known as Dragon*con every year in Atlanta, Georgia. In the odd times that she’s not immersed in geekdom or writing, Astrid loves to sing karaoke, crochet, and spend time with her family and pets.