A WRITER’S JOURNEY, UNLIKE HER BOOKS, NEVER ENDS
Allow me to introduce Carmen Fox, a writer who has the absolute right stuff. Wondering what that is? Read on–her story speaks for itself! And be sure to leave a comment–she’s offering a great prize to someone who stops by! Not only does some lucky winner get a $15 Amazon gift certificate but also the chance to name a character in one of her books!
Thank you, Sharon, for giving me the chance to appear on your blog.
So who am I?
I’m an urban fantasy/paranormal romance/mystery writer who didn’t start out at the top of her game. My skills are learned skills. It is my strong belief that, given the right encouragement and input, everyone can learn to write well.
But what about natural talent? Some people think a writer puts down thoughts in the form in which they popped into his or her head. The problem with that attitude for me was that I’m a terrible speaker. Even when it comes to telling jokes I stumble over my words and am sure to mess up the punch line. Lacking this natural talent, would I ever amount to anything?
As I said, I don’t believe in this mythical gene that allows a few chosen ones to enchant their readership without trying. More likely, they got a head start simply by grasping the fundamentals at an earlier age. Their talent comes down to knowledge.
The best starting point if you want to learn something new, even in the age of the geek, is a good how-to book. At least that’s the path I took. After giving my wallet a rigorous workout, my shelves soon buckled under the weight of bound wisdom. What I discovered was that novels have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Score! Armed with this knowledge, I fancied myself a writer and set about penning my first book, GUARDED (back then under a different title).
Fast-forward a few months. As part of an on-line auction, I bid on and won a partial critique by Sharon Ashwood. Yes, this Sharon Ashwood. She waded through my finished manuscript and, rather than the worshipping superfandom I expected, returned a rather sober verdict. She liked my worldbuilding and the humor, although not so much the slapstick moments. Sharon also struggled to aptly categorize my book as light PNR or UF, a task I myself wrestled with until I gave up and let the book stand as a mishmash of PNR/UF/mystery. But her comments significantly enhanced the quality of my manuscript.
Amid this critique discussing the good, the bad, and the downright awful, Sharon dropped a line that would mold my writing even more. She advised to invest in a course run by Margie Lawson, a teacher responsible for transforming many so-so writers into successful authors.
Since I had little to lose, I enrolled. Over the next three years I participated again and again, and Margie’s insights filtered through to me and into my next book and the book after that. Thanks to her, I twist clichés like it’s the 1950s and employ a wide range of voice cues, while putting body parts through painful acrobatics to show a character’s emotional state. Her personal feedback cemented my new-found understanding of language.
After Margie Lawson’s courses I moved on to Mary Buckham and many other wonderful instructors. Word after word, my style improved. In fact, it improved so much I was offered a contract for DIVIDE AND CONQUER almost as soon as I typed ‘The End.’
Stuff just got real. Shoot. My once casual pastime had morphed into a hobby with deadlines. What next?
Publishing a book is a slow process, where long periods of rest alternate with moments of panicked frenzy. In my off-time, I returned to GUARDED, the book I’d first sent to Sharon. The story’s characters occupied a place in my heart, and I couldn’t wait to dive into what became the mother of all edits. Yup, almost every sentence needed a re-write. The contrast between before and after more than once made me well up. It wasn’t that I used to be atrocious. I just wasn’t…good enough, an affliction that befalls many hopeful writers.
During my many hours of editing, the how-to books, now languishing on my shelves, mingled with Margie’s and Mary’s explanations, and things started to make sense. As it turns out, you need to know how to write before you can learn to write fiction.
Let’s take ‘show don’t tell’ as an example. Up to that point I’d associated this adage with ‘adding description.’ In my original e-mail to Sharon I even wrote, “I have no eye for detail when it comes to places or people, so coming up with sufficient specifics for “show, don’t tell” isn’t always easy for me.” How wrong I was. Rather, this principle is about respecting your readers enough not to TELL THEM THAT your character feels a certain way, but to SHOW THE PHYSICAL CONSEQUENCES of that feeling. Not to TELL THEM THAT your character is looking at something, but to SHOW THE SCENE your character sees. More specifically, stay away from “She watched an old couple walk up the street,” and instead write “An old couple walked up the street.”
I also discovered that ‘hooking a reader’ has little to do with formulating a clever first sentence and everything to do with resolving one issue while opening up another one.
With these sparks of clarity, I edited away, simplified the plot, and soon a new story emerged, the story I should have written at the start.
Five months in, my editor returned DIVIDE AND CONQUER, and my stomach jigged. While her comments focused on strengthening the emotional impact of my scenes, my re-read uncovered that I’d also told much of the story, and hooks were largely a no-show. I changed as much as I dared and returned the manuscript, still aghast at the difference between my old version of DIVIDE AND CONQUER and my new version of GUARDED. How can a few months make such a difference?
In hindsight, I’ve become rather proud of this initial discrepancy. DIVIDE AND CONQUER was released in March. GUARDED will be out in July. I still haven’t reached the top of my game, but both novels represent the best of my ability as it stands now, and I’ve been lucky to have found readers who love them. What about the future, though? Well, I want to learn more. Much more. I want to understand what it takes to make a reader cry in as little as two hundred words, and how to deepen conflict. My fervent wish for 2020 is that I’ll be able to look back on 2015 and see room for improvement. Because the secret formula to getting published is the same as succeeding in sports. Never stop improving your game.
Be sure to leave a comment–one lucky winner gets a $15 Amazon gift certificate and also the chance to name a character in one of Carmen’s books!
DIVIDE AND CONQUER, out now
Buy it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U0W2BIM
GUARDED, coming July 31, 2015
About me, Carmen Fox
Carmen lives in the south of England with her beloved tea maker and a stuffed sheep called Fergus. An avid reader since childhood, she caught the writing bug when her Nana asked her to write a story. She also has a law degree, studied physics for a few years, dabbled in marketing and human resources, and speaks native-level German and fluent Geek. Her preferred niches of geekdom are tabletop games, comics, sci-fi and fantasy.
She writes about smart women with sassitude, about pretty cool guys too, and will chase that plot twist, no matter how elusive.
Expect to be kept guessing.
Visit her blog at www.carmen-fox.com.