The Gullwing Odyssey will soon find a home in a bookshelf at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For those of you who aren't savvy on the geography of Washington D.C., that's the White House
. Marco Gullwing and friends are paying the U.S. president a visit.
Regardless of what your political leanings are, I think we all can agree that it's not easy being the president
. In fact, it's one of the toughest jobs there is. Even if you were to do everything right, there'd always be some late-night comedian or talk show host who'd criticize every aspect of your life down to the number of breaths you draw in a minute. And that's the least of things you'd have to worry about, saying nothing of domestic issues and international policy. That's pressure, folks. If anyone needs a laugh, and not one at his expense, it's the president.
The president is a busy man, and so I don't expect him to write back, but if he does, I'll be sure to let you know.
Everybody's got a story to tell and no stories are born bad -- they're just written that way. More often than not, what makes a story bad is its execution. With some of polishing up, even "bad" stories can be made into what the really were all along -- good stories.
The advice below comes courtesy of the good people at Darkwater Syndicate
. In the Syndicate's own words, this primer is "faster than a college course and a heck of a lot cheaper."
Brace yourself, though, as those Syndicate guys pull no punches.
The grim truth is that just because you are fluent in a language does not automatically make you a writer. Nor does having a story to tell. Even a great story can be hobbled by poor execution. The manner of execution is what makes writing an art.
If you want to call yourself a writer, you'd better learn how to use words. Words are a writer's tools. While most might use a hammer just to drive a nail in a wall to hang a painting, in the hands of a craftsman that hammer can do much more. The difference does not lie in the tool itself but how it is used.
By the same token, you need to learn how not to use words. While a hammer may suffice to drive a screw into a wall, a better tool may be a screwdriver. Or a power drill. Or a jackhammer.
Master grammar and parts of speech, develop a good vocabulary, and then get to work.Write
It goes without saying that you can't be a writer unless you write. While there are as many aspiring writers as there are excuses not to write, all these excuses all boil down to either: "I just don't feel like it," or "I can't find the time."
Discipline is key. Face it, writing is work. If it were easy, we wouldn't admire people who do it well. But if you want to be a writer, or if you want to tell that story you left half-finished, you need to get to work. No one but you can (or wants to) do it for you.
As for finding time, you must make time to write. Each week, we at the Syndicate devote a block of uninterrupted time to a writing project. We meet that schedule whether we like it or not. What emerges through our efforts is a first draft so ugly that we would sooner abandon at a stranger's doorstep. Even so, it is better to have something ugly and with potential than to have nothing at all.Edit
Invest in a box of red ink pens. You'll be surprised how quickly you'll run through them. Chances are you'll spend as much time editing as you will writing.
Most writers hate editing, and with good reason. The process is stuffy, tedious, and painful. Stuffy, because you'll need to refer back to all those parts of speech and grammar conventions we referred to earlier. Tedious, because it entails going through your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. Painful, because you'll not do this just once. Oh no -- your writing isn't finished until you've revised it several times.
Note that we used the word painful and not painstaking. It's pretty obvious that writing is painstaking. What makes it painful is that your aim is to condense your work. That means you'll be cutting out whole sections of that manuscript you sweated over for weeks. No matter how deeply in love you are with a sentence, a paragraph, a character, even whole chapters, if they do not advance the story in any appreciable way, they get cut. It's enough to make an aspiring writer cry, but what comes next is even more daunting.Critique
We call them beta readers. Some call them critique groups. You can call them what you like.
Writers can be their own worst enemies when it comes to critiquing. Many a writer has lost sleep over criticism, which is why writers often are hesitant to give their work to beta readers.
The fact is writers are often as protective of their own work as a mother hen is of her chicks. This overprotectiveness keeps them from seeking honest -- albeit blunt and sometimes hurtful -- advice on their project.
You need to have thick skin to be a writer. Once you finish your project, get a fresh pair of eyes to look it over, no matter how much you think it will hurt.
And it will hurt. If it doesn't, you've picked the wrong person to review your work.Let Stand On The Windowsill For An Hour
If you've ever baked a pie, you would know you can't eat it right out of the oven. Pies need to sit for a while and cool. Your project is that tasty pie you've been working on for so long. Much as you'd like to cut yourself a slice, you'd burn yourself if you didn't first wait for it to cool. Your pie would also fall apart into a crumbly mess, so don't be too eager to dig into it once you're done.
A fresh manuscript is hot. Don't touch it. Let it stand for a while to cool off. Let your chapters solidify. You'll know it's cooled off once you've stopped thinking about it. You won't do too great a job at the next step unless your mind is fresh and ready.Revise
Once enough time has passed to distance yourself from your work, it's time for revisions. You'll find that your mindset during the revision phase is not the same as when you were in the production (i.e., writing) phase.
Remember that character you wrote in at the last minute, without whom you felt your story would fall apart? If you've let the manuscript sit long enough, you may find that you've grown a bit detached from this character. In fact, you might not fly into a table-flipping rage if someone suggested you remove him from the story. Actually, removing him might sound like a good idea after all.
Here is where you take your beta readers' advice to heart. Rewrite or reorganize sections that work, cut out the rest. Polish
Don't groan. The final touch is a do-over of the editing phase. Here is where you make sure your project is free of errors.
First, correct all grammatical and spelling mistakes. The proper number of either in your project is zero. Do not rely on your word processor's spelling and grammar checker, as it is not foolproof. Most programs will overlook a word if it is spelled correctly even if it is used incorrectly in the sentence, such as in: "I here you loud and clear."
Once you're done reading for errors, give your work another read, this time for consistency. Scenes you wrote in the production phase may no longer jive with scenes you added or removed in revisions. Keep an eye out for this. It may slip past you because, as the writer, you are so immersed in your work that it is easy to overlook details. Your audience, on the other hand, is coming in cold and will pick up on inconsistencies.
Lastly, give your work one final read for fun. At this stage, you're no longer reading to spot errors. Rather, you're reading to enjoy your hard work. Of course, if you should spot an error or two you missed during the first two passes, feel free to correct it.Shoot Adverbs Dead
A final bit of advice: shoot adverbs dead. You don't need them. Adverbs are words that tell you how a thing is done, such as in: "She looked at him very angrily." That sentence contains two adverbs, "very" and "angrily." While the sentence is grammatically sound, it is devoid of substance.
Adverbs steal the action away from the sentence and replace it with dry exposition.
You're the writer, and so it is your job to be creative. Show the reader the action, don't cut corners with adverbs. Now compare our example sentence with: "Arms crossed, she glowered at him as he entered the room." This sentence is adverb-free, and better yet, paints the reader a vivid picture. Right from the start we know that whoever is walking into the room is about to get an earful.
Good luck, and happy writing.
This article was featured in Author's Voice, a publication of the South Florida Writers Association, September 2013, Issue 9, and also at Darkwater Syndicate
on September 16, 2013.
Hashtags are all the rage these days, and I should know. I'm an avid Twitter user (@AntonioSimonJr
). So if I were to hashtag-up this post, it would look like this: "#AmReading #AmWriting #AmEditing #AmGoingMad #AmLovingEveryMomentOfIt".
And why, you ask? Well, because the sequel to The Gullwing Odyssey
is in the works. That's right, Marco's adventures don't just end. There's a reason why it's called an Odyssey. Marco's journey is as much one of personal growth as it is a globe-spanning adventure. If he's lucky, he won't be away from home for twenty years like the titular character of a much, much older tale
of a man on an epic voyage, but in life there are never any promises.
As with The Gullwing Odyssey
, you can expect more laughs, thrilling fights, dazzling magic, and sweeping adventure. The project is currently unnamed, but that'll change as the novel progresses.
I'll be chiming in periodically to keep you posted on my progress. Right now, I'm at 9,857 words in six chapters. Please be patient with me -- it may take me a little while as I'm something of a perfectionist -- but I'm as anxious as you are to see what happens next.
With so varied a group of misfits as the characters of The Gullwing Odyssey
, it's a wonder they didn't end up killing each other halfway through their journey. It's as much of a wonder how they found time to sit for interviews.
They're a motley group -- a reluctant messenger
, a neurotic bureaucrat
, a zealous crusader
, a sycophantic wizard
, a headstrong princess
, and a foppish pirate
-- excuse me, I meant upright nobleman of the sea. They've got personalities and agendas, and not everyone's agendas are aligned. In fact, it's practically an unwritten rule that anytime you go on a long trip you're certain to travel with at least one person whom you can't stand. Now, try journeying somewhere when you can't stand even a single one of your companions.
The links above will take you directly to their profile pages, where you can read their biographies. From there, you can access their interviews directly. Or, you can also click on the Characters
tab for an array of their portraits (which look really cool).
You'd think it'd be easy to get these guys to sit still long enough to have their portraits taken, but no -- this is a group of stubborn misfits. They squirmed, kicked, and fidgeted so much that it took the illustrators weeks to get the job done.
At long last, it's my distinct pleasure to introduce you to the cast of The Gullwing Odyssey
. Nothing short of a bizarre twist of fate brought them together, and it's nothing short of a miracle that they didn't end up killing each other during their adventure.
Go to the Characters
page for detailed images. From there, you can click on their portraits for their biographies.
Next up, I'll be taking their interviews, but if they give as much trouble as when they had their portraits taken, I may be in for a fight.
I am officially a nerd. I accept this.
Call me old-fashioned (I won't take offense), but I really like books. As in the sort you can hold in your hands. Sure, e-books are convenient, eco-friendly, and great in their own right, but there's something to be said about holding a book in your hands. For starters, by reading physical books, you're participating in an ancient tradition. E-books and the gadgets that read them are relative newcomers to the scene. People have been writing things down onto papyri since around 2500 BCE, so that's four and a half millennia there. While I'm sure writing developed longer ago than just 4,000 years, the detail to note here is the medium employed -- papyrus and paper are easily transported, while stone or clay tablets are not. And let's not get started on cave drawings, which are altogether immobile. Generally, whenever somebody wrote something that he wanted somebody else to read, he wrote it on paper.
I've found I can make a deeper connection with the subject matter when I hold the book in my hands than when I read it on a screen. This is just my personal observation, but the concreteness of the medium (a physical book) helps make the subject matter more concrete (like the parallelism there?). With an e-book, you're one step removed. You're not getting the author's words directly anymore. Instead, the subject matter is electronic data which the e-book reader interprets and displays on your screen. A book is an unadulterated conversation between the author and the audience. With an e-book, the machine acts as a middleman, a filter. The connection becomes distant, cold.
I've also found that the physical act of reading focuses me on the fact that I'm reading. It's a contemplative exercise. In my experience, actually holding a book and turning the pages focuses me on what I'm reading. I find e-book readers can be distracting, especially when mine chimes in occasionally to advise of a new email.
E-books are great, but a bookshelf crammed with books is a whole lot more impressive than an e-book reader sitting on a coffee table, wouldn't you agree?
The secret's out: The Gullwing Odyssey is now available in paperback.
This is a beautiful looking-book. The front cover has been treated to an oil painting finish. Look closely and you can faintly see cracks in the cover image as though it were a 16th century painting -- completely appropriate, as that's the period the book is set in, the early age of sail. The spine and back cover have been treated to a rich royal blue color, befitting of the story's nautical theme. Of course, the spine proudly bears the Darkwater Syndicate
Now that the book is in paperback, you can take Marco's misadventures anywhere you go -- the beach, the park, the morning commute. Just be careful of one thing: this book will make you laugh, and that may prompt others around you to read over your shoulder.
As an aside, it occurs to me that the punchline of one of the book's jokes has finally arrived. It was funny when the novel was an e-book, but it's even funnier now that the novel is in print. I won't spoil the joke for you, but everyone who's read the book knows what I mean.
It'll hit bookstores soon, so avoid the rush and get your copy right here on our Bookstore
I also offer a special autographed copy package that includes a paperback copy, a dedication, and a personalized thank-you letter from me.
It's almost here! When first published back on August 8, 2013, The Gullwing Odyssey was available only as an e-book. That's going to change soon. Final preparations are underway to release a print run of the novel through Darkwater Syndicate
I've been made privy to the front and back cover art, as well as the interior formatting. It all gels together into a beautiful book, if I do say so myself. And all that's without actually getting into what the book is about -- which, if you've visited this site before you probably already know. In case you don't, have a look at our Books
Now, I'm not at liberty to divulge anything else just yet, but stick around. The details will come pouring in soon. When the novel hits the bookshelves of brick and mortar bookstores everywhere, you'll be first to know.
Until then, check in here or visit Darkwater Syndicate
Old timers in the industry might tell you that in their day, you'd mail your manuscript to yourself and never open the packaging, so you'd have date-stamped proof that you held the copyright to your work. Those days, if ever they existed, are gone, but the misinformation lingers.
Preliminary note: I am an attorney, but the information I'm sharing with you is not legal advice and you should not construe it as such. I am merely providing a summary of general information on a broad topic of the law. That said, there's no guarantee this information is (or will remain) 100% accurate, complete, or applicable to you because of a myriad of factors I won't go into. The law is an ever-changing thing, where you live may have different copyright laws, and what's more, your circumstances may not exactly fit the facts I've assumed.
Copyright Law Protects You
Picture if you will a clown at a child's birthday party. A perennial favorite trick is the one where the clown yanks a tablecloth from a folding table without disturbing the place settings or fragile centerpiece. Now, I know I'm going out on a limb here, but here goes: copyrights are not tablecloths. Clowns can't just yank them out from under you willy-nilly.
Copyright law exists to protect you. With all the hard work you put into your writing, the last thing you'd want is to have someone snatch it out from under you and call it their own. Worse -- for your work to be a success and have some undeserving clown prosper from it while you get nothing. Doesn't that just make your blood boil?
Thankfully, that is the type of injustice copyright law is designed to prevent. And it's even easier than you may think to establish your rights to a work.
Establishing Copyrights To Your Work
Keep in mind that authorship is not the same as copyright. Authorship means you created the work (in technical parlance, the "creative expression"). Without getting too deep into details, copyright generally means the authority to distribute and make copies of the work. Authorship and copyright are separable from the other, and often happens.
Generally speaking, you hold the copyright to any original work you produce the moment you reduce it to a tangible form. You can't copyright an idea still in your head, but if you express that idea in the form of, say, your novel, and put it down in paper, then the novel is subject to copyright. If you have a work in progress, then, again, under most circumstances you still hold the copyright to the work, despite it being incomplete.
Regardless of whether your work is complete out not, it is a good practice to prominently display a copyright notice on your work. Write or type the word copyright, followed by the year you completed the work (or the current year if incomplete), then your name. Registering your copyright (such as with the United States Copyright Office) is a good idea also, but in general it is not necessary to establish your copyright to the work. However, in order to assert a lawsuit for infringement of copyright, generally you must first register your work.
Sleep Easy, Neurotic Writer
Rest assured that the novel you've toiled over for so long is safe. There's no need to mail reams of paper to yourself in the hopes that you'll be protected if ever anyone steals your work. You'll save a few bucks that way, and your mailman no doubt will appreciate your lightening his load some.
And as an aside: I've got nothing against clowns. In fact, I like clowns. Just not the ones that infringe hardworking authors' copyrights.
Sorry to start this post on a cynical note, but I promise it'll lighten up by the end. I've had something of an epiphany -- not the sort where a religious figure manifests in your burnt toast, but a practical one, if not a very polite one. I'm convinced the universe has a sense of humor, to have paid me such a backhanded compliment. Still, I should have known better from the same universe that brought the platypus into being, but I digress. If anything, it only goes to show that humor often comes in the most unlikely of places.
Let me give you some context. Nobody is good at everything. I accept this. There are some things in life that, regardless of your efforts, you may never become terribly great at. For instance, I've come to grips with the fact that at my height of 5'10" I'll never become a pro basketball star. It's also a fact of life that some people are born good and become great, others become great through hard work, and sadly, some never realize their potential.
And then there are those who are born with potential in talents they don't like much. TV Tropes
has a phrase for this, it's: "blessed with suck
I used to think I was blessed with suck for having been granted some aptitude as a writer. Like it says in my Author
page, "I had a face for radio and a voice for print." It's reassuring to know that there's some fairness to life if I came into existence with at least one thing I was halfway good at. Even so, it was a gift that, once upon a time, I didn't much like. Here's why.
Writing is a slow medium. Music and visual arts can elicit powerful responses in an audience -- immediate, powerful responses. Writing does not, except for a handful of four-letter words we resort to when someone cuts us off on our morning commute. It requires an enormous time investment from the reader to derive a rich emotional effect from good writing. Much as I appreciate good music and graphic arts, I was always a bit jealous of people who are good at those things, because I'm outright terrible at those things. I think I passed high school art class with a C. I tried (and failed miserably) at learning to play the piano. And let's not get started on handwriting. My handwriting is "doctor-worthy."
What's changed is that I've learned to accept my shortcomings along with my gifts. I suppose there's an unwritten rule somewhere that says you don't get one without the other. I've gained a newfound appreciation for writing, and the loads of effort good writing requires. I've gotten halfway good at it.
Take that, universe.
I've come to realize I may never be great at anything, even the things I am somewhat good at. And here comes the epiphany: I don't care. I've grown to like what I do. I'll keep writing, and getting better at it, because writing makes me happy.
The universe may be laughing at me, except I've learned to laugh along with it. So now we're both laughing at me, and I'm totally cool with it. It may be fitting, then, to leave you with some words of wisdom from Gautama Buddha himself: "When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky."