Where have all the knives gone?

This post is 5 years old, written during out family’s sojourn in Florida. It’s worth sharing because it still amuses me. 🙂

Have you ever seen Sinbad? Not the old black and white (I loved those!) but the animated movie from a decade or so ago? If not you can check out some clips HERE. The thing is, it’s currently Bug’s favorite movie of all time. Especially the opening fight scene where Sinbad has two swords.

At this point that’s the only part of the movie he watches. Once the fight scene is over he runs off to play outside.

On a completely unrelated note (or maybe not) I’ve noticed I’m losing butter knives at an alarming rate. I mean, sure, sometimes you lose a knife or two to kitchen mishaps. You might leave one at a picnic or a church potluck. But I bought new butter knives not two months ago to replace the casualties of last summer’s BBQ season and this morning I couldn’t find a single one!

Enter the three-year-old, running as if his life depended on it, “Hiyah!” He kicked an imaginary foe and light twinkled off his twin blades.

My eyes narrowed. “Son, are those mommy’s knives?”

He blinked, startled by my demand that he re-enter reality. With three years of experience dealing with mom he went with honesty. “No, these are my swords!” And off he raced to save the day.

Every single time Sinbad is on Bug moves his favorite chair in front of the TV and attends the viewing with his trusty swords in hand, a devotee of swashbuckling agog at the animated prowess. And every single time I trail after him trying to find where he stashed all his other weapons.

I finally gave up and sat down on the much-abused recliner to watch with him today. For my pains I was stabbed in the head. By a butter knife. By a butter knife hidden in the stuffing of the headrest. You see, the recliner is ripped open, the stuffing is visible and Bug just couldn’t resist hiding his treasures there.

While he was distracted I emptied the secret hidey hole and hid the hoard in the dishwasher. I have my knives back! At least until he watches Sinbad again…

Isn’t imagination a wonderful thing? It can transform a square patch of grass into the surface of Mars, the depths of the ocean, or the tower of a castle. Imagination can turn dull butter knives that can’t damage a banana into the sharpest swords. Imagination turns a blank page or an empty screen into a life filled with wonder and emotion.

What have you imagined today?

Do I need to buy your book? A Quick Guide To Supporting Authors…

I originally published this list in April of 2012. A new friend had found out I’d written a book but at that point the only books I had out were romance. She wanted to be supportive, but didn’t want to read romance. Not every book is for everyone, so here are some (updated!) ways to support the authors you know and love even if you don’t want to read their books.

Here’s the thing, every author wants you to buy the book they’ve written. It’s how authors work. We write things down, edit like frantic marmots on meth, and then beg, plead, and cry until someone publishes our work. Then we set our hair on fire worrying if everyone will hate our work. What I’m saying here is: authors are lunatics. We really are.

And because authors are lunatics, we’ve set ourselves up with the expectation that no one will buy our beautiful book. Why? Because we know there are millions of wonderful books out there and readers only have time (and money) for a small percentage of those wonderful books.

In this instance, this person is a good friend from my writing group who doesn’t like romance or e-books. She likes mysteries and hardcovers. I get it. EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE isn’t a book she can buy and donate, it isn’t a book she wants to read, it isn’t a book she wants to recommend. I’m not going to hate someone for not loving my book.

I’m not going to be angry because someone I know doesn’t buy my book.

If you know an author and can’t buy or don’t want to buy their book, but don’t absolutely hate them, there are ways to support an author for free.

– Leave a Review – You may not know this, but Amazon doesn’t recommend a book until it has 50 reviews. I imagine Barnes & Noble and Kobo have similar algorithms. This is even more important if you’ve read the book for free (library copy, loaned by a friend, ect), leave the author a review somewhere. It makes us happy.

– Give A Tweet – Unless you object to the book, recommend it to friends. Word of mouth us how a majority of books sell. If you don’t have Twitter, mention the book on Facebook, tell someone at work, or casually drop the name. It’s okay to name drop authors, if no one else knows who you’re talking about, tell them the author is a fabulous up-and-coming writer you liked before they were cool. Go Hipster You!

– Be Nice To The Author – You’d think this would be a given, but it’s not. I’ve seen more than one author snubbed because they were finally published. It doesn’t matter who they are, they are still a person and you can be polite.

– Request The Book – If your library is like mine you can suggest books for the library to purchase. This now includes e-books. Most books are in the library catalogs, and libraries take patron requests seriously.

– List It On GoodReads – So this is slightly sneaky, but it makes authors happy anyway… List the book as To-Read on GoodReads even if you never plan on touching the book ever. I get giddy every time that little number goes up.

– Give The Author A Cookie – This might only work if you’re my friend from my writing group and you happen to make these delightful little lemon cookies that are addictive. But, if you are, cookies! I like cookies! I’m easily bribed like that. If you can’t bake, socks are an acceptable alternative.

Really, most the authors I know are chatty, happy people who just happen to spend half their life in an alternate universe. If you can’t buy a book, don’t stress it.

There Are Three Rules To Writing A Novel…

… and no one knows what they are. Or so says the infamous quote seen on mugs and hats everywhere people want to make money off of frustrated authors.
I’m not saying these are the missing three rules, but they’re my best guess for the time being.

1- Write it all down. Too many young authors dismiss an idea by saying “I’ll remember it later” or “it’s a stupid idea.” You won’t and it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if it’s fanfiction, or parody, or something you wrote just because it sounded funny – write it down. Write it, edit it, and polish it before you judge your work. As long as you agree to learn from your mistakes there is no wasted time, and more than one author has become famous writing “just for fun” while they waited for the perfect book to come along.

2 – Assume your reader is intelligent. They want to read your book, don’t they? That proves they’re intelligent. So trust your reader and don’t hammer them over the head with needless details. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel and give your reader a minute description of a car unless this car is radically different than the common definition. And get so lost in your love of words that you alienate your reader. Yes, a book set in ancient Rome would be more accurate if you wrote it in Greek and Latin, but far fewer people would be able to enjoy your work. Your readers are intelligent, don’t make them jump through hoops to enjoy your writing.

3- Start editing at chapter three. After your first draft is finished reread starting with chapter three. Many authors use the first two chapters to set the stage and establish characters. If you can start reading at chapter three and enjoy the book the readers don’t need those first two chapters. You may need them as an author, but your audience doesn’t. Of course, if you read from chapter three and nothing makes sense pat yourself on the back, you started your story in the right place!

There, now when someone tells you that no one knows how to write the perfect novel you can smirk knowingly and say,”I do.”

What three rules do you believe every good book follows?

Previously Published June 2012

Finding Your Strengths

All writers are not created equal.

Some are gifted at world building, others excel at pacing, some write witty dialog without breaking a sweat (looking at you, Whedon). Whatever your skill, you should identify it and make the most of it?

Why?

Let’s pretend that your greatest strength is dialog. And then you write a book with a character that never speaks to anyone. Everything is description and inner monologue. Guess what? That book is not going to snap the way your previous books did.

Worse, your readers who come to you looking for a specific style of writing might be turned off.

Think of writing a book like you would plan to dress for a photo shoot; even if you’re changing the style of the clothes you still want to accentuate your best features.

So how do you find your strengths? Here’s four quick questions that will help you find your best angle…

1) What do you like writing best?
If you find the descriptive scenes just flow, you might have a knack for world building. If you always know where to end a scene for the right dramatic tension, congratulations, you’re one of the lucky few who has a talent for pacing.

2) What scenes do you think of first?
If the dialog comes before the character description, you probably have flair for dialog. If you know your characters better than you know your neighbor, you are a natural character builder, and I bet no one has ever called your characters “flat.”

3) What do your reviews say?
Look at your critiques and reviews say? Do they mention lush worlds, colorful characters, or snappy sass? That’s your talent!

4) What do people ask for your advice about?
When someone sends you a message and says, “How would you do this?” you know you’ve found your strength.

Previously Published January 2016

Don’t Embrace The Boulders – Keep Chasing Your Dreams

The highway of life is filled with mole hills, bumps, potholes, and occasionally boulders. Big, fat, road-blocking boulders that fill all six lanes of your highway and stop forward momentum at fatal velocities.

Potholes are someone else’s choice interfering with your forward progression, like the CEO embezzling a few billion dollars and your company going bankrupt. You have no control over this, and it’s definitely going to throw you off your stride for a bit.

Mole hills are little things that may look big, like losing those last three pounds or remembering to get birthday cards in the mail by Friday. At the end of your life a mole hill is a trivial thing that’s easily forgotten. Bumps are also small. They rattle you, but they won’t kill you.

Boulders… those are a different beast entirely. Boulders are huge things that stop you from moving. Career-ending decisions. Dead end jobs. Addictions that throw you out of the loop of life and down to the sidelines.

Boulders take many forms. Sometimes they’re an addiction. Sometimes they’re a lifestyle choice. Sometimes the boulder is something we have very little control over, like a cancer diagnosis or clinical depression. Sometimes the boulder is something entirely of our own making.

Whatever the case, don’t embrace the boulders.

I see too many people who see a boulder on the road of life and assume it’s the end of the road.

The teen mom who’s life came to a screeching halt because she had a kid, and fourteen years later she’s never dated, never left home, never done anything but let one choice dictate her entire life. She’s embraced the boulder and refuses to move on.

Or my alcoholic uncle who has lost his family and friends to his abusive drinking, who lives on the edge of poverty because his paycheck goes straight to the liquor store, and who doesn’t understand why no one is excited that he’s decided to try home brewing. Alcoholism is his boulder. He’s embraced it. He has decided that alcohol is more important than anything else in life, and that he can’t cut back on it because being an alcoholic is what he is.

The author who throws in the towel because on publishing house rejected their novel that came over the transom. ONE. Not hundreds of rejections. Not dozens of rejections. ONE REJECTION, and the author wants to quit because Sad Author wrote the book with that publisher in mind.

It makes me want to set my hair on fire!

I get it, I really do. Some of these are very hard things to deal with. Addictions aren’t something you can always handle alone. Certainly a cancer diagnosis isn’t something you can shrug off. Depression sucks, I know, I’ve got it. But, Dude! YOU ARE NOT DEAD.

It’s a boulder. It’s blocking your way. But it is not the end of the road.

Don’t embrace the boulder. Don’t sell yourself short and let a mistake or a low point in your life define you. You are so much more than the obstacles you face. You have infinite potential to do good and help others. You have the unrivaled ability to create something wholly unique and wonderful. Don’t throw that all away because of a boulder.

Previously Published November 2012

How To Be A Good Critique Partner (reprint)

Critique groups abound, especially as NaNoWriMo wraps up. The crisp, cold weather of winter combined with the frenzy of writing a novel in a month spawns writing groups like there is no tomorrow. New writing groups are wonderful, but not all critique partners are created equal.

The horror stories about bad critique partners turning a book into a chimera are all over the place. If you have nothing better to do one day, ask me about it on Twitter when I’m in a talkative mood. I have stories. But this post is about how to make yourself a better critique partner.

1) Know the Expectations
Before you start any editing project you need to know what the author wants. The wrong critique at the wrong time will kill many a good book before it’s finished. Ask the author before you start what they want. I offer levels…
— “Just a look” where I read it over and give a thumbs up or down. This is perfect for rough drafts and cheering on an author struggling to complete a project.
— “Look for plot holes” where I read and point out inconsistencies in the plot line, plot holes, and correct basic spelling and grammar errors with a note (ie – note: comma before proper names in DL)
— “Shred it” where you nitpick every single word and flaw. This is an edit for a final draft. Every word and movement is under the microscope for nuance and meaning, and I only do this with an author who is subbing the piece in the next 6 months. I wouldn’t attack a first draft like this ever.
— “Final Edits” reading the piece out loud and looking for grammar and spelling errors exclusively. This is for a clean copy that’s days away from being submitted. It’s not uncommon for authors to add a spelling error while editing.


2) Know the Audience
Before you can critique you need to know where the manuscript is headed. As a critique partner the book isn’t written for you, it’s written for a reader somewhere out in the great, big world. You need to be the reader’s advocate and make sure the book turns out well enough that someone who doesn’t know the author can enjoy it.

3) Know the Market
Fuss all you like about artistic rights. If an author wants to publish a book they need to know the market expectations (word count, content, common tropes, ect) and so does their critique partner. A good critique partner is going to red flag a mid-grade manuscript that goes over the 60,000 word limit. You also need to be familiar with the genre your partner writes in. What happens if you and your buddy both write horror and then, one day, your partner decides to write epic fantasy YA? You either start reading epic fantasy YA, or you find your buddy a new critique partner who knows the genre. Trust one who has been mismatched with critique partners before, it’s not pretty when someone edits a sci-fi manuscript with YA expectations. *shudder*


4) Trust The Author -or- Don’t Cut To Early
Never tell an author a scene doesn’t need to exist until you’ve finished the book. There’s a habit in writing groups to rip and shred before reading, and it doesn’t work. Yes, that opening line needs to be amazing, but the only legitimate comment you can give about the validity of an opening chapter is, “This works, I’m hooked.” or “I’m not hooked yet, I’ll keep reading and maybe there’s a better opening.” (Hint: check chapter 3)

5) Leave The Voice
The novice mistake of critiquing is to rewrite the book in your own words. Resist the urge. Every author has a unique voice, don’t squish it into oblivion because you’d compare love to a summer’s day and the author compares love to a rosy sunset.

6) React
Ninety percent of the notes on a good critique are reaction notes. “Oh My Gosh!!! I can’t believe Character just did that!” … “Love it!” … “I laughed here.” … “I’m picturing him naked, which I know is wrong. Rewrite.” Reactions let an author know if things are working. A large, and often overlooked, portion of editing is leading the reader down a path of emotions and reactions. If the author wanted a scene to be warm and cuddly and it’s coming off with a stalker vibe, the author needs to know. Don’t get caught up in the But-The-Author-Told-Me trap. Readers are not going to have a two hour conversation about this scene with the author. They won’t know that the author wanted the guy to be authoritative and demanding. The reader will see a stalker scene, not an authoritative male being Alphahole-ish but sweet.

Do you have anything to add? What makes a critique partner great? Hit the comments and tell me all about it.

Previously published December 2012 on www.lianabrooks.com

Dialog Choices and Slang – a writing post

Dialog choice, or the words your character uses to describe the world around them, is a major deal breaker for books. If all the characters sound the same they lose their individual personalities. One of the big places where you’ll see a variation in a shared language is in slang words. Slang changes much more rapidly than the rest of the language. It’s okay, sometimes encouraged, to create slang for your new world.

Negative slang usually reflects major religious beliefs and social fears (damn, hell, comparison to being a dog, or stupid). Positive and affirmative slang is less codified but usually comes a subculture of some form before being adopted and adapted by a wider group of language users (wicked, cool, hot, lit, ect).

Buzzfeed did a pretty decent video on the evolution of American slang. Keep in mind that what you’re writing isn’t 100% American culture so your subcultures are going to be different. Even within our culture slang can vary by family or friend group. They can come out inside jokes or even typos. So, while you’re writing, make sure the slang you use is appropriate for the time, venue, culture, and character using the language.

Saying Goodbye to the Impulse Buy

For the better part of two years each Tuesday morning has been accompanied by the Impulse Buy Book of the Week. A new (or at least new to me) book that is priced under $5 for the ebook. It’s been a great way to explore new genres and introduce readers to books I love.

The early response was great. People enjoyed the books. Authors reported a boost in sales. Everyone seemed happy.

Over the last six months that hasn’t been happening. Fewer readers are tuning in for the weekly postings. Fewer people are opening the emails. Readers no longer seem interested and that’s okay. There are a lot of great book lists, and so many ways to reach readers, that often authors don’t need the extra push from the Impulse Buy. Maybe you already knew the author. Maybe you were tired of reading newsletters. Maybe no one is in the mood for books.

So, it is with fond memories and a touch of sadness that we say goodbye to the beloved Impulse Buy. Our weekly book will be missed.

The Impulse Buy was originally started as a way to promote the books published by the HarperVoyager Impulse line of science fiction and fantasy books. These books were all e-book first with an e-book at a low price point that allowed readers to give new authors a try. It was a fun idea and the Impulse Buy newsletter was our unofficial outlet that welcomed a variety of authors over the years.

Some of those authors hit the bestseller lists. Some of them didn’t. In my personal opinion they were all fun books.

I want to thank all the readers who have read the Impulse Buy, bought the books, and encouraged the careers of these wonderful authors (including me!). Readers make all the uncertainty of publishing worthwhile. When an author has a bad day, it’s you they think about. It’s that one reader who you know needs this book that you write for when you would otherwise succumb to doubt and rejection.

Thank you for reading.

Now, as much as I love books and love talking about books, I’d love to find another way to share books that I love with you. Hit me in the comments and let me know how you find your books, and what you’d like to see on the blog in the future.

Liana