Category: Articles

Books That Everyone Read but You! (Top Ten List)

By , October 3, 2011 12:00 am

 

Since I hadn’t read the iconic The Giving Tree before my work on September’s literary cupcake, I have thought all week about those books that “got away” when I was a child.  These are the books that I remember sitting on the chalkboard ledge in my elementary school classrooms.  Books that librarians plugged, teachers designed bulletin boards after, and every student read.  Everyone, of course, except for me.  There is no time to conform when you are nose deep in a Miss Marple mystery!

 

In honor of these memorable stories that I’m reading only now that I’m an adult, I’m dedicating this week to my top ten list of children’s books that everyone loved but me.

 

Comment by revealing which books “got away” from you, and let me know if I’ve really missed out by not reading the ones on my list!

 

Top Ten Children’s Books That Everyone Read (Except for Me)

10.  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

9. Wacky Wednesday (By far the most popular book at my school’s library.  It was always checked out!)

8. Strider 

7.  If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

6. Horton Hears a Who

5.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar

4.  Where the Wild Things Are

3.  The Giver

2.   Everything by Shel Silverstein because there are so many that I missed! (Where the Sidewalk Ends, Falling Up, A Light in the Attic, etc.)

1.  All of the classic Judy Blume books like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margret., Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Forever, Superfudge, etc.!

 

Now it’s time for you to share your books that “got away!”  And let me know if there are any on my list that I really should have read way back when!

 

What Novelists and Addicts Have in Common (Russell Brand on Addiction)

By , September 19, 2011 12:00 am

 

When I came across Russell Brand’s eulogy for Amy Winehouse back in July, I expected that I’d peruse it and move on with my day.  I was unfamiliar with Brand’s writing until that point.  I watched a variety of his interviews on YouTube when he was promoting Booky Wook 2: This Time It’s Personal, but I only did so because I find his voice enchanting and his looks captivating.  Or do I find his looks enchanting and his voice captivating?  Either way we both have naturally curly hair, and I respect that he doesn’t cut his short.

 

I started reading the eulogy, therefore, with my usual, “I want to look at as few words as possible to know what this is about” mentality.  And I stopped myself right away because I could tell that there was too much truth in what he had to say for me not to give it my full attention.

 

 Russell Brand on Addicts

In particular I was startled by Brand’s description of what it is like to be an addict, an understanding that is guided by his own history of addiction and recovery:

All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but unignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his speedboat, there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief.

~Russell Brand

 

Although I read those words so many months ago, I still haven’t been able to ignore the way I see myself in them.  And it isn’t because I’m on the spectrum of “homeless smack head” to “coked-up pinstriped exec,” but because I’m a writer.

 

 Do You Live With “The Air of Elsewhere?”

It is incredibly difficult for writers to live in the here and now.  We dream about our characters to the extent that we know how often they breakout and blink.  We scan our surroundings and memorize each detail so we may later give credence to the fictional worlds we create.  We fantasize about an alternate existence where we don’t have a day job, publishers send us advances for our writing, and fans by the thousands download our book.

 

So when it is time to speak with someone, to listen to our spouse, or to sit through a meeting at work, our minds are lingering in these alternate realities.  As Russell Brand suggests, we look through what is happening to where we’d rather be.  Because our priorities are not like those of everyone else.  Those in whom we invest our time and energy have to be real to us before they can even exist to others!


Is Writing An Addiction?

Brand has stated in interviews that anything can become an addiction, and I agree with him.  Writing can become all consuming and over prioritized to the point where we ignore our family and friends as we make time for our characters and our dreams.  So we writers are presented with a challenge: take off the veil and be present to others first.

 

What Are Your Priorities?

This challenge is one that we should take seriously.  Because no matter how imaginative we are, we must first be present in this world.  Publishing a book now and then does not justify isolating ourselves and neglecting whom we love and those in need.

 

Do you see yourself in Brand’s description of what it means to be an addict? 

Do you believe that writing can be an addiction?  Do you look at others through a veil? 

Add your opinion in the comments for this post!

#WouldYouRather: Aspiring Author Edition

By , September 12, 2011 12:00 am

 

It is “Would You Rather” week at The Exception to the Rule.  Have fun considering this list of fun-serious-bizarre scenarios.  Comment by answering any or all of these questions or write your own for us to answer!

"Indie Options" by MMRule

"Indie Options" by MMRule

Would you rather…

♦   Read your biography or write an autobiography?

♦   Edit your novel for a decade or take ten years to write the “perfect” book in one draft?

♦   Be forced to always use contractions or to never use them?

♦   Dominate one genre or write for a variety of audiences?

♦   Write a sequel to The Lord of the Rings or a prequel for Harry Potter?

♦   Listen to one song on repeat while writing or never hear the same song twice?

♦   See your book made fun of on Family Guy or discussed on The View?

♦   Be Stephen King’s wife or his child?

♦   Always write in public or in a silent, soundproof room?

 

Now it’s your turn to answer or to write your own!

What Aspiring Authors Can Learn From Larry David

By , September 5, 2011 12:00 am

 

It is natural for us aspiring authors to seek advice about writing and publishing from those whom we admire most in the industry.  We turn to the Stephen Kings and the Donald Masses to point us in the right direction.  And though they may vary in their styles and querying tips, they share a core mantra:

 

Read a lot and write a lot.  Turn off that rerun of Frasier, stop dreaming about your novel, and get busy crafting your book.

 

All of this reading and writing and studying the industry then turns us on to new authors and publishers who tell us this same common-sense-yet-we-need-to-be-reminded-anyway drone in their own words.  Which is great except for the fact that we live in a world of entertainment where we also enjoy stories that unfold on the big and small screen and not just on the pages of a novel.

"An Indie Education" by MMRule

"An Indie Education" by MMRule

 

We needn’t feel like we are crippling our literary abilities just because we want to unwind in front of the TV instead of pouring over literary fiction.  Isn’t story telling in a novel similar to writing a script, after all?  Don’t we all slave over characterization, pacing, dialogue, setting, conflict, etc.?

 

Can’t we novelists also learn from the Seth MacFarlanes and Larry Davids of writing?

 

Until now comedian-actor-writer Larry David has not been much more than “that Seinfeld creator” to me.  I was young enough during the nine seasons of Seinfeld that I only really saw the show years later during 11 o’clock network reruns.  I then entered a seven year period when I was vaguely aware that a show called Curb Your Enthusiasm existed but didn’t even have a clue as to what channel aired it.

 

My indifference ended when I caught the Larry David TV Guide promo and then came across a few episodes from the current, eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO after my Sunday True Blood fix.  Once I stopped loling, I realized that Larry David is one of the best writing coaches I’ve found.

 

 He Outlines

 Many writers sing ballads of praise regarding the merits of outlining, and they are right to do so.  Outlining before writing helps us understand the beginning, middle, and end of our story and allows us to formulate the major conflicts that propel the action of the story.  Even better, the early organization helps us cut down on our editing time.  But the trick to outlining as we see through Larry David’s example is to use it as the guide it’s meant to be and nothing more.

 

But He Doesn’t Outline to Death

Ever stick to an outline so closely that you stunted the growth of your characters and the development of your plot?  The solution is improvisation!  Larry David clues actors in to the outline of a scene and then sets them forth into the scenario.  They speak how they want and respond to events as they happen.  The result is that the audience sees people in unusual (or unusually comical) scenarios acting as they normally would.  And the end product is successfully devoid of stilted writing and poorly delivered lines.

 

Larry David achieves what we want for our novels–characters that act naturally and believably in a fictional world.  Let your characters do as they please.  Leave your forced, premeditated characterizations of them aside and have them speak for themselves based on the conflicts they encounter and the world they are forced to reconcile.  Have them dictate the pacing of your scenes and talk when they want to talk!  You’ll likely find that they enrich your novel and create new dimensions of conflict that you never could have imagined ahead of time.


He Has Fun

Does Larry David really act?  According to him he doesn’t; he instead behaves like himself.  Next time you are writing, ask yourself if you are putting words down with the intent to write like a bestselling novelist.  If you are, I bet that your book is filled with needless flowery prose and littered with little gems of wisdom that you think sound great but that detract from the action.  Have some fun with your characters.  Ask yourself, “What Would Larry David Do?”  Start letting your characters react and stop trying so damn hard to be great.  You’ll be surprised by how quickly your work develops a pulse of its own.

 

Name your nontraditional writing guide in the comments section.  And let me know if you are also not ashamed to watch TV even if you do love to write!

Eleven Signs That You Don’t Spend Enough Time on Your Work in Progress

By , August 29, 2011 12:00 am

 

I try to remain very cooled headed when it comes to querying and waiting for a response.  I expect nothing but the fact that I did my best, that I will always try to improve, and that an agent’s/assistant’s having to read thousands of unsolicited queries is a terrible experience.

 

"Indie Naivete" by MMRule

"Indie Naivete" by MMRule

Fighting the Vortex of Insanity

Designing a literary cupcake after Bransford’s book, however, gave me some jitters.  Bransford is active on Twitter, Facebook, his blog, etc.  Unlike when I write about Stephen King or send out a query letter, I heard Disneyesque birds singing all around me that the person whose opinion matters most very well could see my work and like it.  (For the record he did!)

 

Life Must Continue

The experience made me wonder what would happen if I were able to sit in front of a computer all day with my imagination fueling me.  Fortunately I don’t own a smart phone and have errands and work related responsibilities to complete every day, so it was easy for me to continue living my life while I waited to see if Bransford would notice my post.  But my mind still went to dark places that day.  So many places, in fact, that I surpassed a “top 10″ list!

 

The Exception to the Rule presents Eleven Signs That You Don’t Spend Enough Time on Your Work in Progress.  I’ll let you guess if I’m guilty of any of them!  I admit to nothing and I do not believe that it takes one to know one!  Seriously.

 

11 Signs That You Don’t Spend Enough Time on Your Work in Progress

11.  You read that form rejection letter so many times that you convince yourself that it really was personalized in some way.

 

10.  You bought a smart phone so you can access your email 24/7—just in case an agent asks for a partial.

 

9.  You follow agents on Twitter and keep @mentioning them so they will notice you and realize that you should be represented!

 

8.  You think that having common interests with an agent means that he/she will definitely want to represent you.  (Yes, Stacia Decker, I agree that people should take care of their teeth! I can tell you’ll love my novel!)

 

7.  You dream daily about the movie version of your book and pay no attention to the fact that Dakota Fanning has aged five very formative years since you realized that she is the perfect embodiment of your protagonist.

 

6.  You think you’re friends with your dream agent’s assistant because his/her name appears on your gchat sidebar ever since you received that emailed rejection.  You don’t care that you two have never chatted!

 

5.  You keep track of when agents tweet so you have insight into their work ethic and can guess when they might respond to your query.

 

4.  You have a tab open in your web browser that shows a clock for every time zone where you are querying.  (Come on.  What will that accomplish?)

 

3.  You believe that there is a need for a site that provides more information than querytracker.net

 

2.  You founded querytracker.net (Sorry, Patrick McDonald!)

 

1.  You are only interested in learning about agents, querying response rates, etc. because you have that writing thing DOWN!

 

Now it’s time for your thoughts!

Comment by adding your additions to the list. 

Or reveal which numbers on the list sound a little too much like you!

#TeamFollowBack and the Curse of Low Self-Esteem

By , August 15, 2011 12:00 am

 

I follow back!  Like me and I’ll like you!  Buy my e-book and I’ll buy yours!

 

If you interact with any writers on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc., then you see messages like these on most days.  When I first joined Twitter, I ignored them because I was too busy creating my content to worry about people’s caring that I exist.  Once I started blogging and had a FB fan page, however, I suddenly felt the sweaty palms and clammy skin of writer’s panic.

“Indie Hate” by MMRule

What to Do?

 

I wondered what I would do if no one liked me.  And as every second of my despair continued, I kept getting those messages from my peers saying, “Like me and I’ll like you!”

 

Stand Proud!

 

An online presence should exude confidence and professionalism.  Twitter, FB, blogging, etc. are social, yes.  But for us writers it is more than that.  It is our chance to create a public image.  Are we the sniveling new kid with too short pants who tries to sit at the cool lunch table?  Or are we the one person at the party who can look cool wearing sunglasses after dusk?

 

Give Back on Your Terms

 

I want to give back.  I really do.  But I don’t want to contribute a series of meaningless gestures.  I prefer to give my thoughts, creativity, and sweat to the online writing world.  Likewise, when I share a blog or recommend an author, I want people to know that my opinion is worthwhile.  Because I don’t like everything!

 

Automatic liking back and following shows a lack of confidence in yourself and will only give you an artificial sense of your success.  Rejoice in those who love what you are doing, and continue to create a product that will draw in an audience.  If no one cares about what you do, try delivering something new!

 

Are you part of #TeamFollowBack and hate when you don’t see others doing for you what you do for them?  Or if you don’t follow back, what methods do you use to inspire people to like you?  Start the discussion under the comments for this post!

Writing One Dimensional Characters? Try Getting a Life!

By , August 8, 2011 12:00 am

 

Birthing a novel creates a new dimension of life challenges for aspiring authors.  Balancing family, friends, work, errands, and the occasional clogged garbage disposal means that free time is really writing/editing time.  But that’s okay for us.  I’m not ashamed to admit that my ideal “me time” consists of sitting in my recliner for hours straight with my laptop and a box of Cheerios.  (Total darkness is also my preference.)

 

"An Indie Life" by MMRule

"An Indie Life" by MMRule

 

Unfortunately, finding the time to write forces authors into a realm of other difficulties.  Sometimes the sacrifices we make to construct our work in progress leave us too caught up in our heads and not in the world where we and our characters exist.

 

As the result, the characters that we thought were so thrilling and titillating end up falling into clichés that we didn’t recognize until we wrote them.  They just look through their windshield and think for an entire chapter.  They have complicated dreams that are just like real life, except they’re not.  And worst of all, they sit around and stare in the mirror, realizing for the first time that they have brown hair.

 

You may wonder what is wrong with writing those scenes.  Yes, dreams are often exciting and symbolic.  And who doesn’t look in a mirror and study their old acne scars while reminiscing about past lovers?  The problem is that these moments of deep thought and self discovery aren’t interesting to read!  At the very best they don’t further the plot of a book, and at the worst they bore the reader and damage the author’s relationship with him or her.

 

If writers want to create interesting and thought provoking characters, they need to break away from their computers and remind themselves of what it means to live a life beyond feeding their kids or typing a memo about synergy before returning to their novel.  They should try their darndest to engage in some of the activities that even non-writers love, like volunteering, going to the zoo, and getting some exercise!

 

Taking a break to do some living will help a work in progress in wonderful ways.  You will remember to let your characters move away from their thoughts and into an interesting world where they can define themselves through their actions!  So, get a life and reap the richness that your experiences will bring your story.

 

How do you keep your characters fresh and active?  Share your method for writing interesting characters under the comments section for this post!

 

Advice from Stephen King that Writers Can Live Without

By , August 1, 2011 12:00 am

 

It is a well known fact at The Exception to the Rule that I long ago named Stephen King as my literary idol.  I love him so much in fact, that when I was a teenager, I pooh-poohed reading The Poisonwood Bible because I had just picked up a copy of Cujo.  How I could resist the allure of Oprah’s Book Club sticker is beyond me!  (And yes, that is about as rebellious as I was in high school.)

 

It was also during my high school years that King wrote On Writing.  My Christmas list that year included On Writing, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Bonne Bell lip gloss, and the Backstreet Boys “Black & Blue” album.  My dad dutifully typed the list into his Palm Vx for safe keeping, and I received everything I wanted.

 

"Indie Angst" by MMRule

 

Naturally on Christmas Day, with Bonne Bell on my lips and the Backstreet Boys flowing out of my Discman, I sat down and started reading On Writing by tree light.  I was going to be an author, goshdarnit, and Stephen King was going to tell me how.

 

Now that over a decade has passed since that Christmas, I have a novel+ under my belt and am getting my feet wet in the querying kiddie pool.  I have also realized that I am not Stephen King, and not everything he told me is going to work.

 

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

 

King didn’t come up with this equation by himself.  It is advice that an editor wrote on the bottom of a rejection slip during his early days, and it in part helped his writing evolve to legendary status.  But as of today that advice has not helped me, and it likely will also not help you.

 

Why?

 

Super star blogger Nathan Bransford mentions in this post on word count that many aspiring novelists produce staggering drafts that pass 100,000 words and keep going.  I, on the other hand, am not alone in completing a draft at 70,000+, fearing that I didn’t write everything I should have.

 

Subtracting 10% of your draft isn’t going to help your work in progress if you struggle with these length issues, or if you have an appropriate amount of words but wrote 50% action and 50% boring backstory that no one but you cares to read.  I suggest a different approach to the equation.

 

2nd draft =

1st draft – Everything that isn’t Important + Everything Important You Forgot to Include

(Repeat until your draft is an appropriate word count for a debut novel in your genre.)

 

Is this formula too vague for you?  It should be vague!  King’s advice works best for someone who can already tell a damn near perfect story, but who at times includes too much detail.  However, that is not my problem, and it likely isn’t yours.  Part of the work that distinguishes a writer from an author is the ability to self diagnose.  To critically think about a work in progress and keep pushing it until it stands alone.  Being an author means that you write something that has a backbone because you built it from your labor and desire to improve.

 

Stephen King found the editing method that worked for him, and now it is your turn to tear through your work in progress and find what works for you!  Plug those plot holes, evolve your characters, and have the courage to write your own equation for success.

 

Help get the conversation started at The Exception to the Rule by posting your equation for the perfect 2nd draft as a comment for this article.  Happy writing!

 

The Benefits of Querying—Even If You Want to Self-Publish

By , July 25, 2011 12:00 am

 

The decision to circumvent the querying process and jump straight into self-publishing seems like a “working smart” move for many aspiring writers.  And who can blame them.  No one wants to lose weeks and months waddling through rejections when companies like Lulu and Amazon make it easy to shuffle through the self-publishing process and give a metaphorical middle finger to the “heartless” agents.

 

But these writers fail to realize that there are benefits to querying an agent that will assist with the self-publication process.

 

Querying Even One Agent

  • Forces authors to truly understand what they’ve written.
  • Helps them to familiarize themselves with marketing and publication standards.
  • Provides a much needed reality check.

"The Indie Bard" by MMRule

Better Understand Your Novel

Writing a query letter (and the often requested synopsis) is an exercise that no writer should bypass.  Querying forces an author in roughly one page to address the big questions that are otherwise too easy to avoid:

  • What are the most essential plot points of my book?
  • Is there a clear genre and hook?
  • Can others trust that I’m qualified to write this?

Answering these questions are essential when editing and polishing your book.  And querying not only forces you to think about them, but also makes you exercise your ability to do so concisely and professionally.

 

Familiarize Yourself with Marketing and Industry Guidelines

Query guidelines urge authors to consider issues like word count and target audiences.  If you want to take on selling your own book, you must know who wants to read it and whether it is a novel or really a novella or a series in disguise.  (It is never OK to have a 150+K debut novel!)

 

Get Real!

Finally, the likely form rejection letter (or silence) from an agent provides a necessary reality check.  It is too common for authors to use their imagination and talent to see the successful future they want in a less than worthy book.  Shattering the dream through even one agent’s rejection is helpful to pull authors back to reality.  The odds of success are against first time novelists.  The possibility of being the next King, Brown, Meyers, Harris, etc. are next to impossible.  If authors want to succeed, they should seek out some rejection and constructively turn that into added motivation to read daily, write more, and edit smarter.


Extra Bonus

Who knows what opportunities will present themselves once you query your book.  Maybe you will land an agent and a publisher, and someone else can worry about formatting your novel for the Kindle and Nook.  There is nothing wrong with having more than one option!

 

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