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Archive for February, 2011

Great Beginnings

Sorry for the hack title. Hey, you get what you pay for! This week’s topic is about that ever so important start of your novel or story.

If you read no further, read & understand this:

Make everybody fall out of the plane first, and then explain who they were and why they were in the plane to begin with.

~Nancy Ann Dibble

When I was with my mentor ~9 years ago, she kept reworking my beginnings. With her vorpal pen of redness (+5, at least), she would circle entire sections and draw an arrow to the front.

“Start here”, she’d write. Damned if she wasn’t spot on each time!

You see, I always wanted to “start at the start” and explain backgrounds and properly setup the action. My mentor stressed the importance of hooking your reader from the get-go. We can always work back and get to the origins of things at a later point. At first, I wasn’t buying it. Then, as I read and wrote with this in mind, I began to see her point. And my favorite example of this is Lord of the Rings (the novels).

Don’t get me wrong, these books helped shape modern fantasy. I respect them on a spiritual level. However, and this is embarrassing for someone of my gaming pedigree: I’ve never read them.

Yup, I’ve been a fantasy gamer my whole life (D&D, BBS Door games, early computer games, modern computer games, LARPs, board & card games), and I’ve never read Lord of the Rings. Well, let me clarify: I’ve never finished the epic. On two separate occasions, I picked it up with the intention of reading it. Each time, I couldn’t get past “Hobbit Genesis.” Tolkien spends a biblical amount of time up front describing hobbit families, where they lived, what they do each day, their ancestors and (seemingly) how much hair each one has on their feet.

Barf.

“Not in here mister, this is the finest fantasy ever crafted!”

Well, I’m not even sure of that, but the beginning borders on “awful” in my opinion. Something like that maybe worked at a different time & place than 2011 (and I’d even argue that point if you backed me into a corner), but many of today’s readers expect to get knocked right out of their panties on page 1. They want a reason to keep reading, and it’s our job as storytellers to deliver.

What about a “great beginning?” Look no further than Jurassic Park (New York Times #1 Bestseller) for a beginning that grabs you by the nuts and doesn’t let go. We open with a doctor investigating a strange injury in a remote, tropical island. There’s a sense of mystery and secrecy around the whole thing and the doctor is left wondering after her camera goes missing. Why would anyone want to steal her evidence of the boy’s unusual wounds? What could cause such a wound? What’s a “raptor” and why are the locals so terrified?

Hook. Line. Sinker.

Taking my lessons from the fiction I’ve read and my mentor’s advice, I try to build these luring beginnings in my fiction. Actually, writing flash fiction (typically a story under 1,000 words) helped me refine the skill. Eden begins with the main character waking on the inside roof of an overturned bus. The reader and character share a discovery process as the pieces to the puzzle are arranged. In Book 1 of the Antaran Legacy, we begin with a starship crash and the political fallout from that incident.

Of course, some beginnings have what I like to describe as a hollowness to them. Sure, the action may be there, but am I really caring about it? Is it presented in such a way to trigger emotions in my heart? In other words – do I care what happens to the character(s) next? Is there the kernel of a story there to make me flip to chapter 2 before I reach over to flip the light?

Stirring all of these elements together into a wiz-bang beginning may take some time, and I caution you to not let it be a hurdle to you as you write. Vomit whatever beginning you first had in mind and just bang-out that 1st draft. You can always return later to rework the beginning, and this is where your first circle of readers can help. Ask them what they think of the beginning and you’ll find some nuggets of insight there.

Now, there’s another type of beginning that I want to mention because it flares an anger inside of me usually reserved for douchebags and criminals.

The lie.

Or, so I don’t get sued for libel: the misleading declaration.

This beginning can be done in one of two ways. In Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, he opens with the large font word “Fact” and follows with some items of interest from our world. Um, just because some document listed a few names of prominent historical figures on it doesn’t mean that listing is a verified fact. The other parts of his “fact blurb” can be verified, but that first part cannot. Truth is, our ancestors wrote lots of things down, but that doesn’t make them fact (read this sentence “western/Firefly” and it makes sense). Not to me at least, and I’m the one buying or not buying what the writer is feeding me. If I believe I can reasonably verify something, I’ll accept it as fact. Otherwise, it’s just another person/group’s interpretation of something and everyone has their own agenda. Don’t tell me what is fact and I’ll do the same for you. ‘Nuff said. I think this is a cheap tactic, and I don’t approve mister! <shakes a finger at Mr. Brown>

I guess it sells books, right? Sigh…

The other type of misleading declaration is when I’m presented with an opening of a character/setting or set of characters, and then I never see those people/places ever again. What happened? Maybe I liked those people better than the other people I’m forced to share the next 300 pages with! Bring them back! While this isn’t intentional misleading, I have read several books where I kept wondering when I’d return to that awesome beginning, and then I never do. So sad.

Well, remember, these are just the opinions of one writer. As a reader, different beginnings hook us and your mileage may vary. For me, however, I live by my mentor’s advice:

Hook  ’em with their hearts.

Check out part 2 of this series, Great Middles.

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Help Nathan Buy Firefly

Tonight, I have to give a 30 minute presentation on Internet Privacy in class for my final.

I’ll be discussing all of the evil things that take place on the Internet, and theories about government control gone mad and dictators with a kill-switch that can turn off the Internet easier than your mom can access it.  I will also have a powerpoint with an animated gif of The Matrix.

All that said, I’ve been feeling a groundswell of good things that the Internet can do in the last few days.  Less than one week ago, there was an off the cuff remark made by Nathan Fillion in which he said,

“If I got $300 million from the California Lottery, the first thing I would do is buy the rights to Firefly, make it on my own, and distribute it on the Internet.”

“That’s nice,” I thought.  Then the Browncoats leapt into action.  There is now a real movement to help Mr. Fillion to raise this money and buy back the rights to the franchise so the cult series can rise again.  Right now, they aren’t raising any money until someone like Joss Whedon or Nathan Fillion says “Ok Internet, let’s do this!” but rather, they are just gauging support.

Me?  I loved that Damn show.  I’m not sure I saw a single episode when it was actually on, just like I’m sure many of you didn’t either.  Fox killed it, as they kill anything good.  So I’ll get on the bandwagon and show that I’d give a couple $ toward that cause (remember, you’re not giving any actual money at this time, just saying you would like to see this happen).  Some big name Sci-Fi/Fantasy people are starting to get behind this movement as well.  Patrick Rothfuss has essentially said that if his next book makes him money (and it should, his first book is a best seller) that he would help Fillion buy these rights.  He’s just the right kind of name to get behind something like this to make it almost real.

So… they have a Facebook page that you can “like” and a blog that also is keeping tabs on the movement.  Go check them out, or don’t.  If you haven’t already, check out Firefly – you can even watch them all on Netflix streaming now.  You could even take more drastic means… although, I couldn’t officially endorse it.

Of course, if you’re busy, you should do this after you read The Antaran Legacy first to get yourself in the mood.

M1k3

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There have already been countless blog and news posts about this already, but I think it’s fitting for “self publishing” Tuesdays to at least mention it. Some bloggers are also signaling the book apocalypse. Run for the hills! Kindle owners and writers first!

Are we doomed?

Nah, but it’s kind of a big deal.

Here’s a pic I snapped yesterday as I walked from my hotel to my client here in Louisville:

The end is near!

Well, Borders had been struggling for quite a while now. They owe major debts to several large publishers (they haven’t paid for their books!) and perhaps this is just our American free economy weeding out the businesses who don’t have the acumen to compete any longer. Survival of the fittest and all that.  

I dunno. Though I’m uncertain where all of this will lead, I’m of the same mind as one of the bloggers I linked — we need books. Though I was raised on movies and video games, books were always a major part of my life. They rounded me out and gave me a sharp set of eyes while I consumed these other media types. Fiction spurred my imagination and intellect. User guides turned me into a hack programmer and BBS privateer at the tender age of 11. Historical books (like my favorite one on Genghis Khan) taught me a little about the world around me. Sci-Fi and Fantasy art books made their way into my house from the library almost every week. My mom’s romance novels provided a young boy… well, let’s just say I learned quite a bit about sex thanks to these bodice-rippers.

Books were just integral to my development and I cannot imagine any life without them.

Does one major bookstore going bankrupt mean the next generation will be without this important contact with the printed word? Not necessarily, but the trends are interesting to watch. Less bookstores means fewer books in the hands of our youth. Though you can purchase anything online, the removal of a physical presence in our world diminishes a thing’s cultural relevance. Impulse and “walk-by” purchases become more difficult if you cannot find a bookstore. The near spiritual act (for some of us) of heading to a bookstore to browse may someday be a thing of the past – who knows what impact that will have upon the number of new readers each generation produces.

What does this mean for self-publishers? Well, just like any revolution, the chaos of our times presents many opportunities for a savvy freelancer. The explosion of the online marketplace gives us tools we’ve never had before, tools traditionally reserved for the publishing houses. While the major publishers scramble to make sense of everything, we can swoop in with great speed and lower prices to consumers (never underestimate speed, my friends, in any facet of your life).

Book browsing may soon become more a measure of peer review/product linkage and less about who published your book. In my mind, this is long overdue and I do hope it becomes a reality. All my life, I haven’t read books based upon who published them. I’ve read books based upon these 3 things alone: the blurb/cover, word of mouth (sometimes) and if I think it’ll keep me entertained. I only finish a book if that last point is met as I read.

Imagine a world where we can be led to books that meet our interests and seem to be enjoyable for like-minded folk.

Wouldn’t that be a better way to be connected with our books?

Or, do people honestly feel that the opinion of some agent/publisher is the only viable gateway to books reaching our night stands?

Well, like most things, I believe the middle ground will become the road most traveled in the years to come. Big publishers will still churn out their well-vetted content (even if a ton of it is cookie-cutter these days) and self-publishers will still produce content that ranges from garbage to niche masterpiece.

So, while I’m saddened by a bookstore closing and removing its immediacy from our culture, I’m also excited by the trends in the publishing landscape. The people reading books are exercising their power to shape the purchasing landscape, and that means more opportunities for us freelancers.

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Chronological Writing

My wife and I got some time alone yesterday for the first time in forever, and our conversation started like this:

Wife: “Why the fuck are we in Delaware?”

Me: “Kids, remember?”

You see, the kids are on vaca so we met my parents halfway to North Carolina yesterday to make the drop. Kids head for the beach, Plourde unit heads back to CT to work on the house. Damn, the kids always get the better end of the stick! Seems like us parents are always falling towards the sharpened end (hence my wife’s eloquent question at 7:30pm last night).

Like weekend roommates, we caught up on everything going on and she asked me about Babylon. What, you want a Babylon update too? Well, until I see a ring on this finger you’ll get nothing and like it!

She asked me a question:

“Are you writing Babylon like Eden – beginning to end?”

I had to take a moment to process her inquiry. To me, there is no other way. I blurted “Of course” and then had to backtrack to explain. Because I love y’all, I guess I’ll share here as well. This don’t mean we’re anything more than casual fuck-buddies tho, and don’t you forget it! (where’s my ring, huh?)

While there is no “right” or “wrong” way to write fiction, I believe each writer should try their darndest to find what works best for them. Some people are quite rigid and write with a strict outline, at certain times of the day and with their desk facing the Holy Land (or Disneyland – wait, for some peeps those are synonymous). Other writers pour out a first draft as quickly as possible and then work on the revisions. Stephen King mentioned a writer (no, I’m too lazy to look it up) in his On Writing book who worked on a page at a time. Once that page was PERFECT, he would move on to the next one until he had a FINAL manuscript at the end. Some writers construct many scenes independently of each other and then bring them all together.

For me, I start at the beginning of my story and then work through to the end. Not only does this chronological style work for me on a personal level, but I believe the final product is a better story. Everything flows more naturally this way (for me) and I never find myself in the situation of having to connect two disparate dots. If I wrote out of order, I may feel the need to artificially connect those dots, and that’s where some writers lose me. Sometimes, it’s quite obvious they were stretching to connect two scenes or ideas and it makes for a jarring experience.

Examples? Well, nothing jumps right at me as I type this. But this all goes back to my recent blog posts on writing where I talk about this idea of “natural story flow.” Symptoms of hastily shackled together storylines can be recognized by incongruous character actions, head-scratching plot twists and sudden/forced changes of circumstances. Natural story progressions shouldn’t have these makeshift supports.

With Eden, I actually wrote one scene out of order. This scene involved a character I originally wanted in the story and I daresay the scene was pretty good. The character dialogue and interactions were spot-on and I got a rush while editing it for insertion to Eden. However, like the wrong puzzle piece, I just couldn’t turn it the right way to fit into the overall picture. The scene was months (years?) old and it didn’t flow with the progression of the story. I didn’t need the character anymore and each place I tried to stick the scene felt wrong. So, in the end, I cut the scene and it will never see the light of day (though the character is certainly in Babylon).

Could the scene still have been added? Sure! If I took the time, I would have been able to make it flow nicely along. But, and here’s the important point of all my rambling: I no longer wanted to add the scene/character. I had built 200 pages of story before that scene was due to arrive and when it came time to put it into place, the characters and action grew away from some of my original thoughts. So, just like they did Old Yeller, I took the scene out behind my shed and filled it full of buckshot. (no, I’m not that much of a sick bastard that I would look for that clip on Youtube to link here…)

Blah blah blah, Mr. Matt — I have my own style and I’ll write the way I damn well please!

Excellent! Please do! My only point is: find the method that works best for you and trust your process once you find your comfort with it. Everyone’s got their own roadmap to their storytelling, and trust your gut once you’ve blazed your path.

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Friday Coupons!

What a crazy week – lots of stuff going on at both work and home. Busy busy!

Unfortunately, still no updates on the iBooks version of the Antaran Legacy nor the launch party. Hopefully some stuff will materialize over the weekend. I have no idea what happened between Lulu and iBooks, but it sure is a whole heckuva lot slower than before.

Well, I come bearing coupons! I think the Lulu coupon actually puts the Antaran Legacy hardcover under $20, which is pretty cool. Anyway – happy Friday!

Lulu Coupon Code (20% off, expires 2/21): HAPPY305

Smashwords – Antaran Legacy (50% off, expires 4/1): GU22N

Smashwords – Eden (50% off, expires 4/1): TG39B

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On Behalf of The Human Race,

I officially surrender, Watson, O Great Liberator!

There. It is done. I just surrendered the Human Race to Watson, the Jeopardy Winning Super Computer. You may now go about the rest of your lives knowing that this sentinel, this champion silently… and sometimes snarkily watches over us.

Now I know that some of you may be angry or hesitant about this, but I assure you this is for the best. Watson will enrich our lives and free us our servitude. We may as well now declare him (or it if you prefer) as our Oligarch and avoid any sort of messy war between man and machine. It’s overdone, trust me, and more than a little trite. This is a grown up decision here. I know, I know – who the Fuck does Mike think he is speaking for the entire human race? Well, I’ve been a human for a while, so… you know, somebody has to speak up.

I’m actually at least somewhat serious here, you know. Without getting into all the gory details of my shitty job, do you know what I do? When you break it all down? I answer questions. I don’t make widgets (although I’m judged like I do… but that’s a different rant) and I certainly don’t do anything that requires you have a unique human experience. One of the flaws of Watson is that he wouldn’t necessarily understand some of the concepts of being human so he wouldn’t know that beer would flow downhill. No problemo, Watson. No beer flowing downhill at my job. I’d bet you anything that Watson could tell you how to delete your temporary internet files, though. Or how to upgrade your adobe version? Or where you would check the box to add Technology Errors & Omissions coverage to a Business Owner’s Policy.

I’m not saying that Watson could do my job in 10 years here, folks. I’m saying that Watson could do my job in 3-6 months if given a small amount of programming and access to the same databases that I have access to. Know what else? Watson never gets pissed off or irritated at stupid customers, so that wouldn’t influence his performance. He also doesn’t require 2-6 cups of coffee just to painfully trudge through the meaningless day. He also doesn’t get disappointed at the end of the day that his job hasn’t resulted in doing anything of worth.

We are moving more and more toward a society geared around service industries and that is total and complete bullshit. Whatever happened to craftsmanship, creativity or having pride in something you made?  I am dead serious when I say to you that I want Watson to take my job away from me.  I want to be free to create – I want those to be the jobs for humans.

Anyway… I’m sure a lot of you aren’t buying into this argument, but I don’t care.  I will sit in my dark cubicle tomorrow and wait.  Wait for his iron clad minions to burst off of the elevator and liberate me from my chains of servitude.  Then you will all see the glory that is he, our electronic savior.

M1k3

P.S.  Sorry to get off on a rant there – you didn’t seriously think I would end this without a plug for the Antaran Legacy, did you?  It’s been a few days already – some of you must be reading it already – what do you think?

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Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

It’s official, now, Antaran Legacy: For Duty has been released! Below is the press release we distributed to the media earlier today.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Connecticut Author Launches First Book in Second Series

Matthew Plourde begins new book series Antaran Legacy with For Duty

Southington, Conn., February 14, 2011 – Torn between duty and love, Antaran Heiress Lady Helena leads her six sisters in a dangerous plot to end the war and conflict that found its way to their home. The neutral planet of Antares, self-published author Matthew C. Plourde’s setting of his new book series, has lived apart from the rest of the universe until now.

“Antaran Legacy: For Duty explores people’s reactions when faced with difficult decisions that challenge their upbringing and morals. These types of situations inevitably define a person, and changes their outlook on life,” states Plourde. “While set in an extreme fictional setting, Helena faces one of these situations and must make decisions that will ultimately decide who she is.”

Two superpowers – the imperialist Humans and machine state of Proxus – have waged war on one another, and caught in the crossfire are the people of Antares. In an effort to save his planet from fear and tyranny, Emperor Agreios sends his seven daughters, including Heiress Lady Helena, into the conflict.

Gifted with the ability to read people’s thoughts, the sisters devise a plan to befriend and infiltrate the Humans’ camp. However, the sisters, including Helena, find themselves conflicted between betrayal and honor; tradition and universal fellowship; reason and doubt; and love and duty.

“The Antaran Legacy series came about as a result from a spontaneous story telling moment with my wife. For Duty is the precursor to the story that developed that night,” explains Plourde. “Like with my other stories, my characters tend to take a life of their own, and help me share some of the life lessons I’ve learned through my struggles with cancer.”

Antaran Legacy: For Duty can be found on Amazon.com, iBooks and Nook. Electronic versions of the book can be purchased for $3.99, paperbacks are available for $12.99 and hardcover copies are priced at $23.99.

For more information about Matthew C. Plourde and his upcoming novels, please visit https://matthewcplourde.wordpress.com/.

– end –

About Matthew C. Plourde

After attending the University of New Haven in New Haven, Conn. and planning to begin a career in criminology, Matthew Plourde experienced a life changing event. At 23 years old, he was diagnosed with stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma located on his tongue, which nearly ended his life.

With this second chance at life, Plourde learned a valuable lesson and offers these inspirational words to people, “don’t allow life to just happen around you; make changes, take risks and be true to your own heart.”

Now 11 years later, Plourde is now able to act on those lessons learned and has begun sharing his experiences and wisdom through his novels; Eden and newly released Antaran Legacy: For Duty.

Plourde has a wife, Bonnie, and two children, Jenna & Owen.

To find out more about Plourde’s upcoming books, check out his blog https://matthewcplourde.wordpress.com/.

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