Book Review Tuesday: The Institute by Stephen King

The Institute by Stephen King grabbed me and refused to let go until the final pages were read. I will admit that there were moments the suspense got so intense that I had to walk away from the book just to prepare myself for what the unknown in the upcoming chapters.

Nevertheless, I persisted and finished the book, and below is my review:

Stephen King is a master craftsman when it comes to storytelling. His books have been a staple of my yearly reading for over two decades, and I never tire of the tales he tells.

The Institute was a unique King reading experience. Rarely do I come across a book filled with so much suspense, intensity, and emotion that I have to take breaks to prepare for the next chapter. This was one of those books. 

Part YA novel, part suspense-thriller, and part supernatural thriller, The Institute is King at his best. I loved every page, every chapter, and every character. Each element was expertly crafted and worked beautifully.

I rarely read books more than once, but this is definitely one I will read again.

I highly, highly recommend The Institute by Stephen King.

Have you read The Institute by Stephen King? What did you think? Leave a comment and let me know!

Writing Tip of the Week: Writing a Fearless First Draft

The ominous blank page.  Whether it’s a blank page flashing a taunting cursor from a screen, or a lined notebook daring you to fill its pages with ink, it can sometimes be challenging to get your brain and body moving in the same creative direction.

Every day, we see films, novels, and TV shows that move and amaze us.  But what we don’t see are the hundreds of hours of hard work, gallons of coffee or energy drinks, and the multitude of drafts that went into making what you’re watching or reading available for mass consumption.

The drive for perfection of the first try can be a detriment to creativity.  We demand perfection from ourselves, it doesn’t happen off the bat, so we beat ourselves up and walk away.  But nothing we see or read is the first draft.  Nothing we see or read didn’t start as something worthy of the recycle bin.  

Everyone’s first draft sucks.

And that’s okay.  If we were given insight into the early drafts of any best-seller or Oscar-winning film, we would be surprised to see that what is considered the standard of great writing starts off as mediocre at best…and unsalvageable at the very least.

I say this to tell you that writing the first draft of anything need not be a perilous and disastrous endeavor.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  First drafts are supposed to be bad. That’s why they’re called first/rough drafts.

So, let’s talk about them.

For Your Eyes Only

First a foremost, this draft is for you.  No one else.  Not your significant other.  Not your Beta reader.  Not your favorite child or pet.  You are the sole audience for this version of your story, and that’s that.

This is a place where you can openly write ideas, dialogue, description, and more that might be pushing limits or boundaries.  This is the place to test out ideas and story threads to see where they go.  This is the place to have fun with what you’re writing.  You are the Creator in this world; what you decide to do is what happens.

This draft should be unfiltered, unedited, and uninhibited.  While you’ll want to have a basic road map guiding where the story is headed, don’t let that stop you from shifting your imagination and creativity into overdrive in this draft.

You can always change it later.  The important thing here is to get everything down and out of your head so it can be fixed in subsequent drafts, because whatever you do…

Don’t Look Back!

You finished a chapter last night and woke up this morning with a new idea to change what you wrote.  Great.  That means your creativity is doing its job, but don’t return to that chapter and attempt to edit it.  Why not write a new version of the chapter with the new material instead?  

Writing a first draft is about momentum, the momentum to get from the beginning to the end without the pitfalls and hazards or going back and editing and revising. You’ll have plenty of time for that later.  Plus, what if you erase what you had and then realize later there was some dialogue you deleted that would’ve worked great in the revised version?  Now it’s gone.  

Keep it all in the first version and do that heavy lifting later.

Write the Fun Stuff First

We all have our favorite things to write.  It could be action sequences, romantic scenes, or comedy moments that really help drive the story and are fun for you to write.  These moments are likely the big payoff to a long buildup, so writing them can be an enjoyable experience.

However, we shouldn’t deny ourselves the opportunity to write these when we want to.  Write them when you feel like writing them.  When it comes to drafting, you always have the power to rearrange and change where chapters or scenes are located in the story’s world.  If you want to write the big finale first, do it.  Have a romantic scene that you’re itching to write?  Write it.  

While there may be traditional story structures needed when you put the story out there for the world, in the drafting phase, you can write what you want, when you want.  And no one can stop you.

The Creative Brain on Auto-Pilot

Sometimes your characters will begin to dictate what they want to do, what they want to say, and where they want to go. Don’t fight this feeling; let them take you there.  Often your subconscious knows what’s best for your story and can take you places you didn’t initially think of.  

This isn’t some weird phenomenon; it does happen.  And if it does, let your characters take the wheel.  Remember, if they steer the story down a wrong path, you can fix it later.  If they show you something fresh and new about your story or characters, it can be a great win for you and your story. 

Getting here requires you to tell that evil, no good, despicable part of your brain to shut up and go on vacation.  And that part is…

The Evil Voice of Doubt and Negativity

This horrible creature likes to loom around your creativity, giving making you unsure of what you’re writing, how you’re writing it, and if you should even be writing.

I sure hate this creature!

There are 24 hours in a day.  Give this monster a few hours off as your write and keep them locked out as you work on your draft.  This is all for you, not anyone else, so this evil creature is wasting your time by creeping into your head as you charge forward.  Even if the monster makes a good point about a scene or chapter, make a note or rewrite the chapter, but keep going.

Creativity is a big enough challenge at times without this specter of negativity floating about.

When You Feel Blocked…

Writer’s block does happen, but it’s how you handle it that makes the difference.  I would suggest when you do hit a wall moving on to another part of the story or work on another project to keep the creativity flowing.

It’s very tempting – and I’ve done this – to close the laptop, lay on the couch, and watch TV instead of writing.  While this is a quick fix, it doesn’t get you to your goal of finishing your draft and moving on to the next project.  

Do your best to stay focused and stay on track.  You may falter, but don’t let the block prevent you from writing for too long.

Have Fun!

As I said before, this draft is your time to play. It’s your time to test out ideas, see how they work or don’t work, and see if your characters take you anywhere new.

If you are bored with your story, have lost interest, or are dreading writing this draft, then there may be something wrong with your story, not you.  What is the reason you aren’t excited to write?  What aspect of the story is holding you back?

Unless you are writing this draft as part of an assignment, reevaluate your story and see where the issues are.  Maybe you are challenging yourself to write in an unfamiliar genre, or you don’t like the main character.  Whatever it is, make the changes you need to make the process enjoyable.

Writing is a journey. It’s a process. It’s a challenge.  And it’s something that can become addictive in a positive way.  As you begin to write your first/rough draft, remember that Stephen King, Jordan Peele, Grady Hendrix, and Maya Angelou all had to start with an idea, a blank page, and a first draft.

You can only get better once you have the first version out of your head and out on the page.

Happy writing, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: Jack Ketchum

An author whose novels are not for the faint-of-heart or the squeamish, writer Jack Ketchum has been described by Stephen King as “the scariest man in America.”  There’s no doubt in my mind that there is something to King’s view of Ketchum’s work.  I have read many of his novels (The Girl Next Door, Off Season, Off Spring, Red, and many others) and the images that he paints with words stick with you long after you’ve finished the book and moved on to other, less disturbing, fare. 

And yet, his writing style makes you return for another graphic and horror-filled tale from this master of his craft.

From 1981 to 2017, Ketchum authored 27 works that range from short fiction to novels.  His unique voice and his ability to ignore critical views of his work – the Village Voice has referred to his writing as ‘violent pornography’ – have made him an iconic voice in horror fiction.  

Sadly, Ketchum passed away in 2018, but his works live on through print and film and TV adaptations.

Check out his official site HERE.  

Below are some interviews where Ketchum speaks about his works and his craft.

Enjoy!

Back in two weeks with another great author!

Sunday Edition of Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: New Stephen King Interviews & A Conversation with Stephen King and George R.R. Martin

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors of all time.  In honor of his newest novel, Billy Summers, here are some new interviews about the book, and a Q&A with King and Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin.  

Enjoy!

Below is the King/Martin interview, which I was unable to embed, so please click the link below to access the video (there is profanity, just to let you know):

Back in two weeks with another writing series!

Happy writing!

Writer’s Workshop Wednesday: R.L. Stine

A reading staple of most middle-schoolers and young adults, R.L. Stine is the prolific master of teen-friendly horror.  His works and writing style have helped many of us – me included – graduate from his lower-stakes horror fare to the more graphic and violent works of Stephen King and Jack Ketchum.  Even if you’ve never read one his novels, you are more than likely familiar with the Goosebumps series of books that sport very effective and compelling covers.

Stine wrote his first teen-themed horror novel, Blind Date, in 1986, which became a best-seller.  In 1989, Stine began the Fear Street series, which boats over 100 books under its banner.  In 1992, Stine began the Goosebumps series of books, a series that currently has over 130 books!  His other novel series include, The Nightmare RoomMostly GhostlyRotten SchoolThe Haunting Hour and The Nightmare Hour.

His novels have been adapted into TV series, films, and comic books.  Needless to say, he is an author with one of the most extensive bodies of work I’ve talked about in this series!

Below are some interviews with Stine where he talks about his works and his creative process.

Enjoy!

Check out his official site HERE.  http://rlstine.com/

Back in two weeks with another great author!

The Road to Midnight House: An Author’s Journey – Part Five

Last week, I talked about getting feedback, finalizing your manuscript, and getting it ready to publish. In this final post about the process of publishing Midnight House, I wanted to touch on the indie publishing process, marketing, and other aspects of getting your manuscript out in a professional form.

Let’s get started!

To Self-Publish, or Not to Self-Publish…

Your hard work has paid off. You have written, edited, and copyrighted your manuscript and are ready to move to the next step: publication. Here, you can go one of two ways: traditional publishers or independent publishing.

If you go the traditional route, you’ll want to craft an eye-catching query letter that hooks the reader, and hopefully, you get a request for your manuscript to be sent for review.  

If you go the independent publishing route, you are in control of the publishing process.  

I went independent for several reasons with The Field and Midnight House:

  • The novels are professionally published in both eBook and paperback form for sale and distribution;
  • The books are sold in the same online marketplaces as traditionally published works (Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, etc.);
  • I have the same access to social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, personal website) as other authors.

Now, the downside, of course, is that it does cost money to self-publish. I recommend you do your research and find a publishing company that fits your needs and your budget. Many have packages for just eBooks or for an eBook/paperback bundle.  

I cannot stress this enough: Make sure if you invest the money to self-publish that you have a plan in place to pay yourself back via your 9 to 5 or other income. Being an independent author is great, but don’t expect to make Stephen King money with your first novel.

Author Dan Brown had written three novels before the DaVinci Code. After that hit big, the other three became bestsellers.

Be patient, keep writing, and don’t get discouraged.

Sometimes You Should Judge a Book By Its Cover…Especially If It’s Yours

If you do decide to self-publish, many publishing companies offer in-house cover art services. If you wish to seek out your own cover artist that fits your stylistic needs, I recommend checking out my post on the topic, Finding a Cover Artist.

It’s a Team Effort, But You’re Coach

Once you’ve taken the leap to publish independently, keep in mind that you are the boss. You are in control and give final approval to every aspect of the publishing process. It’s essential to be engaged, respond quickly to any questions the publisher may have, and don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions before and during the process. This is a financial investment on your part, so making sure things are exactly as you want them to be is critical.

I highly recommend keeping all correspondence upbeat and positive with everyone you are working with throughout the process. As Team Coach, you set the tone, and you have to make sure all parties involved stay focused and motivated to create a great final product. If you have issues with something, inquire nicely—no need to be an egomaniac or a jerk. Everyone has the same goal: to get your novel professionally published and out to the world.

When each step is complete, take the time to email those who helped you and thank them for their hard work and assistance. A little professional courtesy can go a long way, especially if you plan to use the same cover artist or publisher again in the future.

Have I Got a Novel for You!

Marketing starts with you. You control the message. You control what people initially know about your book. You are the point-person when it comes to getting the word out. 

Utilize your social media and let people know you have a novel coming out soon (I recommend you start putting the word out six weeks before the book comes out). Post the cover. Post the blurb from the back of the book. Work on generating interest among people you know who can help get the word out to others.

But you don’t have to stop there.

If you desire, you can work with a marketing firm that specializes in independent publishers. They can help you craft a press release for your book and get copies in the hands of book reviewers who can help get the word out about your novel. A marketing firm can target a specific market and demographic for your book to reach the right people who can help sell your book.

This, too, costs money, so budget accordingly.

The key here is to get your book in front of as many eyes and ears as possible. When the book is released, there will be buzz about your book online, with reviewers, and hopefully, you can snag an interview or two to talk about your book.

Writing a novel, a non-fiction book, a screenplay, a play, and any other creative work takes time. It truly is a marathon that requires hard work, dedication, professionalism, focus, and energy to get to the final stage of the product’s release. I’m very proud of my independent publishing team’s work on The Field and Midnight House. And when you get that box of paperbacks in the mail and open it and see a book’s cover with your name on it, it really is a thrill.

I hope this five-part series was helpful to you and will help you on your publishing journey. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment, and I will get back to you.

Happy writing, and happy publishing!

GET YOUR COPY OF MIDNIGHT HOUSE ON BOOKBABY AND USE THE PROMO CODE HOUSE20 TO SAVE 20% OFF THE PAPERBACK AT CHECKOUT.  CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Writing Wisdom Wednesday: Stephen King

This week, I wanted to start a new series by bringing you interviews from a wide variety of authors speaking about the craft, their creative process, and other notable insights.

Today, I’m beginning the series with one of my all-time favorite authors: Stephen King. Below are a few videos of King speaking about his works, the inspirations for some of his works, and the craft of writing.

Bookmark, Listen, Learn, and Enjoy!

Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington – 2014

2016 Library of Congress Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Check back next Wednesday for another author!

Are You a Writer Who Reads?

I love to read. If I see a book I think I would enjoy, I either buy it or add it to my wish list. My coworker buys me books for my birthday and Christmas. If there’s a topic I want to learn more about, I don’t Google it; I try and find a book about the topic instead.  Reading has always played a significant role in my life and my education post-school, and it’s an activity that I enjoy.

One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, has said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I have a feeling King knows what he’s talking about.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to take the time to read.  Not books about writing, which I’ll talk about next week, but a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books.  

Read Outside Your Genre

If you are an author who writes primarily in a specific genre – Young Adult, Romance, Thriller, Mystery, etc. – I encourage you to read novels that aren’t from your chosen realm. While it’s essential to know and understand your genre’s tropes, themes, and other elements, it’s equally important to see how different genres work within their various story conventions to see what you can learn. You can often glean some new bit of story structure or character development idea from a novel outside your chosen area of expertise.

Read Different Authors 

We often get comfy with a couple authors we enjoy and stick with them. Dare to pick authors you may not be familiar with and read their works as well.  Your favorite author isn’t going anywhere.  

Read Books from Other Decades

We are creatures of habit. Most of the time, if it’s a book that’s a current best-seller, or one on display at Target, it’s the book we grab to read. However, it’s also important to delve into the past and read authors whose work lives long after their passing. The classics have inspired authors for generations, and by looking at these works, you can learn new aspects of storytelling that you can possibly apply to your work.

Read History, Autobiographies, and Biographies

The real world can offer up some great story ideas, and you can learn a thing or two along the way. Real human beings, human behavior, and human drama can sometimes be more engaging and fascinating than fiction, and these types of books can give you a fresh perspective on topics you think you know about.

Read to Learn

As you read, observe how the author crafts their chapters, characters, and story arcs.  Look at how they format certain things.  For example, I’ve seen text messaging and phone calls formatted in many different ways in novels, depending on the author. 

If you found yourself up until 3 in the morning not wanting to put the books down, ask yourself why? What was it about the story, the characters, or the pacing that made you have to keep reading?  These are elements you can analyze and apply to your work as well.  

Always Go with Variety

If you’ve plotted out your 2021 reading list, consider adding books and authors you usually wouldn’t read. Maybe an author whose work you don’t enjoy, or one whose opinions bother you. Look at them less as annoying reading assignments and more like learning opportunities. Each book you open can inform your own writing methodology and how you create your worlds and story.  

And all you need to do is turn to Chapter One and start reading.

As a writer, how do you decide what books to read?  Leave a comment and let me know!

The Value of Set-ups and Pay-offs

“If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.”                         – Anton Chekhov

Set-ups and pay-offs are invaluable tools that you can use in a variety of ways in your writing.  It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel, a screenplay, a play, a TV script, or a short film, the use of set-ups and pay-offs can help add suspense and increase tension in your writing.

The quote above, attributed to playwright Anton Chekhov makes the pint clear: if you introduce it as important, you should use it by the story’s end.  Think about all the movie, TV shows, plays, and novels you’ve read where some weapon, potion, device, or other object or person is introduced or mentioned.  The writer has now piqued your interest and you keep reading or watching to see how the item or person is utilized later in the story.

If you give Captain America his shield, he better use it at some point in the story.  If Lex Luthor has Kryptonite and knows it can weaken Superman, he better darn well try and use it against him to show its power.  If Q gives James Bond gadgets, weapons, and a car at the beginning of his mission, we better see all of those things in action throughout the story.

It’s what we as an audience subconsciously expect: if you show or tell us about it, it better be used later.

The Melissa McCarthy movie, Spy, does an excellent job setting up items in the first act that are later used effectively and comedically throughout the film.

How disappointing is it when something is brought up once in a story and you’re excited to see what the writer does with it later and it never comes up again.  If you as the writer take the time to include it in the work, respect your reader and give them the pay-off they deserve.

Set-ups and pay-offs aren’t just for objects, of course, it’s also the basis of a lot of comedy. Sitcoms use this method of joke telling with one character saying a “straight line” (the set-up) to one character and the other replying with a one-liner (the pay-off) that gets the laugh.  Watch any multi-camera sitcom with a studio audience (Big Bang Theory, Married …with Children, I Love Lucy) and this is the basic structure of the majority of jokes. Why?  Because it works.

A more nuanced use of the set-up/pay-off structure is the HBO series, Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Here is a show that will set up jokes at the beginning of the episode or the beginning of the season and pay them off by the end of either.  It’s brilliant storytelling that uses the same structure in a more evolved way.

One of my favorite novels that shows this structure at work is Stephen King’s Needful Things.  King weaves dozens of threads throughout the story with items and events that are set-up early in the novel only to be paid-off brilliantly by the novel’s end. It’s also a really great read!

It should be noted that you can have multiple moments over the course of your story with set-ups and pay-offs. Don’t think they all have to be crammed into the first act.  Spread them out in order to keep the audience engaged and looking for how things will be utilized later.

What are some examples you have of great set-ups and pay-offs in films, plays, TV shows, or books? Leave a comment and let me know!