Monday, July 29, 2013

Emotion, Climax, Story

Every story has flaws and no story will ever be perfect.  Having said that, I think the stories that resonate most with readers and earn the strongest reactions—hopefully positive, but perhaps not always—are the ones with a strong emotional climax.

You know, stories where you're on the edge of your seat wondering if they're going to live, or reunite, or work it out, or whatever.  That feeling of being really involved and needing to know what happens next, as if it was you instead of these characters.  That feeling.

I haven't managed that in every story I write.  I write the story I have to tell, not to formula.  And sometimes my fiction works for people, and sometimes it doesn’t.  But I think my best stories are when I manage the emotional climax.

In Moths and Men, the emotional climax takes place as they are returning from a drive getting pizza and arriving home.  Feelings have been slowly building and building, and now they are at a zenith.  The emotion comes through in the details the main character notices and what he's thinking.  Another scene, where they talk about Vietnam, or the scene where they declare their love for each other, are both strong, but to me they are not as pivotal as those moments just as they arrive home.

Winton's Strays probably has the best climax of the ones I've published so far.  The two main characters are actually separated, and Our Hero is leaving, unwilling to trust himself to love.  It is heart wrenching; the other man is clearly in pain watching him go, but letting him make his choice.  Then, as he walks through the snow, the hero comes to a crashing conclusion and realizes he made the wrong decision.  There's also a cat involved.

But this story did not work as originally written.  I submitted it to Dreamspinner for their Christmas anthology last year.  And it was turned down.  I was very disappointed, until I reread it and realized, This story is not finished!  And it wasn't.  The climax was good, but there were a few things that needed adjusted, and most of all, we needed to see what happened afterwards, to know these characters were going to be okay before saying goodbye.  So I wrote the rest of it, and then decided to publish it myself.

I'm very glad they turned it down because otherwise I never would've known it needed more.  I ended up publishing it in January.  After Christmas.  I walked around in a daze the first day, because four copies sold, and I could hardly believe it.  Me, an unknown, and four people had bought copies of my Christmas story, in January.  I think that's probably still the best-loved of my stories, and I think the emotional climax is responsible—but the wind-down from that climax is necessary, too.

Anyway, even if the writing in a story is flawed (and every story will have flaws), the emotional reaction a story earns from a reader is what will carry the story through or make it fail.  Nobody will like every story, which is important to remember.  But if someone manages to hit that emotional climax, a reader will remember the way they felt reading it.

At least, I always do.  It definitely helps me find new favorite authors!

I don't have such a climax in every story of mine, but I do have some I can inwardly pinpoint in upcoming stories.  This makes me hopeful about their fate.  (Most of these stories are in the pipeline at Dreamspinner as I wait to hear back.)

I know now I can publish by myself, but I also like working with DSP.  It is win-win for me at this point, whatever happens.  As long as I keep a good attitude, work hard, and keep striving for emotional climaxes!  Um, you know what I mean.

That Good Earth, by S. A. Meade

That Good Earth, by S. A. Meade

The author wrote this story for the "Love Has No Boundaries" thingy for the M/M romance group on Goodreads.  Link:

The author wrote it for my request.  MY request!

And I love this story.  I love it.  It is brilliant!  You can read my review of it at the link above.

It is just perfect.  <3

But it is even more perfect when I think about what went into this.  Here was my idea, written for nothing but kindheartedness, by an author I didn't know.  Writing a story is such an intimate experience; you put your whole heart into it and hope it will work.  She put time, effort, emotion, and likely a lot of research into this gem, all for nothing.

That simply blows me away.

You can read the story here.  I think you have to be a member of the group, but I'm not positive.

Thank you, S.A. Meade!  You're the best. <3

Monday, July 22, 2013

The One for Me

(The cover art's a little unusual, isn't it?  I wrote about making it here. )

Two boys bond, sharing geeky things and fast food. And falling in love.

When Luke's parents take in a foster kid named Randall, Luke is immediately taken with him, although he doesn't want to admit to himself why. He wasn't planning to be gay. He wasn't planning to fall in love with another boy. But then he met Ran....

I remember when I first met Ran. He was absolutely unprepossessing, all skinny white boy wearing his insecurities on his sleeves, which were tattered and faded on a too-big flannel shirt. He wore jeans that didn't quite fit him, cheap tennis shoes that had once been white, and glasses that made his eyes look too big in his scrawny, pale face.

And he was holding a trash bag and standing in the middle of my bedroom looking miserable...


He looked down at his bare feet. I did, too. Even they kind of appealed to me. "Thanks," he said quietly. "But you don't have to. I probably won't be here long."

"Why not?" I was surprised how annoyed I felt at the suggestion of him leaving. "You just got here."

He shrugged his sharp shoulders, too high. "I just don't usually last long, that's all."

He climbed up to the top bunk, all scrawny elbows and sharp knees. The bed creaked a little, and then he was still. I flopped back on my bed, putting my hands behind my head, scowling at the bunk above me. There was a faint dip where he lay, but not much.

"You want to play some more games?" I asked, because I couldn't think what else to say.

The bed creaked a little. "No," he said hesitantly. "You just do whatever you normally would. I'll stay out of your way."

What I normally would do was probably masturbate when I was feeling like this--out of sorts and confused and frustrated without really knowing why--but I couldn't exactly admit that. I'd just have to stick to showers for now, while I had a foster brother in my room. And why wasn't he going to stay? I pushed that thought away, irritated by it.

"Sometimes I make YouTube videos for my channel," I admitted. I hesitated as I thought of something. "Do you mind if I introduce you?"

The bed creaked above me as he sat up. "Really?" He sounded intrigued. Good.

"Yeah. Come and watch. I'll introduce you. It's a lot of fun. I had over two hundred views on my last video," I bragged.

He climbed out of bed slowly as I got my computer turned on and my webcam going. "You do this a lot?"

"Yeah, it's fun. Sometimes I talk about like movies and stuff, sometimes I do one-man skits."

He stood to the side, out of camera range as I started talking. I sort of open up on camera. Most of the time, people aren't exactly clambering to hear what I have to say and what I think about stuff. So it's kind of cool to think that hundreds of people might click on my video on purpose and actually listen to what I have to say, maybe even respond with a comment or video of their own. From all over the world, too!

I got to the part of having a new foster brother, and it felt easy and natural to motion him over and put my arm around his shoulder. He bent down a little, smiled nervously, and waved to the camera, one quick, awkward jerk of his hand, his fingers pressed tightly against each other.

"And here he is, guys. Randall! My new buddy."

"Actually... " He looked at me, blushing a little.

"What? You don't want to be my new buddy?" My mouth turned down in a pout. I wasn't totally faking.

"Um." He reached up and scratched at his hair. "No, I'd love to. But I hate 'Randall.' Can you call me 'Ran?'"

"Ran." I turned to the camera. "This is my new buddy Ran. And yes, he's wearing my pajamas, and he looks better in them than I ever do." I winked at the camera, flexed my bicep once...

Buy on Amazon:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Always Saying Goodbye - cover

I got to see my final cover for the story I have coming out from LT3 Press in 2014.  This is it!

I really like it.  <3

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Yours, Johnny, by Hollis Shiloh

Yours, Johnny
by Hollis Shiloh

Two young men start to correspond—one a civilian, the other a soldier struggling with his life in Vietnam.

Pen pals become something more as the boys discover things about themselves and each other through their letters and their lives.

A love story.

Length: 12,400 words
Heat level: low

Review copies available - please contact me!  :)

Cover art by the amazing!

About writing the story:

This was an intense story for me, even though in many ways it's written very sparely.  (That seemed to be the style required.)  I love the characters, but it took me many months between writing the opening words and the ending ones.

I generally feel a little sad when a story ends, even if it's happy, because I feel like I'm saying goodbye to characters I adore.  This counts for me as a reader and as a writer.  

No matter how happy writing 'the end' makes me feel, it is often a mixed feeling, because I know I may never write about these characters again.  (Sometimes, you just can't force a sequel, you know?)

But I don't cry about it or anything.

With this story, it was a little different.  I cried during one scene, not even a particularly sad scene—they were just talking; it was great actually—and I realized as I typed frantically away, crouching on my bed, that I was sobbing, those sort of chest-shaking, trembling-handed, noisy sobs.  

I mean, I'm not a big crier.  I don't really do that a lot, especially while writing.  I love writing!  Sometimes it can frustrate me, but overall, it makes me very happy; that's why I do it.  I can count maybe a handful of times I've actually sobbed while writing, and I've written a lot of words of fiction in my lifetime.  Maybe I tear up a tiny bit during the occasional emotional moment, but nobody can prove it, and I don't always remember if I do or not; I'm focused on the story, you know?

But with that scene?  Oh my goodness!  I was doing the noisy, messy cry, the weird-little-sounds-like-a-wounded-animal sobs, the leaves-your-face-red-and-gross sobs.

It was that big to me, just hit me in the gut.  Not a thing of logic or contained, quantifiable mental energy, but simply pure emotion.  

I'm still a little awed that a story of mine could do that to me so unexpectedly.  I sort of hope it makes somebody else gross-cry so I'm not alone, but I suspect the scene in question mostly had meaning for me personally, and may pass others by quite unexceptionally.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

coming soon: The One for Me

Hey guys!  :)  I just wanted to share the cover art for one of my new upcoming stories.  I hope to have it published before the end of July.  

Basically, it's about two boys who grow up together and fall in love.  Also, they're into computers and geeky stuff, which was fun to write.  It's about 24,000 words long.  

I thought it was adorable!  I still do.  I wanted to write a story for these guys since I first saw this image, but I put it on the back burner, and didn't think I'd be able to.  Boy, was I surprised as I finally began writing about them.  It was as if my subconscious had already decided everything and I just had to write it down.  I had a lot of fun with their story.  I hope it turned out well.  

Anyway, making the cover art was a little bit tricky because when I cropped the image to the size of an ebook cover, a large part of their faces was cut off.  I didn't like the super close up this gave me, showing little more than an eye and part of a shoulder.  The charm of this image is in their smiles and the tenderness this image conveys.

So, I tried a different direction with cover art.  Basically, I put the image whole on the bottom half, and that left space on the top half.  I decided to try filling it with my name, even though I think it looks a little stuck up, it's still worth a try.  Who knows, this might work well for a cover?  Anyway, it's a good experiment in trying new things, and I'm glad I got to keep the full image on the cover, even if it's a little smaller now.

I don't expect to make any big changes at this point, but will let you know if I do.  :)

Thank you to everyone who read it, and particularly who reviewed it!  You're amazing!!  :-)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Christmas thoughts

I just sent in a submission to the Dreamspinner Advent anthology, and it got me thinking about Christmas last year.

It was almost Christmas, and my dad went to a live nativity show.  When he came back, he was so excited he got together as many of the family as he could.  "You have to come," he said.  "It's amazing.  I cried through it."  This was my dad saying that.

In the end, my mom, my sister, and I went along.  We drove over in the cold and the dark.  And he was right.  It was wonderful.  The live nativity outside the church had a number of stations or pit stops to stand and listen to things about the Christmas story.  There were treats.  There was cocoa at the end.  My hands were freezing, but I felt so warm inside.  This was Christmas, not the slightly jaded and bored way I'd been feeling, but the warmth of meaning and love and caring and beauty even in dark circumstances.

As we drank the cocoa and listened to some Christmas music in the auditorium, I felt so happy, warm and included in a way I hadn't for a long time.  And then I looked through one of their pamphlets.

They talked about the things their church believed--and didn't.  Gay marriage was a primary "not."

And my warm feeling left, with only sorrow and a feeling of being an imposter.  I finished my cocoa, but I wanted to weep.  All I could think was, "They wouldn't want me here if they knew."

Maybe that's not true.  Maybe they would.  But it took away some of my happiness and made me feel like an outsider again.

I just have to remind myself that Christmas is about Jesus, the boy born in the manger, who would never say I was unwanted or unwelcome or shouldn't be who I really am.