“That’s SO funny” means it isn’t. 5 Dumb Things about writing.

I’ve always said that making people laugh is one of the hardest things to do. Writing books with humor is a challenge to even the most nimble authors, and making a character who is genuinely funny even more difficult. I reference the people in my books, who, be they witch, vampire, asshole at the bank, or good hearted truck driver, are all real people to me when I write them.

.

Now, let’s break that down– genuinely funny— as it contains two of the most important parts of your main character.

  1. Genuine. I have a single goal when I create a character, and that is for the reader to think, “I know this person.” I want my readers convinced that the character is someone they might meet the next time they leave the house. That’s critical.
  2. Three Dimensional People. I use this term to describe the characters because they should exist in every plane; you should feel their personalities, their voices, and the background of their lives. All of these make them have a weight on the pages. Don’t skimp on background. Don’t use background instead of dialogue. Here’s why.
  3. Dialogue Is Good Voyeurism.  I’m not talking about watching your neighbor through their window, you dirty little critter, although if they’re leaving the curtains open while they dance naked to Bon Jovi and you have a box of wine and nothing to do on a Friday night hey who’s fault is it anyway I mean– sorry. I meant to say, dialogue– good dialogue– is the single best method to get inside the head of your characters. For readers, one page of dialogue is equivalent to an entire chapter of exposition, because it tells you why they act as well as how they will act in the future. This is how we bring readers with us to the last page. They must burn for the Great Reveal in which all becomes clear.
  4. Real People Are Hilarious.  Don’t think this is true? Go to the returns desk at any major retail store on the planet. Then wait. Within fifteen minutes you will see: Thieves. Liars. People with sweaty ‘bra money’. Flimsy excuses. Glorious expressions from the employees. Anger. Resolution. You might even see an adult in a onesie, given the state of our planet. It’s all there, and it’s free. My point is: real life is a fountain of hilarity, if you observe the right places. If you want unlimited rage, go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you want funny, go everywhere else. Then– write it down.
  5. Read Aloud. Let me repeat this: read. your dialogue. out loud. You should laugh, or cringe, or feel. . . something. What you should not feel is nothing. If that’s the case, the dialogue is flat and it needs to die. Start over, keeping the best sentence you have, then ask yourself. What would your character do if they were at the returns desk at Walmart? It’s a great start, and you might surprise yourself by learning more about your own characters.

I know Carlie, Ring, Saavin, French and Wulfric inside and out because to me, they are real. I can hear their voices, see their walk, and imagine how they might deal with an overcooked steak  (steak cannot be undercooked, fight me!) or  flat tire. You know, life. This is why I’m able to make Carlie more than a Quirky Girl Doing Cute Things.

You know what to do. Keep your eyes and ears open, take a few notes, and write people who you every day. But, you know, with dragons and swords and stuff. That’s what I do.

I’ll be in Frankenmuth, Michigan for Once Upon a Book (Aug 11-12). They claim to have the World’s Best Chicken Dinner. My body is ready.

Cheers,

Terry

Why You Should(n’t) Use A Pen Name: 5 Dumb Things

My name is actually Terry Maggert, and I made a conscious decision (a rare event, but still) to use that as my pen name. If you write, you might be faced with a similar decision as more people read your books, and I’ve assembled what I hope to be compelling reasons for the type of name you use when creating a brand. For me, even my brand has a brand. See?

  1. Necessity made you do it.  If you’re a youth minister who writes giraffe-based BDSM erotica, you may consider a pen name. (Note: I have dibs on Lance Goodthrust, and if you think I’m kidding, just watch me). First: congrats on finding your niche, you maniac, and secondly, your choice of a pen name is a defensive movement designed to protect your identity. Which brings me to my second point.
  2. There is no privacy. Occasionally, I meet some adorable writer who thinks that their life isn’t an open book. News flash– our lives are beyond open; they’re a commodity that’s  being sold. Make certain that you create two entirely different identities for your brand and your life if the two aren’t congruent. This goes down to the detail of social media (especially social media), because that’s where you’re going to build the most important part of your growth. Which brings me to my third point.
  3. Don’t Get Cute or Witty with Names. I refer to the social media handles you choose. I use Terry Maggert everywhere, and I do so despite having titles that range from Young Adult Fantasy to Zombie Erotica. (Seriously. It’s a product of my childhood. Leave me be.) People who like my books can always find me. You know who can’t find you? People looking for your name instead of Wordcrusher or PirateWench69 on twitter and Instagram. If you don’t use your real name, then you must build a brand name so that people can find you. Otherwise, you’re creating a barrier between you and your readers.
  4. Pen Names  Can Infer Genre. There’s an expectation within genre fans that their favorite authors, if choosing a pen name, will pick something that dovetails with the style of books they write. If you’re a romance author (and statistically, you might be), then Selenia D’Argent makes a lot more sense than Bill Shotzenburger, who might be a lovely person but has a name that belongs to a guy who manages a tire store. Like buying bananas, choose wisely when picking your name.
  5. Pick A New Variation. Look, we all want the money that big name authors have, but selecting a pen name that’s close to theirs isn’t just poor branding, it might anger fans. You know- those people who stand outside a book store at midnight because some author just released a playlist of things their characters did while suffering from the flu? Yeah, those people. They’re rabid, they’re loyal, and they will absolutely brand you a fraud if you try to rip off their beloved author by name-crowding.

That’s a general guideline and there are many good reasons for using a pen name (organization being one), but just as many reasons to be yourself. Remember– you are the brand, as much as your books, and you must protect that identity every day. Across the spectrum of social media and other interactions, your name will be with you when you break out.

So, pick a good one, or go with the one you’ve had since the start. It’s working so far, right?

Terry

Writer Tips: 5 Dumb Things

This is year four for me as a professional author. Naturally, I find new and amazing ways to make mistakes, but my “rate of dumb” is slowing.

Eventually, it might even stabilize or stop. #ThoughtsAndPrayersYall

With that in mind, here are five dumb things that new writers shouldn’t do, because I’ve done them for you already. You’re welcome.

  1. Slow down. Look, I know your friend is a romance writer who coughs out a book every five weeks, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Any skill can be honed over time– maybe they can write quality books at a shocking rate. Maybe they’ve been at it for ten years, too, meaning that it’s more important for you to get your book correct out of the gate, rather than simply in the race. You can speed up your process as you learn and grow.
  2. Don’t Waste Time. Obvious, right? Look, I love shiplap as much as Joanna Gaines, but seven hours on Pinterest looking at her houses isn’t helping you write your novel. Schedule your social media in a ratio of 8 to 2– eighty percent is planned, twenty percent spontaneous. Use apps like Crowdfire or Hootsuite to plan your social media. As a writer, you need to connect with your friends and readers. As a human, you need to have a plan. Apps can help you share yourself without getting lost in the tides of the internet. Having some discipline about your social media results in the most wonderful things of all– more books, and FAR better connections with your friends online. You learn to value the interactions, and they have more punch.
  3. Get A Plan. Your writing is a business. Businesses need a model. Write. It. Down. Mine was a three year plan borrowed from someone far more successful (thanks, Denise!). It makes all the difference to have, in writing, a model with goals that explain where you want to be as a writer. It can be simple or complex. Mine was one page– six goals– and gradually expanded as I became more savvy. I’m an author coach, and I’ve yet to find a young writer with a written business plan. Start it today, and you can have it done in the time it takes to brew another pot of coffee.
  4. Protect Your Work. Look, we’re all thirsty when we start, but that’s no reason to give your work away– and expose yourself to loss– in an endless stream of contests, awards, and vanity publishers. Here’s a simple test: if someone asks you for money to read your work, tell them to go to hell. If they want your work for a contest that costs money to enter, tell them to go to hell. See the trend? Professional agents don’t charge a reading fee. Ever. Real publishers (including YOU, if you’re an Indie) pay for work. Your stories are yours. Protect them with a dose of pragmatism, and you’ll thank yourself down the road.
  5. Exposure Is A Lie. If you can’t eat it or spend it, it ain’t worth your time. Period. Exposure is a seductive lie and nothing more. “Bring your books to give away at our event; it’ll be great exposure.” No thanks. That’s predatory, and not worth my time. One of my passions is giving books to people. I know, I just got done stating the opposite (in a sense), but there’s a key difference: I give people books on my own terms, and because I love books. I also like people. Books are meant to be shared, but artists are meant to be paid. Use your books as gifts for people who believe in you, not people who see you as something to be exploited.*Note: I also give away books written by other authors I admire, simply because I think they’re amazing and their work needs to be shared. Who doesn’t love getting a new book by an unknown voice?

That’s my top five dumb things– hits I’ve taken that I would spare my fellow writers. If you have any questions, fire away. I’ve got a lot of dumb to share.

Cheers,

Terry

Find Your Tribe.

Your tribe is the people outside your family who become family. That’s it. It can be simple to find them, or it can take years. For me, it took until I started writing as a serious pursuit, unlocking the years of memories about books, movies, comics, and art. All of these things fire my imagination like the inside of a star. It’s relentless and compelling and there is unalloyed joy in sharing it with people who not only like the things you like, but they get you.

So, back to back I’ve had two weekends with My Tribe. The first was Utopiacon, where fiction writers I know– and did not know– mingled with fans over three days of celebrating books. It’s a powerful sensation to realize that there are other humans who feel the same giddiness over books. Their imaginations share DNA with mine, and the overlapping areas of our fandoms are where we find common ground and bond (likely for life).

Then came LibertyCon. And this. . .headgear.

Your tribe foments creativity and laughter and thought. Your tribe makes you want to be better at what you do, and causes unabashed admiration for others who share your pursuit. It’s loud and grand and caring, and every minute of it flies by in a whirl of color and fun.

Something else happens, too. I’ve written five thousand words since coming home from the event, no small feat given my lack of sleep. Why is this? Simple. Your tribe stokes the boilers and makes creativity readily on tap. It’s a side effect of magical purpose, leaving you exhilarated and wide-eyed with the prospects of the coming days, eager to create and share.

I waited a long time to find my tribe, only to find that they were here all along. It’s up to you to find yours, but that’s the simplest part: find out where you can be weird, and revel in it.

Cheers for now. Gotta write. Maybe sleep. Mostly, write.

Terry

Why Book Covers Matter

Looks matter. Book covers matter. Or don’t they?

“I looked across the bar and saw her standing there, glass of wine in hand and her head thrown back in a laugh. At that moment, I could tell: she had a great personality.”

You might live to be one hundred years old and never hear that sentence, partially because no one will say it and you’ll be too busy arguing about expired coupons and the Good Old Days with the staff at Denny’s. I know because I’m *this* close to my senior discount and am already hearing the siren’s call of Early Bird Specials and Double Coupon Tuesday. I’m also a writer, and when I was in college the first time, (ahem), I was an artist. I understand that we’re visual creatures, and for those of us who love books, cover art matter. A lot.

Without a great cover, you’ll probably pass over the book. It’s a simple, brutal truth that there are good (and even great) books with terrible covers. A cover should tell– but not over tell– the story. It can be simple, or complex, or an image. It can be a person, character, or object that’s critical to the feel and arc of the book, but under no circumstances can it be of poor quality.

Book covers should transport us in much the same way that words do– but in the blink of an eye. I use concept art to express wonder, mystery– even fear and danger. Here are the covers for Heartborn and its sequel, Moonborn. In the details, there are constellations that have meaning, giving the reader something to search for as they go further down the path to my world.

With Moonborn, I want the sense of wonder, awe, and wide open skies, but with the added danger of a world tinged red by uncertainty. Is it blood? We’re trained to fear red. What does the red sky tell you?

 

I love color and motion, which is obvious with these covers. With that being said, I don’t only write YA, which led me to one of the more unusual cover decisions I had to make. I’d written a short story that was– for lack of a better term– zombie smut– but thoughtful, and intended to ask some uncomfortable questions about human sexuality. Whether or not I’ve succeeded is left to the reader, but the cover captured exactly what I wanted (Thanks, Staci!).

 

Once again, you might not know what it’s about, but it’s colorful, there’s an element of mystery, and it’s crisp. I tell other writers every time they ask me for advice– spend money on your editor, and spend money on your cover. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

In case you’re in the mood for “Horrotica”, as my friend quipped, you can get it here: https://www.amazon.com/Cool-Touch-Zombie-Love-Story-ebook/dp/B00UKS4EW2/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Moonborn will be available in three weeks, although the Grand Opening, so to say, will be at Utopiacon in Nashville. I’ll have plenty of copies, book candles, and swag. I highly recommend this event, check it out here: http://www.utopiacon.com/

Hope to see you there, and send me your favorite covers. What draws you to them? What turns you off? Let me know.

Cheers,

Terry

Pushups are the Devil

I’m on this stupid health and exercise kick, and it means giving up things like pie and cake for a while. As a man of a certain age, I have certain fears, which include (but are not limited to):

  1. Pleated khakis.
  2. Losing my hair.
  3. Belly.
  4. A larger belly.
  5. Chewing food like I’m a beetle.
  6. A compulsion to use coupons at dinner.
  7. Socks and sandals together.

Thus far, I’ve avoided most of that. Teeth are still good. Mind still feels sharp, unless it’s car keys and then I act as if every day is an archaeological hunt. I’m writing more emotional, lurid scenes that ever before, so I feel that (professionally), I’m better than ever. Writing is a muscle, but you know what else is a muscle?

Muscles.

I totaled last month’s pushup total from my Exercise Log of Doom, and the number was 2805.

That’s a lot of pushups for a middle-aged guy, or at least it is for me. It’s having an effect. I feel like my mind is slightly clearer, with less tendency to be dreamy when I’m writing. Does that make sense?

It’s also vanquishing fear number nine from the above list, which I saved for here: Moobs

I don’t want to have the chest of an American Buddha, so this whole nightmare of pushupageddon is actually working out rather well.

I still hate it, though. It’s like work, but with your face on the floor and lots of wheezing.

The goal for this month is 3000. Oh, and no bra. Ever.

New book is at 60,000 words. Done in a week. you’re going to love it. I’m over the moon for Livvy and a new character, Danila. She’s amazing.

Cheers.

 

How To Write a Love Scene

I’ve cracked the code, people. I have the power. Sexy time? I own it. Lovemaking? Booty Call?

Drive By Quickie?

Check, check, and mate.

Fellow writers, pay attention. This is my gift to you. Dear readers, use this information as you see fit.

*Cracks Knuckles*

Writing the perfect love scene:

  1. List everything you would do with your partner if you didn’t have kids, pets, or a job.
  2. Cut the speed of all those things in half.
  3. Add candles and chocolate.

 

You’re welcome, people.