Tonia Brown’s short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies. She has cranked out several books, including Lucky Stiff: Memoirs of an Undead Lover, Badass Zombie Road Trip, Skin Trade, and the erotic steampunk series Clockworks and Corsets. Tonia lives in North Carolina with her genius husband and an ever fluctuating number of cats. When not writing she raises unicorns and fights crime with her husband under the code names “Dr. Weird and his sexy sidekick Butternut.”
You can learn more about her and her pen name, Regina Riley, at: www.thebackseatwriter.com
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How to Write a Novel
How to Lose Friends and Alienate Yourself
by Tonia Brown
In my brief career I have penned nine novels (Some of which may never see the light of day, praise Eris!) eight novellas (yes there is a difference between a novel and novella.) and a crap ton of short stories. In all of my time as an author, I get asked a lot of questions. Where do you get your ideas? How do you find the time to write? Where do you start? How do you finish? None of these questions are easy to answer. (Save for the first one: I get my ideas from a jar of pickled pig brains I bought off the internet. Whenever I’m ready to start a new novel, I shake up the jar, ask for a new idea and the pig brains shoot the plot into my mind via telepathy. True story!)
Writing a novel is no easy task—otherwise everyone would do it. Now, I know it seems as if it is that way sometimes. Just log into your friendly local social network and you’ll find folks posting left and right about the book they are working on, or the research they are doing for a new book, or how the book they are writing is causing them so much internal conflict because isn’t it oh so hard to kill off a main character? The truth is, for every ten folks who say they are writing a novel, perhaps one of them has got as far as plotting it, one in twenty are past the first chapter, one in fifty are nearing anything like the halfway point, while the rest are all just blowing hot air about their progress, or never started or simply gave up a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Why? Because while I am here to attest that writing a novel is hard, for some strange reason there are folks out there who seem to think it is as simple as breathing. And by all rights it should be! I mean, think about it: you sit around on your rump, throwing back beers and stuffing your gob with pizza while pounding away at the keyboard for x number of hours until, viola! A book comes out of the other end of the computer. Easy peasy, call me Wheezy.
But, as we all well know, nothing comes easy. (Except for teenage boys.) For those of us who have actually written a book, we can all agree that while the previous description is pretty dead on about the beer and pizza, it is sorely lacking three other things; blood, sweat and tears. (And I ain’t just talking about the band, though they do make some good music!) Most folks who sit down to write that Great American Novel find they either don’t like the smell of sweat, can’t stand the sight of blood, or aren’t the crying kind of person.
Whenever someone flat out asks me how to write a book, my first answer is to read. A lot. It may sound like a stupid thing to suggest, but I find the majority of folks who approach me, all hot to write a masterpiece, don’t read at all! If you don’t read, how can you write? It’s like wanting to become a pie maker, but you don’t eat pies. Or a scientist but you won’t do science. Or a prostitute but you won’t have sex.
The art and craft of writing lies in the shared experience of the story. (The art and craft of writing should not to be confused with the arts and crafts of writing, which is a whole different thing—with lots of yarn and glue and glitter.) If you never partake in someone else’s story, then how can you expect to share your own effectively? Besides, well written books are like instruction manuals on how to write. Reading a good book is the equivalent of a free writing course.
The second thing I always warn folks of is a novel takes dedication. I’m always hearing folks say how they would like to write but they can’t find the time. If you want to write you will make time. Turn the television off. Put down the phone. Get off the internet. (I don’t mean get off on the internet, I mean shut down your browser, you pervert!) Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and that requires dedication. Make writing a priority and you will find time for it. Set a personal word goal every day and try to reach it, no matter what. Even one thousand words a night is nothing to sneeze at. If you can write one thousand words a night, you’ll have a good sized novella in a month, and a decent sized novel in less than three.
Make time to make it happen, and it will happen.
On that note, the last thing to remember is that writing takes time. No matter how talented you are, you aren’t going to just squat a novel out in a few days, ready to read! Writing, like any other art, is time consuming. My personal output varies from a few months to a few years, just depending on the novel in question. Yes, it is true that I wrote Lucky Stiff in fifty six days, from beginning to end, with very little need for fine-tuning. Ninety-seven thousand words dropped out of my brain in fifty six days. It was more like taking dictation then writing.
And sometimes it will be like that for you. Sometimes the story will flow like water, coursing through your veins like so much blood. All you have to do is insert razor and let it pour out onto the page.
But sometimes, oh yes those other times it will be more like cutting off an arm and a leg and an ear, then smearing these various body parts across the blank page only to find you should have smeared left instead of right and now you have to start all over again! Thank the gods you have two arms!
The trick is to be patient and move at the story’s pace. Calm down and let the story tell itself. You can only control so much of the process, the rest is a natural ebb and flow of creativity. Today you write five thousand words, tomorrow you write three. Not three thousand, just three. Don’t fret. Go with the flow and the story will be done with the story is done. Not before.
I suppose I could go on and on, but I should probably stop here. I could get into the real nitty-gritty of writing. Of how you will end up cutting yourself off from normal society, locking yourself up for weeks at a time, pounding away at the keyboard like a frustrated donkey on crack until you deliver your baby into the world screaming and crying and covered in blood, most of it yours … but you don’t want to hear about that. Do you?
Write well, and take care.
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Synopsis for The Cold Beneath:
In the race to the North Pole, who will become the victor, and who will fall to the ravages of the Cold Beneath?
Phillip Syntax is the world’s best biomechanic with a checkered past of betrayal and lost love. When given a chance at redemption by the celebrated soldier Gideon Lightbridge, how can he refuse? This ill-fated expedition turns from daring to disastrous when their airship, the Northern Fancy, crashes in the far and frozen north, leaving the crew stranded without hope.
But that isn’t the worst of it.
One by one the dead crew members arise from the cold ashes to seek the warmth of the living, and it becomes every man for himself in an effort not to join the ranks of the revenants.
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