Tuesday, November 17

The Man Who Sat Alone

Let me tell you the short story of a man who sits alone. This guy lived as one of the many characters in my book. But he did not make it past chapter five. The reason: I hated him. I did not even give him a name. But you shall know him as the man who sat alone (he does not even deserve title caps).

Anyway, all he did was sit alone; he did not get along with anyone. I placed him in a scene with the nicest people in my book in chapter two, and he pissed them off big time. I gave him a second chance in the third chapter and allowed him to correct his mistakes. But instead, he broke the heart of the funniest character ever in the book. As God, I gave him yet another chance to redeem himself.

In chapter four, I let him sit all alone in a corner so he could just exist without bothering anyone. And even in that secluded place, he managed to go out of his way to destroy the peace of everyone around him. By now, I knew what best to do.

So, in chapter five, I took out his heart and fed it to the dogs, and let the rest of my nicest characters feed on him. But they refused. Too much filth, they said. So, I had no choice but to transform the rest of his heartless body into a fat turkey, cut him up and deliver it to the poor and needy for Thanksgiving. At least now he can contribute to others.

But what about his soul? No worries. I gave it to Stephen King who has other plans for it in his next book. And now I can finally rest and continue with the rest of my writing career.

My next book? "The Dog Who Ate a Man With No Heart."

Tuesday, November 10

Die! Die! Die!

Last night, on the way home from the movies--and we were completely happy campers, singing in the car and loving life and blowing kisses to everyone we saw--we stopped at a railway crossing while the train approached. Hayden was excited to see the train and we wound down the window and said, "Look, Hayden! It's a train, and it's coming this way. Yay!" Yes, we were happy campers, until we felt a huge bump from behind. Apparently, the Mitsubish Lancer from behind had rolled off its brakes and hit my bumper.

Straightaway, the mood changed. I stepped out of my car, headed over to the Lancer and demanded to speak to the driver. The driver, a Polynesian lady with unattractive voice started to stammer. She started to tell me how minute the bump was and how she was on the phone because her sister was in the hospital in the ICU unit (whatever that was) and how her husband had called to see how her sister was doing and how she had accidentally let go of her brakes and how the car rolled and how it hit my car. I was fuming, though I bit my tongue. What in the world was she thinking? It is people like her that cause accidents on the freeway, making everyone late to work! It is people like her that cause long lines on the freeway!

Then the funniest thing happened. She came out of her car and showed me how she was bumped from behind a few days ago and how she did not even fix anything because she thought nothing of it. And this was when I began to mouth off at her. Jesus would not be proud of me and the devil was ready to embrace me and call me a good son. I asked her for her contact information and took pictures of the damage on my bumper. She begged me not to file a claim through her insurance; she would settle it with me privately. I said no problem and I told her to pay for everything, including a new bumper. I told her that my car was like my baby, and nobody messes with my baby!

I flipped her off and spat on her car. Oh, and did I mention that I kicked her tires? Well, I did. And some foreign languages began to surge out of my mouth that I thought I was speaking in tongues. I was cussing like the crazy old Mrs. Mombaza who lives two blocks from my house. She'd be proud of me. And here were my last words:

"Die! Die! Die! I hope you and your clan and your sister in the ICU and your husband and any child or children that you have and may have will die a horrible death. You will all seize to exist! You and your entire race on heaven and on earth will die, die, die! And I hope your car will explode and your mom--" I can't remember anything beyond this point. My wife had taken over the wheels and she was rubbing my back and singing me a sweet lullaby to calm me down. And I have to say, I feel the spirit again and I was all happy and taking deep breaths. I was ready to forgive. I even smiled.

I did not bother to look at the damage again and decided to look at it in the morning. My wife told me that all was well. The damage was no damage at all. No dent, no paint peeled. Only a minute, minute scratch. No one would notice. I believed her and went to bed.

Come this morning, I woke up with a smile. Had my breakfast and got ready to work. When I was in my garage, the first thing I checked was my car bumper. I squinted and saw nothing. There was a moment when I thought I had dreamed the entire ordeal. It was as if nothing had happened. Then, a sliver of light gave way to the small scratch that was there, and my heart fell like Satan and his armies eons ago.

And this was when I opened my mouth and screamed "Die! Die! Die!" and a host of other-worldly verbal expressions that would give the devil tears of pride and joy came out of my mouth like diarrhea. Secretly in my heart today, I prayed hard that the lady in the Lancer would die with her entire family and her clan and her race. I love a good revenge.

And if you think I am joking, bring it on! No one messes with my car!

Thursday, November 5

What's in a Query?

Writers from all over the world, listen up! Now that you've finished your first novel and have popped your champaignes and danced around your bedroom celebrating the premature achievement of your novel's completion, it's time to sit back down and face reality. I know it really feels good to know that you've finally dotted your last period and can call yourself an author, but believe me, your journey as a writer has just begun. The grueling process of editing is awaiting you at the threshold of success (or failure, whichever applies).

My editing process took 3 years. Yup, you heard me. THREE YEARS! My first revision added 20,000 words to my manuscript, increasing my word count from a meager 70,000 to 90,000. My second revision slashed 10,000 words from my manuscript, and my third revision got it down to 75,000. And that was when I felt good. Then there was the polishing process in which I had to read my manuscript so many times till I was basically skipping pages near the end. I dotted the I's and crossed the T's, corrected grammatical errors, and made sure my characters were coherent. I mean, there was a time when one of my main characters suddenly had a different name halfway through the novel. And there was another time when a dead character actually came to life without my knowing in one chapter and died again for the rest of the novel. Creepy? Well, it happens.

And once the editing process is done, it's time to query. Writing the query letter is an art by itself. Within one page, you must hook your reader and sell your manuscript. It's not about your story, it's about how to tell people about your story. In other words, don't worry about whether or not your story is good enough. Instead, worry about how you relay your story within one page to an agent. So here's the basic, fail-proof formula to writing a stellar query:
  1. Address your agent by first or last name, and not Sir or Ma'am.
  2. Go straight to your hook, which is a summary of your book in not more than 4 small paragraphs. If you can fit everything in 2 paragraphs, you'll make your agent happier. Don't worry about giving out the ending or minute details. Just a rough frame of what your book is about. That's all. Simple, right? Not really. Most writers have the tendency to go on and on about their book, which is a direct dive to Failureville. Basically, introduce your characters, their conflicts, and what they need to do to resolve it. That's it.
  3. State your word count and genre. Well, this is pretty flexible. Some writers don't even have to define the genre of their book. Not necessary. This is because in today's publishing industry, the agents really don't care what genre you say your book is. Ultimately, the publishers decide. So you may think your book is sci-fi, but in the end, it is published as horror. This is because it is really hard to define a book's genre nowadays. About word count, just make sure you don't give your agent a heart attack by giving your first novel a 90,000 or 120,000 word count. That will guarantee a form rejection. Just know that the requirement word count of a novel is around 75,000 to 80,000, no more, no less. And if your novel, no matter how stellar you think it is, is over that limit, it's time to trim the fat from the bacon. Go back to your editing process and do what you have to do.
  4. Tell the agent a little about yourself. Don't overdo this. Mention your writing achievements if you have any. And completing your English 101 paper is not one of them. And if you don't have any, just tell the agent which school you graduated from, what you do and so on. Make it three sentences or a short paragraph.
  5. End your query with a thank you and mention that it is part of a multiple submission. This will cause the agent to act faster on your query if it is good because there is competition.

So that's it. And just to illustrate, I will include my initial query for my debut novel below. I welcome suggestions, criticism, and hate mail. So here goes:

Dear Adam:

Housekeeper, Eleanor Rose, is witty, gentle, hardworking, and a remarkable cook. To the people of Amalga, she’s a petite old lady who wouldn’t even hurt a fly. And to the Cunninghams, she’s the perfect housekeeper—at least until they found her holding a bloody knife next to the dead body of Katherine Cunningham, her employer’s 12-year-old daughter.

When Eleanor is arrested, Vincent Lee, a young journalist, is assigned to cover her story. His research leads to a startling discovery: This is not the first time Eleanor is arrested for the death of a child. In fact, Eleanor was found guilty for the murder of her only son thirty-nine years ago. He was twelve when he died.

Through his interviews with Eleanor within the confines of the penitentiary’s visiting hall, Vincent finds the truth hard to digest. Nothing is what it seems. Behind Eleanor’s actions is a painful secret that, if revealed, would challenge the moral obligation of every mother to her child. It would give love a new meaning.

And now Vincent will have to make one important decision: to run the story and defy what he believes is right, or to sacrifice his career and protect the one thing that will also give him a second chance in life.

The Housekeeper's Son, a 75,000 word work of literary fiction, explores the power and vulnerability of a mother's love for her child. I am a corporate writer in the nutraceutical industry and a graduate of Utah State University where I received my Master of Arts in Communication. This query is part of a multiple submission.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

Christopher Loke

Thursday, October 29

The Gay Divorcee

Okay, get this: I was surfing the channels on my TV via my Comcast remote control, scrolling up and down the TV guide for a nice show to watch while gobbling down my dinner like a hungry lunatic, when I stumbled upon a movie named The Gay Divorcee. And immediately I thought to myself, "Gay Porn? Cannot be!" I have to admit, that title was a little too direct to misinterpret, right? A married man who becomes gay and divorces his wife, hence The Gay Divorcee.

But I was not so easily convinced since I do not subscribe to any form of visual indecency. So I clicked the Information button and see what it was all about. And lo and behold, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were in the movie. A 1934 flick as well. The first thing that came to my mind was--and don't think me thick for this natural response--"They already had porn way back then already?"

Well, of course, that thought came and gone within seconds. I wasn't that stupid. I mean, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a steamy scene? Come on, I know the golden age of musicals like the back of my hand, and they barely kissed during that time, at least not until Marilyn Monroe came along with her pouty smile and her sleepy eyes and whispy voice. And not to mention her famous oops-the-vent's-blowing-my-skirt-up-up-and-away scene in The Seven Year Itch.

Anyway, forget about Marilyn and let's get back to Fred and Ginger. It's all about etymology. I mean, the word gay used to mean happy. So, in essence, The Gay Divorcee should be about a divorced man who is happy. Agree? But fast forward to the 21st century, gay means a lot more than happy. So if Hollywood were to whip out a movie with a title such as The Gay Divorcee, unless it means a gay man skipping around town whistling happy showtunes, that movie's not going to fly anywhere. Meaning, blockbuster turkey of the year! Because titles and meanings are important.

Let me illustrate. Imagine Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as Harry Potts and the Chamber Pots of Secrets (and yes, this title does exist, but did not do too well in the market, go figure). How do you think it would sell? Or imagine The Reader as The Illiterate? It won't sell either. Or how about The Notebook as The Forgetful Lovers? Get my drift here?

In conclusion, The Gay Divorcee wouldn't be The Gay Divorcee today, but Happy Feet. Oh wait, that title's been taken. Damn the penguins! But in anyway, The Gay Divorcee would be called by any other name BUT The Gay Divorcee.

So, here's my challenge. If you've seen the movie, let me know what you think The Gay Divorcee should be named today. Remember, titles are important. They can make or break your movie, book, or child. (I know of a woman whose name is Gamble Lynn Money. Needless to say, she's doing time now at the top of the mountain--prison, for those not from Utah County--for poisoning her parents.

Back to the topic at hand: give me your ideas, suggestions. What would The Gay Divorcee be called today should it be a modern day movie? I trust that you will give it a blockbuster name.

And now, I rest my case.

Friday, September 18

I've Never Heard of It, Thus It Does Not Exist

A funny thing happened in one of those long meetings I have to attend every week. This time, they were discussing one of those copies I'd written for a conference. It was something I'd been working on for a long time--a couple of weeks to be exact--and I was pretty excited to present it to the board. The board, meaning the marketing heads, communication tails, and our notorious ring leader, the VP. Now, having a VP in a meeting is already a dreadful thing (I understand), but having OUR VP is a whole different story. A bit of history: this guy is . . . well, you'll find out at the end of this entry.

And so my story continues . . . So there I was, sitting in my chair at the end of the oblong conference table opposite the VP, trying to remain seated and contain myself (I have the tendency to bounce around in my seat when meetings go too long; it's called slight autism and mental retardation) while everyone pretended to peruse the copy with ease. I know these people; they had no idea what I was writing about. But for the sake of securing their day jobs, they had to nod and make smart comments after every line). But that was okay. I didn't mind. After all, a writer must face all kinds of criticism, good and bad.

And then it was the VP's turn to comment on a certain paragraph on the copy. He paused, made a face, paused longer, pursed his lips, stared at the ceiling for a while, and then back at the copy. "Are you a writer?" he asked.

My initial response would be: "Duh, haven't I written for your company for years already? Wasn't I hired as a 'writer'????" Instead, I said, "Yes."

"Then what is this word doing on this line?"

"Which word?"

At this point, all eyes were on the VP and me, moving from side to side like watching a Wimbledon match. "Beneficial. This word does not exist, does it?" my VP said.

Straightaway, my manager interrupted. "Yes it does. Beneficial is a word, and it is appropriately used in that paragraph."

The VP shook his head and frowned. "I've never heard of it. It does not exist. Use another word. Replace it with another word. I can't believe you make up your own word here."

At this, I was speechless. My throat just started to tickle. I had to laugh, but I realized I was in an austere meeting with our VP and must maintain some kind of corporate decorum, which I did with difficulty. It was a challenge. I looked around and noticed that I was the only one with a smirk on my face. Everyone else was as serious as prisoners on death row. So I quickly cleared my throat and said, "Yes, I'll change it to a word that exists."

"Good. Meeting adjourn. Everything else looks good. Gotta tighten the copy a bit next time."

"Aye, aye, sir!" I made my silly salute and winked. But that was, of course, after he left the room.

All I'm saying is, go figure.

Thursday, May 21

What Should I Be Doing on Memorial Weekend?

Finally! I can now call myself an author. I've finished writing a book--it took me a honking four years to get this far--and it feels great! No, it feels wonderful! I printed my manuscript and placed it in a safe place so that I can mull over other things before returning to it later. Well, 2 weeks have passed and I have not yet done anything with it. Arrgh, it's so frustrating because I am a natural procastinator. My wife gives me a scouring look every time I mention anything about my career as a full-time writer--not because she does not believe in me, but because she thinks I should just do it instead of talking about it. (She's tired of being just a housewife; she wants fame and fortune, and she wants it PRONTO! Or so I think.)

So this is my plan. This weekend, I'm going to re-read my manuscript from first to last page just to make sure there isn't any typos or embarrassing errors. I'm determined to be committed to my manuscript. And this weekend is going to be the time I get it done once and for all.

Come next week, I shall be saying hello to agents all over the country. And by October, I'll have a deal. By the end of this year, my manuscript will be sold. Sounds like a plan? Yeah, I think so too.

And if you'll excuse me, I've got some moving-on to do.

Thursday, April 23

Sinking into Reality

Finally, I'm one chapter away from completing the final revision of my manuscript. I should feel relieved, right? But no. Instead, I feel nervous about the whole thing, which is weird. So I've been thinking, why am I feeling this way? A normal person should be jumping up and down for finishing something that has taken too long to complete. I should be shouting at the top of my lungs, shouting for joy, proclaiming to the world that I am finally done! But then I realized why I'm feeling on the edge. It's really hard to describe, but anecdotally, here's a story that explains my feelings more clearly:

Imagine an artist working on his masterpiece. Year after year he labors on the piece of art, mulling over it, taking his time to make it something perfect. At the same time, he anticipates for the day he would reveal it to the world and receive tons of accolades for it. And when the time finally comes for him to reveal it, all of a sudden, he feels vulnerable, especially the moment before he lifts the veil from his masterpiece in front of thousands of people. He feels nervous, now more conscious than ever about his skills, his creativity. What would people think? Will they hate it? Love it? Or not care? That moment, that miniscule second before the veil drops to expose his masterpiece is the hardest to swallow. 

And that is what I am going through. This will be the moment where my career as a writer would either take flight or fall straight to the slosh pile of somebody else's garbage can. So I'm crossing my fingers and focusing on just the best. Peace out!

Monday, March 2

So Close!

Finally, I'm on Chapter 25 in my revision process. It's getting close, considering my novel only has 35 chapters. At first, I was thinking of adding a few more chapters here and there, but on second thought, I gave up that ambition --I'm already at 79,500 words and I am not planning to go over 80,000. As I get closer to the end, I am excited--scratch that, I'm actually estatic!--to be reaching my dream.

The revision process is an interesting process, really. It helps me look deeper inside as a writer and find that passion, mold it and remold it, and use it over and over again to create better sentences, better words, and a richer, more meaningful story. Rewriting is rediscovering.

I have become my worst critic. Sometimes I hate my own words, and sometimes I think I am good. It's a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde syndrome, which can be freakin' crazy if you ask me. But amid those sleepless nights when the struggle for words and sentences seem to dominate my entire existence, I find hope in one thing: Money. Yes, that's right! I write so that I may feed my babies. I follow the footsteps of Charles Dickens, really. Money is ultimately my motivation.

I remember reading a quote from a famous writer. She said--and I paraphrase--if she had her choice, she would rather win a lottery and catch up with her reading instead of writing. And I thought that was very practical.

I don't believe writers who keep saying they write for themselves. Well, that's good and dandy as long as they have no desire to publish. If they do, they need to face the fact that they are, indeed, writing for others. I write for the money, have always been, and I am proud of it!

Wednesday, February 4

Introducing Authonomy

Okay, I hope I can contain myself while writing this. I've discovered a wonderful site for writers, readers, and people who have the same interest in good books and so on. It's called Authonomy, a wonderful site created by editors from Harper Collins to help unpublished writers get spotted and published.

As a writer, you'll be able to post your entire manuscript for everyone to read and comment on. And if everyone loves your work and recommends it enough, it'll land on the editor's desk of the site. It's a lot to explain, but only a few minutes for you to find out. Already three new authors have been signed to Harper Collins. This is a great opportunity for all of us, new writers, to get our works out there.

One great thing about Authonomy that I like other than the chance to post my work, is to be able to read the works of other writers and see what other people are writing. I am, so far, loving Authonomy. To find out more about Authonomy, log on to Authonomy.com and register. Read all the FAQs and get to know the purpose and the benefits of the site. Then use it.

So, don't wait, go discover!

Monday, January 26

Life is All About Spontaneity!

This happened in Liverpool. If only we can do something like that in Utah!

Friday, January 16

How to Write Consistent Characters

Have you ever experienced writing a novel with colorful characters, and after the twentieth chapter, completely went off tangent on them? If you were me, by the tenth chapter, my characters would all be slightly inconsistent. For example, one of my characters started of with blue eyes and fair skin, and ended up with brown eyes and tanned skin with a foreign accent to boot--not even I knew how that came about. But then I realized the source to the problem. 

With my busy schedule and my day job, I only wrote when I could. And sometimes, it would be days in between writing. Although my plot was consistent, my characters surely were not! They were here and there, spilled all over my manuscript like disobedient ink. They could be so random sometimes I wasn't able to catch up. Like a confused parent, I would often call my characters by different names or give them different idiosyncrasies. Which was a terrible, horrible, vile thing to do as a writer. So I decided to stop and come up with a solution to all this before continuing. 

Sure, I could have pages of notes regarding each of the characters, but I knew myself too well. I would never in a hundred years refer back to those thick pads of notes I wrote. Neither would I remember to look at them. I tried sticking sticky notes all over my work station, and by the end of the week, I was tired of looking up and down to search for names and identities. So here is what I came up with. A picture board.

First, I am a visual person, and everything I write is completely drawn out like a movie. My characters have faces, and I like to pin them up for reference. I liken my characters to people I know--friends, family members, enemies, politicians, celebrities and so on. Then I'd search for these people in magazines and photo albums, cut their faces out and stick them on a picture board. Under each of the pictures, I write their names and certain particulars, such as dates of birth and things I want to remember about them. I don't make the list too long, just enough to trigger my imagination and memory. And that's it. So easy.

Every time I write about a certain character, I look at the picture board and imagine his face and his smile and everything else that comes with an expression. It's easier and more consistent. A right dimple will remain right and not roam into the left. The more I look at the faces, the more I know them, as if I am face to face with them. This way, characters will indeed be more consistent and real. It's almost like describing a friend.

Let me know different ways you conceptualize and frame your characters, and if my method works for you. Happy writing! 

Saturday, January 10

Blah, Blah, Blah!

After writing and revising my novel every day since last week, I am finally able to say I am not afraid to write anymore, haha! You ask, why was I even afraid to write? A writer who has a fear of writing? Well, it's true. Before my strict writing routine, I was a professional procrastinator. This habit of mine started way back in my college years, like many eons ago. 

I used to not do any of my reading or homework until the day before. I sometimes even skipped exams. How stupid, right? Yeah, exactly. I was stupid, no other better words to describe me then. But all those procrastination and waiting and halting were just part of my fear of confronting the fact that I might not be able to write as well, or even write at all. Every time I had an idea, I just lay there in my lazy bed and imagined the words. I would have chapters written in my head, and they were good. But the ultimate problem was, they were ONLY written in my head. So, after lingering, and more lingering, I finally got sick of my attitude and decided to make a change. 

This year, I have been writing every day now, and it felt good. My wife would wake me up from my nap or interrupt me from my computer "work" to remind me of my commitment to the family. Yes, she makes it a big deal if I do not write. She is planning to bank on my selling my first manuscript this year. By summer, she said. Which is good, because if not because of her, I would not have overcome my fear of writing. I used to think I was too tired to write, and would put the whole task off until the weekends, and come weekends, I played more than I did anything else. But interestingly, after writing for so many days now, I am not able to stop. It's like an addiction of the strangest kind. I am closer to my characters and do look forward to seeing them everyday. Now I'm really writing and it feels good.

My revision of my novel is coming along pretty smoothly, I have to say. I am excited to complete the ever-so-daunting final revision and rewriting process. My novel looks good and I am confident that finding an agent for it is not difficult. (Pat on my back!)

Recently, I've just finished reading "The Reader," and am now on a new book, "The Emperor's Children." I just love reading and can't stop. Perhaps that is my inspiration. But my muse is definitely my wife, ha! It's true, love can make you do things you never think is possible.

And to my friends who are doing very well in their writing and pursuit of a career in writing, I offer you all my support. A shout out to Amber Smith! Way to go, girl. I've always said you'll make it first, and am I not always right?