Category Archives: J.F. Lewis

Synoptic Failure (Or a Deadline is a Terrible Thing to Waste)


J. F. Lewis

That’s not a typo.

It isn’t.

In the title, I didn’t mean synaptic failure (to which one may be prone after staying up too long writing… or playing Patapon).  Synoptic failure is a personal writing challenge of mine.  I describe Synoptic Failure as the singular inability to adequately describe one’s novel in an appropriate manner so as to convince an editor to buy the novel before the novel has been written.

There are ways around it (maybe), but none of them make things easy on the modern writer.

1) Write the novel first:  This is what I have tended to do with the Void City series.  The book is more easily converted to a synopsis after it’s done.  (Though mine still stink.)  In addition, if you can turn in the whole manuscript, you might be able to avoid having a bad synopsis torpedo your sale.

2) Cheat:  This is a method I also use.  Instead of actually providing a true synopsis, I write cover text with heavy spoilers.  I give the beginning, middle, and end, but this approach is mainly about selling the feel of the piece and convincing people it is cool.  I don’t know how effective or ineffective it is, but this is all I turned in for Void City, Book 4.  So this method may only be truly helpful if you’ve already writing (and sold) three previous books in a vampire series.

3) Grow:  I’m an organic/pantser/puzzler writer who is trying to incorporate more structure and planning into my writing.  The fact is, it’s almost as easy to write a synopsis from a good outline as it is to write one from a completed manuscript.  This does not change the fact that mine suck, but writing a synopsis is a different skill than novel writing and like any skill, the only way to get better at it is to practice.  Lately, I’ve taken to trying to write synopses of books I’ve just read and enjoyed.

Are there any special tricks you use to turn out a good synopsis?

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Techno Babble For the Modern Vampire


J. F. Lewis

Dracula never had an app for that.

He simply didn’t. If you’ve ever read Les Klinger’s Annotated Dracula (and you really should. Les is frick’n awesome… read his Annotated Sherlock Holmes while you’re at it) you already know that Dracula by Bram Stoker was a techno thriller. Shorthand was cutting edge stuff. Train schedules were mind-boggling. And when Van Helsing told Nina that she “had the man brain”, it was a compliment about how intelligent she was. After all, only Nina could keep anything complicated straight in that bunch of vampire hunters.

In the Void City series, though. Eric does keep up with the times. He can’t remember how to check his voicemail, but he does check email, surf the internet, and play the occasional video game. (Les has not yet had the occasion to do an annotated version of my books, BTW. Though if he did, there would no doubt be a great wealth of information about old movies, bands, and slang terms from various eras) And if Marilyn were to tell Tabitha that she “had the man brain”, it would be an insult.

But back to Dracula… the struggle to keep up with the mortals (but not the Joneses… them you just eat) has always featured in vampire novels to one degree or another. Dracula struggled with the way the world was changing from an era of more brutal politics and less civilized war. (Isn’t that an oxymoron?) Feminism was slowly rearing it’s head in Dracula’s time. Religious ideals were being brought into question.

Then again, jumping back to Void City, the same kind of struggle is taking place. There is a distinct societal clash for a World War II vet who is still “dating” (or hunting) in a post Y2K world. And in Book 4 (Eric will even have an app for that… though you’ll have to wait several more months to know what I mean by that). What is your favorite modern idea or device an eighty year old vampire (or 100 year vampire? or a 200 years old vampire?) would face in the world of today? What situation would you put them in if you could?

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The Beginning and the Ending

by Crymsyn Hart 

Some writers find it hard to start a book. The first sentence or the first paragraph can even the worst thing to write. The author has so many wonderful ideas that you have to find just the right starting point. Do you jump into the middle of a scene? Do you start off with dialogue? Do you begin with describing the scene and setting up the reader to delve into the world of the characters that the writer has set up? Or sometimes it is the easier thing for the writer to delve directly into the first chapter and get into the thick of things.

For me, it is easier to jump right into the thick of things. I love that my characters are in the middle of something so the reader starts off with a bang. Of course I then go into the description of my characters and the scene and the story line that begins to unfold. But then again this also depends on how long the work I am going for is as well. If I’m writing something short, then diving head first is a good thing. If I am going for the longer work, then I set up the scene and keep on going. It all depends on the work.

Now it comes to the ending. Endings can go either way. They can be tied up in a neat little bow or they can leave a few loose ends to be extended into the next book of a series. However, I don’t seem to have a problem with the endings. Just sometimes the characters don’t want to end a book the way I want it to. In the romance genre, people expect there to be a happily ever after ending or at least a happy for now ending. Sometimes it’s hard to think of that kind of stretch, but that is what romance endings are for. For the reader to escape into a world and that the endings will be happy. Who wants the couples breaking up right at the very end when they have spent the whole book watching them get together?

Whether the beginning or the ending is the hardest for the writer to put down, it is the author who has to struggle through placing the words and hope that all ends or begins the way the author wants it to.

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Never Let Them See You Die


J. F. Lewis

Before getting too far into today’s blog, I wanted to mention that I have a free Void City short featuring Greta and Eric at the beach up today over at Pocket After Dark. Check it out over here and then come right back, because I wanted to talk about it. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you get back.

Back? Did you have fun? That Greta sure can eat, can’t she?

Pieces like that (it’s almost a vignette, but it goes beyond one scene) are fun for writers. We get to tell the reader a story that doesn’t exactly fit into the larger piece. Maybe it’s not exactly a deleted scene, but more a possible derailment of the narrative.

We’ve all read books where the author goes off on some wild (yet interesting) tangent that leaves us disconnected from the important events in the book when we come through the other side of it. You may have even caught yourself skimming back to refresh your memory before proceeding.

In the Void City series, it’s quite possible this scene (Greta’s vampiric transformation) might be told from Greta’s point of view eventually. She likes to reflect on memories and inflict them on others to see how they react, but I thought it unlikely we’d get it from Eric’s point of view. And there, like in Rashomon and movies using The Rashomon Effect (telling the same story multiple times through the eyes of different characters) is the fun bit. I think it’s interesting to note that Eric doesn’t realize Greta hasn’t eaten in three days (though we know that from one of her chapter’s in Crossed). Greta doesn’t likely understand how Eric truly felt about the situation either. More fascinating for me, is the idea that if I were to go back and rewrite the scene from the point of view of Marilyn or someone else on the beach, the story would be so different as to almost be unrecognizable.

John Gardner’s Grendel is one of my favorite books that does this, recounting the story of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster… though Gregory Maguire’s Wicked is likely more well known. Which brings me to a question, if you could pick, what story or stories would you like to see rewritten from another viewpoint? Which viewpoint?

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The Dreaded Blurb

by Crymsyn Hart

How do you know what a book is about?

You read the book jacket or the back cover. Or if you’re perusing the website of a publisher or a bookseller, then you read the narrative of the book on the page. It has to be brief to describe the nature of the book, but it has to be witty enough to draw the potential reader in. It can’t reveal too much about the plot, but you have to give just the right amount of balance to make it sound intriguing. All within a certain amount of words or space. It’s a writer’s nightmare. Well, at least one of my nightmares anyway.

Yes, the dreaded blurb. How do I count the ways of how much I despise writing you? I think I’d prefer someone shoving wooden splinters underneath my fingernails. Or better yet pulling out my teeth with a rusty wrench. I cringe every time I have to write the 100-150 word description of a novel. Sure, I can agonize over it for days. Sometimes even lose some sleep over it, but in the end, I finally think of the words that I think give a good balance for the theme and the characters.

After all the books that my muses have helped me create, I hate to think of what I need to write. How much do you talk about the hero? How much to put down about the heroine? Will the reader get what the book is about even with the blurb? These are all things that run through my head. And then, after you’ve written the dreaded blurb, the publisher decides it wasn’t good enough ad changes it on you.

If this can help sell books then great, but don’t they know how hard I worked on the description? It hasn’t happened to me more than a couple of times, but it was a little surprising. Although, in the end the blurb was a mixture of mine and theirs. It was okay.

I’ve gotten some great advice from other authors on how to write blurbs. Over the years, mine have gotten tighter and shorter. I wouldn’t say I’m a professional now, but I’ve overcome numerous hurtles. So anyone that has to write a blurb, I wish you luck. Make is sexy. Make it intriguing. Make it brief with that hook that will help you catch many a reader.

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The iPad Report


J. F. Lewis

A year ago (or more) my desktop PC died. When it did, I realized that I didn’t really need one anymore. I wrote mostly on my laptop and used the PC mainly as a synch station for my iPod and long term email storage. When it died, I already had all of my writing files backed up to the laptop. No worries.

In the intervening period, I picked up an iPad, largely because I hoped it would served as a portable writing solution. The battery life was far better than my laptop. It was lighter, easier to get out and type on while waiting in line or walking around, and though I still needed to use my laptop to review edited versions of my novels and to synch my iPad, the only things I actually tended to write on it were blog posts. Blog posts which sort of vanished into the ether when it died.

Previously, the death of a computer would have caused a huge surge of activity, running about checking floppies… or in later incarnations CD-ROMs, then DVD-ROMs, but in the new era of technology in which I find myself, it involved a sigh. Then I checked my Dropbox to make sure it had the most recent versions of everything and went about the business of trying to keep up my daily word count so that I can turn in the fourth Void City book on time.

What does this have to do with advice for aspiring writers, you may ask?


Don’t lose your work. Dropbox is what I use (you get 2 gigs of storage for free and that is plenty of room for a directory filled with mostly documents… and if you want a referral link there ya go.), but it’s not the only one out there. Just use something. Do not lose your work. I understand that may sound strange coming from a writer who used to delete his own novels, but it’s still sound advice.

So… because of Dropbox, all I lost were emails and some blog posts. What’s the worst data loss you’ve experienced?

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The Last Green Note


J. F. Lewis

Eventually, we will get around to the final Little Green Note on my wall, and then I will have shared all my writing secrets and you will shine like in the movie The Last Dragon. You’ll have “the Glow” and will be able to beat Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, in a disco club-themed kung-fu battle and… Okay, maybe not, but you will know what the post-it notes I stuck on my wall say… So… How about right now? 😉

Get a Better Feel for Marilyn

In the context of the Void City books, what this really amounts to is making sure readers get a feel for a very important background character. She isn’t a huge mover and shaker in the first book, but understanding this octogenarian bar tender, a human, who isn’t afraid to slap Void City’s resident vampiric top dog right in the face or laugh at him, or correct him, or even order him about, is a key to understanding things about said vampiric top dog.

I’ll admit it’s one of the quirkier things about the series… the idea that the main character’s relationships with women will all fail because he’s still in love with the same woman he loved when he was alive, but she’s now in her eighties and will have nothing, romantically to do with him. A lot of it had to be packed into STAKED., too, because SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT, I killed her at the end of the first book.

She had to die partially because it’s fun to ruin Eric’s day, but also because I wanted readers to see that even without Marilyn’s presence, Eric still loved her and was incapable of truly loving anyone else romantically. In those moments, and in others, we get to see Eric as what he is on the inside, an eighty year old man, who has lead a long life and is basically, pretty tired. Not world weary, because that tends to annoy the crap out of me, but set in his ways, with the world changing around him everyday as he tries to keep up with the times.

And I suppose that’s what that note is really about. Think of some of the most memorable characters in movies you’ve watched and books you’ve read. I’ll bet some of them weren’t actually in the book all that long, but you got such a good feel for them, that didn’t matter. If, when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru died in Star Wars: A New Hope, we’d never seen them on screen or hadn’t gotten a chance to observe Luke’s relationship with them, then their deaths would have seemed empty. In STAKED, my equivalent scene for Marilyn came from a request in my revisions letter.

It’s a scene between Tabitha, the newest of Eric’s girlfriends, and Marilyn, the love of Eric’s life. Some people don’t like the scene because they don’t like Tabtiha’s reaction to what is going on. They want her to be a better person than she is, but the scene isn’t really about her. It exists as a brief window into one the main character’s key relationships, and therefore, into the main character himself, to reveal things a guy like Eric is unlikely to ever reveal about himself.

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Even more Little Green Notes


J. F. Lewis

(If you’re just joining us, I’ve been talking off and on about the Little Green Notes on my wall and why they’re there.)

Little Green Note Number Six is a twofer

How does it Look?
How does it feel?

In the medium of words, a writer obviously has to paint a picture in the reader’s head that is good enough for the reader to understand what is happening without giving a laundry list of what is in a given room or sounding like we’re trying to help a sketch artist create a wanted poster of character as if in some strange attempt to allow our readers to pick our characters out in a lineup.

There are tons of ways to go about it, but my favorite style pops up most often in the hardboiled detective novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Walter Mosley (though I’ve just started reading Mosley, I do not hesitate to count him in such high company).

Take this partial description from the beginning of Chandler’s THE LONG GOODBYE:

“Her hair was a lovely shade of dark red and she had a distant smile on her lips and over her shoulders she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing does.”

With just those few sentences, we have an image in our head and an attitude.

In Hammett’s “Death on Pine street”, there’s a great line from the middle of a fight scene:

“His belly was flabby, and it got softer every time I hit it. I hit it often.”

He’s gives us a feel for the fight without resorting to a blow by blow, there’s more to it of cruse, Hammett isn’t afraid to spend time on a fight scene, but his blocking is fluid and evocative, rather than weighted down.

I like to think reader’s can see a little bit of my “writing DNA”… the hardboiled detective stories I love so much when they read my Void City series. Maybe in passages like this one from the fight at the very beginning of STAKED:

“Time sped up again. I watched the blood spurt from his jaws, splattering when he hit the wall of the alley with a wet cracking noise. Bones had broken when he landed. Some of them sounded important.”

Another thing these first person narratives do is put the reader in the head of someone who isn’t necessarily very nice, but, by showing his thoughts, feelings, and emotions, let the reader care about him (or her) even when we disagree with what they do. It doesn’t always work of course. But when it does, anti-heroes shine and readers are willing to excuse them lies, larceny, and maybe a little murder or two. If the writer does it just right, the reader will make excuses for the character even when the character doesn’t take the time to make excuses for himself. We’ll read Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins as he mentions his attempts to stay away from married women in DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS:

“I swore to myself that I’d never look at another man’s woman. I’ve taken that pledge many times since then.”

We’ll read that passage and, when he inevitably fails, if Mosley’s magic has worked the reader will excuse Easy’s infidelity with little more than an “at least he’s trying.”  🙂

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Still The Bestest Ever Vampire Song According To J F Lewis

I have a Gollum-loves-The-One-Ring level appreciation for this song. Heh.

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Go Write Something

by J. F. Lewis

Theoretically, I’m supposed to be writing about Little Green Note: Number Four, but I don’t want to, so NYAHH! 😉 (If you were really interested, it was “Make the Plot Work!” and my only real advice, is: Yeah, you should really do that).

The other night at a party, I had a conversation I wind up having a lot when people realize that I have a day job. They are shocked. Sometimes they exclaim, “But you’re novelist!” Other times they ask, “How do you find the time?” This dovetails nicely with another conversation I have a lot (also at parties or in training classes or standing outside of violin lessons). That conversation begins with some variation of “I wish I had the time to write a novel” with an occasional side of “Hey! Could you write it for me?”

Want to know a secret? I don’t have time to write either. Tonight, I want nothing more than to flip on my Xbox 360 and play Dead Space. I’ve been meaning to play beyond the first save point for over a year, but I just haven’t managed it yet. I’ve played several levels of LEGO Indiana Jones with my boys, but that was during their time. I’ve played a fair amount of Epic Mickey, but that was during family time too. Dead Space is creepy and first person shooter-y and… it’s something I can only play during *my* time.

I’d also like to be reading K. J. Parker’s most recent novel, THE HAMMER and… I am, but now that I’m on a deadline (and trying to write fast enough on my YA project to read a chapter a night to my boys at bedtime) I have a tendency to read it in the bathroom, unless I’m writing in there, too.

Janet (that’s my wonderful and insanely patient wife) and I tend to watch one TV show a night instead of the two we had time for previously. But you know what? As I type into the night and blank pages are filled with little black letters that make words and punctuation which help divide, shape, and convey thoughts, actions, and emotions… when I see the smiles on the faces of my sons at night and, yes, when I cash the checks my agent mails me… I’m having a blast.

So let me ask you a question. If you have a story to tell… if you have a desire to write… why the heck aren’t you writing right now? Go do it. I do.

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