Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blogging Break 2012

It's that lovely time of year again when my blog goes quiet for awhile so I can focus on getting more things done. I met my goal of getting my story out to beta readers this year and now need to finish up a full manuscript critique for someone else as well as complete the final edits on my story so it will be all ready to venture into stage 2: querying. But those adventures I'll tackle next year.

How about you? Did you meet your writing goals this year? What goals are you making for next year?

And since I don't want to leave you completely empty-handed, here are some good links for you to check out and read:

Taryn Albright: 4 Common Manuscript Weaknesses
dalesittonrogers: Polish Your Manuscript to a Sheen
The Bookshelf Muse: K.M.Weiland: 10 Lessons From a Completed Novel
Kobo Writing Life: Six tips for engaging readers within two seconds: The Hook in fiction and memoir
Mystery Writing is Murder: Cutting the Fat from Your WIP by Gina Conroy
Guide to Literary Agents Blog: New Literary Agent: Jennifer Udden of the Donald Maass Literary Agency
New Literary Agent: Laura Biagi of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency
New Literary Agent: Gemma Cooper of The Bent Agency
Word Count for Novels and Children's Books: The Definitive Post

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Giving Back: Week #1 Thank You Followers!!

Today I'd like to extend a heartfelt "Thank You" to those of you who regularly follow my blog. I wish I had the means to do one of those super popular book giveaways, hook you up directly with a team of literary agents or editors in a contest, or offer gift cards. I'm mostly a researcher, not a social butterfly with a wide networking reach. The research posts are the ones I get the most hits with, so that must be what everyone likes. Whew! I don't have to be Miss Popularity.

So...I'd like to spotlight my regulars today. And I know there are some of you who check in often who haven't officially "followed" the blog. Thank you, as well! It's nice to know that I'm not writing into a vacuum and I hope that I've been of some help. Please know I'm aware of you and I love your input.

Here are those of you I can account for:
Darke Conteur, AngieS, Precy Larkins, R.C. Lewis, cjrehse, Calista Taylor, Riley Redgate, Casey McCormick, Diana, Ashley Nixon, A.M. Supinger, Marewolf, Stephanie Poscente, Kayleen Hamblin, Stephanie Diaz, Dean C. Rich, Carissa Andrews, Dave, Moonshade, Donald McFatridge, Kacey Vanderkarr, Amy Jarecki, Small Town Shelly Brown, Richard Pieters, E.M. LaBonte, Kate Spencer, paula, Lisa Terry, clarklori, Kelsey, Kela McClelland, Jenny Phresh, Michelle 4 Laughs, khaula mazhar, E.B. Black, Rissa, Debra McKellan, Bethany Crandell, Suzanne Payne, The Golden Eagle, Stephen Tremp, Leslie, sc_author, Margaret, Alice Martin, Manup Admin, SL Jenan, Lanette, Rowanwolf, E.F. Jace, David Ferretti III, Peter Burton, catwoods, Margo Kelly, Jemi Fraser, Tracy, Jemma Davidson, TK Richardson, and T.J. Loveless.

Some of you have encouraged my foray in the social networking world and helped drive traffic my way. Thank you! Some of you have been kind enough to let me read your work and some have taken the figurative red pen to mine. Thank you! Some of you have wonderful blogs of your own. Thank you! I enjoy reading them. Some of you comment on my posts. Thank you, thank you!! Some of you are great examples to me and I admire your vision, your fortitude, and your talent. Thank you.

In my part of the world, I'd spend the day in the kitchen baking you goodies. If there are any blog topics you'd like to see more of, or would like me tackle, please let me know. I like to think of this blog more as a way to help other people than an online diary for my sake.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Some Overdue Fun

Brainstorming. Do you love it or hate it? Is it easy or hard? Is it better to make a list of ideas, bounce suggestions back and forth with a crit partner, or do ideas generally hit you while doing some mundane daily activity?

For a little “lol”:
Dictionary.com defines the term:
Brainstorming: a conference technique of solving specific problems, amassing information, stimulating creative thinking, developing new ideas, etc., by unrestrained and spontaneous participation in discussion.

Brainstorm: a. a sudden impulse, idea, etc.
b. a fit of mental confusion or excitement.

Or you could look at it this way:

This reminds me so much of that old party game where one person starts a story, then the next person adds a bit, and so on around the circle. As long as no one purposely sabotages the story line, it's great fun.

I like to make a list of ideas for one problem, sometimes an opposites list, too. I'm usually alone, so that works for me. But when I can get with fellow writers, either in person or in chat, brainstorming off each other is a blast.

Do you have any interesting brainstorming rituals or tactics? Please share!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Battle Bitterness and Despair with a Little Gratitude!

A downer day. A period of dejection. Insecurity. Loneliness. Times where everyone seems to be either walking over you or aiming at you with a steamroller. Everyone has these.

My best solution for getting out of these kinds of pits: forget about yourself. When things are at its blackest, search for someone else who is struggling and help them out. Unable to find an immediate service project? Make a list of things you're grateful for.

Since I'm surfacing from a very black period, myself, I thought I'd share some of my thankful list. Also noting how grateful I am that I did find some people to focus on rather than sit and stew over myself for the past week.

1- I am grateful for my mother. Not for the usual things only. I'm grateful she is a writer. I never received those "You must be crazy" or "Writing's just a hobby, right, dear?" looks from her. She understood. She persevered. She knows the sting of rejection. She knows how much a full-rewrite or line edit can take out of you. I can talk writing shop to her without having to stop and explain terminology or how the industry works. I've learned from some of her mistakes and she's learned from some of mine.

2- I'm grateful for the eccentric, oddball family I grew up in. We were geeks. We had lots of inside jokes and could carry on conversations in complete movie quotes. We mashed things up, spent entire evenings sitting around talking, and gave each other hugs each night before bed.

3- I'm grateful for my husband. He believes in me, pushes me, tries to conquer my insecurity dragons with the wave of a cape. When I become so stressed that I can't sleep, health issues flare up, and I have to pace, he lets me vent. He makes me laugh and can disarm my anger swiftly. I don't know what I'd do without him.

4- I'm grateful for my children. I love their imaginations, their questions, and their ideas. We have great conversations. I learn a lot from them. They accept the fact that mom does this writing thing nearly every day and take stabs at it themselves. We read together every day. The weekly trip to the library is always anticipated with excitement and when they've finished reading a book they like to give me a full synopsis along with their feelings about it.

5- I'm grateful that I have a life outside of writing. Without it, I would have been lost the past week. I have other creative outlets, books to read for fun, experiments in the kitchen to make, people to visit in person to talk to, places I like to go, and a newly fixed piano to express my feelings upon.

So there are my top five. How about you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Blog Tag: The Next Big Thing

Hopeful, if presumptuous title, isn't it?

My friend (read between the lines to mean verbal sparring partner during chats, someone who makes me laugh, and fellow writer on AQC) Peter Burton asked me if I would like to participate in the latest popular blog meme. I thought "Sure, sounds like fun!" Easier said than done, once I realized that I'd have to actually talk about not only myself but my writing. *Gulp*

As a reader, pleasure or beta, I'm pretty confident. As a writer, I hold no "delusions of gradeur." There are tons of good writers out there. Click on Peter's name and follow his links back to some of the other participants. Great stuff, some of which I wish were in print already so I could read them.

Part of the game is asking other writers to jump on board. It seems my pool of friends and acquaintances have either been tagged or aren't interested. However, if anyone reading this wants to do it too, go ahead. If you want me to link to your post, be sure to tell me. The Next Best Thing posts go up every Wednesday.

Alright, so here are the questions EDIT - my answers have been removed for privacy purposes:
1- What is the working title of your book?

2- Where did the idea for the book come from?

3- What genre does your book fall under?

4- Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

5- What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

6- Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

7- How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

8- What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

9- Who or what inspired you to write this book?

10- What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

And now, back to focusing on other things and other people.
Tell me which of those questions makes you inwardly quake or have to puzzle over it for awhile. Have you ever resurrected an old manuscript for a makeover and how did it go?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Epic Quest: Update #3

Here are some more epic resources for those of you writing and trying to sell epic novels.

The Epic Fantasy Books Blog posts new releases monthly. A great place to check out the competition and find comparative titles.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Fantastic site. You can look up authors, find their bibliographies, dates, awards, new release updates, and much more.

Locus Online Magazine. An industry standard for all things speculative fiction. Author interviews, blogposts, awards news, new releases, lists of small presses, movie news, reviews - and I could go on. A great place to keep tabs on whether writing epic speculative fiction or not.

QueryTracker is not only a great place to keep your queries organized, but they also have a fairy up-to-date (but always double-check) list of who represents whom. The success story list can also give you a pretty good idea of the word counts that are making it through, in which genres, and to which agents.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Blog Spotlights #25: Everything Speculative Fiction

Technically, Everything Speculative Fiction, is more of an online newsletter than a blog. But it links to blogposts, articles, and other current updates from many sources, all in one convenient location. Edited by Kimiko, aka @kimidreams on Twitter.

Topics include: Stories, Education, Art & Entertainment, Leisure, Society, Technology, #kidlitcares. There are also videos of interviews, book signings, and links to book related news articles.

You can subscribe to the newsletter and follow updates on Twitter.

Pop on over and check it out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Costumes

Two little girls met up one Halloween to go trick-or-treating together. They greeted each other with smiles then looked at each other's costumes.

One of the girls wore a sparkly fairy princess costume, complete with magic wand and tiara. She had a pair of colored wings, bought, and she'd picked out the fabric for her dress for her mother to sew.

The other little girl gave a little shrug and said flatly, "Your costume is nice." You see, she wasn't into princesses or fairies very much.

The second little girl had also had a say in her costume. She helped make her mask and the picture emblazoned on the leotard she wore. She had a cape and boots. Arms akimbo, legs spread heroically she waited for the first little girl to ooh and aah over her Batgirl costume.

The first little girl said, "Who are you supposed to be?" For you see, the first little girl hadn't been exposed to superhero culture.

The moral of the story isn't which costume was better. No indeed. The point is that the things we like are exclusive to ourselves. Sometimes we meet someone else who also appreciates one or two of the things we do. You will never find someone who loves everything you do or who has had all the same experiences you have. Life is subjective. Our tastes are subjective.

While one person may love military science fiction, another may think those kinds of stories dribble. One person may devour romance novels, another cringe at the covers, let alone the contents.

We tend to write the kinds of stories we love, stories that reflect the things we've learned and know. It's wrong to assume everyone else will love our stories as much as we do. Because, they won't. And we won't love their stories as much as they do.

That doesn't mean there isn't a place for all kinds of stories and readers. It's important to know your audience.

*Incidentally, the costume story is based on a real life encounter.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Epic Quest: Update #2

Today I'm going to do the first cluster of authors I've researched. Take a look at them, if you write epic speculative fiction, and see if their works are comparable to yours. It gives a good indicator of what their agents and/or publishers like. Also what these same agents and publishers already have. Some won't take on projects too close in competition to titles they already represent.

1) Aaron, Rachel
Website/blog: http://rachelaaron.net/
First book published: 2010
Publisher: Orbit Books
Agent/agency: Matt Bialer of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates

2) Abercrombie, Joe
Website/blog: http://joeabercrombie.com/
First book published: 2006
Publisher: Gollancz (UK), Orbit Books, Pyr (US)
Agent/agency: Robert Kirby of United Agents (UK)

3) Abraham, Daniel (also writes under two pseudonyms)
Website/blog: http://danielabraham.com/
First book published: 2006
Publisher: Pocket, Orbit, Tor
Agent/agency: Shawna McCarthy of The McCarthy Agency, LLC

4) Ahmed, Saladin
Website/blog: http://saladinahmed.com/
First book published: 2012
Publisher: DAW
Agent/agency: Jennifer Jackson of The Donald Maass Literary Agency

5) Anderson, Kevin J.
Website/blog: http://wordfire.com/ ; http://kjablog.com/
First book published: 1988
Publisher: Spectra, Aspect, HarperPaperbacks, William Morrow, Orbit, Simon Schuster, and more
Agent/agency: John Silbersack of Trident Media Group

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Withdrawal and Renewal

After September's pressure to write-to-deadline, I took a week off from writing. Should be enough, right? Yes and no. In preparing to begin a new novel in all its raw and rough glory, I've struggled. A book as complex and large as my last one locked me into editor mode for a number of years. I did take a one month break to do NANOWRIMO a couple of years ago. The internal editor screamed at me the entire time. I persevered, used tons of imaginary duct tape, and finished that fun project. Then I stored it in a file and ungagged the internal editor to get back to work on the first.

One week off led to two. The finished story continued to haunt me, even as I tried to brainstorm for the new one (since I'm merging two old story ideas into one new one.) So my question for you, loyal readers, is this: How do you release your internal editor in order to begin a new project unhindered? Do you have any tips or advice?

While I have finished other stories before, none have undergone the length and breadth of editing this last one did. In some ways, I fear I won't top those efforts with anything new. In some ways, I don't want to leave the world of this other book or the characters. Am I hopeless case?

Monday, September 24, 2012


I have a guest post up over at Oh, The Things I've Learned (home of the super-nice, talented Angie Sandro) where I share a bit about what has inspired me. Angie has an entire series of guest posts where people share what inspire them. Come on over and share in the comments what inspires you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Which Type of Epic Are You?

Type 1: Episodic
Episodic fiction has a main base of characters and each book in the series acts as a standalone. New book, new big problem or antagonist. Usually not so epic in size compared to the other two types. Can have an overall arc tying all the books together.

Type 2: Generational
Generational fiction changes up characters as time passes. These can also easily work as standalones with a stronger overall arc. There is a big story behind the scenes that encompasses a long period of time.

Type 3: True Epic
True epics are large stories, very large stories. So large that they can't be condensed into a single volume or even two. They often fail as standalones because resolving the main conflict introduced at the beginning cuts the whole thing off at the toes. They can have mini-arcs to make each volume have a somewhat standalone feel. The driving force for readership is the main arc, which stays an active, in-the-front plot player through each volume and isn't resolved until the end of the last installment.

Type 1 and 2 are easier to sell if you're an unpublished writer. Less of a gamble for publishers.
Type 1 isn't locked into one main doom or conflict, giving the writer room to try out different plots and situations.
Type 1 doesn't have a definitive end until the writer gets tired of playing in that world. You can end up with a few books in the series, or several. Readers can also jump in or out of the series where ever they like.
Type 2 gives the writer a chance to change up the characters while keeping to a central plot line. The writer is less likely to tire of their characters.
Type 2 writers also get to change up their settings and time periods. Lots of great world-building opportunities.
Type 3 stories satisfy a certain demographic of devoted reader who will come back for more and who crave larger, meatier books.
Type 1 and 3 stories allow a writer to share a more complex, richly detailed world over the span of the series.

Type 1 stories can lose readers at any time, without a lure to keep them reading future books. Readers can get tired of the same characters if they aren't well done. Not an easy thing to keep up for several books.
Type 2 stories can fall into a rut if the same plot twists and consequences creep up. There is room for a lot of unnecessary bloat here, whether it's a lot of new characters to learn with each book, info dumping, or other fillers if the story isn't really that epic. Are you writing Type 2 for the sake of racking up the number of books and time periods, instead?
Type 3 stories are hard to sell for unpublished writers. Publishers don't want to take a gamble on someone untried in the marketplace. And if the first volume of an epic doesn't sell well, there won't be a number two, and that leads to dissatisfied readers...
Type 3 stories are hard to write well. A lot of unpolished manuscripts are bloated with info dumping, long passages with nothing going on, and a hoard of characters. In short, these manuscripts are trying to be true epics but they don't really have enough story to pass the test.
Type 3 writers, once published, get a lot of pressure from readers to churn out the next volume in record time. Some readers won't even pick up the novel until all of the volumes are published. Others, too impatient to wait, stop reading altogether. A good percentage of readers hate cliffhanger endings.

Which type are you? Which type(s) do you enjoy reading? How patient are you as a reader?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How Much World-Building Do You Need?

Someone asked and you can find my answers over on the Aliens, Dragons, and Wraiths - Oh My! blog. More knowledge gleaned from personal mistakes, reading other books, and beta reading. Jump on over and add to the conversation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wait, no--Give me a few more days! Okay, fine (deep breath) I'll send it.

I blitzed it last week as you might have noticed. That's all right, though, because then you all went and read other blogs or saved some time by not wading through one of mine.

I like to set goals for my writing, a little milestone list to check off and mark my progress. Last week, that changed. In a moment of quick decision I threw the unconfident perfectionist in me out the window and committed to three week's worth of deadlines. And I've been so busy since, I haven't missed that other side of my ego at all.

Deadlines differ from goals in that deadlines involve other people. You make a promise to them by a certain time frame. In my case, I stopped fussing and tweaking over my manuscript to send out the first part to beta readers. Do I think it's ready for other eyes. Definitely not! (And it never will meet my idea of perfect.) Should I have done it? Yes. There comes a time when you find all you are doing is combing through the same material over and over to tweak, and tweak, and tweak without knowing if the whole thing even works.

In a mad rush, I sent it. I spent every spare minute of last week splicing together my last round of major edits for Part 2, so it's ready to go when my reader's are. (I kind of blew it apart in order to move scenes around and create new chapter boundaries.) Can I say: what a rush! There was no time to sit back and brood. There was no time to leave something undone because I can always get to it down the road. There was no leeway for mental blocks. Anything I'd hesitated on whether to keep or not was cut.

To my surprise, I also ended up writing two new chapters in two hours. They were concise, tense, and for a scary period of time they almost upset the rest of the book. Almost, but didn't. I nearly panicked Friday night over a couple of plot holes I found. (Funny how chopping away a bunch of exposition uncovers things like that.) I worked furiously on Saturday to plug things up.

To tell the absolute truth, writing to deadline nearly made me ill. You see, it's impossible for me to set aside what I do all day. I still had to fulfill my duties and keep my personal priorities straight. I'm very grateful my family let me hoard the spare hours to work on writing. The end result: a breathless rush of days and little sleep.

I have another whirlwind week of editing to deadline ahead of me. I think I've acquired a taste for it. I've also surmised that when those deadlines are met, I need time off to recuperate.

Even though I haven't received feedback from my beta readers yet, can I just tell them publicly "thank you" right now, for pushing me to send the manuscript to them. I would have been comfortable sitting on it for another couple of months, tweaking away, otherwise. I'm not in a hurry to make a fool of myself to professional eyes. But - what I did learn this month - is that it's okay to be a fool to friendly eyes. Letting the manuscript go is mandatory for anyone serious about publication. Then the trick is to keep so busy you don't have time to fret over what your readers' reactions are.

Have any of you had a hard time letting go of a manuscript so other people could read it? What do you do to keep away anxiety once that's done? (I'll need some good suggestions for when Part 3 is sent off and there's nothing left to edit to deadline for.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Passive Nightmare

One thing I’ve quickly learned about myself is that my greatest flaw is passive writing. Old ms drafts ooze with it and I still work to search and destroy parts of my stories that have entire passages of passive phrasing. Anyone who does their homework on writing craft soon sees the animosity out there toward passive writing, and it’s justified. Passive writing is lackluster, sluggish, and boring. Childish even.

Most of the time you run into advice along the lines of:
Get rid of all uses of the word “was” or any conjugation of “to be.”
Get rid of –ing words.
“Had” is bad.

And so forth.

People intend to be helpful and some actually know what they’re talking about. Others don’t. So I muddled along as best I could and through a lot of sweat and effort started to see progress.

And then at random, I picked up another book on writing craft at the library two weeks ago. The emphasis of the book: revising. So I took it home and read it. Lots of good stuff in it but the best part came toward the end. Strong nouns and verbs vs. weak nouns and verbs and an actual method to eradicating passive writing! Not a weak directive to get rid of certain words, instead, a strong emphasis on word pictures and voice that ends up getting the job done right. I felt ecstatic over my find.

And I thought I’d share the reference for anyone else struggling with passive writing. Get your hands on The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel by Robert J. Ray. Weekends 16 & 17 are the golden chapters. Of course, the whole book is full of great advice on plotting, structure, character motivation, and archetypes.

The best part—I added it to my online wish list and five days later my brother bought it for me as a birthday present. Now I can go back and mark up the book all I want with highlighters.

Some other writing craft books I’ve enjoyed in recent years:
Writing the Breakout Novel and the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass – If you’re sitting down to write a first draft, wait until you get to the revision stage before picking these up.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell – great for first drafts.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King – excellent for those nitpick drafts and final polishes.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White – another good one for final edits and chopping down word count.

The Random House Guide to Good Writing by Mitchell Ivers – great reference for all stages of the writing process.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card – another handy reference for speculative fiction writers; especially good for learning rules and tropes so you can break them the right way.

I have read several others, but these are the outstanding ones that worked well for me. And remember, you don’t have to do everything any craft book says to do. Find what works for you and your style. Usually I find one or two sections in any given book on craft that stands out to me.

What are some of your favorite books on the craft of writing? Do you struggle with passive writing or phrasing (or am I standing out here in the cold alone?)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blog Break!

Summer, heat, (birthday), winding down another writing project—all reasons for a week long break from blogging. I’ll be back August 21st. In the meantime, there are my archives to explore, the Spotlighted Blogs links to check out, and comments on any old post are welcome. Or, if you feel so inclined, tell me how you’re doing, what color suits your mood right this minute, or what topics you’d like to see more of on this blog. I’ll still be active on AQC, Twitter, and e-mail.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts with me.

And just because I'm in one of those moods:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Trimming the Manuscript Part 3: Determining the Balance

Here’s a crazy-zany idea that I don’t know if anyone else has tried. Do you know the balance in your manuscript between action and non-action (description, internal thoughts, etc.)?  Maybe the story’s too huge because of an imbalance. Hm…

 So here’s what you do:

 1) Create a scene list for your novel. Any time the setting changes, there is a POV switch, or something significant happens to carry the characters into a new scene, note a scene break. Name each of your scenes (this is a lot of fun and no one else will see these.)

2) Work with one scene at a time. This is very important so you don’t feel overwhelmed or get confused. Especially if you have multiple POVs or just a whale of an epic on your hands.

3) Separate your scene into two new documents. One with all the action and one with all the inactivity. The action document will have the dialogue too. Anything strictly not action or dialogue goes into the inactivity document.

4) Now note which document is larger. You don’t have to have a perfect balance for every scene. Some scenes are meant to have more action and others little. After you’ve noticed where the scales weigh on this scene, think about that scene and what its purpose is. Is this a scene with a big reveal? A lot of subtle foreshadowing going down? A place in time marked for internal development for your protagonist? A place where the plot speeds up and takes the protagonist from Point A to Point B? What is the purpose.

5) After you’ve realized what that scene is supposed to do, look at your action document. Consider:
a) Do you need that much action for this scene to do its job? Do you need more?
b) Does your action stand on its own two feet, meaning, you don’t need a lot of explanation to help the reader along?
c) Is the action in this scene the best way to carry the story forward? Or is it action for the sake of action?

6) Next, look at your inactivity document.
a) Based on the purpose of this scene, and what is going on, do you have places where description bogs down the narrative? Can you break it up and seamlessly put it in with the action as it comes?
b) If this scene is a turning point internally, do your interior thoughts and observations made by the character do its job? Do you need more or can you reword their thoughts for maximum impact with fewer words?
c) Are you using description, backstory, explanation, or interior monologues for the sake of filling space rather than carrying the story forward? What can wait for later or may need to be bumped up earlier in the story? Trim the excess fat.
d) Are there ways to show how the characters feel through action?

7) After both documents have gone through analysis, cutting, and restructuring. Put the scene back together. You will probably find even more ways to trim as you do. And, you may end up cutting the scene completely out because now you know it doesn’t move the story or the characters forward, or it is shallow, or where an unnecessary tangent plot begins.
8) Move on to the next scene. Repeat.

Recognizing the purpose of a scene and what focus it needs to have is a great way to shed some story bulk. Knowing how to move the story forward in that scene either through action or inaction also helps the writer watch for plot holes, character inconsistencies, and keeps minor characters and subplots in line.

You may discover that you've put too many superfluous action scenes in the story or have redundant passages of backstory, internal monologue, or description. Restore the balance.

How about you? What do you do to determine whether your story is imbalanced or bloated because of an imbalance?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Epic Quest Update #1

Agh, I'm treading water! I thought I'd find a handful of blogs/websites to share links to but it turns out there is more information out there to gather than I anticipated. And guess what, I actually found an agent who says she's actively looking for epic speculative fiction! Yes, my jaw dropped a little to see any agent be specific like that.

I'm building a spreadsheet, listing authors, their online connections, publishers, agents (if applicable), and what time bracket they fit in (veteran, newbie, etc.). I've found a couple of good reference sites in regards to bibliographies. This will be the conclusion of Phase 1, when it's done.

Hang in there, I'll share all when I've got everything neat and tidy.

What I can say right now, is hang in there epic writers! The elbow room isn't as spacious as other genres, yet there is room for more authors. We may see another boost when the Hobbit films start rolling out, reminding the world of the genre and its wide appeal.

What I'd like to know from you, is how should I space out the time brackets? Would having published their first book in the last 10 years qualify as newbie status, or should I reduce it to the last 5 years? I figure anyone at least 20 years on the shelves qualifies as a veteran. How far back would you like me to go when I share the spreadsheet information?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Method to the Madness

I don’t normally issue status reports on my work because I figure, being an unknown, who cares? And I don’t intend to beleaguer you much today either. At the point where I’m finishing up another round of revision and in the middle of holding threads, scene tatters, and parts needing surgery, I’ve had ample time to think about method.

There’s the initial birthing stage. Ah hah! I have a great idea! So I write it down in summary or in a quick first draft that hits all the points and scenes simmering in my brain. This stage is wild, uninhibited, and anything goes. No one else is going to ever see it.

Sometimes I’m a pantser, sometimes I’m an outliner. It really depends on the story and how it came to me. Either way, I usually know the beginning to the end before I write.

So then what?

The three manuscripts I’ve juggled for the past few years in the vortex of revision and development are making me wake up. I’ve dabbled in one suggested method or another, trying them out, seeing what works for me. It’s a necessary path to self-discovery for a writer. I think my path took a little longer. I haven’t been in a rush. I’m more concerned with doing it right than in getting it before an audience. And only now, when the end is in sight for one of those stories, I can reflect back on what I tried, what worked, what failed, and what made me get lost.

What does this mean? I can streamline the process now for the other two, and for future manuscripts. That equates to not only faster product output but higher quality output.

The first thing I’ve learned: the second draft should be the longest and slowest. It’s not the time to worry about voice, choice of words, or word count. The second draft is all about plot holes, characterization, back story, and major world-building development. If that isn’t the focus, it’s easy to become side-tracked and discouraged. The second draft is also not meant for other eyes.

While the rough draft/first draft was all about getting ideas down, it’s time to switch from hare to tortoise mode when facing the second draft. What I love about this draft is getting “in the zone” for each scene you work on, digging deep and discovering what makes the story tick, lots of research, finding out that the first draft isn’t carved in stone and is about to drastically change.

If you take the time to slow down and thoroughly develop the story in the second draft, there is less likelihood of being ten or more drafts to follow. Oh how I wish I’d know this before! Well, learning from the past, that’s what this blog is about anyway.

The third draft is where voice, syntax, and such come into play. Line edits. Also not a fast hare-sprint-to-the-finish-line type of draft. This is where you worry about word count.

So then we’re done, right? Um, no.

Now the manuscript is ready for other eyes to see. Beta readers/critique partners, line ‘em up. Give a few a go at the manuscript. Choose other writers over relatives and friends. If possible, get someone with expertise in your research fields to double check that you got your facts straight. Then take the feedback and learn from those fresh pairs of eyes. They will catch things you didn’t. Both in second draft material and third draft material.

The fourth draft is incorporating what they’ve helped you learn or consider. Sometimes this means large rewrites or several small tweaks. The point of the fourth draft is clarity and continuity.

Done now?

Nope. Another round of beta readers. Different ones from before. Bonus points if you can find writers who are also your target audience. Gather their feedback and tweak. You should be at tweaking rather than overhaul status at this point. One more round of line edits.

Now, it’s time to send the manuscript out into the world and see if the professionals want it.

Five drafts, approximately. A far cry better than the ten drafts I’ve put the current MS through. Developing a sensible method—I know better now. Prioritizing and having a set goal for each draft stage makes a huge difference, especially that second draft.

The journey of a writer is fraught with frustration and mistakes. I love it when I wise-up and then things fall into place.

Have you jumped the gun and sprinted when you should have strolled instead?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Internet Hiccups

I promise I didn't forget about all of you on Thursday. My internet provider has had some technical issues and things have been spotty for a few days.

Quick update on the Epic Quest: I'm discovering there are more recent epic writers than I first thought. Very excited. It's taking a bit longer than expected to gather information (the internet issue again) but I hope to have some more findings to share by next week.

On the plus side, with the internet not so available I've enjoyed some indulgent writing time - guilt free! It's always fun to be near the end of any story. The challenge is not letting the next one waiting in line jump ahead before the first one's done.

Here's hoping you all have a great weekend and that you enjoy your part of the writing journey right now. Take a moment to revel in the progress you've made without examining the stretch of road still ahead.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What is Talent?

Last week I attended the graduation ceremonies for my youngest brother. During the portion focused on the College of Fine Arts one of the students made a presentation and brought up this grain of truth: Talent isn't what comes easily to a person. We all have things we lean toward, that draw us, but it's not a requirement to be immediately good at something to have talent in that area.

How many times do we see the fruits of someone else's labor and misjudge their talent as something innate? We don't see the hours of hard work, practice, and frustration that went into the final product. We don't know how easily this talent came to them. We don't know if insecurity continues to writhe inside that person.

Dictionary.com defines talent as this: "a special natural ability or aptitude; a capacity for achievement and success."

At a glance, it would seem only those born gifted have a right to the word. The percentage of people with the label childhood genius stuck to them is so small it's not even worth fretting about.

We all have a natural aptitude for certain things and we can develop aptitudes for others as well as develop that capacity for achievement.

Growing up I wanted to learn to play music. My family moved around so much that it made it hard to stick with violin lessons (my first choice) so I settled for piano lessons as an alternative. I discovered I grasped the theory of music with a natural aptitude but the skill of playing the piano wasn't as friendly. Determined, I pushed through several years of training and practice to complete the entire course. My fingers tended to stumble and keeping a straight count in my head became my nemesis. My feet naturally tick off the beats to music, but when they have to stay rooted to the ground or are using the pedals...well, it was a handicap. My teacher shook her head one day and said I was the most backward student, in that easy pieces were difficult for me and difficult pieces came easier. (Still not sure whether I should take that as a compliment or criticism.) I finished, despite the difficulties and frustration, something that I can now look back on and smile about. I didn't quit and I worked to gain a talent.

The worst thing anyone can do to stifle a budding talent or interest is to look at the finished products of others and judge yourself. You haven't left the starting gate yet. Or maybe you're on your first or third lap around the course. Other people can be great examples of what has been done, but don't let it discourage you from blazing your own trail or even trying.

Everyone, whether "gifted" or not needs a good work ethic. Set that goal and don't falter. It won't be easy at times, thoughtless people will say things to put you down, but if you don't give up, you can reach that goal. Work. It's a four letter word and your best friend for getting anything done. Sitting back and "waiting for the muse" to strike? She's off with her other a-musing friends ready to help someone who is actually digging in and doing something. Staring at a blank canvas, lined piece of paper, or computer screen and then not attempting anything will produce - nothing, except frustration and depression.

Education is another important step to developing talent. We aren't born knowing everything and no one knows everything. We all have room to grow. We all need to learn. Some people are good at figuring things out on their own but the problem with that is they fall prey to pride. They "can't learn from anyone else" or "don't need to get help" or "waste their time." Knock that off right now. Sure, you don't necessarily need to go to a university and get a degree in creative writing in order to write, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't learn all you can about the process. Read books on writing (or reputable blogs), go to workshops, read books in your genre and in other genres, critique others' work and submit your work for critique. Learn from others to discover yourself. Finding our weaknesses isn't pretty. We need to know what they are so we can beat them into strengths and you can't do that all by yourself.

Patience is a virtue. Truly. While on the journey to develop any talent you'll also have the opportunity to develop patience. Don't let the beautifully arranged frosting on your goal tempt you into doing something stupid before you're ready. You want it, you can smell it, practically taste, see others devouring theirs - don't sprint ahead. You see, you haven't tied your shoes, or even put them on, and the ground is rocky and thorny between you and the goal. There are footpaths marked as shortcuts which really switchback or arrive at dead ends. Part of the road is crowded with other people trying to get to the end and too many people at the same places ruins the chances of all but a few. The path can crumble beneath your feet from all the hooplah. Halfway up the mountainside developers are diverting the path into several paths, often into directions no one dreamed possible the day before. Be like the tortoise not the hare in Aesop's fable. Slow and steady, eye on the prize, and patient.

Don't give up. Life happens, discouragement and defeat happen. The person who quits trying loses. So your dreams of publishing a novel next year are completely derailed when your child gets terminal cancer. That's okay. Priorities matter and you should keep yours aligned. I went from a very active period of writing into a decade of none due to life circumstances. I knew I loved writing and as soon as life allowed it, I not only jumped back in, I skydived into deeper pools and saw my budding talent grow so fast it frightened me. The time away gave me life experiences, a compost pile if you will, which has fertilized my imagination. Don't give up when your first story gets rejection after rejection. Put it away and work on your talent some more. Keep at it, especially when it's hard and the paths to other delights beckon as an easy way out.

What is talent?
Something a person develops by:
1) Setting a goal without comparing themselves to others.
2) Hard work, lots of it.
3) Becoming educated.
4) Developing patience along the way.
5) Never giving up.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Epic Quest Begins

I see it more and more, writers of epic speculative fiction having the devil of a time trying to find representation for their work. Few agents come out and say in their guidelines "Send me epic _______ fiction." The blogosphere is noisy with the YA-loving crowd and their parameters. It's hard to do research for epic speculative fiction because the people who work with it or write it aren't a dominate presence online (collectively.)

So I'm embarking on a quest to find out as much information as I can. I'll share my findings here on the blog and if you've done some research, please share also.

By epic, I'm referring to:
Huge, door-stopper books that are standalones; also series, sagas, and trilogies of epic proportions. These are books where there is a lot of story/plot, often with multiple POVs, and they take place in fantastic worlds or settings. See also this blogpost: Where are the massive epic science fiction series? Also you can pull up "epic" lists off of Goodreads or even Amazon (although take them with a grain of salt because the books listed are based off where readers categorize them.)

My first step was to comb online looking for authors of epic novels and to write them down on a spreadsheet. I came up over 200 names from my first gleaning alone and I'm sure I'll find a lot more. Finding so many authors cheered me up because it proves people will read long series and fat books. Some of the authors are dead, some are long-time veterans, but quite a few are new and thriving. There is a market for this kind of fiction.

I also noticed that epic authors tend to use initials; that there are a lot of Davids, Richards, and Kates; and that both male and female authors came up about even in body count on my list. Epic fantasy outnumbers epic science-fiction or epic paranormal. Epic YA speculative fiction gets a lot of the limelight these days but don't discount the adult crowd just yet.

Some websites that deal with epic speculative fiction:
Locus Magazine
Epic Fantasy Books Blog

What are your favorite epic books and your favorite epic-writing authors? Help me refine my list so I can move on to stage two: identifying publishers and agents (if applicable.) I hope to have a good-sized list of websites and blogs by epic authors next time for you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trimming the Manuscript Part 2: Too Much Plot? – It Happens

Some writers have a knack for developing plotlines and subplots. If you’re an ace outliner on top of that, you might find, as I did, that pretty soon you have too much of a good thing. And too much plot or too many subplots can contribute to an inflated word count.

For a first-timer (meaning someone not published yet) your epic-sized novel may be the reason why agents and publishers are saying “no.”

There’s a difference between an epic and epic-sized. Some stories are epic. They are also tightly written too. Having an epic-sized novel doesn’t necessarily qualify it as an epic.

So how to bring down the word count and yet still have a solid storyline?

Outline in the simplest form. First identify what your main plot is and the crucial plot points that make it happen. Don’t include all the subplots or any plot points that aren’t crucial. If you have a hard time identifying crucial from the unnecessary, get some beta readers right away. You’re too close to the story and have invested too much time into developing plot points and lines to think straight about them. You need other eyes to help you.

Once you have the basic gist of your main plotline then look at your subplots. Write a separate outline for each of them. One or two subplots are the norm for any story. If you find you have five or ten, you need to get out the pruning shears. If your story is an actual epic, there will be more subplots but still make sure you haven’t bit off more than you or your audience can chew.

Once you’ve analyzed your essential plot points in both the main storyline and the subplots, you should have some scenes or even chapters you can cut already. If this round of analysis didn’t come up a lot to trim, then it’s time to look at each scene in the story.

Is this scene absolutely necessary? If you have a scene full of action and nothing else, you’ve got room to trim. For instance, your main characters have just walled up inside a fortress while an invading army of trolls surrounds them. Now the heroes must fight to keep the fortress. It’s a necessary part of the story but watch how you tell it. Pages and pages of straight action equates to boring filler. Are you characters growing during the conflict? What’s at stake for them? Are you showing it? What can happen during this battle to spin a plotline forward? There needs to be growth and change for any scene to be necessary.

Say you have a main character that is newly arrived on a strange world. There’s the temptation to explain everything about that world right away. After all, we need to ground our readers so they don’t feel lost. And a sense of wonder is a great way to keep them reading. Don’t describe your setting, incorporate it. What will that character first tend to notice about the new place? What is going on there? It’s not always like that scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy steps out of her house and gets several minutes to examine the Munchkin countryside. Places are active, not passive. Even quiet, pastoral settings can incorporate a tone. If there is no one there for the MC to react to or act upon, use the setting as a character. Trim the info-dumps. Spread out the details according to what the character will actually notice and what will actually happen. It’s great that you made up a deadly species of squirrel, including charts and an index on all their characteristics. If the squirrels aren’t a main part of that scene don’t share all your notes with the reader.

Sometimes we can condense or tell a series of happenings as if they happened off-stage, rather than write them out. It’s a great way to save space. Say you have a group of people traveling, you can trim all the travel scenes, doing a recap through dialogue after they’ve arrived, if something interesting happened. Unless, of course, the bulk of the story is about their journey, we don’t need to read about all the interesting parts of their trip in full-blown detail. “Pick your battles” is a well-known saying and it’s applicable here. Pick your scenes and don’t fret about the rest. Again, note if there is plot or character growth during a particular scene. If there is, keep it. If not, summarize or chuck it.

Another good rule of thumb is to start a scene with the action already going and end it early. We don’t need a prologue to a scene or a miniature epilogue at the end of it. Get to the point, share what is necessary, and make sure the scene propels the reader forward. Scene prologues and epilogues give readers an invitation to put the story down.

True epics will exceed 100K words and often even the 120K. There is a limited market for these books and a devoted body of readers who can’t get enough of them. If you have a true epic on your hand, don’t freak out over all the negativity on word count. As long as your manuscript is tight, every scene is necessary, and you’ve unloaded every bit of fat possible, you’re doing it right. Finding an agent or publisher is going to be an uphill battle but that’s due to circumstances out of your hands.

Contrary-wise, don’t make the mistake of thinking your story is an epic merely because it’s got a huge girth. It’s our job to analyze, chop, tighten, and choose wisely the content of our stories. Most people fall into the trap of epic-sized rather than true epic. Beta readers/critique partners are your best buddies in this instance. They’ll point out the places where their attention wanders, the parts that aren’t necessary, and question whether you’re serious about six subplots.

And congratulations if you are good at plotting. It’s a great skill. Embrace it, but don’t overdo it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blog Spotlights #23: It's in the Details

It's in the Details in the blog home of writer Michelle Hauck. This is a newer blog which has really taken off in recent months, particularly with her Getting the Call series. Michelle interviews writers who have received an offer of representation from agents and publishers. These interviews are insightful and good for people about to enter the query trenches. She is seeking interviews right now, too. She also blogs about writing and her interests. She's an approachable, smart person, and she deserves more followers. So pop on over, check out her blogposts, follow her, and leave a comment or two.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Trimming the Manuscript Part 1: The Nitpicks Revision

Some books are epic doorstoppers. We see them all the time in libraries and bookstores. Some stories need all that girth to tell them, and many stories do not. The unpublished writer soon finds his/her biggest roadblock to publication is the formidable word count confession. Speculative Fiction writers get a little more leeway than other genres because of world-building (100,000-120,000 words usually), but even then, there are limits to most agents' patience when they're viewing your query letter. A word count of 200,000 is going to raise eyebrows, if you're a first-timer. So for the next little while, I'm going to devote a few blogposts to discussing ways to trim your manuscript to an acceptable length without sacrificing the story. As I've had to run this gauntlet myself, maybe what I've learned might help you. And if you have any relevant tips and tricks, please share in the comments.

Sometimes, all that is needed is a nitpick revision of the full manuscript. A nitpick revision is where you comb through, line by line, and look for small things to take out. A word or phrase here and there doesn't seem like much, but it really does add up and I've known writers who have cut thousands of words by this type of revision alone.

Things to look for:
1) Sentence rephrasing. Can you say the same thing in fewer words? Simplicity works best. It gets your message across with fewer "speed bumps" for the reader. Anywhere a reader might backtrack and re-read a sentence for clarity is a good place to rephrase and cut words.

2) Passive phrasing: He was going, She was walking, They were sleeping, etc. You can make a sentence active instead of passive and trim some unnecessary words by getting rid of the "was" and changing the action verb to an -ed instead of an -ing: He went. She walked. They slept.

Note: Not all versions of "was" or "-ing" should be cut from a manuscript, but that's a whole other discussion.

3) Places where someone "looks". Instead of telling us your protagonist looked down into the valley, cut to the chase and show us the valley. Show trumps tell in these cases, and can help you trim a lot of unnecessary words. We don't always need to read the action of looking at something. There are exceptions, of course. Try to use this kind of action sparingly.

4) Redundancy. Have you already described a motivation in Chpt. 3? Don't give us another explanation about it in Chpt. 5. The same thing with description or an event. It's rare that a reader needs a recap if your first explanation, description, or event did it's job. Adding to or changing something is entirely different.

5) Are you using hyphens to connect words? Some phrases are supposed to be connected and it technically cuts down your word count. Examples: nine-year-old, half-eaten, back-up.

6) Double adjectives or adverbs. Are they repetitive or too similar to each other? Cut one.

7) Adjectives and Adverbs. Do you need them? Can you use a stronger noun or verb instead? Example: "the tall building" becomes "the skyscraper" or "the castle". Keep in mind that just because a word is an adjective or adverb doesn't mean you have to cut it. Adjectives and adverbs are valid parts of speech and used wisely, enhance your prose. Make sure they are necessary.

8) Estimate how many words you need to cut per page to reach your word count goal and try to stick with it.
Example: Based on an average of 250 words p/page, to drop from 125,000 words (500 pgs.) to 100,000 words (400 pgs.), you'd need to slash 50 words p/page.

9) Keeping your pet words in mind (those you use repetitiously) do a word search and see how many you can chop out. Simple words such as: "that", "as", "and", "but", "just", "only", or short phrases.

10) Unnecessary action: "He sat down." The action of sitting implies the direction. Chop out the word "down". Look also for places where you've fallen into a play-by-play of simple action: "She woke up, rubbed her eyes, yawned, and sat up. Putting her feet over the side, she slid out onto the floor, stood, and stretched." Leave something to the reader's imagination. There's nothing extraordinary in these actions, so strike them out.

For further ideas on nitpick revising, I recommend The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, especially the section on eliminating unnecessary words.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Enticing Your Readers

Some time ago I asked a question in the Speculative Fiction Group forum on AgentQueryConnect: As a reader, what do you hope to find in the beginning of a novel?

The answers, you can imagine, varied all over the place. I noticed a parallel too, since it was writers who were doing the answering, that people hoped for the same kinds of things they liked to write. Some people favored immediate action, others (since we're speaking of speculative fiction) had an emphasis on world-building and setting, some liked an immediate theme, or interesting characters, the author's voice or style, or the specific genre tropes used.

My conclusion? There are many many ways to hook a reader, depending on what that reader likes. And, writers can easily set up blinders next to their own eyes by assuming everyone else wants the same thing they do.

I took a walk down the aisles at a Barnes & Noble last week, gravitating to the YA, children's, and speculative fiction sections more so to do some current research than anything else. There are a lot of books out there and all vying to capture the attention of as many readers as they can. I felt a bit lost in the deluge. (As I mentioned on Twitter last week, if you write speculative fiction and have any kind of say in the cover design, go for a bright color rather than the dark ones because those covers are rarer and attract the eye faster.)

So what's a writer to do to stand out from the pack? There is no one-size-fits-all or guaranteed step-by-step guide to entertaining someone else with your prose.

Say you need to establish your setting at the beginning of the novel, to ground the reader and introduce them to a place unlike anything on Earth. Does your setting sound like well-known alternate worlds other writers have used? It's okay if it does, but chances are if you've got a world that sounds a lot like Pern or Middle Earth, readers don't need you to spell everything out in the beginning. You're using a fantasy trope, which lessens the amount of work you need to do. Give some details built-in to the action and choose another element to be the focus of your beginning.

But...if your world is very different from popular tropes, you may have a valid reason for setting a lot of groundwork. The trick is to use your setting as a subtle character or antagonist, and the more show you can do intermixed with the plot or characterization of your protagonist, the better. Avoid the travelogue, especially if there are no characters interacting in your opening setting.

Say you want to focus on your protagonist at the beginning. Are they an every-man type character, the average person who is going to have amazing things thrust upon them? You'll need more than establishing character for a beginning then. A day-in-the-life of the average Joe or Jane is going to equate to boring. Readers have normal lives and they don't pick up a speculative fiction book to read about normal life. What you might need here is your inciting event at the get-go. Something to throw a monkey wrench into average Joe or Jane's life at the start. Explaining their average-ness is completely unnecessary.

But...if you have a main character who isn't average, their quirky, off-beat, or eccentric-ness will give a reader that not-normal vibe. Because, a character like that is pro-active, makes things happen, and everything they do, say, or think will be entertaining.

Say you want to grab your audience with action, okay, what kind of action? Is Commander Joe heading into space combat - just routine for him - and all the high-tech and flash is sure to make a reader sit up and pay attention through the play-by-play?...um, no. We're not invested in the character yet to care whether he lives or dies. We're not invested in the conflict to know what's at stake both publicly and personally. Action for the sake of action often fails to grab a reader's interest. It's all special effects with no substance.

But...if your action scene is either the inciting event, or propels your protagonist towards the inciting event you'll need to make sure the reader is armed with a few other things. They need to bond quickly with the protagonist so the conflict needs to be something readers might have experienced or fears to experience. Maybe the protagonist is sprinting down a hallway, late for an important meeting that will get him out of the basement and finally out in the field to prove his theories and establish his career. While he's racing down the hall, dodging other people and obstacles, he's thinking of his family and how badly they need this promotion. He needs to prove to his wife that all the time he spends at the office hasn't been wasted so she doesn't drag him to marital counseling.

Say you want to create the right mood or set the web of your theme at the start of the novel. This one's trickier, since by itself, stating a theme can turn away readers if you're too obvious. Or an extremely depressed mood might turn them away also, even if that mood lightens in the next chapter. Your opening is an invitation to your story. A theme or mood woven into one of the other elements works best: action, characterization, plot, or world-building.

Many genres come with reader expectations. They stick with that genre because of the tropes and they love it when writers have a fresh take on them. Readers in this case want the familiar. Kind of like eating ice cream. They want chocolate and because it's so good, they want it again and again. But not exactly the same as the first time. Maybe the second time they want sprinkles on it. Maybe the third time they'd like some nuts or chunks of chocolate mixed in. Maybe the fourth time they'd like some vanilla mixed with the chocolate.

As a reader, what do you hope to find in the beginning of a novel? Which story element is your essential ingredient to reader happiness?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Mortality

This is a little more personal of a blogpost but maybe some of you have experienced or will experience something akin to it. I don't know if it's part of getting older or the things life chucks at me lately but I'm painfully aware of my own mortality right now. There are only a few more decades, really, to be here and to do the things I want to do (if I get to live to a ripe, old age.) And when I look back at the past (and what a whirlwind that seems) I find more regret than joy. I hope this is a passing phase.

The realization that I won't get to do everything I'd like to do, that I probably won't hit certain benchmarks that society sets, and that I might see people dear to me pass on before I do - well, it's sobering.

When I think of writing, if I'm being optimistic, say I get a publishing deal within the next year - how many of my story ideas will actual come to fruition? What will never see the light of day? And if I publish, say, five to ten years from now, the number of possible stories to share dwindles more. I sat down with my story list recently and mercilessly struck out story ideas I didn't care passionately about. It relieved a lot of pressure. Then I thought good and hard about the ones I did feel passionate about, out of those which ones did I think others might enjoy most? Which were more original in their spin than others? Did I want to get stuck writing that series or do more of my standalone ideas?

Because there is that other factor too: life outside of writing. I'm analyzing my goals and dreams there as well. The day to day moments spent with the people I love have more meaning and I'd rather build up memories than possessions. I know of one event that will completely change my life and that is the loss of my husband. He has a life-threatening disease which has already begun to deteriorate his body. If you're reading this blogpost in the morning, I'm at the hospital waiting for him to get out surgery. I know he will go before I do, someday; I've known it since the day we married. I suppose one might get very depressed about it, and to be truthful, I have at times. On the other hand, possessing this knowledge also makes me appreciate him more and the time we spend together.

Health issues have struck me down frequently in the last year, bringing forward the realization that I'm not immortal and that in the back of my mind, in my youth, I did have that attitude. I'm not as quick as I used to be. My body is changing and I've needed to re-evaluate my lifestyle to accommodate the changes.

At times I feel more awake than ever before. Like the past was some kind of blurry dream (with the occasional nightmare.) Knowing one's mortality is both frightening and empowering. What we are, what we have, and what we leave behind, it's something to think long and deeply about.

Have you experienced the mantle of mortality in regards to your writing? What changes did you make because of it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Genre Identified #7: Hard Science Fiction

In short, hard science fiction is where modern day science and scientific understanding is used in a modern or futuristic setting. There are no fantastical trappings from pseudo science or science we wish was fact. Actual, concrete science is the name of the game. And sticking to straight facts increases the level of suspense in a hard science-fiction story.

For further reading on the definition:
Science Fiction Subgenres, Hard Science Fiction
Technology Review, The Best Hard Science Fiction Books of All Time
Mike Brotherton Hard SF Writer, Ten Issues for Hard Science Fiction
Goodreads, Popular Hard Science Fiction Books list
Hard Science Fiction website and forum
HardSF.net website and forum

Hard Science Fiction tends to be a male dominated genre in both writers and readers. A personal observation I'd like to point out: most (not all) hard science fiction that I've read tends to balance the science and technology with sex as the counter-weight. And from a writerly perspective, hard science fiction is probably the one speculative genre where info-dumping is expected, though not to an excessive scale. The science and technological advancements are the heart of the story so to have characters deeply engrossed by these things is normal.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our Woes Aren’t So New…

…I found out while reading, and discovered this passage from a writer who lived around 600 years ago:

“But in fact, to tell you the truth, I myself have not yet made up mind whether or not to publish it at all. For the tastes of mortals are so various, the temperaments of some are so bitter, their minds so ungrateful, their judgments so preposterous that a person would do far better to follow his own bent and lead a merry life than to wear himself out trying to publish something useful or entertaining for an audience so finicky and ungrateful. Most people know nothing about learning and many despise it. Dummies reject as too hard whatever is not dumb. The literati look down their noses at anything not swarming with obsolete words. Some like only ancient authors; many like only their own writing. One person is so dour that he cannot abide jokes; another is so witless that he cannot stand anything witty. Some have so little nose for satire that they dread it the way someone bitten by a rabid dog fears water. Others are so changeable that their approval depends on whether they are sitting down or standing up.

“They sit around in taverns and over their cups they pontificate about the talents of writers, condemning each author just as they please, pulling him down through his writings as if they had grabbed him by the hair, while they themselves are safe and out of harm’s way, as the saying goes, because these good men have their whole heads smooth-shaven so that there is not a single hair to grab on to.

“Furthermore, some are so ungrateful that, even though a work has given them great pleasure, they still do not like the author any better because of it. They are not unlike ill-mannered guests who, after they have been lavishly entertained at a splendid banquet, finally go home stuffed without saying a word of thanks to the host who invited them. Go on, now, and at your own expense provide a banquet for persons of such delicate palates and various tastes, who will remember and repay you with such gratitude!”
(Thomas More, Utopia, his letter to Peter Giles)

It seems subjectivity has always been with us and always will be.

I recently read a newsletter from a prominent author and writing teacher who said we need to dumb down our prose because the average reader struggles to understand anything difficult or beyond their limited vocabulary. That authors should be careful in what they write, to make sure they write clearly and leave little for any other interpretation than what they mean their writing to say.

That same day I pulled up an article by another prominent writer, who like most giving advice on this subject, emphatically urges authors not to dumb down their prose but to say true to their I.Q. That readers are smarter than we tend to think and will easily comprehend what we are trying to say.

I think there is a nugget of truth in both and that both are equally wrong. There are all kinds of readers out there, people of varying taste, I.Q., vocabulary, and need. When you publish a book, it’s free for anyone to read and once out of our hands and into theirs, it’s open to reader interpretation, no matter their limitations. Some people will understand your writing and connect with it. Others won’t. Authors have no control over this.

I think, instead, it’s important to know who you are writing for and to stay true to that audience. Don’t worry about everyone else who might pick up your book. If you wish to make a connection with a more intellectual crowd, write for them. If you wish to encourage people who don’t read as much or as well, write for them. Know your audience.

The same goes for what you write about and how you present your writing. Know what your target audience expects, likes, and needs. Write to those expectations. Certainly others will groan, complain, or just not get what your books is about or trying to say. Don’t stress about that.

I know that numbers are an important equation in the publishing game. I’ve seen this past week a handful of authors vent about reviews from readers who didn’t get their books or maybe didn’t even read them all the way through before passing judgment. These authors wanted and expected full stars for their work. I understand their frustrations but I also know that if you live each day to how many stars you get from any reviewer you’re going to get hurt or upset. The right audience will appreciate what you write. Others won’t. It’s as simple as that. Let the ignorant or bad reviews slide off your shoulders, or better yet, don’t go looking for them.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Guest Blogger Peter Burton on Why Adult Speculative Fiction Isn't Dead

Joyce has invited me to do a guest post here in Yesternight’s Voyage. I jumped at the opportunity. It is always a great vote of confidence when a fellow writer offers you a chance to guest on their blog.

Joyce had several options for the post; why adult speculative fiction is not dead, and who some of the great authors of speculative fiction are, to name a couple. To be honest, I can’t separate those two subjects, so this is going to be something of a hybrid.

Since the genre of speculative fiction could be pretty much perceived to cover all fiction ever written, it can get a bit confusing. Technically, Mark Twain’s Huck Finn is just as much speculative fiction as Frank Herbert’s Dune. So, for the sake of this post I’ll just stick to the basics of the genre; Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror. I realize that even those genres have been sliced and diced to death, but let’s keep it simple, shall we?

Why is speculative fiction not dead? Because it is the genre that covers some of the most basic needs in humanity. Our need to romanticize the past, Fantasy; our need to speculate on the future, Science Fiction; and our need to be scared, Horror.

That last bit may seem a bit silly to a few people, but it is the truth. We love to be scared and will go to great lengths to feed that fix. Just look at the lines for the rollercoasters, and all the scary rides at any amusement park. I’m not even going to mention base jumping, white water rafting, or bungee jumping. We like getting the bejesus scared out of us from time to time.

That would partially explain why adult speculative fiction is still alive and well, but I don’t think it’s the entire reason. No genre can continue without great stories, and great stories come from great authors. Even if their status happens to be a one hit wonder. Both Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker fall into that category, as far as the general public goes, yet Dracula and Frankenstein are still read, and the fodder of pop culture media to this very day. Steven King is the long term superstar of the horror brand of speculative fiction.

How many people do you know who don’t know King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, or Merlin? There is some speculation that those people might have come from actual historic persons, but the truth is, the story as we know it is Fantasy. How does that fit into today, you may ask? Look at the number of adults who devoured J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Although not of the Sword and Sorcery brand, it is undeniably Fantasy.

Science Fiction is, and has pretty much always been something of a juggernaut under the speculative fiction umbrella. The ongoing popularity of Jules Verne’s works, such as The Time Machine and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, right up to The afore mentioned Dune is proof enough of that. If that isn’t enough, we didn’t even mention the works of Isaac Asimov, or the recently departed great Ray Bradbury. These two giants of the genre have achieved legendary status, and I’ve no doubt their work will live on for millennia to come.

So far we have only touch the big three in speculative fiction, and I think we’ve made a pretty good case that the genre as a whole is still alive and kicking. If not then consider the popularity New York Times bestselling authors under the new sub-genres of SF such as Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake series (Paranormal Urban Fantasy), and Lisa Myers’s Twilight series (Paranormal Romance). Both of which are clearly adult in nature.

Yes. I would say it is more than safe to say Speculative Fiction is alive as a viable market, and will be for many years to come… if not indefinitely.

Thanks for giving me a chance to mouth off on your blog, Joyce. I am more than grateful for the opportunity. And as usual;

Later Gang.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saturday Link Special #15

Have some time to read? Great! There were a lot of good blogposts out there this past week so let's get right to it.

Here's A Genre I Didn't Think Of! by Agent Kristin Nelson
The Good Seed III by Agent Donald Maass
When Bad Books Happen to Good Writers by Agent Sarah LaPolla
You Have a Request Or You Get “THE CALL” – Now What? by Agent Scott Egan
Passive Vs. Active Voice - A Little Grammar For Tuesday by Agent Scott Egan
How To Influence Editors in a Way That 90% of Other Writers Don’t by Jane Friedman
The Faux Editor - Will You Walk Into My Parlour? Said the Spider to the Fly by Ciara Ballintyne
Five signs you’re about to land an agent: observations from a freelance editor by The Intern
7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel (& How To Avoid Them) by James Scott Bell
The Ultimate Guide to Pitch Writing by Jami Gold
An Author’s Guide to Fan Fiction by Jami Gold
An Online Presence by Beth Revis
How to Respond to Negative Reviews by Beth Revis
Nonlinear Storytelling by Patricia C. Wrede
The Slow Blog Manifesto…and 8 Reasons Why Slow Blogging Will Help Your Career, Your Love Life, and Protect You From Angry Elephants by Anne R. Allen
Describing Your Characters by Inkfish7
Speculative Fiction by Jenny Kaczorowski
Reading Others to Hone Your Writing by Imran Siddiq
Gorebags! The New SpecFic Party Favor! by E.F. Jace

And for more inspiring stories of awesome people who recently signed on with agents:
The Obnoxiously Long Story of How I Got an Offer by Stephanie Diaz
See also: Getting the Call: Stephanie Diaz from It’s In the Details blog
R.C. and the Terrible/Wonderful, No-Good/Very-Rad Day by R.C. Lewis
See also: On Contests, and Being a Sneaky Agent from Jennifer Represents…