Archive for April, 2010
Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Rosemary
All is lost!
This foul Egyptian hath betrayed me:
My fleet hath yielded to the foe, and yonder
They cast their caps up and carouse together
Like friends long lost.
–Antony and Cleopatra, Act IV, Scene 12
This post was inspired by a post on io9, one of my favorite SF/F blogs. Helps keep me up to date on all the latest Geektastic stuff. The post? 20 great “All Seems Lost” moments from Science Fiction and Fantasy. (I appreciate that they included some print as well as TV and movies.)
How to improve on such a great list that includes the “All Is Lost and the Hero’s Deception Has Been Found Out! scene from Avatar. The “Worst Has Just Happened” cliffhanger of ST: The Next Generation when we’re left at the end of the season with Captain Picard having been assimilated into the Borg. The “All Is Lost AND There’s Slow-Mo!” moment in Serenity. (Which precipitates–as the All Is Lost moment should–ass-kicking of much awesomeness.)
The All is Lost moment is exactly what it sounds like. It’s that moment when everything goes to @#$^ for the heros, and neither they, nor the reader, is sure how they’re going to get out of this alive. Very often someone dies, or almost dies, or seems dead, or contemplates ending it all because Things Are That Bad. Sometimes it seems to be the death of the central relationship… or all of the above.
My list of personal All Is Lost moments is, unsurprisingly, rather SF/F heavy.
Aliens, when Knute has been taken by the aliens to be embryo-food. Ripley’s freak out there lays it all on the line. (Seeming inevitable death)
Gladiator… There are actually two. One early, when Maximus discovers the murder of his family, and at the end, when The Plan Goes To Hell and They Are All F’ed. (Lots and lots of death.)
Mulan, when the secret of her gender is discovered and Mulan has no choice to go home in disgrace. (Death of the main character’s goal)
Beauty, by Robin McKinley… and just about every good adaption of the fairy tale… when Beauty rushes back to the Beast’s castle to find him dying. (Almost death)
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis is an obvious but classic example, when Aslan is killed by the White Queen. (Temporarily death)
Sometimes the All Is Lost moment comes at the midpoint of the story–it’s not the climax, but the crisis point… often the thing that transforms the hero into what she needs to be to accomplish the end goal.
I tend to shy away at the All is Lost point. Sometimes I hesitate to make everything really most sincerely lost. I really admire people who push this point to it’s limit. I want to protect my characters! I love them! But it’s another case of go big or go home. You’ve got to take them all the way down, to make the climb back ultimately satisfying.
What makes your list of awesome All Is Lost moments? (I get the best book recommendations from the comments!)
Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by Candace Havens
I asked the lovely and well known non-fiction author Deborah Blake to talk about her agent search to find someone to represent her novels. She has a story that may seem familiar to many of you, and she was kind enough to share it here.
2 Years, 3 Manuscripts, and 50 Rejections: Anatomy of an Agent Search
By Deborah Blake
I have been writing on and off my entire life. In my youth, I even sent out a few short stories (mostly fantasy and science fiction). They got rejected. That led to the “off” part.
Five years ago, almost accidentally, I wrote a book about modern Witchcraft, and started my career as a Llewellyn author. I loved writing the nonfiction, and my fourth and fifth books will be out this year—but truly, my heart was with with fiction world. So I decided I needed to get serious about that side of my writing. That first nonfiction book had taught me something important: I could finish a book.
I set myself some concrete goals: I would write and finish a novel. Then I would get an agent. A top agent, of course. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But I didn’t realize just how hard and long the journey would be.
Two years, three manuscripts, and well over fifty rejections later, I finally achieved my goal. Along the way, a few surprising things happened, and I learned a lot about the agent search, publishing, and myself.
Candace Havens—one of the best surprises that happened to me on my journey—suggested that I share my travels and a little bit of what I learned, so here it is:
I finished the final edits on the first book in early February of 2008, and sent out my first query about a week later. Over the course of about a year, I sent out a lot of other queries, and got requests for partials and a few requests for fulls (including one from Harlequin editor Patience Smith, as a result of my EMILY “Best of the Best” contest win). I used all the Writer’s Digest GUIDE TO AGENTS and GUIDE TO PUBLISHING books, and the Agent Query site online. I also checked websites for the agencies and agents I was interested in, read the dedication pages of books by authors I respected, and started spending inordinate amounts of time following agents and editors on Facebook and Twitter.
Lesson #1: DO YOUR RESEARCH.
It took insane amounts of time and effort, but the research really did pay off. For one thing, I only sent queries to agents who represented the kind of books I was writing. Which undoubtedly increased the amounts of requests I got (and didn’t piss off the agents—always a plus). It also helped me to come up with a top “wish list’ of agents, one of whom was the agent who signed me.
The Journey –
I also started following some of the authors I really liked and admired, the fabulous Candace Havens among them. I went to blogs and left comments. I bought books and told the authors I’d done so. I supported and applauded their endeavors, asked questions, and soaked up as much wisdom as possible from all these lovely folks who were further down the path than I was. Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t sucking up. (Much.) I was demonstrating that I was serious about being a successful author, helping out writers whose work I genuinely admired, and learning a lot in the process. The surprise was that many of these folks have ended up being real friends. The help and support I’ve gotten from them—much of which took the form of repeated “don’t give up, I know you’ll make it” mantras—has far exceeded anything I might have hoped for when I started out.
Lesson #2: WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
Writing is a tough business. Some authors see themselves as being in competition with other authors for the few available publishing slots. But most of the authors I know take the opposite view. They cheer each other on, welcome guest blogs from fellow writers, brag about other author’s new releases on twitter, and much, much more. The writing community turned out to be a warm and welcoming place, and I now have friends and critique partners I found along the way. And I have started to mentor other authors who are treading the path I was on, to pass on the help and advice so many other authors shared with me when I needed it.
The Journey –
Eventually, I joined RWA, and a few RWA online chapters that were the most appropriate for my writing. (There is no RWA chapter near me, alas.) I entered contest after contest for almost a year, garnering lots of feedback, which I added to the feedback I’d received from agents and editors. Some of it really resonated with me (or was repeated over and over, which told me that no matter how I perceived my work, others were seeing it differently), and some of it made no sense whatsoever. I also took a number of online writing classes and went to workshops at my first ever RWA Nationals last year. And I kept writing. When book #1 didn’t sell, I wrote book #2. When book #2 didn’t sell, I wrote book #3. And shockingly—each book was a little bit better than the one before it.
Lesson #3: USE ALL THE TOOLS AT YOUR DISPOSAL TO IMPROVE YOUR WRITING. THEN WRITE, WRITE, WRITE.
This might have been the most important lesson of all. Writers write. Yes, they blog, and send out queries, and take classes, and spend way too much time on Twitter, but mostly what they do is WRITE. No coming up with excuses for why the writing can’t get done. No indulging in week-long pouts because someone sent you a rejection letter. Just write. Along the way, learn everything you can about how to make your writing better. Listen to those who give you feedback, but also listen to your own inner voice; no one can tell you what is best for your writing. Pay attention to what you like about other authors’ writing, and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Then write some more. When I first started out, every rejection sent me into a tailspin that lasted for days. By the end, I’d shrug, say, “Well, not the right one for me,” and go back to the computer to write the book that WOULD get me the one.
The Journey –
Book one was sent out to over sixty agents. Book two was sent out to two—both folks who’d read the full of #1 and said, “Not quite, but send me the next one.” But as much as I loved the book (and believe it will sell when the market changes), it was clear that humor was a tough sell. So I made a conscious choice to put aside both books 1 and 2 for a bit, took a break from querying, and wrote #3. When it was done, I queried my top three choices. The first choice said he wasn’t taking on anyone new, nothing personal. The second one said she didn’t love the voice. The third one—Lucienne Diver, my top choice, and now a pal—said she loved the book…but she’d recently signed someone whose protagonist was a little too similar to mine, and she felt she wouldn’t be able to sell it. Arghhhhh!
So I took a chance, and asked her if she would mind sending it on to Elaine Spencer, also at The Knight Agency, and Candy’s agent. Elaine had read book #1 and liked it, but felt it was too close to things already being repped by the agency. The next day, I got an email from Elaine telling me she loved the book. Really loved it. That was on a Friday afternoon. On the following Monday, we talked on the phone and she officially agreed to represent me. My journey was over.
Lesson #4 – BE FLEXIBLE AND NEVER GIVE UP
I thought I had a top three list of agents I wanted. It turned out that my real dream agent wasn’t one of them. (Although I confess, she was still up there in the top five.) Rather than be discouraged because things hadn’t turned out exactly the way I wanted, I rolled over into plan B and it turned out even better than I expected. All authors dream of having an agent who is completely enthusiastic about their work, and in Elaine, I have just that. I couldn’t be happier. If you’re going to be a professional author, learning to roll with the punches is an absolute necessity. Even the most successful authors I know still sometimes get their work rejected. (Happened to one of my friends just this week). But they eat a few medicinal chocolates, and then dust themselves off and get back to the work of writing. Because no matter what stage of the journey you’re at, if you’re a writer—you write.
Circle, Coven & Grove: A Year of Magical Practice (Llewellyn 2007)
Everyday Witch A to Z (Llewellyn 2008)
The Goddess is in the Details (2009)
Everyday Witch A to Z Spellbook (2010)
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Bob Mayer
The Hierarchy of Goals Example:
Overall Writing Goal. (Strategic)
Book goal. (Tactical)
Business goal (Tactical)
Shorter range/daily goals (Tactical)
I will be a New York Times best-selling author within five years.
Tactical Goal (Book)
I will write a unique thriller, in the vein of James Rollins, but different because of ????, in the next six months.
I will be researching and outlining the second book in the series.
I will research and come up with the idea for the third book in the series.
Tactical Goal (Business)
My thriller will be the first of three similar thrillers featuring the same protagonist, an ex- Navy SEAL, Harvard educated, anthropologist with one arm who secretly cross-dresses.
Every week I will research and make a list of five agents interested in this genre.
I will attend a writers’ conference this month where there is an author who has what I want and attend every session I can. I will not stalk her, but I will try to talk socially to her given the opportunity, which I will make by NOT hiding in my room, but spending every available minute in workshops and in the conference area.
I will attend a writers’ conference in four months where there will be agents that represent my type of novel to get feedback from them. Ditto for the stalking.
I will follow the publishing business to see what the trends are.
Tactical Goal (Shorter Range)
I will get up an hour earlier every day to write.
I will stay up an hour later every night to write.
I will write five pages a day. Every day.
I will have a draft done in ten weeks.
I will rewrite the draft for plot, for character, for symbols, for subplots.
As I rewrite, I will write my query letter and synopsis.
I will continue to rewrite my query letter and synopsis until they are the best I can make them.
The Hierarchy of Goals Must Be Aligned.
This is your responsibility, not your agent’s or editor’s. If goals are not aligned, there is inherent conflict and wasted time and energy. Awareness and honesty are key. In the example above, I mentioned three books. In the last lesson, I’ll discuss a career plan involving three books that Susan Wiggs shared with me when I asked her for help.
You have ONE strategic goal as a writer. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be working on only one thing. In fact, as you’ll see later when we discuss Catastrophe Planning, you probably should be working on more than one thing. The key each day is to remember where your primary focus is.
First, quality is better than quantity. That’s a maxim of Warrior Writer, because it’s a maxim of Special Forces.
So when I watch something like Nanowrimo or #writegoal on twitter, I think it’s good that people are on task and producing, but am also concerned about the quality of the material.
I can’t write more than one piece of fiction at a time. I can’t cross the creative wires. However, I am very prolific because my work schedule looks like this on any given day:
Priority #1: My fiction work in progress.
Priority #2: My non-fiction work in progress. I find writing non-fiction very different than fiction. So the wires don’t cross.
Priority #3: Working on getting Who Dares Wins Publishing off the ground.
Priority #4: Working on new concepts for fiction and non-fiction
Priority #5: Lining up workshops for the future and keeping one’s already scheduled on target.
Priority #6: Running my businesses. ie keeping track of taxes, expenses, etc.
Priority #7: Marketing and sales. Keeping up on social media, blogs, etc.
There’s more I do, but if you add it up, it’s a lot. So I suggest everyone needs to make a list of priorities and that not only makes you prolific, but on target to achieve what you really want. Because #1 priority is your strategic goal.
The key to success as a writer is focusing on that strategic goal every single day as you accomplish your tactical goals.
Special Forces Selection & Assessment thought: Take your eyes off the price and put them on the prize. (well, not literally.)
(Excerpted from Warrior Writer: From Writer To Published Author)
Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 by Joe Nassise
Over the last few months I’ve begun making some of my work available through the Kindle Store at Amazon. Right now I think I have four novels (The Heretic, A Scream of Angels, A Tear in the Sky, Riverwatch) , a novella (More Than Life Itself) , and a short story collection (Shades of Reality) available for sale, all for under $2.00.
For the first couple of months, I sold an average of five copies. And let’s be clear – that’s not five copies of each, that’s five copies total.
Obviously, something needed to be done.
So I decided to start letting folks know the books were out there by posting about them on the various blogs I write for, making an occasional Tweet on the subject, and participating in various message board discussions. My sales started to climb and in the last few months I’ve sold an average of 100 copies per month.
I’m still nowhere near the range I’d like to be in and am certainly not bringing in the kind of sales that folks like Joe Konrath (180 books a day!) or Karen McQuestion (30,000 books this year) are, but its a start, right?
In my continued quest to increase sales of those ebooks, I’ve decided to try a new tactic. Taking my cue from people like Joe Konrath, Cory Doctorow, Scott Sigler and J.C. Hutchins, I’ve decided that I’m going to offer the complete text of my debut novel, Riverwatch, for free from my website. Each day, starting today and continuing for the next 42 days after that, I’ll be posting a new chapter from the book for your reading enjoyment.
Riverwatch was nominated for both the Bram Stoker Award and the International Horror Guild Award when it was published back in 2003 by Pocket Books. Here’s the jacket copy:
IT HAS WAITED….IT HAS HUNGERED….
When Jake Caruso and his construction team find a hidden tunnel in the cellar of the old Blake mansion in the sleepy hamlet of Harrington Falls, Jake can’t wait to explore its depths. There, he finds an even greater mystery: a stone chamber that’s been covered up for hundreds of years — sealed shut by some long-forgotten warden.
IT HAS BEEN UNLEASHED.
When the ancient seal is broken, a reign of terror and death consumes the town’s residents. Something is stalking them — something that strikes in the darkness without warning or mercy, leaving a trail of innocent blood in its wake — and Jake comes to realize the nightmarish truth of what he has set free. It is an evil born of ages past. A creature of eternal bloodlust. And it has risen to continue its endless slaughter….
My hope is that people will discover my work and enjoy it enough to go check out some of the other material I have available, particularly the ebook versions in the Kindle store. I’ll be adding links to the bottom of each chapter to encourage people to do so. I have no idea how well this will work, if it will work at all, but I feel it is worth a try. I’ll come back and do a follow up post in thirty days to allow us to examine the pros and cons of the process.
You can find the first chapter here.
So what are your predictions? Will it work? Why or why not? Perhaps more importantly, what would you suggest to improve the chance of success?
Monday, April 26th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
One of the hallmarks of urban fantasy is world building. That is, I think part of the reason people read the genre is to be able to fall into a different world for a little while. But I like to think world building is part of all good storytelling — it’s how you know a story is set in Chicago instead of New York, because it takes more than just saying “New York” to convince a knowledgeable reader that you’re really there.
The more fantastical your story, the more world building details you need to make up. The more real you can make a totally imaginary world, the more successfully you draw in your reader. A lot of people give Tolkien a hard time for the endless descriptions in Lord of the Rings. But you know what? Middle Earth seems real because of it.
Now, I suppose what you’re expecting is for me to give a bunch of tips and advice about world building. About how to make not just the settings of your stories real, but the political system, religion, geography, social structures, technology, and so on. Making the world believable. But world building is one of my weak spots. There’s a reason all my novels are contemporary fantasy — set in our world. I only have to describe, not invent.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve had to establish rules for the fantastical elements of my books, and that’s a big part of world building, especially for urban fantasy. Other points I think about when I’m writing (or reading) urban fantasy:
- Do your research. And I’m talking about the mundane aspects, not the fantasy. Make sure the cops act like real cops, that any real-world professions you depict come across accurately, that existing locations are accurate, and so on. The more real “real” feels to the reader, the more real the rest will feel.
- Make rules for the world — especially the magical and supernatural elements. Stick to those rules. Build your stories around those rules so you don’t end up having to fudge your own rules to make a story work.
- Wow factor. There has to be something that makes this world worth visiting. That makes it different than our world. Otherwise, what’s the point? One of the identifying traits of urban fantasy is that it takes place in something resembling the “real” world. But what are the differences? What makes this world interesting enough to tell stories about?
Here are some of my very favorite examples of great world building: Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, and George Lucas’s Star Wars.
Any others I should add to the list?
Saturday, April 24th, 2010 by Charlene Teglia
I’m currently bugged by unpleasant events in which my laptop locks up and crashes and restarts. Thanks to the wonders of document recovery and my mania for saving and backing up, this is annoying and inconvenient but hasn’t been fatal.
Computer failure for writers is kind of like motorcycle accidents for regular riders. Sooner or later you’re going down, so the better prepared you are, the better your chances of minimal damage.
The first line of defense is to save often. If you can’t remember to hit “save” on a regular basis while you’re in the heat of a scene, Word will automatically save for you. To check your settings or change the frequency, go to Tools/Options/Save and under Save Auto Recover info, select the minutes you want as your interval between saves. If it’s saving every 5-15 minutes, that limits how much work you stand to lose.
An external backup drive gives you another layer of protection against data loss or the sudden death of your writing machine. You can back up your files to the external drive daily, weekly, or after each writing session depending on your level of productivity and paranoia.
If you have a Mac, you have a built-in tool called Time Machine that’s made to work with an external hard drive. For Windows users, this is less automated but still pretty easy to set up. Hard drives are cheap insurance, especially when you consider how much days or weeks of lost work can cost.
Offsite storage is a good idea even if you already keep a backup file on another drive. In the event of catastrophe (fire, flood, home robbery, small children or pets) your data is secure in another location. Dropbox is free and a lot easier to keep up to date than manually driving a backup CD to another offsite storage location, and you don’t have to remember to keep doing it once it’s set up. It’s automatic.
Dropbox is a boon for writers. Any file you keep in your Dropbox folder automatically synchronizes with the version on the server, so that in case of sudden hard drive death, your file is saved in a separate location and accessible from another machine. You can get an account that takes minutes to set up, and gives you a lot of peace of mind.
Save, back up data, keep files offsite, and automate all of it so you don’t have to ask yourself if you remembered to do it or not. Then when your computer dies at the worst possible time, it won’t take your book or your sanity with it.
Friday, April 23rd, 2010 by Rosemary
Since I had surgery last week, I’ve been camped out in the guest room so I won’t have to climb the stairs. The guest room also happens to be the ‘library’ so I’ve been perusing my ‘keeper’ shelf while I’m recuperating.
There’s a trend to the books I keep. I mean, they look all over the map, but the unifying thing is character. A mystery can have an ingenious plot, a fantasy a rich alternate reality, but for me to love a book, I have to love the characters.
I just finished a book that I read in spite of really not warming to the main character early on. But the story problem was really interesting, and the world/magic system kind of cool, and I wanted to see where the author was going with it. It was a little like a mystery novel in that–sometimes with puzzlers, it’s the puzzle that draws you in. But the perennial mysteries have an interesting detective that elevate the work to immortality: Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Sam Spade.
Anyway, I’m reading this book to see how the story problem plays out, and 50 pages from the end, the main character does something unutterably selfish–again–and I put down the book for a week and didn’t finish it until I was drugged up on post-op pain pills and thought, what the heck, I just want to see how it ends. But it was, at that point, and academic exercise.
Now, I’m not saying there was anything technically wrong with this book. But I couldn’t honestly enjoy what was right with it because by the end, there was not a single character that I liked. The only reason I was rooting for them was because I didn’t want the world to end and a lot of innocent people to die.
It occurs to me that I talk a lot here about characterization, and how to get the reader to root for your character. Give them something vital at stake, justify they’re idiotic actions… But I guess it’s just that so much of a story’s emotional impact is tied up in my liking the characters. Even if they’re not likable, give me some point of connection.
Not every detective is going to be Sherlock Holmes, and not every fantasy swashbuckler will be Miles Vorkosigan. But, you know, they should at least do something, at some point in the book, that makes me know they actually care about someone’s problems other than their own. They need to, at some point, “save the cat”… and not just because the cat keeps the mice out of their house.
I’m curious– What books are on your “keeper” shelf because of the characters? Do you have any on there strictly because of the plot, even though you didn’t care for the characters carrying on the action?