Archive for January, 2011

Monday, January 31st, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Excerpt: Steel

It’s a new year!  Time for new books!  May I present STEEL, my second young-adult book, which will be out from Harper Teen in March.  Here’s an excerpt for y’all.  Enjoy!

Steel hc c2


The bright sun, soothing white beaches, and picture-perfect views of palm trees and bright blue ocean didn’t do much for Jill’s mood.  Gray skies would have suited her better.  But she tried to make a good showing, for her mother’s sake:  lying on a towel on the beach while eight-year-old Mandy and ten-year-old Tom ran around screaming, splashing in and out of the waves.  Her siblings kept yelling at her to join them, that the water was warm and she should try snorkeling, it was so clear and they could see rocks and fish and shells and everything.  At least they were having a good time.  Mandy hadn’t stopped talking since they arrived, going on and on about sharks and seashells and where they should go looking for pirate treasure.  That was after the visit to the Pirates Museum in Nassau.  Apparently, the island had been covered with pirates some three hundred years ago.  Jill kept telling her that all the pirate treasure had been found a long time ago, and real pirates didn’t bury treasure anyway.  Mandy didn’t care; she was still going to talk about it.

Jill hadn’t even put on her swimsuit, but wore a tank top and clamdiggers.  Her one concession was going barefoot, and she dug her toes in the warm sand.

Her father had gone to play golf.  Her mother stretched out on a lounge chair beside her, sipping from a fruity drink with a paper umbrella and a pineapple rind sticking out of it.  Jill had asked for a taste, and her mother had refused.  “It’s got rum in it,” she’d said.

Maybe the trip would be more fun if Jill were old enough to drink.

Reading in the sun, even wearing sunglasses, gave her a headache, so she set the book aside and tried to take a nap.  Then she gave up on the nap and stood.  “I’m going to take a walk.”

Her mother blinked awake — she’d managed a nap.  “Where to?”

“Just down the beach,” she said.  “I’ll go for a while and turn around and come back.”

For a moment, her mother looked like she might argue.  But she didn’t.  “All right.  Be careful.”

Jill started walking.

The beach wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t empty, which she would have preferred.  Lots of families seemed to be on vacation, as well as couples of every age.  People, greasy with sunscreen, lay on towels and baked on the sand.  Some played volleyball.  Some, like her, walked barefoot on wet sand, at the edge of where the waves reached.  She kept going, past the people, to where the more attractive, sandy portion of the beach narrowed, and palm trees grew almost to the water.  Voices fell away, drowned out by the sound of waves.  She kept walking.

She could understand how someone could lose herself, walking along a beach.  It was meditative:  the roll of the waves, the repetitive movement of water and patterns of froth that traveled back and forth along the sand were constant, along with the noise — the rush, splash, echo of always-moving water.  Beautiful, entrancing.  It never changed — but at the same time the pattern the breaking waves made was always different, and she could just keep watching it.  The waves, the surf, and the ocean that went on to a flat horizon.

Walking in sand was a lot of work.  Her feet dug in, slipping a little with every step.  Her legs had to push harder.  This was a good workout.  Then again, she was probably moving faster than she needed to.  You were supposed to just stroll along a beach, not march.  She didn’t care.  She didn’t mind sweating.

She could just keep walking, never go back.  She could turn into a beach bum and never make another decision about what to do next.  The idea sounded enticing.

When her bare toe scuffed against something hard in the sand, she stopped.  It was too heavy to be a shell.  Maybe a stone.  She knelt and brushed the sand away, feeling for the object her foot had discovered.

It was a slender length of rusted steel, flat, about six inches long and a half an inch wide.  It tapered to a point at one end and was jagged at the other, as if it had broken.  A thousand people would step over it and think it trash, but not her.

This was the tip of a rapier, the solid shape of a real sword.  The original source of the modern, flimsy weapons she fenced with.  Every fencing book she’d ever seen had a picture of rapiers like that, to show where the sport came from.  This tip must have broken off and might have been rusting in the ocean for centuries, waves pushing it along the sandy bottom until it washed up here.  Dark brown flakes came off in her hand.  The edges were dull enough that she ran her finger along them without harm — though her skin tingled when she thought about what the piece of steel represented.  Was it a pirate sword?  Had it broken in a duel?  In a battle?  Maybe it had fallen from a ship.  Looking around, she studied the sand as if the rest of the sword might be lying nearby.  She imagined a long, powerful rapier with an intricate swept hilt, like something from a museum or a movie.  An Errol Flynn movie.  But that was stupid.  The tip had broken, and it would have washed away from the rest of the sword a long time ago.

Maybe there was a sword in a museum somewhere, missing six inches.  Maybe she should tell someone about this.  Maybe the pirate museum in Nassau would  want it.

But it was just a broken, rusted piece of steel.  What were the odds that someone strolling along the beach would find it and recognize what it was, like she did?  No one would want it, really.  No one would miss it.

She didn’t know how far she’d come or how long she’d been walking, but she’d left behind signs of civilization.  She couldn’t see any roads or hear any vehicles.  No boats were visible out on the water, and there weren’t any people.  Just blowing palm trees, a strip of sand, and the endless waves.  She might as well have been on a desert island.  Which made her feel strangely peaceful.  Being the only person on an island, looking out at the ocean?  Maybe you’d go crazy.  Or you might think that you’d finally found some peace and quiet.  No pressure on a desert island.

At least walking along the shore she couldn’t possibly get lost.  She turned around and started back.  Before she came within sight of the first people and buildings, she slipped the broken rapier tip in her pocket.

It was weird; she felt like she had something she shouldn’t, as if she’d stolen something.  But she’d found it; she hadn’t taken it from anyone.  Maybe she blushed because she liked knowing something no one else did.  She liked having a little bit of secret treasure.

Saturday, January 29th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Writing Goals for 2011

Howdy folks.  Saturday again. 

We’re wrapping up the first month of the New Year and recently laid Kenika to rest.  Kenika is a season that begins roughly on New Year’s Day and ends at 11:59PM on Martin Luther King Day Eve.  It started as a birthday joke but it’s become a time of year that I start putting together my sense of everything I learned the year and projecting my imagination  forward into the next year the things I want to do.

There are ample articles out on the web about goal-setting for writers and you can even find some of these goals posted.  I’ll not bog you down with that level of detail.  Instead, I’ll just share how I approach it and share here my goals for the upcoming year.

When I’m pondering the upcoming year, I always couch my business goals within my values.  Relationships trump work.  Health matters.  And I do a rather brief internal SWOT analysis.  

Prior to the leap into novels and the book contract for the Psalms of Isaak, my writing goals were more elaborate and had a lot to do with production and marketing.  Now, I try to keep them simpler.  Shortly after signing the contract I asked my agent what she felt my highest priorities should be for my writing career.  She said “Write and connect with your readers.”  So those two things form two of the three categories I think about when goal-setting.  The third is one I’ve added:  “Pay it forward.”

So, I have Goals Regarding Writing and Marketing Said Writing, then I have Goals  Regarding Connecting with My Readers and last, Goals Regarding Encouraging Other Writers.

Then, thinking about the end result I want — and what I want to be looking back on next Kenika — I plug a few goals into each area.  And I always, always know that as CEO of Ken’s Writing Concern I can modify my goals as needed.

So, for 2011, here’s what I’m going to be up to…..

Writing and Marketing

  • Finish Requiem, Volume 4 of the Psalms of Isaak
  • Start planning/researching for Hymn, Final Volume of the Psalms of Isaak.
  • Complete two short story collaborations (both lined up).
  • Write one tie-in P0I story or novellette.
  • Other Short Fiction as time allows.

Connecting with Readers

  • Continue blogging with Genreality and on FB.
  • Finally get Tweetdeck up and running.
  • Attend 2 local cons and Worldcon.
  • Attend any events I’m available for when requested by publisher or bo0ksellers.

Encouraging Other Writers

  • Write and market one writing-related article.
  • Keep blogging (see above).
  • Participate in St Helens Bookshop’s Teen Writing Workshop.
  • Teach Evolution of a Writing Career (with J.A. Pitts) at Orycon and Norwescon.

Now, I could go further.  But given everything else I have going on, these seem pretty aggressive.  I reserve the right, of course, to exceed my own expectations.

So what about you?  How do you plan your next year as a writer?  What values do you bring to that process?  What are your goals for 2011?

Friday, January 28th, 2011 by Rosemary
A Good Metaphor is…

Last week, I compared different types of writing to different types of cars. I really appreciate those of you who entered into the spirit of things in the comments, and on Twitter.

Now, I can stretch a metaphor until it begs for mercy, and I don’t the I could write a book without the words “like” and “as if.” Metaphor, simile… which is which isn’t important.* We use them all the time to get your meaning across by comparing an unknown thing to a familiar one.  In fiction (and some non-fiction), they serve the same purpose: to paint a vibrant picture for the reader.

Ah, yes. Comparisons are like a rainforest–lush, colorful, and full of danger… To your writing, that is.

Like-itis. I am addicted to the world “like” when I write. Replacing every other one with “as if” only helps so much.  Similes are often the ‘go to’ format because we used them more in our everyday conversation. But vary them with metaphor (and here I guess it IS helpful to know the difference, so see the footnote) to keep your prose from getting repetitive. (i.e, instead of “He moved slow as molasses.” try “He moved molasses-slow across the room.” (We’ll get to cliches in a minute.)

Metaphors are often less obtrusive than a simile. “Green-clad hills” for example, slips in a sentence seamlessly, where “hills wearing grass like a green velvet coat” trips you up. (Even if it were better written, it would still slow you down.) So change it up, and save your bigger comparisons for moments where you want the reader to stop to contemplate the picture you’re painting. (Hint: read it aloud to see how it flows.)

Don’t over explain… Some things it’s okay to let the reader infer what you mean. If you’re writing a period piece and you say, “smooth as Bing Crosby’s croon” they can still get the message.

…But if it doesn’t make sense without an explanation, maybe it’s not the right metaphor.

Labored and overwrought. I can’t think of a better example of ‘trying too hard’ than those quoted here.

Consider the voice, character and setting. “Slow as molasses” might seem weird coming from a hard-boiled NYC detective. So would “Polished as lovingly as Bubba’s gun rack.”  A teen character probably wouldn’t say that something (other than hair) “Stuck straight up like Cindi Lauper’s bangs.” (Is 80’s retro yet?) But “Stuck straight up like the bangs in this picture she’d seen once of her mom’s favorite singer in the 80’s,” is worse. It’s awkward on three levels: grammatically, metaphorically, and age…ally.** You’ve just outed yourself as their mom’s age and unable to make a more contemporary comparison. (If it’s actually hair, it’s not a metaphor. It’s just a bad hairstyle.)

And most damning of all…

Cliche. This is the biggest potential pitfall of a metaphor or simile. We use certain comparisons all the time. Sly as a fox, pretty as a picture. And these are only the glaringly obvious ones.  Racing hearts, jaws hitting the floor (maybe that’s hyperbole, but, whatever), eyes like saucers… these are all overused and tired.  (I know, because I’ve used them all.)

Two was to get around this? Go for the unexpected from the outset. Put a twist on a cliche.

If you think with all five senses, and don’t pigeonhole your descriptions with the expected, then vibrant metaphors will come naturally. And even when they don’t, they should sound like they do.

So here’s your assignment. Take a cliched metaphor/simile and change it up. Pretty as a… pig?

*But for the sake of my OCD, let’s just clarify: A simile is when you compare something to something else with the words “like” or “as if.” A metaphor is when you treat a word or phrase in a way that wouldn’t be literally possible. Like putting a metaphor on the rack. Or “Her condescension was bottomless; of course I knew the difference between a metaphor or a simile.”

** When I judge/critique unpublished contemporary YA, you’d be surprised how many teen character compare or refer to things that “my Mom” liked/owed/knew/danced to/wore/swooned over.  If you don’t know what’s hot now, that’s okay, just use generalities, not specifics. In Sync are OLD now, but floppy haired boy bands never go out of style.

Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Candace Havens
Location and Sex

Please welcome the wonderful Heather Long, who is guest blogging for me today about SEX. :) -Candy

The old saying suggests that location is everything. But is it really when you are writing a sex scene? This is a tough question to answer. In a romance novel, sex scenes serve a pivotal role in defining intimacy in your characters relationship. But how important is the location of the sex?

In Julie Garwood‘s Slow Burn, Kate is staying at her best friend Jordan’s brownstone in Boston when she first hooks up with Jordan’s brother Dylan. The one nightstand was unexpected, but the characters have known each other for years. Kate’s pretty embarrassed that she hooked up with Dylan in Jordan’s apartment while Jordan was in the hospital.

Later, the two are thrown together and they are staying the same hotel room. Kate and Dylan have separate beds, it’s dark and the sexual tension is palpable. Dylan finally says “Are you coming over here or am I coming over there?”

Those two scenes are very different, in terms of emotion and sexual chemistry. The location for the scenes is really important. Jordan’s brownstone is the setting for a rash decision, based on need and mutual desire whereas the hotel room, in the dark, separate beds creates this illusion of isolation that is important for the characters to bridge in order to be together.

Locations Set the Tone

Where a couple consummates their relationship can say a lot about the commitment, the level of tension while also illustrating the different beats in the relationship. Sex very early in the manuscript can mean that it’s important for these two characters to be united against a threat. Sex at the very end of the manuscript can mean that it’s vital the characters overcome obstacles to be together. So where you place the sex scenes can really impact your story.

I think it’s important that the sex scenes be totally organic. I don’t think you should ever force a sex scene nor should you make it totally gratuitous. The first time your characters make love it’s important, arguably, the mini-breakup and reunion sex scenes are important, but if they get it on like bunnies every night — you don’t need to see every aching moment of it.

Sex Sells

Without question, sex sells. Conversations about sex draw in a lot of people. Everyone has an opinion. Apparently, in some places you can even get kicked off a plane if you’re reading a book that’s too sexy. European television has a lot of sex on it, so does American (we just like to keep ‘clean’ or consign it to cable).

While sex is very much a part of the human condition like living, breathing, eating and interacting — it’s a tool in a writer’s arsenal. Sex communicates intimacy and the deepening of a relationship. Sex can also muck it up by creating problems with communication.

In Patricia Briggs Cry Wolf for example, mated couple Anna and Charles have sex but neither feels their mating bond deepening. It’s confusing, but the bond doesn’t deepen because despite really enjoying their night together, Anna’s not as wholly committed as Charles is. It takes time, she has to get her heart, mind and body on the same page.

The setting, the location and even the timing of the sex is pretty spot on in the novel, but it takes place near the first half, indicating deeper obstacles to be overcome. So sex and location are really important partners in telling your tale.

What do you think about sex on location?

Heather Long divides her workaholic hours between an endless day job, school, writing, and providing snarky entertainment for those who call her friend. Her most recent release, Seven Souls a Leaping is a paranormal suspense anthology.  You can learn more about Heather and her work at

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 by Bob Mayer
The Future of Bookstores

Did you ever think you’d pay 5 bucks for a cup of coffee?

Last year at the New Jersey Romance Writers I heard an editor use the comparison of instant coffee versus brewed coffee when discussing eBooks and print books.  She pointed out that when instant coffee first appeared everyone thought brewed coffee was dead.  Brewed coffee is still around.  Her point:  print won’t die because eBooks are here.  I agree.  But I take it a step further.  Not only is brewed coffee still here, Starbucks appeared.  They made buying a cup of coffee an ‘experience’.  Really, is a cup of coffee at Starbucks that much better than McDonald’s?  But you can’t get that extra-mocha, whatever, whatever, whatever (I get decaf, black, I’m boring) at McDonalds.  And it’s like, way cool, to be able to stand there and say all those words, like I really know what it means and really like this stuff.  I’m too intimidated.  We used to chew the instant coffee from our LRRP meals when I was in Special Forces while we were deployed to stay awake.  I think I might order some grounds next time I’m at a Starbucks.  Of course, I never go there and there’s isn’t one here on the island so . . .

I digress.  So Starbucks blossomed across the country, like zombies with aprons.  You can’t cross a street without hitting one.  But then the economy, like, collapsed.  Bummer.  And people have had to cut back.  And, well, $5 for a cup of coffee, started to seem like, of all things, an extravagance.  So Starbucks has been hurting (join the club).

Let’s talk bookstores.  First there was Amazon.  Mail order book retailer.  There were grumbles when it first appeared on the horizon back in the days when men were men and the sheep ran scared.  It took a slice of the market.  B&N also opened an on-line store.  Overall, though, the brick and mortar stores and the on-line stores co-existed, much like, well, the Borg and the human race.

But then came eBooks.  A murmur in the distance as long ago as, well, January 2010.  Now it’s a roar.  Borders isn’t solvent.  B&N is for sale.  Indies, first besieged by the chains, then the on-line retailers, are now attacked on all fronts and those hardy few who have survived so far, must feel like:  Can’t a human get a break?

Back to Starbucks.  Some smart people over there, right?  So what do they have planned to combat their eroding sales?  They’ve come up with a two-pronged approach, which has a single concept at its core:  go local.

It seems counter-intuitive for a national chain to go local.  But what is becoming apparent in retail is that niche is the future.  For Starbucks, they’re going to serve alcohol.  But not Bud or wine in the carton.  They’re serving local brews and local wines.  And the décor of each store, rather than being cookie-cutter same, is going to feature local artists and furniture.  They’re going to cater to, well, the local people.  They’re reinventing the ‘experience’.

I submit where goes Starbucks, there might be a path for bookstores to survive.  Serve plenty of alcohol.  Well, no.  Well, actually, why not?  Become a gathering place for like-minded people.  But the real thing is:  Niche is the future.  Not only will indies have to adapt to their area, but for chains like B&N to survive, they must specialize and localize.  One size does not fit all.  All books do not fit all.

The Espresso machine is a lifeline.  Books will be printed in the stores.  So anyone can walk in with a thumb drive and print out their Great American Novel and give it to mom and pop and sell three copies to friends who really like them and put up with them.  But it’s a money maker.  Rack local authors.  People who would come in and hang out in the store every so often and talk to readers and interact.  Rack books about the area.  So if someone wants to know about kayaking in Puget Sound, because they happen to be in a bookstore in a town on the edge of Puget Sound, they can find a book about it.  We have to break away from the single buyer in NY determining what goes in every bookstore around the country.  We have to get back to local buyers, who have the pulse of the area, who know the readers, determining what goes on the shelves.  Make apps where you can sell eBooks by local authors and about the local area.  Mirror your physical store on-line.

Write it Forward

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 by Sasha White
How we write…

In the past month or so there’s been a wave of people in my life telling me they want to write a novel and asking how to start. It warms my heart, and scares the shit out of me at the same time.

Warms my heart because I’ve often felt very alone with no writer friends around me (Other than my online friends) and I’m thrilled to have people who want to talk writing and characters and plots and all the little details that can bring a story together.

It scares the shit out of me because while I’m always full of advice about what works for me or what I do, I’m also very much aware that everyone’s writing path is different, as is their process.

What used to work, Not Plotting.
Now I want to plot. I still haven’t figured out exactly how, but I’m working on it.

What used to work: Calls For submissions.
If someone told me what they wanted, and they were willing to pay for it, I could write it.
Now I just want to write things *I* like, enjoy or care about.

What used to work: Sex scenes
I used to just think about what Type of sexual aspect I wanted a story to have, then I’d build the character/story around that. It worked well because I write erotic fiction, and sex is a huge part of it. Now I want to start with GMC. (Goal Motivation Conflict) This is so backwards for me…

The funny thing? Even though I want to start with these things now, they’re not really working for me just yet either. I’m still working on my evolving process. So if I’m having troubles with my own process, how am I supposed to help others?

Advice is a strange thing. Strange only because some people take the advice you give them as ‘law’ and not as what is it, your opinion. What anyone who wants to write needs to learn is how THEY write, not how I write. So I’m gonna send them here to read others stories. Will you share How YOU write in the comments for me? Where do you most commonly (because it isn’t always the same is it?) start when you’re writing a new story?

Monday, January 24th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Pretty Good v. Great — and Sellable

Today I want to talk about someone else’s blog post, because she nails it (and not just ’cause she mentions me):  Christie Yant, Assistant Editor at Lightspeed Magazine, writes about what she’s learned in a year of working on the magazine.  And what she’s learned is the difference between “pretty good” and “great.”

I think she’s right, and I’ve been there myself.

The most frustrating phase of my career came when I had sold my first couple of stories, but I wasn’t selling consistently and I hadn’t sold a novel at all.  I was almost there.  But I wasn’t there yet.  I was pretty good, but not great.  I’d reached a plateau.  I couldn’t see how to improve.  I joked that my progress resembled Zeno’s Paradox:  I was always covering half the distance to the goal, which I would therefore never actually reach, and the strides I did make kept getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller.  (I think this still holds true — if the goal is to write the perfect story, I’ll never get there, but I’m always making progress, however little it seems.)

It’s a tough spot.  Once you’ve eliminated all the mistakes from your writing, and you’re still not selling, you need to consider — what are you missing?  What separates competent stories from great, sellable stories?  This may be the hardest hurdle to overcome on the road to getting published and establishing a career.  Because once you’ve internalized the concrete skills, what’s left is intangible.  Things like voice, theme, meaning.  The “so what?” factor.  Why did you write this story and how do you get that across in a meaningful way?

Christie Yant identifies three points that separate pretty good from great: structure, voice, and something to say.  Here’s how I see those three things:

Structure:  Can you identify the beats in your story?  The important scenes and pivotal moments?  Are they building toward a climax?  Or do things just happen?  Have you trimmed everything that doesn’t contribute to the story’s meaning?  Can you identify a reason for every single element of the story to be there?

Voice:  Is every word is in the story there for a reason?  Does every image reflect the story and evoke meaning, or is the prose dependent on clichés?  Can you tell who is narrating the story just by the words used?  Are the words you use, the phrasing, the way they’re put together, appropriate for the character and setting?  Does the prose evoke confidence and personality?  Does it convince the reader that the author knows what she’s doing?

Something to say:  Take a stand in your story.  I’ve seen “pretty good” stories that are so careful to remain neutral and inoffensive that they have no power, no punch.  I read them and think, “So what?”  Don’t be afraid to express an opinion, to dramatize that opinion in the story.  If the story’s about war, it should say something about it:  bad, good, necessary, pointless, or what.  Am I supposed to like or hate the main character by the end of the story?  Does it make me laugh or cry?  Am I still going to be thinking about the story a day after I’ve read it?  Do I, the author, really care about the topics in the story?  If I’m writing about something that makes me angry, happy, sad, frustrated, whatever — does that come through?  Because it should.

These are tough areas to work on.  They involve risk — putting yourself out there.  Not playing it safe.  It’s a whole lot tougher to think about your emotional attachment to a story than whether or not you’ve got a decent character arc.  But in the end, I think the risk is worth it.