Archive for July, 2011

Saturday, July 30th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Finding Your Voice

Howdy folks.  Happy Saturday.  I thought that today we’d spend some time talking about finding our voice.

Most writers, in hindsight, can identify the day it happened.  Some, like Ray Bradbury, knew it shortly after he wrote it.

Here’s what he said about the experience in his essay “Run Fast, Stand Still” from Zen in the Art of Writing:

All during my twentieth and twenty-first years, I circled around summer noons and October midnights, sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.

I finally found it one afternoon when I was twenty-two years old. I wrote the title “The Lake” on the first page of a story that finished itself two hours later. Two hours after that I was sitting at my typewriter out on a porch in the sun, with tears running off the tip of my nose, and the hair on my neck standing up.

Why the arousal of hair and the dripping nose?

I realized I had at last written a really fine story. The first, in ten years of writing. And not only was it a fine story, but it was some sort of hybrid, something verging on the new. Not a traditional ghost story at all, but a story about love, time, remembrance, and drowning.

I think it’s also Bradbury who said we have to write about a million words to get to the good ones, give or take.  I think that’s probably a safe bet.  At the very least, it helps us frame our expectations.

I remember the first story I wrote that was me — my voice — emerging in a recognizable way for the first time.  It was called “Blakely In His Heart” and it was about a Notary Public in a post-apocalyptic totalitarian society who runs into a returned Martian colonist sent to make contact with the survivors.  When I finished it, I knew I’d done something different there and that the product was something Uniquely Mine.  Of course, finding my voice there didn’t mean I continued to use that voice or that the story was publishable.  It just meant it was me.

I’ve heard a few opinions on voice over the years — some say it is inherent within the writer and is caught more than taught.  Others say it can absolutely be taught.  I don’t have a strong opinion myself but I do think we can be nurtured in the direction of finding our voice and I think Bradbury, in another essay from Zen… called “How to Keep and Feed a Muse” hits upon a few ideas for that.  My thoughts on it are similar to his.

First, you just have a write.  A lot.  And then a lot more.  Have you ever played a musical instrument?  When I first picked up a guitar, I knew nothing.  I used a chord chart and taught myself Em, D, G and A.  This gave me enough to pull off a rather problematic “Scarborough Fair.”  I had to look at the frets.  I had to pause and look at the chord charts.  But now, with 26 years of practice I have several hundred songs — their lyrics, chords, melodies — all snug in my brain.  You can hand me a guitar and I can put on a show that you wouldn’t realize was unrehearsed because…well…because of practice.  I play all the time.  I learn as I play.  And early on my covers sought to imitate the singers and songs I loved the most.  But over time, my own voice and my own interpretation of those songs started to show up.  Practice did that.  And it was the same in my writing.

Second, I think we can find our voice by opening up our eyes and ears to voices beyond those we already know.  Reading outside the genre.  Reading essays and articles.  Reading poetry (aloud.)  Listening to music (not just the notes but the lyrics that accompany them.)   Go to the library and roam the stacks.  Pause here or there, wherever your fancy takes you, and pull down a book.  Spend time with voices you ordinarily wouldn’t spend time with. Find someone in their 80s or 90s and get them to tell you stories about both the good and the bad old days.  Listen for the rhythm, the cadence, of their storytelling muscles as they come to life.

Then, take everything you’ve experienced and go practice some more.  Ease in for the long haul and try not to think about it.
Just write.  Keeping writing.  Write some more.
Next week, I think I’m going to start a short series on making characters real.  Until then, Trailer Boy out.

Friday, July 29th, 2011 by Rosemary
Truth in Marketing

I’m quite unwell today. Here is a LOLcat to tide you over until the brilliance of Genreality resumes tomorrow.

Funny Pictures - MemeCats, Business Cat IRL
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

Thursday, July 28th, 2011 by Charlene Teglia
Fearless Writing

In college, I did one really smart thing; I majored in psychology because I thought it would make me a better writer. It did, and it also exposed me to some really interesting thinkers and led to me reading Rollo May’s  The Courage to Create. If you never read a craft book in your life, you can still read that book and come away with a whole new appreciation for what it takes to be a writer, what it takes to do anything creative. The  main thing it takes is the willingness to do the work, however scary that might feel.

A recent interview with legendary comic writer Alan Moore from Wired brought this home to me all over again this week. It’s a long interview, but what he has to say about writers is something particularly pertinent in in the midst of Borders’ liquidation, agents becoming publishers, and contracts asking for more while print runs and advances shrink. To paraphrase, he asks what can you expect writers to contribute to culture when they’re afraid to ask for a raise.

It’s a valid point. If I’m afraid to rock the business boat, am I pulling my punches on the page? Watering down a scene, backing away from an image that’s too harsh, too powerful, and substituting something more palatable? Trying to make nice instead of trying to make something meaningful, something honest?

We write popular fiction, genre fiction, and our job is to entertain. But it’s also our job to be honest, to be fearless in expressing our vision, saying what we mean, going for the jugular when it’s called for. Or we end up with a finished product that doesn’t really make anybody laugh or cry or rage or make them believe they can overcome and triumph over their circumstances like the hero in a story.

A good writer friend once told me you have to write a “very” book. Very funny, very sexy, very scary, whatever. You have to know what you’re setting out to do, commit to it, and do it, no holding back. You don’t get a “very” book without writing fearlessly.

This is why writing fast often works really, really well; write fast enough and you don’t have time to be paralyzed by fear or to second-guess yourself.

Read the last scene you wrote and ask yourself; what would I say or do here if I wasn’t afraid of what somebody might think? When we’re creating is not the time to be cautious. It’s the time to throw caution to the winds. There’s plenty of time to tone things down in editing if you go too far, but time and time again when I turn in a book where I’m sure I went too far? My editors have never  thought so. Which tells me I probably didn’t go far enough.

My writing wish for us all is that we write fast, write furiously, write fearlessly, and go as far as our imaginations can stretch.

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011 by Bob Mayer
Part 3: Dialogue with Randy Ingermanson

This is the final part of my dialogue regarding the state of publishing with Randy Ingermanson. This is a timely discussion, not just because its coming on the tail end of Digital Book World Conference, or even the current state of publishing, but my own publishing company’s recent review of the last year, which has led us to make a few changes. I’ve touched on a few in this interview, but even since then, as we’ve watched what is going on around us in the world of publishing, we’ve made adjustments. We are already seeing some excellent results for efforts.  Next week we’ll post about some of the changes Who Dares Wins Publishing is making and what you can expect from us in the future.

Randy: Part of the publishers’ problem is that contracts written more than 10 years ago don’t really cover e-books. Books published in the last few years will never go out of print now, because of e-books. Unless you put clauses in the contract to redefine what out of print means.

Bob: There are clauses being built in on that. RH says less than 300 sold in two reporting periods, which is pretty low.

Randy: My agent friends tell me that publishers are rewriting the contracts.

Bob: Yes.  The 25% eBook royalty isn’t going to work much longer.

Randy: I think it has to go up to 50%, which is still low compared to 70% or 90%, but most authors would be willing to take that to avoid the work. But 25% seems unfair to most authors.

Bob: Yes.  We offer 50% right now.  It’s currently higher than pretty much everywhere else.

Randy: This is a time of chaos for publishing.

Bob: Yes.  And the key is to stay on top of all the latest information and try to sift through it all.

Randy: Right, things change every month.

Bob: Reading blogs, things like your newsletter, PW, going to conferences.  It’s all key. Twitter is a good information source. I hit probably five or six links from people who have good information every day to stay updated.

Randy: One thing that’s changing is the required lengths of books.

Bob: Yes.  We’re focusing soon on shorts.  10-15 thousand words at $2.99.  And, on the other end, it doesn’t cost any more to do a 170,000 words book.

Randy: The nice thing is that you could write a 10k book in a week.

Bob: Or pull it together from a bunch of blog posts.

Randy: Whereas most authors would be stressed to do a 100k book in a month.

Bob: Yes.  I’m getting some experts to put together shorts on their particular fields.

Randy: And as you say, books that were formerly too long (more than 150k or so) can be done economically. It only adds a few cents to the Amazon cost to the author to do a really long book. I think they charge the author about 5 cents in delivery fees for a normal sized book.

Bob: Yes.  The other interesting thing is going to be enhanced ebooks. We’re not sure how that’s going to work, but we’re playing with it.

Randy: Meaning “director’s cut” editions? Something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Bob: Adding in links to photos, maps, etc.  And, like Baldacci did, extra content.

Randy: Most of the e-book readers won’t support video.

Bob: No.  And it could be distracting if done badly.

Randy: The iPad could handle it, I think, but not the current Kindle.

Bob: Readers read. That’s why I’m not a fan of film trailers for books. Different medium.

Randy: The thing with video is that it requires really good production values or it looks hokey. I don’t like them either. I looked at trailers for a while and found that I was unimpressed with every trailer I’d seen. And a 3 minute video feels like forever.  I’d rather have text so I can skim.

Bob: Exactly.  I used to have video of my presentations, but dropped it because the quality wasn’t good enough.  And, interestingly, people would rather listen to than watch something. That’s another area where we get income:  MP3 downloads of my workshops. We’re on iTunes with that. We also sell MP3 direct.  Just got an order as we’ve been talking for my Warrior Writer presentation.

Randy: Audio has high value to the customer. They can put it on an iPod and listen on the commute or in the gym. I’ve been selling MP3 direct on my site for a long time because it’s a great deal for customers and therefore a great deal for me.

Bob: Yes.  It’s one of those things that took a little while to perfect, but we’ve got it down now.

Randy: What are your thoughts on podcasting books in segments?

Bob: I don’t know about podcasts.  We’ve been discussing them, but it’s a big investment in time. So it’s on our “to look at” list.

Randy: It’s something I’d love to try for promoting my novels.

Bob: One thing we thought of yesterday was a free eBook with excerpts from all our books. A sampler.  So that will be done before the end of the month

Randy: That would be cool. People tend to be quick to download free, but not so quick to consume it.

Bob: Yes.  But it only costs us the time to put it together.  It’s hard to tell what works and what doesn’t as far as promotion.

Randy: One thing I think might be cool would be an “omnibus” version of a series — get them all in one big e-book at a price that’s much better than buying them one by one. It could work for a complete series. Not so much for a series in progress.

Bob: Good idea.  I think we’ll try that for my Atlantis series.  Have six books in it.  Pull them all together at a discount. (We’ve already done this since the interview and bundled all six books for the price of four.  Also, we cut prices on all our fiction 50%, just this week).

Randy: Joe Konrath mentioned this idea on his blog a few months ago and I’ve been itching to try it.

Bob:  That’s the great thing about eBooks — you can do things fast.

Randy: Right, once you’re past the learning curve. I think you’d need to price it so that it’s still a good deal if people have bought one or two books. So it needs to be a deep discount. That’s my hunch.  One last thing before we break — how important is POD for an author going the e-book route?

Bob: I don’t think it’s that important, unless you have a following or are doing non-fiction.  We put non-fiction on LSI right away.  For fiction, we do a couple a month as they get traction in eBook to keep our overhead reasonable.

Randy: Makes sense to me. LSI is Lightning Source, right?

Bob: Yes. The good thing is you can also sell via LSI in the UK.  And it’s expanding to Australia this year.

Randy: When you say “overhead” you’re referring to the cost of typesetting, correct?

Bob: Set up costs.  Plus, formatting takes quite a while for the POD book.  That was a steep learning curve.  You only get two shots at upload or they charge extra.

Randy: Gack! What are the setup costs for Lightning Source?

Bob: $75 initially and then another $20 charge for something else.  Not too bad.  But when you’re doing a lot of titles, it adds up.

Randy: Right. Plus the time to do it. And time is money.

Bob: Time is the key for that.

Randy: OK, we’ve covered a huge amount in the last hour.  Anything to add?

Bob: Just reiterate that it’s a great time to be a writer, but the most important thing is to have great content.

Randy: Agreed on that.  Thanks for your time!

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 by Sasha White
Let’s Discuss…

Bookends Literary Agency has announced that they’re built an ePublisher-sort of. In an effort to keep up with the fast changes of the publishing landscape they’ve built Beyond The Page Publishing to help their authors who wish to self-publish electronically.

Jessica Faust on the BookEnds Blog
“One of the things I’ve always said is that there is no universal way to be a great agent. Each client is an individual and each career needs to be approached differently. I feel the same about self-epublishing. In looking at what we could offer our clients, there wasn’t one universal path that would fit every client and every need. So after much talk and consideration, BookEnds is taking a variety of approaches to self-epublishing in the hope that we can continue to provide the best opportunities for our clients.”

Dystel & Goderich have announced that they’re going to expand their reach and that of their authors by keeping up with the times…in other words, they’re going to help those of their authors who choose to self-publish with the work that goes into it.

From the D&G blog
“what we are going to do is to facilitate e-publishing for those of our clients who decide that they want to go this route, after consultation and strategizing about whether they should try traditional publishing first or perhaps simply set aside the current book and move on to the next. We will charge a 15% commission for our services in helping them project manage everything from choosing a cover artist to working with a copyeditor to uploading their work. We will continue to negotiate all agreements that may ensue as a result of e-publishing, try to place subsidiary rights where applicable, collect monies and review statements to make sure the author is being paid. In short, we will continue to be agents and do the myriad things that agents do.

Our intention is to keep on trying to find books we think we can sell to traditional publishing houses, to negotiate the best deal (always), and to give our authors as many options as we can. Because we will continue to be commission-based, we will not be automatically pushing authors into e-publishing. Again, we want to give our authors options and empower them to do what they set out to do all along: have their work read by the largest possible audience.”

Personally, I think it’s great to see agents finding ways to continue to help build their authors. What do you think?

Maybe because my experience with an agent has taught me to never completely trust that agent is fighting to get me the best deal they could without some pushing and stubbornness on my own part. I just read a long open letter to agents on Courtney Milan’s blog that I think explains the whole conflict of interest angle to me. Which I admit I didn;t really get before, because in my mind I never completely trust anyone to get me the best deal or look out for me the way *I* should be looking out for myself. It’s a post worth reading on this subject.

Monday, July 25th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Thesis Statements for Fiction

You remember the old five-paragraph essay?  Introduction, three supporting points, conclusion.  All to prove a thesis statement, an argument:  people who drive Studebakers are more likely to own poodles.  Hamlet’s soliloquies are expressions of an existential crisis.

I got pretty good at writing analytical essays in grad school, because I revised the hell out of them.  In some cases, I cut the essay into pieces, so I could rearrange the paragraphs, notice what was missing and what was superfluous.  I’d separate the thesis statement, set it at the top of the desk, and make sure everything I was working on pointed toward supporting that statement.

Then I figured out I could do this with fiction, too.  Cut the thing up, break it down into scenes and episodes, and make sure all of them contributed to the story I wanted to tell.  Moreover, if I could describe the story in a single sentence, that would often be the thesis statement.  Yes, the story is a sequence of scenes and actions.  But those scenes need to support something more, some kind of meaning — the theme.

Theme is such a nebulous thing to talk about for fiction writers.  In a formal essay, we state the thesis explicitly:  this is the thing I’m trying to prove, this is my evidence.  But in fiction, stating our theme explicitly is a kiss of death.  Doing so makes our work become preachy.  We need to be able to describe the theme without actually mentioning it.

Star Wars is my favorite example:  the first Star Wars movie is about how human instinct and drive is more important than technology, and about how a few courageous individuals can change the course of history.  But nobody in the movies ever says those things.  The theme is never explicitly stated.  We learn it through the course of the action, the various scenes, and what they say.  Luke switches off his targeting computer.  A single X-wing and torpedo can destroy a monstrous weapon and an army of thousands.  Sure, the movie is about a farmboy who becomes a galactic hero — but that’s just the action.  The theme is what makes this a great movie that’s generated a rabid fan base over the last thirty-odd years:  it’s an adventure story, but it’s an adventure story that means something.

I think this is worth thinking of in our own work:  we know what the story is, but what does it mean?  What is the thesis statement, and how do all the parts of the story work toward supporting that thesis statement?

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Guest Blog by J.A. Pitts: How Do I End This Crazy Thing, Part 2: Revenge of the Novel

Howdy, folks!  Trailer Boy reporting to you live from Pacific Beach, WA, just down the street from Moclips where I’m presenting at the Cascade Writers Retreat.  By the time you read this, I’ll be winding my way back to Buckley, WA, for my 25th high school reunion.  Meanwhile, my best pal John is back to finish up.  Sit back and enjoy!

When last we met, you’d been told your lovely short story ends up with the dreaded: “This is a great first chapter” comment.  Instead of driving a spork into your thigh, you’ve gone back and double checked that the promise you made at the beginning is satisfied at the end.

Or not.

But, while evaluating the circumstances, another thought strikes you.  What if this is the first chapter of a novel.

Do not panic

Sit down, put your head between your knees and take deep breaths.  Everything is going to be fine.  I promise.

When you can sit at the keyboard without passing out, open a new document  — or break out the pen and paper, you know, whatever your thing is — and start taking notes.

Now, I’d outline.  I know, that freaks out some folks, but really it’s a thing of pure joy (for me).  However you want to approach this, you need to start thinking of the overall arc for this larger playground you’ve decided to play in.

I open a word document, add a two column table, and put an auto number in the first column (did I mention I’m a little AR?)  then I tab through until I have a dozen or so rows, and I start taking notes.

Some people use the 1) a) i. A. etc. type of outlining.  That would kill me, perhaps literally.  But I know it works for some amazing writers.  What I tend to do is start thinking.  Okay, I know how I start the novel.  I have this amazing short story I’ve already wrapped.

Aside:  Finish the short story, make sure the end completes the initial issue enough and send it out.  Sell that as a stand alone entity, then go back to the novel.

With Black Blade Blues I had Sarah — a twenty-seven year old, lesbian, blacksmith who also worked as a props manager for a B-movie studio.  She’s complicated and has a lot of issues to work through.

Next, I threw in the inciting event: she reforges a sword that ends up being a real magic sword.  Then, as they say, chaos ensued.

I added to a row in my outline document for each of the events or scenes as I saw them.  I knew I had to have a scene about fixing the sword, but I also needed a scene where the sword was broken.

I wanted to show where Sarah first meets her girlfriend, Katie.  That’s another scene.

On and on, up and down the document, I added interesting and compelling scenes.  Who are the bad guys, you wonder.  What is Sarah’s motivation?  Obstacles? Passions?  Take copious notes.  What does she drive, when’s her birthday, what’s her favorite drink, food, boots, etc.  You’ll need all that and more.

Each of these drive scenes, drive the story forward to a crazy, huge climax and then a satisfying wrap-up or dénouement.

To figure out how to end the novel, however, I had to go back to that first section — the short story.  What did I promise?  What was Sarah after?  That is the driving through-line for the novel.  When all else fails, the reader should be able to follow that thread from scene to scene all the way to the end.  That’s the trick to a successful novel.

All it takes is filling in the missing parts along the way.

Easy, right?

Okay, maybe not.  But it is manageable.  I spend as much time building my outline as I do actually writing prose.  I put a HUGE amount of energy in the outline, because that’s my roadmap.  No matter what happens, I know what I need to do next.  Finish the scene I’m on, and then, look at the outline to see what the next scene is.

Now, each scene promises something and delivers some form of it by the end.  Scenes must do multiple things to be successful.  Drive the plot forward, build characterization, elaborate on setting, or highlight theme.

Each scene isn’t exactly a mini short story, but they should be close.  Every time you change scenes you need a new inciting event, new onus to move forward to the climax.  Every word, every step.

My good friend, Ken Scholes, convinced himself to write his first novel by pretending it was a series of short stories strung together into a single narrative.  That’s not what he ended up with, if you’ve read Lamentation, you know what I’m talking about.  But it was an excellent technique to get over the enormity of a novel project.

Each scene should grow organically from the previous, and should lay the groundwork for the next.  Think of it like knitting.  Each stitch is a small little knot all alone, but when you string enough of them together, you get an amazing whole that is much more than the sum of its parts.

I do own some very cool hand-knitted socks.

As for the novel.  Take it in small chunks.  Try and envision every scene as a whole item.  Now, you are compelled to use cliff-hanger technology as frequently and as eloquently as you possibly can to keep the story moving forward and the reader turning the page.  But you can’t cheat them too often.  Writing a scene that provides needed information without furthering the plot can totally kill the pace of your novel.  Think how to make those scenes do double duty.

With a novel, the enormity of everything is within your grasp.  Short stories have to be tight, to the point.  There is no time to wander around, no time to really explore too much.  Find the main point and drive it home.

Novels give you room to breathe.  Explore multiple plotlines.  Build a cast of characters that are deep and broad enough to have a purpose, a life, be of interest.  Put your ensemble into wacky situations and let them get out of them over and over, until they die off (a la Mr. Martin) or go off on their own little adventures like Gandalf when he abandons the dwarves and Mr. Baggins to their wits in Mirkwood.

You’ll have time to discover that your main character likes chocolate ice cream and hates spiders.  These can be divined through heart warming or terrifying scenes, but you have time to explore, find your way through the world in a much more comfortable pace.

But, you must maintain that pace, keep the story moving forward, put hour heroine into terrible situations and watch her wiggle out of them.  Every step driving you toward the big test, the final battle.

And the battles can be internal or external — involve gunships and zeppelins or the internal constructs of dreams.

Whatever you choose, however you envision the journey of your characters and the plots they will follow, you know you have the chops to succeed because you know where you are going.

You told me so in that short story.

Now just fill in the missing parts.

Good stuff.  Thanks for coming over and playing in my sandbox, John.  I hope you’ll all consider checking out his books.  You can learn more about J.A. Pitts and Sarah Beauhall at his website.