Archive for October, 2011

Monday, October 31st, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
A Highbrow Halloween

Happy Halloween!  This is one of my favorite holidays, because I love dressing up in costumes and this is one of the only socially sanctioned opportunities to do so, that won’t get you labeled as a hard-core nerd (not that that ever bothered me…)

If you’re still looking for a costume for this evening’s revelries, may I suggest going literary?  Let everyone else be a generic pirate or zombie.  You can show where your true passions lie:  books.

I found a bunch of websites with some wonderful suggestions:  Coraline, Amelia Bedelia,or Max from Where The Wild Things Are. There’s Harry Potter, of course.  Pick your colors, Gryffindor or Slytherin!  Bring along your Nimbus 2000 broomstick!

How about Captain Ahab? (You’d could carry around a harpoon and adorable plush whale.)  Nancy Drew and/or the Hardy Boys?  Anita Blake or Harry Dresden or any other favorite urban fantasy hero?  I have to say, personally I’d love to see some fine couple dressed as Daisy and Gatsby.

See many more suggestions here, and here, and here.   Oh my goodness, so many ideas!  I already have my costume for this year, and wore it to a party Saturday, but now I can’t wait for next year!

And if you don’t already know about it, I’d like to point you to All Hallow’s Read, which encourages us to give away scary books for Halloween.  My own recommendation?  H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau.  Read it in the dark, by candlelight.  You’ll never be the same.

Now, while we’re waiting for kids to start knocking on the door — what are YOUR pics for scary books?

Saturday, October 29th, 2011 by Ken Scholes
Oh No! My Plugs Are Worn Out! (A Guest Blog by J.A. Pitts)

Howdy folks.  I’m still taking a little break from posting but will be back next week.

Meanwhile, my good pal, John “J.A.” Pitts, author of Black Blade Blues and Honeyed Words, is back with another guest blog.  Like all of John’s posts, this one is also thoughtful and excellent…..

I sat down in my hotel room to write this blog post and discovered that the power cord for my computer will not stay plugged into the electrical wall outlet.  The hardware is worn.  If I’m really careful, and fiddle with the plug, I can get it to connect, maybe even stay in the wall, but if I move anything, the plug falls out.  Not the most optimal solution, especially for powering a laptop.  The outlet no longer performs like it should.

I help run the writer’s workshop at Norwescon science fiction convention every spring in Seattle, Washington.  I critique stories and give the authors feedback.  Some have come through more than once.  Some are new.  Of the new ones, there are a subset who have been writing the same story over and over for years.

That’s want I want to discuss today.  Their plugs are worn out.

As creative people, they have not dared to learn new skills.  They have worn a groove into the areas they know, and things no longer work like they once did.  When you write, you need to be creative, and try new things.  If you are working on the same piece, or keep going back to tweak and polish your old stuff, you are not growing or stretching your abilities.

I guarantee you the next thing you write will be better than the last thing you wrote.  It’s just the way things work.  Now, granted, you may write a stellar scene in one place, and a lesser scene later, but the general rule applies.  We are creatures of two minds.  We have the capabilities of adapting, of changing to survive new and often dangerous situations.  But, unfortunately, we love habits.  We want to do the same things, the familiar things, because we are comfortable with them (and we’ve learned that nothing will kill us and eat us doing these things).  We strongly dislike change because that way leads to chaos (and, you know, death).

But if we keep going over the same roads we don’t learn anything new.  We become complacent and lazy.  We suffer a fate worse than death: we become predictable and boring.  For writers, we don’t discover that next great story, delve into that yet unknown plot device or character and we do not get measurably better.

There is a point when performing the same tasks where your growth and learning starts to diminish.  Going back over your old stories, rehashing the same things you’ve done for years, has stopped giving you new neural pathways, stopped expanding your brain.  You’ve stopped being interesting as a writer.

You need to step outside of your comfort zone.  Decide that the old stories are either good enough as is and send them out to editors who will possibly buy them, or you need to trunk those stories.  You are a better writer today than you were yesterday.  Why not allow those new skills to play with new subjects, new characters, new worlds?

It’s not to say you can’t write  a series with similar characters, or with similar themes.  As I’ve stated earlier, we love habits.  Readers love to go back to the familiar characters, themes, settings and plots.  It hits their reader cookies, makes them happy and comfortable.

But, they do not want to be bored.  They do NOT want to see the exact same thing in different clothing.  They want something fresh to go with their familiar.  New diversions, new dangers, new objectives and tribulations for your characters.

It’s what keeps it fresh.

So, the next time you sit down to write, try something new.

If you are a reader and you are looking for that next story to take you away from your work-a-day life and let you play in the fantastic — try a new author, a new genre, a new world.

Neither of you will be disappointed.

Those who finally break out of the trap, who are willing to step over the line and into a new paradigm, they start to sell.  Trust your growth.  Practice your craft.  Allow yourself to experiment and try new things.  You may find you love writing about dragons more than space stations.  You may find out that robots are just as cool as elves.  Whatever you discover, you will be blazing new trails and laying down new neural pathways in your brain.

Then, when you sit down to write in the future, the plugs will all fit, because you’ve strengthened the electrical system in your brain, and in your creativity.  You will be daring and bold, not afraid to take chances and push the limits.

That’s what we read for, after all.  We want to pretend for a while that eleven-year-olds get to go to Hogwarts, that there are friendly civilizations out in the universe, and that, if you want it bad enough, even the scullery maid can take up a sword and save the kingdom.

Dare to be push yourself to your very limits, and then take one more step.

You have nothing to lose.

Thanks, John.  Well-said.  I’ll be back next week, folks, with the first of several posts on characters.  Meanwhile, if you have a topic you’d like me to tackle here send me a note or drop a suggestion in comments.

Trailer Boy out!

Friday, October 28th, 2011 by Rosemary
The Hard Part

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be part of the Texas Book Festival in Austin. What an incredible line up of authors, both adult and YA! It was amazing getting to meet and see again some of my favorite authors, both to read and to talk to.

But there was a recurring theme. I started on the panel I was on in the morning with realistic contemporary authors Jennifer Ziegler and Jill Alexander as we talked about what we all laughingly call our process, which is a pretentious way of saying “The way we get stuff on the page and hope it doesn’t suck.”

The first obvious thing is that your “process” as a write is whatever works for you. The other thing… And this was an enormous relief is that even amazing authors that I admire like crazy all go through a stretch (sometimes more than once) in a book when they are convinced they don’t know anything about writing, that they have no idea how to fix their Frankenstein monster of a book (that might be my wording), that they curl up on the floor of the office and/or consider faking their own death rather than finish the book.

That last bit was Libba Bray, and to hear her and Sara Dessen–amazing YA authors that I admire hugely–admit they feel this way every book, even after so many best selling, award winning books was very heartening.

And also a little disheartening, because that means this feeling never. Goes. Away.

But I think that if that feeling goes away, you’re doing something wrong. If the book feels easy, you aren’t challenging yourself. And if you don’t go to the hard places, your not reaching your full potential as a writer.

So it’s okay to despair, and cry, and doubt. It’s *supposed* to be hard. Let that reassure you and encourage to push through the hard parts. Keep writing, even if it’s just a page, a paragraph, a phrase… Even the smallest steps will carry you past the perilous places and soon you’ll be racing ahead… Until the next hard part.

Lather rinse repeat.

What are the hard parts for you? (Other than the whole thing.) My first one is chapter three. I then to write in circles when I get to forks in the road. Knowing this makes… No, it doesn’t make it any easier at all. What about you?

Thursday, October 27th, 2011 by Candace Havens
You Never Know

In August I had an email from a fellow writer who told me about a young adult anthology where they needed 13 ghost stories from various authors. She asked if I might be interested in donating story. Mind you, this was in the middle of my TV Critics Press tour, and I was a little busy working 18 hour days. And they needed the story in less than a month.

I’m Candy Havens, so of course I said yes. First of all, except for a short bit in one of the Charmed & Dangerous books, I’ve never written a ghost. That was a challenge I was excited about. But I had to write a 6000 word story in less than a month and I had no idea what I wanted to write about. They had requested that perhaps I write about something in a different culture. That was something else that was exciting.

But what culture? I investigated Egypt, various Asian cultures and could have spent the next month doing research. But my oldest son told me he had been talking with one of his friends who lives in Finland. Boom! I started researching various mythologies in Finland and Norway. Well, Norse mythology has lots ‘o fun stuff to play with and that’s how I ended up writing a story set in Finland about a young girl from Miami who sees ghosts.

Of course, I twisted the mythology to fit my story but it involves the girl, a Viking, a scary dead grandma and a hot guy named Riku. It’s a story I enjoyed so much, that some day I hope to turn it into a full-length novel. While it almost killed me to get it done by the deadline (don’t forget I’m working on a thesis,  taking my last graduate class and working full time as an author, TV columnist and film critic), I’m glad I did it.

The thing is, pushing myself to do that story helped me creatively on some of the other projects I was working on. I felt stifled with one project in particular. Writing that story and coming up with something completely new, helped me to get a second wind with that other project. It also, in a weird way, gave me a different viewpoint with my heroine in that other project.

I’m the first one to admit that I take on too much at times. But here’s what a lot of you don’t know. I’m easily bored with life, so it is important that I always have many irons in the fire. I like switching hats fifty times a day. I’m never bored. Exhausted. Overwhelmed and sometimes sick, but never bored.

I’ve done that with something new I’m working on that I can’t talk about. Something that is due on Dec. 15. But it is an opportunity that is so exciting, I will make it happen. And as soon as the contracts are signed, I will tell you all about it.

This is my long-winded way of telling you to step out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges. Those scary roads you are afraid to traverse could result in amazing opportunities.

To help a great cause, please check out Spirited at


Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 by Bob Mayer
Change for Writers Part V: How Do We Know We’ve Changed?

How Do We Know When Someone Has Changed?  from Write It Forward

We see it. They act differently.

Sometimes the step of change that is our strength is compensating for our weakness and hiding it. I used to think Sustained Action was the hardest step. For many it is. But it isn’t mine. I’m very good at sustained action. I used to run marathons—an extreme form of sustained action.  My problem is making a decision. I have a hard time making a decision because I’m afraid of making a mistake. So I have to focus on decision-making in both my writing and my business all the time.

The Five Percent Rule

Is perseverance more important than talent? We’ve already discussed this. Yes.

I have found, and statistics back me up, that five percent of people are capable of internally motivated change. People who lose weight—within five years, 95% have put it back on. AA has a recovery rate of 5% after 5 years. 5% of students who came into the dojo stuck around long enough to earn their black belt.

Many people are wanna-be’s.

You cannot do three steps on your own.  You can’t get through five stages on your own.  You will need to ask for help. This is where writers groups, family, friends, etc. come in.

You’ve got to have internal motivation as a writer, because even very successful writers get little external feedback.

A key to change is learning. Be willing to learn from any source at any time. If you don’t like something, but it’s successful, study it. If it makes you angry, really focus on it.

If you’re not where YOU want to be, YOU have to change.

If someone else has something you would like to have as part of you, ask for help.

“Talent is less important in film-making than patience. If you really want your films to say something that you hope is unique, then patience and stamina, thick skin and a kind of stupidity, a mule-like stupidity, is what you really need.” Terry Gilliam.

As an author you must develop a very thick skin.  And while you must pay attention and learn and be willing to change, there are also times when you just have to put your head down and bull your way through to success.

In my book WHO DARES WINS: The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear and Succeed, I advise people not to read the book all at once. It will overwhelm. Same thing as when you go to a writers’ conference. Sometimes you get so much information it overloads your brain. It takes months for it to all settle in.

Also, timing makes a difference. The first time I read Don Maass’s How To Write The Breakout Novel, it all seemed rather simple. But re-reading it a few years later, when I was in a different place, it looked a lot different.

I teach some things now that are 180 degrees out from what I said a few years ago. That should scare you. For example, I used to be very against coincidence in plot. Now, I’m not so against it. I think it has a place and purpose and is called fate.  I explain this in The Novel Writers Toolkit.


I used to be against self-publishing fiction, but now I view it as a reality of the business.

I’ve changed.

I truly believe the writers who will succeed in the rapidly changing landscape of publishing are the ones who are the quickest to change which has an intrinsic internal logic.

I once had one student say, “I really need to change and it’s going to be hard.”  That’s a negative statement and self-defeating.  Then they turn it around to either, “I really need to change and it’s going to be do-able and fun” or “I really need to change and it’s going to be easy.”

Those don’t work either, because change is not necessarily fun or easy.

The better way to state change is like this, “I really WANT to change and it’s going to be challenging but ultimately rewarding in ways I can’t even begin to see now.”

This gives you a positive statement, control over the want, and also adds a nice piece of mystery to it which can be kind of fun. Because change does lead you down a forest path where you might think you know the goal, but you truly don’t.

Another problem I run into is when someone says, “I define myself through others.” I think most people do and it is a flaw because others don’t spend that much time defining us. Only YOU can define YOU.

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 by Sasha White
Work, play, and more work.

I’ve spent the last week in St.Pete Beach florida at the 2011 Novelists Inc conference, adn dmn has it been fun. The conference is over, and me and a couple of friends have chosen to stay for a couple extra dasy and do a writering retreat since it’s such a fabulous setting.

I’d like ot share with you all that I learned while her, but honestly, it’s an effort to remember it all because, as usual, there was a humonguos amount of valuable information shared. Not just statistics and numbers and editor wishlists, but opinions from people who know this business, and little tidbits of humor. My favorite quote of the conference would have to be from Mark Coker’s session where he had some cartoons of dinasours to go along with his presentation…and one slide, in reference to digital retailers and market share said. “Amazon is eating big publishers for lunch.”

The buzzword for the week was “Discoverability”, and many of the sessions were about the multitude of ways we can find it.

Aside from the formal sessions speakers have been wonderfully open to chatting at any time. Thubten Comford of WePost Media would tweet where he would be during certain time (The lobby bar or the Sawgrass Room at lunch) and invite anyone to join him and chat. I myself walked up to Mark Coker , creator and CEO of Smashwords, when he was standing inthe hall and just started babbling, and he was wonderfully gracious and welcoming. Harlequin Editors Angela James and Paula Eykelhof were full of welcoming smiles and happy to chat. Then there was the new guys in the block for us, Billy Hume and Marc Milot of Radiator Transmedia who has a display set up just outside the session doors and welcomed any and all qustions about what they offered. ANd it was well worth your time to talk to these guys.

All in all the conference was at a superb location, and full of great people sharing wonderful information. In other words, another huge sucess.

Now, since what I said was really telling you where I’ve been for the past week, and btw, I’m still in Florida, chilling at the beach….okay, not so much chilling, as sitting at a table by the beach slaving away writing longhand with pen & paper because I can’t see my ipad screen in the sun,(I’d insert a photo, but I don’t know how to do that on the iPad, instead, try veiwing it and others, from my twitterfeed. I thought I’d give you some cool information from some other smart industry professional. Check this out..

How to Double Your Book Sales on Your Website
By Penny C. Sansevieri
Face it, times are tough! The economy blah, blah, blah. Tell me something new. The key is:
Everyone loves a bargain, especially today. And, bargains drive sales. Here’s a great way you can explode your sales:
Call a bargain what you want: a discount, coupon, sale, bonus package, gift with purchase, etc. The point is, people love it. Several weeks ago, we tried an experiment. We decided to bundle my latest title: Red Hot Internet Publicity, with an older book called Book Promotion Made Easy. By older I don’t mean outdated, I mean that it was an evergreen title, older to the list so the author had moved on from aggressively promoting it. The match was perfect and on the first launch our sales of Red Hot Internet Publicity quadrupled. I was stunned.
  Read the rest of this entry

Monday, October 24th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
The Closest I Ever Came to Quitting

I occasionally make references to the time I almost quit writing.  Or at least, quit trying to get published.  In hindsight, I don’t know how serious I really was, but I definitely remember it as the lowest moment in my career.  It’s still vivid.  Surprisingly, this came after I’d been published.  I’d sold maybe a dozen short stories to some respectable magazines.  I was on my way.  So what happened that would make me think about quitting?

A big part of the problem was expectation.  I thought things would get easier, and they didn’t.  After selling those dozen stories, I went for a year without selling anything.  I got an agent, then left the agent, who hadn’t done anything for me in eight months.  I felt like I’d wasted so much time.  I was writing my fifth novel in something of a fog of despair, assuming it would go the way of the previous four.  (I figured that #4 wouldn’t sell any more than the first three had.  But it did, less than a year later — #4 was Kitty and The Midnight Hour.  #5 became Discord’s Apple.)

Before I’d sold any stories, I had that one blazing, shining goal ahead of me:  get published.  That was it.  Once I accomplished that, what was my goal?  Get published again?  And again?  While collecting just as many rejection slips as before?  I felt like I’d gotten on a hamster wheel and was running as hard as I could, not getting anywhere, with no end in sight.

One day through this, I was talking with my mother on the phone, and I can’t remember what set me off, but I started crying and I said, “I can’t do this anymore.  It’s too hard.”  I don’t remember anymore exactly what “it” and “this” were.  The preponderance of rejection?  The endless cycle of writing stories and sending them out, over and over again? This still mostly involved stuffing envelopes and trips to the post office — a physical act that I think gave the whole process a sense of weight that electronic submissions don’t quite match.  I pictured myself stuffing envelopes and making trips to the post office for the rest of my life, with nothing to show for it.  I felt like all the forward momentum I’d accumulated over the three years since making my first short story sale had vanished.  Progress in this business isn’t measured in a linear, constantly ascending graph, but in fits and starts, leaps and setbacks.  If I really wanted to be a professional writer I was going to have to keep doing this, and experiencing this, for the rest of my life.  I didn’t know if I could handle it.

You know what my mom’s response to me was?  “What else are you going to do?”  Spoken in a very remonstrating and frustrated tone of voice.  She was right — I didn’t have anything else.  If I didn’t write, I was going to be an administrative assistant wage slave for the rest of my life, and no doubt miserable.  Even more miserable, that is.

I talk about this point in my career as a warning, and I hope as an example for others:  you are not alone.  Even after the first few blushes of success, you’ll experience setbacks, and you’ll feel horrible.  After you’ve made the first sale, you still have make the second, and it may be just as difficult.  Things may get easier for awhile — but then they’ll get tough again, and you’ll feel lost.  Like you failed, somehow.  But all these feelings are normal.  What gets you through it?  Good work habits — and a love of the work.  I still had stories I needed to tell.  That phone call I had with my mom happened after I had sent out yet another round of query letters.  And it was just a week or two after the call that I heard back from what became (and is still) my agency.  My habits, and my goals of sending out stories and queries every month, saved me from following through on my threat to quit.  Thank goodness.