Archive for March, 2012

Saturday, March 31st, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Writing Short Stories for Fun and…How? (Part the Seventh)

Howdy folks!  Happy Saturday!

We’ve spent several weeks on the hows and whys and whats of writing short stories.  Today, we’ll wrap up the drafting portion.  Then next week, I’ll conclude the series with an abbreviated post on the next steps after finishing your short story.

The great thing about short stories is that they are small enough that you can wrap them up (most of the time) in a relatively short amount of time.  It’s not unheard of for writer’s to finish off a short story in one sitting depending on how long it is.  My record is a 10k story (a novelette named “Driving Lord Dragon” that’s never seen the light of day) on a Saturday writing blitz.  On the other side of that coin, the story that took me the longest was actually about 6k long and took me 3 years.  But usually, I work on a short story scene by scene in 1-2k bursts over the course of four or five days.

There are benefits to moving at a brisk pace.  You don’t lose the voice and thread of the story if you work it every day.  And you build solid work habits.  It is good to keep in the back of your mind that time is money…at least some of the time.  Because someday, that may be important.  For example, if someone offers you .10/word for a 5k story that takes you 20 hours to write (from idea to revised and mailed) then you know that you’re making $25 per hour.  But if you can whittle that down to 10 hours then you’re doubling your hourly pay rate.  And your banking 10 hours for some other project.  I don’t think we should always  bring things down to that equation — some projects take longer for less pay but there are other motivating factors.  But I do think that we should push ourselves to be good stewards of our resources, including and especially our time and energy.  And even if no one ever knows beyond ourselves, it is good to know how much time a project takes us and how much we are being paid for that time.

So I say move briskly through your draft.  A big (and often challenging) part of writing is learning to work consistently, whether it’s every day or five days out of seven, or whatever you choose.  If you treat your writing like a job with required hours, your writing will be more likely to treat you as if its a job, too.

And part of moving briskly is to learn the balance of when to pause and think and when to push through.  There are schools of thought that say “Don’t stop ever…leave a mark in the document and come back to it.  It’s better to have a completed first draft that needs fixing than an unfinished story.”  Sometimes, I think that’s the right answer.  Another answer is “Measure twice and cut once.”  Sometimes, the story (and you) are better served to stop and think it through.  But be self-aware enough to know when it’s the Chattering Head Monkeys talking you out of writing as opposed to a real problem in the story that you need to puzzle out.

Set deadlines for yourself and keep them.  I think a week or two is about right for most short stories depending on how fast you write.  Your mileage may vary.

And once you finish the draft, give it a quick polish and get it out to whoever your beta readers are.  Then, put it away and don’t look at it until you’ve heard back from them.

Next week, we’ll wrap up the series.  This would be a great time to put any unanswered questions into the comments below.

Trailer Boy out!




Friday, March 30th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Notes from the Revision Cave

I’m working on revising my latest novel at the moment (ninth published, thirteenth written). One thing I’ve noticed, as I’ve matured as a writer, is how much better I’ve gotten at revising. I’m much more willing now than I was when I first started writing to view absolutely nothing as set in stone. Plot, characters, subplots, scenes — everything is up on the chopping block when it comes to making my story the best that it can be.

This has had the added benefit of allowing me to be much more free in my first drafts. I feel like I can throw everything — including the kitchen sink — in my first drafts now, knowing that I’ll be able to excise it later if need be.

Some writers are like this from the very beginning of their career — they innately understand the rules like “kill your darlings” and “writing is revising” and “you can’t fix a blank page.” My path to this has been a little more serpentine, and I find I still struggle with it. I’m one of those writers who would far prefer to “get it right the first time” because even though I’m getting better, I still find it difficult to reconstruct my draft and then sew the pieces back up, Frankenstein style. I look at published novels of mine and I can still see the seams, even if no one else can. The original draft still lies underneath, a palimpset only I can see, in say, a line of dialogue that had a special resonance with a cut scene or a character description chosen to contrast with a character who no longer exists.

But I know these are things only I see, and that the total good of the changes I’ve made far outweigh any imagined loss. The other thing I’ve noticed is that the more I embrace no-holds-barred revisions, the less I’m bothered by anything that remains. Maybe I’m just getting better at realizing that first drafts are written on sand, not stone. Maybe, as I get older, my memory is failing me. :-)

Whatever it is, I’m certainly noticing this time around that nothing is sacred. The old me would have looked on in horror at the things I’ve changed in the last few days, while the new me shrugs and moves on to the next chapter.

What do you think? Are you one of those writers who embraces revisions, or, like me, did you have to learn to love it?

Thursday, March 29th, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
Probably Not A Good Idea

Late Tuesday I got sick. Like, really sick. I’m thinking it’s the flu but, honestly, I’m barely thinking right now. The fever-induced headache appears to be a barrier to writing, analyzing…living. Next week’s post might be about how to function when your body gives up on you. This week’s is a testament to the Maybe You Shouldn’t Do This school of running a writing career. Christopher Priest blogged about the shortlist for the 2012 Clarke Award and, to put it mildly, Priest is not impressed.

As background, I reviewed before sold. I stopped because it was too hard to juggle telling my opinion with my feelings of discomfort about publicly telling my opinion. I upset some authors when I didn’t love their books. I got some angry emails. Really, it was best for my peace of mind that I stopped. But I’m hoping I never went this far:

It seems to me that 2011 was a poor year for science fiction. Of the sixty books submitted by publishers, only a tiny handful were suitable for awards. In my view, candidly, there were fewer than the six needed for the Clarke shortlist. Many of the submissions were fantasy of the least ambitious type, and many of the science fiction titles were almost as firmly embedded in genre orthodoxies, to their own huge disadvantage (and discredit), as the plodding, laddish works of Mr Mark Billingham. Discounting all those submissions did not leave many competitors at the top.

That made me wince. It’s not awful – up until the point where he takes at shot at Billingham – but it’s uncomfortable. I had a uh-oh feeling as I read along. Then the author turned to China Miéville, a three-time winner of this award. I’ve read several of Miéville’s books. Didn’t love all of them but I did appreciate the work and had the impression he was a superstar.

Let me now turn to the most highly argued novel, for and against, on the list: Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan). For reasons some people might readily understand, I have not until now had anything to say about this novel, but events have freed me. I like China as a person, and in his unsought role of media-friendly spokesperson for the SF world he has done well and has not aroused controversy. He is obviously serious about writing, believes in the weird or the speculative novel as a genuine force in literature, and aims high. He is an enterprising writer who comes up with some excellent ideas, and many of his images are memorable and effective.

But wait for it…

However, a fourth award to this writer would send out a misleading and damaging message to the world at large: it suggests that not only is Mr Miéville the best the SF world can offer at the moment, he is shown to be more or less the only writer worth reading. Worse even than this, it would send a misleading message to China Miéville himself.

Although Miéville is clearly talented, he does not work hard enough. For a novel about language, Embassytown contains many careless solecisms, which either Mr Miéville or his editor should have dealt with. This isn’t the place to go into a long textual analysis, but (for example) a writer at his level should never use ‘alright’ so often or so unembarrassedly. He also uses far too many neologisms or SF nonce-words, which drive home the fact that he is defined and limited by the expectations of a genre audience. On the first few pages, alone, he uses the words ‘shiftparents’, ‘voidcraft’, ‘yearsends’, ‘trid’, ‘vespcams’, ‘miab’, ‘plastone’, ‘hostnest’, ‘altoysterman’ … Yes, of course, it’s possible to work out what most of these might mean (or to wait until another context makes them clearer), but it is exactly this use of made-up nouns that makes many people find science fiction arcane or excluding. A better writer would find a more effective way of suggesting strangeness or an alien environment than by just ramming words together. It’s lazy writing.

This is not to say that Embassytown is a bad novel. It is not, but neither is it a good one. It has too many common flaws that could have been eradicated by a more ruthless editorial process in the writing, or even more simply by an extra draft of the manuscript. Nor does it suggest that Miéville is a poor or failing writer: he is obviously not, but unless he is told in clear terms that he is under-achieving, that he is restricting his art by depending too heavily on genre commonplaces, he will never write the great novels that many people say he is capable of. In the short term, to imply by giving it a prize, or even shortlisting it for one, that this is the best science fiction novel of the current year is just plain wrong.

He doesn’t work hard enough? Is an underachiever? See, that strikes me as too far. Too personal. It also suggests the author knows something about Miéville’s writing and personal life that is doesn’t really know. I hate when people do that, so spending my three minutes sitting upright and being online all day yesterday reading this was probably not a good use of my time.

Back to my sick bed.

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Amazon Book Reviews: Democracy in action, ignorance or bullying?

I used to make it a point to not read my reviews on Amazon.  There were several reasons for that:

  1. As any student of sampling knows, the people who post reviews are not a fair representative of the reading public.
  2. Anyone who has ever purchased anything from Amazon can post a review, but that doesn’t mean they purchased the book they’re reviewing.  That makes it the Wild West.
  3. Some reviewers spam all of an author’s books.  Excuse me, but if you didn’t like one book, why go paste in that same exact blistering review on all the books that author has had published?
  4. Some authors spam other author books as a means of promoting their own book.  These people need to grow up.
  5. Customers unhappy that a book hasn’t yet been published on Kindle often post one star reviews of the print book, as a form of protest.  All that does is hurt the author, who often has little control over when and what form the publisher releases the book.
  6. One star reviews seem to carry more weight than Five star reviews.

As a publisher, I now I force myself to go over the Amazon every once in a while and check the reviews, especially to see if there are any formatting, editing or other fixable problems.  We see a definite correlation between lost sales and scathing reviews, but not great reviews and positive sales.  One aw-shit seems to outweigh one atta-boy.

Some suggestions:

  1. Only people who buy the book, and that version, have the right to review it.
  2. Reviewers should not be anonymous.  This prevents the bullying and spamming that is prevalent.  It also allows the author/publisher, to address the problem if need be, such as technical problems or downloads.  And thank readers who really enjoy something.  The future of publishing is an author-reader relationship, but we can’t relate with people who aren’t identified.
  3. Allow people to recant their reviews if technical problems have been resolved.

A final suggestions: If you really enjoyed a book, go, review it. Review the format you bought it in. Remember, a typo is different from bad formatting and bad formatting isn’t necessarily the fault of the author, or even the publisher. Technology does fail at times. If it’s a self-published eBook or from a small publisher, take the time to go to their web site and contact them.  You might be surprised at the positive results.

The future of publishing, as we note in Write It Forward, is wide open.  And readers, more than ever, are going to determine the success of failures of books.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 by Sasha White
BDSM fiction

There’s been a lot of talk about BDSM in fiction lately so I thought I’d talk a bit about writing it. I think the most important thing for readers, and writers, of fiction with BDSM elements in it is to remember is there’s one undeniable truth about BDSM – there is no real standard. Each relationship is different, and there are all levels. Which means, when you reach for a BDSM book, you can get something that only contains a few ‘play’ elements, or something that is full on lifestyle, or S & M. Just because two books fall under the BDSM label does not make them even close to the same. Just like not all paranormal romances have Vampires, or Werewolves, some have psychics, some have witches or fey. The big difference here is that when If you buy a paranormal a romance you usually have abetter idea of what you’re getting buy reading the blurb. With BDSM, it can be a bit harder to discern that way because many of the differences within the genre can be subtle.

Example: My first novel BOUND has what I call BDSM elements. The heroine has fantasies about being dominated by the sexy security guard she works with, but it’s fantasy. However, as the two get closer, she finds herself really enjoying the whole submission thing. That story is written in the POV of a non-lifestyle character. WICKED is about Karl, who is a lifestyle Dominant. Some people would automatically think that means there’s plenty of whips and chains and bondage in this story, but thats not true. There is some, but Karl calls himself a “gentle Dom” and the story reflects that. He’s not a sadist- although he will deliver a blistering spanking if he thinks his girl deserves it- he just enjoys controlling, and caring, for his women. Two different levels of BDSM fiction.

For more insight into the various levels of some great BDSM fiction, look back to Eve Berlin’s Guest post here at Genreality (Not sure what happened to her cover images)

Cherise Sinclair writes some great BDSM fiction stores. The Masters OF Shadowlands stories are all set around and mostly take place with in a club atmosphere, and there’s some very well done kink scenes. Personally I’ve never thought any sort of ‘puppy play’ could ever be erotic, but she managed to do that in one of her stories (I think it was Make Me, Sir)

Joey Hill’s Nature of Desire series is unparalleled -in my opinion- when it comes to male submission. Give Natural law a try, and you’ll be hooked. Now, beyond the kink factors of these stories, (or the plots) the differences are also about what is more true-to-life. Joey Hill’s stories are fiction. but when you read then, there’s a realism, an honesty, to them that shows some true varieties of the lifestyle and BDSM. My own BDSM stories lean toward realistic as well, but the elements tend to be lighter than hers. Cherise Sinclair’s books are a bit more fantasy-ish. Her doom’s seem to be a bit too-good-to-be-true, and almost psychic in the way they read their subs. However, she is clear to state at the start of each book that the stories are romantic fantasies, and encourages people to remember that in real life, Safe, Sane and Consensual is a must, and that communication is key. These are just some examples of the variety that’s out there.

Personally, I enjoy BDSM fiction. I enjoy writing it, and I enjoy reading it. I love it because there are so many levels, and varieties, but also because really good BDSM fiction is not just about the sex, or the kink. It’s about the mind, and the emotional journey of the characters involved, and to me, thats what all good erotic fiction is about.

Monday, March 26th, 2012 by J.A. Pitts
Hey, wait. I liked that movie. Why does it suck again?

Went to see the movie John Carter Saturday with my good buddy, Jay Lake.  I loved the movie.  I’ve read some reviews where people were disappointed, but that’s okay.  I don’t go to the movies to look for critical approval or even correct grammar.  I go to the movies to be entertained.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t Star Wars or anything, but I found echoes there.  I doubt a generation of new science fiction fans will count this movie as a life changing event.  But I think it is a damn fine way to spend a couple of hours.

What I don’t understand is why this huge pulp/space-opera is doing so poorly at the box office.  Some folks have mentioned a rather odd and awkward ad campaign, which I can sort of agree with.  Some blame it on Disney, and others seem to be apologetic for the fact it’s a huge, pulp/space-opera.

I find this amusing.  It’s got action, it’s got adventure and it’s got romance.  what more could you want?  We go to movies to be entertained, do we not?  I’m not in college anymore where I need to write a critical analysis and earn a grade.  My goal is to settle into a comfy seat, hunker down in the dark and let my mind be taken over by an amazing story.  John Carter did that for me.

When I was in the third grade my grandmother handed me the entire Burroughs John Carter of Mars series and promised me that it would change my life.

And she was correct.  I devoured those books, learning that sleep is for sissies when you have a great book to read.

I knew they had flaws, even at a young age, but I fell in love with the characters, the adventure and the story.  That’s what I’m in it for.

So when I watched John Carter I went in with the expectation of being entertained, wowed by the special affects and stunned by the beauty playing Dejah Thoris.

Afterwards I got to thinking about the value of success and critical acclaim.  As an author, I want nothing more than to connect with readers and sell a lot of books, maybe get a movie deal somewhere and become a full-time writer without losing my house or family along the way.

I find the movie John Carter to be an excellent metaphor here.  I loved the movie, others didn’t.  The sales are not what the studio or the media pundits thought was good enough for the blockbuster budget this film had.  But I know several people who have already seen this movie in the theaters two or more times.  I plan to go see it again, paying the stupid price for the 3D and loving every minute of it.

I’ve seen many reviews that talk about how this movie was true to the books, and true to the Edgar Rice Burroughs vision of the characters, the world and the story.

So is it a  success or not?  I’m sure the film-maker is delighted with his product and perplexed why it isn’t being received better.  And here is a very important lesson for authors.  We cannot control what the audience does.  We cannot control sales, marketing and most of us don’t get a vote on the cover art of our novels.  We may truly love the work we’ve produced, have good art, great editorial support and still the books are not overnight sensations.

Hunger Games is in the theaters now.  I’m sure it is going to break some records, earn some amazing box office numbers —  similar to Harry Potter before it.  But we can’t all get struck by lightning.  We don’t all get to ride at the head of the parade with the prom queen and smile while adoring fans throw roses.

What we get to do is produce another work that shows our obvious love for what we do.  Then we can send it out into the world and hope that there will be people who will fall in love with those things we love.

I’ll buy John Carter on Blue Ray when it comes out.  I’ll also go back and buy another set of the Mars books to read again.  I’ll always love those stories as they formed the foundation of my own journey into becoming an author.

But when I start to worry about whether or not my books are selling well enough, or see a review by someone who didn’t care for my style, I’ll look back on the movie John Carter and remember that we don’t always love the same things.  Nor do we always meet the expectations of others.  In the end, we have to entertain ourselves, pour our heart and souls into our work, and trust that someday we’ll reach a reader and change their lives the way Mr. Burroughs changed mine.

Besides, what do critics know?


Saturday, March 24th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Writing Short Stories for Fun and…How (Part the Sixth)

Happy Saturday!  Last week, I told you  that as a part of my series on short stories we’d dissect one of my older bits — “Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk.”  There will be spoilers ahead if you’ve not read the story.  Just saying.

I wrote “Edward Bear…” in June of 2000.  I did three passes of revision during that month based on feedback from writer-friends John A. Pitts, Manny Frishberg and I think Steven Hunt may have even weighed in on it.  At the time, I probably had 20 short stories total under my belt, including some written in high school and college.  I’d sold my first short story a year earlier and my second right around the time I sat down to write about my favorite bear of little brain.

The idea, as I think I said earlier, came from a co-worker in 1991 — when I worked as a label gun repairman — who one day walked in on windy day and exclaimed, “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day!” for unknown reasons.  This was six years before I came back to writing.  It stuck with me and a few years later — during my preacherboy days in in Bellingham — I was given the collected Pooh stories by Milne.  My exposure to Pooh was entirely by book — and an LP of someone reading some of the stories when I was in the first grade.  I’ve avoided the cartoons my entire life.  I’m Classic Pooh all the way.

So I re-read the Pooh stories around 1993.  And then, seven years later there was a spark.  The notion of Pooh in a starfighter trying to save the universe.  When I was early in twisting the idea into a story, I was at lunch with Patrick Swenson and telling him my idea.  Amazingly, he’s the editor that eventually put it into print the first time.  But that day, I think he was amused by the notion and skeptical about whether or not it could be done.

When I sat down to write, I had the first line immediately:  “He was a bear and his name was Edward and he lay twitching in the corner of a room that smelled of death.”  In hindsight, from a dozen years later, I’d swap out “of” for “like” for the consonance.  But otherwise, it does what I wanted it to do — bring the reader into the story rather abruptly with the cadence of a children’s tale followed by the smell of death.  It hints at a problem, which shows up quickly on the heels of the opening line — it’s a room full of dead children.

Now, I broke a pretty big “rule” there.  I’m not even sure I’d try to break that one these days.  After becoming a parent, my threshold for stories that harm children is much lower.  But anyway, it’s what I went with back in 2000.  Edward Bear is twitching in the corner of a room that smells like death and has a vision of sorts — a holographic image of a familiar friend who tells him that he needs to leave the nursery, setting him on his hero’s journey.

Edward Bear’s initial problem turns into a much bigger problem once he escapes from the nursery and finds the AI of the dying starship (named for a poem, actually) who tells him that not only are the children dead, so are the rest of the colonists, and more are coming in another ship. And unless they learn about the virus that is waiting for them, they’ll all die, too.  Because the ship is damaged and dying, she can’t send a message.  But she can send Edward Bear with a little red hover-wagon to climb a mountain and push a button on a transmitter.  I wanted it to be a simple solution for a simple toy bear.

Along the way, he makes some friends…the Parrotishes…and I tried to telegraph something more ominous in that they always left before dark and returned after sunrise.  I also used the Parrotishes along with the other aspects of the setting to reinforce the notion of just who my protagonist is.

The next significant hitch in Edward Bear’s journey is when he wakes up to discover his wagon and transmitter is missing.  But more than missing, it’s been stolen and hidden away in a cave.  Our hero is given a weapon and sent into the cave where he’s faced with his big decision and his final “try” attempt at solving the problem that’s been set up at the front of the story.

In the first draft, Edward Bear goes into the cave, goes to get his wagon, realizes that there are Parrotishes being held captive and makes a quick decision to help them, only to accidentally wake up the slumbering monsters while he’s in the midst of freeing the captives.  The battle ensues with Edward Bear eventually being rescued by the Parrotishes outside.

But this wasn’t quite strong enough — feedback from my first readers pointed this out.  Edward Bear’s choice needed to be clearer and more consequential.  So in the second draft, I changed it up so that he sees the Parrotish prisoners — realizes that they are children — and frees them, getting them outside to the others before going back for his hover-wagon.  There is more emphasis on the fact that these are children, too, just as much as the human children that need him to haul his wagon to the top of the mountain.  This made his choice to help the alien children he’d encountered along the way more impactful…along with his choice to go back into the cave after his wagon once he knows the Parrotish children are safe.  And that choice then makes the Parrotishes’s choice to come to his aid more impactful, I thought, too.

One of the more poignant parts of the story for me, at least, is when they fashion a teddy bear replica of himself and give it to him as a comfort during the last leg of his journey.  And in the end, Edward Bear truly has surpassed his programming — he is a changed Bear of bigger brain and bigger heart than when he started, though those changes came from choices that cost him his life.  And the button is pressed.

Next week, I’ll tackle my last post on drafting your short story.  Then we’ll talk about what comes next.  Meanwhile, it is open season on Edward Bear.  If you have any questions at all about what I did or didn’t do in that story, please post them below and I’ll try to tackle them.

That’s all for now.  Trailer Boy out.