Archive for the 'Carrie’s Posts' Category

Monday, November 5th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Micromoney as a Much-Needed Pat on the Back

I’m going to talk money for just a minute.  Don’t get excited, it’s not a lot of money.  Strangely, though, it’s the little checks I’ve been getting excited about lately.  Last week, I got $33.45 in royalties for my short story “Il Est Ne,” from the anthology Wolfsbane and Mistletoe.  I also got a check for $11.90, for royalties for “Amaryllis” in Brave New Worlds.  Money like this isn’t going to change my life, certainly.  It’s a couple of week’s worth of groceries, or a tank and a half of gas.  But I’ll tell you what I love about these checks:  they’re for work I did years ago.  Wolfsbane and Mistletoe came out in 2008, and I wrote Amaryllis in 2010.  This has become one of the things I love about writing professionally in general, and short stories in particular.  I put stories out there, and in the best case scenario, they become little money machines.  Mind you, not every story keeps earning money — most, in fact, sink without leaving behind a ripple, never to be spoken of again, never earning more than their initial payment.  But I gotta tell you, the more stories I have out there, the better those stories are, the more likely they are to attract notice and additional income.

I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I’m getting quite a few short story reprint requests, sometimes for stories I originally published years ago.  Science fiction and fantasy are undergoing something of a boom in popularity in reprint anthologies right now, primarily because of the efforts of editors like John Joseph Adams and Paula Guran and others who’ve chosen great themes and made them work.  I could never have guessed I would benefit from this — except that I’ve got about sixty short stories out in the world now and a little bit of name recognition.  I’ve had something of a lightbulb moment over this.  I’ve been building my reputation and my fiction catalogue for over twelve years now.  And if you build it, they will come.  But you have to build it.

That’s why these little checks, though they might not seem like much financially, have all felt like a pat on the back, a “job well done” for all the work my younger self put into this gig, in getting my name out there and trying to be the best writer I can.  Every little check means the investment is paying off.

Lessons learned:

1)  Look for opportunities to get paid more than once for your writing.  E-books, audio rights, foreign rights, and so on.  If you write short stories, look for podcast publications that pay for reprints.  For example, Podcastle and Escape Pod are two online podcasters that pay for audio rights for short stories, fantasy and science fiction respectively.  (In fact, I should probably look at what else I can send them.)  Bundling short stories into e-books, reprint anthologies — opportunities are out there.

2)  Copyright and contracts are important:  you can only sell additional rights if you hang on to them in the first place.  Make sure you don’t sign away your right to future income, even for a piece that may not seem like much, like a short story or poem.

The bottom line really is the bottom line:  we’re in one of the few businesses where we can get paid for the same bit of work over and over again.  It behooves us to take advantage of those opportunities whenever we can.  Because those little checks — besides making my day brighter — really do add up.

Monday, October 29th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Time is Marching On, and Time is Still Marching On

I’ve been contemplating time, and how I always need more.  Don’t we all?  The words “I’m bored” never even occur to me, because I always have something going on, even if it’s just vegging out and knitting a scarf (valuable recharging time, that is) .  It’s almost the end of the year and I have a stack of things I’d like to finish before the ball drops on Times Square.  It’s an arbitrary deadline.  But this business runs on deadlines.  Most of mine are self-imposed.

I’m a big fan of self-imposed deadlines at the earliest stages of a writing career.  First off, they prepare writers for externally imposed deadlines — you know you can hit that contracted deadline because you’ve already hit your own.  Second, they mean you get stuff done.

You have to learn to measure your own productivity.  It’s important to know how much you can do in a day, so you know how long it will take you to complete a project.  If you learn to gauge the length of projects before you start, you can judge how much time you need.  This is how the pros work.  It sounds so mercenary, doesn’t it?  Is there any room for art amidst deadlines?  Because I still like to think I’m doing art, even with the deadlines.  Write good books — that’s the goal.  If I don’t do that, I won’t have a career.  Of course I think it’s possible, I pretty much have to since that’s how I do things.  But I know this is how you have to work if you want to make a living at this gig.

Embrace the march of time.  Embrace deadlines.  Time and deadlines are your friends.   “The end of the year” is only one possible deadline.  Go ahead, pick a deadline.

  • Your birthday
  • A loved one’s birthday
  • Any holiday
  • Tax day
  • The end of the month, or the start of the following month.  Or heck, any day of the month.  The tenth, let’s say, if the end of the month doesn’t work .
  • The release date of an anticipated movie, because if you finish your thing you can go see it without guilt.
  •  Vacations make marvelous deadlines — the chance to go on a trip without worrying about a that thing you’ve spent every waking moment thinking about for the last three months is hugely motivating.
  • NaNoWriMo is built on deadlines.  (How many of you are doing NaNoWriMo, hmmmm?  How’s that going?)  In that case, your deadline is the end of the month.

Deadlines are the thing that will help your career move forward, because they are the things that say “You have to finish this, you have to send this off, you have to work.”  Otherwise, we’d sit around being bored.

This is my favorite song to listen to when I have an approaching deadline.

Monday, October 22nd, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
In Praise of Brainstorming

I love brainstorming.  One of the reasons I can say I write everyday is that I count brainstorming as writing.  It doesn’t matter how tired or cranky or blocked I am, I can always sit down with a pen and notebook and let my imagination run wild for a few minutes.

I’ve always advocated brainstorming as a way to overcome writer’s block.  Giving yourself permission to write anything, pouring as many ideas on the page as you can in a set amount of time, can give you options about how to move your story forward and can simply physically unstick you and get you writing again.

But another benefit of brainstorming, for even when you don’t have writer’s block:  writing down all those crazy ideas, and pushing yourself to come up with as many ideas as you can for the next scene, the next plot twist, whatever, will help you push the envelope, avoid stereotypes, and move beyond what I call “top drawer” ideas.  Top drawer ideas are the ones you see everywhere.  The ones that make you able to guess who the murderer is ten minutes into a police drama.  It’s the plot twist we’ve all seen before — and we’ve all seen them before, because for the most part, if we’re all swimming in the same pop culture stew, we’ve been exposed to the same tropes and are pulling from that same stew for our ideas.  Brainstorming increases your chances of coming up with that surprising twist, exploring ground that isn’t quite so well explored.  You don’t just go to the drawer that’s easiest to reach, you have to keep opening drawers and searching until you find the thing that no one else thought of doing.

I’m always saying that writers should go big or go home, push the envelope, do the thing they think as crazy, do the thing that’s scary.  Because that’s going to be where you find the real treasure, that will make you stand out from the crowd and help you find your voice.

Monday, October 15th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Why I Won’t Be Digging Out My Trunk Novels Any Time Soon

I have three trunk novels that I sometimes talk about.  These are the three novels I wrote, revised, polished, and sent out to try to get them published, before actually selling my fourth.  I stopped sending them out fairly quickly, after just a few rejections each.  I was always working on something new, I could see how much better my writing was getting, and I knew the newer work had a better chance of selling.  In hindsight, I think I probably could have sold them, if I’d kept sending them out and cast my net wider than the major publishers.  But I’m really glad I didn’t.

I get asked sometimes if I’d ever dig up those novels and try to get them published now, and the answer is. . .maybe.  Because I do think about those early novels sometimes, and I still like the characters and stories.  There’s something worthwhile in them, or wouldn’t have spent as much time working on them as I did.  But I wouldn’t want to publish them as is.  They need a lot of work — there’s a reason they were rejected.  I really want to go over them, beef up the plots, polish the writing, make them the best they absolutely can be.  And I just don’t have time for that right now because I’d rather move forward and work on all the ideas that I’m getting now, that are super exciting and make sitting down at the computer worthwhile.  Did I mention I’m a much better writer now?  As interesting as it would be to apply the ten-plus years of writing experience I’ve accumulated since setting aside my trunk novels, and as nostalgic as I am for those stories, I think it’s much more worth my time to work on new stories.

I don’t consider those trunk novels wasted time that I ought to try to salvage.  After all, they taught me how to write novels.  They taught me that I could write novels.  More than one, even, and I didn’t know how valuable that knowledge was until later.  When I sold my first novel and suddenly had a two-book contract and had to write that sequel right now, I knew I could do it.  No qualms at all.  I didn’t have to contend with that second novel anxiety that strikes some authors who sell their first novel and suddenly have to confront, under deadline and with money on the line, the issue of whether they can do it again.

And there’s no better compliment you can get in a review of your first novel than hearing that it doesn’t read like a first novel.  When people tell you you have more skill than they expect to see in a first novel.  That your first book isn’t just good “for a first novel,” but that it’s, you know, good.  Because it isn’t your first, really.  But you don’t have to tell them that.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no shame in having unpublished trunk novels lying around.  They’re my million words of crap (well, more like that last 300,000 of the million words of crap), and they served me very well indeed.

Monday, October 8th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Excerpt Week!

This week, we’re posting excerpts of our work for you to take a look at.  I always have such a hard time deciding what to share for things like this.  Something old?  Something new?  Something in progress?  My latest book came out a couple of months ago, and my next publication isn’t going to be released for a few months, so I don’t really have anything I need to promote right at the moment, which means my possibilities are wide open.

How about I give you a taste of my next steampunk story, due out in February in the Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination?  I’ve got plans for lots more stories starring Harry and Marlowe, and their adventures give me a fun break from other work I’ve been doing.

Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution

“We could have taken your brother’s courier ship and arrived in a quarter of the time.”

“No, we couldn’t,” Harry said, scowling at Marlowe, who  knew very well they shouldn’t be here at all, much less aboard George’s ship.  But he seemed to enjoy mentioning her brother and reminding her of the impropriety of it all.  It was a long-running joke, and she let him have his fun.   Marlowe just smiled.

They’d taken a carriage — a regular hired coach, horse-drawn even — from the Oxford station to the doctor’s estate.  The journey from London had taken most of the day, which left them facing the gatehouse on an overcast afternoon, the sunlight fading, the world growing colder.  Despite the spiked iron gate, the estate was modest.  She could have walked the perimeter of the grounds in half an hour, though the curving gravel drive gave the impression of greater space.  At the end of the curve one could glimpse the house, a two-story grey pile with a slate roof and clay chimneys, walls fuzzed with ivy, windows brooding.  All of it easily manageable, easily guarded.

The gate was the only access through a ten-foot high wall that surrounded the house.  At the top of the wall copper conductors placed every dozen feet or so guided an Aetherian charge, a crackling stream of deadly green energy.  A second barrier, impassible, should someone think that they could climb the wall.  The humming, flickering light traveled down the bars of the gate as well.

Impatient, she opened the carriage door before the driver or one of the soldiers from the gatehouse arrived to do so.  However, before she could let herself out, Marlowe slipped out, let down the step, and offered his hand to her.  Propriety, indeed.  Remembering herself, she gathered her skirt in one hand, took his with the other, and stepped neatly out of the coach.

Four soldiers on weekly rotation from the local regiment served guard duty here.  One of them–an officer by his insignia–approached.  A Lieutenant Bradley commanded the unit.  This must be him.

“I’m sorry,” the lieutenant said.  “I don’t know what you’ve been told, but this area is restricted.  The house isn’t open–”

“I know.  This is Dr. James Marlowe, and I’m Miss Mills, his secretary.  We’re here to see Doctor Carlisle,” Harry said, drawing a folded paper from her handbag.  The letter was affixed with the royal seal, confusing everyone who looked at it, but everyone who looked at it was well-trained not to ask questions.  They’d merely have to wonder why two unassuming travelers had the Crown Prince’s approval.  Not that they did, really.  The lieutenant opened the letter and read it over–taking his time, to his credit.

When he’d finished, he looked across the page and studied them, the unlikely visitors.  “Very well, then.  Give us a moment to open the gate.  Sir, miss.”  He tipped his hat at them and turned back to the house.

Marlowe tucked his portfolio under his arm and gave the driver a few coins.  “Can you return for us in two hours?”

“Yes, sir.”  The man remounted his carriage and drove off.

Marlowe could never quite manage polish, even when he meant to be traveling as a respectable gentleman.  Locks of hair escaped from under his bowler hat, his face showed pale stubble, and his tie was loose where he’d tugged on his collar.  His jacket, trousers, and boots were acceptable but not outstanding.  Truth be told, she liked him better without the polish — he looked like a man who was too busy to worry about inconsequential details like trimmed hair and neat ties.

“I hope two hours will be enough,” Marlowe said, watching the driver depart.

“I fear we’ll be wanting out of here much sooner than that.  Part of me hopes this is all a waste of time.”  She sighed.

Marlowe shook his head.  “No, this is a rare opportunity.  To meet the genius who created the Aetherian Revolution?  Without him we’d have none of this.”  He gestured ahead.

The front window of the gatehouse revealed a pair of brown-uniformed soldiers at work, one hauling down on a lever mounted on a wall, the other operating an unseen control panel.  A metallic clang followed, the banging of steel on steel; the Aetherian hum faded, and the crackling stream of power guarding the wall vanished.  Now the wall was just a wall, and the gate was just a gate.  Harry still regarded the wrought iron cautiously.

“We might have been better off,” she said.

“Never think so,” Marlowe said.  “Ernest Carlisle may be the only one who can move my work forward.”

“Don’t you think you’d solve the problem yourself, eventually?” Harry said.

“We don’t have time for that,” he said.

Of course, Harry thought.  Not with the war on.  It was the unspoken postscript to everything they did.

Bradley emerged from the gatehouse and said, “It’s safe, now.  I’ll escort you in.”

The soldiers in the gatehouse turned another set of levers, and bolts lurched open, another metallic clunk.  The middle of the gate split apart, and Bradley pushed it open.  Harry suppressed a flinch when he touched the gate.  No Aetherian charge scorched him.

Marlowe offered his arm, and she took it.  They walked with the lieutenant toward the manor.

The gates clanged shut and locked behind them, and Harry glanced over her shoulder.

Turning back, she said, “Lieutenant, tell me about the Doctor.  What is his schedule like?  How many servants are here at the house, and how do you supervise them?”

“He has no servants, miss.  By his own request.  He said the necessary restrictions on them were too great to bother.  A cook from the village comes in the morning to make his meals for the day, and a cleaner comes once a week.  But her work is little enough–most of the house is shut up.”

“Is that so?”

“Doctor Carlisle is confined to a wheelchair, miss.  He has chambers on the ground floor.  I thought you would know, since you’ve permission to see him.”

“For how long?” she said.  This wasn’t in any of the reports.

“Ten years, since the disaster.  I’m given to understand he sustained injuries.”  They’d reached the house now, and Bradley nodded.  “If you’ll excuse me a moment, I’ll let the doctor know he has visitors.”

The door had a speaker box by it, which the lieutenant leaned into.  Harry and Marlowe stayed back and spoke in whispers.

“Did you know Carlisle was infirm?” she asked him.

“I didn’t.  There were rumors of illness, but I thought it had more to do with age.  Or a broken spirit.”

“Why is it a secret, do you suppose?”

“Out of respect for the man’s dignity, I imagine.”

“As if he had any left.”  But he did, or he would not be living like this, in a polite fiction of genteel retirement–under guard.  She frowned.  “What does it say that we’re so afraid of a man who’s crippled that we keep him locked up like this?”

“Because it’s Doctor Carlisle,” Marlowe said, and he was right.  Carlisle certainly couldn’t be allowed to go free.  Neither could he be truly imprisoned, or executed, or exiled.  He was the realm’s great conundrum.  Or rather, its second great conundrum, after the conundrum that Carlisle himself had made his name exploiting.

“Be careful, Marlowe.  You sound as if you admire the man.”

“Oh, I won’t forget the man’s murderer.”


“Are you sure you aren’t letting your personal feelings unduly influence you?”

“Of course I am.  What else are personal feelings for?”  She shook her head.  “He can’t have turned everything over when he was arrested.  A man like him — he kept something back as a bargaining chip should he ever need it.  Some scrap of research, some artifact.  I want to know what.”

“We both do.  Are you ready for this?”

“Yes,” she said.

Bradley was exchanging words with the person on the other end of the speaker box.  The responses were little more than incomprehensible scratching.  But eventually, Bradley drew out a key and unlocked the front door.

“He’s ready for you.  I’ll show you to the library.”

“I very much appreciate your help, Lieutenant.  I know this must disrupt your routine terribly,” Harry said with a kind and practiced smile.

The soldier beamed back at her.  “It’s no trouble, miss.”

“You’re very good at that,” Marlowe whispered to her.

“I’ve had a lot of practice.”

“Better you than me, then.”

It was why they made such a good team.

Bradley guided them through a tiled foyer and into a parlor.

Nothing in the house indicated the character of the man who lived in it.  She might have been in any respectable gentry home:  decent furniture, lightly used; unassuming still life paintings on the wall; neat wallpaper and drapes, carpet over hardwood.  All of it might have been chosen by some matron desperate not to stand out.  On the other side of the parlor, Bradley opened a set of double doors and guided them into the library.

This was Dr. Carlisle’s room, where he spent his time and where he’d put his things.  Apart from walls full of books, the room had a great fireplace with a well-worn armchair sitting in front of it, a window overlooking a patch of flowers, lots of framed photographs on the walls and on various desks and tables.  In the middle sat two large worktables.  One of them was overflowing with books — stacked, open to different pages, as if he were reading a dozen at once.  The other held various crafts and hobbies — fly-tying equipment, the clockworks of antique pocket watches, a sketchbook, a set of watercolor paints.  Even toys — wind-ups and clockworks that Carlisle seemed to be in the process of repairing.  Or dissecting.

Carlisle himself sat at the table in a wheelchair, a blanket over his lap, covering his legs to his toes.  He’d aged, his formerly robust form sagging on a stooped frame.

“Doctor Carlisle, here are your visitors,” Lieutenant Bradley announced, then bowed himself out of the room like a good foot soldier, closing the doors behind him.

It was good that he did.  Smiling, his eyes glittering, Carlisle greeted her, “Princess Maud.  Your Highness.”

To be continued…

Monday, October 1st, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Yup, it’s kind of like that right now

Happy October!  This is the day I start the mad dash to the end of the year.

Right now I’m working on the big climactic scene in the current novel draft.  Two points of view, a cast of thousands, a battle for the soul of a city, that sort of thing.  If you follow me on Facebook or read my blog you’ve already seen this, but I wanted to share it anyway.  And I’m not much good for writing a serious post this week.

So yeah, I blocked the final battle out with action figures. Too much fun, really.

Monday, September 24th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
A week in the life

Here’s some of what I did last week:

Read a book for a potential blurb, and another in my role as a member of this year’s jury for the Andre Norton Award for YA science fiction and fantasy.  (I have about ten more on my current stack of Norton reading, plus a list of others to track down.  Yeah, I’m going to be doing a lot of reading for the remainder of the year.)

Asked for and received permission to blog about the cover for the next Kitty book, Kitty Rocks the House.  (Woo!) Isn’t it pretty?

Blogged and Facebooked and tweeted, but not very much.

Friday I met with a local high school’s book club to talk about being a writer.

Email.  The email never ends.  On Twitter this week, editor John Joseph Adams observed, “Some days, you get email, and you’re like, “Ooh, new email!” Other days, every new message makes you want to scream “F*** YOU” at it.”   (I edited that one word a bit…)  Most weeks are like that for me.  I’ve been known to put off answering e-mails for, well, way too long.  My work e-mails fall into three basic categories:  mail from readers, good news (reprint request, award nomination, etc.), and mail asking me for something.  It’s this latter category that can get. . .frustrating.  Sometimes the request is for something I’m happy to do (be a guest of honor at a convention, write a story for an anthology), sometimes it’s. . .not (send free books to someone I don’t know, some complicated request I don’t have time for, write a story for an anthology).  E-mail is surprisingly time consuming, often because I simply spend too much time stewing over how to gracefully say, “No.”  Or even, “Hell no.”  Or I’ll often wait until I’m in a better mood entirely to answer email at all.  Hence, the delay. . .

I wrote more than I expected to.  Current work in progress hit 75,000 words, and I’m still setting up the climax.  75,000 is about the average length of a Kitty novel, so being at this length and still not finished is kind of new territory for me.  I think this one might actually approach 100,000, which would make it my longest published work to date, once it gets out in the wild.

Next week:  much of the same, most likely!