Archive for the 'Ken’s Posts' Category
Saturday, January 5th, 2013 by Ken Scholes
Howdy folks and Happy Saturday. Happy New Year, as well.
I was really honored when Carrie and Sasha asked me to join the Genreality Posse. I’ve had a good time here and I hope my posts have been useful to you all as you chart your course in the Wacky World of Writing. It’ll be strange to not be posting here but I’ll keep posting about life and work over at Facebook and eventually on the Brand New KenScholes.com (still in progress) where I hope to bring back Discombobulated Pensivity in the Double-Wide of Life for a fresh go.
I use this time of year to take a good inventory of the ground I’ve covered, the ground I hoped to cover and didn’t, and the ground I didn’t even see until now but would like to cover next year.
All in all, I’m mostly glad 2012 is behind me. It was a year of losses and gains, some tied together. I think the biggest life change for me was that circumstances finally lined up for me to quit the dayjob and put my focus on writing full time. I can’t speak for others who’ve gone through this transition, but I can speak for me: It doesn’t necessarily line up just the way you think when you’re daydreaming about being full-time. Full-timeness comes with it’s own set of challenges and in my case, it’s come with some things to learn and un-learn. The biggest piece I’m learning now is how to effectively multi-task and strategically plan the other bits of writing business around the writing itself.
Another big accomplishment last year was finally, after over two years of on-and-off work, wrapping up Requiem and getting it in to Tor. In my pay-it-forward category of goals, my attendance at Cascade Writers was probably my most fruitful venture — that weekend with my group of writers continues to be one of my best ever coaching experiences and I’ve come out of it with a few good friends that I’m excited to watch as they launch their stories into the world.
For 2013, I get to experience this childhood dream of mine taking me around the world. I’ve been invited to the Imaginales Festival in France this Spring so of course I’m going. And expanding my trip so I can spend some time in Paris before and after the conference. I’ll get home in time to go on whatever tour we decide upon for Requiem’s release in early June. For conventions, I’m planning to attend Norwescon, Imaginales, GenCon and Orycon. I’m planning to speak at Cascade Writers though I won’t have a group this year. And in other pay-it-forward events, J.A. Pitts and I are tentatively teaching a workshop together (details to follow) and I will be spending a day teaching in a high school down in the Bay Area. I’m actually still building my 2013 goals so this is a pretty sketchy list.
Of course, the most important part of my goals have to be around production. In 2013, I’ll draft my story for Metatropolis 3: Green Space and do my co-editor duties on that project. And I’ll also finish the Psalms of Isaak — the goal is to have Hymn turned in before I head abroad in May. I’m reading the first four books now and taking notes with an aim to start drafting in a few weeks. Later in the summer, after the dust has settled from Requiem’s release, I intend to start diversifying my inventory with a jump out of my normal genre to write a short romance novel (think Nicholas Sparks) under a pen name. Those projects and a few shorter ones — fiction and non-fiction — will keep me busy.
I think my only closing advice for those who wish it is this: Know who you are and what you’re capable of…and remember to keep slinging the words. Write more. Write faster. Fix what you’ve written and put it into the world, then forget about what you’ve written and focus on what you’re writing.
And of course, I’m always an email or a FB message away if any Ken-sized questions show up for you.
Thanks for making this a warm and welcoming place to share my writing life and thoughts. I wish you a fantastic New Year and a happy writing life!
Trailer Boy…riding into the Genreality Sunset. [Queue End Credits]
Saturday, December 15th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Happy Saturday and Howdy Folks!
I put out the call for a Genreality topic and my pal (and amazing research scout of all things Psalms of Isaak) Tracy suggested the topic of religion in fantasy. What a great suggestion!
I suspect I have some unusual qualifications on this particular topic. In 1985, at the young age of 17, I gave up my childhood dream of being a writer, disappointed my English teacher, and pointed myself at the ministry. I preached my first sermon at Foothills Baptist Church in Wilkeson, WA on “Putting on the Full Armor of God” (from Ephesians chapter 6) that spring and I was off and running. By 1989, I was licensed as a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention and working as a Youth Pastor. By 1992, I was pastoring my own church. I stayed at one form of ministry or another (to include performing religious songs I’d written and preaching various sermons all over the northwest) until around 1996 when I eased back into writing. I moved very slowly through a fundamentalist Baptist/Pentecostal type of faith to eventually becoming Episcopalian. By 2004 or 2005, I had slowly evolved into agnosticism and now, today, I’m a wholly secular humanist who does not believe in any of the gods heretofore proclaimed by my fellow humans and thinks that religion is more dangerous than helpful for lots and lots of reasons. I’ve experienced a pretty broad spectrum of religious faith (and rejection thereof) between those two polar opposites and it gives me a different perspective from many.
That being said, religion is also absolutely a part of human existence, a ripe and juicy bit of low hanging fruit to pluck for world building and building dramatic tension in Story. And Story is a great sandbox to play with and explore religious notions. Anyone who’s spent any time in my fiction knows I play in that sandbox a lot. These are some of the things that I keep in mind when I write religion:
1) In a fantasy, if part of the fantasy is a belief in gods, I have to know as the author if those gods really exist or are imagined. If they are imagined, why are they imagined? Were there other beings or legendary-type heroes mis-cast into the role of gods by the mortals? And if they are real, how do they operate? Are they personal? Impersonal? Both/and?
2) If my gods ARE real, they have to be governed by consistent rules in much the same way a magic system is. And the religions springing up from them are going to differ based on that god’s values, expectations and interactions with its worshipers. So those gods become more than a world-building prop — they become characters in the history, backstory and present of my world.
3) The language and behavior of faith has a cadence to it as does the language of sacred writing and the things written about. I saturated myself in religious life and thought so a lot of it comes naturally to me. But it can never hurt to spend some time getting to know some of the things folks have believed over the history of our species. Having the religious interactions in my world “feel real” to readers feeds their suspension of disbelief.
4) People have varying degrees of adherence to their religions and the beliefs across a fantasy world should reflect that. And if there are societal or divine consequences for too much or too little faith, that’s a rich soil to grow Story in. As are the inevitable clashes between groups, though in a polytheistic system where gods are know to exist, it would stand to reason (heh…I said reason) that all gods would likely be believed in and approached based on their specialty.
And this is just a starting off point. There’s much more to dig down into if you’ve a mind to do it. But make it feel real. And if you want to read an excellent essay on it, check out the Kobold Guide to World-Building…I think it’s the best world-building book I’ve read and Woflgang Bauer’s essay on the pantheon is really amazing.
As a holiday treat, I think I’ll close with a prompt to go read aboutone of my made up religions, Dragon’s Mass Eve and its Santaman, in my holiday story “If Dragon’s Mass Eve Be Cold and Clear.”
Saturday, November 17th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Howdy folks and happy Saturday!
I was hanging out with a writer this week and talking about my writing projects. I mentioned that I was gearing up to write the last volume in the Psalms of Isaak and she asked, “So how are you going to do that?”
Considering that back in September 2006, six years and two months ago, I had NO IDEA how to write A novel, much less a FIVE BOOK SERIES, I was pleased with how quickly my answer poured forth. We’ll see how it goes in the execution given the best laid plans of mice and Ken, but the plan is pretty straightforward.
First, there are a few people re-reading the series right now. These folks will be sounding boards I can go to. I don’t know how much I’ll need to do this, but it’ll be handy to have people familiar with my tale. I can check reader expectations with them as I brainstorm and ponder.
Second, I’m re-reading the series myself. I’ve just finished Requiem, the most recent, so next up I will start Lamentation and give them all a read with a notebook handy. I’ll be looking for all the pistols I’ve left on mantles that still need to be fired, bits of story that I’ve forgotten to wrap up, clever things I buried in the beginning that could become nice bits of the last story. Most importantly, it will also let me soak myself in each of my characters, how they’ve grown, what’s changed in their loves and hopes and fears, and how that lines up where each of them is standing (for those who ARE standing) at the end of the series. With each book, I’ve been putting them in higher and higher trees, throwing pointier and bigger rocks at them, and I think it’s built to a nice crescendo at the end of Requiem. Now to bring it all home.
Third, once I’ve gotten my notes, I’ll sit down with my Excel spreadsheet (chapters across the top, POV characters along the side) and figure out whose scenes are whose and when and where they fit within the chapters. Then I’ll craft one sentence Excel entries for each scene of the first act. For the last few books, I’ve intentionally stopped at a place where picking back up again will be easy because we’re in the midst of forward movement. That makes the first act fairly easy to spell out. I’ll also sketch out what I know of the final act (parts of which have been in my brain now since pre-Lamentation) and what I know of the second act. The part of the book I know the least about right now is the second act, and how that turns out may lead to slight changes in the last act.
Fourth, I’ll take a deep breath and plunge in. The goal is to start drafting in January; I’m giving myself 3 months for the first draft. Then, a month for readers to work their magic and a month to revise. Ideally, I’m turning this book in just before Requiem comes out in June. And then, I will have finished my fifth novel and my first series.
Next week, I’ll talk about my plans after the Psalms of Isaak. Until then, Trailer Boy out!
Saturday, August 4th, 2012 by J.A. Pitts
My grandfather told me this story. I have no idea where he heard it, but I like to share it with folks from time to time. It’s a story I need to remind myself of far too often.
There was this old man who was known far and wide as the greatest wood cutter in all the land. He lived a quiet life in the deep woods enjoying his twilight years. One evening, a young man showed up at his door step and challenged the old man to a wood-cutting contest.
“I’ll prove I’m the better man,” the young’un declared. “Starting at sunrise tomorrow I’ll be right here in front of your cabin and we’ll chop wood until sunset. At that time, whoever has cut the most wood will be declared the greatest woodsman.”
The old man just smiled and nodded. “Sunrise then.” And went to bed.
The next morning as the mists hung heavy along the forest floor, the young man arrived and called the old man from his cabin. As the first light of the new day broke across the forest they began.
All that morning the wood chips were so thick that the young man couldn’t see the old. After a couple of hours, the old man paused to drink a bit of water and rest. The young man just laughed and cut wood faster, spurred on by the old man’s weakness.
By noon the old man had stopped again, ate a bit of bread and had more water. The young man cut faster, hewing the wood with perilous strength.
Twice more the old man paused and drank or ate. The young man wolfed his food, guzzled his water and went back to the cutting, his axe flying so fast it was a blur.
By the time the last rays of the sun winked out for the day, the young man stepped back admiring the mighty pile of wood he had cut.
He turned to face the old man and the gloating jibe died in his throat. The old man’s pile of wood was twice that of the younger man.
“I can’t believe this,” the eager young man said. “I worked harder than you with nary a break. My axe was a blur.”
“True enough,” the old man said, shaking his head. “But every time I rested. I sharpened my axe.”
I love this story. It reminds me that when I take some down time, read a book, watch a movie, lay on my deck and watch the clouds skate across a deep blue sky, I’m not shirking my duties. I’m not wasting time. I’m sharpening my axe.
Are you taking care of the most important tool in your life? Are you honing your blade, readying yourself for the next round of cutting?
Too few of us do, and too often when we do, we allow guilt to eat at us.
Better to be rested and ready. Unwind, let go, learn to breath again. The work will be there, I promise you. There is always a challenger in the wings, another crisis for you to take care of, another deadline.
But if you do not take care of yourself, if you do not sharpen your axe, you will work like a demon and get less and less done over time.
Breathe deeply, put on some amazing music and let your shoulders relax for a while. Do something frivolous. Trust me on this. More days than naught, I’m the young man, muscling through on grit and blind determination. It’s time I start learning to be the old man and deal with the important things.
Life is just too damn short to do otherwise.
Saturday, June 9th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Howdy folks and Happy Saturday!
It’s theme week around here at Genreality and our topic is…summer reading. Now, I know I’ve confessed here before, my reading time took a real nose-dive once I started writing more. It was even more crippled when the girls were born. And when I’m working on a book, I find myself drawn to other wells to take in Story. Movies, television, sometime times video games. Always music. And my reading is nearly always non-fiction when I’m on a book. But I’ve been trying to add back in at least a little fiction to my life. And I know that once I hit the “full-time” button, I’ll be able to budget my life with a bit more balance and reading will be at the top of the list.
That said, I can’ t really recommend much for YOU to read this summer because I’m a bit out of touch. Well, other than MY books and the books of my friends here at Genreality. Hell, all my writing friends’ books for that matter.
But I DO have some books I want to make time for. It’s an ambitious list but that just means this could also be my fall and winter reading list as well.
First up, I want to read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A lot of people are raving about it and since I’m seriously considering a YA novel as my next project once I wrap The Psalms of Isaak, I want to spend some time reading YA…starting here.
Next, Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. I came late to Ender’s Game…read it for the first time this year, actually. I can see why it’s considered a classic. And I’ve heard over and over again that Ender’s Game was really intended to pave the way for the follow-up. Both went on to win Nebulas and Hugos in back-to-back years. So I want to read this one.
Third: I want to finish Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock. I’ve started it twice and only put it down due to Life Craziness. I’ve loved his other books and when Tor sent me to ALA a few years back, I had the chance to hang out with him a bit. Super guy.
And last on the fiction list: Stephen King’s Under the Dome. Another book I’ve started, enjoyed, and then set aside. He’s always a good read for me. Once a writer earns my trust as a reader, I’ll keep reading them and usually, enjoying them. And he’s taught me a lot about writing. His book On Writing is something I frequently give out or recommend to new writers. I’m way behind on what he’s got out there right now but I just keep telling myself it’ll be useful when I have vast tracts of time in which to read.
Then, of course, there is non-fiction. I’ve heard of it for years and finally, I’m going to read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It’s come highly recommended so I’m looking forward to picking it up.
And those are the best laid reading plans of mice and Ken. If I needed to add one more book to my list, what would YOU recommend?
Saturday, May 26th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Howdy folks! Happy Saturday!
I’ve talked a bit about my experience with writer’s block in the past and at point I said I’d do a series on it. Well, no time like the present. We’ll probably meander along — I think I’m taking a break this summer and bringing on a guest blogger and I’ll be doing the theme weeks, of course. But we’ll get through it. Right now, I’m not exactly sure how long it’s going to be.
Today, we’ll just talk about the experience itself. My experience, that is.
I’ve heard writers say that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. I even heard one writer say that writer’s block was just writer’s laziness. Bullshit. Not everyone has experienced it, I’m sure, but it does happen. It’s enough of an experience in this line of work that you can trace it back across history. Now, I do think there are lots of different things that seem to stall writers at various stages in their creative process. But I’ve been blocked and it’s a pretty awful feeling.
When I came back to writing in 1997, I was going like gangbusters. And my output was pretty high until 2001, when my stepfather died, I went through a divorce, left my position with a nonprofit in Seattle and went to SW Washington to take care of my Mom’s property when she moved north. I spent 8 months looking for work and during that time — and during the first six months of my new job, I did not write. I started a few pieces here and there but found myself stuck. In that instance, I didn’t try too hard. I didn’t have to — I had only sold three short stories at that point. I wasn’t under contract. I wasn’t making any significant money from my writing.
But the next block — the next significant block — was when my twins were born. I finished Antiphon the week they were in the hospital and then didn’t write for nine months. That newborn twin exhaustion was quickly eclipsed by the PTSD but this time, I kept trying, kept pushing. I was under contract and needed to start Requiem. I’m right at the tail end of it now and it’s been over two years in the writing. And I had other projects I was on the hook for — “A Symmetry of Serpents and Doves” for the Metatropolis sequel and a Dungeons and Dragons story for Wizards of the Coast. These were also under contract with advances paid. There were other stories requested of me that I wasn’t under contract for. I struggled to write, floundered, lost my way and gave up. I ground out the two pieces I had to and wrote the first five chapters of Requiem. And then stalled out again.
It was so bad one point that just sitting down to the laptop and opening the file would cause a panic attack. I’d never had those before. You think in that moment that you’re going crazy. And that was the worst of it. It was a product of the PTSD and the performance anxiety I was creating for myself. Once I went to Chicago for Dr. Lipov’s SGB, I found those symptoms subsided and I just had nothing to write. I could sit and stare at the screen. Re-read what I’d written. Nothing. I try stuff. I’d research stuff. I’d try more stuff. And eventually, the tires spun me out of the mud and I was moving again, slowly. After eight — eight! — failed attempts to write K.C. Ball a piece of flash fiction, I finally finished one out at the coast for the Cascade Writer’s Workshop last summer. I was unstuck and back into Requiem by August. Until the next bad stretch — like when Jen’s grandma and father died in October.
It’s been a series of fits and starts for almost three years And even before that, really, because this started when my mom died in 2007. Before that — I’d had four solid years of production. Years when I could just call down the words whenever I wanted them, even announce the wordcount before writing the story. And then nothing worked anymore. It’s like knowing exactly how to drive, then sitting down in the car and not being able to figure out how to start it, put it in reverse, back into the street.
Those are the extreme cases in my life. There are also some of the normal bits — like, it’s not writer’s block if you can’t write the week after a convention…it’s exhaustion. Especially if you’re an introvert.
And other people have their stories, too. It’s been talked about for a long, long time. And it can be worked through. So we’re going to spend some time exploring some of the causes and some of the cures.
Meanwhile, have you ever been blocked? What was it like for you?
Saturday, May 19th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Happy Saturday and Howdy! Of course, for me it’s Friday night and I’m sitting in the bar of my hotel in Seaside. I fled out to the coast to work on an essay that I’m a bit late on and to get a little break. Last week was my stepmom’s funeral and there’s just been a lot of Life Stuff. So two trips to the coast in a month is rare but it feels good to be back on the water. Good food, good drink.
When I realized I had yet to write my post, I put out a call for topic ideas and I decided to run with my friend Danielle’s suggestion to talk about when to persist versus when persistence is just being plain stubborn in that not-so-good way.
I think my first thought is that it really depends on what it is your hanging on to or letting go of. Sometimes, we start this gig out with expectations that are just wildly unrealistic — things like how many words we can comfortably write in a day, how many sales we can make in a year, etc. Lots of writing life lives beyond your control. So right off the bat, I say look at those expectations — balance them against what other reasonable-minded people expect of themselves, listen to what other writers who’ve been at it longer have to say on the subject — and let the ones go that lie outside of your control.
And while we’re on the topic of expectations, sometimes we expect far too much of ourselves under circumstances that most would agree merit a reduction in those expectations. And sometimes we expect far too little of ourselves under more ideal circumstances. Let go where appropriate.
When it comes to projects, I prefer to be a hanger-on than a letter-go. And there’s a lot of talk out there about finishing everything you start — something I agree with…most of the time. But sometimes it takes a lot longer to finish something — even years — because we just don’t have all the ingredients to cook the soup. In those cases, sometimes it makes far more sense to set the project aside and tackle something you know you can finish. That gets much trickier when you’re under contract and working with deadlines. But even then, sometimes you’re only looking at a work interruption of a few days but by shifting gears you can wrap up something else, clear your mind, and come back to the first project with fresh eyes.
So much of it really hangs on knowing, in the moment, on a case by case basis, what the best path will be. And every project is different and even we, to some degree, are different at different seasons in our lives. So hang on to the idea of seeing life as an ever-changing journey. Let go of anything that smells like irrational fear or jangling anxieties. Writerly insecurities are responsible for far more writing interference than most of us want to admit.
And when it comes to projects that you’re shelving, try not to see it as quitting. Look at it as taking a break, put your eyes on it once in awhile and jot down anything that comes to mind. You might surprise yourself by knowing one day, seemingly out of the blue, exactly how to land it.
It also helps to have a tribe, a community of writers you trust and people who know you well, that you can bounce things off of. “Hey, I’m thinking about shelving project A because of ______. I’m gonna work on project B instead. Whatcha think?” And then listen to what they say and ask them questions.
This can also apply to letting go or hanging on to directions within a story you’re working on. Sometimes, stories like to bust outside of our expectations for them. Sometimes characters rise to the surface and want to take over…and should. And other times, they shouldn’t be allowed and must be stopped. Sit with it. Ponder. It’s your story. You get to choose. Choose wisely. And un-choose as needed.
But again, try not to view it all as black and white and either/or. Few things really are. Because like Don McLean sings: “There’s no need for turning back ’cause all roads lead to where I stand.”
And on that note, Trailer Boy is signing out!