November 10th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Theme Week:  Dream Projects

Howdy Folks and Happy Saturday!

It’s theme week here at Genreality and we’re talking about dream projects.  I have a few:

  • I’m a big Robert E. Howard fan — he was one of those early influences on me — so I have a strong interest in playing in his worlds Someday.  I’ve actually come close a few times now with one of his properties so this doesn’t feel like an out-of-reach goal at all.  And really, I can think of a lot of writers with worlds I’d love to play in so this is definitely a dream project that should be able to happen for me.
  • Table top RPGs were a big influence on me as well and I’d like to participate in creating one — probably based on the Psalms of Isaak and set at some earlier time in the Named Lands’ history.  Not to make money but to have fun.  Pit your 3rd level Gypsy Scout against the dangers of the Churning Wastes….
  • At some point, I want to dabble in writing for television, film and/or comics.  Those are all mediums where I’ve gotten my doses of story from an early age and I like the idea of telling some stories there myself.  I can’t imagine building an entire career there…but I’d love to dabble.

Now, I’m the sort who rarely dreams up a project that can’t be accomplished.  I tend to be pretty good at figuring out what steps need to happen to get there.  As a matter of fact, I’m already taking some of those steps.  Of course, these kinds of projects take a backseat to the active projects that I have lined up.  But they’re fun to think about….

Trailer Boy out.

November 9th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
The Tragedy (?) of an Unfinished Series

This theme week on Genreality is supposed to be about what we would write if we didn’t have money and contracts to worry about. I feel like in many respects this is a loaded question, because it presupposes that we are slogging through stuff we don’t love, you know, for the money.

This is not the case for me. I have been wildly passionate about every single book I have published. This is why my backlist is a bit on the eclectic side (I have published chick lit, YA contemporary fantasy, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi — and that’s not even counting the short stories.)

But I have been limited by contracts and market forces. I have not finished my “killer unicorn” trilogy yet because it makes better business sense for me right now to grow my audience. In the two years since my child was born, I haven’t been able to write more than one book a year, so I haven’t contracted for that either, and my adult mainstream career has been placed on a temporary hold.

If I was the kind of writer who could churn out five or six books a year, the market and contractual choices that have determined some of my publishing decisions would not exist. I would be able to keep mainstream contracts that would grow my audiences, and do mainstream (or not) books like the third unicorn book that would be in service to the dedicated fans of that series.

It’s been interesting to watch the way my readers have responded and, often, misinterpreted my limitations as a producer. I recently did an interview where I was asked why I “moved from adult to YA.” In actuality, I started writing my adult and YA books in the same year, but do to my quick publishing schedule in the adult market, the incredibly long lead times in the children’s market, and a worldwide recession that pushed release dates all over the industry, my first YA was not out until a few months after my fourth adult novel. For two years, I had two out at once. Then, in 2011, I had zero books out, because I was busy being very pregnant and very sick. Adjusting to life as a mother these past few years meant that two books a year were going to be off the table for a bit, and YA books were the ones I had under contract.

It’s also interesting to see the expectations that series have to come out one book a year, boom boom boom. Some of the most enduring and beloved YA series don’t work like that (the Eugenides series by Meghan Whalen Turner comes to mind), and some do and suffer for it (names withheld to protect the guilty). The fan backlash when authors deviate from this expected norm is astounding (George R.R. Martin is probably the most famous example). I’ve seen writers post big apologies and promises to continue with series when announcements are made about new/unrelated projects they have taken on.

As for me, all I can do is promise readers that the unicorns are alive and kicking. In fact, there were two new unicorn stories out in anthologies this year. I have not walked away from the project, and it is something I will be turning my attention to in the coming year. I don’t have any cool announcement to make or anything like that. But that’s okay. Because sometimes series don’t come one a year like clockwork. And that’s fine. I know readers are hungry for more, but from my perspective, it’s important to create the best story I can and publish it in the way that though it might not be the quickest, has the best chance of reaching as many readers as want to discover it.

And also to say that every single thing I write, I write with love. There are easier jobs than this one to have. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it.

November 8th, 2012 by Sasha White
Gifts For Writers.

HelenKay is on vacation right now, so I’m going to steal her day to post a quick little shopping list. The gift giving holiday season is nearing, so it’s not just any shopping list, but one geared toward writers.

Moleskin Journals: Even in this electronic day and age most writers love notebooks. These little babies come in different colors and sizes, but are always high quality.
Moleskin website.

Novelist at Work sign.: C’mon, you know they’d love this little bit of fun. Besides being fun, they’ll love that you acknowledge their writing as ‘work’.

Folio with Keyboard for an iPad. If your writer friend has an iPad, this is a fantastic gift that turns their tablet into a laptop for easy travel and use.

Conference Ticket: Writers love to go to conferences to connect with other writers and learn and promote and all those important things. But conferences can be expensive, so giving them a card with “Redeem for admission to one writers conference of your choice” written inside is a fantastic gift. Or airfare, or hotel stay…you get the idea. Just a little something to help them out.

Caffeinated/Happy Writer Coffee Mug. Or this plain Writer one.

I write Because…t-shirt. this one’s self-explanitory.*g*

Happy Shopping.

November 7th, 2012 by J.A. Pitts
Stress will kill you

Or so my doctor tells me. She’s pretty smart, so I guess I should listen to her. As I take an inventory of what is causing me stress and figuring out what I can eliminate, I am thankful we are finally at the end of another political circus. That’s the worse.

I don’t know about you, but man I am so glad this election season is winding down. I don’t care who you wanted to win any of the zillions of offices, amendments, or initiatives. I just glad we can turn our attention to de-stressing and simplifying our lives.

Don’t get me wrong, I have deep and detailed political opinions, but I just don’t want to churn through those for a while.

Today, I’d like to discuss something that has been praying on my mind under the cacophony of political rhetoric and posturing. I want to talk about stress management.

Most writers I know have to have day jobs to make ends meet. Working full-time with a family, as I do, adds to the level of busy. Then adding a writing career in whatever time is left takes the last vestiges of rest and relaxation you can possibly muster.

So, you start burning the candles at both ends, skipping not only sleep, but generic down-time which your brain and body so desperately need. You drive toward deadlines, real or self-inflicted and before you know it you hit a wall and burn out sets in.

I have experienced this more than once in my life and it’s debilitating, frustrating and counter-productive. When you sit at the keyboard and try to produce words and nothing happens because your brain refuses to move out of neutral, it’s time to assess the situation and make a change.

That change may be as simple as getting some exercise (you should always be exercising), make sure you are eating a healthy diet, and take some down time. Naps are good. Reading is wonderful. Watch a movie, go for a walk, do a puzzle, veg in front of a video game. All of these are very helpful in resetting the creative switch in your brain.

Forcing yourself to produce at this point is frequently counter-productive and can lead to even longer periods of inactivity if you do not take the proper care of your mind and body.

I’m realizing as I write this post that this has been a rather stressful year for me. I’ve written posts here that relate to this problem from different aspects. I think it’s time for me to get back to the gym, take a few things off my plate, and make a promise that I will stop over committing and guard my free time with vigor.

After all I have novels to finish. Apparently some of you want to see book four in the Sarah Beauhall series sooner rather than later. I’ll go catch a nap and watch a show. By this weekend I’ll be back in the saddle and working on Hearth & Home with a distinct urgency.

November 6th, 2012 by Sasha White
Looking for a hero.

Today I’m going to talk about some choices I’m currently struggling with. You see, I’ve never been someone who’s had a ton of story ideas in my mind to pick from. Normally ideas come and I write them as they occur to me. This is why when I’m productive I tend to be very productive. However, I took a couple years away from writing, mostly because I couldn’t decide what to write. I didn’t miss it at first, then slowly I started to want to write again. I did a couple short stories, and so on, but nothing major.

Recently though, I’ve really started to yearn to write longer and delve deeper again, and the ideas started to roll.

Now I have a problem, I have too many ideas, and too many choices. I’ve talked to friends, and they’ve been great sounding boards, but, as most writers are, they don’t want to tell me what to write. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Write the one that you really want to write.” or “Write the one that calls to you the most.”

It’s great advice. It’s what I would say to others as well. Only one big problem. I don’t have a driving need to write one of them more than the other. They all call to me. I want to write them all…It’s easy to say write them all. But where to start? Yes, I know I’m whining, but hey…I’m serious too.

I have no agent, and no editors who I ‘ve actually spoken to in over 2 years. I have no one who is willing to say. “I like this idea, I think you should write it. It’s the one.”

People won’t say that because they don’t want to be responsible if it isn’t the one. Or if I end up hating it. But what they’re not getting is that I understand if they did say that, it would only be Their opinion. Just because someone says “This is the one” doesn’t mean it will be. I don’t expect people to be psychic, I just want some opinions to roll around in my head. Most of my friends know that when I ask for brainstorming help about story aspects, I tend to reject everything they suggest, but their suggestions really help me get past my brain to my own instincts so I can follow them. It’s a gut check sort of thing. But for some reason, asking them to help with this choice is different. So… that means I need outside help.

Maybe I’ll flip a coin. I’ve done it before. I’ve tried it with this particular issue before too, and it hasn’t really helped, but hey. Maybe this time it will. In the meantime I thought I’d blog, whine publicly in case there are any authors, agents or editors out there who might read this and think “Hey, I like Sasha. I like her writing, and maybe I can help her decide.” If there is, they’d be my hero, and I’d love to hear from them. :mrgreen:

WINNER: last week I posted a chance to win a copy of Primal Male, and #2 was picked at random. That mean flchen1, you have one week to contact me with your mailing details to claim your prize.

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.

November 3rd, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Guest Blog:  Early Tough Love by Brenda Cooper

Howdy folks and happy Saturday!

Today, I’m off being writerly at Orycon and thought it would be nice to invite my friend Brenda on to blog in my absence.

Brenda Cooper is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been bumping into her at conventions all around the area — and the country — now for nearly a decade, I think.  She’s a great writer but also a great person.  Her next novel is The Creative Fire from Pyr Books, a story that explores revolution on a generation ship through the eyes of a young woman who helps bring her people to freedom through the power of her voice. Find out more about The Creative Fire and Brenda’s other works at her website.

So…without further ado…Brenda!

First, thanks to Ken Scholes for letting me guest post here to celebrate release week for The Creative Fire, which is freshly out from Pyr.  This book has a dream-team of support including Lou Anders in the role of capable editor and John Picacio as the ever-so-talented cover artist.  As lucky as I am to have that team, there is also a lot of other support behind the book, including the folks who read the raw manuscript for both Fire and its sequel.

Late this past summer, I work-shopped the sequel, The Diamond Deep, at the nearly-finished stage.  In this case, the workshop was in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, at an invite-only affair run by the capable and ultra-talented Brad Beaulieu (author of the Lays of Anuskaya trilogy from Nightshade Books).  The early draft feedback was really useful to me in a couple of ways that seem worth sharing with other writers.

First, there’s the value of a deadline.  If I owe my finished manuscript to a group of readers at a specific time, that goal matters.  In this case, knowing I had to send the thing off drove me out of a nice warm bed full of dogs (and my sweetheart) at 4:30 every morning to sit at my cold keyboard in the dark.  I am personally so deadline-oriented that I make lists every Friday of all the things I’m going to do that week, and I get great gouts of happiness as I cross things off.  A due date that’s earlier than my contract date creates a better book, at least when I’m the author.

But any deadline could have worked.  An extra bonus included hanging out with writers for a week and wearing only my writing hat.  In a typical week, day job crisis and worry, family commitments, and the laundry occupies as much of my subconscious as plot twists and tension techniques.   This, of course, is bad.

At these workshops, part of the process is hearing about the opening of the book from about ten people.  When seven or eight people tell me the same thing, it gives me a touch of laser-like focus.  It also shatters defenses (almost hard – I have plenty of them).  In this case, my little ego-laden self that wanted to scream, “They just missed the point” fell to multiple instances of the same counterpoint. I learned that I didn’t do nearly enough work to explain the opening situation of the sequel.

Two people read the whole manuscript.   They were able to illustrate confusing plot points, under-developed minor characters, and stupid character moves.  They could tell me where it was interesting, what parts they loved, and where I needed to dig harder to drive a reader to turn the page.   They saw themes I didn’t.  They rocked, and they helped me very much.

And the best part?  Workshop participants became advocates.  They wanted to offer up fresh ideas and pithy comments, and to cheer me on.   They’ve blurbed and given signal-boost.  And I’ve done it for them, will do it for them.  We all need cheerleaders. Science fictions is, at some level, a big family. With all the good and bad that implies.  Reading each others awkward early drafts builds bonds.  The books become kind of like children being assisted gently by far-off aunts and uncles.

The Diamond Deep will be a better book because it went through this particular hazing process, and The Creative Fire surely IS a better book.  This workshop was well-run, and based on Charles Coleman Finlay’s excellent structure for the now-famous Blue Heaven workshops; there was no downside and little risk.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that not all early-draft response has been good for me.  There are pitfalls I’ve encountered in other situations.  Here are the things that didn’t work for me:

  • I have made the mistake of just handing off a manuscript with no clear direction about what I want.  Feedback has been best when I give readers something specific, such as wanting to know when they put it down, what character they liked etc.  Note that for me, with each book, I work on a new tool.  So I’ll usually ask about that tool. For the Creative Fire, it was tension.  For The Diamond Deep, it’s carrying off a really complex story in a normal-sized book.
  • I’ve tried running novels through unpublished writers.  This has NEVER worked.  Pure consumers?  No problem.  It’s helpful to have readers who don’t know the bones of craft.  Published writers – well, you still need to find the right ones.  If you do, they can be brilliant help.  But unpublished or newly-minted writers tend to be unhelpfully brutal about the wrong stuff.  Yes, that’s a generalization. But it’s been true for me far more often than not.
  • I’ve tried chapter-by-chapter reading group critiques.  That teases the editor-brain out when it really needs to be chained up in some black hell.  In fact. It’s so bad that it feels like I’ve chosen to live with multiple-personality disorder on purpose.  I have one friend (ONE) who gets to read my stuff chapter by chapter – sometimes.  She knows how to help.  But it’s generally a really bad idea for me.   It’s far smarter to get the novel out and then let folks see it.

Early readers at a first-draft stage have been great for my novels.  The key is finding the right ones at the right time, and asking them the right questions.  They’ve taught me why characters I meant to be likeable weren’t, pointed out protagonists who needed to “protag” more, and the asked and poked and prodded about progress.  I have some loose empirical evidence – the books that I’ve run through groups have done a little bit better in the reader-review area.

Thanks Brenda!  Next week, I’ll be back with another update on my transition to full time writing.

Until then, Trailer Boy out!